Monthly Archives: March 2012

If you’ve been saving space on your bookshelf for my latest novel, maybe put a potted plant there for now

Some of you may have noticed that I write a little bit.

 I don’t mean just here, but also in the greater world as a freelance scribe. I was also a working journalist for many, many eons. Added to which I have three unpublished manuscripts kicking around in the bowels of my laptop and wanting me to gird my loins sufficiently to send them off again. And I will. Actually one of them will, I hope, go out once again to face the wide-world of potential rejection next week.

Most of my writing is either in factual or at least satirical vein. Sometimes it’s so truthful it damn well hurts and it serves you right for reading it, I say.

Generally I’m a successful writer. Not only do I think so, but so obviously have the folks that have paid me for my efforts over the years. But, there is one area in which I am admittedly hopeless – the writing of fiction.

A while ago I interviewed a woman who is a successful novelist. I mean, she has actually turned out books between covers and good folk buy them. How jolly nice that must be. Anyway, during our conversation she told me that she is wanting to turn her talents to non-fiction because she doesn’t feel as adept at that genre as she might be. She then asked me if I ever wrote fiction.

In a word – no. In two more words – I don’t.

Odd, in a way. I mean, I studied English in university and have a degree in it. I have read virtually all notable works of fiction – OK, the ones that were assigned. Nobody reads Moby Dick willingly, in my view. But, in the day, my recreational reading also lived in the realm of fiction. And I had my favorite novelists ranging from Salinger to Kerouac to Capote to Orwell.

And then, in middle age I virtually ceased reading novels. For some reason (and it’s nut unknown, amongst males specifically) I became obsessed with the fact the stories were “inventions”. They “weren’t true.” A contemporary novelist I really like is Wally Lamb, and I’ve read most of his offerings and they are highly worthy – yet, in the back of my mind is the niggling thought that these aren’t ‘real’ people. This ‘never really happened.’ And then I’ll go back to, say, Bill Bryson, who writes about real people and places, or Ann Rule who writes about real hideous psychopaths – so much scarier than fictional ones.

So, why don’t I write fiction? Well, to be honest, I’ve tried. I even have about five chapters kicking around. But, I think those five chapters are five badly written chapters. In the first place my central character invariably – no matter how hard I try to counter the impulse – turns out to be some sort of variation of yours truly, with all my neuroses, quirks, passions, lusts, and elements of personal history. How can I avoid that? How can I think like somebody else? While not intentionally writing a roman a clef, ultimately bits of my own history intrude. That would be fine if I’d led a rivetingly exciting life, but really (to me at least) it’s all been rather ordinary.

And then I’ll introduce female characters. Huge challenge. I love women, but I can’t really empathize with how they think. In real life, just when I think I have it right, I find out that I’m terribly wrong.  So, I am going to create a ‘real’ woman? Well, when I do so she turns out the way ‘I’ want her to be, not how her character might really be. Mainly buxom and sexually insatiable. It’s a challenge for any novelist to truly capture the essence of the opposite sex, and I admire the hell out of those who have been able to, like Brian Moore or the aforementioned Lamb.

And at the end of it, I haven’t read enough decent fiction in recent years to be really familiar with what is happening in the realm. I read my interviewee’s latest novel and really liked it but was only left with the thought:

How do you do that?

A nation mourns the end of an era — or, at least I do. Just take all my past away, you bastards

I didn’t want them to but the $%#&& government ignored my wishes and did away with the penny, anyway. I mean, I didn’t actually inform the $%#&& government of my displeasure at the prospect but surely the $%#%% government must have figured out this would not be a popular decision – with me, anyway.

But that’s it, and without so much as a by-your-leave the bastards eradicated a big chunk of our numismatic heritage all in the name of something or other.

I mean, yeah, the penny can be kind of a pain-in-the-ass but so is Whoopie Goldberg and you don’t see them doing away with her.

And, for heaven’s sake, the penny is a significant part of our culture.

–         A penny saved is a penny earned.

–         In for a penny, in for a pound.

–         Save your pennies and the pounds take care of themselves.

–         And nice English ladies in want of the loo go and spend a penny.

But, in the name of wanton profligacy with our attempts at frugality, not to mention the desire of English ladies to keep their knickers dry, the penny is to be gone.

Have they considered for an instant what is to be the fate of the Penny Loafer? Are they now to become Nickel Loafers? Were the Bass-Weejun folk consulted about this?

I know that pennies had become irksome to those who weren’t emotionally connected with this smallest and least significant item of coinage but they were still a part of our culture. It has been said for a long time that pennies cost more to manufacture than they were actually worth. But that argument can be applied to a lot of things. Do you really think the raw materials that went into your computer compare with what you paid for it? Do you really think that any Adam Sandler film is worth a fraction of what it cost to make?

I grew up in an age when a penny had actual value, so it has nostalgic flavor for me. Three jawbreakers cost a mere penny. When I was very young a Coke was 6-cents. A nickel and, that’s right, a penny.

And what of Americans crossing the border into Canada with all those Lincoln-heads. Are they going to be forced to abandon them before they’re allowed in? “Sorry, folks, but we don’t want your &**% copper in our country.”

Meanwhile, will the name Penny for little girls fully lose favor? Should the Beatles song Penny Lane be retitled for future generations in case they don’t understand why a street would have such an unfamiliar name?

O brave new world, what hath God wrought? No longer will it rain pennies from heaven, obviously. At least not in the Great White North.

Don’t be fooled by the uniform, I would have made a lousy navy man

Wendy thinks I would have made a very bad soldier.

“That’s why I would have joined the navy,” I said in response to her disparagement. It came about after watching an episode of NCIS, at which time I said I thought, if there were a war, I’d like to be in the navy. This was, I said, because the navy (anybody’s navy) has cooler uniforms.

“Army, navy, air force, it doesn’t matter,” was her response. “You’d be hopeless because you can’t stand anybody trying to organize you. You hate rules and restrictions.”

And then she trots out her favorite example of me balking at being ‘controlled’. This example is presented for my perusal literally (not just virtually) anytime anybody tries to push their weight around with me in a controlling manner.

“Honestly, I don’t know how you ever got through school!” she will be wont to opine. “And then you became a school teacher when ‘YOU’ hated being controlled.”

“Well, yeah, but I was a nice schoolteacher. I mean, I wasn’t a softy, but my students behaved because I treated them with respect, and generally they returned the compliment.”

Actually, as difficult as the foregoing may be to believe, it was actually true, and other ‘respected ‘ teachers can attest to the same thing.

Anyway, the favorite incident of Wendy’s involved the time a number of years ago when we had just completed a flight to Hawaii. The flight from Vancouver had been 6 hours long. And, still being fairly addicted to nicotine in the day, first and foremost in my mind was the pressing need to go outside the Honolulu air terminal and light up.

But, we were supposed to link up with some other people due to some sort of shuttle service for the advantage of folks staying in a special deal at the Hawaiian Village (it was, by the way, a really good deal, so no problem with that aspect even though I hate any sort of group endeavor). Well, I felt we could link away, but first I wanted that cigarette. And I walked away and went outside and had it. When I got back Wendy was fuming just a li’l bit due to the fact that this woman was trying to organize the shuttle riders and I was missing. Understandably all (except me) were frustrated. I apologized and confessedly did feel like a bit of a jerk about it. But, you see, it was the ‘being organized’ element that I had balked at.

Kris K. opined that “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, but for me freedom means everything to gain.

Probably it goes back to having been raised in a very strict home where I had an old man who took his paternalism lessons from Ivan the Terrible. Well, no, he wasn’t that bad, but he couched little self-expression from his spawn.

And I guess ever since that time ‘control’ has made me balk.

So, no, I probably would have made a pretty bad soldier or sailor and would have spent a lot of time in the stockade or brig.

Am I obsessively-compulsive or compulsively-obsessed? Are you? Be honest or you’ll be cursed by the fates

So, just how obsessive compulsive are you, anyway?

When you return from a lengthy vacation do you find your greatest joy lies not necessarily in renewing acquaintance with family and/or friends but in returning to your familiar domestic routine?

Aha! I thought as much. Me too.

A short time ago former blogger and currently Facebook friend, Seattle broadcaster Vicki St. Clair hosted a radio program dealing with obsessive-compulsive behavior and as a run-up she asked FB buddies what were their OC practices. Not entirely surprising to me, I had a few. I mean, nothing drastic like ‘having to’ recite the lyrics to the national anthem (in both languages) before I go for a pee. And no, I do not ‘count the flowers on the wall.’

But, I have twinges. Just little things that render me more secure in a frightening universe. I’m not Adrian Monk. I mean, that poor guy is so immersed in his patterns that he never even notices the bountiful cleavage offered by the delectable Sharona. OK, that’s probably just me. Anyway, unlike Monk, I am not germ-obsessed, nor am I hugely phobice. Yeah, except for heights. I’ll give you heights.

Now, I hope my list doesn’t make you think I’m a candidate to be ‘sectioned’ and perhaps shouldn’t be permitted in public without a minder, but there are a few items to consider. Such as:

–         Shampoo: I wash my hair daily. God granted me the beneficence of letting me keep mine, so I respect it and encourage it to stay. Consequently, I have 7 containers of shampoo. One for each day of the week and I don’t like to break my pattern. If I do, then the day just doesn’t feel right.

–         Sheets: We have four sets of kingsize sheets of different colors. When the linens are changed the new ones must be the ones whose turn it is. If the burgundy ones go on when it should be the baby blue ones then I get insomnia because the situation is, as Sheldon on BBT would say, “just not right.”

–         Brekkie: I alternate my breakfasts out of conscious respect for not overdoing cholesterol. So, one morning it’s egg and toast, and the next morning it’s hot cereal, and then back to egg etc. If I eat an egg on oatmeal day then I fear it puts me closer to the grave.

–         Food: I never skip a meal unless I’m ill. Even if I’m not particularly hankering for lunch, say, I’ll still force something down. People who are cavalier about meals, and meal times, are somehow a bit sinister.

–        Gratitude: When I go to bed I give thanks for not having been smashed to smithereens in a horrible road accident, or felled by a coronary. No atheists in my metaphorical foxhole, even though I’m not actually a subscriber to any particular creed. I tend to think God or whatever he/she might be is probably too busy to be concerned about my trivial concerns – but you never know.

–        Slumber: I go to bed at about the same time and arise at the same time in the morning, weekday or weekend. It just seems that I should.

–         Creepy Crap: I don’t like reading articles on illness or disease because I’m highly suggestible. On the other hand, I obsessively read the obits, even in out-of-town papers if I’m traveling. I hate it if the newly-dead are my age or (worse) younger. If the person is younger, and this is probably a bit warped, I am relieved if I know the death was a suicide. “Hey, they had a choice, and that’s what they chose.” Of course if the suicide came about because the person had been afflicted with a horrible chronic ailment, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

There you have it. Picture of mental health – no? Feel free to share some of you OC behaviors if so inclined.

You think our dog’s pampered? Just because he sits at the table doesn’t mean we cut up his food for him

“We need to clip Max’s nails,” Wendy said the other day. Actually she’s said that for about 3 weeks now. And I pointed out, as I tend to do, that I’d owned Murphy for 14 years and never recall once clipping his nails.

This only serves to point out that people’s relationships with their dogs seems to have undergone changes in recent years. Dogs have become anthropomorphized, especially according to dog-haters who want leash laws to be enforced on pain of imprisonment for the negligent, and people are treating their dogs like people, deserving of the same rights as those that clean up their poop.

I don’t think so. In the case of Max, he is purely and simply a member of our family. No, we don’t think he’s human. We’re not that neurotic (I don’t think). But, we don’t have kids and he fills a kind of void. No, our relationship wasn’t void-riven before we got him, he just gives a different focus. Prior to Max we had cats. Cats are perfectly fine, but they suffer from the features that make them ‘not dogs’.

Yeah, so we dote on him, and spoil him and Wendy periodically succeeds in goading me into clipping his nails. And we take him for walks, and we have gotten to know all the other dog owners and their dogs by name. Indeed, we’ve gotten to know our neighborhood so well due to the dogs. I like it.

It wasn’t always like this. I mentioned my dog Murphy. Now Murphy, a border-collie cross, was a wonderful and very wise dog, but he was a dog from the days before owners went insane with their level of care. You know, aside from not being pedicured, he also got plain old dogfood. Normally, whatever was cheap and that he happened to like; bearing such esoteric labels as Al’s Yummy Doggy Nums, and Acme Cattle and Canine Feed. Not so with Max. We pondered labels obsessively and eschewed the brands that were deemed (according to Internet sites) cheap-shit crap that will leave your dog in a state of grievous malnutrition. Instead we took out another mortgage just to buy him stuff that’s about as expensive as our food. Tastier? Not sure. Haven’t tried.

And we took him to obedience training, whereas Murphy was just ‘out there’ being a dog. Sometimes Murphy got nice formal walks, but mostly he was just out there, either in the yard, or down on the beach, since we lived on the water in those days. Out there with unclipped nails. We loved him, but mainly he was just out there.

Max sleeps in the house on a nice poofy bed. Muphy had an old blanket in the carport. That was the mode with dogs in the day. We got him his shots when he was a pup, and otherwise the only time we visited a vet was when he’d been in a fight and needed stitches He got in a fair number of fights, good natured as he was. He got in fights because he was a dude and had his cojones in place. Max doesn’t. Sorry Max. But, on the other hand, Max has never been in a fight since we got him. That’s mainly because all other guy dogs these days seem to be eunuchs, too. In the old days ‘real men’ cringed at such an idea for their guy dogs.

With dogs the owners ultimately come to realize, even though their egos might tell them they are the most important links in their dogs lives, that the society dogs most cherish is that of other dogs. They have their friends, their enemies, and their potential lovers, just like people. Max knows a lovely female whom he’s madly enraptured with and whom he permits all sorts of behaviors he’d ever grant another dog. Abbie can do no wrong. Again, pretty much like people. I’ve known the odd human Abbie in my life, too.

But, for those who think dogs in our society have too much liberty – and there are swinish sorts that think that way – they should visiting the island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. There they will find dogs with absolutely free rein. The feral dogs of Raro are amazing. You see, until the missionaries came in the early 19th Century, the Cook Islanders used to eat dog. The churchy sorts stopped that. So, the canines were let loose to wander wherever. Ownerless they’re found all over. Never vicious in our experience, but also rather aloof. They have their society of dogs and they are content with that. I like their attitude in a way. I don’t know if they clean up after themselves but never once when we were there did we tread in dog effluvia.

Anyway, the long and short is, if we pamper our dogs too much, I think it speaks well of the human race.

What will the next stage in my evolution look like?

I closed a chapter in my life last week. But, as long as it’s note THE chapter of my life, I guess I’m sort of OK with that. You know, platitude-platitude-life moves on, get over it, when one door closes etc. etc. See, I must be OK because I know all the clichés.

Oh, and as an aside, it isn’t even a ‘big’ chapter. I am still happily ensconced with the lovely Miss W., I live in the same house, I haven’t won the lottery and Max is maintaining bowel regularity.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, the door to the option I had for addictions counseling in this community has now closed. Off-and-on for more than a decade – and at one point as a full-time calling – I have dealt with the wants and needs of substance abusers who want to cease being substance abusers.

It’s too bad, because I enjoyed the work very much. Why I went into it is a long story, but I ended up working with a few souls society (and officialdom especially) doesn’t much want to deal with in a realistic manner.

Addiction is a great equalizer and strikes at all levels of society. I’ve dealt with street-folk and jailbirds; ordinary middle-class men and women; professionals, a glamorous former model, and members of racial and ethnic minorities.

Latterly the group I was primarily counseling was the unemployed, delirious of getting back into the workforce. They, as an option to the rest of their back-to-work program were given access to the counseling offered by me. And I thoroughly liked working with them on a one-on-one basis.

I’ve written before how I came into the business via a sort of backdoor. Having been a teacher and then a journalist I, in 1998, wrote a series of articles for my paper on addiction (and its ravages) within the community. Some time after that I was approached by a local recovery centre to speak to the clientele. From there I went onto the board, and then later took training and qualified as a certified addictions counselor. A tired career in my life wasn’t a bad thing. I like diversification.

My more recent gig involved working for a private company, but still using the skills I had in place.

Then, last year, the government in its (ha!) wisdom decided that the job-search process should go to another operation in town. Which is fine. Shit happens. However, addictions counseling is not part of the mix with the other operation. It seems that officialdom, true to form, does not see addiction as an impediment to gainful employment as in: “Hey, maybe there is a reason some people cannot get or hold on to a job! And maybe that reason should be addressed, or at least an attempt should be made to address it.”

Such is life and such are politics and such is the pro-forma inability of most governments to look at social issues realistically. The government reaps a fortune from alcohol revenues – our most widely abused and lethal drug in any addiction study – but not a farthing of that revenue is specifically earmarked for helping the addicted and afflicted.

But this government, like most other governments is, to paraphrase Dickens’ Mr. Bumble, “a ass”. Seems to be in the nature of far too many who are attracted to the calling.

The often misunderstood connection between creativity and filmy panties

Writing is a process that involves supposition, and supposition, unless you’ve really read the signs correctly, hardly ever works.

It’s a bit like the man who buys his wife a diaphanous and sexy negligee or a pair of filmy ‘FM’ panties, and says to himself: “She’ll love these. And I’ll get so much action my head will swim.” No she won’t. The point is, he loves them and has developed nasty li’l fantasies around them. She is happiest in her flannel jammies and great big granny pants. And that is her right. Sigh.

Writing is a bit like that. It’s based on speculation and expectation of a desirable outcome. So, I can write something — and I did this for years as a columnist — in which I would convince myself, this is really, really good and the readers will be dazzled. But, like my metaphorical wife example and the teeny panties, that’s as maybe. The point is, I like the piece, but how dare I presuppose?

Well, at one level I have to presuppose because I couldn’t get a word down otherwise. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be hideously disappointment and develop a resentment that will make me want to level a city block.

In the day I wrote columns that I was convinced were virtually Pulitzer material yet I’d receive no response whatsoever about them, even from colleagues. I was given to going around the newsroom asking: “What’d ya think of the column? Tell me. Didya like it? Didya-didya-didya?” Only to receive such comments as: “Oh, I must have missed that one. I’ll check it out later,” or “Interesting idea,” or “I found it a bit confusing, but that’s just me.”

I also wrote other columns when I was overtired, hungover (back then), suffering marital woes (regularly back then), rapturously in love (too often for my own good), anxious, depressed, bitter, lethargic and lazy, that were utter throwaway crap and had only been crashed off to meet a deadline.

And disconcertingly often readers loved those ones. I was told how funny they were, thought-provoking, at the top of my form, etc. etc. I would get phone calls about them, and letters to the editor. I would be invited to speak at clubs and organizations because of them, and even won awards due to them.

I was egocentric enough that such responses were invariably welcomed, yet I always wondered why I didn’t get such responses to my self-conceived ‘good ones.’

Blogging is a bit the same. I can labor over a blog that I think is an utter gem of the genre, and receive little or even zero response. I can write what I think are silly throwaways and I’ll get 20-plus comments.

Other bloggers I know and respect have expressed the same sentiments. Indeed, one blogger has suggested he is going to start scrapping people from his blogroll who do not respond. Personally, I think this is vain and childish. Essentially, you write your blog to hone your own skills, not to win unfettered praise. If you get some, then that’s a bonus. Yet, it’s his blog, and he is entitled. I’ll still read him and make comment because I often like what he has to say.

Anyway, there is no figuring the tastes of the reading public, which is why trashy potboilers do well, and works of literature are, well, works of literature that everybody ‘means’ to read but doesn’t quite get around to it.

So, no answers here. Maybe I should buy some panties as a diversion.