NO GREAT DIVIDE

The Great Divide – The Daily Prompt for Monday, September 29, 2014

When reading for fun, do you usually choose fiction or non-fiction? Do you have an idea why you prefer one over the other?


There is no great divide. You must have made that up. Or maybe you don’t read much because if you did, you would know that literature is a continuity, a world without walls.

All my friends read. Friends and acquaintances, we read everything. Anything. Non-fiction and fiction, fantasy, mystery, and science fiction. The back of cereal boxes and magazines. Newspapers. Science and biography. Auto-biography and historical fiction.

I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of difference between historical fiction and regular old history anyhow. There’s a lot of fiction, made-up nonsense, wishful thinking and mythology in traditional history … and a lot of truth in fiction. Sometimes, the freedom an author gets under the cloak of fiction gives him or her the opportunity to write truer and reach more people than he or she could accomplish in an academic setting.

books and the duke

Those who love books don’t worry much about such distinctions. We pick books based on whether or not they will engage us. Teach us something we want to know. Make us laugh, cry, grow, change.

Most importantly, books take us out of ourselves. They transport us into a bigger world and give us food for thought and tools for understanding.

May a day never come when I confine my reading to a single genre, rejecting all others.

May the world never force such an awful choice upon me or anyone.

MORE STATS AND STATS – 5,000 BLOG FOLLOWERS

5000 followersStatistics are a hot topic among bloggers. Some of us obsess over them. I don’t obsess exactly, but I’m aware and interested. I take a daily look. Usually.

Over all, things are looking up at Serendipity. There has been a slow but steady increase in readership over the past 7 months. It’s encouraging — and today I breached a threshold.

FOLLOWERS

I’ve got 5,000 blog followers, the only followers I feel I can (more or less) accurately count.

I have no idea how many Facebook “friends” check out my blog. I suppose a majority of them occasionally check out a post, but most are linked to me because we play (or played) the same game(s). A few hundred more follow me via Twitter and Tumblr. I have no idea how actively they follow. I have no idea how actively anyone follows unless they comment or otherwise make contact.

WHO IS ACTUALLY READING ME?

I’m sure at least half of my 5,000 blog followers are no longer actively following me or were never really following me at all. Some are spammers and con artists, pornographers, trolls and troublemakers. I don’t hear from the real weirdos … and there are a few of them, too. The conspiracy nuts, the ones who are planning to overthrow the government but hopefully lack the skills to do more than rant.

Many followers sign on hoping I’ll do a reciprocal follow. I don’t. Won’t.

For anyone who wants me to follow them, I often check out sites because a comment catches my interest. Don’t send your link if you haven’t read a post or two on my site. I’d just as soon you not send your link at all. If you comment, I’ll have all the information I need to find you. Sending your blog’s link as a comment is rude.

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PAGE VIEWS 

Everybody’s numbers fluctuate. They go up and down without any obvious reason. Unless it’s a multi-week nose dive, I don’t worry about it. Usually, there’s no apparent reason. Or, it can be a seasonal thing. Holidays, the weather, political stuff — all these and dozens of other factors will change what people do online. I used to fret over it, but my recent life has been so stressful, I decided to make blogging a stress-free zone.  I know if things get slow, they will pick up. Eventually. Blogging on the same site for three years has taught me patience.

And, of course, I’m a wild card, maybe the biggest wild card. Because I’m the primary writer. I post every day and have for more than two years, only missing the period when I was too sick to do it.

Even at the best of times, all my posts are not brilliant. I have inspired days and blah days. Sometimes, I think a post is terrific, yet no one agrees. Other time, I think a post is dull, pedestrian — but it gets tons of hits. Go figure. I’m definitely better at gauging my work than I used to be, but that brings me up to maybe 50%. The rest of the time, I think I’ve got it nailed, but I don’t.

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THE COOL KIDS

I keep hearing that there are “cool” bloggers who are hyper popular and garner all kinds of awe and adulation. Everyone (apparently) wants to be one of the cool kids. I don’t actually know who the cool kids are because I avoid extremely popular sites. They are so busy, it’s impossible to have a dialogue with anyone. Or at least, I can’t. I’m not going to line up to be heard.

I think there is a tipping point when a blog becomes an enterprise. It gets too busy, too professional. I’ve seen blogs morph from personal blogs to businesses. I wonder if the bloggers even realized what was happening.

The first symptom? They stop responding to comments … or only respond to a particular group of followers. If I comment but never get a response? I will stop reading and following. I don’t require 100% reciprocity, but I need some acknowledgment. If you are too busy to ever answer my comments, you are too busy for me.

TAKING A LONG VIEW

I prefer to take a long view of statistics. I have yet to match, much less exceed, the numbers I made in November 2012. I had a lot of help that month. We had a highly controversial presidential election and a super hurricane which conspired to make the Internet a wild and crazy place.

I’m getting back up there gradually, month by month. Statistically speaking. This time, maybe it won’t be a fluke and it will stick.

Then again, maybe not. I’m sure I won’t post every day forever. I’ll get tired someday. Not soon, but eventually. Nothing is forever. Definitely not me.

AT THE OLD BALLGAME – RICH PASCHALL

Harold takes a road trip, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Friday was “Fun Day,” or at least that is the way Harold saw it.  It was a day given over to sports.  Harold read all the sports he could in the morning paper.  Watched some on television.  He even made time for high school or college games in the area.  In the late spring and early summer, there was minor league baseball to be seen.  Every Friday could have an appropriate sports theme.

On one particularly nice Friday in the baseball season, Harold decided to drive all the way to St. Petersburg to catch a major league baseball game.  It’s not that the Tampa Bay Rays, who did not play in Tampa, were an exciting team, but the visiting team was making a rare appearance.  Actually, it was Harold’s favorite Midwest team.  The Chicago Cubs and the Rays were having an interleague game and Harold thought that was just about the only reason to drive over an hour to get to a baseball game.

The details of this road trip were laid out in Harold’s computer-like mind the night before.  He knew exactly what to take, when to leave and how long to stay at the park.  It would be a treat to see the park, as Harold had absolutely no reason to make the trip before this.  It would be years before the Cubs would come that way again, so they certainly had to be on Harold’s schedule as well as the Rays’.

St. Petersburg, Florida

St. Petersburg, Florida

Neither team was very good.  In fact the Cubs were in last place and the Rays were not in the running for anything.  The Chicago organization called it a “rebuilding” year, but most years were rebuilding years for the Cubs.

It had been that way since 1908.  Still, Harold had an unexplainable affection for the team so he decided to take the trip. When the appointed hour came, according to his expert calculations, he was off.

He arrived at the parking facility more or less on time and spied the ticket office right away.  There were not a lot of cars as the team needed a winning season to fill the lot, so Harold got a spot close to the ticket windows.  He put up the sunshield in the front window and then added another for the back.

It didn’t matter. The car would be hot when he returned, sunshield or not.  With plenty of time before game time, Harold took a leisurely stroll to purchase his tickets.  He only had to wait behind one person when he heard someone call out.

“Harold?  Harold, is that you?”  It was George, a former colleague from work and his wife Martha.  Whenever he heard their names together it reminded his of a movie or show, but he could not remember which one.

It was not important to him.  George, like many Cub fans, would travel almost anywhere to see the boys in blue play.  Older Cub fans with time on their hands frequently made vacation plans to include a Cubs’ road game.

“Hello, George, Martha,” Harold said, not at all certain he was glad to see them.  “What brings you down here this time of year?  People normally visit in the winter.”  At that, it was Harold’s turn at the ticket window.

Ballgame seating

Ballgame seating

“I need just one ticket,” Harold declared.  “I don’t want one of those 281 dollar tickets.  I think a 66 dollar ticket is quite enough.”  Actually Harold thought that was too much but he figured it would be a rare treat.  When he collected his ticket, Harold turned around and said to the couple, “Well, it was nice to see you again.”

But when George got to the window, he had other ideas.  He said to the person selling tickets, “Can you get us two tickets right next to that last guy?”

“Sure,” she replied and sold him the next two seats.  Harold would be on the aisle and the couple from the north would be right next to him.

“Hey Harold, wait up,” George shouted and the couple hurried along to catch up with the master planner.  The problem is, George and Martha were not in the plan.  They all went into the park together and Harold and George had to stand around for fifteen minutes while Martha went to the women’s washroom.

When they got to their seats, the National Anthem was being played.  George decided to sit next to Harold for half the game in order to tell him everything that happened since Harold had retired.  Martha took the second half to update George on local gossip, most of it having to do with people Harold could not remember — or possibly never knew.

Harold’s seat on the aisle did not prove to be so ideal, since vendors and fans frequently went by, obstructing his view.  Beer vendors were particularly annoying because when they stopped in front of Harold, they were usually there for too long.

The game moved along slowly. The Cubs fell behind early due to errors and poor relief pitching.  It did not look major league.  At precisely three hours after the start of the game,  the alarm on Harold’s watch went off. He announced to the now somewhat tipsy couple, it was time to go.

“Go?” George shouted in horror.  “It is only the bottom of the eighth.  The Cubs could have a rally.  See, I have my rally cap.”  At that George took off his cap, turned it inside out, and put it back on his head.

“But I have somewhere to go … and the game has run long.”

Martha protested, “You’re retired.  Where do you have to go?  Sit down and watch the Cubs come back.”  The couple put up such a fuss that Harold sat back down just to put an end to the scene.  Rays fans around them were shouting at them to sit down.  It was embarrassing to the usually quiet Midwesterner.

The Cubs went three up, three down in the ninth, as might be expected from such a team.  The threesome filed out with all the others.  When Harold got to his hot car, the traffic was building. The trip through the lot and onto the roadway was slow and painful to Harold.  The Cubs had played as expected, but the day had not gone as Harold had planned it. Harold, master planner of retirement time, had been defeated again.

NOR ANY DROP TO DRINK — 3 YEARS AT MANCHAUG

From The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (text of 1834)
By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

I’ve been talking a lot lately — for obvious reasons — about the drought we are not officially having. I thought it was time to show you what I see and how I know we are having a drought. And why I wonder how come no one except me seems to find this alarming.

All these pictures were taken at the same location: Manchaug. At the dam and the lake formed by the dam. And the river that used to feed this waterway, except that now it’s more like a puddle than a river.

Manchaug, September 10, 2011

Manchaug, September 10, 2011

This was shot on September 10, 2011. My granddaughter and I were wandering around and there it was. We both shot a lot of pictures that day. I called these “The Crystal Falls” because of how it glittered in the sunshine. Of all the local waterfalls, these were the most lovely.

Manchaug above the dam, April 2012

Manchaug above the dam, April 2012

A mallard at Manchaug

A mallard at Manchaug

All the way through the spring 2013, everything was fine at Manchaug. There were fish, turtles, ducks, geese and lots of water.

Flip the calendar to this year, 2014.

I have not seen a swan since the beginning of May. Whitin’s pond where they have always nested, is showing its bottom. The dam at the foot of the pond is dry as a bleached bone. The swans used to battle the geese for nesting room on the pond.

Now, neither geese nor swans are to be seen anywhere on the pond. I’ve only seen a few geese anywhere … and they were on the Blackstone River itself. No herons. No schools of baby fish along the banks.

Manchaug - July 2013

Manchaug – July 1, 2013

Manchaug above the dam, June 2014

Manchaug above the dam, June 2014. The dam is completely dry.

The stream that fed the lake is gone.

The river that fed the lake is dry. On the right is where the river was. Gone.

So we don’t have an official drought, but all our dams — there are 43 of them on the Blackstone — are dry. The rivers are mud, drying in the sun. I wonder when the someone will “officially” notice we have a water problem? Because if they officially acknowledge a problem, then “they” have to do something about it. As of right now, they have even issued low water warnings. I don’t understand why they haven’t at least issued warnings to well owners to go easy on water usage, to not water lawns, wash cars, fill hot tubs and swimming pools!

Where are the water fowl? Have they flown off to places that have more water? I hope so. The alternative makes me a little bit queasy.

You’d think someone would do something, wouldn’t you?

THE END OF THE REPUBLIC – IMPERIUM, ROBERT HARRIS

Cover of "Imperium"

Imperium, by Robert Harris

Random House – Sep 7, 2010

Fiction – 496 pages

It’s déjà vu all over again as we travel back with author Robert Harris to Republican Rome just before it became Imperial Rome. We complain loudly and frequently about government corruption, speculate about conspiracies. Brood darkly on the failure of government to address issues of inequality. Deplore the bribery of officials. The world, we say, is going to Hell.

Except that government went to Hell a long time ago and you could easily argue that government — all government — was always a bit hellish. Compared to Imperial Rome, our government is a clean machine, clean as driven snow. It’s all a matter of perspective. Republican Rome was in most ways a model for good government, but over the centuries, corruption ate away at it. By the time it became imperial, it was heading into its final days.

Reading history puts the world in which I live into perspective. Whatever problems we face, we — the human family — have faced them before. We survived. It’s important to remember our ability to survive is greater (for the most part) than our ability to screw up.

English: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rom...

Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Roma Italiano: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rome (Photo: Wikipedia)

Imperium, by Robert Harris, is about a guy named Cicero. You’ve probably heard of him. Famed as a lawyer, even more famed as an orator, Cicero rose to fame and power during a critical cusp in history as Rome was about to change from republican to imperial. Julius Caesar had just stepped onto the stage of history. It was the beginning of the greatest imperial power the earth had ever seen … and the end of the greatest republic the world ever knew. Perspective.

Marcus Cicero started his journey to power as an outsider from the provinces. His first significant legal case put him head-to-head with the dangerous, cruel and utterly corrupt Gaius Verres, governor of provincial Sicily. Using his stunning oratorical abilities and dogged determination in the face of impossible odds, Cicero beats Verres in court. He then goes on to triumph over many powerful opponents, making friends — but far more enemies — along the way.

Cicero seeks ultimate power — imperium. His allegiance is to the Republic. Cicero’s secretary and slave, Tiro — the inventor of shorthand — is the “author” of this biography of his master. Tiro was at Cicero’s right hand throughout his career, by his side, through triumph and catastrophe. Through his voice the world of ancient Rome is brought to life.

It’s a fascinating story. Pompey and Julius Caesar stride across the stage of this deeply corrupt, depraved, dangerous and strangely familiar society.

Robert Harris is a brilliant story-teller and author of historical fiction. He lures us into a violent, treacherous world of Roman politics simultaneously exotically different from and startlingly similar to our own. I read it on Kindle, then listened to the very fine version available from Audible.com. I recommend both most highly.

This is part one of a duology.  The second volume in the American printing is titled Conspirata. In Great Britain the same book is titled Lustrum.

Both books are available on Kindle from Amazon and as a paperback from most sellers.

A LITMUS TEST FOR FRIENDSHIP?

Litmus, Litmus on the Wall – If you had to come up with one question, the answer to which would determine whether or not you could be friends with a person you’ve just met, what would it be? What would the right answer be?


Does anyone remember for what litmus paper actually tests?

From the ubiquitous source of all knowledge and frequent misinformation — Wikipedia — comes this enlightening but incomplete (please feel free to conduct your own research) definition:

Litmus is a water-soluble mixture of different dyes extracted from lichens, especially Roccella tinctoria. It is often absorbed onto filter paper to produce one of the oldest forms of pH indicator, used to test materials for acidity. Blue litmus paper turns red under acidic conditions and red litmus paper turns blue under basic (alkaline) conditions, with the color change occurring over the pH range 4.5-8.3 at 25 °C. Neutral litmus paper is purple. Litmus can also be prepared as an aqueous solution that functions similarly. Under acidic conditions the solution is red, and under basic conditions the solution is blue.

I’ve yet to determine the “litmus test” for anything other than PH balance. Like in a tropical fish tank. You need to know the PH there or the fish will die. Otherwise, I don’t know anything about tests. I never know which posts will generate the most hits or comments. I have no idea who will turn out to be the person I can turn to in time of trouble. All my best friends became best friends because we liked each other, enjoyed each other’s company. Probably shared similar taste. There was no litmus or any other test. We hung out and couldn’t get rid of each other.

People and life aren’t a formula. There’s no single thing to indicate the potential quality of a friendship, the probably value of a relationship, the likely longevity of two hearts that resonate to each others’ rhythms.

I hade my face because I cannot bear the shame. Oh the horror!

I’m sure I’d never pass anyone’s “friend test.” Probably, assuming I could create one, not even my own. I don’t believe in standardized tests. Not in the schoolroom and certainly not in relationships.

As for standard litmus testing, I’m pretty sure I have a pH. If an actual litmus test were applied, I would definitely pass. Everyone would pass a litmus test because … (drumroll, trumpets) … you can’t fail a litmus test. There’s no correct answer and no passing grade. (Throw that bum out! His pH is way too low!) If my mother was any kind of judge, I’m too acidic, though there are days when I feel distinctly alkaline.

Since surviving my brief fling at youth, I have opinions, but I don’t test. I have standards. I don’t argue with stupid people. I’m referring to folks who combine blissful ignorance with strong opinions. I suppose there are a few other points, political, intellectual and social (don’t chew with your mouth open), but no test. I like people or not. I like what I like and I don’t know why. I don’t want to analyze it. Does that make me a loser? Or, as they say on Facebook, a looser? I’ll bet my problem is when I have nothing to say, I say nothing. That’s gotta be it!

If you want to be my friend, I promise you’ll never have to pass a test of any kind. Not a litmus or any other test. My love and loyalty are test-free, organic, and earth-friendly.

SHADOWS, SHOES, AND A CHILDREN’S POEM

Cee’s Odd Ball Photo Challenge: Week 30

Odd Ball Photos are those great photos that you take which really don’t seem to fit into a common category.  We’ve all taken them and like them, because we just can’t hit delete and get rid of them. This week, I have but two little entries.


Me and my shadow … and my joyous happy-feet red Fit-Flop clogs. The poem has been one of my favorites since I was a very young child. The shoes are rather more recent, but favorites nonetheless.

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MY SHADOW

BY ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.

He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

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 Fit Flops (brand name). Laugh if you like, but these are among the lightest weight, most supportive and comfortable shoes I have ever owned. Whoever it was that recommended them to me? Thank you!!