Old Moon

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Back at Last!

If anyone out there is still reading...thank you for not deserting. We all love technology; most of us couldn't manage without it. That's the reason when two things happen simultaneously, life gets pretty discouraging. I did a seemingly simple weeks ago: I changed my e-mail address.

The first thing that happened was that the technology didn't work. Instantly I lost access to my blog--not to read it, but to edit or add to it.

The second thing that went wrong was that there is NO way to get a direct answer to a direct question. It has taken all these weeks of daily striving to get back to where I am. Today I discovered that I didn't (couldn't) change the e-mail address associated with the blog. Amazing! And after all the evil things I've had to say about my erstwhile server, I'm having to take some of them back. They continue to save messages going to my discontinued account on their webmail site! Otherwise I'd have lost 5 years' worth of nonsense that I didn't want to lose.

I'm humbled (yet again--it seems to be a given as one gets older). So now I have to think of something to say, I guess...so, Hello again.

Maybe there's a hidden message in the fact that I finally got back after the conventions (still more or less in one piece) on an important day: my late beloved husband's birthday. [What possible message could be in that coincidence?]

This is a busy month with some worrying freight for me. Possibly a decision to make a pretty drastic change. Have you ever thought of how you'd manage cooking if you had perhaps 10% of your accustomed utensils and cookware? All suggestions would be greatly appreciated! One must be encouraged, I guess, if one is looking forward, even if it is unto the unknown!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Pet Peeves

The older I get, the older I seem. Don't laugh. The older I get, the less patience I have with just about everything that doesn't really matter--and the more I have with things that do. Most of the former seem to be connected with being a writer, a teacher, and a lover of the language.

E.g.:  The fashion for female voices whose placement seems to be entirely above the soft palate--nasal, deliberately hoarse, high-pitched, and grating. It's awful, and almost universal on TV.

Then there's "Mom." Is it written somewhere that mother is no longer in the vocabulary? Even if I were single (which in a way, I am), I hate the expression a "single mom." Echoes of satiric essays we were made to read in school on the subject of American "momism." Besides, being a single mother is hardly a subject for slangy off-hand terminology. Or is it?

What ever happened to the the designation "children?" "Kids" is okay a lot of the time, but there are certainly instances when that flip expression simply ought not to be used. No one seems to be aware of that. When listing casualties, for example.

And "snuck?" Surely in a serious dialogue, it's still possible to say "sneaked," and be understood. "Snuck" used to be as grammatically abhorrent as "ain't."

I won't even go there, as they say, when it comes to "lay" and "lie!"


Saturday, August 4, 2012

To Blog or Not?

Someone I met online insisted I must blog to put myself out there where I might find a buyer for my books. From other bloggers I have gathered that one is expected to keep at it, week in and week out. I'm amazed at the number who keep to a strict schedule, producing weekly or monthly, or whatever. I've also read that if a blogger wants readers, s/he must offer something a reader wants or needs. "Aye, there's the rub."

In my opinion, many bloggers offer tips and hints and glimpses at inside tracks to help their readers sell or learn something. From day one, I've known I don't have that kind of thing to offer. All I can put out there in the blogosphere is what I can put out there in articles or novels or stories or poetry:  what I hope might touch a sympathetic vibration in another human being. I might as well be trying to sell an essay to yet another uninterested agent or market. Makes a person wonder if it's worth the time invested.

So herewith a list of tiny successes thus far in 2012:

Two poems in www.lowestoftchronicle.com; one in Lucidity Poetry Journal; one in Red Poppy Poetry Reviewone for an anthology to be published by the Poetry Institute of Canada; one for an anthology to be published by Inner Child Press; and a dozen or so reviews and essays for www.seniorwomen.com. An essay has been published in an anthology called Heartscapes by Spruce Mountain Press. I'll spare us all the number of rejections or simple non-responses.

What I'd really like to know is whether this blog has helped. If a reader responds, it's encouraging. If no one does, it's discouraging. But the latter is the result of 90% of what most of us send out, isn't it?

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Thought While Listening


Maybe I’ve come to love chamber music so much because of the constant evidence it gives of human ability to respond to another. Every nuance of every note depends on communicating, on agreed-upon emphases: volume, timbre, tempo, interpretation—and, I believe, some instinct that allows for perfect consonance. It’s like an emblem of the possibility of understanding at the deepest level. 

How terrible to be deaf, and not to experience this!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Emphasis on the Wrong SyLAble

Foreword: to those who asked about the Irving book, it's A Widow for One Year. I left out the title because I thought what I was saying really applies to the other books of his I've read as well.

What I'm thinking today arises from two recent public brouhahas (love that word): the Olympic uniform debacle, and the ongoing campaign rhetoric. Never having been a political animal anyway, I'm ill suited to understanding and/or discussing campaign practices. However, I can't help thinking that if something could just be got through the heads of campaign managers and their candidates', namely: that transparency, honest answers even to harassing questions,
and a change from the culture of he who can afford the most obscene waste of money wins is not the way to win the hearts and minds of those with something more useful than lint between the ears!

When will lawmakers begin behaving the way their oaths of office demand of them, and stop seeing who can outspend the other? It's shocking. The emphasis on insulting and "spinning" every bit of publicity-rich information (regardless of its accuracy) is utterly misplaced.
Then the Ralph Lauren flap: economy is a word with more than one meaning. For some it's a narrow concept involving an attempt to make the most of the money you have. If it was significantly (sic.) cheaper to manufacture some components in China or elsewhere, so be it. The point is that the designer shouldn't be using Olympic athletes as private posters for his company, and the important part of the Olympics is supposed to be international SPORT. Of course, the view of the games as purely chauvinistic competition is pretty well ingrained, but we should really be thinking of the fact that in the original games, even in the midst of armed conflict, the Greeks put aside the war for the duration of the games (in which they competed nude--perhaps so as not to reveal their native states)? The athletes were competing as athletes, not as members of Sparta or Rhodes, or Athens, or what have you.

It's discouraging to find so much of humanity engaged in what looks like deliberate or totally wrongheaded perspectives on really important issues with future consequences.

So much for my rant of the day.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Reading for Fun

Most of the time I read for entertainment. That's been the case ever since I got out of college. It took about ten years for me to realize that a) I didn't have to finish something I hated, and b) that I dared to read without an analytical eye.


However, often I see something that attracts my attention. I just finished a novel chapter which is really a fairly long scene that combines melodrama, satire, burlesque, and sadness (John Irving) that stopped my suspension of disbelief for a moment. Here's a teenager, a four-year-old, and a mature woman in a confrontation full of emotional undercurrents and epiphanies-in-the-making.

As is expected by anyone who has ever been to a workshop, the physical description of the place where the action takes place is supplied right away. Here, though, just before the close of the chapter, Irving inserts the information that you thought you'd had at the beginning of the chapter:  the minute details of the setting with all their implications.

I guess if one tries to write for entertainment, whether fiction or not, one becomes accustomed to accepted methods. This inversion provided a new technique for giving emphasis that slyly inserted a whole truckload of specific, important exposition.

Is there a message here in whether or not it's okay to read just for fun?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Foreign Language?

This is probably not a new notion to anybody trying to learn to write what someone else might want to read (as opposed to those who claim to write for themselves), but I keep finding myself in a manner of speaking (i.e. writing) in what seems to be the wrong language. Sometimes an idea or a compulsion comes along that drips out on the page more or less in the way I intended, and sometimes it even is a small success. Then there are the days when a mental picture develops of a bloated balloon on top of my neck that's threatening to burst. Something needs to get out there, and no matter whether I try to avoid it, quash it, or rise to the challenge, the format and words won't adjust.

Here we are, facing the barrage of political campaigns; here I am with a list of both praise and complaints that need emphasis here where I live...and I can't seem to think in prose. Don't laugh. This isn't poetry, I know. I'm not sure it's prose...disjointed as it seems. The point is, something like an imp behind my screen seems to be demanding I write poems. See that? An imp, indeed! And I won't expose any more poems on this site after the deafening silence the first time I tried it. Besides, if anyone did like one, they wouldn't take it because it would already have been "published." Wasn't there a time when a blog didn't count?

Is there a writer out there with a trick for disciplining that "inner voice?" I don't include freelance journalists or advertising copywriters because I do understand how to take a paid commission and trample it into shape somehow. I'm talking about the "creative" writers. Yes, I do dislike the implied condescension in that term, but I think it makes the distinction clear.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

An Encouraging Word

Breathes there a writer so blithe s/he doesn't crave a reader's word that shows said reader liked, understood, agreed with something s/he's committed to paper or the Net? I offer this post only as encouragement. It just shows that sometimes that treasured word can drop from an unexpected place. I've been cherishing this for a while now. It's offered to remind us all that there should be hope to go along with the work. This was part of the final post by a professor of creative writing whose blogs I'd been reading and commenting on from the time I first found him.

...You're a better writer than you think you are, and you're going to be better yet...


It doesn't get any better than that.

Maybe the lesson is to remember to respond to what you're reading; you never know who or how it might be appreciated, or what you might be lucky enough to learn.



Saturday, June 2, 2012

What's in a Name?

If anyone out there has missed Mark Twain's masterpiece Eve's Diary, it's not too late. The fun of names and naming is a big part of Eve's (aka Samuel Clemens's) observations on how mankind learned to live in this world.

I looked up from my lunch table reading and saw a big yellow butterfly with black designs on its wings enjoying one of the Asiatic lilies just outside the window. For some reason, I noticed the thought that came immediately: "Tiger Swallowtail." This in turn made me think about the human compulsion to name and to know the name of just about everything.

We most likely begin this in early childhood as we're learning to talk. Names of people and things are the first words we learn. I guess there are some people who grow out of that preoccupation and become content to find out only what's necessary for their work or hobbies. Somehow I slipped into what a few have hinted is some kind of obsession. Thinking about it,  I realize that I'm frustrated if I can't find out the name of a shrub I don't recognize, or a new weed. We spent a year in England, and I think it was less than a week before I bought a field guide to birds of Europe. There's real pleasure in knowing that the mushrooms and ferns I learned as a child I can recognize in England or Italy or France or Germany, where I've been, but I could note them anywhere above the equator. That's half the world of two categories I don't have to research!

If my father ever used a generic term for something he referred to, (gismo, thingamajig) I never heard him do it. His mind was as organized as his workshop, with everything in its place and properly labeled. Even before I married an engineer I'd been taught the difference between a socket wrench and an adjustable wrench, I knew the difference between an Allen wrench,  plain screwdriver and a Phillips head. Daddy wouldn't let me apply for a driver's license until I could recognize and name all the exposed parts of an internal combustion engine (c. 1950. Needless to say, I'd be lost today.) Dog breeds, horse breeds, cattle, birds--denizens of our woods of all sorts, tools, sailboat rigging, musical terminology, a good deal of biology and geology, and you name it--I'd had to learn their names before I was out of school. And now I'm stuck with it. "If you know the botanical name, it will be easy to find what you want in a nursery," Daddy said. Well, I confess, I try to use common names now, but when it comes to local names, I fall back on the genus if I know it. The trouble is nowadays, I'm lucky to remember either one. Still, I did remember the name of that beautiful common butterfly (whose genus and species I never had to learn).

If it's a beautiful bird song, why should I care which chorister is singing it? I keep wondering if it's just early conditioning, or if I'm somewhat like Adam in Twain's story, who seems to feel a sense of power when he decides to bestow a name, or if there's some acquisitive gene involved. I admit to a love of precision in use of the language, but do you really need to point out the difference between a pine tree and a juniper?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Loose Living

I have a problem with a few acquaintances who seem to live their lives by aphorisms. For every eventuality, they seem to rely on convenient capsules of wisdom. "A man's life is his work," "It's an ill wind that blows no good," "Consider the lilies of the field...". You can imagine hundreds more.

What bothers me is that the events of life so seldom fall into categories. Too often, with the best attempts at planning and preparing, the completely unexpected happens, and when it does, though some guiding principle succinctly expressed may fit up to a point, the chances are pretty good that it will be only that: up to a point. Besides, what is appropriate for one person isn't always right for someone with different temperament, training, background, goals...etc.

Those who rely on ancient wisdom in brief sayings forget the variability of existence. I wish I understood statistics because I know there are some guidelines for predicting randomness, but I have a feeling that isn't enough. When "the chips are down," when it's "fish or cut bait" and extremely important or instant decision is called for, the chances of failure seem to me to multiply in direct ratio with dependence on proverbs or tribal wisdom or just plain aphorisms.

Free will needs to be just that--including freedom to think and react for the specific moment and the specific person. If it'
s good for you, it's probably a good idea to send a quick prayer, but don't depend on Confucius or Proverbs.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Healthy (Healthful?) Mistrust


As I deleted another Spam e-mail with From indicating the United States Department of Justice, it occurred to me that these days suspicion has to be at the very top of instinctive reactions to almost everything, especially on the indispensable Internet.

It must follow that our (that is, most people’s) automatic responses to one another will eventually be tainted if it isn't already. The notion really frightens me. Somehow there has to be a way to recognize and accept the goodwill most of us have grown up to expect from our fellows. 

Will there be a kind of evolutionary process that over time develops the ability to tell the difference between honest and fraudulent, between Spam in life and genuineness? If not, we must despair of our future.

Imagine having the gall and the stupidity to call yourself The United States Department of Justice with a message saying the reader will receive a seven figure number of dollars when the necessary information has been forwarded! Thank heaven this Spammer/Phisher was so greedy and so cynical as to think the mere mention of that much money would entice some poor fool...

Caveat emptor once said it all, but now everyone with access to the Net has to be terminally suspicious all the time.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Other Side of Silence



            “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.” 
                          George Elliot, Middlemarch.


            Early in our lives, most of us are taut with eagerness to vibrate in unison with every sensation available. A few unlucky souls are oblivious. Those most observant, most open to subtlety, most susceptible to resonances with emotion become artists. The second tier of sensitivity allows for appreciation of what the elect produce.
            As time passes, those less hardy understand better what George Elliot meant about “dying of the roar on the other side of silence.” In a world so full of fast communication and visual images, the test of survival (psychic and emotional) is often the ability to withstand the worst, though it doesn’t happen to you.
            As a teenager, I read whatever was recommended or what sounded appealing regardless of its horror, and managed only occasional nightmares. In a single summer I made my way through War and Peace, Gone with the Wind, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, Anna Karenina, The Robe, and more. Those books were Book-of-the-Month Club selections on my aunt’s shelves. I read drama, horror (not in the thriller sense)--endless historical fiction.
            Later I watched the movie Gone with the Wind, and suddenly the gripping scenes of the wounded in Atlanta, for instance, were no longer confined to what my imagination could conjure. I read All Quiet on the Western Front, The Moon is Down, Journey’s End. After a childhood surrounded by the knights of the Round Table, the exploits of Greek heroes, biblical warriors, I began to have a dawning realization of the difference between literary and artistic war and the real thing. By 1939, I couldn’t have escaped it if I’d tried.
            I have several friends who have joined the general rave about the movie War Horse. Some wonder that I won’t watch it. As I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered that my tolerance for a lot of reality has diminished in reverse order to the number of years I’ve lived. I no longer find it necessary to keep up with experiences I doubt I can withstand without paying an emotional price I find too high.
            There’s no doubt I’m a coward, both physical and emotional. The things we all manage because we have no choice are beginning to seem like all I can take. I don’t need to subject myself deliberately to things that will be far too easy to imagine far too accurately. So I won’t watch what horses went through (not to mention men and mules and farm animals and civilians) in World War I because I don’t have to.            
            The silence of the end of a disaster (of whatever kind)  hides a roar that only saints and philosophers have the stomach for. I wonder how many elderly have become like me.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Not a Reporter...

For some reason I can't enjoy interviewing new residents. I love meeting new people, learning about them, mulling over impressions. I dislike trying to ask the right questions to construct the kind of shallow profile required by our newsletter. It should be a simple matter to ask someone where they come from, what brought them here, what they've done in their working lives, number of children and grandchildren, etc.

I recently had a challenge when I was asked to speak to a couple who have recently moved in. Both are known to everyone local because he is a judge, connected to the most well-known names in the state, and because he grew up in this town. His career is distinguished and varied. I thought this would be a snap.

Over several years I've discovered that for me to write something of interest, my best bet is to get the subject into a mood to chat--freely. I'm not a reporter. I don't have the temperament of a prober, of a seeker after "the facts."

The couple I spoke with are in their nineties--she in assisted living, he in an apartment. He spends nearly all his time with her in her room. Entering this tiny domain, walls decorated with pictures of their children and other relatives from both sides of their respective families, reminded me of days with my maternal grandmother. She was a committed Anglophile, southern, and devoted to tea not just as a beverage, but as a kind of symbol of civilization. The obvious missing element in the room was the tea tray.

I tried the usual approach with no success. Both wanted to talk about how the two had met (during WWII in England, where the husband was convalescing from wounds). The common rumor has always had it that she nursed him. In fact, she did not. She happened to be working in a hospital near the Army hospital. They met through Red Cross-sponsored social activities for the recovering soldiers. As time passed, I couldn't divert them from discussing the war, their experiences over the five years between their engagement and their marriage. They discussed his wounding and convalescence. He discussed his treatment as a wounded prisoner of war. She gently prodded him to include details he was omitting.

They talked about themselves--in relation to each other--in their youth. They had no interest in being quizzed about his career as an attorney and later as a judge. She was proud of having worked in orthopedic surgery when she came to North Carolina as his wife. They said relatively little about their five children.

When I told a friend about my afternoon, he immediately wanted to know the details of the gentleman's working life. When I admitted I knew only what was public knowledge, my friend was incensed. "A man's life is his work!" I tried to describe the joint efforts the couple had made to tell the story they wanted to tell. He was scornful, even rude about my lack of initiative as a reporter.

His reaction got me questioning what I should do if faced again (this was not the first time) with the reluctance of strangers to talk about what I understood was expected for the newsletter. I don't think I feel too bad about it because where I live, fellow residents--like myself--are mostly finished with the mechanics of earning a living, have numbers of grandchildren and great grandchildren, and enjoy their memories. In this case, the couple are so intimately synchronized that they effortlessly fill in blanks for each other. I felt, though welcomed most warmly, like an intruder. The strongest impression when visiting them is their total interest in each other. I came away filled with admiration for such a marriage (of 62 years).  I hope readers of my interview will see that. Surely it's as important as all that's already well-known about the husband's career?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Rush to the Finish?

Are you a last minute, work better under pressure person, or do you need thinking time, downtime, dream time, to come up with something written? In my college days I used to look on in wonder as my roommates would scramble to complete papers the day before they were due, and be pulling the last sheet from the typewriter just as they were leaving for class. I'd have been paralyzed by such behavior.

Right now I'm trying to work out the plot for a novel of a kind I've never tried before. Never mind the problems I'm having with that. I'm just wondering how other writers deal with such things. I've read enough books about how to write and create so I ought to be able just do it all with scarcely a thought by now. I'd like to find out where others do their right-brainstorming.

The shower has been one of my best, along with weeding. I used to get pretty far when I was pushing a vacuum cleaner, but nowadays I don't automatically have that tool to hand. My house is cleaned for me unless I can't stand any more cat hair or the petals have fallen from a neglected floral arrangement.

The worst time for me is after I've turned out the light at night. That's when the head goes into fourth gear. That's when I wish I could just put everything on hold and cut through to the finish the way my roommates used to manage in those days when I would slog along for weeks so I'd have the assignment ready several days ahead without the adrenaline. Maybe that's what I need to practice now, but somehow I feel I'm not up to learning a new habit.

Time Wasted?

This is by way of being a confession of basic weakness. I dislike those who talk one way and behave another. I haven't said as much, but I deplore the amount of (wasted?) time spent at my computer when I'm not producing.

The trouble is the number of people I sincerely call friends whom I've never met except on the Internet. They're my justification for spending so much time reading and writing things like this blog.

I've wondered about those legions of writers from before the time of rapid communications we're accustomed to today, whose letters we wouldn't be able to read if they'd been able to correspond almost instantly.

Yet I wouldn't give up the friends I've made with people whose interests intersect so comfortably with my own, on whom I depend, and whom I've never met.

That's how I justify these hours spent finding out what's on their minds and presuming to share what's on mine. I know that if I don't show up every so often with a post, they might not be there for me. I know I need to be there for them!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Trying to Avoid Hubris

Waiting for the turkey
I wonder if other grandparents are as amazed and delighted as I am in the past couple of years by a couple of my grandchildren. Both are juniors in college. Both have driven me long distances. I've always found confinement to a car for hours on end can be a good incubator for sprouting verbalized reflections. One of these is male, the other female. I've felt distinct embarrassment while listening to them because I can't avoid making mental comparisons to myself (as I remember me) at their age, and it's not a happy recollection.

These young people seem to have built-in radar that enables them not only to see into the problems, hangups, and ambitions of their contemporaries, they seem able to imagine approaches to problems to alleviate them. Their ability to empathize is astonishing to me, who normally see only what shows at holiday reunions overshadowed by food and drink and joviality. They talked without embarrassment of emotions and worries we were in the habit of hiding with the greatest possible care. Now I can't remember if this was deliberately taught, or if we just absorbed the culture to which we were exposed. Over and over again, I think,  If only I'd been as wise as they are already, even when I was twice their age!


This phenomenon doubtless has a good deal to do with the character of the respective institutions in which they're students. That's what my grandson claims, but I think it's more than that. My temptation is to hope that some of it they learned from their parents, who were our children. We've always been proud of them, but could it possibly be that our example helped to make them, and hence their children, so seemingly precocious?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Above It All?

I just read a quote from a celebrity I'll leave nameless (except to those who happened to read the same thing) that set off a new train of thought--or more precisely, set my thoughts on a completely different track. As I said in a recent essay on Senior Women Web, one of the reasons I write is to figure out what I think. When I read "...an alienated world view..." some chord was struck. I saw I should see if I know how I feel about that.

Those three words seem so capable of multiple definitions, they might apply to as many personalities and purposes as there are ways of interpreting them. Is the speaker feeling apart from all other human beings? Apart only from the majority of them? In a world she's incapable of understanding? In a world she's incapable of sympathizing with? Is she feeling like a stranger among her fellows, or on this planet, or in our limitless universe? She claims it's a good place for her to be. I can think of a number of reasons for feeling that way.

There might be an argument in favor of some kind of alienation for a writer of scientific enquiry or of history, but hope not. There might be a shallow case to be made for the writer of sci fi or fantasy or horror. Is some plane above or below or beside ordinary human experience useful? I even wonder if it would be a good approach from the business standpoint. Would it help sell articles and/or books?

Should a poet or a novelist or short fiction writer, or an essayist or journalist be thus separated from life? It may not be admirable to be hysterical, empathetic, involved at all times in every situation, but somehow it seems to this would-be writer that those times (except for the hysterics) should be darned few and far between for the sake of the readers!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Where Do They Live?

Most of the time I don't think of checking Sitemeter. Today I took a look at the stats and asked for a breakdown of points of origin for visitors. What a surprise! Jordan; Denmark; Ireland...France wasn't a surprise because my granddaughter has been there since January, but repeated visits from someone in a city in Connecticut where I don't believe I know anyone? In fact, except for half a dozen places not marked "unknown," I was amazed to discover that someone there has visited more than once. Of course, I'd love to know where the unknowns are too.

I'm not sure if this means anything other than that some people must spend hours "surfing" the Net. Witness the You Tube videos that arrive in your e-mail that make you wonder how anyone found them in the hundreds produced every week. Still--I'd love to have some of these readers let me meet them through a comment (pro or con).

In our years when my late husband was an international sales manager for a company that made a unique product, we met many people from many places, and made friends of a dozen or more. Those days are long gone, so I can't help wondering who's venturing into western North Carolina to read something here...and more than that, why.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Benefit

In the subtitle of this blog I didn't confess that aging would turn out to be one of my regular topics, but it has. Just thought I'd mention a benefit I never anticipated, and in fact have been assuming was an occasional spate of creativity:  too much to say. After decades of looking for what to say, of trying to decide if there was anything I (as opposed to ten other people) could say, for the past year or so, I find I have more to say than there's time to say it.

I realize, of course, that that doesn't mean anyone will want to read it. I just thought I'd mention it as a kind of unexpected (and rare) benefit of being on the downhill side. Wait a while; maybe you'll be so lucky!

Friday, March 9, 2012

An Examined Life--a Good Thing?

AN EXAMINED LIFE?

Can you remember the first time you noticed that you could recall an event that happened ten years ago? That was the first jolt of reality that really shook me. When you're old enough to remember clearly things that happened that long ago, you suspect you're no longer young—or at least not as young as once you were. Of course, when you have a clear recollection of things you did and people you knew fifty years ago, you know you're getting old, even if nothing else has made that knowledge inescapable.

So what other signs are there of our reclassification in the actuarial tables? One that seems almost too common  to be mentioned is the realization that you can't climb stairs or run or jump from stepping stone to stepping stone across a stream with your old agility, not to mention play a pickup game of basketball, or enjoy sandlot baseball or kayaking any more. What about the day you get through weeding the flowerbed and have to think carefully, arrange your legs and hands judiciously, and clamber to your feet with the hope that no one is observing your imitation of a giraffe?

            Travel tires you, driving at night becomes more of a challenge than you're willing to face, you long for not only your fireside in the metaphorical sense, but also the literal—not to mention bed at an earlier hour (or perhaps much later) than was your wont.

            Do your memories make you wish to live the best times over again, or grateful that you'll never have to? How much would you do over if you had a chance?  How many miserable moments would you choose never to have known, even given what they may have taught you? Do you long to relive the happiest times? Can you answer those questions without a pause?

            Maybe it helps adjusting to where old people find ourselves if we can say we wouldn’t want to go back. In spite of having lived a life too happy for me to deserve, it isn’t something I’d want to live again.

Having said that, I wonder if I can say why…perhaps because I don’t remember the person I was at those times as anyone I would want to meet now. If I haven’t learned anything else, I’ve found out that if we can feel we’ve become wiser, more compassionate, steadier, and more humorous with age, there are few of us who wouldn’t be ashamed to be the self-absorbed, over-confident, basically ignorant youths we had to grow up from. Even if we could choose to relive a day in our lives like Emily in Our Town, many of us wouldn’t do it. Maybe it made sense for her because she died so young.

            What we do need to figure out is how to resurrect the joys as well as the anguish of our callow selves by recalling them in our present state of decline. My list of those is long, and I’m surprised at how some of the worst things seem to have lost sharp focus. I’m glad for that. There’s no need to try to sharpen what is now blurred; I can concentrate on looking at the photos that capture the times when I was so happy. I even knew it then, and just give thanks now.

            The hardest part, I think, is recognizing the necessity of looking forward enough so as not to fall into the trap of trying to live the rest of our time so focused on the past that we throttle all possibilities of, at the least, enjoyment in the here and now. Writing this post is one of those anchors for the present.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Surprise!


I have just finished Joan's book, 'Peripheral Vision' and loved it.  Found it to be tightly written, artfully composed, thought provoking, and delightful.  Particularly liked the unexpected endings in her stories.  In fact, have ordered a couple of copies myself.  

Nothing like an unexpected endorsement! The sender is an old friend, brother of the reader quoted above. I wasn't aware either of them had read the book!


Friday, March 2, 2012

Hail Technology!


FRIDAY, MARCH 2, 2012

 I imagine Jane Austen sitting at her tiny table, writing on small sheets of paper with a quill pen, glancing occasionally at the front lawn through the window she faced, any poetic inclinations splinter like thin glass--in the face of technological reality. For the thousandth time I ask, "How did she do it?" Of course, the question applies to the myriad authors whose work has survived centuries and millennia, but somehow Jane is close enough to have become the emblem of all that labor. Besides, I visited her house once and saw that table in that room in that genteel brick house.  

For me it hasn't been merely the facility of editing and speed of comunication, the Net has provided relationships I could never otherwise have found. Support (emotional and intellectual) has dropped repeatedly into my proverbial lap as a result of some electronic connection. Not only have I found people I honestly consider to be friends, they have been uniformly generous with advice and information and encouragement.

Finding myself becoming a part of a community I never envisioned, it's amazing how the presence of those who preceded me helps to dispel the "outsider" discomfort. A little nudge from one of these new friends makes it possible to try to do this self-promotion. So herewith a note to anyone interested:
The Lowestoft Chronicle published a second poem. The first from 2011 is included in their print anthology and a list of "the best of the net."

If it weren't for that Net, I'd be sitting as lonely as Jane, though in a different sort of place and with nothing in print OR on line!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

No Excuse

The truth is, I'm getting tired of humbling moments. I have a silly notion that by the time you're in your eighth decade, you ought to be above that sort of thing, i.e.: you're past being humbleable. (I know, it's not really a word, but I think you can tell what I mean.)

I live in a place full of people within ten years on either side of my own age, and half of them, I've become convinced, have either forgotten how to read or simply don't bother any more. I just submitted to a website entitled "My Name Is Not Bob." Its author had already sent me a message signed "Robert."

I claim a small excuse:  I'd just spent my third two-hour session with AT&T in an effort to regain my e-mail service, and I was cross-eyed. Still, I addressed this poor gentleman as "Bob!" What's really humbling about that is that I now have to swallow all those snide remarks I've been making about people who go into the library, ignore the 81/2" x 11" card posted to provide instructions on how to sign out a book. I have to restrain my scorn when reminding someone that the item is on the calendar. I have to admit that I suffer "senior moments" too darned often.

If I write down something I need to remember, sometimes I'll spend ten minutes trying to find the piece of paper the note is on--since I can't remember what I wrote, only that I wrote something. So now, I have to ask myself if I've always been that way. One thing I know for sure:  too often I'm in some kind of hurry. I like to think that 40 years ago I'd have written, "Dear Robert."

Sigh.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Unspoken

I was fortunate to receive a comment for the "blurb" on my short story collection called Peripheral Vision that gave me not only an ego boost, but reinforced a conviction of mine that I've seldom thought to articulate myself. "...pleasure...comes as much from what is withheld as from what is given..."

A few days ago, someone quoted to me:
Hard words will break no bones/ but more than bones are broken/ by the inescapable stones/ of fond words left unspoken.

Since I'm spending more time on writing poetry than on prose of late, both these quotations take on more freight of significance than they might otherwise. When you're asked to speak to a book club, or read for an arts group or at a library, you have to try to find the right beginning to get people curious enough to listen to what you have to say. If, heaven help you, you're hoping to get a sale or two out of the enterprise, it occurs to me that it's more important to hold back than to show all. But that's only part of the value of what's left out.

The challenge is not to withhold the wrong thing.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Catharsis

I'm reading a wonderful novel set during WW II, much of it in London during the blitz. Daily I go to The Hunger Site and click on the charities shown there, one of which is for animal welfare. The connection between these statements is the question that has bothered me most of my life as to how it is that most of us are more immediately and physically touched by pity and sadness at the pain and/or death of an animal than of human beings.

Is it a matter of becoming calloused of necessity, as George Elliot suggested when she said that if we could notice everything around us we could hear the squirrel's heartbeat and the grass growing, and we should die of the noise? We can't emotionally afford to react fully to everything.

Is it because so much of animal suffering is inflicted on total innocence? So many of the awful things that happen to people are caused by people--like wars and genocide. But what about the random horrors of natural disasters? You can sit in a movie theater and weep in the darkness while the faithful dog starves on his master's grave, and watch TV news with your jaw clenched, but in control, while images of starving children fill the screen.

Way back in Aristotle's day, thinking people learned about catharsis. Is it somehow easier to experience it at one remove?

Another puzzlement.

Oh, the book is The Postmistress by Sarah Blake.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Price Tags

We all realize that "literary" markets struggle to keep publishing, that they look often to contests to help them raise their profiles. To have the funds to offer prizes, they charge entry fees. I guess that's fair enough.

My problem is that my bank account is dwindling far too rapidly because without an agent, I find fewer outlets for anything I may produce that don't require a "reading fee." There's something wrong with a system meant to support writing that makes the writer pay for the privilege of being rejected.

"Tag! I'm it--again!"

Friday, January 20, 2012

To Be Loved or to Love?

A recent article about a group of well-known novelists discussing their work poses the question: why bother to write novels at all?

Why bother to write fiction at all? It's not a new question, and it has been supplied with various answers for several hundred years, but none seems definitive, and all seem to be influenced by the times and customs when they were put forward.  Presumably only writers of fiction are interested in the answers--and poets and playwrights.

Without repeating the article's contents, the most noteworthy takeaway for me was the notion that art and love are intertwined inextricably. An artist creates in part (in part only) with the objective to be loved. The greatest artists create with the objective of teaching the readers/observers/hearers to love.

I haven't stopped thinking about that since I read it.

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Tricks?

There was a time when I looked forward to writing something either as a parody or "in the style of." An assignment for 18th C. Literature in college involved writing an essay as Jonathan Swift might have done. I had a ball. At this late stage, an acquaintance whose taste and ideas I admire has been pressing me to write a novel using a theme he suggests with a plot line he supplies. It's not anything like what I've done before, and I'm finding myself truly baffled as I try to figure out how to go about it.

The idea is a good and probably salable one. It's a mystery (he defines only the conflict). I can't seem to manufacture the train of events leading to the crime and its aftermath. Furthermore, he fails to understand how hard it is to make a story unless you (the writer) know the characters who will act it out. I can't get my head around the four main ones. I have thus far three versions of a beginning, complete with different names in each attempt.

Having just taken a look at a passage from one of my novels, I realized something that doubtless should have been obvious from the start:  if my style or voice or whatever you want to call it is too set, how can I hope to create people and motives from someone else's original notion?

Apart from the challenge of producing something analogous to a work for hire, I now face a question that should have occurred to me long ago:  should I try to learn flexibility again, or should I stay stubborn and loyal to what I seem to have become?

And anyone who wants to point out the old saw about an old dog and new tricks, you may keep your remarks to yourself!   ;-). It's a fallacy. You can teach even an oldster if she's willing to learn.