THE END OF THE REPUBLIC

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.

In America, we complain of corruption. Lying politicians. Fearing the end of our Democracy. We wonder about conspiracies. We brood darkly on the failure of the government to address issues of inequality.

We deplore the bribery of officials. The world, we say, is going to Hell or, depending on our point of view, has already gone to Hell.

Except that the government went to Hell a long time ago and you could easily argue that government — all government — was always hellish. Compared to Rome, our government is a clean machine, as clean as a fresh snowfall. It’s a matter of perspective.

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

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.

Imperium, by Robert Harris, is about a guy named Cicero. You’ve undoubtedly heard of him. Famed as a lawyer, more famous as an orator, Cicero rose to 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 would ever know.

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 displaying a dogged determination and persistence in the face of impossible odds, Cicero beats Verres in court. He then goes on to triumph over many powerful opponents, making friends — but more enemies — along the way.

Cicero seeks ultimate power — imperium. His allegiance is to the Republic. Cicero’s secretary and slave, Tiro, is the inventor of shorthand and has become 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.

imperium audibleRobert 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 ours.

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, paperback, and Audible.com.

ADMIRATION IN THE AGE OF LIARS AND CORRUPTION

Fandango’s Dog Days of August #8

I’m afraid to admire anyone these days. Just when I think I’ve found someone really admirable, I discover that they’ve been abusing women, molesting children, or have a secret fascination with pederasty. So I think I’m going to go with my favorite admirable people. Authors.

I love authors. I love writers. The moment I know someone is a writer, I like them better. If it turns out they are great writers? I fall immediately in love. Man, woman, or anything in between, it’s love. I love people who are witty. I love people who can create a world from words. Who can explain the past by drawing a picture in the present that makes the past as real as now. I adore people who make me believe in magic and who make a locked room mystery unfold.

The other day Garry and I were watching Seth Meyers and it was mentioned that he had been the lead writer for “Saturday Night Live.”

“I didn’t know he was a writer,” I told Garry. “I think I like him a lot better now than I did before.” Garry nodded. “I always like writers better than other people. Is that a prejudice?” Garry just laughed, probably because he loves writers too. Maybe that’s why he loves me. I don’t think it’s for my incredible good looks so there’s got to be a reason. Maybe it’s the writing. Come to think of it, our first meaningful relationship — other than sex — were the letters we wrote back and forth to each other for the nearly nine years I lived in Jerusalem. They were very intense. Garry wrote to me every day and I returned each of his letters with one of my own. As my life in Jerusalem began to deteriorate, I lived for those letters. Garry told me I was special. Admirable. Intelligent.

I told him he was brilliant and had the ability to find the truth — the real truth — in any story. And he does. When he interviews you, you know you’ve been interviewed.

Which writers do I admire most? I have favorite writers, but really, I admire people who write. I admire people who use words beautifully, with wit and probity. On another level, I admire all artists. I admire creativity, I admire people who have strange and wonderful ideas, hopes, and dreams. In essence, I admire all of you, my friends and followers who I follow too. You are all incredibly special. I don’t know if I could have survived these last four months without you. Even if I can’t read everyone every day — there are too many blogs and I’m also writing and photographing and the hours disappear too fast. I usually get around to FINALLY reading after midnight, when Garry is already in bed watching old movies gloriously without me. It’s what keeps me up until 3 in the morning … and also why I wind up getting up so late. I tried going to bed late AND getting up early, but it turns out I’m too old for that.

PEACE TALKS – HARRY DRESDEN IS FINALLY BACK! – by JIM BUTCHER

I looked it up. I have waited six years for book sixteen in the Harry Dresden world to be published. I have waited patiently, then less patiently. A few months ago, there was a book by Jim Butcher called (tada!) Spiderman: The Darkest Hours. It wasn’t Harry Dresden, but it was good and it was Jim Butcher. It kept me from madness. This is truly a year in which if books disappeared, my brain would slither out through my ears and I would be officially brainless (as opposed to intermittently brainless).

Peace Talks is as good as I had hoped it would be and it is eerily timely, given COVID-19 and our so-called president sending his own secret service into the streets to beat down protesters. Peace Talks are the least peaceful talks ever attempted. The next book, to be released at the end of September, will really be part two of this duology. I don’t know if it will also be the end of the series. I hope not, but I have a feeling it might be. Because I’m not sure what more Harry Dresden could become beyond what he has already become. He was always powerful, clever, and funny. But now, multiply the earlier Harry by the power of 10 and he’s one seriously magical dude.

I waited for the previous five years for this new episode. This year — year six — I was getting desperate. I couldn’t bear the idea of reading one more political insider story extruded from our dark and creepy White House. I’m pretty sure it has become the opposite of Demonreach — a place where the worst of the worst can safely hide.

I needed magic. I needed Harry. I needed Jim Butcher. Considering you-know-who is threatening Chicago with his secret police, Harry, it’s time to come out of hiding. Chicago won’t survive without your help. Hell, Harry, the WORLD is waiting. In the meantime, I need you.

Peace Talks is satisfying on so many levels. Earlier books ended with more resolution than these past few. Now, each book is an episode in a continuing storyline heading toward a Dresdenesque apocalypse. Jim Butcher extracts Harry from impossible predicaments in which he faces overwhelming odds, then adroitly weaves these events into the storyline, taking Harry and the series into the next book. He wastes nothing. No phenomenon is accidental. Everything is part of a giant jigsaw puzzle, a piece of a picture to be finally revealed.

I love the Dresden universe. My world has more than enough evil to keep an army of wizards busy, but the evil in my reality plane makes fighting them similar to trying to punch a hole in jello. You can’t beat them; they have no substance.

There is one more book to come, though I can’t help hoping for more. Regardless, it is going to be gigantic.


The  Dresden Files


Book 1: Storm Front

Book 2: Fool Moon

Book 3: Grave Peril

Book 4: Summer Knight

Book 5: Death Masks

Book 6: Blood Rites

Book 7: Dead Beat

Book 8: Proven Guilty

Book 9: White Night

Book 10: Small Favor

Book 11: Turn Coat

Book 12: Changes

Book 13: Ghost Story

Book 13.5: Side Jobs: Stories From The Dresden Files

Book 14: Cold Days

Book 15: Skin Game

Book 16: Peace Talks (now available!)

Book 17: Battleground (September 29, 2020)

WHO ARE YOU NOW? DIDN’T YOU USED TO BE SOMEONE?

Fandango’s Provocative Question #80


From Fandango, a deep, philosophical question. We need some of those because everything else is about disease or the news.

“I saw this question on a site that offers up a bunch of “deep, philosophical” questions and this one intrigued me. It’s about evolution, but not in the context of Darwin’s evolution of the species. It’s more about evolution of the individual and about who you are and how you change over time.

Here’s this week’s question, which is essentially about you. I hope you’ll have fun with it.”

That’s a pretty good question, actually. I am not at the “forgetting” stage of life. It doesn’t mean I don’t remember events, especially those which were significant, but I’m losing a lot of the details. Many formative life events go back more than 60 years. A lot of life has been lived since then.

If you think of your brain like a computer’s RAM, there comes that moment when you either have to offload material onto an external drive, or get a bigger, badder computer. The opportunity to get a bigger brain has not presented itself. Yet. You never know. Massive brain extensions might just come along any day now. If so, sign me up.

Otherwise, the me that I am is an amalgam of everything I was, wherever I’ve been plus all the people I’ve known, loved, hated, lost, or somehow just faded out of my life.

I often think my life is like a long flight of stairs. I remember a few things from when i was very young … before I could even speak. The next time I have a clear memory is moving to our house in Queens and meeting the girls who would be my friends for the next 16 years. The woods. Building “forts” and drinking lemonade while playing killer Monopoly on Mary’s front porch. The accumulated sunburns of childhood and wondering how I managed to avoid skin cancer, all things considered.

Piano lessons. Starting to play when I was just four years old and my legs weren’t long enough to reach the pedals. They had to put blocks on the pedals for me. I was really tiny. I complained a lot about having to practice, so one day my mother stopped giving me lessons until I begged her to bring them back. I never complained again. Music got “stuck” in my soul and never left. I would have been a musician except, it turns out, that loving music doesn’t necessarily give you the talent to perform it. I still love it and I play a little bit. I’ll be playing more as soon as I get my new strings.

Piano lessons?

I remember seeing Dumbo maybe half a dozen times one year because that was when my sister was born and the aunts who were taking care of me kept taking me to the movies. The same movie, as it turned out. My one and only trip to Rockefeller Center was to see Dumbo. Again. I was a permanent animation addict and still am. In between wanting to be a ballerina — my mother took me to see the NY City Ballet and I fell in love with the dancers — I also decided I could be a cartoonist. I actually had a little talent for cartooning, but by then, a love of words had intruded into my brain and wormed it’s way right into my soul.

No matter what I studied in college, I knew I was going to be a writer. I remember the first stories I wrote, my brief foray into poetry, getting my first professional writing job, then getting the next one … and many of the ones that followed. I never stopped writing. I also never stopped taking pictures or playing piano … until the arthritis in my hand made it impossible.

Here I am. Seventy-three. I can’t play piano anymore, but I can strum on a ukulele and am working on two different pennywhistles and a three-string cigar box guitar. It’s part of my life and there are people who still think of me as a musician because I got to know them while I was studying music in college. I don’t worry about the “long-term” future. I don’t know how long I’ll live, but I’ve survived so much, I figure I deserve some moderately healthy, if old, time to be me — whatever that is.

I remember Israel very well. Not so much the people as the place. The Old City. The open spice markets. Climbing to the top of the Old City wall, imagining the Romans attacking the city and “holding the fort.”. Lachish where the Egyption had an outpost down near Rehovot. A lot of work-related activity because it was in Israel where I learned to deal with software and write about it. The little English-language newspaper I ran — the most fun I have had on any job.

Leaving Israel and coming home — and realizing I felt like a foreigner. I feel like a foreigner now, too. Times have changed so much and so fast.

My home in Baka, Jerusalem. I lived on the second floor.

I still write. Probably more than ever, but this time, I write what I want, not what I’m paid to say. I still take pictures, even though the technology has changed enormously. I don’t know if I’m a better photographer than I was. I think a lot of the work I did very early on may have been more artistic and because I worked in a dark room, more “mine” that the work I do now. So f I’m maybe better or maybe worse than I was more than 40 years ago, but I’m less into portraits and much more into birds and critters and wild spaces  I became a climate believer in Israel, spending almost 6 years working for the Environmental Health Laboratory at the University of Jerusalem. That has carried me through the years. I’ve been beating people up over clean water for decades — for all the good it has done. In the 1980s it seemed urgent. In 2020, it’s a dire necessity that we change our ways of doing just about everything if we want to continue to live on this planet.

I can’t remember all the cats and dogs I’ve had in my life. I remember the first ones and those from the past 35 years. In between, I mostly remember work. It used to amuse me that all my girlfriends got pretty clothing and make-up and perfume for their birthdays and Christmas. I got briefcases and computer accessories … and when I was lucky, cameras and lenses.

I still read history and science fiction and fantasy with occasional forays into criminals and cops and courtrooms. I actually love courtroom dramas and sometimes I’m sure I could do a better job than the fictional ones. There were a couple of years when I couldn’t go a single day without watching “Law and Order,” but I’m in recovery. I’ve given up collecting dolls and ancient Chinese pottery, but there’s still an awful lot of collectibles in this house.

So. After all the sturm und drang of my early years, I’m comfortably married to Garry. Thirty-years this September. This one is until death do us part.

READ OR WRITE? HOW ABOUT RIGHTING?

I never “decided” to write.

When asked “what are you,” I never say I’m a wife, mother, grandmother — or even a woman. I automatically say “I’m a writer.” Being a writer is embedded in my concept of “self-hood,” if I am not that, then I’m not sure what I am. Writing was my profession, but I was a writer before I earned a salary doing it. I will always be a writer, and it has nothing to do with whether or not I sell my words … or even whether or not anyone else reads them. Whether or not I am still a professional writer is a different question.

Unlike other professions — probably this is true for everyone who makes a living in the creative arts — what you do is so much more than a paycheck. It’s the way you synthesize your experiences. It’s a compound of emotion, intellect, visual and physical stimuli, It is part of you as long as you breathe, long after paychecks stop coming and often, even if the paychecks never arrive in the first place. Writing is so deeply embedded in who I am that I can’t imagine not writing.

If it turns out there is an afterlife, I’m sure I will be writing about it.


A friend asked me why I do this, why I blog. So I asked her why she plays golf.


Writing is me. It’s the sport I play, the goal I for which I work. We do what we do because we love it, need to do it, or both. Writing is like breathing. I can strangle on words I’ve failed to use. My friend needs to compete, to be active and she needs to win.

I can’t begin to count the number of people who have told me they want to be writers, but don’t know how. They want me to tell them how. That they asked the question tells me they are not writers. If you are a writer, you write. You will write and will keep writing because it’s what you are. It is as much a part of you as your nose or stomach.

Reading is fun and I think it’s part of writing. It’s educational, and inspirational. It lets you connect with other people and places who never existed, possibly never could never exist. But that’s what writing is about, isn’t it? I know there are other ways to connect. You can Zoom, Facetime, and Skype. You can connect via email, telephones, even actual written letters though that has become a rarity, even for those of us who otherwise can’t stop writing. As long as there are computers, printers, and books, life goes on.

Writing can’t be replaced. Accept no substitute.

LIVING IN REAL-TIME

When I was little, I had imaginary playmates. I talked to them. They followed me around. I was never bored because I had friends who really understood me. After I started school, my shadow friends left, never to return. Instead, I got a narrator who has been my lifetime companion. Whatever has gone wrong in my life, I suggest you blame in on the narrator. It’s all his or her (or both) fault.

“Narrator?” you ask. Before you decide I’m schizophrenic, a lot of writers have one or more narrators. I understand the narrator is my voice. He has just one story to tell. Mine. My job is to live. His is to tell the tale. His is the eye that sees all but isn’t involved. He witnesses — but causes nothing, changes nothing, makes no suggestions except to correct grammar. I wish he were a better proofreader.


My narrator does not instruct, chastise or judge. He records, remembers and fills in the back story. I’m in charge except I can’t get him to shut up. He gives me a third person perspective on my life. I’m so used to hearing the running commentary, I don’t know how else I could see the world. I’ve grown fond of the old guy.

There are narrators and then, there are narrators. You can get into serious trouble if you forget the narrator is you, not an “other” entity. Should you find yourself listening to a narrator who is telling you to blow things up or kill anyone, you might want to drop by someone’s office for a little chat. Just saying. Of course if you know it’s God talking to you, who am I to interfere?

Through the years, the narrator has filled the holes in my life story, adding “He said, she said,” describing action and scenery, “novelizing” reality. I wish he could type. It would save me so much work. A couple of years ago, the narrator left for a while. It was a particularly turbulent period, so maybe the noise in my head was too loud and I couldn’t hear him. Eventually, he came back. There a correlation between when I’m writing and the narrator. If he’s gone, so is my creativity.

The narrator is distracting and I have had to learn to not let him derail me. He does not respect the moment. A running commentary in one’s head during sex makes it difficult to focus. Men take this personally and trying to explain always makes it worse. They then think you are not merely disinterested, but also nuts.

A narrator can take the fun out of parties. You have to make an effort to participate, not just observe. With the narrator describing the surroundings and each person, occasionally arguing with other narrators (sometimes I have more than one), it’s tricky to connect with people. When narrators argue, I have to step in, settle the dispute, tell all but one to shut up. Problem is, there’s more than one way to see stuff and when a lot of points of view clamor for attention, it gets noisy in the brain-space. It can keep you up at night. It can keep your partner awake too

I’ve learned a lot from my narrator. I’ve learned to see life as an endless story with chapters, back stories, weird incidental characters, tragedy, romance, hope and despair. My job is to live it and not forget to write it down. And fix the typos.

A MOUNTAINSIDE SUMMER BY EMILY DICKINSON

New England has a pretty big collection of native poets, of which Emily Dickenson was one. This poem so reminded me of this valley, with its hill and valleys and the mist over of the river. A good poem for summertime.

TheMtnsStoodInHaze-NK-21-96

 

IF YOU DON’T READ, YOU PROBABLY CAN’T WRITE – Marilyn Armstrong

Blogging Insights # 34 – Reading


QUESTION

Do you think that reading is an important prerequisite for writing well? If so, what kind of reading material inspires or affects your writing?

I never took a writing course. .I never wanted to take a writing course. i was afraid it would damage my ability to write.

I learned to write by reading. By liking this, not liking that. By enjoying this book, not liking another. And, what is more, I had a certain facility with words that started when I was very young. It wasn’t something I learned. It was something I was.

That’s the thing about talent and gifts. They aren’t learned. Courses can help you write better. Improve your grammar, if you feel that better grammar is what your writing needs. It can certainly improve your punctuation, especially if you believe that your previous understanding or lack thereof of punctuation is the problem with  your writing.

I absolutely guarantee that neither of these things is your writing problem. You may not have yet found your “voice.” You might well not know what it is you want to write about. You may not have found the type of writing that suits you. I was sure I was going to be a great novelist. Nope.

I hit my stride in non-fiction. I could write news, features, information, directions, instructions. I am brilliant at explaining complicated things to people who need to understand complex information, but don’t have a technical background. But novels? No amount of grammar or punctuation would help me. I don’t have the ability to create people who live, who jump from the page and become real to a reader.

But that’s okay. Other people do it very well and I love to read.

The capacity to use words was a gift, a talent. In the course of reading everything — I really did read everything I could get my hands on — and trying different kinds of writing, I learned what I was good at. No one was more surprised than I was that technical writing became my forte since I had always considered myself non-technical. But that was before I met computers where I found my spot in the technical universe.

So where does reading come into it? Books are chock full of ideas. You might be amazed at how many great ideas come out of books that have nothing to do with the subject for which the idea is used. Ideas are sneaky little devils and reading fills you up with them.

If everybody read books, we wouldn’t be in half the messes we are in. Reading makes you smarter. Reading helps you find truth. Really. It does.

NAMES CAN NEVER HURT YOU – GARRY ARMSTRONG

A while back, Marilyn wrote a piece using the word chutzpah. This is a word I’ve always badly mangled when I try to say it. It’s just a word, what the heck? That was my take for many years until Robin Williams and Billy Crystal gave me a proper public whupping for butchering the pronunciation of chutzpah.  I don’t try to say it in public anymore. It’s a word. I respect it because it carries its own meanings and images.

These days, people often use words or phrases without understanding their origin or meaning. I hear political aspirants, celebrities, athletes and civic leaders say things that make me scratch my head and run back to my dictionary.  Words!  They can be powerful tools used correctly. They can be dangerous used in ignorance.

I grew up in a home full of books. Including dictionaries. Big ones and pocket dictionaries. My parents insisted on using proper language and crisp diction. Street slang guaranteed a head slap or a smack. My two brothers and I were warned about using prejudicial clichés. Since my head has never been properly wrapped, I’ve been guilty of violating those warnings because of my warped sense of humor.

Marilyn warns people that I have toys in the attic.True. And some of the toys are very old.

A friend and I were trading insults the other day. I snapped at him with, “That’s white of you”.  His smile said everything. Words!  You gotta know who, when, and where to use them.

Way back in olden times, I was 19-years-old and worked in a department Store in Hempstead, New York. I was the only non-Jew working in the children’s shoe department. I was waiting on a customer who drove me bonkers. I couldn’t take it anymore and told the parent he was a schmuck.

The manager quietly called me into the stockroom, explained what schmuck meant and asked me never to use it again — even if the customers were jerks. I think he was smiling although reprimanding me. It was a word I’d often heard used in friendly banter, but I didn’t know its origin or meaning. It was just a word. What was the big deal?  I was 19 and knew everything!  I used big words, “20-dollar” words to impress people. People often complimented me, saying I spoke very well. I didn’t understand the veiled insult behind many of those compliments.

After all, they were just words.

John Wayne, of all people, once commented on words and ethics.  It was movie dialogue but still reverberates a half century later. In the 1961 film, “The Comancheros,”  Texas Ranger “Big Jake” Cutter (John Wayne) is lecturing his younger sidekick, Monsieur Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman). Regret asks Big Jake to spin a lie to his superiors to alleviate a problem. Big Jake refuses. Regret doesn’t understand, saying they are just “words.”

Big Jake, with that iconic Wayne frown, says softly, “Just words??  Words, MON-soor, are what men live by. You musta had a poor upbringing.”  Regret looks puzzled, not fully grasping the ethical code of this rough and ready Texas Ranger.  It’s a sublime moment and perfect for the young 1960’s when youth was defying the older generation’s moral code.

I recalled the scene years later in an interview with John Wayne. He smiled, shaking his head because he was in the middle of on-going national dissent against the Vietnam War.  Wayne was one of the most visible and vocal “hawks” in the Vietnam controversy. He had been ridiculed by strident protesters at a Harvard University gathering earlier that day.

“Words, dammit,”  Wayne looked at me, angry and sad. “My words! No damn Hollywood script. I have as much right as those damn college kids.”  Wayne was fuming. The Hollywood legend collected himself as I redirected the conversation to my time as a Marine. I had enlisted in 1959, fired up by the “Sands of Iwo Jima.

“Words. Good words,” I said to Wayne who smiled broadly.

Today, words are often tossed around loosely on social media with little regard to truth or the repercussions of ill-advised words. We have a president who uses words without thought in a daily barrage of tweets. Our media is engaged in a daily war of words, ignoring crucial issues facing our nation and world. Those of us of a certain age shake our heads as we watch young people immersed in tweets rather than direct conversation with friends in the same room. Words have become an endangered species.

I remember the good old days when me and friends went face to face with verbal jousts like “Your Mother wears combat boots!”

Words!  I love’em.

THREE IN THE MORNING AND THE PAGE NUMBERS WON’T WORK – MARILYN ARMSTRONG

I was up until very late last night because Garry got a new computer. Setting it up was easy because these days, everything is automated. And he didn’t have a lot of documents or photographs to move. They are all on my computer.

He has decided he’s going to try writing a book … and his Google book or iPad weren’t going to do the job. I did all the basic setup and downloaded Apache Open Office, which is free (but they will gladly take donations). It has everything (and more) than MS Office. It works on any computer. It really is free.

I have been using it on all my personal computers for the past 15-years. To be fair, I haven’t done any serious work on it. I wrote my book using Framemaker, which was Adobe’s anti-intuitive documentation software which I just happened to own at the time. But when I finished my book, I never renewed it. I’m not sure Adobe makes it anymore.

It was the software for non-fiction authors. If you were working on a doctorate or any material that needs glossaries, appendices, indexes, et al, Framemaker was the software. Expensive, but everything Adobe makes is pricey. I got Framemaker and Photoshop as goodbye gifts from my last job. It was great for designing my book, but for normal every day writing it was overkill.

Meanwhile, they kept charging more and more for MSOffice and it wasn’t worth it. It was so over-automated that it did what it wanted, but almost never what YOU wanted. OpenOffice is much less automated — and free.

But, as I said, I never used it for serious writing. While I haven’t been using it, the application has changed — for the better. If Garry is going to use it, I will have to teach him to use it. How can I teach him to use it if I don’t know how it works? So, after Garry went off to watch old Western movies in the bedroom, I created a small file. No problem with setting up fonts and formats.

Then I figured Garry was going to need page numbers. So hey, I’m a class act with software, right? I set up a footer then went to look for the page numbers. Two hours later, I still couldn’t figure out how to put in a simple page number in the middle of the footer. It would set it up left-right for a book, but I just wanted a simple number, middle of the page in the footer.

As the night began to turn into morning I found something that looked like it might work, but I think you can only see the numbers if you print the document. I was ready for bed, not printing. Oddly enough, I didn’t print it today either. Maybe tomorrow. Or Sunday.

I think I need to go back to Apache and watch some of their videos and read some of the documentation. During 20 years of retirement, I might have lost my touch! It was a humbling experience.

GIVING UP, NOT IN – Marilyn Armstrong

I almost quit any number of times. I didn’t smoke a lot. Less than a pack a day and eventually I got it down to five or six a day and sometimes less. The problem with cigarettes is that one day, for no special reason, you realize you smoked an entire pack. You just sort of forgot you had quit.

In my long and checkered professional career, I had many bosses. One of them had, in a former life, been addicted to heroin. It wasn’t a secret. We all knew because he told us. I had the feeling he was proud of having kicked drugs and was now the owner of a software development company. I asked him how he did it, how he got free of his addiction.

“You know,” he said, “It really wasn’t as hard as you might think. Mostly, I had to get away from the people, from other junkies, and the world of drugs. After I stopped hanging out with those people, getting off drugs was relatively easy. It’s the culture that pulls you in even more than the drugs.”

“I wish,” he continued, a touch of wistfulness in his voice, “It was as easy to kick cigarettes. When you hang out with junkies, you know it’s illegal. You sneak around. You are careful. But cigarettes? No problem. They’re legal. Grab a buddy and go for a smoke. It’s a social thing.

“You don’t hear heroin addicts saying to each other ‘Hey, anyone want to go out back and shoot up?’ but you can stop by another smoker’s desk and say … ‘Hey, want to go have a butt?’

“I’ve had a much harder time quitting smoking than I had quitting heroin. Much harder,” he said and reached for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket. He did soon thereafter, quit. He decided having kicked narcotics, he could kick cigarettes too. So he did.

I was a smoker myself, then. I had been trying to quit for years. I’d quit, then I’d be somewhere where other smokers worked. I’d get sucked into it. It wasn’t the physical addiction that lured me. I understood how bad it was for my health, disastrous to my budget and getting more costly each day. It made my clothing and hair smell like a dirty ashtray. It was the social connection that got me. Hanging out with other smokers. The rhythm of smoking. I’d write, then take a break, grab a smoke. It was part of my process.

I was never as heavy a smoker other people I knew. I lit many more cigarettes than I smoked. But I enjoyed smoking. I liked the smell of fresh tobacco. I liked standing outside on a crisp night, watching my smoke curl up and away into the sky.

I did a lot of my thinking on cigarette breaks. When I was writing, if I was stuck, I’d have a smoke. By the time I was halfway through it, I’d know what I was going to do and how I would do it.

Smoking-Burning-CigaretteIt took me years of quitting, backsliding, and quitting again before it finally “stuck.” Years before the smell of tobacco brought back memories without triggering a desire to smoke.

I am sure today, after more than ten years if I were to smoke one cigarette, I’d be a smoker. Again. It’s not unlike being an alcoholic. One drink and you’re a drunk again.

It’s not because I’m physically addicted. After all these years of not smoking, I’m obviously not addicted to nicotine, if I ever was. Yet on some level, I will always be addicted to cigarettes.

It would probably be easier to quit now since most offices are smoke-free. That being said, it’s not that I don’t want a cigarette. I just don’t smoke.

THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT: A LOVE STORY – EDWARD LEAR

The Owl and the Pussycat

by Edward Lear

I

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’

II

Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?’
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there, in a wood, a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

III

‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.