FLUMMOXED AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

Flummoxed by Life, Rain, and Dawgz

It’s a great literary word and I love what it means. To be completely (pardon the expression) bamboozled. Stunned. Lost in the complexity. Wandering mentally aimless. Made mentally woolly by the ghosts of the past.


”Naked and alone we came into exile,” Thomas Wolfe wrote. ”In her dark womb we did not know our mother’s face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth. . . . Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?”


And then he said … and he repeated it throughout the book: “Lost, o lost. Ghost, come back again.” By which he was remembering his dead brother.

I read this book– all of his books, actually — when I was 14 and 15. Those were my serious reading years.  Wolfe really spoke to me. “Look Homeward, Angel” was nearly 1000 pages of poetry. I don’t think I’d get through the first chapter today. My taste for poetry has withered on its vine. Even so, a really good poem grabs me by the heart.

A beautiful poem isn’t just words. It’s a cry to your soul and all of “Look Homeward, Angel” was a soul’s cry.

Duke on a rainy day

The thing that makes me bring up a book I haven’t read for nearly 60 years was that the main character in all of Wolfe’s books — especially his three early ones — was permanently flummoxed. The world meant little to him. He was never clear on where the boundaries between real and ghostly began or ended.

Gibbs

That’s how I felt then and sometimes today. It’s not dementia. That’s when I can’t remember a perfectly simple word because it has flown my mental coop and I have to find it on Google (how could I survive without Google?) … or just write around it until later when the word just shows up. Like a lost kitten who was hiding under the bed, the word looks at me and says: “What’s your problem? I was just under the bed. Didn’t you look there?”

This morning it was raining so hard I thought there was a strong wind blowing. I looked outside and realized the trees were shaking from the weight of water falling on them.

Gibbs was never housebroken. He got here, doped out where shit went and proceeded to become housebroken. Unless it rains. None of our three dogs likes rain, but Gibbs truly loathes it.

Snow? Not a problem. Cold? No worries. Light rain? Can handle that.


“HEAVY RAIN?
You want ME to go out THERE?
You go out. I’m home until it stops.”


Gibbs had already left a load for me in the kitchen, right next to the trash can. He’s very neat that way and never goes for a rug or anything soft. I threw the dogs out. Gibbs lay down in front of the doggy door and went limp. I had to lift his front end, push it out the door, then lift his butt (which seems to be growing) and pushed it out, too. Then I locked the door while I cleaned the kitchen and gave them fresh water.

They stood in front of the house. Dripping. Looking at me. Daggers to my heart. I let them back in, went to the bathroom and came back. Gibbs had saved a pile to remind me he is a proud, stubborn terrier. Amazingly, he also looked guilty and has spent the rest of the morning giving me his best “sad-eyed” look.  He knows he has done wrong, but if it rains like this again, guilt will not change him. At 11-years-old, this is not a dog with a lot of “give” in his nature. Much love, but little flexibility.

I could have gotten up earlier and tossed them out. I was tired. The bed was warm. Excuses, excuses.

I wasn’t flummoxed. I was tired, warm, and cozy — the lethal “stay in bed” potion. Pushing reluctant dogs out a dog door wasn’t on my list of “things I wanted to do.”

Life keeps getting livelier and I don’t understand how two long-since retired people could get so godawful busy this late in life. Life never seems to go where we want it to do, though sometimes —  maybe even often — it does something more strange, but better.

INFECTED BY AUDIOBOOKS – Marilyn Armstrong

AUDIOBOOKS – A BELOVED INFECTION

Yesterday was the 16th of the month which for me means I get to pick two book from the audiobook collection. This might not sound like such a big deal, but it kind of is. First off, I’ve been an Audible reader for such a long time now, I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve got at least 1000 books in my audiobook library and probably a quarter of them I haven’t read, largely because I wasn’t in the mood when I got them … or I just plain forgot they were there.

I have a whole set of Manning’s “Mageborn” series and since I’m finishing his Thornbear collection, I might as well read Mageborn since I’ve apparently (surprise!) owned the books for several years. All five of them. Or are there six? I know I have at least three of them.

I’m still waiting from some of my favorite authors to finish their series. Jim Butcher, for one. He owes me a couple of books and I’m sure I’m not the only one who is restless. And Mike Carey, who owes all of us the final (fifth) book of his Felix Castor stories.

A lot of books are coming out in June which is, along with the September (buy books for Christmas) collection, the favorite release time for books. Because if you are a reader, summer is the time for a hammock, lemonade, and a good, long book, whether you are reading the words or hearing them spoken. Most of the ones I’m waiting for won’t be out until June or July, but in the meantime, I picked up the first book in a long time by Stephen King because it is not one of his horror stories.  Called “The Outsider,” it sound like a good murder mystery.

It won’t be released until the 22nd, but I can wait. I’m not a horror story fan,  so I have not read all of King’s books, but I’ve read all of his “Dark Tower” stories and his time travel “11/22/63,” but when King gets his teeth into any story, he’s possibly the best writer in my lifetime. His writing can be sheer poetry.

Murder mystery is not a genre King has tackled in the past,  so I’m drooling a little, awaiting its arrival.

Since having met Barbara Rosenblat, I’ve been hunting down her narrations, so I picked up the most recent Nevada Barr  series in which she is the narrator,”Destroyer Angel.”

Also coming up, Laurie King has a new Holmes and Watson arriving in late June, “Island of the Mad.”

Scott Meyer has a new time travel book – “Out of Spite, Out of Mind.” Finally, June, June will also brings one more of Ben Aaronovitch’s stories Peter Grant stories, “Lies Sleeping.”

Just a note for crazy horse-lovers, I just read “King of the Wind,” Marguerite Henry’s story of the Godolphin Arabian, a book I loved so much as a girl I think I read it until the words fell off the page. It was read by David McCallum who, when he isn’t “Ducky” on NCIS, is a brilliant narrator. If you loved the book when you were a kid, you are going to love it again!

On days like this, it’s hard for me to find time to do other things, but I need new glasses and today’s the day. How we’ll pay for them? That is another issue entirely. No idea at all!

Reading is my great joy and I think it is contagious. So these are this months germs. Enjoy every minute of your reading time. And share the infection with everyone else. It’s a disease worth having … forever.

REBELLIOUS? – Marilyn Armstrong

WHAT’S A REBEL? AM I A REBEL? ARE YOU?

I was never consciously a rebel, but I was definitely “different.” I’m pretty sure the difference  was books.

I read a lot of books. If you couldn’t find me, I was probably hiding somewhere. With a book. Rain, shine, sun, or snow — I read books. I read books intended for grown-ups long before I was “ready” to read them. Once, the librarian tried to prevent me from reading adult books and my mother came and tried to eat the librarian for breakfast.

After that, I could read whatever I wanted. I read ten to twelve books a week and if school hadn’t interfered with my reading program, I’d have read more. Sometimes, my mother took the books from my hand and shoved me outside. So I also jumped rope and played tag and built weird “houses” out of old crates and whatever junk we could find on the streets.

Because I read, so did my friends. Just as bad habits are contagious, sometimes, so are good ones. We were a group of completely outlandish friends who were friends only because we all lived in a strange part of town and were the only kids in the area.

Two girls attended the local Catholic school, the rest of us — a bunch of miscellaneous Jews, Lutherans, and non-believers — read books. We used to have contests with questions and answers — sort of personal trivia — about the books we read.

Of this crowd of kids who basically had nothing in common, everyone (except me) got either a Ph.D. or a Masters … and none of us really fit in anywhere. We used big words — always something that makes you an outsider in most schools — and we all wanted to be something. We got a psychologist, a Director of a NY school district, two college professors … and me.

We were different because we read books and books gave us ideas. They weren’t — apparently — like the ideas everyone else had. Maybe they were ideas others had and dismissed.

Is that really what a rebel is? Someone who has different ideas?

The official definition is:


REBEL

noun
1  –  A person who rises in opposition or armed resistance against an established government or ruler, e.g. “Tory rebels”
Synonyms: revolutionary, insurgent, revolutionist, mutineer, insurrectionist, insurrectionary, guerrilla, terrorist, freedom fighter.

verb
reˈbəl (Accent on the second syllable)
2 – To rise in opposition or armed resistance to an established government or ruler. E.g., “the Earl of Pembroke subsequently rebelled against Henry III”

Synonyms: Revolt, mutiny, riot, rise up, take up arms, stage/mount a rebellion, be insubordinate as in “the citizens rebelled.”


I’m not insurrectionary or any kind of freedom fighter. I have had some unconventional ideas, but ideas don’t make me a rebel. Not being the same as everyone else is — or wants to be — is not revolutionary.

Having unique ideas is just “thinking for yourself.” It’s something we should all do. No one can manipulate you if you do your own thinking.

BLOGGING DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE – Marilyn Armstrong

WordPress’s new “algorithm” has made a lot of bloggers unhappy. I’m sure they regret our unhappiness, but I think what is really making them unhappy is that other companies — like Google and Facebook — are raking in fortunes — and they aren’t. It’s not that they aren’t profitable, but in this world, merely profitable is not enough. I’d like to say that Trump is at fault, but I think he is the product of greed, not greed itself.

They want it all. Big money. Bigger money. Now.

We aren’t the money machine they want and we can’t be. It isn’t that they don’t appreciate our writing. It’s that we are not bringing in business and their bottom line isn’t big enough.

They made an ugly mistake with the new algorithm. I am guessing it was supposed to show off “new posts” but instead, effectively “disappeared” older sites and thousands of posts.

Originally, it seemed like it was just me and some other “big” sites with a lot of followers, but it’s going around and hitting all kinds of sites. The only thing we have found that fixes it is to rename the site. This is unfair and annoying, but it works.  I am seeing posts from people whose sites have been missing so long, I thought they were closed.

A lot of people don’t check to see how they are doing in the search engine. I never did. I don’t like the Reader, but they have centralized their engine into it, so at some point, if you want to find other blogs  — and they want to find you — that’s where  you have to go. At this point, it is the central “finder” for 23 million blogs around the world. It doesn’t work well and they are always fixing it.

It never gets fixed because as soon as they get it settled down, they decide to take another whack at it.

WordPress has gone from two or three million sites when I joined to 23 million now and it includes every connected country on the planet. WordPress has grown too big. too fast. They are understaffed. Worse, WordPress believes — because their marketing people told them so (watch out for those people) told them they can attract young, chic, bloggers who are looking for a home.

The problem? There are no such people. That audience doesn’t exist.

Bloggers are readers. Most bloggers are past 40 and more or less settled. Blogging is time-consuming and requires dedication. Most kids aren’t readers. Sure, some are, but not nearly as many as there were back when we were younger. We didn’t have telephones, so we read books. And newspapers. And magazines. I even read the back of the cereal boxes in a pinch.

WordPress’s attempt to attract kids is doomed. Wrong audience. Youngsters look for short, snappy products like Twitter and Instagram. They want stuff that works on their phones and doesn’t take hours of thinking to produce.

For us, there aren’t many choices remaining.

GeoCities became Yahoo and they closed their blogging sites. There were a bunch of smaller ones. All but TypePad are gone and I really haven’t figured out what Medium is trying to do. I am not sure Medium knows what they are about, either.

All the others — aside from Blogger on Google — are expensive. If you’re in business, the expense is not outrageous, but if you just want to write and post lovely photographs or poetry or your art, $25 per month is a big chunk of change. Paid services (few though there are) have better customer service and technical staff, but they lack “reach.”

I hoped someone else would jump in and build something, but it hasn’t happened. Maybe blogging isn’t profitable enough. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon — they make money. WordPress? Not so much. WordPress was not supposed to be a sales platform, but that’s what they want to be today.

Blogging is something else. We aren’t selling stuff. In fact, most of us pay to NOT have advertisements on our sites. Few of us “monetize,” even though they have been trying to convince us to do that for a few years.

What’s will happen? Blogger with Google at its back, will hang in there because their platform is a small piece of a much larger enterprise.

A well-founded rumor is that WordPress is pressing for more business accounts, fewer bloggers. This bad new “algorithm” was one of many attempts to push that concept through.

That this has been a disaster from which they already are pulling back is temporary. They want money and international reach — like Google has.

Either they will go out of business and start over, or they will make it harder and harder to use them without paying much more. Some people can afford it, but many of us can’t. One way or the other, when the bottom line is money, they aren’t going to quit. They will keep at it until they are bankrupt or they find a way to get richer.

I hope we still have a place to write a few years down the road.

READING ON THE TOILET : A SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Have you ever met a woman who keeps a library in the bathroom and sits on the toilet and reads for 20-40 minutes every day? I haven’t. But my grandfather did it, my husband does it and so do the husbands of most of the women I know well enough to ask about it.

I have never understood this practice. or why is it almost exclusively men who do it. If a woman was going to read for any length of time, the last place she’d choose to spend this precious “alone time” would be on the friggin’ toilet! No woman wants a red ring around her butt when she finishes a chapter.

I think I get why, in general, men think farts are funny and women don’t. It’s because men never outgrow the scatological humor of an eight-year-old boy. I also have a theory as to why men, in general, love slapstick humor and women don’t. Since we don’t have gladiators or jousts as an outlet for male aggression, men need a form of socially acceptable violent entertainment where the pain or humiliation can be laughed at and enjoyed publicly. This also explains violent video, which are also played predominantly by men.

But — I have no clue about the etiology of reading on the toilet. Maybe it’s a way to make goofing off appear legitimate — it shouldn’t count as “me time” if you’re performing a necessary bodily function. Yet men have no trouble sitting on the sofa with a beer and watching ball games for hours or playing video games endlessly. So I think it’s unlikely that they feel a pressing need to justify their pursuit of leisure activities, as women often do.

Maybe women shouldn’t try to beat them, but join them instead. So, ladies, the next time your husband wants you to start dinner, do the laundry, feed the dogs or pick up the kids, just grab a book, run into the bathroom and shut the door. Your husband can’t question or interrupt your toilet time without threatening the sanctity of his.

Try bringing a pillow and a glass of wine in with you to make the surroundings more user-friendly and relaxing. Let’s see if two can play this potty game!

This is the sculpture and the books in my powder room

BOOKS AND MORE BOOKS

EVOKING IDEAS, EVOKING DREAMS – BOOKS AND MORE BOOKS


Seriously, I don’t understand how it happened. I don’t have a job. I am definitely, absolutely 100% retired. Yet — I’m always busy!

It’s probably all the reading. In recent months, there have been publications of great books by some of my favorite authors, many of whom hadn’t released a new one in quite a while.

You know I absolutely had to read them. Immediately!

There were two new books and a short story by Jodi Taylor, “The Something Girl,” and “The Rest is History.” book 8 of her St. Mary’s time travel series. Both were great. I’m crazy about the time travel books. Sometimes I need a “time travel fix” and listen to them again.

Then, “Mary Russell’s War: And Other Stories of Suspense” was released — a whole bunch of short stories about Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes. “The Furthest Station: A PC Peter Grant Novella” by Ben Aaronovitch was released and while it wasn’t as long as the other books, it was a day of reading.

Somewhere in there I also read the last three Michael Connelly books, two about Harry Bosch and another new one for another L.A. cop. The new Bosch stories are narrated by Titus Welliver, who plays Harry Bosch on the Amazon series, so it’s not just any old book. You can watch the series — or the movie — in your head and the right guy is the star.

I stumbled across “Strange Practice” by Vivian Shaw which is the kind of book you sincerely hope is the start of a new series. It was way too good to be a onefer! It’s about Dr. Greta Helsing who specializes in a  medical practice for treating the undead. Great book and I hope it is followed by many more!

And then, Craig Johnson came out with a new Walt Longmire book — best one in quite a while — and there was Dan Brown’s “Origins” and Peter Clines’ “The Fold” and  Neal Shusterman’s “Scythe” … and finally, to finish me off, the long-awaited “Robicheaux” by James Lee Burke. It has been a few years since his last Dave Robicheaux story and this was a honey. Simultaneously, up came this new book about Trump, “Fire and Fury” and …

You know? I just realized why I’m so busy.

As you may have realized, I’m a listener rather than a text reader. I started listening to audiobooks when I was commuting long distances. I got so into the habit of listening … and very much out of the habit of focusing on text … that I pretty much always listen and very rarely read. I do read a few things because they aren’t available as audiobooks and I want to read them … or I’m committed to reading them. To be fair, though, I love listening. It’s like watching a long movie in your head. It’s better than movies, really.

It’s definitely the books. And that isn’t all of my list, either. There are at least a dozen more still waiting for me to get to them.

I’m in the middle of “Fire and Fury” right now. Curiosity won on this book … but really, I just can’t resist a good book!

WINSOME IS AS WINSOME DOES

Winsome. When I was editor of the Doubleday Romance Library … oh so long ago! … this was a great word especially when describing the attributes of a young woman in one of the Gothic romances.

Winsome, implying lovely, gracious, charming, and possibly attractive in a non-gaudy, un-flashy way.

So I was trying to think of what in my world might be winsome these days. Bonnie? Maybe? Dogs are always a bit winsome, at least by personality if not by visage. All those adorable things they do are kind of winsome-ish. Okay, not when Duke drags a tree branch in through the dog door and proceeds to imitate a wood-chipper … but when he plays peek-a-boo with his paws, that’s ridiculously adorable.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – At home with dogs

Less adorable when he take those same paws and whacks them hard on my keyboard. I had to pry up a key this morning and one of these days, he’s going to take the ship down with him. Forgive the digression.

I read the beginning of “Fire and Fury: Inside the White House” by Michael Fuller last night. I couldn’t help myself. After Tom Curley’s review of it today on Serendipity, my curiosity went into overdrive. One of the brilliant things about electronic books — audio and other — is that you get them instantly.

Want the book?Before you take your finger off the “buy” button, it’s in your library. It may absorb my time today. Just a warning. I’m in the middle of James Lee Burke’s (last?) book about Dave Robicheaux titled “Robicheaux,” and I want to read this one … and this is the month I’m getting a bunch of audiobooks for review, so it will be my “not-so-available” month.

My winsome dogs will smile at you, though.

FYI for anyone who is following the snow, the cold, and the bank: the bank gave us all the money back. The issue isn’t settled, but they gave us the money anyway. Nice! Thank you BOA. You done good.

The plow was here this morning, so we have a driveway. Paying the guy is going to be an interesting tale because as I have previously observed, free is not the way to go in the snow in New England. Unless YOU own the plow, you have to pay someone. Let us hope for less snow.

Unless there’s such as thing as “self-shoveling” snow? Is there an app for that?