Labor Day 2016

The Silent and Brave revision page #257

No matter how much Kim wants to insist that summer is not over, Labor Day is here. She has turned the heat on on the morning the last two days. The dogs spend more time in bed, cuddling under the covers. The flowers have not succumbed to the crisp morning chill, but they are stiff rather than August limp; they can feel the coming end. (Except for the morning glories, which I planted in earth that was too rich–they just shot vines rather than flowers all season. There’s a metaphor there, somewhere.)

Another Labor Day that we will be working. Reno will repopulate again now. The Rib Cookoff has called them all back from the lake and their other summer haunts. Softball season is over half done. My ankle is healing from last week’s beating at shortstop. We know how our team will fare, not well, but good fun, good teammates. It will rise again, a little different perhaps, but ready to take the field fresh next year. In one week the Vikings will kick off against the Titans and we will be there in Harvey’s sportsbook to watch, our one annual trip to the casino. It was going to be The Season, but now Teddy Bridgewater is gone, leaving what-might-have-beens replaced by Sam Bradford and what-might-bes. Of course we will watch it all.

Another rejection letter.

Kim is doing so well with her voice overs. Her career is coming.

My characters stand outside the wall of Birrigat, ready for their first great battle against the Teilarata.

Life is good. We continue to revolve around the sun, to live our lives and chase our dreams. Labor Day is the day we came to Lake Tahoe, 17 years ago. It’s a good time to slow down and breathe, even if we do have to go to work.

 

 

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In Defense of the Coupe

Kim’s birthday was this week, and she got paid for a big V.O. job she did. While I was shopping for her gift, I stopped in Williams and Sonoma to browse. They had a whole section of Reidel stemware, which I love, and we were planning on opening a bottle of champagne to celebrate Kim’s hard work and good fortune. It was a bottle of Veuve Cliquot that a guest brought her when she got her first agent. We also enjoy a good bottle of champagne to celebrate New Year’s. Last year we got Krug. We’ve been using flutes, but I’ve been wanting something better. On the shelf at Williams and Sonoma were something I haven’t seen in a long time: champagne coupes. You know, the big-bowled, sloshy, traditional champagne glasses your parents used to have. I was smitten. I came home to do some research.

After all these were Reidels, labeled “grape specific”, but when I interneted champagne Reidels the web directed me to something more in a tulip. It did say that they were determined to do away with flutes as being insufficient for fine champagne, but most advised using chardonnay glasses. Now, when I want champagne, I want a special glass, not a wine glass, no matter if it’s crystal or not. The glasses I was eyeballing seemed to be designed for martinis(?) or desserts. The reviews said coupes let the bubbles out too quick, that they were too hard to drink out of, that they were too big for a good nose, that sort of stuff.

But then there were the romantic stories: of coupes being designed around the shape of Marie Antoinetre’s breasts, the photos of Sophia Loren pouring champagne into them, the images of the Roaring Twenties. Clearly there is a reason for coupes. So, dammit, I went and bought them anyway. On Tuesday morning, we cracked the champagne and raised a toast . . .

And I love them. I am a sucker for the finer things in life, especially where food and drink (and my wife) are concerned, and these glasses are a thing of beauty. I don’t care what anyone says, they are THE way to drink champagne, and I’m glad they’re back. Everything old becomes new again, and I think I know why, where the coupe is concerned. Here is my theory:

Flutes became popular because they look classy. At a restaurant, the table next to you can look over, see champagne flutes, and know you’re celebrating. The bubbles rise up in long strings, they’re a dream to clink together in toast, and they’re easy to walk around a party with. If the flavor suffers somewhat, who cares? To me, that is a metaphor for society in the new milleneum. It’s not how anything tastes, or the substance it has: it’s all about how it looks to other people. How many likes will your Instagram get?

Well, I have a problem with that. I don’t give much of a shit what other people think about anything, and man, when I dipped my nose down into that coupe, guess what I saw? A golden swimming pool of delicious grapes, bubbles rising up ro meet ME. No Snapchat necessary. It was like stepping off the tile into a hot tub of deliciousness.

Give me the experience of the coupe over the flute any day. It may not taste quite as good as a wine glass, but it tasted pretty good. The bubbles might come out quicker, but I still finished my glass before they were gone. It might be easier to spill over the edge, but, hey, sometimes in life you should spill a little champagne.

It’s all about me and my beautiful wife enjoying ourselves. It’s about our experience, our moment, our love. And I don’t care what anyone else thinks. Give me a coupe for my champagne, any day of the week, and hopefully we’ll be celebrating every day of the year!

Kim Got Another Job!

My wonderful wife woke me up with the news that she got another V. O.  job today. This is the third one, and it comes on the heels of yesterday’s news that she is (finally) going to be paid for the last job she did. I know it’s just a few jobs, but I am really starting to get the feeling that her career is beginning to snowball in a really good way. It also makes her really happy.

It makes me feel good too, because it’s a working demonstration of how chasing your dreams and using the resources that are available to you can result in success. Of course she has talent, and she works really hard at it. Those are the requirements for creative pursuits, along with the number one requirement, which is the enthusiasm to keep on keeping on, in spite of frustrations and the ignorance of the rest of the world.

Kim has gone through what we all do in our creative pursuits, and she’s not just finding success because of dumb luck. She’s finding success because of her dedication, her support group, her skills, and her willingness to put herself out there. It makes me happy for many reasons, because she’s working her way out of the service industry, because she’s using her talents, because she’s achieving her dreams. Last but not least, because she’s demonstrating that the requirements for success I talk about all the time aren’t just hot air.

Great job, Kim! We can all learn from you and be proud of you at the same time!

The Soul Muscle

The Silent and Brave revision page # 245

Really killed it in writing today-figured out a lot of things. That is a good feeling!

I am reading “The Sheltering Sky” by Paul Bowles. He was one of Gertrude Stein’s hangers-on, the expatriate set that included Hemingway, and at first I was not too impressed, but the book is growing on me. It is about three Americans, a married couple and their male friend, who travel to Africa after World War II has temporarily destroyed all available European niceties. Romantic memories of their leader, Port, convince them to travel deeper into the continent (the horror) where they have misadventures that end up finishing them off. It’s a  triumph-of-nature over folly-of-man sort of novel, with sex and booze and stuff. There’s a great quote in it that made me sit up and take notice. The quote is this:

“The soul is the weariest part of the body.”

This works with my  God-within-man theory, as our souls, the unconscious part of our body that understand right and wrong better than our conscious minds, are put through extreme trials and tribulations as we try to live our lives, doing right or wrong, trusting our intuition and being misled by it.

As a bartender, I might say that the liver is the weariest part of the body, but it is true that the soul gets a lot of work. Shouldn’t that work make it stronger, like a pectoral muscle applied to a bench press? Or do our constant failures weaken us to the point where we just don’t care anymore, where our whole world of shared experiences is flat and uninteresting? This seems to be true of Port and Kit, characters searching for meaning and excitment and eventually overwhelmed by events beyond their control. In the end they are simply out of their league, travelers with money and security who never realized that their “privileged existence” might not be enough to save them. Port dies of typhoid, Kit rides off into the Sahara on a camel. I can’t help thinking of the stockbroker and the opioid addict.

Do we all suffer from that syndrome? Needing to press the limits, thinking we’ve got it all figured out, then realizing that the world is stronger than we are? In that case, is it better to pull back, not explore our limits, allow that we are not strong enough to take on the world and succeed? Is it just blind luck when people do live at peace with their souls? Or have they been through more lives, and thus possess muscles made of stronger stuff?  Both Kit and Port desperately want to fall in love again and find their idyll, so much so that at points in the story I want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them, and say, “just kiss her, you fool,” or “just tell him how you feel, you ninny.” But they just-can’t-do-it. And then it’s too late.

If the soul as muscle analogy is continued, it would be logical to think that some souls are born weak, some strong. Some would be like the muscles of marathon runners, capable of doing their work repeatedly, over the couse of the race, after the rest of the body has shut down in misery, and others would be quick twitch, capable of super-human feats of power but then in need of relegation to the cold tub for recovery or, worse, consigned to the P. U. P. list. Certainly some souls would be born wary, while others would be willing to flex without thought, and figure out the consequences later.

I hear the phrase “old soul” a lot, often denoting a young person who just seems to “get it”.  I think the phrase in meant to connotate unusual wisdom or the appearance of experience, but again I think it might go back to that Port and Kit problem, the exhaustion of dealing with life and the inability to find excitement. Because there has to be a willingness to live, to seek out life and enlightmenment, in these soul muscles of ours, otherwise we are just walking around with flaccid, used-up organs, past the cares of life, and that is not being a good human being, or closer to God, it’s just being bored and ready for death.

Can you build a soul out of disappointments and moral infidelities, or is it necessary to have the proper pieces in place, and use them to make the correct interpretations of right and wrong? None of us are going to make the correct decisions all the time, and it is imperative that we learn from our mistakes. There has to be some willingness to take chances, and strengthen our souls, sometimes in painful ways.

We would do well to remember that we only get one soul in life, like we only get one body. We must nourish it with love and understanding, feed it with experience, and flex it with care.

 

Searching for Reno-Area Fiction Writers

The Silent and Brave revision page #232

I remember when Kim and I did our first trip to the Colorado Rockies. It was 1997 and we stayed at a timeshare at Keystone. I was struck by the beauty, especially of the forests, and by the high altitude climate. And that was where we both tried snowboarding for the first time. Eventually, of course, I moved to Breckenridge, and Kim followed me, and the rest is history. Anyway, my point is there was a time in my dream of moving to Colorado when I had this whole fantasy of putting together an inspired writing group. As time passed, and we actually lived there, I slipped back into my usual feeling that writers are a solitary, jealous lot, a group not given to helping one another out. This could just be my own insecurities, but now I find myself longing for the same thing again, a community, a group that can help with the difficulties of keeping motivated, judging work impartially, and meeting others in the writing and publishing field, which seems to be a must for publishing success.

This is what I think now: Why not? And why not me? I am good at organizing, gathering, getting people together, and getting them to see my vision. I am good at encouraging, good at reading, and good at writing. I am sure there are people in this area who are interested in the same thing. I want to find them. I know that I can google Reno writing groups, but I don’t know that I want to join someone else’s already established group. I think I want to start my own. So if you ever read this, and you’re interested in reading or writing new fiction, please drop a line in the comments section. I would love to meet you. We can talk beer and books. What could be better than that?

(finally) Proud to Be an American

When Khzir Khan asked Republican nominee Donald Trump if he had ever walked amongst the grave markers at Arlington National Cemetary and considered the sacrifices made by those who lie there, it was a profoundly moving moment. By pointing out that his son, a decorated Army Captain who was killed in Iraq, deserved Trump’s recognition despite the fact that he was a Muslim, Khan did more than make the Donald look like the racist he is, and more than doom Trump’s bid to become the next President of the United States of America.

When Khzir Khan pulled a copy of the Constitution from his breast pocket and suggested that Donald Trump has never read it, he was only speaking the truth. Because the Constitution does not make distinctions between race, creed, or color when it speaks about the people of the United States of America. That is a lesson that Donald Trump, with his race-baiting and slandering of everyone from Muslims to Mexicans is unwilling to learn. Let us not blame him too much, for he is only following a pattern that countless candidates have used before him to earn votes, namely, sowing hatred and fear and then claiming to be the only one who can save us. And, until Khzir Khan’s brave words, no one really seemed to be willing to stand up in front of the world and call him out on it.

None of that is the reason why I say I am finally proud to be an American. As a people, we have spent the better part of three centuries as racists, as haters, willing to justify everything from a draft that sent young men who didn’t conform to white American ideals to die in Vietnam to an incarceration system that targets inner city black kids to the indiscretions of  Catholic priests and coaches. And it’s always just kind of been okay. For every editorial about tolerance, there’s a buddy pulling you to the side to tell you the latest N- joke or homophobic slur. Putting other people down to make ourselves feel better has always seemed to be the American way.

But today, it’s not. There’s a new generation out there, Donald. (And all the rest of you politicians, priests, and people of power.) They’re not going to let you get away with hate. They’re not going to let you get away with intolerance, or with telling women to do with their bodies. That shit doesn’t mean anything to them. They believe in a world where people who’ve died for our freedoms have earned the greatest respect, regardless of their race, creed, color, or sexual orientation. They believe that goodness is defined by taking care of your family, your neighbor, and the fellow you just met. It’s scary, I know. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it, or don’t like it. It’s the way it is now, and it’s the reason I can finally say that I’m proud to be an American.

 

I Feel Like Balls Deep Just Went Balls Deep In Me

I am reluctant to write this, mainly because it smacks of whining, or sour grapes. But I also think it’s important to give you feedback, otherwise you may not understand what’s going on. We had our first softball game last night. In the first inning, we went down 12 to nothing on our way to a 23-6 defeat. That would make any coach salty, but my problem is a little bigger than that.

You can say that we sucked (we didn’t) or that they’re really good (they are). My problem is that the team we played won every game in our division during the spring season. Kudos to them, and that’s a great achievement.

But why are they still in our division? Seriously. We paid the same as they did. We worked really hard for three months to get ready. And then, in our first game, we get a team that completely overmatches us. Every ball was hit to the fence. When they were up 17-3 they hit one OVER the fence.

That’s not competition. It’s just ego stroking. For them. I totally get that teams don’t like to get moved up in divisions. I totally get that some people just can’t stand the chance that they might ever lose. I don’t like losing either. But I think sandbagging to make sure you win every game is bush league.

And we shouldn’t have to play mat ball to be matched up against teams that give us fair competition. There are four perfectly good divisions. Why is everyone so scared to go into division II? It seems like III should be for teams that have figured it out but aren’t ready for top half competition. I hope we get to meet some of those sorts of teams before the season is over and all my players never want to play softball again.

I’m not blaming you. I know your job is hard. I know what teams do to win. But do the right thing. Move Balls Deep up to division II. Because we deserve to have fun too.

Battle

The Silent and Brave revision page #194

The boy sits on a rock, waist high, wide enough to prop him up, flat enough that he can concentrate on the object in his hands. He’s about ten. Whiz, whir, click, he changes it, spinning its individual facets, red, blue, green, yellow, white, purple, six sides, nine smaller squares on each, spinning and mixing to the pattern he understands, whiz whir click. His hands are a blur. He doesn’t notice the cars next to him in the Wal-mart parking lot, or the people walking by. The sun is out. Whiz whir click. As I, one of the passers-by, watch, he finishes the pattern, that fast, making all the colors match up so that every side is the same. It seems effortless, boring. He pats the cube on his knee. Then he scrambles it again. Whiz whir click. His black hair is messy on his head.

A group approaches. Maybe they are not a group. Maybe they are not together. They come from different directions, converging on the rock where the boy sits. They don’t seem to know one another. In fact, they don’t notice each other, or the boy. They are looking at something each of them holds in their hands, a flat screen, their phones. They hold them up, as though scanning the parking lot. They inch forward, from every side, moving in the direction of the rock. One by one, they look up and notice the boy with his cube. Whiz whir click. He spins the colors, completes the puzzle, looks up at the gathering around him. Tableau.

Whiz whir click. He scrambles it again. He holds it out to one of the group around the rock, a short girl, of similar age, with her brown hair in braids and glasses with colorful frames. She squints at the cube, at the mixed colors. It is meaningless to her. They do not speak. Instead she holds out her phone, as if to show him the screen. His eyes drop. He is not interested. His hands go back to work, spinning, whiz whir click, putting the colors back together. The group with their phones stand in a circle around him, staring at their screens, unspeaking, intent on what they have come to find.

I get what they’re all doing, but I can’t participate. I don’t know how.

Pono

The Silent and Brave revision page #175

The revision of The Peaceful and Just is finished and sent off. Soon the revision of The Silent and Brave will be done as well. I had a great vacation, got a beautiful Hawaiian tattoo, read two great books, and spent wonderful time with family.

It’s time to start thinking about The Prosperous and Malevolent, and I have some great ideas. It will start in a Selessian village that has been destroyed by the Narze and Arrik Xermexes. The champion will arrive in the village. Angered by the killing of his people, he will destroy the rail ties that the Narze are using to travel rapidly (they have a steam locomotive) by heating them in fire and bending them around trees, a la Sherman’s neckties from the Civil War. I need to begin to cast Arrik Xermexes as my ultimate villain for Book 4, although the villain in this one will be Niisteen, who will not agree with the champion’s goal of quenching the river of fire and opening the first ward Los Lewr again.

In order to quench the Pyratine River, Salaam Aktelon I will have to work together with Arrik Xermexes. Together the two of them will drop an empty on the source of the flames from the Mandelbrot.

Some other ideas:

Niisteen and Mesopotamia Wrath are barren, but Mesopotamia Wrath has a daughter who has traveled to Los Lewr to live in luxury. None of them are happy, but the daughter will vie with Ullane for Kavela’s affections. In the end, Niisteen will reveal that he gave Ullane the mistral because he needed her to break the Teilarata but considered her the weakest of the companions, one he could dominate when the time came. In the end they will fight a duel, as Niisteen has created another mistral. It is Mesopotamia Wrath’s daughter who will kill Niisteen, perishing herself in the process.

I have an image of a whole room of smartphones, taken and stored in Los Lewr after the empties broke. That’s all for now. My work continues!

 

Maybe It’s Time for Something Topical

And I’m not talking about anti-itch cream. In the late sixties and early seventies, when our country was experiencing a period of civil unrest that many Gen X’rs like me relate to the times we’re going through now, there were topical songs at the top of the charts, and if you owned a radio you couldn’t get away from them. The Box Tops had a hit with “The Letter.” Jimmy Cliff scored with “Vietnam.” Bob Dylan did so many protest songs (I like “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”) that he eventually decided not to write any more of them and turned from folk to rock and the blues. Barry McGuire “Eve of Destruction”, the Animals “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”, Creedence Clearwater Revival “Fortunate Son”, and the list goes on. After a while it got to be so much that most artists did like Bob and started to write about other things. Then in the eighties and nineties those sorts of songs moved into the inner cities with rap music. Groups like NWA pissed off the establishment. Grandmaster Flash wrote maybe the best song about the plight of urban youth with “The Message.”

My point is, where there was social trouble there was also a voice turning it into poetry that everyone, white, black, rich or poor could listen and relate to. Now that has changed, partly because of the death of radio and the birth of streaming. The artists that are popular enough in the new formats are not going to write protest songs. They just don’t have anything to be upset about. Can you imagine a Justin Beiber protest song? (I mean, about anything other than his “crew” getting hassled a club.) Can you imagine a Taylor Swift protest song? (“My plastic surgeon got my left breast wrong” or maybe “My probiotic isn’t compatible with my stool softener.”)

Regardless, there is plenty to be uneasy about in the world. I think we need to find some new artists who are willing to give us their take and their social commentary. It may not be in the form of music. It may have to be in a wholly new popular format. Maybe an app. But by whatever means it finds, using art to capture popular attention can help heal and help find solutions. I think the time for topical songs has come again.