Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Life is a Road Trip

The first road trip I remember was 1972, the fall of my junior year in college. I drove from Kingston RI to the Hartford CN area to visit my neighbor, Bobby, who was playing in a varsity football game. I went up Saturday morning and went back Sunday afternoon, an hour and a half each way. Hmmm, can a trip that short really be called a road trip?

The next year I drove my grandparents to Framingham MA and back to Snug Harbor RI. Again, that was 90 minutes each way. Just doesn't seem long enough. In grade school we took frequent bus rides for field trips: to Plymouth Plantations, to Mystic Village, to Sturbridge Village, to the Boston area for the Science Museum and other sites. Somehow, those just don't seem like road trips when you're riding on the bus. Even the longer ones in high school, such as to the Stratford Shakespeare theatre, or band concerts in Marblehead MA, Stony Brook NY, and even Montreal in Canada. I suppose they were road trips, but not being in a car, and being surrounded by fellow students, they didn't feel so.

Those few family vacations before Mom got real sick probably qualify. There was New Hampshire in 1960, and New Jersey a couple of times in the 1950s. But I was too young to remember most of those very well. Someday, however, I'll put the few memories about them on paper.

No, my first road trip was in 1974, specifically beginning June 10. Everything was loaded into my 1966 Plymouth Valient, with it's slant six engine. Well, everything except two boxes of books, which I couldn't fit. At 7:00 AM I said goodbye to Dad and headed west. Destination: Kansas City. Since I didn't know how long I could drive in a day, I gave myself a week to make the trip. Could I drive four hours a day? Or maybe five? Eight would be wonderful. That would put me in KC in perhaps just four days (55 mph national speed limit back then).

Once I passed New Haven I was in new territory, since the only previous times I'd been that far west I was too young to remember or was on a bus and not paying that much attention. I stopped for gas somewhere east of New York City, then veered off to the north and took the Tappen Zee Bridge bypass, my radio tuned to 880 AM to listen for traffic reports. My tank full, my eyes fliting between the road and the wonders I was driving through, my ears listening to what was happening on the West Side Drive and the Major Degan Expressway, I kept going.

The Garden State Parkway gave way to I-80. Two hours across the Garden State took me to the Delaware Water Gap and I passed into Pennsylvania. It was around noon, or maybe a little later. I was as wide awake as I could be. Trying to keep it around 60 mph, the engine temerature gauge on the Valient kept telling me that was a little too fast. It liked it much better when I kept it at 55. So I bumped back and forth between those two, and kept heading west.

At some point I stopped for lunch at a Howard Johnson restaurant. I don't remember where this was, but I might be able to find out. I had a bunch of postcards (the blank ones, not the picture kind) pre-addressed to my dad. I think I filled one out and dropped it in the mail. Dad kept those postcards, and I now have them in a box somewhere. This was in central Pennsylvannia, probably east of the north-south centroid. The scenery was wonderful. Mountains everywhere. Broad rivers to cross with expensive bridges. Trees everywhere—none of the urban clutter that marked New England. I had a leisurely lunch, and headed west.

Around 6 PM I was at Youngstown OH. A Ramada Inn beckoned at a convenient exit. I figured I'd better stop for the night, but I wasn't tired. I was still excited by all the stimuli around me. I went in to the Ramada and learned they had another one in Mansfield OH, a couple of hours down the road. So I hopped back in the Valient and continued toward the sinking sun. Sunset was still a couple of hours away.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Still Thinking About This Blog

Last June, when I started up my writer's website and included a blog with it, I decided to keep An Arrow Through the Air, but to try to change the focus. The blog at would be about my writing in a way that fans would care about, while this blog would be more about my writing journey. And I'd throw in a few other things, such as book and movie reviews.

Since the title of the blog is a great metaphor from the writing of John Wesley, I thought I could make this blog about metaphors of life. The problem is, metaphors of life just haven't been coming to me. Possibly it's the engineer in me, and all the straight-forward technical stuff I do that keeps me from thinking metaphorically. That's a problem with my poetry. I tend to tell stories without putting in many metaphors. Or if I do use a metaphor, it's master metaphor, more allegory-like than a small metaphor to make a point. A chink in my poetic armor, you could say.

I'm at my office today, a Sunday, having come here after a great worship service and Life Group class. I have some things going on the end of next week and the week following, and I wanted to get ahead of the curve a little. I found I did all the things I wanted to do within a half hour, which gave me some time, if I wanted to take it, to finish some research for The Candy Store Generation, to clean up some stuff that wasn't on the to do list, to send out notices about our writers group meeting tomorrow night, and to come to this blog. Now that I'm here, I can't think of a single metaphor of life to write about.

Perhaps something will come to me at a time when I least expect it, and I'll be at a point where I can capture it and put it in tangible form for later development. Perhaps I need to quit trying so hard to come up with metaphors, and let them come naturally. If they don't come that may be an indication that I'm not supposed to be a poet.

This week I spent more time in my current reading book, War Letters. These are letter from Americans during our various wars, from the Civil War, World War 1, World War 2, Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and Bosnia/Kosovo. I still have 120 pages to finish the book. I keep looking in these letters for things that can become metaphors. Instead, in the Korean War letters, I found fodder for The Candy Store Generation. That's a good thing, but it doesn't help me with my other writing goal.

Maybe I need to get back to critiquing poetry. I haven't critiqued a poem at the Absolute Write forums in around six months. I think when I get home I will critique a poem there first, before I work a little on TCSG and reading. We'll see how it goes.

All of which probably does little to enlighten my few readers, and probably explains whey I don't have many people following my blog.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Movie Review: Iron Lady

Lynda and I saw The Iron Lady at the Carmike Cinema on Tuesday night. Being a fan of Margaret Thatcher, and having seen a number of trailers, I was interested in seeing this. It is an excellent movie, and I found only one item about it disappointing: It was too short. The showing started at 7:05 PM. When you figure the ads for other movies and the concessions probably took 15 minutes, the actual movie started about 7:20. We were walking out after the credits at 9:05. That meant the actual story was just a little over 90 minutes. Since many themes were not fully explored, I would have liked at least another half hour.

I liked the way the movie started, with Thatcher walking to a small grocery store unnoticed, some number of years after she left the prime ministership. She then returned to her apartment to hallucinate about her dead husband. The thoughts of that old woman kept going back to two different eras, with one vignette into a third. The views of Thatcher's entry into politics as a young, single woman provided information I had no prior knowledge of. There was also one view of Thatcher's childhood.

Most of the flashbacks were to the years Thatcher was prime minister. This time I expected to know much about. However, I was surprised to be watching scenes I knew nothing about. The riots by striking workers, the IRA activities in England, the bombing of the hotel where the Conservative party was holding a convention—I didn't know of any of that. And I realized: Thatcher was prime minister from 1979 to 1990. I spent five of those years in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. In the pre-Internet, pre-cable and satalite TV era, those two countries were not actually places where news coverage was complete. I never heard of most of that. It gave me a greater appreciation for her accomplishments. I had an idea that she changed the U.K. with relatively little opposition. I learned instead that she did it in the face of much opposition.

The move was well put together. Meryl Streep is very believable as Thatcher. The mixing up of times, including Thatcher interacting with her dead husband, kept you on your toes as to what was happening. Given the amount of time in the movie, they really didn't explore some things as much as I wish they had, such as Thatcher's road to conservatism in her youth, or the relations between she and her children. They alluded to some degree of estrangement, but weren't very specific.

The Iron Lady may have run out its string in the theatres, but if you haven't seen it, and have a chance to see it, by all means do. It's well worth the price.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Every day more examples for "The Candy Store Generation"

It seems California is so broke that they have totally cut State funding to libraries. Over at the forums of the writers site Absolute Write, we writers have been engaged in a debate over this. Unfortunately, the debate has devolved into politics, rather than a roundtable discussion. I guess that’s to be expected with such a topic.
I don’t generally get into political debates on this blog, as I want the subject matter to be as inclusive as possible. This is about my writing journey, and how through that I want my life to have more impact than just an arrow through the air. But my work-in-progress, The Candy Store Generation, is a political book. And the subject matter of that political book dovetails nicely with the story about libraries in California being the latest in that State’s financial woes. At other places where writers gather, the conventional wisdom is that if your blog isn’t attracting visitors you aren’t giving them anything of value. Hopefully this will be of value, as it describes something of my book.

I hope some of you will go to the Absolute Write thread and read some of it. No password is necessary. The essential information is that the State is cutting funding to local libraries. The State is broke. They don’t have money to fix roads and bridges. How could they possibly have money at the State level to fund libraries at the local level? Solutions proposed by some of the posters are: tax the rich more (even up to 90 percent); don’t fund road improvements as libraries are more important; go to a partial fee-based system; raise sufficient funds at the lowest possible level of government (township, city, county) to fund the library. That last one is my proposal.

This all seems to be symptomatic of something I feature in TCSG: the fascination with other people’s money (OPM). One of my chapters is titled “The O.P.M. of the People.” Borrowing is using OPM. The local community, in receiving tax money from the State to fund their local library, is using OPM. But wait, you say, didn’t the people in that local community give money to the State in the form of income taxes, real property taxes, personal property taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes, and just about every form of taxes you can think of paid by their residents? Sure they did, and the community wants it back. They don’t understand that those funds come back to them after a 5 percent handling fee—only 5 percent if they are lucky and they happen to have an efficient State government. Or maybe that’s a classic oxymoron.

The other problem with OPM through taxes is that even the wealthier communities will want their share. The City powers-that-be will see it as a way to avoid raising taxes, and will be only too happy to get some “free money” from the State. And being wealthier and perhaps better able to lobby or fill out grant applications, they are as likely to receive OPM from the State to fund their local library. Except it really isn’t OPM. It’s their own money returned to them after a State handling charge minus whatever part is transferred to poor communities. So it’s pretty much a shell game.

When it comes to taxes, there may be no such thing as OPM. If you live in this nation, you pay taxes. The AW thread has a contention that 80 percent of library patrons don’t pay taxes. What rubbish. Everyone pays taxes. I know what that poster was thinking. Since approximately 50 percent of the population doesn’t pay income taxes to the Federal government, everyone thinks these people don’t pay taxes. Since public library users could reasonably be expected to come disproportionately from the poorer classes, who can’t afford to buy books for themselves, the 80 percent of library patrons not paying income taxes is a reasonable assumption.

But I still contend that these people do pay income taxes; they just don’t write their checks to the Feds. They write their check to the landlord, who takes a part of that payment to pay his income taxes. They write their check to the grocery store, which uses a part of it to pay their taxes. And the part of it they use to pay their employees is in turn sent in to the Feds to pay their taxes. So those who don’t write an income tax check to the Feds still pay income taxes. They just don’t know it. And everyone thinks “tax the rich.” Where do they think the rich get their money? And why would they think the rich just won’t raise prices higher to cover their higher tax bill? I really believe taxes at all levels fall heaviest on the lower classes regardless of who writes the checks to the government.

I’ve been struggling with some of the content for TCSG. I think today I found something to use as an example.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Progress on the Harmony

As I’ve written on this blog before, for several years I’ve been working on writing a harmony of the gospels. I won’t repeat what I’ve written before, but direct those interested to any of these posts for a description.

Analyzing the Chronology of Gospel Events
To Post or Not to Post
Still Writing with the Flow

I thought I should give a progress report. Early last year I was working hot and heavy on what I call Passage Notes. These are where I put parallel passages side by side in a table, divide them into small units, and explain the process I went through to harmonize the passage. I made a lot of progress early in 2011, maybe even through mid-year, then pulled off. My mind was tired of it at that point, and other writing interests had hold of whatever gray cells I could muster.

Then late in 2011, having completed a number of other projects, I picked up the Harmony again. This time I went to the Appendixes. These differ from the Passage Notes in that they analysis of broader issues that must be addressed in a harmony, such as the chronology of Jesus’ life and apparent or actual duplication of teaching, events, miracles, etc. As I began again this work, I had ten appendixes identified by name and purpose, and eight of them started or complete.

First I took time to address how many appendixes were needed. I looked at some other publications of or about harmonies, and saw what they covered and what they ignored. I compared that to what I considered important by way of explanation, and came up with a final list. I’ll need thirteen appendixes to explain what I feel needs to be explained. As of November/December of last year I had seven of thirteen either complete or well along, one about a third done, and five as title only or maybe an opening paragraph.

So I set to work on the appendixes, and by mid-January had completed three of those, plus the one that was half done is now seven-eighths done. At that point I shifted back to the Passage Notes. As I resumed work on them I looked ahead and saw that I really didn’t have as much to do on them as I thought I did. I thought I might have six months more writing to do, but I actually finished the Passage Notes yesterday—subject to editing and proofreading, of course. So now it’s down to two and one-eighth appendixes, and the book will be complete.

I know some people will ask, “Why spend so much time on a non-commercial project?” My only answers are because I want to, and because I can. It has been a rewarding experience. I have a much better understanding of the gospels as a result of this, especially how our orthodox understanding of Jesus requires all four gospels. No one of them tells the whole story, though each of them, in their own way, tells a complete story. How’s that for inspiration?

So the long work is nearing completion. Yesterday and today I worked on adding bookmarks and cross-references between the Passage Notes and the harmony text. I will likely finish that on Monday or Tuesday. The next step will be to print a proofreading copy. I’ll slowly proofread it while at the same time get back to work on the last couple of appendixes. I believe I may have some text done on one of them, residing somewhere in a separate document. I also want to add some references to all the appendixes. I consulted a number of scholarly works throughout the writing, but haven’t added the references. It’s time to do so.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Someday: I'll conquer my weight problem. The urge to use food for comfort will subside; the overwhelming urge to have my belly full will diminish, and my body with it. The forty year struggle will be over.

Someday: I'll get ahead of the financial curve. Debts assumed for others will be paid, or reassigned. The mortgage will be paid. My salary will get above where it was in 2003. The need to accumulate things will be gone. And the constant pressure to worry about having something for retirement will be over.

Someday: The anger at "things" that come up in life, generally things outside my control, will be gone. The anger was learned, not natural. So hopefully, someday, I'll return to my natural state.

Someday: I'll learn to use graphics software, so I can do my book covers myself.

Someday: We'll have more than 2 people attend writers group.

Someday: ...The stupid pharmacy automated calling system will stop interrupting me when I'm typing blog posts.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Movie Review: "War Horse"

After not seeing War Horse when we had some opportunities to, we finally made the time last night. It's a good movie. It's now at the end of its run. Only seven of us saw the 7:10 PM showing last night. I can't imagine they would have many at the 10:20 PM showing, not in this retirement community. So this review probably comes too late to help anyone else make a decision of whether to see it or not. But review it I shall.
It's the story of a boy and his horse in Scotland. The boy's dad, a closet drunk, buys a thoroughbred yearling at auction, for a ridiculous price, when he's supposed to buy a work horse. Somehow the boy trains the horse, and gets him to plow. But due to the price of the horse and farm losses, the family can't make the rent. So the tenant farmer sells the horse, the only thing of real value that he has, to the army, as England is about to fight what we now call World War 1. As the boy and his horse part, he vows to find the horse wherever he is. The boy is too young to enlist, though not by much.

The bulk of the movie follows the horse, Joey, as his officer-owner falls in the first action, he's taken by the Germans, he winds up with a French jam maker and his granddaughter, ends up back with one side in the war, then the next, then gets caught in no man's land. He is rescued from there by the combined efforts of a British soldier and a German soldier under a mini-truce, and, though severely injured from barb wire, is led back to the British side. The boy who trained him is now in the Army in that very sector of a long, long front, his eyes bandaged after a gas attack. When he hears that a special horse has just been rescued, he figures it's Joey, whistles for him, and the horse responds just before being put out of its misery because of its injuries.

As I said, it's a good movie. But I was a bit disappointed. I didn't think the trailers did much to clue us in as to what the story was about. The reliance on coincidence to bring Albert and Joey together at the front is a bit hard to take. Some of the special effects, such as a snowstorm near the end (or was that flying ash, I wasn't sure), could have been better.

On the other hand, the depiction of how the war destroyed the land was excellent. The scene where Joey was part of a horse team pulling artillery was excellent. The home scenes before the war were great.

Maybe the build-up of the movie was over done, and caused me to set my expectations too high. I was expecting a once in a decade production, and all I got was a great, great movie. If you have a chance, if it stays around in theatres a bit longer, by all means see it. It was good wholesome entertainment, and the $9.00 I paid (two seniors tickets) was well spent.