RASPY FOR THAT FIRST ANNOYING CALL OF THE MORNING – Marilyn Armstrong

For the last few days, I’ve been waking up to the realization that I’m probably going to die of heart problems. Now, being as I’m already 72 — and I recognize that I and everyone else is going to die of something eventually — this isn’t shocking or surprising. Once I finally understood that this heart thing wasn’t an attack or a disease, but a genetic problem, a lot of things made more sense.

Lego set to get kids ready for that final play date. Seriously, no kidding. You’ll probably have to buy it on Amazon and have it delivered.

The cardiologist was very good about explaining the nature of the problem and how in families that have it, one out of every two children will have the condition. That was when I realized the surgery I’d had was not a cure but a temporary fix.

It was (is) an interim solution, although I’m beginning to think that life is an interim solution to eternity.
Dress code suggestions

How temporary? No one knows. At my age, everything — even my heart — grows slowly. It might take 20 years, by which time I could have been run down by a crazed FedEx driver or been done in by something else. Or it could be next year.

What I was told is that “So far, your heart is still pumping a reasonable amount of blood and you have an adequate number of red blood cells where they need to be. But the heart is growing. Again.” The implication was they will not repeat the surgery. The heart could last — even overgrown and thickened — decades, but the surgery might easily kill me. Or, as that old joke goes: “The surgery was a success, but the patient died.”

The Last Session

So I’m not going through an “Oh I’m going to die” crisis. More like doing a mental calculation about how long I’ve reasonably got. A few years? A decade? Two decades? More? No one has a measurement, so in the end, I’m still dealing with the same thing I was dealing with before: something will kill me. Probably my heart but give me a little time and who knows what else could pop up?

I don’t think you could get this many people out for my memorial unless the food was really great

Given my family history, I figure cancer or heart. Both run on both sides of the family, but aside from my mother, most people on both sides also manage to live a pretty long life, DNA notwithstanding.

It was at that moment that the phone rang. It nearly jarred me right out of bed. I swear it’s louder sometimes than others and this was a really loud morning.

I’m not kidding. It was the “Death Insurance” saleswoman. Alive, not recorded.

“How are you?” she said.

“Fine,” I rasped.

“As you probably know,” she began, “the price of funeral arrangements is exorbitant. So, we are selling … ”

“No!” I choked and hung up. Gee WHIZ!

My people

Seriously. Did I need that particular call as my first call of the week? It’s bad enough to get all this crap on television.

Please see Tom Curley’s ONLY OLD PEOPLE WATCH CABLE NEWS for more details on special advertising for the aging.

Couldn’t they at least have waited until after lunch?

ICONIC, YET SOMEHOW TOTALLY AWESOME – Marilyn Armstrong

“We are broadcasting,” said the crew from ESPN, “from the iconic top of the Green Monster in iconic Fenway Park,” by which they were referring to the broadcast booth set on top of the tall green wall in the stadium’s left field., a.k.a, the left field wall.

Fenway might even be iconic if by that you mean the “oldest baseball stadium in the U.S.,” but I don’t think iconic means that. This was the actual moment I realized I never wanted to hear anyone say “iconic” about anything again. Ever. I’d had it with the word.

Even when it’s relevant. Even if it is spelled correctly and regardless of context. The world has become overly iconic and used to mean anything and everything which essentially means it means nothing.


Anything which means everything means nothing.
That includes “iconic.” Especially “iconic.”

Because everything can’t be iconic. It’s an oxymoron.

Word overuse started as a TV phenomenon and has continued with a lot of help from social media. It started with … I don’t know … cool?  Groovy?

It gathered energy with “awesome” and “totally awesome.” Is there a difference? If “awesome” means “striking awe into a viewer,” how is “totally awesome” more awesome than one, single “awesome”?

Meanwhile, word overuse went in hysterical overdrive when all female persons who were remotely well-known became a “Diva.”

Now, the word is iconic.

What happened to the rest of the language? Surely there are other synonyms which could be used?

Suggested alternatives include:

Those are more than enough words to give one reason to ponder word usage. I have a “thing” wherein I won’t intentionally use the same word or even two versions of the same word in one paragraph. I sometimes do it accidentally, but if I notice, I’ll go back and change a word.

There are few words in English for which there is no substitute. At least — not among adjectives. Maybe a few nouns are unique to a specific item but adjectives are slippery devils. Where there’s one, there’s another and another and another.

Arabic has more words than English. Officially, more than 12 million words, though I wonder how many of those words are obsolete or not in regular use. English is the next largest language with about 200,000 words in active use, excluding those which are currently obsolete. For the moment.


NOTE: Never count an obsolete word as completely “out.” Obsolete words have an odd way or slithering back into standard English without warning.

Meanwhile, 200,000 is a fair number of words. The next time the word “awesome” or “iconic” springs to your fingers or lips, contain yourself. As a personal favor, please find a different word. Any word.

Let’s make “emblematic” a hot new word. Even better, let’s use “seminal.”

BLOGGING – IT’S A NEW YET SOMEHOW OLD WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

I’M NEW. WHAT SHOULD I DO?

It’s interesting, looking at an earlier post and realizing how many “givens” have changed since you wrote it. It was just a few years ago. But oh my, how times have changed.

Maybe I’m just getting a bit beat up from having hung around the blog world too long … or maybe it’s the endless pressure of political reality that is making me crazy and mentally exhausted. Maybe it’s everything.

I think it’s harder to blog now than it was. We used to be able to have fun –without feeling the responsibilities of the world. Funny, light, and airy have become harder to find. Some elements of humor have gone out the window. It’s not that I wanted them to go away, but it has been hard to let go of the awful developments going on around us.

That being said, I can’t talk about the “issues” all the time. I can’t even think about them all the time. In that direction lies madness.

Everyone knows that there are dangerous developments in the world, but we can’t think about them every minute of every day. The world is undergoing a bad turn. We are atop that evil pile. I often wonder if I’m still living in the same country. Is this America?

And it’s international too. Is this my world or have slipped into a parallel reality?

Nonetheless, the basic rules still apply — with a few caveats. WordPress is no longer providing any kind of support to bloggers. No prompts, no awards, no nothing. They ply you with endless advertisements to join up with their “business plan” even if you don’t have a business. They pay no attention to what we ask for. Instead, they give us what they feel like giving us … IF they feel like giving us anything. And they do not believe in beta testing their software.

Don’t count on WordPress to give you a hand. They won’t. Do count on fellow bloggers to give you a hand because we will if we can.

So:

    • Do what you love. If it’s writing, write. Photography? Take pictures. Excuses are boring. A lot of people spend more time explaining why they can’t write or take a sharp picture than actually writing or focusing the camera.
    • Don’t whine. We all have problems. (Remind me I said this.) If you are going to whine, try to be funny too.
    • We are all entitled to a good online rant. Just not every day.
    • Funny is good.
    • Keep posts short or at least as concise as you can — given the subject. Some things need more words than others, but when you’re running over a thousand words, put the post away and read it again later or better yet, the next day. I bet you’ll find at least 500 (or more )words you can cut.
    • Don’t post blurry, bad pictures. Learn to look at your work and appraise it as if it were someone else’s.
    • Work on improving your craft(s). Write better. Take better pictures.
    • Proofread! If, like me, you’re a terrible proofreader, use whatever free proofing device you can find. I’m using the free version of Grammarly. I hate to admit it, but it has helped.
    • Follow your gut. If your gut isn’t telling you anything, try your brain and imagination. If that’s not working, read a book.
    • STICK WITH IT. You don’t build a following in a week or two.
    • PERSEVERE! You need to post regularly and often. If you don’t post regularly and often, your readers will wander away.
    • Many followers will wander no matter what you do. They have their own lives and their own reasons. It isn’t about you. Every two or three years, with some important exceptions, you’ll find you have a new group of followers.
    • You never know who is reading you. Many folks read, but many fewer comment. Most won’t even drop a “like.” I’ve been shocked at who reads my blog.
    • Don’t let other people’s stats make you envious. If you stick with it, you’ll get there too. 
    • Check your facts if you are writing anything that contains facts. It’s called credibility. You need it no matter what your government is doing.

NO SPELLCHECKER – Marilyn Armstrong

There will be no spellchecker. I asked and they answered. This was WordPress’s response:


A. Jay (Automattic)

Jun 22, 07:25 UTC

Hi there,

Thank you for contacting us.

The spellchecker was a part of the publication process. I don’t like Grammarly and it interferes with other apps — and Google’s isn’t very good. What was the problem with including it? Was it in someone’s way? Was it harming someone? I do not understand.

Spell checkers are a specialty product, and it’s not something we specialize in. The WordPress.com spell checker was developed years ago when there didn’t exist any alternatives yet. Since then things have changed and a lot of other companies have started specializing in this, which led to the decision on our end to step back from the field and focus instead on the things we do specialize in.

Modern browsers now provide built-in spell-checking tools, so we have removed this feature from our product to avoid maintaining unnecessary dependencies. I read that you do not like Grammarly or Google’s spell checker, however, following are our recommendations as an alternative option:

        • the spell-checking built into most browsers
        • a browser extension that offers additional grammar checks
        • a third-party service that offers additional grammar checks

You can read more about some of these options here – https://en.support.wordpress.com/proofreading/

Please let us know if you have any questions or if we can help with anything else.

Best,

A. Jay | Happiness Engineer
WordPress.com | Automattic Inc.


I’d be interested to find out in exactly what WordPress does specialize. Certainly not in helping bloggers do whatever bloggers do … or creating functional software for bloggers to use. They have been forging ahead with their preconceived notion of what we are supposed to want for years.

None of us were ever consulted. No user surveys were ever taken among users. So with each “update,” they make the software harder to use. More awkward, slower. Essentially, dumber.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. It certainly didn’t surprise me.

THE DEATH KNELL OF GREAT AMERICAN LITERATURE – Marilyn Armstrong

Many (maybe most) manuscripts are never are “trendy” or popular enough for today’s publishers. As far as publishers go, no matter how well-written or interesting the plot or characters are if it isn’t a genre they sell, it doesn’t exist.

A Kindle and a speaker for listening to audiobooks

Many genres do not fit in any publisher’s predetermined categories. This is not only true for beginners to the field but is equally true for those who have published — successfully published — eight or nine books, including more than one bestseller. Publishers want their authors to keep writing what they wrote before and not veer from it. They also don’t want to pay real money. Or provide publicity, advertisements, or even a professional proofreader.

I’m not making this up.

I know several well-published popular authors who fell out of favor because they wanted to try something different. They weren’t less good at writing, but publishers want books by an author to be the same as the previous one. The one that sold well. If this is something new, then they do not want it.

They also don’t like first manuscripts from mature people because they want nice young authors who will be able to churn out books for a long time and not be stopped by getting old. I also know a number of these authors, too.

I worked in publishing back when all the books being published weren’t “niche” books. When a relatively rough manuscript could get someone’s attention (back when people read manuscripts, not software), and it was the job of editors to help fix manuscripts and turn something rough into a gem. Long before “Kindle” and free publication, they had already thinned the ranks of editors to nearly nothing — and decided the author should do the work the publisher used to do.

In part, this accounts for the many atrocious books they actually DO publish and the good books they ignore. It isn’t only the author’s failure to recognize what the publisher wants. It’s that publishers no longer want to help authors get published.

What was art is now “just business.”

Does anyone think Hemingway, Faulkner, or Thomas Wolfe would have gotten published without their editor’s help? Maxwell Perkins — ever heard of him? Because he was “the man.” Without him, half of America’s great literature wouldn’t exist. Were they less brilliant because they weren’t good editors — or didn’t have the financial means to hire a quality editor? Nope. They were what they were but the industry is entirely different.

Publishers refuse to admit it is really a business issue. It’s not art. It’s business, politics, and aiming books at what they perceive are their target audiences, ignoring all other potential audiences. It was not always like this and I was working in the business when it was not like this.

Everyone is very busy blaming someone else for the state of the business. It’s the Internet, or Amazon or “nobody reads books anymore.” None of them ever looks in a mirror and says “Maybe our failure to help authors work out problems with their manuscripts, give them some decent publicity and help them make some real money is at least in part OUR responsibility too?” It’s true that fewer people seem to read now than did when I was growing up, yet most people do read at least sometimes.

The publishing world is undergoing a huge transformation and we are in the middle of it. How it will end? I don’t know. But just because publishers say what they say, you don’t need to believe every corporate word they utter.

You can write the most glorious, delicious book ever written for whatever genre for which you write and no publishing house will so much as read it, much less publish it. Why? Because it doesn’t fit into their (usually) very short list of “the types of books we publish.” That, to me, is the death knell for great American literature. It leaves no room for the unique or unusual.

This may not be true in other countries. I don’t know. I do know this market.

If only the “tried and true” can get published, the unique and possibly brilliant will never have a chance.

DESPERADOES: RIDING WITH THE DALTONS – Marilyn Armstrong

Desperadoes: A Novel, by Ron Hansen

This is not a new book. It was released again on Kindle in May 2013. Desperadoes has been available in soft or hardcover (currently, only soft) since 1997.

I love western movies and have since I was a kid. I’ve read a lot of “western” novels too over the years, enjoyed some, didn’t much like others. Overall, I prefer this genre as cinema rather than as a book.

Nonetheless, I was drawn to this book after I realized I know very little about the personal lives and motivations of these notorious bandit gangs of the turn of the century wild west.

Until this book, I hadn’t realized the James boys, the Youngers, Coles, and the Daltons were related. Cousins. This led me to interesting speculations about the relative importance of DNA versus environment in character formation. The familial relationships certainly present some intriguing possibilities. Perhaps the cousins were all copying each other’s “feats.” The story hints that there was at least some jealousy by the Daltons of cousin Jesse’s fame.

Desperadoes is well-written and feels authentic. It feels so realistic I found myself asking how much of the story was “made up” and how much was historical. The answer is a lot of it is fact, but a lot of it isn’t. Fiction and fact are beautifully woven throughout the story. It is difficult to tease them apart. Nonetheless, this is a novel, so if you want “real” history, this isn’t it. I’m often not sure if “real” history is more realistic than well-conceived semi-historical fiction.

Jesse James

On the other hand, if you are more interested in the psychological profile of these characters and the feeling of being transported to another time and place, this might be exactly the right book. Sometimes fiction contains more truth than “only the facts” can convey.

Whether you enjoy the book will depend on if you can find a way to emotionally connect with any of the characters. All of the Daltons and their close associates lack a moral compass as well as a fundamental understanding of right and wrong. Even granting that they came from backgrounds of extreme deprivation — and their role models were as depraved as they themselves became — it’s hard to understand the characters’ rapid, virtual overnight transformation from relatively decent people and officers of the law into rustlers, bank robbers, and sadistic thrill killers.

Despite occasional actions that could be interpreted as “gallant” or at least decent, their primary goal was attention. Fame. They wanted to be feared and recognized. Towards that end, they also stole money but money was never a primary motivator. To achieve this end, there were no lines they would not cross, no rules they would not break. At no point is there any feeling that it mattered a whit to any of them how many people’s lives they ruined or ended. They were sociopaths (maybe psychopaths — I’ve never been entirely clear on the difference), utterly lacking in empathy except for one another … and there were limits to that, too.

$15,000 was a LOT of money in the late 1800s!

The story is told in the first person by Emmett Dalton, the one brother who survived. He went out to Hollywood where they were happy (apparently) to pay him big bucks to “advise” and provide authenticity to the making of movies.

Of all the bandits — all his brothers and cousins — only he remained alive to “cash in” on the notoriety.

Ironically, they started as lawmen. While still functioning in that capacity, they began rustling horses. They didn’t think there was anything particularly wrong with it. It wasn’t that they didn’t know it was illegal, but the whole “right” and “wrong” thing seems to have been rather hazy to them. Moreover, working as a sheriff or deputy sheriff was so poorly paid they actually couldn’t live on the money. So they initially considered horse-stealing a way to supplement their incomes. They eventually were caught though only big brother Gratton (Grat) (probably mildly retarded) was arrested for rustling.

Grat spent a bit of time in jail, but was ultimately released. A trial would have embarrassed the judge who had employed the Daltons as lawmen. He didn’t want it known his employees were horse thieves. Except that everyone knew. It just wasn’t official — and never became official.

The Dalton boys’ decision to become an outlaw gang was exactly that: a choice. They were not forced into a life of crime. They genuinely enjoyed being outlaws and criminals. They liked beating people up, breaking their body parts and killing them, sometimes just because they felt like it. No sense of remorse is forthcoming through the voice of the narrator.

Emmett, as the first-person narrator, supposedly was privy to every moment of the life of his brothers. This is a bit hard to swallow unless the other gang members spent all of their free time telling Emmett everything they had done since they’d last talked. You have to suspend your credibility or there’s no way to get into the book.

Memento Mori of the Dalton Gang. Left to right...
Left to right: Bill Power; Bob Dalton; Grat Dalton, Dick Broadwell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of the Dalton lads (there were 15 brothers and sisters and you never learn what happened to most of the others) Bob is the true glory hound. Grat is a big dumb guy who seemed to not have any thoughts about much of anything. Emmett, two years younger than Bob, is his older brother’s passionate admirer.

His adulation of Bob Dalton was unlimited, though to Emmett’s credit (?), he did occasionally think up an interesting crime to commit, so he was not without a degree of personal creativity. Of the gang, he also appeared to be the only one with any capacity for love — in a severely circumscribed way.

Then there’s Bob’s psychopathic girlfriend, Eugenia Moore who was the real brains of the outfit, though perhaps brains is too strong a word.

As you can probably tell, I didn’t like the characters. There is a high probability that the author has captured the essence of these people accurately, but accuracy alone wasn’t enough to make me enjoy being in their company. Ultimately, if I can’t relate to at least one character in a book, it’s difficult for me to enjoy the story. I spent the first half of this book looking for a redeeming feature in someone. I spent the rest of the book wishing I’d never started reading it in the first place.

English: Grave of Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton and ...
Grave of Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton and Bill Power (Photo: Wikipedia)

This was Ron Hansen’s first novel. He has written a dozen or so since then and he is highly regarded. I have no argument with his skill as a writer and perhaps I would like his later novels and non-fiction better than Desperadoes.

I didn’t hate the book, but I didn’t enjoy it. Perhaps the nature of the material foreordained my response. Sadistic, vicious killers are not romantic. I don’t find a trip through their minds fun. Interesting is as good as I can give it.

They make my skin crawl. Other people obviously did like the book very much and it has received excellent reviews. If you can read it as a case study of a bunch of old-timey psychopaths — or are they sociopaths? I’m never sure of the difference) — you might like it better than I did. It is well-written though thoroughly unpleasant. I guess that’s what you get when you write about outlaw gangs, even when you write really well.

THERE’S A WORD FOR IT IN JAPANESE – Marilyn Armstrong

When talking about photography, English doesn’t always make the grade. As it turns out, Japanese does.

The Japanese have a word for everything, I think. I just learned “Komorebi. It means “sunlight filtering through the leaves of trees,” and by extension, the natural filtering of light through anything. Like blinds or curtains, for example.

75-051214-Komorebi-Sunlight_12
I’ve been chasing that light for more than 40 years. This is the word I’ve needed. I’ve been trying to capture that forever.

Komorebi.

Remember it. It’s a great word.

A golden tree and the rays of sunlight
Then there is bokeh, a word so popular it is now included in American books about photography. Bokeh defines something difficult to say in English.

“Bokeh means the aesthetic quality of the blur
(a soft and out of focus) part of an image produced by a lens.”

Like this.

Dry weeds by the river

Or this.

Kaity
I’m sure there’s more, but this is my vocabulary lesson for the day.