Tag Archives: books

Clearing the Cobwebs

I haven’t had much time to write recently, and it’s been gnawing at me. Since I had a day off from work and nothing really pressing this morning, I thought I would do one of these posts just to test the connection between my brain and “the page.” I noticed that other writers/bloggers have been suffering the same issues lately: lack of inspiration, lack of time, low self-esteem. There is a common thread for writers that struggle. All writers struggle.

Someone has written/said that we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves when we can’t write. I agree with that, but it is an integral part of me – that I write. I’ve worked to forgive myself when I can’t write – when there is nothing appealing or I just don’t have time. One thing that still gets me though, is when I work hard and decide to submit something for publication – and I get the “I’m sorry, this is not for me” rejection. I’ve submitted poems 3 times in the last 5 months and all 3 were rejected with that same line. It is disheartening to read that multiple times, especially when you feel strongly about your craft. I hesitate to submit for publication anyway – mainly due to imposter-syndrome reasons, and this just sort of confirms my feelings about it.

Yeah, I’m kind of miffed. But I’ve now complained in writing, so I’ll move on.

Projects I’m planning

I play percussion in a community band.  Our percussion section aspires to do ensembles and things independently of the band itself.  I found instructions on how to make boom-whackers (a set of plastic tubes cut to different lengths that result in different pitches).  You can use any pipe material, but the cheapest thing apparently is to use golf bag tube inserts.  I ordered 28 tubes and will begin cutting them down this weekend.  Should be fun, and I can’t wait to hear the result.  Here’s a link for a boomwhacker performance of Bohemian Rhapsody.

What I’m Reading

I just finished The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber.  It took me a while (~10 months), as the book moves between and first person and third person narration that it is a bit disconcerting, and was difficult to stay focused.  I understand the reasoning – as it conveys the sense of the major plot device – moving between the present and the past via drug-assisted time travel.  I lost interest about half-way through the book and set it down for the better part of last year.  I still found the premise compelling, and picked it back up to finish.  If you’ve seen the Bradley Cooper movie, Limitless – this has similar plot ideas- though it relates to art and counterfeiting.  The art history was interesting, but the counterfeiting sub plot was not as well-mapped.  It also ended a bit too quickly, once I had accepted the premise and worked my way through the different narration styles.

I’ve moved on other novels:  The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett (which I like and am making real headway through) and still working on The Alienist by Caleb Carr (which I thought I would like better than I have so far, but not willing to give up on it yet).  I recently bought Sarum: The Novel of England, by Edward Rutherfurd.  I’ve read other books by Rutherfurd and liked them.

What I’m writing

Nothing much these days.  I’m collecting snippets of phrases and words, and hopefully something will get written soon.  As it stands now, I guess I’m on hiatus.

Thanks for reading.

Books and Thoughts

If you’ve happened upon this post – Thanks for visiting. Normally, I post poetry because this is a convenient outlet for expression.

If you’ll indulge me, I don’t feel much like writing poetry today, so I think I’ll just write…

Books I’ve read/am reading

I just finished An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears. I bought this second-hand on my birthday over a year ago. It is an ambitious novel, and the premise is intriguing – to tell the story of a crime from multiple points of view. The story is filled with twists, perspectives, unreliable narrators, and Dickensian description and dialogue – this aspect which made it difficult for me to engage (which is why it took me so long to finish it). The ending was worth the effort. And in thinking back on how the story was told and the details that the author integrated into each account of the tale, the work was well done.

As I tend to read books in batches to find one that latches my interest, the next book I finish could be among these: A Doubter’s Almanac, by Ethan Canin, A Killing Term, by Robyn Sheffield, Bloodline, by James Rollins, or The Shack, by William Paul Young. My reading interests are diverse. 🙂

What to do about Confederate Statues

I find the debate of what to do about statues to confederate civil war icons (note I did not say heroes) and symbols both troubling and cathartic. I will state upfront that I am a southerner, born and raised, though I have live much of my adult life in the midwest. During my childhood, I was enamoured with the romantic view of the south (Antebellum plantations, the Lost Cause, Civil War history). As a young reader, one of my favorite books was the Robert E. Lee biography in the “Who was” juvenile biography series ( along with JFK and The Wright Brothers!). My continued experience and education has helped shape a more well-rounded view of these events. I still have an interest in Civil War history and writers of that period, but do not hold such a romantic view of the South’s intentions and reasons for seceding. Nevertheless, I consider it an important part of our country’s heritage and growth.

Statues are reminders of history and should be contextual in their placement. I think it is impossible to not have statues of some of these figures of history, even if they were on the wrong side of the Civil War. Exclude those explicitly guilty of war crimes (You don’t see statues of Nazi leaders-and rightfully so- for this reason). Statues of Robert E. Lee and others are appropriate in certain locations – war cemeteries, battlefields, museums – but less so in other places – every deep south courthouse or public park (what is the historical significance?). I don’t understand why there are statues to Lee in Montana or Ohio. There is common sense that could be applied by local governments. Confederate flags should not be on display at public buildings, but are appropriate symbology at confederate battlefields and cemeteries (It’s probably OK at NASCAR races, too, because I don’t want to antagonize THAT many people) 🙂

What is troubling is the amount of time being given to extreme viewpoints and attempts to legitimize them, when their only goal is to disrupt peaceful discussion and incite hate and violence. Further, they have taken the iconography of confederate civil war symbols and combined it with the message and symbology of nazism and white supremacy. This is not American, nor does it reflect the context of our history. They don’t get to abduct this part of our history and manipulate it for their ends. Our nation was founded on principles of compromise and civil discourse. There are differences of opinion, and there are cracks in the foundation because we are human. These groups don’t get to weasel in between the cracks and put up walls to divide us. As Americans, we should not stand for hate or divisiveness. We’ve already fought over that and learned good, albeit painful lessons.

American history is rife with right and wrong, and lessons to learn. And too often, I think we place our 21st century perspective on events of the past without first seeking to understand the past. What is most important is how well the history is recorded. I see history as way to learn (as a society) from mistakes as well as point to moments of success together. Is there equal balance in books and essays and can the information be taught to succeeding generations so they have a good perspective of the issues of the past, the philosophy of the era, and what was learned from it. We should never aspire to go back to the way things were, but we need to shoulder our history and learn from it ways to improve moving forward. As long as we have books, and we teach and discuss the historical subjects openly and without bias, our history won’t vanish (as some of our fear-mongering ‘leaders’ have implied). Statues without stories give us nothing to keep the historical perspective and invite bias. Bias invites extremism and silos of isolation (people who think like ‘we’ do), along with walls and media outlets that fuel and inflame. And if we continue to build walls around (literally and figuratively), all we will accomplish is division. Abraham Lincoln had something to say about divided houses.

We are all engaged in telling the story of America much in the way I tried to describe the book I just finished. There are events that are observed and experienced by different people who bring different perspectives. The different stories can be skewed by personal motives, some are unreliable and others rooted in fact. America is still a young country by global standards. Yet, we fight battles as old as civilization itself – and it is important to remember -prejudice and hate have no place in our discourse. Don’t be fooled by prejudice disguised as patriotism – Our history defines our path very clearly on this.

Diligence

Encompassed by her stare
as she reveals a confident esprit,
and wanders in my mind to be omniscient,
salient for me.

Deluged by her rhapsodic reign
and drenched in love time and again,
a dousing seems a welcomed bane
upon my weary soul and stain.

Subject to her word and tome
complete and perfect, craved and honed,
every act a sin – atoned
and riddled cunning, bone-to-bone.

in a room with over-sized books

In a room with over-sized books
and a dungy wing-back chair,
I am invited to sit
and look at maps of Belize
and Montenegro, tables espousing
cotton production
in the deep south, where is the world’s leading
smelter of tin,
or diagrams of different zoological
families.
Garden paths of azaleas
in a gulf between tall oaks,
Photographs of Lennon on holiday
and Lenin in state,
and the virtues of handmade linen,
all woven and attentive
to my browsing.
Bindings jut and overhang
from the shelves,
like spanish moss speaking,
knowing that I choose the ones
who pronounce themselves
and embrace my turn
of the page.

********
I was spending time in a library this week, when I happened on
the oversized book collection in a quiet room with
a single chair. So much about this collection and this
environment spoke to me.

Snippets, newly minted

The new year is rambling on…

Writing
I mentioned a while back that I had submitted a poem that was accepted for an online publication. It is posted here, in The Front Porch Review, or at the link Periodicity under Published Work, down at the lower right of the menu bar. I am fond of this poem, as it captures some actual experiences of my life, and rolls some of the meaning into life’s cyclic nature. There are some other excellent poems in that issue, I invite you to give it a read. As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts.

I’ve started off the new year writing (attempting to write) some flash fiction pieces. I may share something here soon, but I’m also contemplating moving/reorganizing my blog site to accommodate things differently.

Music
After bingeing on holiday/Christmas music since mid-November, I have been cleansing my musical palette with “oldies.” That’s such a relative term, isn’t it? One generation’s oldies are not the next. When I say oldies, I mean 50’s and 60’s jukebox tunes. Doo-wop and British invasion songs are peppy enough to gloss over the general ‘suckiness’ of January weather. I don’t mind the snow…but the bitter cold. What do you listen to on a winter day?

Some random statistics
Since my unemployment began, I’ve applied for approximately 125 positions, mostly through internet application processes. I’ve gone through 12 phone interview processes (with different companies) resulting in 1 onsite interview. That means almost a 10 % conversion from application to phone interview, and only about 8 % of those result in a site interview. This gives a whopping 0.8% likelihood of a job interview based on internet applications – I think. This is biased due to my specific area of expertise and experience level, but it demonstrates the level of difficulty in finding the right job. Sorry about the math…I have to keep my skills up.

Reading
I wish I could say that I did a lot of reading over the last part of 2014 and the Christmas holiday…but I didn’t. I’m still nursing Philip Kerr’s novel Dark Matter:The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton– A Holmes-esque mystery novel during the time when Newton was Warden of the Royal Mint. I’ve read some interesting journal articles about anthocyanins that I mentioned in a post a while ago in December. And, my MIL gave me three Jack Higgins novels to read…which I am excited about. I read The Eagle has Landed when I was in high school and really liked it. Also, I dusted off my copy of The Silmarillion (after seeing the third and final Hobbit film), and leisurely read a few sections to try and jump start my interest in the book…sigh…the names.

Thanks for visiting and reading.

More snippets from summer

What I’m doing.

“On the first day of my summer vacation…I woke up.”

If you recognize that line, you are probably a child of the 70’s or at least a fan of Cheech and Chong (Sister Mary Elephant).

It occurred to me that my life for the last month has followed this essay format very closely. Should someone ask me about my recent work hiatus, and how I’ve spent my time, I would describe it this way.

I wake up and drink some coffee. I eat breakfast and job hunt on internet boards, send correspondence, apply for some jobs, and read a little news. Then I get a shower, and work on *insert home improvement project.* Occasionally, I realize that I am missing a key item and have to run to the mega-home-warehouse-store to find it.

Is that the same as going “downtown to hang out in front of the drugstore?”

What I’m reading

I recently finished Bee Ridgway’s The River of No Return, which interested me because of the time travel premise. There are some good things there: the notion of people having time-jumping ability, the historical period possibilities, and some of the characters are very well written. The backdrop of the story becomes more of romance than a mystery, and it unveils many compelling plot points that are never resolved. I am sure Ms. Ridgway is writing/planning to write more in this series. However, I found myself wanting to know more about the titular river (which is a major plot device in the resolution of this book) – which ends as more of an explanation. I like the universe that these characters inhabit and I love the background mysteries…I just want them to be more than conversational points in a love story. I’ll be on the look out for her second book in this series…and maybe my questions will be answered.

I just started Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton, by Phillip Kerr. Assuming I don’t get distracted by another book, I should finish it soon. This one is showing itself to be a good thriller.

What I’m cooking

Because I have more free time…I’ve been cooking for me and the missus. I’ve discovered that you can do many things with crescent roll dough – besides make crescent rolls. There are many layered “casserole” dishes you can make with an 8 x 8 baking dish and two packages of crescent rolls. My favorite has been layered smoked turkey with bacon and swiss cheese. Put down a layer of the dough and press together to make a crust. Add a layer of turkey (deli sliced), then bacon (cooked), then swiss cheese on top. You can also add a layer of sliced tomatoes in here if you so desire. Add a layer of the crescent dough on top. Scramble two eggs and pour half over the layered concoction. Repeat the turkey, bacon, and swiss cheese layers and top with the last of crescent dough. Pour the last of the egg over the casserole. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cover the dish with foil (loosely), and cook for 20 minutes at 350 deg. in the oven. After 20 minutes, remove the foil and cook for another 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it sit for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Delicious.

And really good the next day for breakfast.

More Snippets

I was reminded this week that I could update snippets, those that I briefly discussed here back on February 14th. I did that because I felt like it, not that it was a regular featured aspect of this blog (most of which is just rambly poetry things).

What I am reading. I finally did finish reading The Monuments Men back in May. Interestingly, I read most of it while on a trip to Germany, when suddenly all the place names made much more sense. On the trip, my son, father, and I visited Neuschwanstein Castle, where one of the pivotal finds in the book takes place.

20140518_091951

I cheated a bit as well, since one of the in-flight movies was The Monuments Men. The book, as mentioned before, reads as a very dry account of events.The movie was a little better than I expected, given some of the luke-warm reviews that it received. I felt that it did a reasonable job of dramatizing, by combining some characters, making you a little more invested in their work and relationships. What you do come away with is a sense of dedication of these men, who weren’t soldiers and didn’t really fit in, but were very passionate about the art they were trying to save. And much respect goes to Rose Valland, who single-handedly collected information about looted art shipments while working at the Jeu de Paume Museum in occupied France.

So with that book finished, I have moved on to The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway. Billed as a time travel novel, it is something of an anomaly…at least to me…think of The Matrix, The Time Machine, Wuthering Heights, all rolled up into a historical fiction plot amid the political times surrounding the Corn Laws and Reform Acts in Great Britain, and about an unknown society of people who have the gift of controlling time.

What I am listening to: I am a man of eclectic tastes. Earlier this year I discovered The Decemberists and The Henry Girls. Very good working music…I’ve also become enamored with the soundtrack to Les Miserables, even the movie version in which everyone involved (even Russell Crowe) gives a very good accounting of themselves. And for another version, check out this video of the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps performing an encore of their 2013 version of Les Miserables. Very, very, nice.

What I am writing In February, I mentioned that I entered an essay contest. This was sponsored by The Center for Homeland Security and Defense. My essay was not selected among the finalists. You can read the finalists’ essays here. All are quite good and well-deserving of recognition. If you’re curious/a glutton for dry reading/ really, really wish to read my essay, drop me an email and I’ll send you a copy. I thought about posting it here…but it doesn’t really fit the intention of this blog.

In other writing, I am looking for other poetry contests, journals, online literature blogs, and am still considering how to construct a chap-book. I haven’t had any great concept ideas yet, but I’m still interested in doing this. I know I need a reader/editor to help me with this, and I guess I haven’t found anyone suitable yet.

Any volunteers can email me. 🙂