With Love, Sherlock Holmes

Posted in Book reviews, Events, Figuratively Speaking, On writing, Writers at 9:10 am by Marion



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.



No Tech

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events, Life in general at 7:53 am by Marion


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

Posted in Buddhism, Computers & Technology, Events, HH Dalai Lama, Hiking, trails, Life in general at 8:58 am by Marion

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



Posted in Events, Life in general at 10:13 am by Marion

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.


Dalai Lama in U.S. today

Posted in Buddhism, Events, HH Dalai Lama at 8:23 am by Marion



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.


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.”


Bluebird Babies

Posted in Events, Life in general at 7:56 am by Marion


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

Posted in Events, Life in general at 12:19 pm by Marion

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: White

Posted in Events, Writers at 8:35 am by Marion


Today we arrive at the central piece of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Colors” Trilogy, and my favorite of the three.

White. (French, Blanc and Polish, Bily).

As “Blue” featured the serene Juliette Binoche, “White” features an exceptional Julie Delpy.

Ms. Delpy is also know for her “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” with Ethan Hawke, as well as “2 Days in Paris” with Adam Goldberg. She is a firebrand, but beautiful, and her own inner engine is critical to the extraordinary and unrelenting emotional tension of the film.

White also brings together a pair of Polish actors who starred in the final Dekalog, X: Zbigniew Zamachowski and Jerzy Stuhr.

Where to start with “White.” This is a film that shows us the innocence and imperfection of Kieslowski’s inner creative life, as a metaphor for the human condition. White represents the color blanc of the French flag, and represents the concept egalite, or equality. It is only a loose springboard, however, for a larger exploration of justice.

We meet Karol Karol (Zamachowski), whose beautiful French wife (Delpy) no longer desires him. Karol Karol is such a pathetic man, he can’t even speak for himself when she testifies against him at their divorce hearing.

What happens next just sends him further down: he is smuggled back to Poland in a suitcase, which is stolen, and he is beaten and left in the middle of a Polish industrial wasteland.

Here is where the movie begins its magic. Karol has a plan. We see this man build himself from the inside out, and it is marvelous.

That’s merely plot, however. And with Kieslowski, plot is a small part of the emotional life of a film. With “White,” we have images that erupt, like suns exploding into white heat. Julie Delpy’s porcelain skin and blond hair, and Zamachowski’s own Slavic pallor are both white (blanc), as are the snows of his homeland.

Indeed, throughout the Three Colors, each shade appears throughout the film, shading it with the hue’s mood and emotion.

Scenes of their wedding will take your breath away — the sunlight, white columns and doves flying away are transcendent.

This short post does little justice to this film, but then again, what can words add to such a masterwork.

TOMORROW: Three Colors: Red


A Word Before Leaving…

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events, Life in general at 6:46 am by Marion


A few words before leaving … I am going out of town today to see my niece who turned 5 years old this week … but wanted to note a few items related to yesterday’s Tech Thursday.

First, in a move that is shocking … shocking … because it should never have been needed, Apple apologized for approving the Baby Shaker application.

Just to be clear, the application was not created by Apple, only approved by it. The app (some call it “game”) was created by Sikalosoft which has said nothing about the public outcry. Bad company. Should be shaken until its eyes turn into red Xs.

Next is word that Microsoft posted the first-ever decline in its quarterly profit … from $4.39 billion to $2.98 billion.

Now before we get out the hankies, let’s remember … this is Microsoft (boo, jeers) … but after all, it’s a giant American company, built in the old-fashioned way … with a combination of brilliance and thievery … and therefore deserves our, at least hedging, support. I don’t want to see MS sink anymore than I want the president to fail … (wait a minute, who would want the president to fail? Oh yes, Rush Limbaugh).

Meanwhile, the greedy people keep filing lawsuits against us hoi polloi. This lawsuit, being judged by the man who took down Napster, claims DVDs copying software should be banned. Hello? If I own it, I should be able to copy it.

Last, in a somewhat sad note of apathy, Facebook users failed to respond to a request to vote on the new terms of usage. After the big brouhaha over the new terms earlier this year, only about 1 million showed up to vote on the new ones. That’s from the 200 million who use it every day.

That would be me. But I didn’t vote. I’ll let someone else figure out if it’s worth getting my karma in a wad, then vote. For freedom of speech, freedom of choice.

But first I have to harvest the potatoes and wheat on myFarm.




Posted in Computers & Technology, Events at 10:13 am by Marion


Strange news for Apple users today. In two unexpected chinks in the company’s otherwise impervious armor we have a report of a virus that’s targeting Apple operating systems.

So far, the hack only targets people trying to download pirated Mac software (and some may say therefore, they deserve it). But as an open-source gal, I believe if you can find a pirated version and are willing to work under the radar, you deserve to get away with it. Still, these are the breaks when you choose lawlessness.

For Mac users, who generally have a certain smugness us PC-ers find unnerving, it’s a dark time. They’re used to being the skateboarders and surfers of the computer world — the creative types who make their own rules because they *just that good.*

So for us plodding PC-ers out here, we’re feeling a little less, well, plodding now that Mac has gotten a little mud on their shoes. (It brings to mind Harrison Bergeron, a short story by Kurt Vonnegut set in a future, when dancers are required to put stones in their costumes to make everyone equal.)

In more Apple news, a rare misstep. Someone thought it would be funny to create an app, or application, for iPhones called “Baby Shaker.” The phone would make noise that sounded like a baby crying. The way to stop it? Shake the phone. As a result, an image of a baby with red Xs over its eyes appears. The game’s tag line? “See how long you can endure his or her adorable cries before you just have to find a way to quiet the baby down!”

Bad idea. Bad, bad idea. Whoever developed that app should be, well, shaken until red Xs appear over their eyes.

Fortunately, Apple has dropped the app. Should be sent to the corner and taunted for the rest of the day for this one.

As for me, the news in PC land is that in an unexplainable phenomena, updated drivers just tend to fail. Perhaps in an upcoming Tech Thursday we can look at why, oh why, these updated drivers fail, fail, fail.

Many apologies for the absence of Figuratively Speaking Friday tomorrow. I’ll be out of town visiting my niece.

Fiction Daily returns next week … when Kieslowski Week resumes

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