Archive for the ‘Life in general’ Category

News: Happy, Sad

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009


Big news in Fiction Dailyland today.

Since fall 2007, Fiction Daily has been a great love of mine and I’m sure that won’t change in the long term.

In the short term, however, a change ahead will probably curb my posts, though they certainly won’t end.

Yes, dearly beloved, Yours Truly is launching a campaign for the office of city council for the great City of Greenville, N.C.

Last week, I announced to the Daily Reflector, our newspaper, and reporter Kathryn Kennedy did a nice article that genuinely captured the early character of my campaign.

So while my great love is writing … books … and things literary, I am entering a new area, where I hope to learn all I can, put my principles to use, and serve the public and the community. It’s a proud moment to take part in that big, abstract, lumbering animal, democracy.

Election Day 2009 is Nov. 3 … so between now and then, expect erratic posts. It’s likely that my new campaign Web site will be located at I may start a campaign blog … I will open a Facebook page (Elect Marion Blackburn for Greenville N.C. City Council) and yes, I will be Twittering.

Meanwhile … at night when the meetings have ended … and I’m wrapped up for the day … expect to find me with a big fat novel.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, I’m reading Perry Mason novels by Erle Stanley Gardner. They are incredible, real mind candy that’s also nutritious. Excellent writing.

AND THIS SOMBER NEWS: Our beloved Walker hound, Annie, passed away on Sunday night after a sudden, serious illness.

We were holding her sweet head in our hands when she passed, sparing us the decision to have her put to sleep. She was a marvelous dog to the end.

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.

No Tech

Thursday, May 21st, 2009


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!


Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

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

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.

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.

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.)


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


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.


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?


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.


Mountain laurel along the trail


Jack-in-the-pulpit bloom by bridge

All photos by Marion Blackburn

Bluebird Babies

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009


It’s been raining now for two days. How nice to see it. God sends the rain. Especially in spring.

Though it was tough yesterday to muster the needed energy to get the house ordered and focus on my writing assignments. After my weekend trip out of town, and meetings all day Monday, I was drained.

So today, a bit of good news. My bluebird babies turn 12 days old today. They are fat little ones, with their blood feathers (pin features) forming. They’re beginning to have the beginnings of a wound-up look, the raring to go drive that will eventually force them out of the box and into the world.

Bluebirds are distinctive when it comes to flying away. They don’t flop around on the ground. They stay in the nest until the morning comes when the mama and papa, perched on trees about 50 feet away, will coo at them until they make the leap. One year, there was a lagging baby, who couldn’t make it out of the box, and spent the night alone in there. The next morning, however, it escaped to join its siblings.

So now the countdown begins. The parents are almost overburdened keeping them fed. With five babies, the task of providing food is a constant activity. All day long they come and go. I try to keep worms for them all day. I check every day or so to make sure there are no blowflies nesting in their down, or ants trying to make their home in their nest.

One year there was an invasion of mites so bad I had to remove the nest, clean off the little babies, make a new nest and place them back inside.

As you know, bird mites are horrible for humans, so I doused myself with a hose then showered for a long time in extra hot water. But I couldn’t stand the thought of those little ones being tormented by bugs.

For the past several years now, we’ve had full seasons of bluebirds. In a good year, we’ll have three batches. Not every baby survives; some eggs don’t hatch, some babies don’t thrive.

Yet this year, there are five, fat happy babies. They are warm and snug in their waterproof box.

As I look outside, I see the day is dark, with hard rains. The neighbor’s ducks are stumbling around blissfully.

Ah, spring.

The servers at Yahoo are working again, so I hope you will check out yesterday’s post with these photos from the trails at Stone Mountain State Park.

Stone Mtn. Hike

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Welcome back!

It’s a rainy day here in Fiction Dailyland, but I’m still enjoying the inner glow of a nice, long, solitary hike at Stone Mountain State Park. I grew up having picnics there with my grandparents long before it was a state park. These days, there are additional trails leading up to the majestic rock faces. You can actually walk quite a ways out on these rocks, which resemble the face of the moon.

Two pictures today from that hike.


This large gray place is Wolf Rock. That’s brave Geppeto to the left. Before us are the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can actually walk quite a big along this rock face, and it’s deceptively flat.

One time I learned, though, that unless you’ve got your rock climbing gear, you don’t walk too far. I was out on this rock in December, when I came on a dark area. I walked past and continued, finding more of these dark areas. As I neared an area where the rock face thinned, I realized these dark areas were ice. At that point I was quite close to the edge, with my beloved Geppeto. We carefully and s l o w l y made our way back to the trail.


This photo shows a quiet moment when Geppeto and I were descending from Black Jack Ridge. During our trip down, it began raining and the air was damp and cool and smelled of the mountains in spring.

Though we only spent two hours on the mountain, when we got back to the car I felt myself a different person.

These holy wild places give us our souls back.

Kieslowski Week: Blue

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009


Last week I took a look at the Dekalog, the series of one-hour programs created for Polish TV by the gifted director Krzysztof Kieslowski (27 June 1941 – 13 March 1996).

He’s probably best known, however, for his Three Colors Trilogy. Two are primarily in French, one in Polish. They are noted this way in those languages:

Trois couleurs: Bleu (1993)
Trzy kolory: Biały (1994)
Trois couleurs: Rouge (1994)

The films also intended to evoke the three principles of French independence as represented by the flag: blue is liberty; white is equality; red is fraternity.


The film stars Juliette Binoche as a woman who loses her husband suddenly in a car accident, and has to discover what has meaning once he’s gone.

He was a music composer, and she finds his scores and we realize she played a larger role in his creative life than she was credited for.

But Blue is not driven by plot. Rather, it is a thoughtful study of a woman’s inner emotional life.

This rich, complex inner life is where Kieslowski shines. He manages, with images, colors and music, to construct a mood, a feeling, that he carries throughout the film. Yet it’s not manipulated, or perfect, a la Hollywood. Rather it is organic, imperfect, and human.

Because in the end, for Kieslowski, emotions are larger than life.

BLUE. Krzysztof Kieslowski, director
screenplay by Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Music by Zbigniew Preisner