Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pig in a Poke

A few days ago, I located a specific particular set of knitting needles on the internet and ordered them. Stores don't carry them, though some knitting shops will special order them. They are metal with a square shaft instead of a round one.

I didn't just take a notion to buy them. I purchased a circular needle in a shop (two needles connected by a cable) made from the same type of needles and tried them out. I've already tried out wooden 'cubic' needles--as has the hunk--but the tiny sizes are fragile and I was looking for something in the same style, but sturdier.

I'm generally willing to try something that interests me--at least once. Most times, I'm pleased with my purchase. A few times...not so much. For instance, the hunk purchased a set of needles by the same company that made his favorite crochet hooks. There's absolutely nothing WRONG with them, but he was disappointed with them after working with the cubics. Such is life. Sometimes things just don't quite fit right. I don't return them, if that's the case. After all, it's not the fault of the store or maker. I consider it a lesson learned and move on.

A friend of mine doesn't quite understand my philosophy. Isn't that a waste of money? Well, no. I learned something and the money spent was the price of the lesson. If I send it back, I'm less likely to take note of what I learned. What will we do with the needles? Probably somewhere down the road, we'll give them to someone who loves them and will treasure them.

I suppose you're wondering where I'm going with my meandering post. Well, it's this. Unless the purchased article or service is defective, I'm against returning it. Don't you think all the 'return-no-questions-asked' has led to a lot of folks snapping things up with the mentality of if I don't like it, I'll return it?

I believe folks are pretty careless when they purchase things. Just ask any author who's dealt with returns. Some of the reasons for returns:

I didn't like the book. Fair enough. Don't buy any more of my books.

The book was too short. Book length was stated in the description. Did you expect it to grow longer during download?

The book had too much sex. Please refer to the description where it says 'erotic'.

I don't like westerns. What part of Cowboy at Dead Gulch was unclear?

I didn't like the ending. See #1. Don't buy any more of my books.

In effect, buying a book, then returning it, is the same as borrowing it. The purchaser received something for nothing. It's the same as buying an article of clothing, wearing it to a party, then returning it because it's not quite what you were looking for.

Some authors don't agree with me. They say they'll get more readers by taking the hit in the pocketbook. I don't think so. I think if more folks had to keep what they bought, they'd purchase more carefully--whatever the item. What ever happened to Buyer Beware?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Rainy Days and Mondays

When I was a youngster, I enjoyed rainy days. Those were days I was allowed to stay 'inside' and actively urged to read. Unlike many of my peers, our family didn't have a television. We had books. Lots of books. When I was around eight or so, my parents bought a sixteen volume set of children's books. Each thick red-bound book had a different theme...mysteries, sci-fi, poetry, stories for young readers, sports, unusual fairy tales and legends, stories for teens. I still have the books. I still read them.

The books were my first exposure to the best-of-the-best in literature. It was in these books I read my first O. Henry, my first Edgar Allen Poe, my first stories about the old west, outer space, and Shakespeare. They opened infinite new worlds for me. In their pages I met a young Michelangelo, Paul Bunyan, Mollie Pitcher, other intrepid young colonial and pioneer girls, and learned there were all sorts of possibilities for me.

For much of my pre-adult life, I lived in small, insular towns where women's roles were sharply, narrowly defined. Television in the fifties and sixties wasn't much better. But in this set of books I found a place where girls and women lived a wider role in society. Girls had adventures. They had dreams. They had desires that had nothing to do with sticking to the traditional roles of society at that time.

That set of volumes was the foundation for my life-long love of books. To this day, I associate rainy days with snuggling under a warm cover with a thick book. Reading--the best way to spend a rainy day.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Simple Living

The photo above is one of my family's homes. The fellow second from the right is my grandfather. The house was still occupied until I was in my thirties. It consisted of four rooms with no running water or indoor plumbing. There was a well (off to the right of the house). The rooms to the left and the right had separate entrances. By the time I visited as a girl, it had electricity.

The summer I was fourteen our family went to visit for a week. At the time, I thought it was a great adventure. My Uncle Bill had sheep and a horse and a water tank where we went swimming. We didn't have air conditioning at home so I didn't think it was a big deal that Uncle Bill didn't either. But let me tell you, creeping out to the outhouse in the middle of the night, flashlight and hoe in hand was a different issue. It was enough to make you reconsider the necessity. For those of you wondering about the hoe--that was for the snakes.

This place was also the first place I drove. Uncle Bill had an old pick-up with a long stickshift on the floor. No markings for 1st, 2nd, reverse. You just had to do that by feel. Fortunately, there wasn't much out there to run in to...except the cattle guards. All gravel road and dry brush.

I'm sure life wasn't nearly as much fun when a person lived there all the time. Laundry was done with a washboard and tub and hung on a line to dry. Water was heated on the stove. Baths were taken in the wash tub or out of a bowl with a wash cloth.

But something about the simple life was obviously better. All the folks in that generation of my family--and most of the next generation--lived well into their eighties and nineties. Maybe it was the constant exercise and work. And no doubt it was also the home grown food. But I also think it was just stressing less about things in the outer world and not worrying about keeping up with the Jones or the Smiths.

Best of all, no one really cared what the celebrity of the week was up to. No one cared.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Inner Circle

Life is a series of circles. Most of us spend our entire lives out on the edges of life's circles, perfectly happy with our place in space and time. Oh, we might want to nudge to one side or the other, but when it gets down to it, we're content. That doesn't mean we don't have goals and destinations in mind. Without those, we grow stagnant.

A few folks elbow and pummel their way to the inner circle. "This is where it's all happening!" they cry. The real truth is that's where they're hemmed in, prevented from change and growth by the walls surrounding them. The walls might be expectations. Or responsibilities. Rules. It doesn't really matter what hems them in. The end result is the same. The closer to the inner circle, the less freedom.

I've been part of an inner circle only once in my life. It was the most miserable, stressful time of my life. Responsibility nearly drowned me. Anxiety and stress destroyed my health. And until I walked away, I didn't realize how much I hated it. Months passed before I finally settled in the outer circle--a totally different circle--and learned to breathe again.

The funny part is we strive from early childhood to be one of the inner circle, one of the elite, one of the popular crowd. Until we reach adulthood we don't realize how very empty the inner circle is. Some men and women don't learn how hollow the center is until they've destroyed their lives through drugs or alcohol or some other vice. They're dancing so fast to keep up, they never have time to calculate the true cost of their place.

Occupants in the inner circle delude themselves, believing they're important, they wield authority, they're in the know. Not so. Their power is an illusion, bolstered by the folks in the outer circle. When those on the outside withdraw their admiration, support, or interest, the inner circle collapses in on itself. If their belief in their invincibility leads to corruption and greed, the collapse is usually spectacularly public.

After my brief stint in an inner circle, I contemplated my folly for a while. Then I made a deliberate decision to roam the outer circle, seeking new experiences, relishing the freedom to try new things, and savoring the peace and tranquility of contentment.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Never-Ending Restarts

I haven't written in a while. This last week, I decided to work on a 'sword and sorcery' fantasy I started a couple years ago. Immediately, I ran into a problem. I couldn't locate the file.

I've changed computers since I began work on the story...and I could have sworn I moved all the files. But evidently not. I fired up the older computer and started running search patterns for various key words. Nothing. Nothing. No files.

Then I sat back and thought about the various bits that would set it apart from other stories and began a new series of searches. In the end, I found five files--each with a different story--but the same beginning. With a deep sigh, I created a new folder and stashed them all together.

And then I began to read them. One by one. It was like reading a 'choose your adventure' book. All of them started out with the same three chapters. Then they diverged wildly. All had parts in the later sections I would like to include in the final book.

I don't work well doing rewrites electronically. Back when I started writing, most writers did that first draft by hand and I find I work best that way still. On the other hand, if I print out all five files, I'll end up with a stack of paper like the one in picture.

I foresee a week of winnowing. Mark the bits I want to keep and print them out. Then cut and paste. And finally...see what I can make of it. Those on the outside of the writer's world think it's a linear process. For me...not so much. My brain tends to leap around from one scene to another. Then I have to arrange them like a jigsaw puzzle, making all the pieces work. If I succeed, that's a miracle.

I bet you didn't know I'm a miracle worker, did you?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Summer Gone

This year was the year of the wet, cool summer in Baltimore. Oh, there was a day here and there when the temps were uncomfortable, but mainly it was a cool summer. Last winter was cold and bitter--and if we believe the Farmer's Almanac--it will be cold and bitter this coming winter.

Right now, though, it's cool, sunny and fallish. Here and there the leaves are starting to turn. In some parts of our country, it's not cool or sunny or wet. Some places are suffering from drought. Some are facing another round of floods from Hurricane Odile in the southwest. The country is pretty much in weather flux.

For all the influence the weather has on our lives, I find it odd how little attention we pay to it. Every time there's a disaster, folks say things like, "I didn't realize it would be this bad." Or, "Wow! I didn't know it was supposed to rain (snow, spawn tornadoes, hail, or climb into the triple digits)." We have the greatest collection of scientific weather tools we've ever had. Why are we failing to take advantage of them?

Well. Summer's rolling out. Fall will whiz by with all the colored leaves and pumpkins and Halloween. Then bam!  Winter will be here. So before that happens, enjoy the sunny days. Get out there and breathe. Let the sun kiss your face. Walk beneath the trees while they still have leaves. Listen to the birds before they all fly south. Summer's going, going, almost gone...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Common Core

Back in the 'olden' days, I learned how to count with dried pinto beans, or buttons, or used match sticks. Then some idjet came along and decided that beans, buttons, and match sticks were dangerous objects in the hands of first graders so they substituted paper strips. The strips were harder for small hands to manipulate and weren't nearly as hardy, but there ya go. It was still low tech learning.

We learned how to read by a combination of phonics and sounding out words. If you knew the phonics code, you could put together the various letter blocks together to make word. Pick + lock = picklock. Cat + nap = catnap. And so on. In the same way, you could deconstruct a word to sound it out.

Then the REAL idiots came along and decided that wasn't complicated enough. Phonics was baaaaad. Counting with paper strips was baaaaad. And lo, some nudjit with power in the school systems decreed that would no longer be the way kids learned.

Sight reading and New Math were introduced. Now we have a nation of adults who can't read OR add or subtract. So someone had a bright idea. We'll go back to the OLD way. Everyone got on the bandwagon. Educators saw the light! Most children learned.

As all things work, a new cycle rolled around and someone decided they had a better way. Because some children had difficulty learning. Instead of focusing on WHY they didn't learn--instead of giving them personal help--someone decided EVERYONE should learn at the same level. And our government made it a law, totally ignoring reality. NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND.

The truth is some children will NEVER learn more than basic skills. Some will be fortunate to learn to dress themselves and feed themselves. And some children are so advanced they can do high school work in second grade. The vast majority are in the middle. Every child should be challenged to the best of his ability. But we can't do that by treating them as cookie cutter kids. And we can't do it by inventing gibberish ways to teach them.

Now we have something called Common Core. The math problem above is an example. I foresee a new generation of kids who can't add or subtract. But that's okay! They'll have electronic devices to think for them. Of course, no one is considering what will happen when all our devices fail. Folks who have graduated in the last forty years have far fewer skills than those before that. Every generation depends more on technology and less on personal knowledge and skill. Whenever that happens, a small core of individuals ends up with all the political power. That's what we see happening now.

Common Core. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!

A fake weather forecast from Empire News is making its way around the Internet. It forecasts unimaginable snowfall and incredibly cold temps. It was well written and fooled a lot of folks. That doesn't particularly bother me. People need to read with discrimination. Really.

But it does bring up the question of whether anyone would pay attention if the warning was serious. Our government--and others--frequently make the excuse of possible wide-spread panic for failing to warn their populations about various catastrophic possibilities. I believe so few people would pay attention that it wouldn't matter if they announced aliens were going to land tomorrow. Most folks would A) shrug and go on about their business, or B) be so busy reading about the latest celebrity scandal they'd never know about it. (Until the aliens were rounding them up to ship them off to some distant planet. Then they'd think it was a movie stunt.)

Is it a case of the authorities crying "Wolf!" too often? I don't think so. I suspect it's more a case of people who are too oblivious to their surroundings to care. Perhaps there's also a lack of perception or insight about what is important as opposed to what is entertainment. People don't want to be anxious about everyday living.

The hunk and I have been watching a mystery series set during World War II. There is a considerable bit of the show that portrays what the general populace endures in their day to day existence. Blackouts, shortages, rationing, air raids. And always, there are those individuals who refuse to accept reality, who deny that any of it is necessary--because the enemy can't be 'that bad'. Why should they be deprived just because the government wants to instill panic?

We see a similar attitude every time we're warned about hurricanes or blizzards. People don't want to accept the inconvenience of preparation. Then, there's a huge disaster like Katrina or Sandy and all those folks who didn't prepare for the worst, for the unimaginable, are busy pointing fingers at the authorities. "You should have warned us," they cry.

I want to know, were you listening? Probably not. Did you pay attention to the warnings and take responsibility for your own welfare? No. Every year we hear the same refrain after major disasters--where it the government? Why aren't they here, helping us, rescuing us? These are the same people who ignored the warnings.

When did we become so weak as a country that we can't figure out how to prepare for our family's safety? Are we really that hopeless? What if there was no prospect of help? Think about all the pictures we see on the news of refugees fleeing from war, or flood, or earthquakes.

Now. Picture what our country would be without our various agencies. Yes, yes, yes, I know you think they don't move fast enough. But what if they weren't there at all? Are you ready? Are you aware of possible catastrophe? Are you listening? Or do you think they're just crying, "Wolf?"

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

On Strike

A good friend and fellow author wrote about burnout. She had some excellent things to say. Check our her post HERE. Burnout is often brushed to the side or pooh-poohed by folks as unimportant or imaginary. Last year I confessed to another writer that I just wasn't interested in writing and he fired back a pithy suggestion to get with the program.

Well, that's not always possible. 

I would point out that writing--as any creative endeavor--is not something you just sit down and do like counting matchsticks or doing sit-ups. There's an element requiring thought and imagination. And sometimes, sadly, our imagination and thought processes go on strike. Unfortunately, those around us, our significant others, our peers, and our friends can't see the picket signs waving inside our brains. 

When we see striking workers on the street, we generally have an idea about what they want. Their demands are right there on the picket signs. More money. Shorter hours. Benefits.

But when a writer goes on strike, it's difficult to make out what the problem might be. I suspect for a lot of writers the number one demand is Feed Me. Not the junk food and coffee writers seem to inhale by the barrel as they write, but real food--a balanced diet-- and water. We can't write well on shoddy fuel.

Second on the list is probably Go Outside. Walk around. Take pictures. Talk to people other than your family. Observe the world around you. Writing is a solitary occupation. You can't do it without mental input. With the best of intentions you can't get that input by reading, watching television, or texting. It requires interaction with others.

Third would definitely be Exercise. Jogging is not required. Movement is. For the most part, writing, researching, planning are all sedentary. Our bodies are not designed to be sedentary. If there's a great issue our descendants will pay for, it's the sedentary life technology has fostered. Turn on the radio and dance. Sing while you vacuum. Park at the far end of the parking lot. Go swimming. There are real mental benefits in movement. Sitting leads to sluggishness. That's why we get so many good ideas in the shower.

Finally, the last demand might be Visit Your Doctor. As much as we want to deny it, we're aging every single day. And with aging (no matter what your current age is) things change. Particularly with the sedentary life, there are a zillion things that can happen. High blood pressure. Thyroid changes. Diabetes. High cholesterol. The first symptom of many of these conditions is...fuzzy thinking. That's the signal. Go. Talk to your doc about how you're really feeling. The truth. The WHOLE truth.

Pay attention to those strike pickets. Changes just might make them go away. And then we can all get back to what we love best. Writing.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Plot Craters and TSTL Characters

Whilst knitting away at the sock factory, the hunk and I have been watching various re-runs (mostly mysteries) on Netflix. I entertain myself by pointing out the plot holes for the hunk. Some of them are sooooo huge, though, he spots them even before I do. We also critique the TSTL (too stupid to live) characters--the ones who inevitably die before the first break. And lastly, we make wagers on whether folks will scream when they find a body.

It's minor entertainment, but our own.

One memorable episode had it all. It opened with this woman flinging her second story window open and screaming, "Help! There's someone in my house!" It was the middle of the night. And I know no one who would dress and go to see what was going on. Why not telephone the police?

Anyway, all these men from the village arrive to rescue her, only to be stymied by a way to get in. No one seemed inclined to break down the door as they were more entertained by her nightie. Never fear, it turned out she kept a spare key under a flower pot by the front door. Problem solved. No intruder was found, but the police were called--and a report made.

Next night. She lets her dog out, in heavy rain. Afterwards, she locks up and goes to bed. And later wakes to discover her back door is open and there are boot prints on the floor by the back door. Where is the dog? No mention of him. No barking. However, she decides someone is in her house and calls the police inspector, then grabs a knife from the kitchen before running screaming into the rain. Really?

Police arrive. LOTS of police. And they discover a body in the garden. Ahhhhh. The plot starts to pick up speed. Cops suggest she change her locks so the next day she arranges for the local handyman to change the locks. When she arrives home from work, he demonstrates all the improvements he's made, then providentially produces a bottle of wine to share with her. And idiot that she is, she agrees. Later, when he pronounces he's too drunk to drive home, she suggests he can sleep it off in her summer house.

In the middle of the night she wakes up and decides to go check on this turkey in the summer house. In the pouring rain. (It rained every night in this episode!) And guess what? The handyman is dead--murdered.

Police arrive. LOTS of police. Blah, blah, blah.

Next day, she invites a different man (her neighbor) to spend the evening because she's afraid. He agrees. Then she suggests he spend the night in her spare room. He agrees. Then, in the middle of the night she sleepwalks into the spare room and...well, when he objects, she wakes up screaming. The entire village pours out to see what's up. The police arrive. LOTS of police. (By now, I would have rented a room in the village!) And she suggests they lock her up--the first sensible suggestion in this show. BTW, after the first night, the dog pretty much disappears. So what happened to the dog?

In the meantime, the other villagers have been planning their annual festival night complete with dinner and auction to raise money to repair the village hall. Two factions have formed. One wants to have a fancy new dinner with 'high class wealthy' guests and expensive items to auction. The other plans to carry on the way they always have. One particularly obnoxious social climbing woman is the leader for the new plan. This story line is interwoven with the main plot line.

Suddenly, with almost no preparation, the police inspector arrives at the solution to the murders. There's no explanation for how he arrived at his conclusion, but ta-da! In a few moments, with his sidekicks, he demonstrates how it all was done and reveals the killer.

BUT, there was one redeeming feature of this story. It turned out that the murderer was the snobby woman's husband. And in one brilliant stroke, she totally gets her comeuppance. Yes!

Now. Guess what the dippy heroine did for a living? She was a school teacher. Really.

The hunk and I have watched this episode several times...and we get a lot of laughs each time. What were the writers thinking?