Friday, December 31, 2010

Creation and Writing

I want to write about the process of creation.  I am a creator.  I am moving from the adjective creative to the title creator, much the same way someone becomes a sailor when they get on a boat and actually sail (which reminds me of the classic children’s book Finally a Sailor, read it if you haven’t yet).  Yes, I am a creator because I make things.

One question that I am often asked when people see my creative output is, “How did you think of this?”  That is a hard question to answer because the cognitive process is fast and elusive, as if it is what happens behind the scenes.  One moment there is not an idea in the mind and the next second there it is, as if appearing out of nowhere. 

 Actually there is a halfway answer that I have been coming to for the last long while.  I am going to sum it up in an analogy that just came to me.  Picture, if you will, a slot machine.   Not the fancy video ones with monitors with so much color and action that it gives a headache just to look at them (let alone try to understand them [I tried to play one once while on a writing-road-trip-pilgrimage, it was interesting—for further reading on that get a copy of Finding Ray Bradbury]). No, imagine an old-time slot machine with a long silver lever on the side and a three-compartment window.   Pull that arm and the wheels start spinning in a whiz of color.  Slowly, one by one, each wheel stops.  Most of the time the combination is nothing special; not a winner.  But every so often the match up is right, and out come s the money, the prize.

The mind is full of ideas, thoughts and pieces of knowledge.  Creative minds are the ones that are constantly, ceaselessly putting together new combinations of the old.  They are the addicts who cannot quit playing, pushing on until coming upon a winning combination even though victory doesn’t satisfy the need but rather feeds it.  My mind is in constant motion, always putting things together and occasionally getting something that fits just right.   When that happens it’s time to run with it.  Turn it into action.

As a writer I am constantly coming up with ideas for stories.  Are they new?  No, I suppose not.  They are made with other ideas and thoughts that are common, what makes them good is that they are combined in just the right way.  For every good idea I have there are scores that didn’t measure up.

Lately I have been weak on the action part.  One story in particular seems beyond finishing.  It has taken me months to get to where I am, which is in the still-not-finished-yet-but-getting-there phase.  The idea is great but laziness is holding me back.  Its time to buckle down and finish it.  Wish me luck…and keep your eyes open for the forthcoming story.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Long Past Due

I haven't been posting recently.  I have been busy.  I seem to be able to put my energy into only so many projects at a time and for the past few weeks the project has been a board game.  It is finished and available for purchase.  There are limited quantities and the price is $15.  Take a look and tell me what you think.  The brief explanation is that players try to make the longest snakes possible by playing the tiles.

This was an idea that came to me while I was writing.  I put together a quick mock up and then with prompting from my wind-in-the-sails friend I took this one to completion.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Alchemists' Folly

Prescript- I wrote this some years ago.  I didn't reread it before posting (oooh, dangerous, I know).  It's kind of longish.  I hope you get through it.

In recent study of poisons I have come across numerous references to the alchemist.  Throughout history there have been individuals who have made it their study to find out certain secrets that would fulfill their dreams.  These were to obtain the knowledge whereby they could turn various metals into gold and to find the elixir of life that would grant perpetual youth.  These two goals went hand in hand.  Alchemists sought the secret of the philosopher’s stone, which would aid in the transmutation process.  Gold was a highly valued and praised metal for its characteristics; these being its luster and resistance to rust (long life).  These pseudo-scientists believed that if they could understand the process that changed a less valuable metal into one that was superior that they could then apply the same principles to themselves and attain a never-ending life, or perpetual youth (such as gold has). 

The contributions that alchemist have made to the field of chemistry as a side effect of their studies have been invaluable.  However, the only real contribution that they made to their own field was to prove that the secret they sought did not exist.

When we were younger I am sure we all heard of the alchemists and were fascinated.  More vivid in our minds were probably the stories of pirates.  Pirates were adventurers who looked for buried treasure with old parchment maps, x marking the spot.  They sailed the seven seas and had eye patches.  My question is why we were fascinated by them. Why did we dress up like them for Halloween and wish to be them in real life?  Why did we make pretend?  More importantly, do we still believe the same philosophy that made us love them?

One lure (the biggest and perhaps the only one) that made us like the pirate and admire the alchemist was the idea of getting something for free.  Pirates “found” treasure and alchemists “made” it.  These people didn’t have to work like everybody else in the same way as the common man to get what everybody else had.  These had the easy way.

The problem is that these were those that tried to cheat the pattern of value for value.  For any and all transactions to be universally justified there must be an exchange of value that occurs.  This can be a good for a good a service for a service or monetary exchange or any combination because these all represent value.

There are two questions I wish to address in regard to the short cutters. What were the results of their choice to use flawed means?  And what were their other choices? 

So what did the alchemist get for his search for wealth and youth?  He got exactly what he deserved and the exact opposite of what he wanted.  Because of the all consuming nature of the alchemist’s quest the alchemist was unable to maintain any activity that would create a means of providing for his support.  When compared to the monumental task of making gold all other labor seemed to be wasteful and below the level of one so entrenched in so grand an endeavor.  Secondly, all resources that were gained were poured into the labor that was second to nothing.  The alchemist never became wealthy and was dependent on others for his support and would gain such through promises of wealth that were never fulfilled.

As for youth, the Alchemist wasted his life away in a laboratory never really being able to experience and enjoy the world that was his to have and to use because he was too enthralled in his own little closed sphere.  His quest didn’t bring youth but sucked it from him and gave nothing in return.

As for pirates they were feared, hated and hunted.  Their capture meant death.  But the problems of pirates were not only the fear of being captured by those who ruled by law, but there was the fear of those on the inside.  Because the pirate’s philosophy was to rob and plunder there was the possibility of shipmates turning and making prey on those who were once their comrades in similar endeavors.  How could one whose means is stealing be expected to maintain the standards of honesty in one facet of life and not in all?  The contradiction cannot long stand and either the honesty wins out and the pirate life must be abandoned, or dishonesty will win and there can be no trust on a ship of wholly treacherous men.  The possibility of back stabbing and being the recipient of plunder were real.  Pirates also did not find the wealth that they sought.

But what were the alternatives?  Only one and that is adherence to the law of value.  The alchemist should have spent his time in the pursuit of making wealth (through enterprise) and not of making gold.  He should also have spent his youth in activity that would have been of value to himself and others.  The pirate also should have put his efforts towards industry or worked to earn money as opposed to stealing the fruits of other’s labor.

The truth is this; there are universal laws and one of these is the law of value exchange.  When any one tries to circumvent or cheat this law they receive the opposite of what they aim to get by doing so.  Do we try to cheat these laws?  Is it in our hearts to get for free what we can only have by work?  And if the answer to these is yes, do we understand the consequences?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Photography and Writing

I wrote a guest post for a friend's blog. Take a look at the article as well as her blog,
She's a talented writer who discusses writing issues, does book reviews, and...well take a look and see for yourself.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hidden Interest

Sometimes its what’s not said that draws interest and attention.  The hidden and the lost seem to matter more than what is available and obvious.

Take a page of text and blot a line out beyond legibility and they, the words no more, overshadow the remaining words that jump up ready to be read.

Hide something and it becomes worth finding out, regardless of it true (pre-hidden) value.

I remember a time where such was the case in high school.  Just before Valentine’s Day, students filled out a short survey.  Based on their answers a compatibility list was made showing their closest matches.   My list had a girl in the first spot that I didn’t particularly like.  She was not popular (not that I was, but to me she seemed even less so) and not attractive.  I didn’t want others to see that she was on my list.  So I crossed her off.

And that crossed off name became more important that what was in plain view.

In writing interest comes from not always immediately having all the answers.  We, as authors, lead our readers along telling then certain things and purposefully withholding other things.  Part of the craft comes in knowing how to balance.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mental Clarity for Writing

Technology is great.  And yet.

Computers can rob the unwary of their ability to think.  The result—or cost—of convenience is loss of thought.  With the ease of computation, deleting, moving, and editing, there is little need for mental clarity.  The process is, write first, think later.  Dump onto the page a smattering of material and then sift through it to see if something can be made from it.  We seem to accept a concept in practice that we condemn in word.  The saying is, look before you leap, but there seems to be blessed little of the former and an abundance of the latter.  We seem to adopt the idea that if it is typed then it is worth reading.  A semi formed thought and a tornado of keystrokes and voila, words on a page.  And that mass of blah gets posted on a blog or sent as an email with no thought of editing or proofreading.  And we all suffer for it.

There is no commitment on computers; nothing is fixed or solid.  It is all soft and mutable.  But there are less fickle means of recording.

On paper there is certain demand for cognitive clarity before the pen can make any sensible markings.  Only so much editing can be done, and there is the work of erasing and rewriting.  Better yet a typewriter puts down letters and words and there they stay with even less modification.  Here the process is think, then record.

I wish there was more thinking that precedes the transformation process that allows for transmitting and sharing ideas.  I of myself buy into the idea of looking first before leaving the solid footing beneath me.

As a postscript, there are little things that computers offer; one is spell checker.  I just learned that sensical is not a word even though its non counterpart is.  The correct word is, sensible. Good to know, and a quote since it’s amusing.

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."
--James D. Nicoll

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pecan and Ash

Growing up, our neighbors had a pecan tree. It grew and dropped hundreds of nuts every year. It’s a wonder that more pecan trees didn’t sprout up and grow. I know that my mom wanted one to sprout in our yard and give us a hearty pecan harvest every year.

At some point, a little tree sprouted in our yard, right there near the fence next to the pecan neighbor’s house. Finally the pecan tree. My mom declared that the tree would live and we were not to mow over it when cutting the grass. We avoided cutting it down and it continued to grow. It was a great little tree, all of its little pecan tree leaves sprouting and waving in the breeze. It grew so fast. It would be no time before we had our own pecans.

And then we began to notice, one by one, that the leaves that looked so pecanish were not so pecanish anymore. As the tree grew it became more and more obvious that our tree was not a pecan tree at all, but an ash. Nobody told mom. We didn’t want her to uproot it and tear it out. She didn’t want an ash. I didn’t tell her, my brother didn’t tell her and dad didn’t tell her. We figured if it got big enough with out her knowing then it would be safe from removal. She wouldn’t let a beautiful ash be chopped down. It would grow on her. I mean after all it would turn into such a great shade tree, wonderful for climbing and spying.
That brave little ash grew from a little sapling to the size of a good walking stick. Then it grew to the size of a large flag pole. And it grew even taller and thicker in the trunk, so thick it was like a telephone pole. There was no getting rid of it now.

And all the while mom didn’t realize it wasn’t a pecan tree. Instead of seeing it for what it was, she saw what she wanted it to be. Her hope blinded her to what we all knew from early on. But one day she finally realized. That tree was no pecan tree.

When she told us, we were a little sheepish. She could tell we already knew. She wanted to know why we hadn’t told her. Well, because we liked it for what it was and didn’t want to see it destroyed because it wasn’t what she wanted.

The ash isn’t a bad tree, mom even likes it now. The danger was it not that it was bad. The danger was that it was not what she expected. Who knows, maybe we’ll get the pecan tree yet, but when the next sprout appears I think she’ll be a little more observant.

In my life I have not stopped to look at the tree to really find out what it is. I assumed it was one thing and acted according to that belief. But I was wrong. I have procrastinated doing what I want and what love because of my failure to look and see. I picked one path because it seemed fruitful, but that was not right. I should have been looking for the ash tree instead of looking for the pecan.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

of Food and Poison

Here is a would you rather that I thought of yesterday.

Would you rather come to the table everyday never knowing if there was going to be food or how much, or would you rather eat at the table that always had enough food?  The only catch is that while the food is good in quantity, it is bad in quality.  It is poisoned.  Not much, not deadly.  Just enough to make you sick.  Not all the time, just most of the time.

What do you pick—the pain of hunger or the pain of sickness?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Poisoned Seeds

We would count a farmer a fool who poisoned his seeds before planting.  Why go to the trouble of planting something that will surely not sprout nor produce?  It would be a simple waste of time and energy.  But the better question is, why poison them in the first place?  Why not just plant the seeds in health and then nourish them as they grow?

It is easy to judge the hypothetical actions of a farmer who poisons his seeds.  But it is harder to see the reality of our own actions.  It may be that we are that farmer in action.  The only difference is that our seeds are not literal, but figurative.

How often have we wanted something just enough to go through the actions of pursuit, with no confidence in success—and even worse, with certainty of failure?  Our attitude affects our performance and our performance affects our outcomes.  Are we poisoning our own dreams and hopes?

Yes.  Too often, yes.  We are setting ourselves up for failure.  There is no one to blame but ourselves.  Only we don’t blame ourselves.  We blame other people and things.  We don’t take the blame ourselves because we don’t see what we are doing.  We blind ourselves to the real culprit of our woes.

I am beginning to realize my own poisonous behavior.  I am ready to change,  ready to plant with the hope of harvesting.

Friday, November 5, 2010

On Being a Twin

Yesterday someone asked me a question that I have heard many, many times.  He did so with a preface that he hoped it was not a stupid question.  It was not a stupid question, though the commonly assumed answer is silly.

He asked, a little sheepishly, if there was a way to tell me and my twin brother apart.  Of course there is, many have mastered it.  If that weren’t the case how could I ever have friends?  Isn’t part of friendship knowing someone and yet loving them?  And that right there is the answer.  If you want to be able to tell me apart from my twin, then you must know me.  But getting to know someone takes time and energy.  Many look for the simple way out, the panacea of sorts for the sickness called twins.  That hope in the easy distinction of twins in the form of a specific and reliable difference in appearance is the stupid assumed answer to the question I was asked, how do I tell you apart?

Obviously twins are distinct individuals.  But the problem is that, unlike regular people, they look alike.  Ironically the solution is sought in the problem.  There must be some way in which they don’t look alike.  What, then, is that difference?

It seems silly to rely so heavily on looks as the distinction of individuals.  How inconsistent that is with other friends.  Do you only recognize a friend if they are visible?  No, there are other ways—voice, tone, and manner of speaking, just to name a few.  After all there are authors whose style is so distinctive that words on a page are enough to identify them.

There it is.  If you want to know which twin is which, you first must know them.  When I am asked if there is a way to tell me and my brother apart, my answer depends on who is asking.  If I think they are sincere and willing to learn I will tell them that they just need get to know us, really only one too.  If someone knows me they will also know when it’s not me and therefore my twin.  But mostly they are not invested.  They don’t really care and are simply looking for an easy out to what they consider a problem, two people that look too much alike for comfort.  To those people I say there is no way to tell us apart.  And for them it’s true.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Noble Giving

I went to the symphony recently.  I flipped through the program and came across the recognition section that listed donors and their contribution category.  Holding the position of prominence was the list of those few who had donated in excess of $250,000 within a one-year period.  The list was only about 5 names long.  On the top of that list, that was arranged alphabetically, was Anonymous.

That impressed me.  Someone gave over a quarter of a million dollars and was not, by choice, recognized by name.  That is unexpected and yet it rings of a noble kind of giving.

Noble giving is often replaced by petty giving.  Petty referring to how and not what is given.  The difference is in how it is said.  The former is, “I gave money to the symphony.” The latter is, “I gave money to the symphony.”  One type focus on the giver while the other on the recipient.

As a result of living in a capitalistic economy we act based on certain expectations.  One of those expectations has to do with transactions.  When we expend energy, effort or time we expect remuneration.  We expect to earn.  We go to work principally to earn money, but there are other types of earning, and they are the types that are usually the strings that we attach to the things we do for others.  We expect payment in recognition, love, future favors, leverage, promotion of a certain image, and many other subtle but harmful ways.  The giving stops being about the recipient and becomes about the giver.  It is done not for what will be done for the receiver but for the giver, and that is petty.  Noble giving is when the recipient is the focus, their joy, improved station or satisfaction is paramount and the giver is simply a footnote.

Because we have all, to some degree, bought in the idea that nothing is really free, even if someone gives it mentality we have problems expressing gratitude.  We receive something and wish to say thank you in proportion, to immediately give back to balance the account, to pay off the giving.  Sometimes a simple, heartfelt thank you is all that is needed.

The never ending, public thank you and credit giving can be tedious to a noble giver and prevent future giving.
Sometimes the best expression of gratitude is a simple and sincere thank you.

This idea of giving also extends to the less than tangible realm of compliments.  Here, as in few other ways, the strings are very easily felt.  Pay someone a compliment and watch as they flounder for an appropriate response.  They may be suspicious, they may deny the compliment or return in kind.  What is rare is the simple heartfelt expression in to little words, thank you.

As with many things in life it comes down to a choice.  I chose nobility over pettiness.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Super Powers

I was recently asked what super power I would choose if I could magically have any.  I answered before I stopped to think (which isn’t uncommon and which sometimes leads to awkward moments).  My immediate answer was, staying power. 

Of all the abilities that I could have chosen, many of which are freaking awesome, I chose staying power.  I passed up on super speed, invincibility, invisibility, super strength, super intelligence, and flying power.  Who’s ever heard of staying power?  And why would I choose it?

Starting things is easy, fun and exciting. But as time moves forward and the project or job loses its novelty it becomes harder to be excited about investing time and energy in it.  Good ideas, good intentions and good starts often all end up in the same place, the graveyard of the unfinished.  There is enough good material in that place of the dead that if revived, brought back to life and finished, would amount to success, fame and fortune.  But those result never come to those who could have had it.  Because they quit.  They gave up something that once was all they could think about and focus on.  It was their pet and they invested time, money and energy.  And then it came to an end.  Came to an end because they had no super power, didn’t have the power that I would choose.

I finish more projects than most.  And yet I have sent more ideas and projects to the graveyard than most.  I think of the waste, my waste.  Oh, the loss.  I am missing out on so much.

I want staying power because it is a power that would permeate into all parts of my life.  No, I couldn’t fly to the tops of skyscrapers or mountains.  I couldn’t deflect bullets.  I couldn’t run so fast I was no more than a blur of color.  I couldn’t disappear.  But I would get things done.

I have heard people say they have a million dollar idea.  So what?  Everybody does, they are a dime a dozen (baker’s dozen).  So why are there not more millionaires?  Because there is no execution and follow through.  Ideas stay eternally ideas (or occasionally they are born only to die in infancy).  There would be more millionaires if there were more staying power. 

Maybe my choice isn’t a real super power.  And it may seem boring.  But at the end of the day it is one that would translate into the most value.  And value matters.  After all, what is the point of having a power if it never translates into anything but the satisfaction of whims and fancies? 

I chose what would make me better and by so doing making things better for those around me.


I am a writer.  In writing staying power is essential. To get to a polished piece, follow through is necessary.  Ideas are easy to come by, development isn’t difficult.  Even fleshing out a first draft can be simple.  What’s hard is revising, editing, changing and improving.

I wish I could turn out a large volume of good writing.  But writing takes time.  Paying the price is part of the process.

So if my posts aren’t as frequent as posts on other blogs it only means that I am not a blogger.  I am a writer, and I share some of my craft on a blog.  When I am not posting it doesn’t mean that I am being lazy.  It means that I am working behind the scenes on other projects that demand time but give little back in visible progress. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I remember one day when I was a kid.  I was in elementary school.  My twin brother came home from school and said he had something he wanted to show me.   He pulled one of the white tea saucers from the cabinet in the kitchen.  He filled it with water and carried it outside.  I followed.
Straight out the back door he walked down the path to the back fence.  There on a brick he placed the small plate.  Then he told me his secret.  If we left the water there for about two hours is would disappear.  He called it evaporation.  I called it stupid.  We left the water.
We came back later and the water was gone.  I was baffled.  He called it evaporation.  I called it trickery; the water couldn’t have actually disappeared.  I went and asked my mom if he had tampered with the plate when I wasn’t paying attention.  She told me that he hadn’t, she said it was evaporation.  I said it was magic.  Water vanishing into thin air had to be magic.
Science he called it.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.  I asked his how it worked.  He said the water turned into gas and floated away.  It was too much for my little mind.

My childish mind could not open wide enough to fit certain ideas that now seem so simple.   Naturally I wonder if I am still the same way.  Are there ideas and truths that I am blind to for no reason other than my intellectual immaturity?  Perhaps.  I wonder what I am missing out on by not being able to imagine bigger and better. 

I think of the portrayal of future technology in the media in the not so distant past.  Even when the mind was imagining space travel and making technology that would fit in a futuristic age they were limited.  Even their wildest imaginings could not fathom the amazing territories into which technology would expand.  If our computers, cell phones and music players were shown to those dreamers of the past, they would be utterly astounded.  They would be the equivalent of a second grader hearing of evaporation for the first time.  Magic they would call it.  And to us it is the common place, the mundane.
I am excited for my mind to be continually stretched and enlarged by the advance of technology.  Great things lie ahead.  I hope that I can keep up.

A Good Story

It was in the closet.  The one that was just around the corner from the entryway, across from the pantry.  The closet with boxes of things packed away that would only come out seasonally, Easter decorations, Christmas tree, wrapping paper and Thanksgiving decorations.  Along with things that rarely came out was the smell of things too long confined to spaces too small.  Tucked away on one side was the rod from which hung all sorts of articles of clothing that were infrequently or never used, but too good to throw out.  The garments were packed so tight that it was hard to pull any one thing out and not also dislodge its neighbors on either side.  There was a tuxedo that was too small for some and too big for others, waiting for someone to grow into it.  There was the old hunting jacket that smelled of leather and canvas.  There was the once used graduation robe, cap and sash.  There was the snow pants that still smelled new having seen little action. 
And there was the coat.
I don’t know where it came from or how I managed to find it amidst all the mess.  It was long, coming all the way down to my ankles.  The sleeves were too long and if they weren’t rolled up my hands wouldn’t come out the ends of them.  Because they were so long I could tuck them into themselves and hold them tight and close of the opening.  It had an inside pocket that intrigued me and was perfect for hiding any treasure I might wish to conceal.  Being so disproportioned for me I was able to pull my arms from the sleeves and into the body of the coat with plenty of room.  It was brown, soft and perfect.
I loved to put it on when it was cold, gray, and rainy outside.  I would button and zip it all the way up from foot to head.  I would put on my roller skates and go out into the rain fully protected and totally safe.
I loved to wrap myself up in that old coat because it enveloped, encompassed, and surrounded me. It made me feel safe.  I became a part of it, as if inside of it I was in an entirely new world whose boundary was just big enough to let me in.  As a child I wondered if that was how turtles felt, having their own little world that they could carry on their backs.  They could pull themselves into their shells and retreat to their safe space separate from the world.
I think that I love a good book and a good story for the same reason.  With a well told story it’s like I slip on a perfectly fitting coat that to surrounds me, makes me feel included and part of something.  A good story puts me in a new world keeping the real one at bay.  A good story is one that is hard to take off and leave, it’s one that draws the reader back and invites them to become wrapped up with it again.
Those good stories are worth finding and keeping close.  They make it worth searching through the ones that don’t fit quite right, don’t feel right, are ugly or out of style, too big or too small, poorly made or over decorated.
I want to write stories that fit like that old brown coat I found in that front little closet. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Our Buildings

There is nothing worse that when our good intentions and inventions turn against us.  We set out to make things better for ourselves and move toward a nicer future without seeing the consequences that will also follow.  We are blind to them because of the bright shining vision of the perfected future we hope to build.

Just the other day I walked out of a building and was shocked how beautiful it was.  It was sunny but cool, there was a slight breeze and the smell of fall was in the air.  I wanted to sit in the grass and read a book, write, or just sit quietly and think.

I was missing the out of doors because life is increasingly getting centered indoors.  Buildings were made to serve us, protect us from the caprice of bad weather.  But they have come to hold us prisoner.  They are no longer a place to escape to but a place from where we should escape.  The walls and roof that keep out the wind, cold and rain also keep out the sounds the smells and the joy of nature.  And yet that is where we spend our time.  It’s because that is where we put our stuff, and without our things we are increasingly useless.

As I stood outside in a perfect afternoon I thought of the building that I had left.  It was not to my liking. 

It had a manufactured feel.  It was definitely man made.  The walls were confining, barriers that dictated, walk here, and congregate there.  The spacing dictated economy of materials.  Rooms were made to serve a purpose and no more.  The walls were also a barrier to elements.  Outside was kept out.  Inside there was the hum of the air conditioning machine.  The air was cold, machine processed and manufactured.  It was trapped, caught in the buildings grasp, cycled and recycled making its rounds countless times.  I was cutoff from something better.

For most of the year the weather is inclement.  Being outdoors is no pleasure.  And so we have our buildings.  But the cost is that we are stuck to them, tied down.  When the weather is nice we cannot enjoy it.  We are forgetting how to function outside.   Too much time is spent indoors. 

I imagine I am writing this because it is so nice out.  I would rather be playing Frisbee and bike riding and reading beneath a tree than doing anything indoors.  So don’t mind me.  Soon enough I will be very grateful for walls and roofs and machine heated air because winter is not far off.  And winter is no friend to me.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Carried on the Music

His clothes were dirty and worn.  He was not tidy, but unkempt.  He sat outside on a bench in the park.  From a distance and from the back he looked hunched over.  But as one got closer it became clear that his posture was the result of playing a guitar.  The first glance would give the impression that he was homelessness, though he may or may not have been.  It did seem that he was a traveling kind; a type who had no deep roots to any one place.  He played his music as if oblivious of the rest of the world.
From the outside he looked if not happy at least content.  He was making music and that seemed to be his focus and purpose.  The story on the inside, what wasn’t visible to the eye was different.  He felt alone and cut off.  He felt a lacking, a hollowness.  He had imagined a life different than the one he was living.  In his invented life music was present but it was different.  It wasn’t the playing in the park that only earned him a meager allowance it was more.  He had wanted to be famous and make a good living from his music.  Instead he only just managed.  And the music that he loved was always a reminder of what wasn’t, of what he hadn’t achieved.  The music he loved had slowly taken to reminding him of what he hadn’t accomplished; it became a dull but persistent grinding in his core that took the joy out it, poisoned it.  So while he played he wished he weren’t.  Perhaps it’s time to move on, he thought, maybe it’s time to give it up and be done.
Another man approached the musician from behind.  He was dressed in slacks and a polo shirt.  He was clean shaven and neat.  He walked with purpose toward the musician, but not with haste, it was almost strolling.  He made his way around to the front of the bench and dropped something into the open case that lay in front of the man and kept walking, strolling through the park as if taking in the whole world.
The musician played for a moment longer before looking up.  He saw the back of a man and nothing more.  His glance moved to his case and paused there longer than he had expected it to.  He looked up again at the back of the retreating man, then to his case.  At a pause in the music he reached out a quick hand and snagged the roll from the case and put it in his pocket.  It seemed like a lot of money, too much to leave out where it could be easily stolen.  And then the playing and the music continued as if it had not been interrupted.

Later when in the safety of his room he pulled from his pocket the rubber-banded roll of bills.  It opened in his hand.  Rolled in with the bills was a clipping from a newspaper.  He read what was written.

*          *          *
Music on the Air
By Mathew Sanders

Time passes and things inevitably change.  Some changes are deep and slow and others are on the surface and quicker.  The skyline doesn’t change overnight but the clouds do.  The streets don’t much change but there is a constant flow of traffic and people. The trees grow slowly, but the leaves change color then fall from the branches and cover the ground, then new leaves bud and fill in the naked trees. Seasons change and with each new turning of time there is something to be gained, and with that also comes loss.  It is the balance of things, the ebb and flow of life. 
Here in the city one thing that comes with the warm summer air is the music.  Street musicians that have hibernated through the winter months awake from a deep sleep and are to be found again moving among us.  They are in the park on the benches, on street corners, but mostly out of the way where we hardly notice them.  They enrich our lives and the enhancement is so subtle that we sometimes loose it amid the other demands of our attention.  But like the smells of spring that are forgotten in fall and winter they come as a welcome friend come back from a vacation that has lasted too long.  I have often sat in the park to listen to the melodies and to find creativity carried on the music.
Music is powerful.
Music is not wafted on the air like smell.  Smell passes, is undefined and elusive.  It flirts with those that it passes. Smell is a tease that likes to play and then flitter away.  Music is different.  Music is carried.  It is deliberate.  It doesn’t pass by.  It looks for—seeks for—places to settle, penetrate.  It wants to enter into bodies and into people to inspire, give life, vivify, rarefy, elevate, deepen.
Music is almost palpable, almost tangible.
            Smell it is fake and the food is real.  Smell is the shadow that exists beyond the physical.  Music is as real as the instruments that make it.  Without music an instrument isn’t complete, without music it is nothing but a corpse.  Hollow, empty and lifeless.
            This then is my tribute to those who make life more full, who give us a beat in our step, who put a smile on our face and who put a song in our heart.  Our city is great because of the music. The music rises up against the sadness, the struggle, the monotony, and the defeat.  The music is a reminder that life goes ever on and that it really is a beautiful world we live in. Life is good.
            We are blessed for our city’s musicians.  They give life, and without them we would discover that our city was a lifeless corpse, the remains of something that once was living but no longer is.  With out the musicians we are nothing.
            Thank you musician wherever you are, yours may be a thankless job, but it is often the case that what is most needed is least acknowledged.  So here it is, too little and not often enough, thank you from all of us.

*          *          *

He finished reading the article and then read it again.  He was moved and found himself wiping his eyes and realized that they were moist.  He took a deep breath and breathed in hope and held it in.  He let out the breath as a deep sigh, the hope stayed in but he let the despair leave him.  He took another breath of hope and again let out his despair.  As the feeling of failure left him he began to see his work with new perspective.  He saw the value of his work.  He wasn’t famous and never would be, but what he did mattered and it was noticed.  As he slept that night his thoughts were light; he made a difference.  He was excited for the morning and new day.  He was excited to share his music with a city that needed it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Swing Set Shadows at Dusk

As day wanes the sun sinks and the shadows stretch and grow.  The light fades and the colors appear.  The blue canvas of the sky will jump into color and show the orange, red and yellow of the decline of day.  The shadows that have sat nocturnal during the bright of day come to action and begin to swell and grow.  They creep out from under all that stands on the ground.  Anchored to the objects that form them the shadows march away from the sun stretching as they go.  It is these shadows that will become the night as they grow and force away all that is light. The magic that is day will turn into the magic of the night.  It is in the obscuring black that nightly escapades become the reality.
But before the night swallows up the day for good there is a sliver, a slice of the dusk.  Dusk, the pause in time between two worlds so different.  It is then that day’s conclusion is considered and the plan of the night is set forth, devised and contrived.
Dusk is magic.  Summer dusk.  The heat fades and the cool of night floats out of the grass and dirt.  The sun no longer pushes his heat on the earth.
It was on the swing set that I would spend my dusks.  I would sit in the chain-suspended-seat and grip the rusted links.  The deep brown-orange would peak through the chipped paint in contrast to the faded yellow.  I would rock gently back and forth and the old chain would squeak and chirp and invite the cricket to join in the music of a outdoor concert.  The reluctant and reticent crickets would wait ‘til the fullness of dark to join the song, follow the metallic intro.
I would push myself backwards, feet on the oval patch of dirt, a brown egg on the green grass. Swing back in reverse—stop and then forward again with raised feet—stop and then reverse again—straight down and then another push.  So went the hypnotic motion.
Usually I would wait for Rachel to come.  She would creep from the trees and sit in the swing to my left.  She would always move in silence with no words.  She would sit and then turn to look at me and smile.  She would look away and gaze off into infinity and focus on nothing.  A gentle push would set her to the motion of hypnosis, like mine but out of sync.  Our pace was never quite the same except for random moments where we would be in unison for a handful of swings then our pendulum bodies would move progressively out of step until after a gap of unawareness we would again move towards unison and eclipse.
At some point we might talk, other days we would just swing in silence until she would hop off, wink, and run of.  When we did talk our words would float into the air and meander from mouth to ear in leisure.  Conversations were slow, they would move like fluffy clouds on a nearly windless day.  We may have spent the day together from the morning until the call for dinner but we still found conversation that was new and interesting.
She was my friend and then she was gone, moved away.
It wasn’t real until I sat in the swing thinking thoughts—fireflies in dark of my mind.  Thoughts would light up move around and then flicker out.  I expected her and sat until the last shred of orange slipped away.  The shadows had marched over the horizon and fallen off the edge of the world.  It was at the dark gray, right before the star speckled black that I remembered that I had said goodbye.  Her family had moved away and taken her with them.  It was something that I knew about from the beginning of summer but had not really believed.  I was so used to her being around that I didn’t think it was really possible that she could ever really be gone.  Even when I watched her drive away it was a dream, a fantasy.  Her absence wasn’t real in my mind. Until that moment as the day died and night was born.  It hit me.  I put my feet down and stopped.  I stood up off the swing seat.  I walked in a circle and then stopped.  I sat down on the grass.  Then it became real.  The weight of it sank down on me, it distilled like a dew of sadness—a wet blanket that made me shiver from the coldness. 
Eventually I got up and went inside.  I went to bed and dreamt strange dreams, nightmares of twisted memories.  I dreamt that she came back for me and that her leaving wasn’t real.  We were together again.  We could sit on the swings again—our swinging was the back and forth of a metronome that ticked on to infinity without measuring time’s passing.  Our bodies were the golden circle on the long arm beneath the grandfather clock that moved back and forth.  But the clock had frozen hands, lame hands, that would not and could not move or walk the march of time.
A week passed that was misery and nightmare.  But it ended when I accepted the reality of her absence.
She was the first girl that I loved and I didn’t know it until it was too late.  I never told her because I didn’t know it until she was gone.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Price of Luck

In blog format this will feel really long.  If you are going to read it you may do well to copy and paste it into a a word document and read it that way or print it.  It will be more manageable.  Or just commit to reading it and do here. Consider yourself advised.

The shop was tucked away out of view.  It was so tucked away that it was not easy to find.  The entrance to the shop was in the gap between two buildings.  The gap appeared to be there to give the four story buildings on either side breathing space.  The light seemed never to find its way into the small space to give any hint of a door’s existence. 
The door, when seen, was a sharp contrast to the new and sleek of the city.  It was an old door, brown and worn.  As a door it must have survived hundreds of years and seen many events.  The tree that it was made from would have been even older and would have been a sapling when the secrets that were sold inside were only first being discovered.  The fruit of the tree was used in certain formulas, the type of which were certainly in the shop that it protected.  The door was not made from a single piece of wood, but by planks.  The craftsmanship was extraordinary; the border of the door made a frame into which the rest of the planks were set.  The vertical planks were further secured with horizontal supports of the same wood, though narrower and thinner.  In addition to the wood metal shanks were spread from one side to the other connecting the boards with large headed nails.  The nails were used on other parts of the door, giving it a medieval look.  The top of the door was rounded and made a half-circle that contained symbols and strange writing. 
There was no knob on the door, only a plate on the side opposite the hinges.  In the center of the metal plate was a key hole whose key must have been a massive skull key.  Around the hole was decorative scroll work.  The curving designs looped around and were intertwined in intricate patterns looking as though they held some secret significance.  Without the key admittance was only granted from the inside.
From the outside it would seem as though all that could be on the other side of the door would be a narrow hall only as long as the buildings that sandwiched it, though this was not the case.  While the shop was crowded and small it was certainly larger than it should have been.  The lighting in the shop was dim and undefined.  It would be impossible to identify any single source of light that seemed to hang in the air.  The walking space was narrow, only wide enough for one person, having wares stacked on either side.  Old boxes, small trunks and other parcels were stacked one on top of the other along with packages in brown paper tied with twine.  Shelves stood behind the stacked boxes and held countless bottles of varying size and shape each containing a different colored liquid, powder, or curiosity.  The level in each was less than full, though all had parchment labels with faded writing.  From the ceiling hung various objects—dried lizards, bones, sacks of unknown contents, and metal instruments of unknown uses.
At the back of the shop was a small counter covered in such clutter that no part of the surface was visible.  There was a bookshelf stretching to the ceiling filled with volumes of all sizes, all leather bound and brittle from old age.  The spines of the books had large bands between which were written their titles and authors.  The space between the tops of books and the bottom of the shelf above held more books, lying on their sides.  Stacks and rolls of parchment were also fit into gaps and crevices that remained.  Many of the books were covered in dust, their knowledge having remained long unneeded.  A ladder hung on large rollers was pushed into the corner.  Over the rungs draped pieces string of varying length, thickness, and color.
Behind this counter hunched an old lady wizened with age.  Her skin was brown as leather and wrinkled.  Her hair was thin and white with no trace of gray.  It was mostly pulled back but disheveled, much of it having been pulled out of the tie.  It hung in matted clumps with a strand hanging over one eye.  Her eyes were a green, bright and cunning, though they mostly hid behind squinting lids.  They would dart back and forth seeing every movement and every change in her small world.  She thought out loud with grunts and moans and when she spoke her voice was raspy.  She mostly spoke in words and phrases, not in full sentences; she said only the minimum needed to get the answer out.
The smell that hung in the air was unique, the product of thousands of strange smells mixes together.  It was distinct but not unpleasant.  It was the smell of secrets and mystery.
* * *
It was on this door, to this shop, that a man with a concerned face knocked.  He was short and had a slumped posture of one who lacks self assuredness and has seen more failure than success.  His hair was thinning as well as receding.  He was not a handsome man, and he didn’t seem happy.
Bang, bang were his first two tentative knocks, followed by a long pause.  The thickness of the door had muffled the knocks and the man thought they could not have been heard.  Thud—He knocked again.  Thud—he knocked a second time.  His arm hung still, suspended, as he went for another thud.  Before his hand hit the door it opened.  The door’s movement was smooth, not the slow creaking the man had expected. 
Where he stood on the stoop it was dim but beyond the threshold of the door it was darker.  He couldn’t see in.  He stood motionless, his apprehension growing.
I shouldn’t even be here—he thought silently.  But before the thought was finished in his mind he found himself drawn into the darkness of the shop.
He noticed the smell as he entered, only to forget it by the distraction of the step he hadn’t noticed.  His foot fell farther than it should have, past where he thought the ground would be.  His body jolted as his foot finally found the ground.  “Oh,” he said not as a thought but as the reaction from having air forced out of his lungs.
Inside the shop his eyes began to adjust.  He took two steps forward.  The door closed behind him.  He heard a shuffling sound near the back of the shop and followed the aisle toward the sound.
He found himself standing in front of the counter and the old lady.  He stood there momentarily with his mouth open, not knowing what to say.  He knew what he wanted but had never put words to his desire.  Now when he needed the words they did not come because they had not been prepared.
“I need….” And his voiced trailed off and he stood simply staring at the woman.  She looked back at him, with penetrating eyes, as if reading his soul. 
She was the next to speak, “Yes,” pause… “I know what you want.”  Then she chuckled a strange, raspy cackle.  To the man it seemed as if she were mocking him, and not knowing how to answer remained silent.  She gave a sidewise nod of her head signaling him to follow.
They moved down a narrow aisle, silently, the old hunched woman shuffling along with the man following.  She knew precisely where she was going and stopped suddenly to reach up to a shelf at her eyelevel.  She took from the shelf a bottle of thin blue liquid and a small cloth bag that looked like it held sand.
The woman then retraced her steps to return to the counter.  She took no note of the man that stood in the way of her back tracking, he had to lean back against a shelf to make room for her to pass.  After a moment the shock of the old woman nearly running over him dispelled and he followed.  Back at the counter with bottle and bag on top of the newest layer of clutter, the woman gave a smile while nodding her head in turn at both ingredients.  Her gaze moved back to the man’s face, still holding the smile.  Then the smile slowly slid from her face.
“This isn’t it, but close.  You want success.  You think it comes from luck.  No.  Comes from work, toil.  Only looks like luck—you don’t know what work is.”  She waited, giving him a look that seemed to ask if he understood.  After a long pause she continued, either thinking he understood, or knowing he didn’t and going on all the same.
“This is gambling.  You know the price?” then answering her own question, “No.  Your type? never. Cost your life?  Your youth? Happiness?  Maybe.  But something.”  The man listened confused.  He had thought to pay with cash.  He thought that the concoction would be surefire.
What is this talk of gamble?—he thought to himself.  Instead of answering his own question he addressed the woman, “I’ll take it.”
She reached down to uncork the bottle muttering, “Maybe it takes you…”  Her voice trailed off as if not finishing the whole thought.  She poured two swallow fulls into a vial and added a pinch of the powder.  The granules slowly sank and dissolved, making the liquid milky.
The woman raised it to her eye level and gazed at the contents, slowly swirling the tube, then slowly extended it, offering it to the man.  He took it and simply looked at it, not knowing what exactly to do.  He wondered if he needed to pay first.
“Drink,” the woman said.  He lifted the vial to his lips and drained its contents.  He almost choked, and sputtering said, “That tastes awful, like… I don’t know what, but disgusting.”  He hadn’t expected such a vile taste.
“What did you expect, sweet like honey?” the woman questioned chuckling. “Yes, your type, always entitled to have sweet and no bitter.”  The woman then wiped her hands on her apron as if to signal that the exchange was complete.  The man felt he owed her something and asked the total for the drink.  The woman just nodded her head from side to side.
“Well, will it make me lucky like the others? Will it make me rich? Will it make me happy?” the man asked.  The words of what he desired now came to him.  He thought of all the men he envied for the ease of their success.  He thought of all that he wanted and did not have.
“I don’t know. Won’t make you happy, only you can do that.  Might make you rich. Or it might take everything.  Shortcuts are never sure.” Pause, “Now go, see what happens.”
With the old woman’s words the man became concerned, she had said gamble, and in his experience that only meant that you most likely were going to loose.
He left the shop the same way he had come in and stood on the sidewalk watching cars pass.  After deciding he felt no different and that the woman was up to funny business he turned and began to walk away. 
He noticed someone walking down the street in his direction.  The young boy was walking quickly and with purpose.  His expression was one of youthful love.  He was obviously enamored by some girl.  He also noticed a tinge of concern. Perhaps the feelings aren’t mutual, he mused.  The boy passed him.  He glanced over his shoulder in time to see the boy slide between the two buildings from where he had just come.  “Good luck, kid, it’s just come kooky old woman in there.  Just a waste of time.”
The man, distracted by his thought, turned to cross the street.  He didn’t look to see if there were cars coming. There was a car coming, and he put stepped directly in front of it.  The impact killed him instantly.  His last thought was one of blame to a person who couldn’t solve his problems.
* * *
Inside the shop the old woman was shuffling down an aisle with a young boy following her.  She paused, as if sensing the events outside, as if she somehow knew the man was now dead.  The boy was confused when the woman who stopped for no reason said, “Oh well…” before continuing down the aisle to find a few bottles that contained ingredients that she needed to mix a love potion for the boy.


Recently someone asked me if I plucked my eyebrows.

I said, "People pluck chickens, one tweezes one's eyebrows.  And to answer you question I do not tweeze by eyebrows (nor do I pluck chickens)."

That was a little deceptive but I think I am alright with that.  It does so happen that I tweeze my eyebrow (singular).  That's how I get eyebrows (plural).  So you see, by the time it has turned from one to two I am done tweezing.

This may or may not be true, I just found it amusing and thought I should post something since I have been slacking.  There are a few stories that I am working on, hopefully one will make it here sooner than later.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Trust in Tech

I love the moments when I am caught off guard by myself and learn something new about me.  They are moments that come from time to time, quite randomly.   And the things I discover are startling and revealing.

The most recent insight into myself came during a very casual conversation about email.  The thought, that I didn’t know was in my brain, crept up from out of the dark hidden shadows and was soon right before me.

He was a scrawny little figure, dressed in rags.  He looked underfed and accustomed to hardship.  Dirty and shifty, his appearance was the epitome of a street urchin.  What was most noticeable were his eyes.  There were sharp, but full of distrust as if he could discern those who could, and more importantly, could not be trusted.  He shook his head at me ever so subtly but I knew exactly what he meant.  He was saying, Don’t trust technology.  And then he was gone, as silently as he had come.

I use it, I enjoy it, and benefit from it.  But I don’t trust it.  For all that technology does, it can’t win my trust.  I know that one day it will let me down.

When the day comes I will be alright.  I will have my ideas, stories and thoughts.  I have entrusted them to paper and ink.  So when there is no power and my batteries are dead, I will pull out the stacks of paper and perhaps a candle and read.  And my soul will not be lost.  

Thursday, September 30, 2010


I recently read a novel by the Portuguese author Jose Saramagos called The History of the Siege of Lisbon.  It was an interesting read because of his style.  He writes incredibly long sentences that are the length of paragraphs and he only uses three punctuation marks, periods, commas, and apostrophes.  It is a little hard to get used to and takes more mental energy to read than a book that has more traditional formatting.

As I started this essay I decided to write in his style, which I am told is called stream of consciousness (or something like that) which seems like it would be easy to write (i.e. write things as you think them) but it turned out to be more difficult than I thought.  For what it's worth, here it is.


I have noticed that there are different types of drivers, as I am sure everyone who has sat behind a steering wheel has observed, so I am not saying this to differentiate myself, nor is it the point of what I want to communicate insofar as motorists are concerned, only that there is something to be gained from the mental distinction of different driving styles that are the result of the type of person that is controlling the car, that is simply a shell to the creature inside, which goes a long way in drawing conclusions about the driver himself, or of course, herself as it applies to the situation.

I have noticed that an attitude can be interpreted or distilled from the relationship of the use of a turn signal and the actual process of changing lanes, from the current position to the place of desired occupancy, while methods vary the result is the same, one position to another, yet here the differentiation is not of the end but of the means used to arrive there.

The first type of driver uses the signal of the flashing orange light as a question, as if to ask, May I please get where I want to get, only to continue at the present pace and wait for the conditions to change, so the question essentially is, Will you yield to me to accommodate my desire to get something without making it happen myself, but rather to let you take the necessary measures.

The second type poses no questions with their signal, they instead use it as the name implies, a comment of future events as they will unfold as stemming from the dictates of the desire of the conductor of the car, Here I am, they silently say, And this is what will happen next, they then act to make it happen, either with assertion or, as is not uncommon, a certain degree of aggression, not because they are mean or selfish but because they set a course and follow it without deviation, letting others adjust to their fancy instead of the other way around.

The last type of driver, in contrast to the second type, is indeed selfish, or perhaps a more appropriate word, to describe things relationally, is self-centered, they place themselves at the center of action and relevance, and consequently place everything and everybody further and further from that center, relevance diminishing with distance from the point they occupy  that is their being, which because of its paramount importance cannot be bothered with such trivialities as a turn signal, which in all frankness is no chore to use at all, being as easy to operate as flicking the wrist, but since it is not the action that is in question but the implication, the signal is most commonly left unused because it is energy exerted, if even ever so little, for the benefit of creatures that are not at the center of the concentric circles of relevance, when this third type of driver uses the signal it is as an after thought that often reeks of such superior, condescending magnanimity that it is like rich spoiled brat tossing scraps of unwanted food to a starving dog.

From the first to the last there is distinction in technique, from timidity to confidence to arrogance, which represents quite a span of personality, but I wonder if drivers are really locked into one of the categories or if they bounce around depending on mood or situation, or if instead of three hard set categories the three points mentioned are merely markers along a spectrum, whatever the case balance is what really matters, it is as they say, One can go overboard on either side of a ship,  though changing from cars to watercraft is straying from topic so it must be time to end this brief thought with a question, What can people tell about you by the way you drive.