12 Nov

Memories to Tinker with #3

The angst of October

The clarity of November

The juggernaut of December

The dandelion seed of January

The beaches of February

The unknittable break in March

The opacity of April

The triplet of May

The bark of June

The consumption of July

The music of August

The rest of September

30 Oct

Mundane Activities are Portals to Adventure

Average Routine, Monday through Friday

6:30-7:15 AM – Rise and stumble, shave, shower, do situps and pushups to the morning news, dress.

7:15 -7:30 AM – Make coffee, kiss the dogs and pet the wife and kids, and rush out the door to catch the bus.

7:40 – 8:30 AM – Ride the bus downtown, answer email, drink coffee, catch up on my feeds, starting with Authors, Comics, Business reading (HBR, 99%, etc.), and random drawings of content.

8:30 – 9:10 AM – Walk to Whole Paycheck (block from Powell’s), buy oatmeal with fruit and yogurt, walk to work (NW 1st and Couch).

9:10 – 10 AM – Eat, read email, plan the day (assuming no meetings earlier than 10).

9:10 – 10 AM Alternate – If sufficiently caffeinated, write.

10 AM – 6 PM – Work, meet, eat, work, try not to lose temper (rethink), help at least one person to laugh.

3 PM Alternate: Walk for 60 to 90 minutes up to Pittock Mansion or Montgomery Park.

5 PM Alternate: (If I’ve driven) Drive to Forest park, change, and run for 60 minutes through Hoyt Arboretum or along the Wildwood near NW Thurman—the best part of my day. Use time to listen to a recorded book, something I can drift in and out of penalty-free.

6:20 to 7 PM – Make my way home (bus or car). If bus, then read.

7 to 9 PM – Spend time with family (and the occasional major chore), including dinner.

9 to 10 PM – Run on treadmill, catching up on TV (if no walk or run earlier) or walk the dogs with Debby. If treadmill broken, curse all mechanical lifeforms and walk dogs.

10 – 11:30 PM – Watch TV or movie with Debby (our nighttime comfort viewing tends toward Poirot, Marple, Bond, Thin Man). Let or lure the fraidy cat in.

10 – 11:30 PM Alternate – Read until the book falls three times.

Around midnight till 6:30 – Sleep fitfully.

Weekends are on demand, but always involve writing, one or more important tasks, regular dinner with old friends, and if we’re lucky a one day getaway. Way too often there are errands.

When asked how we spend our days, we tend to answer with an outline or framework, and leave out most of the interesting, often subtle bits, because they take longer to surface and describe in a way that’s interesting outside of us. But the framework is useful—each one of these timeslots above is a starting point.

30 Oct

Feeding on old content

The problem with feeds and writers is that writers often push a post to the public then, horrified, rush to fix it, and then, horrified, rush to fix it, and then…. Because leaving a post as a draft is almost always a sure way to bury it for good or a good long time.

This anxiety-driven methodology isn’t a problem if your readership is low and not apt to rush out and read your latest hot off the press–and they come directly to your blog to read it. It is a problem if as soon as you publish the first draft your feed is dispersed to the winds and firmly embedded in the cache of overly efficient and ultimately lazy feed readers (I give you Feedly, among others).

I use Feedburner to distribute my feeds. It has a great Resync feature that flushes its cache of content and previous settings (like “present the full post” vs. “present the first 20 lines”). However, there’s often no way to get a feed reader (like my friend Felix Unger Feedly) to refresh its cache by grabbing the latest version of the feed. Which means often that first or second clumsy version is what the human consumer of text feeds upon.

“I read your post. It gave me gas.”

“Agh! If you’d waited or went to the site directly you’d not only have avoided gastric distress but browsed away fully sated and pleasantly aroused. But you need to wait for the dish to cool a little and the flavors to emerge. That’s the problem with the Web–it wants people to eat bread right out of the oven when every baker knows that it tastes far better a minimum of 2 hours later and often the next day. (O, irony of the devalued worth of day old bread! Bakeries should charge more for it, not less!)”

Note: Lightweight single-topic posts like this one are single draft. They’re easy. It’s the complex pieces, the essays, the creative pieces, the dears, who make all the trouble.

24 Oct

Reclamation – Draft #1

[Draft from 2009, updated for 2013 and pushed to the front. There’ll be an update entry in the future, likely a bit longer. This particular piece, which maps closely to memories of dreams and the actual encounter, has haunted me for some time.]

They say you can never go back home.

So not true.

At night, in dreams, I’ve gone back to my childhood home a half a dozen-hundred times. The original house was a small, flat-roofed two bedroom on 20 acres in the western foothills of Mt. Hood. On nocturnal replay, it’s gained vast tracts of open or forested land, secret rooms, extra stories and half stories, escape hatches to rooftop solariums, and back staircases designed to foil burglars by leading upward into the basement. It’s been a rambling overgrown mansion in a rainforest–like a gothic Mayan temple. It once had a room next to the chimney for a giraffe who never slept at home because of the coyotes. Our big black lab Cinder is always there and ever dependable and my dad is almost never a son of a bitch, and when he is I remember that I can fly. Or use the escape hatch. In my dreams, these mods were exactly as they should be and I remembered them. 

You dream something often enough, you feel compelled to check reality.

Ten years ago, on the way back from a wedding near Mt. Hood, I convinced Deborah that we should swing by the homestead and check that the house had remained one story and had not become the rambling hideout to a worldwide crime organization or been dozed and replaced with a log castle.

We took the left off US 26 W onto McCabe road, left on Dowling road, still gravel, and down the bent hairpin towards our old drive, formerly end of the road for city traffic (and now 22800 SE 476th Ave–Ave!**). I saw the familiar farms and creek and woods. I saw new mini mansions but wasn’t surprised–the view goes all the way to Mt. Rainer on a good day and Mt. St. Helens on the average day. Time has made it a rich man’s view.

And then, as the cutbank above the road smoothed out I saw 20 acres that had turned its back on the view and the neighbors. Alder and fir had reclaimed the berry fields and hid the house. The driveway entrance was gated and locked and partly bound up in goldenrod and Scotch broom.

We just sat for a bit. I pointed out that the place had Please Trespass written all over it. Very pregnant with soon-be-Sophie, Debby propped her feet up and told me to take the hammer from under the driver’s seat.

I jumped the gate and almost onto a red ant fortress–unchallenged, they had built three trembling, waist-high mounds with border patrols that I considered stomping then, thinking of Debby, skipped over. I lingered past the old apple tree that once held our tire swing and our best apples, collapsed but still in bloom (like a murdered bride I think now). Those changes didn’t set me back. They seemed like normal symptoms of age and abandonment. It was the shadowy tunnel of fir trees where there’d been none, too damn tall and knit together. Hungry trees that had eaten the strawberry field and now swallowed the crunch of gravel under my feet, right up to the dark mouth of the old garage that had been our robber’s haunt and now felt more like Shelob’s lair.  Well, Shelob’s a fictional character. I used a stick to whip down the biggest webs, peered through the brown streaked window in the back, and saw part of a porch. I knocked out the window and wall underneath and squeezed through.

The house was on its way to becoming a hillock. Small trees grew out of the roof. Blackberry and moss clung to the walls which had been painted or faded to a flat grey. The big ash–old when I was young–had snapped and crushed the front steps. Someone had pushed a refrigerator through the floor of the front porch. There was no front door. Well, it was still my old home. I skittered up the trunk and over the fridge, stuck my head in the doorway, and called out a pretty gutsy hello.

My next memory is standing just inside my old bedroom, where fir and ash limbs had broken in and dropped seeds that sprouted between the floorboards and become the most magical page in Where the Wild Things Are–all I needed was a wolf suit.

For about 10 seconds. Then I saw how blackberry vines had pulled the big picture window off the living room wall and pushed up through the fireplace hearth where we used to lay on cold evenings.   A moldy overstuffed chair piled with newspaper faced out of the hole. [Needs more here…]

I could hear spiders skitter, and saw no spiders. An old white range had sunk partway into the kitchen floor. My parents’ bedroom doorway was a dark blank rectangle. I’d have to pass it to reach Dad’s old workroom in the back with his reloading bench (a favorite entry point in my dreams to secret areas of the house) . 

Surreal dreams of familiar places are one thing. When dream and reality cuddle, two choices came to mind: split (psychosis) or skeedaddle. Mildly freaked, I skeedaddled. At the bottom of driveway I told Debby there was no reason to come back. Ever. 

Now I wish I’d stayed a little longer. I wish I’d brought a camera. I would have taken photos, pasted them in a book, and written long captions of memories from my childhood about each location (where we ran through the foaming mud when they dug our well; where my dad hit my mom with his fist and she bounced a kettle off his head; where we faced down a pack of feral dogs; where my brother, my dad and I lay stargazing on summer nights while coyotes prowled at the edge of the yard); then added fractured memories from my Return Home dreams. Because the house I broke into was devoid of memory, devoid of anything but a forest that was much quieter than any I remember. I don’t think I’ve dreamt of it since then. I think I need one more trip, with the camera. I already have the captions. It’s worth it to go back, so that I can see more clearly going forward.

I also wish I had $200k and a bulldozer.

** On a map that now resembles no childhood memory or photo, or adult dream, and is barely a memory of that visit but is just close enough in terrain and house placement for me to identify. So you can go back, just not in Google Earth.

24 Oct

odeur de la mort

(This is an old entry from 2009 I found in Drafts. I’m cleaning up my posts and pushing anything I think is fine as is to Publish. At the time I was writing about the death of a character and drawing on my own minuscule experience.)

Most of my memories with legs are a 360 degree sensory experience–including a once dreamt perfect loaf of bread. But I can’t remember what death smells like. I’ve had several close and one imagined anxiety-based brush in real life, two visceral dreams where I died (and then woke up), and twice have been at the side of someone hours after their death. Personal accounts and literature almost always include the smell of death, including voided bowels; open, broken (sometimes putrefying) flesh; the smell of chemicals that may have led to death; leftover odors from the scene (cookies now burning in the oven, cold smoke from a housefire). In murder mysteries it’s often sweet.

But those are causal or atmospheric or simply the remains. The smell of death, like death, is null or absence. While that’s frightening it may also be a safety net–I’m sensitive to odors, remember them, and assign associations that are often hard to break. Whenever I smell juniper, I think of cat pee. Salt air, I think of peace. Rose oil, I think of sex. Blood, I think of iron shavings and salt water and a chemistry lab. Thankfully, the smell of death, whatever it is, flies under the radar.

23 Oct

It’s Soup for Dinner!

The blog Daily Galaxy says, by way of interviewing (or reporting on words by) our best known human genomologist Craig Venter, that Humankind is about to enter a new phase of evolution. Nah–it’s more about Humankind changing its own soup recipe.

The context here is human manipulation of the genome. Terminology: that’s not evolution unless what they’re saying is that we’re entering a new phase where we are redefining evolution, not to mention giving it a fresh coat of woo-woo. Just what Science needs! Spurious redefinition of terms, Woo-Woo, and maybe for dessert a big wet sticky dollop of FEAR!!!! (In my life I have seen not one but two human adult males turned into man-flies via direct manipulation of their genes–and the horrible consequences that followed. I mean the leaders of the Tea Party. Who’d you think? Vincent Price and Jeff Goldblum?)

Breathe out.

Thinking about getting into the pants of our genetic code took me down two paths (if you don’t see the link between cooking–soup or otherwise–and sex, get out of the kitchen). First, I’d be happy to let someone competent diddle my personal JavaScript to cure a condition, extend my life, and remove my body’s inflammatory response to baked goods; but, damn, I’d rather see press about successful descents into a person’s genome and playing back the “evolutionary clock” that led to that person.  You could see that as a movie playback (less likely but very sexy to anyone who liked Altered States or a giggle if you grew up on The Magic School Bus) or delicious strands of data to eventually unwind into the story of Us. This is not a new idea, and it’s not my idea–it represents past and present work in progress by far more serious (but clearly fun loving) people. And it’s the vision that attracts me–thrills me–as a story teller. (If you can’t see the link between storytelling and…never mind.)

I grew up as a student of Evolution Science. True tales of Paleoanthropology entertained me as much as the adventures of Indiana Jones–and (no shit) engaged me at a much deeper level. Maybe because there’s our Big Story of how We Became–not just as humans–but as species in a system (a metaphor that becomes more powerful and less manageable as it approaches infinity). I also don’t mean to imply a dichotomy with a synthetic future–the iconic Venter does not see our genome as bits to flip in isolation. And…

Or…

Huh.  Once again I’ve strolled an Internet byway, saw a trail marked “Chestnut Grove 2.5 Miles,” and raced down it like Marcus Brody shouting, “Follow me! I know the way!” Twisting and turning with the path, leaping over logs, cheating with connector trails to shave off .25 miles, and pretty sure I’m lost, ready to retrace steps.

Suddenly, I’m here. It’s a small grove with only one mature tree, leaves turning yellow without fuss–and one fruit left:

I’m attracted to big families, and to know how we live and have lived, and what it means to be living forward. Family is a big word, almost infinite, but still quantifiable. Near-infinity I can just about get my arms around.

I’ll be damned. I wasn’t expecting that.

14 Oct

Green Acres is the Place to Be

A couple of years ago, several friends told me that I should reserve short posts–especially the personal ones–for platforms built to serve them up to a broader subscription audience of friends, like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Cue the themes for Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies.

I did that and learned (after 2 years of self denial and hopeful recrimination that turned me into a social media troll on Facebook) that those platforms–used as encouraged–hook users on compulsive, mundane personal storytelling: “There was this one time at band camp where we made breakfast for dinner and everyone laughed and said Best Pancakes Ever–except mine came from the bottom of the stack and were wet from the other pancakes sweating downward, but I didn’t mind, because people!” People either get you (lotsa Likes), feel bad or supportive (lotsa Likes), or go Huh (lotsa crickets). And you get to see your writing pressed down into the sedimentary layer at a demented rate that goads you to share more trivial info just to feel alive and hooked on human recognition when it often doesn’t matter. And play Candy Crush. Because, high scores.

So, social media: wrecking ball for the writer with limited time for creative outbursts. I uninstalled the Facebook app on my phone, using  the account via a browser only to post life events for family and close friends. Twitter–I love writing short punchy lines but use Twitter exclusively as my outlet? (There are WP plugins but they work better from Twitter than to Twitter.) Google+ is more laid back and less demanding of specific forms, but it’s still a second job (unless it’s your first).

For now, I’ve pulled it all back here to Wist, including the caffeine-generated motor mouthed sunbursts. Post trend simplicity.

03 Jul

Other Paths

Page1 of the 2002 edition of Other Paths to Glory* by Anthony Price starts with

The Angel of Death, looking to call his roll in Picardy on the morning of September 18, 1918, would have been hard pressed to find the village of Fontaine-du-Bois.

The story continues with a description of how a German commander determined that Fontaine-du-Bois was the perfect place to dig in against the coming British attack. It didn’t take long for both armies to wipe it off the map, leaving land scars in place of the buildings and trenches, like vine and pest scabs on fruit. In that first page Price captures–with subtle sensitivity–costs of war for the landsmen and the invading armies–one cost being the vanishing of villages and beings from all groups.

(Note, 7/16/2012: Sing a lovely sentence that puts readers to sleep. Shit. Channeling the ghost of a cheesy litcrit reviewer above. Next time will try not to reduce it to a reviewer’s quote. The importance here is former reader’s comment below in my copy of the book.)

In the controlled blank area above the chapter start, a previous reader wrote:

I was born on September 26, 1918

then linked it to the Sept 18 date in the book text with a shaky arrow.

The hand is spidery and seems more masculine than feminine. The 2002 publish date puts him at 83 or older. It seems likely that the book came from his estate.  Or maybe he was a spry 80-something and traded Other Paths for another Price. Did he buy the book or was it a gift from a caregiver or older child who knew Pop loved or found comfort in his British mysteries? He was a wartime baby, conceived a year before the end of war and born two months before armistice. Did his father serve and possibly die in WWI? He left no other traces of himself in the book (as I hoped he would), so I’m left to guess at the paths it took after he finished or was prematurely forced to set it aside. (The tragedy lies in being unable to finish it.) I bought it from a reseller on Amazon for $2.

His single note is a kind of map clue: the treasure is Here, though Here is happily the damn destination and the starting point, with neither as the same point. For the reader or writer, it’s a great opportunity to let the book be a time traveler’s MacGuffin and pay imaginary visits to the people who may have touched it or been touched, and where that led them before the end. It’s irrelevant that this branch leads to me and my perch at the top of this blog, except where it helps me become a better writer.

Read Price, if you haven’t. Then start discovering other mostly and undeservedly forgotten writers of intrigue that weave introspection, history, politics, technical details, and adventure** (and sometimes a cracking good romance). Not for the sake of those writers–most of them are dead–but for you. And the handful of others who find your annotations (yes, write in your books) once you’ve gone from breathing to ghost.

Note: I found Anthony Price thanks to this essay by Jo Walton. I started with The Labyrinth Makers, finished it last night, and opened Other Paths this morning. Tomorrow’s Ghost waits in a corner of my bedside shelf. His books are sometimes hard to find on the shelf but easy to find in good shape from sellers on Amazon ($1-4).

*Winner of the CWA Golden Dagger Award 1974

** Like Riddle of the Sands


Update:
Just found this recent small blog series on Price, with a bibliographical article and interview (part 1, part 2).