Archive for May, 2009

Attic Days

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

The landscape of the home

Greetings from Fiction Dailyland, and my apologies for not posting yesterday. A peaceful Memorial Day brought a lot of focus and concentration … due not in a little way to the great clearing out of the past two weeks.

Yes, the roulette wheel spun and it came up ATTIC. So for that past two weekends I have gone through everything in the attic, from one end to the next, every box, every book, Christmas decoration, old cookie sheet and file.

To begin, I dragged out box after box and starting to pull everything out of them. It’s remarkable how, with time, I am better able to see what has meaning, for me, today. I tend to hold on to things because I want to remember times of my life, people and ideas I’ve read.

Yet years pass, and I no longer need to remember those times — either they are solidly a part of me, or I no longer care to cling to them, for whatever reason.

As I pulled items, papers and books out of those boxes, it became easier and easier to let go. Oddly enough, I felt my values and character emerge with each decision … I let go of all those old magazines I once held on to, worried that I’d not have enough strong clips of my work; I let go all those books I hoped to read one day (I’ll surely find them again if they are still worth reading) (though I did hold on to War and Peace) (some day!)

I decided that if a book was going to be worth reading, I needed to get it out of the attic. Because many times, I’ll store a book away, only to rediscover it, later. Such is the case with the book I can’t put down these days: Seven novels by Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of Perry Mason. His narrative is lock-tight. This book I’ve held on to for years and years, and once considered getting rid of it.

So how to make these decisions?

In one case, I saved a receipt for a power cord bought in Prague — but got rid of the cord itself.

I have limited days left, and want to read the best writing in the time that’s left. Pulitzer Prize winners in general get a reprieve, while lesser books — especially the experimental fiction I once loved to dip my toes in — is out.

Award certificates (OK, not many of them) were removed from their frames and will be kept with my papers. Bye-bye clunky frames.

Two boxes of MS drafts … gone. I once thought someone might care about my short-story drafts, but I’ll be happy if anyone cares about the stories themselves one day!!

As I sorted and let go, I felt inner peace. All those created items are returning to the world, to others, or to dust. As they do, I am freed.

As the Buddha said before his transfiguration, “Every created thing will pass, even the Buddha.”

After emptying the boxes, I recombined what remained of the books, my Grandmother’s china, my French materials and teaching papers, in an orderly way into plastic bins from Kmart. (Plastic, yuck, but sometimes it is useful.)

As I look over that marvelously neat and airy attic now, I realize that until I know who I am, I can’t decide what to save and what to keep. At 48 years old, I’m finally getting that figured out.

BLUEBIRD UPDATE: I hear the bluebird fledglings and parents from time to time in the yard as they call to each other. I’ve seen Mrs. Blue feeding two juveniles, but so far, have only seen the pair. Greg assures me that the other three are not lost, and that they must have already learned how to take care of themselves.

DUCK UPDATE: My neighbor’s female ducks have nested in our yard, where they are sitting on eggs. Not sure if they will hatch, but they sure enjoy chasing the dogs.

With Love, Sherlock Holmes

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING, MY DEAR WATSON

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Today marks a big celebration in Fiction Dailyland: It is the 150th birthday of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), creator of that marvelous character for all times, Sherlock Holmes.

Nothing compares to Conan Doyle’s writing for clarity, subtle humor and mystery. It’s interesting to note that prior to Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles, never had there been a true detective character in a novel. We indeed had the masterful Edgar Allan Poe’s detective C. August Dupin, in “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” a short story. (He also appeared in “The Mystery of Marie Roget” and “The Purloined Letter,” one of my personal favorite short stories.)

We also had an early prototype of a detective story penned by Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone. I can’t remember at all how that one turned out, but I certainly enjoyed reading it. That novel centers on a missing, exotic, gem and the family who possessed it. There were strange bands of touring gypsies, magicians and Indians; ladies with honor; families with class and wealth. (They just don’t write them like that anymore.)

In 1892 appeared The Hound of the Baskervilles. Sir Doyle also gave us these stories: “A Study in Scarlet,” “The Sign of Four” and “The Red-Headed League.”

On today’s “Forgotten English” calendar (by Jeffrey Kacirk), a fascinating story with which we writers can find considerable affinity. Trained as an eye doctor, he took an office at 2 Devonshire Place, and

… Every morning I walked from the lodgings at Montague Place, reached my consulting room at ten, and sat there until three or four with never a ring to disturb my serenity. Could better conditions for reflection be found? It was ideal, and so long as I was thoroughly unsuccessful in my professional venture, there was every chance of improvement in my literary prospects.

Imagine if he had instead collapsed with self-pity and done nothing all day; instead, this stellar “failure” gave us one of mankind’s most delightful writers.

HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY FROM FICTION DAILY

No Tech

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

TECH-LESS THURSDAY

Trimming my computer time in the past two weeks, I’ve felt much more connected to the world, and to people. How does this happen? Not sure, but it did.

This shift began several weeks ago when I pulled out a novel that was sitting on my shelf for some time (more about the novel next week). Instead of forcing myself to pick up the nonfiction (i.e. dense) books I’d been reading for, well, years, I simply picked up a novel without thinking what I should be reading.

Simply put, I wanted to start training myself to read again. I didn’t care what I was reading, and frankly, I also bought a lot of junky magazines (you know who you are, People!)(Though Rolling Stone magazine has some of the best contemporary writing anywhere these days.)

I even bought so-called “women’s magazines” and salivated over the photos of recipes, though I don’t like food and never cook.

From magazines, I got to the novel. And from the novel, though it was not a satisfactory one, I found myself again.

Now I am reading a collection of Perry Mason novels by Erle Stanley Gardner. Wow, he is an excellent writer!

He captures the legal world with incredibly vivid language. And if Mr. Strunk ever wanted to see exceptional use of active voice verbs, Mr. Gardner is a perfect example. Rarely does he use “is,” “are” or “am” or any passive voice. It’s all active, transitive.

Yet as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, his world is dated — women with curves, from the wrong side of the tracks, and men who can’t see beyond the curves; bullies and bodyguards; debt collectors, and rich uncles.

Yet like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, Gardner in many ways is responsible for creating the “noir” world, for giving us these now-stereotyped characters.

And a note about legal fiction: If you like the law (with all respect for Scott Turow) … these Perry Mason novels are for you. Quick moving, smart and airtight plots.

BLUEBIRD UPDATE: I saw Mrs. Blue a couple of days ago feeding babies on a tree branch. I only saw two babies … of course that doesn’t mean the others aren’t around, but it emphasized for me that living in the natural world is harsh and losses are high. Even in the best circumstances. No wonder mankind is causing mass extinctions. Who can compete with our toxic ways?

CREDIT CARD REFORM: I understand the new credit card reform has now passed into law. That’s good, though mixed, news. I carry a balance and have usually been able to keep them from hitting me with the late fees and jacked-up interest rates. Oddly enough, however, so-called “good credit” folks like me are known in the industry as “deadbeats.” It’s likely I’ll soon have a higher interest rate and possibly an annual fee. In the end, after looking into the complexities of this market, I’m thinking it’s preferable to pay a little bit more so I’m not being subsidized by the hardship of others. Now let’s all get better educated so we’re not losing our houses and filing bankruptcy because we don’t take time to understand credit and mortgage terms.

A note about the credit card bill: It passed with its own “fine print:” Loaded guns are now allowed in National Parks. Wha?

‘Reality’ TV

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Here we are, a Tuesday in May. In last week’s Tech Thursday, I wrote about a hike to Wolf Rock, in Stone Mountain State Park, that opened my eyes to the meaning and value of real experiences versus online ones.

That experience has become something of fulcrum for me now, as I look more deeply at what has true value for me. I’ve examined what experiences allow me to feel more fully human. (And it’s not computer ones.)

So today, a few more thoughts about what’s real and what really matters.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama writes about the Buddhist ideas of Perceived Reality versus Ultimate Reality. Most of the time, we go through our daily routines without much thought, taking care of our obligations, eating and talking with other people.

His Holiness explains the ancient Buddhist idea that what we see out of our visual window is just a skimming, a deformation, even, of reality.

Ultimate reality, the real real, is unseen. It’s the world behind the seen world. It’s a world of inner emotions, human mystery, needs and desires, suffering.

It’s so easy to get entangled in the seen world that we forget to pay attention to this invisible one.

That’s a metaphor for so much about our daily life: The “seen” world also describes the online, the television one, the film one. They are illusion. Sham, or shell.

As anyone knows, I am a huge fan of House M.D., Lost and the film director Krzysztof Kieslowski. Yet do I need to watch a DVD or TV program download every night? Do I need to sit through more Seinfeld reruns?

For every hour of broadcast television watched, expect 13 minutes of commercials. So when I watch a two-hour program, or when I sit down to watch news, then an hour of syndicated programs, an hour of regular programming or more (three-four hours of TV) — I have lost an hour of my life to commercials. An hour I will never have again.

We haven’t had cable tv for years, and sometimes, I must admit, I think how nice it would be to sit in front of Animal Planet, Discovery Channel or even SciFi to watch. Then I remind myself it is junk, ad after ad.

An illusion.

Isn’t peace what we’re really seeking — an engagement in something meaningful?

To be continued in tomorrow’s FD

FD returns next week

Friday, May 15th, 2009

With all the excitement of the bluebirds flying away this week … Fiction Daily will resume next week.

Wishing you a Happy Weekend!

Frittering Away

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

TECH THURSDAY

Today a hard look at what we’re doing all this time on computers.

During a trip to visit family in the mountains a couple of weeks ago, I took a wonderful, head-clearing hike to Wolf Rock at Stone Mountain State Park.

Hiking allows me to regain my center, my values, my sanity. And during that hike, it became clear to me that I was way too involved in all things Internet.

All the images, random news stories, idle gossip and just junk had infiltrated my head and I realized, walking through the light rain, that I was frittering my life away caring about people and activities that aren’t real and have no relation to breath, flesh or beating hearts. In a word, the Internet.

In the past few months, I’ve signed up for Linkd In, Facebook, Twitter, G-mail, ebay and AIM (AOL Instant Messenger). I have more passwords than should be legal.

So when I returned from the hike, as if scales fell from my eyes, I gave them up. Twitter — gone. Madness! Facebook is still fun to visit once or so a day to see what my friends are doing, and to share some thoughts with them. Then — over! No taking those inane quizzes, and no more Facebook-Twittering. I still have a computer farm, which I visit from time to time, but not much. Why spend time in an electronic field, when there are real ones only a few yards from my house?

So I’m trying to separate myself from the Internet and computer world. Reduce the movies and downloaded TV shows I watch.

R e a d a b o o k!

I picked up a collection of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason stories, and have really enjoyed reading them so far. OK, they are dated and campy, with “loose women,” “rich daddies” and ne-er do-well-fiances.

I also took a 7-mile run yesterday, reminding me how important it is to move, to be alive, to have blood pumping in my arteries, in my heart.

My real heart!

So today’s Tech Thursday is actually Tech-less Thursday, with all apologies to my geek and nerd pals who make our virtual lives so much fun. I love your work … and enjoy tech, too … but nothing matches a real bug, created by God … a real tweet’s better than a Twitter-ed one … and a real human, or animal face, will outshine a Facebook-ed one any day.

I had a couple of other Tech issues in mind today, but on second thought, let’s just get outside on this spring day.

UNTIL NEXT WEEK, this is Tech Thursday checking out of the virtual world to enjoy the real one.

Fledged!

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Big news in Fiction Dailyland this morning … the bluebirds have gone!

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Mr. Blue with a mouthful of worms

I placed worms out for the bluebird parents early this morning and noticed that only the mom showed up. She looked a big harried, I’ll admit. No sign of the father. Mrs. Blue picked up a few worms and took them high into a tree in our backyard woods.

So I suspected something was up.

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Mrs. Blue feeding last weekend

The mysterious changes actually began yesterday evening. When I left for a meeting at 4:30 p.m. I placed some worms in their dishes. There the parents were, chirping and fluttering nearby, coming to within a few feet of where I stood. (We’ve become quite close.)

When I returned home last night I put out some worms. It was about 8 p.m. No sign of Mr. and Mrs. Blue.

I figured it was too late for feeding. But I suspected something was up. I left the worms for them, which were gone this morning.

After seeing Mrs. Blue fly away this morning, I watched the nest for a few more minutes. Nothing.

I gently tapped on the box, slowly cracked the door … lifted out the nest cup … empty!

At this point, it was quite heavy, however. Though the bluebird parents remove most of their babies’ excrement, once they’re nearly ready to fledge, it’s hard to keep up with it all. So by the time they leave, the nest is full of, well, marvels.

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Empty nest, with salamander and cricket at right

I found a dead salamander and camel cricket, as well as a few uneaten meal worms. There was a lot of heavy bird dust, flakes of waste, down and who knows what.

Unfortunately, the nest was infested with mites. When I see mites on the babies, I try to clean them up. I’ve even changed nests before — removing the mite-filled one, and making a new one myself out of pine straw.

These mites must have moved in during the last few days, since I stop opening the box around Day 14. (You have to stop checking the box when they’re nearly fledging. Wonder why? I accidentally did so once, and they jumped right out at me!! I placed them back in the box, and everything turned out OK. Lesson learned.)

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Empty box, drying this morning. At right is the swinging food tray. Dish on top of box

So today, despite the mites, another happy ending. I’ve washed out the box and nest cup and propped it open to dry in the sun. In a week or so, we’ll have a new nest.

MIDDAY UPDATE: I’ve placed worms out and Mrs. Blue has come to get them. I saw two birds follow her into a tree, and I’ve heard the soft, low “coo” they use to call each other in the woods behind our house. I also heard a male’s song, so he must be quite happy, too.

Wildflower Mysteries

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

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Bluff Trail at Medoc Mountain State Park
Last weekend brought another exceptional hike to Medoc. In spring, the wildflowers are remarkable here. My mother and grandmother made pilgrimages here to see the wildflowers and now, I seem to be following in their hiking steps.

For me, wildflowers were always a mystery. I never could keep them straight, all those names floating around in my world, and unable to know which names go with which flowers. Or colors. Not to mention the Latin names.

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Jack-in-the-pulpit opened bloom
Again and again, I’d ask mom, When does bloodroot bloom? What’s the Latin name? (Sanguinaria canadensis) What’s a trout lily? What’s the elegant white flower that blooms in boggy places? You get the idea.

At long last, some of it has taken, well, root, in my mind. In the 11 years Greg and I have been hiking together, I’ve learned to recognize so many flowers, now. I still ask mom for help quite often, What does trailing arbutus look like? When does it bloom?

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Atamasco lily

So on Saturday, Greg and I were in Medoc again, and this time, we hiked the Bluff Trail. Within minutes, we found an expired moccasin flower bloom (pink), and then nearby, a blooming partridge berry. Bluets, yellow cinquefoils, wood sorrels. We saw two atamasco lilies, as well as mountain laurel in bloom. (In western North Carolina, atamaso lily also goes by the Native American name “Cullowhee.)

So in today’s Fiction Daily, it’s not fiction at all, just genuine images from our hike.

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Mountain laurel along the trail

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Jack-in-the-pulpit bloom by bridge

All photos by Marion Blackburn

Nobility

Friday, May 8th, 2009

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING FRIDAY

Suddenly, a word comes to mind — lese. As in lese-majeste. Let’s see where it goes.

My beloved New Oxford American Dictionary says lese-majeste refers to insulting a monarch or other ruler; it implies treason.

It comes from the Middle English, from French, from Latin laesa majestas, “injured sovereignty.”

How interesting to note that so many of our terms regarding authority come from the French. Not a surprise, really, since the French did monarchy better than anyone since the Romans.

Where else do you have a Sun King (Roi Soleil) like Louis XV? Or a saint-king like Louis XIII, called “Saint-Louis.”

Even our phrases for royalty have French pedigrees:

Sovereign is a supreme ruler or monarch, a term that comes from the Middle English and Old French soverain, based on the Latin super, “above.” The ending was changed to reflect its association with “reign.”

Reign means to hold royal office, and comes to us from the Middle English and Old French reignier, “to reign” from reigne, “kingdom” from the Latin regnum, related to rex and reg-, “king.”

(My dictionary notes here that the correct idiomatic phrase is “free rein,” not free reign. Turns out rein, based on the Latin retinere, “retain,” gives us that phrase which refers to letting go of the restraint of reins. But I digress ….)

The word potentate comes to us from the Latin potentatus, “dominion,” from potent, which means able or powerful, and also gives us potent.

Aristocracy, the king of nobility terms, refers to the highest class in societies, and also a government by nobility. This word comes to us from the Old French aristocratie … and SURPRISE, dates to the Greeks, whose love of all things government gave us the terms aristokratia, from aristos “best” and kratia “power.” The term originally denoted government of a state by its best citizens, which was unforutunately later interpreted to mean rich and well born.

Note that we also have oligarchy, rule by a few, and plutocracy, rule by a few very rich.

Last to noble, which comes to us from the Middle English and Old French, from Latin (g)nobilis, “noted, highborn.” Oddly enough, it is an Indo-European root shared by know.

Which, by the way, leads me to the noble gases — helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon and radon, thought to be noble because they don’t readily react with the other elements.

Exclusive and self-contained? Sounds like a typical aristocrat to me.

FICTION DAILY RETURNS NEXT WEEK!

Dalai Lama in U.S. today

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

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DALAI LAMA IN THE U.S.

Well, somehow I got too busy to notice that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been in the United States for the past two weeks. So today, a look at some of the highlights of his trip.

In San Francisco, he served food to the homeless at a Catholic mission. His unparalleled ability to find kinship with others led him to remark to the residents that, “I am homeless, too.” He is, since he has not been at his home, the Potala Palace, since 1959.

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Potala Palace, Tibet

“Our lives depend on others,” said the Dalai Lama. “Me too. My life depends on others. You are still in human society, human community. Please feel happy and feel dignity.”

After a stop at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, he goes on to speak at an event sponsored by the Harvard Divinity School.

From the Dalai Lama’s news site:

The Dalai Lama is in Boston as part of a four-day tour that includes his visit to Harvard as well as to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the inauguration of a new center for ethics named in his honor. He will also participate Friday (May 1) in a panel discussion organized by Harvard Medical School titled “Meditation and Psychotherapy: Cultivating Compassion and Wisdom.” On Saturday (May 2), he will speak at Gillette Stadium.

After the Memorial Church talk, the Dalai Lama, accompanied by Harvard President Drew Faust, University Marshal Jacqueline O’Neill, McCartney, and Graham, planted a birch tree in front of the Memorial Church. The tree was a hybrid, a combination of Eastern and Western varieties, created especially for the occasion by the staff of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum.

“Just as the Dalai Lama illuminates our role as stewards of the environment, compassionate toward all creatures,” said Faust, “so shall this tree shine for all who pass this way, a reminder of our interdependence.”

On May 1, the Dalai Lama spoke at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He inaugurated the new Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values.

On May 2, he spoke at a stadium in Boston and on Sunday, he was in New York city.

Yesterday (Wednesday) he appeared at Crowne Plaza in Albany (from the Times Union) —

With a rock star’s aura and a guru’s mystique, the Dalai Lama captivated the capital city Wednesday, offering a simple message of tolerance, peace and happiness with an impish grin, a deep chortle and playful exchanges.

His underlying theme seemed borrowed from a hit song of an earlier decade: Don’t worry, be happy.

At a news conference in the Crowne Plaza before his talk at the Palace Theatre, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader delivered gentle wisdom whether he was asked about the global economic crisis or climate change.

“Those are man-made problems, and logically, human beings have the ability to work out those problems. We can recover from this economic crisis,” he said.

“When human nature is aggressive and destructive, you get the impression our future is doomed. That is a mistake,” he said, making direct eye contact with each questioner and speaking in a deep voice in English. He only rarely conferred with a Tibetan translator at his side.

“Pay more attention to inner values,” he said. “Money alone is not sufficient. Those people whose only concern is money get much more disturbances when the global economy collapsed. People with a happy family and a happy community get less disturbances.”