Writing

ALPHABETIC DRIVEL

As I busy myself, casually doodling on my little pad of paper, everything seems flat. I don’t know why I’m doing this. It doesn’t make me feel good or happy. It’s just something keep my little hands busy. Make work. Nothing important.

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Oh how I yearn for the day when prompts or quotes offered real inspiration. Sad to be trying to come up with something unusual, or at least mildly interesting. Vaguely wondering how long I’m going to keep this up when I know it’s not going anywhere and no one will see it.

Maybe I’ll get an x-ray of my so-called brain. See if I’ve still got one. You can check back tomorrow for results. Bet you’ll find a blank page. Zero equals zero.

Not that it matters, but today’s Daily Prompt is “Alphabet Soup.” No pingbacks.

NOT SETTING THE PUBLISHING WORLD ON FIRE

Almost every month, Amazon informs sends me a bit of money from sales of my book. The amounts are enough to get a cup of coffee and a doughnut at Dunkin Donuts, but not enough for a cappuccino or anything at Starbucks. I’m always tickled that someone bought a copy. I’ve set the Kindle price as low as they will allow, so I don’t exactly make a killing on royalties.

The_12-Foot_Teepee_Cover_for_Kindle

I wrote the book in 2007. Publication date is officially September 27, 2007, though it really didn’t “hit the market” so to speak until 2008. I did lots of “author things.” Television interviews on local cable, radio interviews. I got a bit of nice local press.

I arranged book signings. They were fun, though turnouts were small. I got to meet other local authors, some of whom have become friends.

I sold a few hundred books. Not bad for a self-published book. For a while, I got royalty checks that were large enough for a cheap dinner for two at a local fast food joint. I briefly thought Teepee would be a minor straight to DVD movie, but financing failed. So much for Hollywood.

It’s difficult to successfully market a self-published book. Like all new authors, I had dreams of glory. I dreamed of Hollywood and best-seller lists. I was deluded.

A highly personal book largely based on life experiences will sell only if written by a celebrity. Even celebrity tell-all books don’t do well, moving from display in the front of the store to the discount bargain bin faster than you can say “I didn’t know he/she wrote a book …”

Recently, I got to read a lot of books deemed “the best fiction of the year.” I have no idea on what basis these books were determined to be the best of anything. The overall quality is pathetic. Most of them are uninspired, derivative, and trite. Boring at best, unreadable at worst. Many will cause you gastric distress and lead to a burning need to read something involving wizards, vampires, and time travel.

Every now and again I bump into a winner … an author who can really tell a story, and a story that transports me to another place. I live for those moments. It’s too rare.

Which brings me back to my book. It is not deathless literature, but it’s better than most of the books designated as the best of the year’s fiction. My book has characters, humor, and the semblance of a plot as well as a good-faith attempt by the author (me) to make a point. At the very least, you will learn how to build a tepee (perhaps how not to build a teepee). You might not love my book, but I’m pretty sure it won’t bore you into a stupor.

These days, books that sell are mostly cops and courtrooms, whodunits, thrillers, terrorists, fantasy, and the supernatural. Is the real world too dull to write about? Are we that boring?

If you are interested, you can buy the paperback here and the Kindle edition here. If you belong to Amazon Prime, you can borrow it for free.

I worry about the state of publishing. I am sure more good writers can’t find a publisher than can.

Why not publish more books? E-books cost nothing but storage space . Books like mine, published as “print to order”, don’t exist until after they are bought and paid for. It’s risk free and would be good for everyone.

I fear how many authors are ruined by their inability to play the marketing game. Writing a book is easy compared to marketing it. The race by publishers to put out only best-sellers doesn’t work anyhow. Most books flop, just as they always have.

As far as I can tell, most acquisitions editors wouldn’t know a great book if it bit them on the ass. It’s not that I’m so great and couldn’t get a reading, a publisher, or an agent. It’s that what does get published is so dreadful.

AFTER THE END COMES RENEWAL: EARTH ABIDES

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

I first read this book 40 years ago. It wasn’t new then having been written in 1949, yet it has stuck with me, despite having read thousands of books since.

Earth Abides is sometimes referred to as “the original disaster” story, but it isn’t a disaster story at all. It is, as the title suggests, a book of renewal and hope.

Although events are set in motion by a disaster — a plague that starts somewhere, no one is sure where — and kills off most of the population, that’s only the beginning of the story. A few people are naturally immune to the disease. Also, anyone who was ever bitten by a poisonous snake and survived is immune.

The remnants of humanity find each other and form groups, then tribes.  They repopulate the earth, creating a new society that has bits and pieces of what had gone before, without much of the baggage of the past.

The book was re-released in a 60th anniversary edition a few years ago, including a newly recorded audio version that has an introduction by Connie Willis.

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover editi...

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover edition of Earth Abides. Cover illustration by H. Lawrence Hoffman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I cannot count the number of copies of this book I’ve owned. I buy copies of it and lend it to people. It’s theoretically on loan, but the books are never returned, so i buy another copy.

The book is a bit preachy, but George Stewart is a lot less preachy than Anne Rice and I agree with him.

And, what seems ordinary today was revolutionary 63 years ago.

The book holds up well. Technology has moved on, but because technology is insupportable on a depopulated earth, it makes no difference what had or had not been invented. It is all useless without supporting infrastructure.

You can’t drive cars without gasoline, use phones without service. Our satellites might continue to circle the earth, but who would send or receive their signals? After our batteries go flat, it’s over for technology.

The world ends, the world begins. Earth abides.

Ish and Emma are the “mother” and “father” of the new tribe. Ish, in Hebrew, means “man” and “Eema” means “mother” which I am sure is not coincidental. It’s a wonderful story that suggests the human race has the ability to not only survive, but reinvent the world and be better than we are.

If you haven’t read this book, read it. It’s available on paper, for Kindle, and from Audible – an excellent recording with a fine narrator. I recommend it.

I love this book. I read a lot of science fiction, or used to … but I’m finding most of the new offerings in the genre bleak, to say the least. Hope is as scarce in recent science fiction as the visions of the future are barren and grim. Everything seems set in some version of an ugly, dystopian future emphasizing the worst traits of human nature. Granted we are flawed and there is much evil amongst us, but I don’t necessarily want to dwell in that wasteland.

Earth Abides is exactly the opposite. It is timeless — and rich with hope.

LEWIS CARROLL — HOW DOTH THE LITTLE CROCODILE

How Doth the Little Crocodile” appears in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Recited by Alice in Chapter 2, it describes a crocodile who lures fish into its mouth with a smile.

How Doth the Little Crocodile

Lewis Carroll

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!

I suspect it’s the source of the idea for “Never Smile at a Crocodile” in Disney’s animated “Peter Pan” (1953).


It parodies a popular Victorian children’s poem:

How Doth the Little Busy Bee

Isaac Watts

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skilfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labors hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labor or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.

In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.

THE NEIGHBOR

This isn’t a friendly town. People fraternize with the people who attend their church and seem to regard anyone else as potentially hostile.

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Of course we didn’t know that when we moved here. We knew that it was a very white town, that Garry was likely to be the first (only) person of color, and I might well be the first (only?) Jew. In fact, apparently well-intentioned people said stuff like “Gee, I’ve never known a Jewish person before” and honestly didn’t see anything wrong with this. Meanwhile, Garry got stares. No way to know if they were staring because they’d seen him on TV or because he’s brown. Both?

Our situation was made even more complicated by our neighbor, Ned. A big guy. Rode a Harley. I love Harleys, but there are Harleys and then, there are Harleys. This one was chopped and really loud. When Ned started his bike, the vibration alone could knock me out of bed.

Ned was massive. Tattooed. He hung with a bunch of skin-head friends. They had raucous parties with lots of beer. We didn’t expect to be invited, nor did these seem to be our kind of party.

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Ned flew a Confederate flag over his house. Prominently. We learned he’d always done this. It was part of some family roots thing tying him to his original home state of Georgia. Me? I think it’s time the south moved on. The war ended a more than a century ago. Time to get over it. But I’m from New York so I probably don’t understand.

Our neighbor’s house was the only one in the Valley flying a confederate flag and we were the only mixed-race couple in town. Ironic, to say the least. And we were a poster couple for hate groups.

black jockey racist statue

Garry is pragmatic and tough. His mild-mannered demeanor belies his Marine Corps interior (semper fi, and note I did not say “former Marine” because there’s no such thing as a former Marine). Moreover, he couldn’t have survived 40-years as a reporter without being tough.

One fine summer’s day, music screaming from Ned’s boombox, Garry looked at me and murmured those fighting words: “This is ridiculous!”

He marched down the driveway, through the woods that join our two houses, to Ned’s front door. Garry knocked. Loudly. When Ned finally answered, Garry said: “Hi. I’m your neighbor. Garry Armstrong. Do we have a problem?”

Shortly the flag disappeared along with a noxious black jockey statue. Turned out, Ned was a plumber. He fixed our bathroom pipes. The whole skinhead thing dissolved in the face of a brown-skinned guy who did news on Boston TV. Seemed it was less important who Ned was than who Ned, with a little encouragement, was willing to become.

Eventually Ned got into drugs. Or something. We were never sure what. His wife left. His life fell apart. One day, he vanished. Fortunately, he returned our extension ladder before going.

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Other folks live there now. They are not actively hostile, which is about the best one could say of them. In the year and half they have lived there, they’ve never bothered to say hello and I doubt they ever will. They object to our dogs barking so much. Hard to argue with that. I wish they’d shut up too, but hey, they’ve got dogs who do their own share of barking. (There are a lot of dogs around here. If you are outside in the evening, you can always hear a dog barking somewhere.)

I miss Ned. No one fixed pipes like Ned and he always gave us a huge discount. He turned out to be a funny guy and a good neighbor. Who’d have thunk it.

THE MEANING OF EVERYTHING – REDUX REDUX

Everybody blogger has a post or two that he or she considers special. This is mine. Why? Because it is a virtual summary of years of thought. Of all night discussion in college, philosophy courses and term papers, endless volumes of philosophy by obscure thinkers, theologians, philosophers, and authors from Douglas Adams to Friedrich Nietzsche.

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“It is hard enough to remember my opinions, without also remembering my reasons for them!”
Friedrich Nietzsche

I’ve run various versions of this post a bunch of times. If you know me — like, you’ve hung out with me in person — you will understand how very “me” this post is. I spent much of my life pondering the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. One day, I realized it didn’t matter. All that pondering had landed me where I began. I know nothing, will never know anything.

You don’t know anything either, because the answers we pursue are unknowable. We can believe, posit, speculate, theorize. We can not know.

So here I go (again), explaining the meaning of everything. This is a long post, 3 times longer than my usual stuff. It might be worth sticking with me, but I’ll understand if you don’t.


We spend too much time trying to figure out what life means and too little time doing the stuff we enjoy. I suppose it’s normal to wonder if the reason you are sick, broke, or miserable is the result of something you did or failed to do. Normal, but a waste of time and energy because I’m going to explain everything and you’ll never have to wonder again.

Meaning of life

Learning to accept the total randomness of stuff that happens is difficult. We want it to make sense. We want order. We want this mess we call life to mean something important.

I’ve put a good bit of thought into why my life keeps falling apart. I know I’m not perfect, but whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things. It’s hard for me to believe, even in my darkest moments I’m so wicked that The Big Guy has in for me.

One day, I had an epiphany. I knew The Truth.

I considered founding a church to spread my word. A church with no faith in anything. No deity to get pissed off if you disobey some arbitrary rule. Contributions would be welcome since we all need to pay the rent.

This would suit our modern lifestyle, don’t you think?

Faith is opinion in fancy clothing.

You can believe what you want, but you can’t know any more than I do. You take the same leap of faith by believing in God or if you declare yourself an atheist. Both positions require you take as absolute something for which you have no direct proof and for which you will never have proof.

If believing in a loving God makes you feel good, believe it. It could be true. If it turns out you’re right, you’ll have backed a winner. If believing there is no God, and science is the only path (and is antithetical to God — a position with which I disagree) to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re  making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.

As for me, I don’t know. Really. I don’t know and what makes me smarter than you is I know I don’t know.

 I know nothing. Neither do you.

Accepting you know nothing is a big step, so take a deep breath. Your next challenge will be how you can cash in on this new knowledge. What’s the point unless you can awe people with your brilliance — and make a few bucks?

It’s all in the wording.

You need the right lingo to dazzle your audience. Big words (4 or more syllables) used in the right context can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds to show their admiration.

meaning-of-life3

Big words enhance your likelihood of getting a management position. You can write important books. Have a blog like me and I know you want to be just like me. Big words can take you a long way, if you are skilled at deploying them.

Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause unexpected laughter … not good unless you are aiming for a stand-up comedy career.

Epistemology

Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about, but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? 

I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything.

Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, concepts, and kitchen appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical.

Phenomenology

On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology   was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. The same reasoning proves there is no God. Ah, the joy of phenomenology.

Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation:

Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.

In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.

Fount of Wisdom

You can now explain anything. Everything. You can prove things based on something a couple of friends said years ago while under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. Although others may fault your logic, in the world of academics, everyone disbelieves everyone else unless they are citing them as a source, so you might as well stick your oar in the water.

meanin-of-life-snoopy

There are people who will attack you using faith. Faith is based on itself which makes it hard to dispute. The only person who is ever convinced by faith is the he/she who holds it. Nor does it really matter how many people believe or disbelieve it.

Having more believers or followers doesn’t transform faith into fact.

If it did, we could achieve some really nifty things. Like, say we all believe in magic and therefore, it exists. Cool.

YOU ARE OLD, FATHER WILLIAM – LEWIS CARROLL

Lewis Carroll is my favorite poet. In this, one of his less well-known but nonetheless wonderful poems, he offers commentary on both parenthood and aging. I find myself relating. Really. No kidding.

Just for fun, I’ve included John Tenniel‘s original illustrations which accompanied the poem on publication.

From Wikipedia:

The poem appears in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and is recited by Alice (Chapter 5, “Advice from a Caterpillar” which was Chapter 3 in the original manuscript, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground). Alice informs the caterpillar she has tried to repeat “How Doth the Little Busy Bee” and it came out all wrong as “How Doth the Little Crocodile”. The caterpillar asks her to repeat “You are old, Father William.” 

Following is the poem she recites.

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

FatherWilliam-1

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?”

FatherWilliam-2

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling the box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?”

“You are old,” said the youth, “And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

FatherWilliam-3

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?”

FatherWilliam-4

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!”

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