Archive for the ‘blogging’ Category

This is not a country-and-western song (yet)

January 15, 2010

OK, that header is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the last time I posted something that ranged as far as I think this post will I got a rather snarky note from someone suggesting that I had put far too may topics in one blog post. I suppose he was trying to educate me on blog etiquette, but hey, that’s the way my days go. If yours don’t, I’m a bit sorry.

If I were going to do a post about cancer or some very serious topic, I probably would restrict it, narrow it a bit. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to do that, but I’m getting readier. But when I’m writing about life in the country, I think it should include all the wildness that goes with life in the country. If I throw in a little technology or other stuff, well, for me, that’s life in the country, too.

But I just wrote him back and said I’d add trains and pickup trucks and maybe I’d have a country song. If you’re not a David Allan Coe fan (or a Steve “?” who actually wrote the song), you probably won’t get that.

However, there are no trains and pickup trucks in this post. And no Mama, either. She died more than a decade ago, which is a little startling to recognize, frankly.

I went to town today. I really hate doing that, but I had reasons I had to go, and I knew if I put it off any longer, I’d forget them.

I stopped on the way in at the feed-and-seed in Toledo to get Ben two new work shirts. He hinted strongly a couple of weeks ago that he needed them and suggested I check out the Carhardt’s at this store. Well, Carhardt doesn’t seem to manufacture any “work shirts” with a zipper closure, as I found out with the assistance of a nice young clerk who offered to order for me anything I couldn’t find on their shelves. So I got him two hickory shirts (that funny blue and white striped cotton cloth that only serious workers wear). He was very happy, even though the same nice young clerk told me he couldn’t pre-wash them for me to get the itchy sizing out. “It never hurts to ask,” he said.

From there I went on to Newport to the public library to try to get some books I need. I ordered two.

Then I went down the street to the Visual Arts Center. They’re setting up a display of Lincoln County authors to run for about 6 weeks starting in February, and they actually asked for some of my books to a) display, and b) sell. Of course I accommodated them. I’m not sure what books have to do with visual arts, but anyone who wants to sell my books will get my cooperation.

From there I meandered through town to Freddy’s. I got a few groceries (and a couple of puzzle books-I’m out of Crostics). I didn’t get all I should have because I frankly blew off the need to make a list. I did get the critical stuff–two pounds of butter (I was down to only three pounds in the fridge and getting nervous), some ground beef (currently in a pot of chili waiting for us to be hungry), some yeast (I used the last of my non-fast-acting yesterday), some Pepsi (Ben was down to only a can or two), a new block of Bandon cheese, some of Kroger’s outrageously good bacon, some Jimmy Dean sausage for Sunday’s guest breakfast of biscuits with sausage gravy, an “Oregonian” newspaper. . .this list is depressing me a bit as I write it, but you should know I have copious quantities of salad stuff, vegetables, several kins of fresh fruit, and homemade bread already at home.

Then I went across the highway to the liquor store, but I got sidetracked by the fact that there was a Radio Shack next door. So I went there first, bought some batteries to try (saving me a trip to Home Depot in Corvallis which is an hour plus the other direction). Then feeling adventuresome, I bought a Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse to go with my new computer. I’m determined to get rid of all these fricking cords. If anyone out there knows a reason I shouldn’t use this keyboard or mouse (or Maxwell batteries for that matter), please write ASAP. I haven’t hooked it up yet.

Now off to the liquor store for scotch, brandy, and various tobacco products. While there I learned the names of the various clerks that frequently wait on me. I asked because sometime this week it occurred to me that I didn’t know them after years of interaction. I thought that was a bit sad, so I set out to remedy it. In return, Joe, for the first time, called me by what he thinks (based on my debit card) is my first name. I liked that.

Then I pulled into Burger King for a Whopper Junior with extra pickles. This is not food exactly, but it’s closer to it than the 1000-calorie options they prefer to sell, it only cost $1.00, and it kept me from passing out before I got home.

Then to the bank to deposit three small checks, one book-related, one utility refund, one brandy rebate–total under $50.00, but I’d been carrying them around for some time because it’s a lot of trouble to go to the bank. They don’t give me enough deposit slips with my checks, so at a certain point, I have to park, go in, fill out a counter slip, and so on. I am offended by the counter slip that says something like “To serve you better in the future, please use your preprinted deposit slips that come with your checks.” That’s like salt in a wound. I would if I could.

Before I even went to town, I finished Jon Raymond’s short story collection Livability. Whew! What great stories. Read this one for sure.

Then I made about my fifth call to the manager of the Marylhurst bookstore. One of the professors there shot me a note last week to let me know they were down to only one copy of my book and needed some more. But since the prof isn’t paying the bills, I feel a little odd just sending them and thought I should talk to the manager first to confirm. But I’m about to give up.

OK, this is what a day in the country looks like. I’m going to go eat some chili. If there are typos here, I’m sorry, but I’m too tired (the main side effect of going to town) to go look for them.

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Ahem. . .Anyone still out there?

December 28, 2009

I’ve been flirting with getting back to this log for some time, and I always put it off for another day. But here I am.

I suppose I’m here at least in part because of a certain renewed confidence in my ability to manage computers. I defeated Microsoft’s attempts to squash me today (at least so far), and I feel a little rhapsodic.

I bought a new computer. I’ve been putting it off for years because I didn’t want to deal with Vista and it really fried me to contemplate paying extra money to have someone “downgrade” my computer to an OS that worked. But then Windows 7 was released, got pretty good press, and I couldn’t stand it anymore. The machine wasn’t supposed to come until January, but Dell cut their assembly time in half (or else they got a shipment of parts early) and Fed-Ex cut their delivery time in half, and my new machine arrived midday on Christmas Eve, a gift from Santa.

Last night I was wishing I had stood it a little longer.  As is my wont, I leaped in with little regard to manuals, instructions, pre-planning, and so forth. So I spent a couple of hours backing up old files to CD for transfer, fingers crossed the whole time. I dealt with file protection issues and waded through them. Then I booted my new machine and went through the setup and stuff only to discover that I couldn’t just load my files from CD. I suspect it has something to do with the shift from a 32-bit OS to a 64-bit OS. So I started over, actually following the instructions from Windows 7 on moving files.

It was less arduous that I was afraid of.

Then I got surprise number 2. There’s no e-mail program on Windows 7. So, fingers crossed, I loaded an old version of Outlook and–voila!–my contacts and e-mail archive appeared exactly as they had before I ran them through Windows 7’s little file transfer utility.

But I had a few permissions problems. MS has done a good job of trying to hide from Joe User anything that might be of any use to anyone, but I ferreted out the files I needed, gave the system permission to let me screw with them, and my problems went away. At least for now. All in all a satisfying evening.

So here we are coming up on 2010, and I haven’t posted anything since mid-2008. There are lots of reasons for that, some of which may appear in subsequent posts. But there appear to be a few stalwarts still looking for me to speak, so as the New Year approaches, I’m going to resolve to try to do a little better this year.

Here’s the Cliff notes version of 2009:

In February (pretty much on my birthday) I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. I got to spend several months poisoning my body with yew extract and a platinum compound. Then I got to spend several more months letting my body recover from the abuse. If the truth be told, it’s still recovering. As I read somewhere recently, chemotherapy is useful, but it’s highly toxic.

On the plus side, I just got a clean bill of health at my 6-month post-chemo checkup. If I can maintain that condition for only 2.5 more years, I’ll be considered officially cured. This oddball apparently comes right back or it doesn’t come back at all.

In June I published my first book. That was pretty exciting. I spent the late summer and fall doing a variety of readings at some fairly prestigious venues (did you know people actually pay other people to come and read to a third group of people?). The book has been well received, so I’m working on a second collection.

Those two things pretty well ate up 2009. I can’t say too much about the second half of 2008 except that I think my brother’s death hit me a little harder than I thought it did.

But at any rate, I’m going to try to write here a little more often. And I have to type another sentence or two because my “word count” on this just hit 666 and I don’t want to leave it there. . .

Happy New Year to all, and the best to you in 2010.

Of course, we are all busy dying

February 10, 2008

That is not meant to be flip. The amazing thing is that we also get to cram so much living into the process. But every seven years, your body has replaced every cell in it with a new cell generated for one that has died off. How many bodies have you had?

One of my all-time favorite movies–perhaps my VERY favorite–is Zorba the Greek. The story is taken from a book of the same title by the Greek writer Nikos Kazantkakis. I suspect I must have mentioned this before, because my dear friend Phil sent me a copy of Kazantkakis’s Report to Greco that occupies a treasured place on my bookshelf. I share so much philosophy with this man. But that reflection is for another post.

It’s impossible for me to think about dying without thinking about Zorba. The movie is brilliant, with incredible performances by Anthony Quinn as Zorba, Alan Bates as “the Englishman” (a bookish sort who comes to this small Greek island with visions of imposing his orderly logic on the project he’s sent to manage), and Irene Papas as the young Greek widow who is stoned to death for canoodling with the Englishman. Then of course there is the unforgettable performance of Lila Kedrova as the aging courtesan, a character I seem to relate to more and more as the years pass.

There are many influences of this movie I can picture in my life. One of the most vivid is an evening drinking ouzo in a tavern in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District with a bunch of Greek sailors and dancing all night to bazouki music until I could hardly walk to my car, let alone drive home. I’m not sure I would have braved the dancing without the memory of Zorba resonating in my brain, but I can say that it was a highlight night of my life.

It also taught me not to drink ouzo. No matter how much I like the taste of anise and the mysterious way this crystalline liquer turns cloudy with a drop of water or melting ice, the next morning’s head isn’t worth it.

This really is relevant.

The young Greek woman played by Irene Papas is stoned to death by the villagers after spending a night with the Englishman. What follows is this (probably loosely paraphrased):

Zorba:  “Why do the young die?”

Englishman: “I don’t know.”

Zorba: “What the hell is the good of all your damned books if they don’t tell you that?”

Englishman: “I don’t know.”

As a book person, I don’t know either. I do know that books are important to me, that they give me a window into other people’s minds and other ways of seeing.

But I, too, still don’t understand why the young die.

I also don’t understand why sending this message off into the ether gives me comfort, but it does. And when I get notes back, the comfort is doubled. Thank you, Phil and Jeff.

The Cluetrain Manifesto

November 13, 2007

My friend Josh will be ecstatic to learn that The Cluetrain Manifesto is featured prominently in the current issue of The Economist.

The occasion is an article on how marketers are tapping social networks in the cause of promoting their clients’ products. The Economist points to “Cluetrain” as the first broad statement of what they are trying to do.

You might want to read the article and then consider what you are revealing on your Facebook or My Space Page. 

If you aren’t familiar with the 95 theses (not a coincidence: the authors are hoping to revolutionize marketing the way that Luther tried to revlotionize the Church) of The Cluetrain Manifesto, the entire text is online. Go to the home page for a quick recap, then click on “Read. . .” in the left navigation bar.

Random thoughts on a Wednesday evening

November 1, 2007

I hardly know where to start. I won’t as Alice suggested, begin at the beginning and move forward from there, because the truth of the matter is I’m not sure where the beginning is.

“In the beginning. . .”–there have been so many beginnings, and forks in the roads, and restarts, and stalls. So I’ll just take off, and we’ll see where we go from here.

Full disclosure: I’m completely sated from a low-stress evening. It should be a high-stress evening. I’m leaving tomorrow for a four-day trip to a writers’ conference in Bend. I had a long to-do list this morning that included washing my car, washing my hair, getting packed in advance, finding some books I wanted to take along, and so on.

I did get my truck washed. I’ve also packed up enough food and drink to last for three or four days. “Be prepared for whatever you might encounter,” Ben says. That’s good advice, I know. I’m headed out over the mountains on the first of November. The weather is good, but who knows what will happen by Sunday.

I’m picking up my friend Ruth tomorrow morning, and we’ll head out on an adventure. I know we won’t get stuck, and it seems a shame. I’ve packed up mocha frappucinos, cranberry juice, bottled water, leftover Halloween chocolate, cheese popcorm from the cans I bought to get the cans knowing we’d never eat the popcorn (so I’m struggling to find good homes for it), salted mixed nuts, protein-rich Kashi TLC bars, and other assorted stuff. Oh, and three bottles of wine, some assorted teas, my favorite wine glasses (no stems, just heavy bases that are hard to tip over), and my favorite tea cups. If we actually make it to Bend, we can live well there without ever doing anything else, although we have a lot of things planned.

But in the meantime, stuff happens. Maybe it’s the leftover pot-roast soup and fresh baked bread I finished a little while ago, or maybe it’s the position of the stars, or maybe it’s just Wednesday evening.

But I’m mellow. And happy to be that way.

A fellow writer in a writing workshop I’m taking wrote that he had been a “bad” and “nosy” boy and googled me. Then he said some nice things about the poetry he found in various places. I realized how long it had been since I googled myself. I think I’m just not narcissistic enough. So I remedied that, and when I did, I discovered my daughter has a new blog. I am blown away. She writes circles around me.

I’m not surprised to find her writing, although I suppose I am a little bit. She wrote her first short stories in crayon at age 5. I still have them. She would have them, except a couple of times I’ve found them in the garbage and rescued them, so I’m saving them. If I’m surprised it’s because she has so many other things going on. I’m guessing she also has a Facebook page and My Space page (I know she has other blogs), but I’ll probably not go looking for them because I spend too much time at this stupid screen as it is and anyway, I think she’s entitled to some privacy.

But she writes circles around me. If I could wave a magic wand I’d send her off somewhere to be a writer. Maybe she’ll get there on her own, or maybe she’ll get there herself. But whatever she does, I know it will be fine.

As I look back over a rather long life, there’s this: The thing I am proudest of having accomplished is having raised this marvelous young woman. Admittedly I had a little help from her dad, but the truth of the matter is, she’s the one thing I can point to that I have helped create that I know is making the world a better place to be.

A big apology to my online community–I do care about you

October 5, 2007

A few days ago I received an e-mail from Dave that said something like “OK, it’s close enough to thirty days since you posted that I’m worried about you.”

 He’s right. It’s not fair to just abandon things in mid-stream. But I’ve suffered from an amazing period of not being able to write. Here is the cause of the blockage:

My brother Tom is almost certainly dying. His doctor has told him that he no longer has any faith that his treatments will substantially improve his condition. The chemo has stopped the growth of the tumors in his lungs. The tumors in his head continue to grow. In a couple of weeks, they’ll try a slightly different treatment. But the prognosis is not good, and in the meantime, he is in pain.

I didn’t want to write that, but perhaps, having done so, I can go on and write about something else. I hope so.

At the moment, what I really want to do is go out in the night into the darkest part of the woods and scream at the universe about the unfairness of it all. If I thought it would really help, I would. But somehow I’m losing faith that the universe really cares.

Untimely death shakes your faith in “truth, justice, and the American way,” to quote someone (Superman, perhaps?). Death is a part of the life cycle, but it belongs in its proper place. It should not be allowed to intrude out of turn where it’s not expected.

One of my all-time favorite movies is Zorba the Greek with Anthony Quinn. There is a scene right after an untimely and brutal death where Zorba asks: “Why do the young die?”

The Englishman responds: “No one can answer that, although many men have tried to.”

Zorba, in exasperation, says: “What’s the good of all your damned books if they can’t tell you that?”

I’ve paraphrased the dialogue, but that exchange has stuck with me for 30 years or more. I’m a great believer in books. But I’m also a great believer in order, and frankly, the older I get, the less there is.

I suppose this is why I blog

August 28, 2007

My mailbox today had a couple of comments from people I’ve never met but suspect I would like to–Nathan and ClapSo.

Nathan lives in Israel, and I met him virtually in the course of my former employment. He was a great source for some articles I wrote, and in the process proved himself witty and simpatico. When I think about the madness in the Middle East, Nathan and people like him are always a consideration.

ClapSo feels a bit like an alter ego. When I lived in the Bay Area (in what seems like a completely different lifetime), he would have been one of the folks who sat and drank wine and smoked assorted things with me and argued (less lucidly as the evening went on, admittedly) about whatever the hot topics of the evening were. And he’s a poet, a nice synergy there, too.

Blogging is a way of sending thoughts out into the atmosphere and seeing what comes back ( a little like those SETI researchers I wrote about earlier).

Tomorrow is my regular writing-group day, so I’m going to have to go off shortly and get prepared for that. The generator is running on fumes at the moment because I was too lazy to fill it earlier, and I expect my UPS to get a field test any minute.

Here are some things I have learned from my garden this summer:

  • How to extend the life of basil: When it starts to flower, cut the main plant off leaving just two leaves at the base and water it like crazy. It grows a whole new plant.
  • Herbs are really important: It really doesn’t matter what you have to cook. If you have good fresh herbs, almost anything can become ambrosia.
  • The late crop of raspberries is even better than the first crop: Most of these are nearly an inch long. A handful makes a great breakfast.
  • You can rejuvenate cabbages, too: If you cut them off just right when harvesting, the root and a couple of leaves that you leave will grow a whole new crop of mini-cabbages, sort of like giant brussel sprouts. They steam beautifully.
  • Never say die: If you get one of those weird years where you’re having plenty of sun but little heat (like we are this summer), plant a second crop of the brassicas and lettuce. They do just fine.
  • Flowers scattered through the vegetable garden feed the soul the way the fruits and vegetables feed the garden.

It’s a lovely evening tonight, but now I have to go type in my revisions and print out the stuff I need tomorrow.

ClapSo, I haven’t forgotten that you tagged me, and I promise to act on it this week.

A long rant about something, or perhaps nothing

August 25, 2007

Once upon a time, I was president of the state poetry society, and I discovered that herding poets is a lot like herding cats.

By their natures, poets are not organized people. And they don’t respond well to those who would like them to be organized.

I find myself lately with my true poetic nature coming to the fore.

God bless those of you who keep checking this space in hopes that something new has happened. My sincere apologies for the long absence. But the truth of the matter is, I just haven’t felt like writing. Anything.

Then tonight I sat down and penned a couple of pretty good poems, one a rewrite of a fragment penned earlier that will probably be called “Why the Sky in August Sometimes Looks Sulky” and the other something brand new: “I Want to Be Jack Kerouac.” That’s when I thought perhaps I could add an update here.

Part of the problem is summer. Here’s what my pantry looks like now after all of the old stuff has been cleaned out: sauerkraut, canned blueberries and blueberry butter, canned pie cherries, canned Royal Annes, canned plums and plum sauce, canned apples and applesauce, dill pickles, bread-and-butter pickles, canned green beans, pickled green beans (very interesting these–I didn’t have the dried red peppers the recipe called for so I used Chalula powder–ground up garlic roasted with hot red peppers–instead), pickled beets. The corn and tomatoes are just coming on. I was beginning to despair of them ripening with all of the rain, but they seem to be doing so anyway.

I have a very sore gum, the result of a really bad tooth brought on by some very bad dentistry some years back. It’s better tonight. I’m trying to avoid a trip to a dentist by using a peroxide mouthwash and scotch as a painkiller. On a scale of 1-10, going to the dentist is about a 15 for me. So far, so good.

My flower beds and herbs have been attacked. We think we found the culprit tonight–a packrat running around. He likes parsley and sage but not oregano, and he really likes trimming the begonias, although he doesn’t seem to eat them, just clips off the leaves and leave them in a pile. His days are numbered. We’ll catch him in a live trap, but then he’ll probably get a swimming lesson in the river.

The coyote who likes the Italian prunes has been foiled. He broke the tree off a couple of years ago, but it’s put up a new vertical shoot (that he can’t climb), and the shoot is fruiting.

I went crazy in town yesterday and bought some veal, so we’re having weinerschnitzel very soon.

That’s it for life in the country this evening.

Summer on the back 40

July 26, 2007

This probably comes under the heading of “Be careful what you wish for.”

Gardening in coastal Oregon is an interesting endeavor. You prep the soil, plant things, watch the weather, try to second-guess what’s going on, pull the undesirables, water, and watch as things struggle with the early spring conditions you struggled with trying to get an early garden. Then, Nature waves a magic wand and things explode.

Today I picked blueberries, zucchini, the first pickling cucumbers, and enough green beans for dinner. I was very excited to be out here for the whole growing season. But I hadn’t planned on being laid up for two weeks in the height of activity.

God bless Ralph. He’s watered and weeded while I was limping around feeling sorry for myself. I don’t deal well with idleness. Much as I enjoy a good read or a good puzzle, sitting in a chair for long periods of time just makes my sciatic nerve act up.

But Ralph and Brenda left today for 2-3 weeks of family stuff out of state, and now it’s mine again. And there is suddenly more food coming out of the garden than we can possibly eat. I’ve given a lot of it away, will give away much more.

But I’m getting around pretty well, was able to water everything today with only minor twinges. I slept in my bed (instead of one of the LaZBoys) last night for the first time since my fall, and it worked. But I’ve got enough cucumbers for the first quart of pickles, and behold, there are exactly three dill heads (the appropriate amount) ready to be picked. So tomorrow I will pack the first quart of pickles.

The upside is that I’ve had a lot of time to think, and that means a lot of time to hear the music of poetry running around in my head, so I’ve got some pretty terrific new work. Maybe the cracked ribs were someone’s way of saying “Slow down. Listen.”

The other thing I have in incredible quantities is fresh basil. A couple of nights ago we had what I can only call an experimental dinner. I had a little leftover medium-hot green sauce from the enchiladas. I used it to marinate a pork loin which I then stuffed with garlic and threw on the barbecue. Yummy.

To go with it, I cooked some linguini, drained it and set it aside. Then, in a fortuitous accident, I grabbed the wrong oil bottle and had several tablespoons of sesame oil in my skillet before I realized it was the wrong color, grabbed my designer olive oil to augment it, sauteed some garlic in the combination, and when the garlic was ready, added the pasta, a couple of cups of chopped roma tomatoes and a couple of cups of fresh chopped basil, and got everything to hot. Then it just took a liberal sprinkling of good Parmesan to make a heavenly pasta. When I was prepping it, I almost panicked. I realized I had enough pasta for 12 people. But the four of us cleaned it up.

This year I again planted what for me is a favorite corn variety–Bodacious. I’m not totally sure whether I like it for its flavor and robustness (plenty of both) or because I’m a big fan of Hank Williams, Jr., and the name always invokes rowdiness in my brain. But today I noticed that some of the stalks have started as many as four ears each (normally two). All that bullshit makes a difference.

The blueberries are slowing a bit, thank God, but the raspberries are just gathering their second wind and the whole late summer crop is coming on. And here I am bitching when I should feel so blessed. . . 

Think globally, act locally

May 23, 2007

I’m not very good at being retired, I think. When interesting opportunities present themselves, I find myself jumping up and waving my hand saying, “Me! Me! I’ll do it!” when anyone with an ounce of common sense would look the other way or, in Army parlance, take one step backward.

I am getting to that time of life when you look backward and say, “Things were so much simpler then.” But people have been doing that for centuries, no, millenia, and while it may be true, it’s basically irrelevant.

The world changes, and people must change with it.

But some things are, in my opinion, nearly universally true. One of them is this: If we are all to get along, then we have to communicate with each other.

And I’m not sure we’re doing a very good job of that now.

We have more ways to communicate and to communicate more quickly than we have ever had. But it feels to me as if there is less real communication going on than at any time during my lifetime. We are polarized as people, in this camp or that. I’m not just talking about the “red state/ blue state” phenomenon (I think this is largely a media and wonk invention). But we seem to be losing the ability to empathize with others, in our own culture and in other cultures, just as the world is shrinking faster than the ice floes we’re all worried about.

We line up in our positions and take a stand. If someone disagrees with us, we shout at them or call them stupid. But too often, if you quiz someone about a position they’ve taken, they know very little of the real facts behind the problem. They’ve been sold a sound bite or a rallying cry, and they will stick to it without any real understanding of the issues involved.

Communication is inherently two-way. You talk, I listen. I talk, you listen. And we don’t just listen, we hear, we register somewhere deep in our cores the problems you are concerned about, the problems I am concerned about. And we internalize them. I may absolutely disagree with a solution you propose to something that is bothering you, but I understand at a gut level why it concerns you and am willing to help try to find a solution amenable to us both.

My needs and interests may be different than yours, but that doesn’t make them any more important. We are both people.

But none of this happens unless we freely communicate with and listen to each other.

An opportunity has presented itself to perform a little experiment, to see if it’s still possible to bridge some of those ideological gaps and get people actually talking not to, but with, each other.

I’m not going to say a lot more about it at this time. There are some “i”s to be dotted and “t”s to be crossed first. It’s very much a local sort of thing, but it feels like a step forward. And it involves Marianne’s salon going live, face to face. I’ll update things here periodically.

Wish me luck.