Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Ephraim Factor

On Sunday Lynda and I drove to Tulsa, met Sara and Richard, ate a meal, and brought 3 year old Ephraim back to Bella Vista to spend a week with us. Lynda's cousin Trish Jackson was with us too.

He is a joy to have around. Lots of energy, lots of chatter, lots of questions. He sings often, normally unintelligible gibberish, known only to the mind of a small boy. He doesn't eat very well, though that will change naturally, I think, as he gets older. He loves when we read books together. We've read books the last two nights that require us to push buttons for a song to play. He loves those.

So, I don't think I'll get much writing done this week. I arrived home late last night due to BNC Writers meeting. Ephraim went to be late, about 10 PM. I went to The Dungeon, with him still making noise in his room. He got up a few times while I was downstairs. But I did not have the brainpower required to really tackle any writing projects. Nor did I have the brainpower required to work on family finances. Hopefully getting home on time tonight, and getting him to bed earlier, will result in more computer time and more brainpower to get some things done.

So how does that explain my lack of production last week? On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday we attended the Country Gospel Music Association central division convention in nearby Springdale, Arkansas. Several of Lynda's relatives are in the CGMA: Trish Jackson, Leonard & Marina Pohl, and Faye Pohl. We saw them perform several times, as well as many others perform. On the nights we attended we generally did not get home till midnight.

The CGMA was started fifteen years ago as a ministry to those who themselves were in full time gospel music ministry, those who tour the land and sing itinerantly at churches, camp meetings, revivals. Eventually it attracted more than just the full timers. They started having conventions that were competitions. The categories seem endless: best band, best vocal group, best a Capella group, best new group, best male vocalist, best male full time vocalist, best lyricist, best whistler, best reciter, etc. etc. This provides for a wide variety of performances, and lots of opportunities to win something.

County music is not my preferred style, so many of the songs I listened to and found enjoyment in the performer's spirit if not in the actual music. Some of it wasn't really country, though very little would be considered contemporary.

I tried to draw parallels for the writing profession. Except for readings of our work, we are not really performers. Our work is not in front of people in a way that involves the combination of written art and joining of vocal or instrumental art. I guess I drew a parallel between those who didn't win the award they wanted and the writer's accumulation of rejections. I can think of two older teen girls in one family, who sang contemporary, not country music. One song wasn't even Christian; it would be considered secular. She was an excellent performer who has lots of talent and lots of "stage savvy". She didn't win in her categories, however, nor did her sister. They are new to CGMA, and were perhaps enough off the core of the "genre" that winning was unlikely. Possibly another group would be better suited to what they want to do: reach the non-Christian world with secular music that is underpinned by a Christian worldview.

I applaud them for that. That's basically what I want to do with my writing. Writing overtly Christian books is preaching to the choir. Now, the choir needs to be spiritually fed, so preaching to them is necessary and valuable. That preaching might keep some of the choir from falling away. But it ignores a much bigger need, the vast unreached majority of the world, including in the USA. That's where I want the majority of my writing ministry to go, and I'll stick mostly to that until led elsewhere.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ehrlichiosis Chaffeensis

As I said on a Facebook status update, the good news is I don't have Lyme disease (see the immediately previous post for discussion of this). The bad news is I have a different tick-spread disease, ehrlichiosis Chaffeensis, or e. Chaffeensis. This is something first identified at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas; hence the name. Lyme disease is not common in Arkansas. My doctor said in 33 years of practice he's only had one case of it. But e. Chaffeensis is quite common. He treats it many times a year.

The blood tests they do for these tick diseases includes two tests that tell whether the disease came on the previous six weeks or longer than that. My tests proved it was more than six weeks ago. So when I had similar symptoms a year or so ago, that must be when I got the durn thing.

The further good news is that the antibiotic he put me on ten days ago seems to be working. My symptoms have drastically improved. My neck is still a little stiff, my joints still hurt a little, my brain fog is just a little bit there. But for the most part, I'm feeling tons better.

So my self-diagnosis, aided by my friend Gary, was pretty much correct, just substituting one tick disease for another. The doc wants me to take antibiotics for a month instead of two weeks, and continue to stay out of the sun as much as possible. So no noon hour walks for a while. With the temperature over a hundred today that's fine with me.

I suspect I'll be back to normal in a week or so. It will be most welcome.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Few Days of Sickness

Last Monday I felt awful. Over the weekend I had had little energy, and felt myself going downhill. My neck was stiff, my joints ached, my right shoulder and left knee especially hurt, and my energy level was down. I remembered having this some time ago, and my friend and commenter on this blog, Gary, suggested I might have Lyme disease. I did have three scabs on my back, in a place that I couldn't see them. I had Lynda look at them, and she said they looked more like pimples than bite marks—no concentric rings such as you get with a bad tick bite.

When I went to bed last Monday, my rib cage was hurting, or, to be more specific, it had gone from hurting to having a specific place that hurt, a pin point that felt awful almost no matter how I moved. Before then, every night when I got into bed and my body adjusted from being vertical to being horizontal, my rib cage hurt like the dickens for about thirty seconds. Once the adjustment was over, I was fine. But on Monday night, that small place superseded everything. The minute it hit the mattress the pain was much worse than the dickens. I'm not sure what two pain levels above "the dickens" is, but that's where I was. It felt like a broken bone sticking through my back. I simply could not lay on it.

With some work, I figured out how to get in bed and onto my side without having that spot touch anything. Needless to say sleep wasn't the greatest last Monday. Pain killers and herbal muscle relaxers had no effect. At work on Tuesday I did some investigation, and found that a stiff neck is one of the key symptoms of lyme disease. So I called the doc, he saw me late in the day, said lyme disease was very rare in Arkansas but that three other tick-borne diseases (each with an unpronounceable name that sounded much worse than lyme) were somewhat common. He didn't think I had this, but decided to draw large amounts of blood to test for it and to treat me for it with a tetracycline based antibiotic.

The next day the doctor's office called to say the first tests on my blood showed a high rate of something or other, and he wanted to see me for a follow-up in ten days. Meanwhile, either through natural body healing or the antibiotics I began to feel better—until Friday night. Something hit me then, and lasted all through Saturday and into early Sunday. This was a total loss of energy, an attitude of not wanting to do anything but sit in my reading chair and watch television.

That fog lifted sometime during the day on Sunday, and right now I feel pretty good. My neck is still somewhat stiff, my knee and should still hurt (thought not nearly as much), and my energy level has mostly returned. So hopefully I'll be back posting here at a more regular schedule. And at my writer's blog as well.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Two Blogs?

When I created my writers page, with my son's help, we created a blog thereon. Using the snazzy software from WordPress, copying all the posts from this blog to that new one was almost instantaneous. I haven't checked each post, but I've spot checked them, and found them to be correct, even to labels, even to the few images I use. Even the comments came over well, though I seem to have more comments on the copied blog than on the original. One of them must have a bad counter.

Since that blog went up on June 6, I've been posting almost identical content there and here. If I post here first I copy it there, and vice verse. I think I've had one post here that I didn't copy there, but I think everything I posted there I've copied here.

I don't know, however, if that's a good long term strategy. That blog is supposed to be for my writing career, not any personal stuff, not political info, not family or health stuff, not religious studies and Christian growth. All of those I've had on this blog, and have been copied over there. I don't have any posts I'm ashamed of, or ever unhappy with, but a reader of my writer's blog might wonder why I have Bible study type stuff posted, or information about great-uncles So-and-So who died. I may be deleting extraneous posts there.

I need to have a blog on my writing site, and it needs to reflect my writng activities. But, I don't want to lose "An Arrow Through the Air". First, I love the title, drawn from John Wesley's metaphor. I don't think I can fully maintain two blogs at the same pace I've been doing with this one. A thought I had was to make this blog the "complete" one, and the other blog the "writing only" one. That kind of makes sense, and the copying isn't difficult or time consuming. I suspect my few readers here want to see posts about my writing career, and probably don't want to be checking out another blog. Yet people who learn of me as a writer and search for me are more likely to find the other, and not also check out this one.

It's a dilemma—not an earth-shattering one, but still something to ponder.

And to seek input on. What about it, loyal readers? Shall I have two separate blogs? Shall I make An Arrow Through the Air a complete blog, and the other a writing posts only? Give me some feedback, please.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Blast From the Past

Yesterday we went to church with the temperature on the minivan thermometer showing 85 degrees at 9 AM. I hadn't caught a weather forecast for a few days, but my recollection was that it was to be in the upper 90s on Sunday. We stopped to pick up Lynda's mom, Esther, then parked in one of the shady spaces at the rear of the parking lot. It was out day to provide breakfast for our adult Life Group, so we carried that in. The plans were to go out to eat afterward to celebrate Esther's birthday.

At 11:45 AM, the service being over, after some limited talk in the foyer and elsewhere, I decided I should pull the van up to the church entrance so that Esther wouldn't have to walk as far. I exited the south doors from the foyer, and was hit in the face by a south wind that felt like a blast furnace. It was hot.

My mind flashed back to June 16, 1981, a Tuesday, when I first stepped off the airplane at Dhahran Airport, in the eastern provide of Saudi Arabia. I blast furnace hit me in the face then, too, about 105 degrees at six in the evening. Dhahran Airport did not have jetways. The plane was way out on the apron somewhere. We all piled into a transfer bus that was not air conditioned, and made the two minute drive to the terminal. I'm sure it was 120 or higher in the bus.

The terminal was air conditioned, but not overly so. In fact, I think the units were barely keeping up with the radiant heat pelting the roof, the heat island effect from the paving, and the latent heat from thousands of bodies standing in immigration lines, then looking through the luggage dumped on the floor, then standing through the laborious customs inspections. Finally I made it out, after probably an hour, to find a man holding a sign with my name. We walked to a far space in a crowded parking lot, loaded the luggage, and got in a car that had been sitting in that heat for an hour. Five minutes later I could feel good, cool air from a well-functioning car air conditioner, making most of the twenty minute drive to nearby Al Khobar a relative pleasure to what I had just gone through.

Such was my introduction to Saudi Arabia, at the beginning of an assignment we expected to last two years. The family—Lynda with 2 1/2 year old Charles and 2 month old Sara planned to spend a few weeks with her mom, then a few weeks with my dad, then follow me to the most severe of Middle Eastern countries. I would join the ranks of the "married bachelors", a group of about eight men who had come to Saudi and were waiting on family visas to come through. That was supposed to be a six week process.

The heat was just getting started. July is the hottest month in the Gulf countries. The average high temperature exceeded 120 F (official temperature; obviously more in the sun). Night time lows were generally around 90. "But it's a dry heat" you say. That depends on where you are. In Dhahran, about 10 miles inland, it's a dry heat, with some wind most of the time. But in Al Khobar, right on the coast, it's a humid heat. In the heat of the day it was those 120-odd degrees with 50 percent humidity. By 8 PM the temperature had dropped to 110 F, but the humidity had gone up to 70 percent. Apartment semi-enclosed stairway walls sweated, dripping moisture condensing from the air. Those who wore glasses or sunglasses had them instantaneously fog up from the humidity, although they would dry within a minute as radiant energy dried them.

You would think August would be better, right? Not so. Although high temperatures might be 5 degrees less, the humidity went up, to about 60 percent in the day time and 90 percent in the evening. This is not an exaggeration. The walls sweat more, the discomfort that kind of climate brings was even worse. Thus August became our month, during five years of living in the Gulf region, in which to go on vacation.

As I say, these memories came back yesterday. I started the van: 96 degrees in the shade, the thermometer said. We went to our lunch, then to a Goodwill store to look for some bargains, then to the church to pick up our leftover food, then to drop Esther at her apartment, then to drop our recyclables off at the center on the way home. The van thermometer showed between 106 and 110 F the entire time, though the weather people said the official high was 102 F. Obviously more in the sun, out on the pavement in the Bentonville heat island we were walking in.

The years in Gulf region were good years. Oh, some bad things happened, such as the time 1 1/2 year old Sara got away from Lynda, went to the pool, and was just about to climb down the ladder (not knowing it was floaties that let her play in the pool) when Lynda found her. Such as the time 9 year old Charles ran off from our apartment, walked a half mile, got on a city bus, and then got off at the beach club. Those could have both been disasters, but weren't.

Sometimes it all seems like a dream. Did we really live in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait all those years ago? Did we really almost lose Sara in the pool, and Charles to the city? Reason says yes, though thirty years of other life experiences almost say no. The wind blast yesterday was good for me, helping me remember the "ancient" times, and the goodness of God during it all.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Thoughts Behind Rejection

our son, Charles, will next Monday begin his professional career. Doctorate in hand, he begins his position as an associate administrator over admissions for the Pritzker Medical School of the University of Chicago. On a phone call this week we talked, not for the first time, about the job and what it entails. Some of it will involve recruiting trips, to various universities, to encourage potential medical students to apply to their school.

In the course of that conversation, he said that Pritzker accepts maybe 10 percent (I think that's about right; don't hold me to that number) of those who apply. For the U of C as a whole, there's also many more applicants than positions. That caused me to ask what to me seemed to be an obvious question: "If you have more than enough applicants, why are you going out and recruiting?"

He explained that recruiting was for the purpose of getting more and more qualified candidates to apply—so that they can reject them. Actually, he didn't say that. He said that universities, and professional schools such as the Pritzker, thrive in part on "exclusivity". The more candidates they reject relative to the number of positions available, the more exclusive the school will appear, and the more better candidates will apply. They will always had a difficult time competing against the good medical schools such as Harvard's, but exclusivity helps. If they can say, "Only 5 percent of those who apply to Pritzker are accepted," that will look better than saying, "Only 25 percent of those who apply...."

I suppose that's true. A med school candidate, planning on applying to Harvard and similar exclusive schools and thinking they can be one of the 1 or 2% who are accepted, might not apply to a Pritzker that accepts 25% of all applicants, but might apply to a Pritzker who accepts only 5%. So off the school goes to recruit. Get the better candidates to apply, accept the best among those, and hope that with each class you'll have a better and better student body. Then, maybe at a point in the future, some of those applicants who are accepted to both Harvard and Pritzker will go to Pritzker

I wonder if writing is a little bit like that, or at least traditional publishing is. The rejection rate is sky-high for most things that a person would want to publish. An agent that is actively recruiting new clients might see 100 query letters and want to see a partial manuscript for only 5 or 10 of those. Of those 5 or 10, the agent might want to see 1 or 2 full manuscripts. Of those 2, an offer of representation might come to only one. At most one. The agent will most likely need many more than 100 queries to find that one writer he/she would want to represent. Yet, the agents invite queries to be sent, and attend conferences and workshops with the intent of recruiting new writers, hoping to find that one writer who can produce a mega-best-seller.

This isn't really the same as the medical school analogy. In writing, it's a buyers market. Too many writers chasing after too few publishing positions. In medical school, it's a seller's market where the best candidates and the best schools are concerned. I'm not quite sure how the bottom 95% of the candidates fit in, and I think my analogy breaks down.

Today I submitted three poems for possible publication. I submitted them to a small-ish periodical, one that I've read from time to time but don't subscribe to. It's a publication for writers and speakers. The have mostly prose, but publish some writing-related poetry. I met the poetry editor of this mag at the Write-T0-Publish Conference, and she suggested I submit some. This might be a better than 1 or 2% chance for garnering a publishing credit. Maybe it's around 10 to 20%. A week or two ago I submitted a haiku to a group that's putting an anthology together to help school libraries that were destroyed in the Joplin tornado. I think that one may have as much as a 25% chance of acceptance.

Clearly I'm not exclusively applying to the Pritzkers and Harvards of the writing world. I've been doing that for about eight years, and getting no where. I may be close with my baseball novel, but I may also be farther away than I thought. We'll see.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

File Lost and Found

The writing life is like a man who didn't back up his files every day to a consistent, safe place. Then one day his hard drive on his ancient computer began acting up. A repair shop was able to clone the drive, but the file, with 5,000 new words not contained on a manuscript, was not to be found. So the man asked the computer to do an heroic thing: Despite the slowness of the ancient processor and the drive clone, the computer was asked to search for all documents with a certain four letter string. Not knowing whether the computer had the umph needed for the task, the man started the search, went to his newer computer, and began again on those missing chapters from the older back-up file. Later, with a thousand words of dubious quality added, the man checked the old computer, and found it had identified six files with that string. One of the six files turned out to be the missing one, saved with the wrong date. Does not that man, when he has found the file, contact his friends and associates who read his blog and say, "Rejoice with me, for my file that was lost is now found. The work is there, and the first writing is better than the second."

Yes, my lost file is found. This was my In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People file. About a week before we left for Chicago I took some pages I had written in manuscript and entered then in the computer. As will normally happen, I changed things as I typed along, and I went beyond where the manuscript had ended. I recalled that I had added two or three thousand words, but wasn't sure how many. At the end of the session I saved the file, with a vague recollection I saved it to a wrong folder, but knew I'd remember that so didn't re-save it to the right folder. Also, I didn't do a poor man's back-up by e-mailing it to my office. I think I was in a hurry that evening.

Back from the Write-To-Publish Conference, with an editor wanting the manuscript and a publisher also interested, I went to look for the file. Nothing. All the files with that name in the right folder were older. I though, Oh wait, I saved that to a wrong folder, but which one? I went through all the folders I might have been working in the day I typed that chapter. Nothing. Oh, I found a FTSP file in one of them, but it was also an older file.

Now, I typed this on our 2001 Dell, which has been my computer for at least the last six years. It has been slowly losing performance, and I knew I would have limited use of it. I was planning to move all my stuff to our 2009 Dell, since Lynda doesn't use it any more. With no home network set up, I was going to do that through e-mails. But, two days before leaving for Chicago, the 2001 Dell gave me a blue-screen error, followed by a black-screen reboot, without rebooting. I dropped it at Computer Medic and went on the trip, telling them there was no hurry with it.

The medics took their time with it, and finally said the hard drive was dying, but that they thought they could clone it. Other projects pushed mine back, but they finally got to it, and I finally re-hooked-up the computer. It's amazingly slow, much slower than it was with the original hard drive. So I was actually searching on the clone hard drive.

I searched and searched for that file, to no avail. It seemed to be gone. I began to wonder whether I had dreamed about typing that chapter rather than actually typing it. Finally, I decided to use the Windows Explorer search feature. I wasn't sure if that old Dell could do the job. I searched for "FTSP" in file names only. It took literally twenty minutes for that poor computer to do the search, but came up with results as described in the first paragraph.

When I checked the original version against what I had typed that day, the original was much, much better. I've noticed this before on those few occasions when I started over due to something lost and later found. The original is always better. The found file actually had closer to three thousand words, in two chapters. Yesterday I added more than two thousand words to it, and the book stands a hair under 15,000.

Can 85,000 be more than two months away?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Working Through Adversity

So I arrive at home last night, knowing I would have to fix supper, but I decided to sit a few minutes before starting it. I sat in my reading chair, leaned back, put my arms behind my head, and realized the air blowing on my arms from the AC duct was not as cold as it ought to be. I checked the thermostat/thermometer—it was 82 degrees with the thermostat set on 77. Some was amiss.

The inside air handling unit was working, but the outside compressor wasn't. I checked everything I knew to check, and couldn't find the problem. So I shut it off, we turned on some fans, I cooked supper, we ate, I went out and looked for ripe blackberries (finding none, the bushes nearest the house being either past prime or still red), and I headed to The Dungeon, with its coolness and Internet.

The coolness was nice, but the Internet was down. A call to Cox resulted in the message, "I see there's a service outage in your area; technicians have been dispatched." So, we went to The Dungeon, but watched an episode of Battlestar Gallactica instead. With an interruption for a long phone call, that brought us to 10:30 PM. By then the Internet was back, but that left too few hours to do much except check e-mail. No real time to do the writing tasks I had planned for the evening.

Which was too bad. I had a lengthy writing to-do list. I was going to go to the old computer, just back from the shop, and back-up recent work by e-mailing them to myself. Then I was going to go to the new computer and download those items (I've never been able to set up our home network) so I'd have them in three places, or five if you include the mail server and my hard drive at work. I was also going to begin the process of uploading my two e-books to SmashWords, which includes some exacting formatting. Couldn't do the things I wanted to do, so didn't do the others.

Today is looking better. The AC dude will be there sometime today, maybe before noon. The Internet was restored. Tonight looks to be an evening of accoplishment. As I've written before, however, it seems that whenever I begin to ratchet up my writing activities, adversity pays a visit. I went to the writing conference, and a two week dry time followed. I pull through that, and can't do what I planned to do on the computer. I have a ton of personal items to attend to.

Last night I probably should have done some kind of writing on the computer or in manuscript. I could have worked on the next chapter of In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People, and have merged the files later. I could have worked on part of a subject that came to me over the last few days for inclusion in The Candy Store Generation, and merged the files later. I could have worked on the proposals for the John Wesley writing series and the genealogy article series, both of which have finally started to come together in my mind and are about ready for making tangible. But that wasn't what I'd planned to do last night, and I just didn't feel like changing my plans. Oh stubborn me.

Somehow I've got to find a way through adversity to productivity. To embrace flexibility a little more. To have some back-up tasks planned for those times when it just doesn't work out to work on the urgent or the necessary. Hopefully I'll get there.