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Monday, November 28, 2011

Go Fetch

Lately, on these wonderfully sunny and unseasonably warm November afternoons when I go down to play tennis, I've been taking "FrankieB" with me to play tennis. During my match, I let him romp in the enclosed, macadamized basketball area next to the courts, which are separated from the courts by a chain-linked fence through which, after running around sniffing all the dead leaves, FrankieB is content to watch me play while he lazes in the sun. He's my most ardent fan.

However, he has developed this almost annoyingly occasional habit of running down the fence line when I serve, chasing the ball as it skims over the net to the other end of the courts. This is annoying, because as he joyously galumphs from one end to the other, he barks, bays, yips, and howls. I am happy to see him enjoy himself so much, but the caterwauling can distract one's concentration, putting me off my game. Since my tennis partner finds this amusing, I've put up with it. After all, he doesn't do it every time I serve; just once in a while. And he is so cute when he galumphs. A few days of this went by before it finally dawned on me yesterday why FrankieB was running after the ball. He wanted to play, too.

After my match, I joined him in the basketball court, bouncing a yellow tennis ball in front of me. "Wanna get the ball, big boy?" I asked. It was all I could do to keep him from jumping all over me with glee. He danced and pranced until I threw the ball to the far end and, sure enough, he took off after it, joyously galumphing and howling and barking. When he reached the ball, he played with it, rolling it around between his legs, baying away, and nosing it part way down the macadam toward me. But then, just as I shouted, "Good boy! Fetch!" he stopped, looked at me, and came happily running back. Without the ball. But this was not at all surprising. As I wrote in one of the stories in The Basset Chronicles,* Basset Hounds are not retrievers. They do not fetch. At least not mine.

However, to watch him at least chase after a thrown ball and play with it, and with me, gave me hope.

One whole long shelf in my library is devoted to dog books, both novels and all sorts of non-fictional "help" books with myriad topics about our canine companions such as how to raise a Basset Hound puppy; how to train your dog; what is in a dog's mind; how they communicate with us (this blog's entry, "A Special Day", on November 9, 2011); care and feeding of hounds; even a veterinary handbook. One in particular, that I’ve referred to off and on these last few years, is going to become a constant companion now that FrankieB has reached his adult, "awareness" age: that point in his life when he no longer cavorts willy-nilly in puppyhood antics, but is old enough to be "serious" about being a loving, responsible, good-mannered member of the household. After all, he is 22; and it is time. However, while working and playing with him both of us have to have fun. Right? This book is just the, pardon the intentional pun, right treat to help me, us, do just that.

Dog Tricks by Captain Arthur J.  Haggerty and Carol Lea Benjamin (© 1978, published by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers and distributed by Workman Publishing Company, both in New York, NY) is a small (6 x 6) volume that contains "eighty-eight challenging activities for your dog from world-class trainers". It is small enough to fit in the front pouch of my windbreaker where I keep other Frankie treats when we go on our walks, or to cram into my tennis bag when he joins me on the courts. And, yes, this book is a treat. It is even bound in washable plastic so that if and when your dog drools on it, you can easily wipe it clean. Inside its pages are all sorts of tricks and activities you can teach Fido to do; from simple "No Trick Tricks" such as kissing and wagging the tail; to "Retrieving Tricks"--we'll get to this in a bit; those that use your dog's incredible sense of smell; silly tricks; agility exercises; circus tricks; and even "Amazing" ones, such as counting, which FrankieB learned to do at only four months! There is no end of the activities you can teach and do with your dog, whether s/he is a puppy, adult, middle aged, or getting on in his/her twilight years. And all of them are clearly written with a marvelous sense of humor and delightfully drawn line illustrations. I love the "blurb" on the front that says these are "New tricks for old dogs, old tricks for new dogs, and ageless tricks that give wise men paws." Fun stuff!

It was to this book this morning that I turned to figure out if FrankieB could, despite his hound's predilection to sniff out and point and not ever retrieve, really learn to "fetch". I read the instructive commentary carefully, substituted a tennis ball for a wooden dowel, and began his training in earnest. Well, that was the intent. This may take some time. After all, he is a stubborn Basset. 
 

But...but—look! He is holding the ball in his mouth and carrying it a few feet--well, inches--before dropping it. And, he is enjoying the attention and praise when he "takes it" again and walks farther a few more inches. He drops it, noses it around, then dances around me, waiting for me to toss the ball or to have him “take it” again. He seems to be enjoying this. We are making progress. And having fun. And I bet, with a few weeks worth of daily practice on the courts and in our long hallway, he'll be a champ at running after a tennis ball and bringing it back to me! This is a great start, thanks to Dog Tricks. Who’dda thunk it? A Basset hound that retrieves. In the springtime, I might even give him tennis lessons.

In the meantime, I plan on also working and playing with him some of the other exercises and activities. Some he already does to perfection, like "get in the car-car"; kissing, albeit sloppily drooling, but that's my dog; rolling over; a few agility ones, like jumping over a one-and-a-half foot fence and weaving between poles; speaking on command; and, of course, counting (up to five!). That's seven so far, with eighty, less the one learning to fetch, left to go.

I suspect, with this book in hand, we’ll continue to have to fun as we grow closer, bonding together as a team—loyal, faithful, and fun-loving companions.

Who says you can't teach an old(er) dog new tricks?

~~~~~~
Go fetch:
 

*Available at the link on the left pane of this site or from amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Basset-Chronicles-June-J-McInerney/dp/1466405562/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1322415289&sr=1-1

**A copy of this book can be found on any one of the following sites: http://www.bookfinder.com/search/?author=&title=&lang=en&isbn=1-884822-46-0&submit=Search&new_used=*&destination=us&currency=USD&mode=basic&st=sr&ac=qr.

 
11:58 am est          Comments

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Perchance to Dream

I grew up in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains of New York, in a then small village along the eastern shore of the Hudson River. My impressionable childhood was abundant with learning local traditions, legends, and tales; most of them taught and told by my father over long, leisurely Sunday dinners. He was a true Irishman, so “the telling of a tale” came easily to him, especially those of this own heritage--he had a plethora of them in his repertoire and never, if I recall correctly, narrated the same one twice. And, if he did, it was never in the same way.

I can still picture him at the head of the depression-cherry table that was draped in a lacy linen tablecloth, pushing aside the dregs of dinner in favor of a "wee dram of the whiskey", lighting up his pipe, placing his elbows on the table, beginning one of his many delightful yarns--the telling of which typically lasted until well after desert had been served and savored, and most of the dinner dishes had been washed, dried, and put away. When my Dad began the "Blarney of his tales," my Mother was wont to say, "There was no end in sight.” He was the original blogger in the family, albeit his were oral and not online.  You can readily see where I picked up my own proclivities.

So, when, one rainy, stormy Sunday afternoon in my pre-teens,, Dad begin relating  a story about the "ghosts" of Henrik Hudson and his crew playing nine-pins (early form of bowling) in the hills every twenty-years, that caused great claps of thunder to rip across the valley and down the mountainside, bewitching anyone who happened to come across their antics, I was, of course, intrigued. A Dutch, not Irish, story? This had better be good. It wasn't until years later that I learned that the tale was not Dad's creation, as most of his stories were, but originally came from a book written by Washington Irving.

When my ninth grade teacher assigned my class to read
Rip Van Winkle and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow at the beginning of the school year, I smirked. Because, you see, I had already read it that summer before, having received a cherished copy of it from my uncle's much older wife for my twelfth birthday. It is a 1920 publication by MacMillan and Company, Limited (St. Martin's Street, London, England, published well before the days of ISBNs and LCNs), the fourth reprinting of the first edition that was issued in 1898. I found this red, somewhat worn book (there is a glass stain on the front cover, marring the gold-gilt "logo" and title, and a bit of “rot” inside the spine) "sleeping" on my mantle. My first name is written in heavy pencil on the first verso fly page by my much older Aunt Margaret Dean, one of the very few real mementoes that I have of her, who, in the short time that I knew her, had a profound affect on my life. I plan, I promise, on writing more about her in a near-future entry about Aimee Semple McPherson. 

I have not handled nor opened this book in years, except to pack and unpack to place it above the fireplace of my current home. And there it has sat next to my first editions of Tolkien and Trollope all these years, presiding over many a cozy fire and fireside chats with friends. Do not ask me why, but I awoke this morning thinking about old Rip and was thus drawn to select this slender, small volume to reread again and to write about today. Opening the pages released the now familiar old, musty smell of age (after all, it
is almost 100 years old). It is bound not by glue as today's books are, but sewn together by silken threads; the page edges, of course, bear the faint hint of once being gilded. When I am finished reading it, I promise to return it to safer place in the glass cabinet that, as you all know, houses the most beloved members of my collection.

Okay. About
Rip Van Winkle. First of all it is a short story unto itself. Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleep Hollow is not one story, but two that were written by Irving as parts of his Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, published in England in 1819. The "sketches" are stories, essays, and tales, not drawings, which Irving wrote while in Birmingham, England, admitting that when he wrote the tale "I had never been in the Catskills.” At this point, I again refer you to Wikipedia about the "guts" and gist of the story, and the "story" behind its publications, which, being as popular as the story is, have gone through and withstood hundreds of tellings and retellings in both written, visual, dramatic, television, and movie mutations.*  Here's the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rip_Van_Winkle. All through the various renditions, the basics of the story remains the same.
 
Rip Van Winkle was an affable, good-natured young man when the story begins. However, his propensity was not to do his own work, but to help others and spend inordinate amounts of time teaching and playing with children of the village, hobnobbing at the local tavern, and hunting squirrel in the foothills of the Catskills ("Kaatskills" in the story. "Kill" in Dutch means "stream", just in case you wanted to know). It is during one of these hunting ventures, to get away from his nagging "termagant" wife, that Rip and his faithful dog, Wolf, meet Henrik Hudson, whom he helps to lug a large keg of liquor up the side of a Catskill mountain to a tree-formed amphitheater, where the crew of the Half Moon are playing nine-pins and imbibing in the keg’s contents. Rip indulges a bit too much and, of course, falls asleep. He awakens on not what he thinks is the next morning, but twenty years later, after our Revolutionary War, in 1778 or so, on the day of the election of the first Congress of the United States. At first, he is bewildered--who wouldn’t' be, having slept so long?--but soon meets his now grownup daughter; his grandchild; his son, who has followed into his own earlier, youthful indigent footsteps; and a handful of his "old" cronies, who remember him and his good deeds around the town. His demanding and nagging Dame Van Winkle, to his relief, has since passed and he is, finally, "out of the yoke of matrimony, and could go on and out whenever he pleased without dreading the tyranny..." of his wife. He becomes an elder, a pillar of the community, again hobnobbing at the local tavern, spending, and again, time with the rising generation, with whom he soon grew into great favour [sic]". 

At first, this may seem to us the hackneyed tale of the typical henpecked, lazy husband, who has a great aversion to work and an affinity to drink. At least that is what I remember we were told in ninth grade. Don't be lazy! Do your work! Don't drink hard liquor! Listen to your parents and, later, guys, to your wife! Be responsible! Work hard! These are the obvious messages of the story. But after re-reading
Rip Van Winkle today in the light of my own current circumstances, I disagree. I think differently, quite differently, from the traditional teachings. 

For one, Rip's wife could have been less of a curmudgeon, less of a harpy, and more of a loving, understanding spouse. If she had left Rip alone or, given his bend toward laziness, if she had provided a bit more loving as well as caring encouragement, he might have responded more lovingly toward her and could have just as affectionately as she could have been, in return, taken up the daily chores of keeping his home and farm in good repair. Instead, she drove him to escape with his dog to the hills to hunt and to the taverns to be with his more agreeable friends. 
 

None of us is perfect. Even today, as I am sure it was in the Eighteenth Century, we all seek times when we can just "veg”, be with nature, and hang out with our friends, without being hassled. Rip wasn't lazy; he just put his energies to other uses: fishing, hunting, and helping his friends and neighbors build walls and plow fields, albeit other than his own. If most of us are not nagged and "ordered" to do something and, as a consequence, we avoid doing it, we all probably would "step up to the task" and do what is expected. Hmmmm....I guess if someone "ordered" me to write this blog, I'd begin to consider it drudgery, and not write it with the great abandoned joy that I have now. Think about this the next time you want someone to do something.

For two, there is nothing wrong with being lazy from time to time, nor is there anything evil in "imbibing", providing it's done in moderation. I am not going to preach here, but I remember a former stern-faced manager once telling me that she felt really guilty when, one Sunday, she wasn't feeling "quite well" and spent most of it lazing on the couch doing “nothing more than watching old movies”. She, a woman who constantly works virtually 24x7 monitoring and answering work emails and micro-managing her employees to the point of harassment, actually felt remorse about taking one day off, implying that I, too, should feel guilty about not being “on beck and call” not only during the week, but also on the weekends. 
 

My reaction? Cut me a break! Sunday, for me, is the Sabbath, a time of total rest, relaxation, and recuperation. I do not feel guilty now, not did I back then, about taking the whole day to do nothing else but read the New York Times, solve the Sunday papers’ crossword and cryptogram puzzles, take the Frankster for a long walk, raid the 'fridge, and indulge in a long afternoon nap in front of a cozy fire while old movies stream to my TV. Even my Basset  Hound, whose own mantra on our daily walks is "Eat, Sniff, Poop", takes the time on Sundays to "Snuggle, Sleep, Snore". 

Enough said. 

Rip Van Winkle, in its re-reading, teaches us that we all have the capacity to be lazy, indigent, and indulgent; but that we can do these in moderation. Granted, our hero slept for twenty years. But look what happened: he awoke to an age when, after a period of readjustment, he found himself in his right element, at the right time in his life when he was, finally, truly appreciated and could use his talents and energies the way they were meant to be used. In other words, he came into his own: a valued, respectable and much loved member of his community.  

I grew up in an era when occasional laziness and even moderate indulgence was not tolerated. I lived the past forty years in a working world of corporations—both American and foreign-- where employees felt guilty about being creative and humorous and paranoid about taking the time to express themselves in other avenues that were not conducive to “keeping our noses to the grindstone” furthering the making of the “almighty dollar” for our employers. I have always felt that this was innately against basic human nature. I still do.  

While there are times and places in our lives to work hard for others as well as for ourselves and to enjoy the fruits of our labors, there are also many more times and places when and where we can and should be able to be affable and creative; to laze about and enjoy the simpler things: to “hunt” and “fish”, using our talents and following our dreams. And, yes, to even sip the nectars of life, be they in kegs we carry up the steep hills, as Rip did with Hudson, or in the friendly neighborhood taverns of our many loving friendships that we spend time in along the road of life.  

Reading
Rip Van Winkle brought home to me that fact that I, finally, have reached that point in my life when I am no longer heckled, harassed, and cajoled by others into doing what my innate nature tells me not to do. I have reached that time in my early retirement and, hopefully, in a subsequently very long stretch of the rest of my life, when I can now indulge in and use, as Rip Van Wrinkle did, the innate talents given to me: to be affable, friendly, helpful, and joyously creative, spending time with the "rising generation" of whom I am lately once again realizing I am so very, very fond (and am now writing for)--as well as my loyal and loving furry companions, FrankieB and Sebastian, who are teaching me that it’s okay to take an occasional afternoon nap--perchance, hopefully, to dream.  

~~~~~~
*Various versions and issues of
Rip Van Winkle can be found in your local library and/or, hopefully, on your own library shelves. If not, here is a link to where you can purchase a copy: http://www.bookfinder.com/search/?ac=sl&st=sl&ref=bf_s2_a1_t2_2&qi=BYJeUMB1thIHnM,POQM.rL8qv18_5748704612_1:73:897&bq=author%3Dwashington%2520irving%26title%3Drip%2520van%2520winkle%2520and%2520the%2520legend%2520of%2520sleepy%2520hollow

4:32 pm est          Comments

Friday, November 25, 2011

What If...?

Writing this blog is like tossing a pebble into a pond. I can see some ripples where it splashes in, but I am not sure if they are making waves upon the shores or if the stone just falls to the bottom, never to be seen again. Life, in many respects, is also like this. One never knows if one has made any impact, significant or not...or if one's life has any meaning in anyone else's life.

I begin today's entry with a change in format of this blog. While books are my passion, I also spend a goodly amount of time watching movies; mostly "old" ones, but often I'll watch a more recent release. My favorites, of course, are those that are based upon books; most of the cinematic offerings of late usually are. As you can see, the intent of this blog, then, has been changed from "A Literary Blog about Books..." to "A Literary Blog about Books and Films: How they affect us. How they shape our lives." From time to time, I will be commenting upon a selected movie that is based upon a book that I have read and how it and the book have affected me. And, of course, if any of you out there on the shores of the pond have a favorite you'd like to see in a future entry, please, by all means, contact me via the View My Guestbook button in the left pane.

Making an impact. Do we matter or not? How do we know?

Remember George Bailey? He is the main character in the 1946 RKO dramatic black and white* film offering It's a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore; marvelously directed by Frank Capra. It is based upon a short story, The Greatest Gift, written in November of 1939 by Phillip Van Doren Stern, a noted Civil War historian and author. Stern had difficulties getting the story published, so he mailed 200 copies of it in 1943 to his friends and family as a Christmas Card. It was noticed by David Hempstead, an RKO Pictures producer, who showed it to Cary Grant's Hollywood agent. In April of 1944, RKO bought the rights to the story, hoping to turn it into a vehicle for Grant. It wasn't until the following year that Capra read The Greatest Gift, liked what he read, and bought the rights, along with three pilot scripts, for his own production company, Liberty Films. The rest is history. Details of the plot line, how the film came to be made, including a complete cast listing, are on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It's_a_Wonderful_Life. Here, also, is a link to the complete text of the original story in Zoetrope: All-Story magazine, initially developed and still maintained by Francis Ford Coppola: http://www.all-story.com/issues.cgi?action=show_story&story_id=132.

The film, we all know, has become a holiday favorite and is typically shown on television during the week preceding Christmas; often on Christmas Eve. It has a cult following, and there are numerous trivia facts about it that enhance the enjoyment of watching it. For one--and this is my favorite, as I am an unabashed Sesame Street fan--the characters of Bert and Ernie, were, in fact, the favorite characters of Jim Hanson, who developed his original Muppet characters, giving them the same names as the policeman and taxi driver in the film. There are literally thousands of similar trivia facts on sites all over the Internet, attesting to the movie's worldwide popularity.

Capra's script, of course, significantly broadens and fleshes out the original tale, which focuses on the suicide attempt of George Bailey, originally George Pratt in the story, on Christmas Eve--"sick of everything....stuck in this mudhole for life, doing the same dull work day after day." George sees his life totally without meaning. He says in both the story and the film, "I never did anything really useful or interesting...I must just as well be dead...I wish I had never been born!" This is the crux of Stern's story. But Capra, in his script, prefaces this apex of his tale with many previous events in George's life that lead us, up to this point, to believe that, in fact, George's life does have meaning and significantly impacts that of others: he saves his brother from drowning when he falls through the ice while sledding on a shovel down an icy hill (in the original story, George saves Harry from drowning after suffering a cramp while swimming)--Harry goes on to save 1,000 men when their ship goes down in World War II; as a young lad, George saves a family from being inadvertently poisoned by the local pharmacist; on the brink of leaving for college, George stays home after his father's death to run the Bailey Savings and Loan and helps many townspeople to realize the great American dream of owning their own homes; George falls in love with and marries Mary Hatch (played by Donna Reed) and fathers a brood of normal, active, precocious children. And all throughout the film, he stands up to Mr. Potter, the evil antagonist, played to perfection by Lionel Barrymore in one of his better roles. All of George's actions, indeed (in deed), have rippling consequences upon other peoples’ lives.

Right up until George jumps in the river to save Clarence Odbody (Harry Travers)--who jumps in as a ruse to save George; George jumps in to save Clarence--we are convinced that our protagonist is, in fact, a hero; if only he would realize it. And, thanks to Clarence, his guardian angel, as we cheer him on, he does. Come to think of it, George goes through a conversion, a classic case of metanoia in literature. For if, in fact, we can corral such fine films as It's a Wonderful Life into this sacred category, then literature, pure and simple, is what it is.

Two Christmases ago, I was given a CD collection of "Radio's Greatest Christmas Shows"**. One of them is a Lux Radio Theatre 1947 production (“condensed” version) of It's a Wonderful Life  performed by original cast members Steward and Reed, accompanied by Victor Moore as Clarence and Edwin Maxwell as Mr. Potter. Last night, unable to sleep after a wholly satisfying Thanksgiving and its dinner with all the trimmings, I popped the disc into the CD player on my nightstand and was instantly carried away to the imaginary town of Bedford Falls, the angst of George Bailey, and the eventual and wholly satisfyingly resolving denouement of the story.
In my mind's eye, I pictured Clarence--actually, he is my most favorite character, although we never learn his name in the original story--drying out in his nightdress that his wife gave him on his last birthday. "I died in it," he explains to the bridge keeper, who bolts out the door in fear and confusion. A classic scene, for sure. And I realized that not only George, but Clarence comes to understand that he, too, has meaning and worth in his own existence as an angel second class. He impacts George’s life and, as a result, finally gets his wings. I fell asleep listening to the inscription he wrote in the copy of Tom Sawyer he leaves for George: "....Remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings! Love, Clarence."

Both the original story and the movie are marvelous examples of how fictional characters shape and mold each other's lives, just as we in real life impact those around us--affecting, shaping, and molding, even in the littlest of actions; akin to tossing a pebble into water--ripples emanate out and touch the shores of other souls. In many ways, we often do not know how. Or, sometimes, even why. 
 

And that’s the whole point: George realizes he has friends, many friends, as well as family, who believe in him and what he does, however “dull” he, himself, thinks it is. Actually, what he perceives as dullness is grist for the mill of a very exciting story—the “moral” of which if you will, is what Clarence says to George: “One man’s life touches so many others, when he’s not there it leaves an awfully big hole.”  We are often not as fortunate as George Bailey or even Clarence to realize how we do touch other lives…how our sometimes small ripples affect others…or to realize that because of them, we have friends in the first place. We just have to believe that it does. 

And that, second only to the gift of life itself, is the greatest gift of all.

~~~~~
*The film has since been remastered into color by Turner Productions, but the later version does not have the same impact as the black and white original.
**(c)2003 Radio Spirits, Inc., Cedar Knolls, NJ. www.radiospirits.com
 
11:37 am est          Comments

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

It is yet another dank and dismal day...the rains this morning came thundering down, drenching my lawn and side yard, which are now puddles of soggy mud and leaves. Not a day condusive to getting up early and attending to my daily tasks and chores, but a great day to sleep in. And I did...snuggling under the thick, fluffy duvet--hound and cat snoring comfortably at my feet--until the clouds parted, the storm abated, and the sun began to shine.

While there still are streaks of gray clouds in the sky, a few rays of the afternoon sun are shining through my family room window, where I sit at my laptop thinking about what to write for this entry. Obviously, it has to be about giving thanks, since tomorrow is our annual day of gratitude. I have to admit, however, that I cannot recall any books that I've read in the recent past whose theme is about Thanksgiving or giving thanks--where the main character is thankful for his/her lot in life, when the protagonist goes through his own metanoia of gratefulness, except for Ebezener Scrooge (see blog entry for Friday, November 18, 2011). But that is A Christmas Carol, and not a Thanksgiving tale...If any of you happen to think of one, then, by all means, let me know and I'll gladly read and write about it for a future entry.

However, for now, I'm going ot make this short and sweet. Instead of commenting upon a book and how it has affected my life, I am going to share with you a little "thanks giving" by way of a poem I wrote and published in my chapbook Exodus Ending and also included in the Prayers section of Meditations for New Members*. I think it says it all.
 

ANY DAY, NOW

Thank you for this day.

For rolling white clouds,

swaying thin gray tree boughs,

your whisper sounding lightly

in echoes of a rippling creek,

caressing gentle breezes on my cheek,

honest marsh grass hugs under my feet,

my black and tan hound's tags

sweetly clinking, gamboling down

soft sandy trails, silence of padded paws,

greens brilliant contrasting blue

against yellow rays warming my soul

to its depths of your being

within me.

A still, quiet moment

of silent serenity,

deeply inhaling love,

wondrously exhaling joy.

Thank you for this day.


And, since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, there will not be a blog entry, as I will be spending the day in celebration with friends and family.

May you all have a blessed and joyous Thanksgiving!

*Exodus Ending  (c)2011, by the author of this blog, is available at www.CreateSpace.com/3662862. It is also availabe in paperback and in a Kindle version on amazon.com, as well as Barnes and Noble (bn.com). Meditations for New Members (c)1999, also by June J. McInerney, is also available through Barnes and Noble and amazon.com.
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Logos

I start most of my days at mid-morning, with a cup of hot tea and the day's Crytoquote puzzle. Today's solution is:

It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.
                                                                             --Aristotle Onassis

Probably the darkest moments suffered by mankind in Modernity were during the Jewish Holocaust (1939 t0 1945), when over nine million people were slaughtered in Nazi concentration camps, all because of the greed and quest for power of one evil man. In Auschwitz (where 1.9 million died), and the other camps he was held captive in, one young man, Victor E. Frankl (1905-1997), intently focused his inner reserve and will power to survive. He held on to his belief that a man, by seeking, finding, and maintaining meaning in every aspect of his life, could preserve that life, both inwardly and outwardly, despite any and all outside forces.

For him, it was all a matter of choosing not to let anyone destroy his inner being; his internal freedom; his self-knowledge of who he was, his inner self; his dignity; and his self-esteem. And because he held on to his beliefs, as well as his sense of humor, dignity, and honor, Frankl survived the death camps and lived to write about it in Man's Search for Meaning. This short, 93-page treatise has been, since its first publication in Germany in 1946, translated into twenty-four languages, with over 12 million copies currently in print worldwide*. 

Frankl believed that life is not, first and foremost, a quest for pleasure, as espoused by Sigmund Freud, but a quest for meaning. It is this search for meaning that is the greatest task of one's life. Already a medical doctor, as well as a psychotherapist, Frankl formulated this belief into his theory of logotherapy, which he wrote about before his arrest and deportation in an overcrowded train carriage (nothing more than a frigid, box cattle car) to Auschwitz. Representing his life's work so far, he tried in vain to smuggle the final proof galley beneath his coat, hoping to save it for publication. It was confiscated by an unfeeling guard the first day at camp. During the remaining years of his incarceration, Frankl jotted down key words and phrases on small, purloined scraps of paper so that he could one day recreate the manuscript, should he be released. 

I am not going to recreate here a synopsis of his theories. They are eloquently summarized and commented upon in the foreword of Frankl's book by Harold S. Kushner, a renowned writer in his own right
(When Bad Things Happen to Good People). The gist of his theory states, however, that there are three possible sources for finding meaning in one's life: in work, by doing something of significance; in love, by caring for another person; and in courage, by braving out even the most difficult times. Suffering, he says, in and of itself, is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way we respond to it. And it is in the content of his book that Frankl relates how he, and some other fellow prisoners, responded to the suffering and atrocities they experienced in the concentration camps at the hands of ruthless prison wardens and guards, some of them recruited from their own ranks.

As I read Frankl's lucid descriptions of his experiences and of his thoughts and feelings, I was amazed and a bit frightened to realize that they were exactly the same thoughts and feelings that I have had in my life during dire circumstances and trying times; times when I have struggled to maintain the freedom of my own inner self, my dignity, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Granted, the circumstances were not so dire as being in a concentration camp, but having to withstand the ruthless unjustness of others, whose seemingly only thoughts of meaning in life were the garnering of money and maintaining power over others just for the sake of being in charge and in control, produced the same reactions and responses in me as that of Frankl. I am sure many of you out there, after reading this book, will agree that you, too, have gone through similar circumstances; similar thoughts and feelings; have had the same reactions and responses. It is, as Frankl says, human nature to feel this way. And, in many respects, it was a relief to realize that I was not alone.

Frankl, however, had no choice. He could not walk away. He could not freely choose to leave the camp--although there were two instances when he did think to escape, but did not in favor of staying to take care of his fellow prisoners. Yet, even though he did not have a choice to be outwardly and physically free, he chose to be free inwardly: that his freedom was to find meaning in his desolation, his starvation, his profoundly grueling work maintaining railroad lines, his often futile attempts to provide medical assistance--a freedom that no one could take away from him.

However, for myself, and for you, there is, thank goodness, a choice. We can decide to walk away and find meaning in our lives without having to suffer, as Shakespeare, through Hamlet, said, "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune". Frankl, at the age of 86 in his preface to the 1992 edition, calls us to, "listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge." He is speaking in this context of the attainment of success ("forget about it and it will come"), but I think it applies to just about every aspect of our search for meaning.

Frankl defines the Greek word "logos" (λόγος) as "meaning"; its more common definition is "reason" or "experience". The English translation of the first verse of the Gospel of John in the New Testament, "In the beginning was the Word..." was originally written in ancient Greek as "In the beginning was the Logos...
" meaning the divine presence of God's word/reason in Jesus Christ. According to Webster, “logos” also refers to a "saying, thought, reckoning, speech, or ratio". In any context, it is apt that the now renowned psychotherapist used it as the prefix for his theory of therapeutic healing--logotheraphy; that of becoming whole by choosing to find meaning in one's life through work, love, and courage.

This book was suggested as a blog entry by my dear Sister Peg. She lovingly found it interesting and I found it self-satisfying that, through the reading of this book, I was able to begin to (finally) find meaning and purpose in my own life, however late in its stages it may be. For one, I am finding that there is now true meaning in my work as an author of children's books and writer of this blog; cherished meaning in the love I have for and from very close and dear friends and family--not to mention the bonds of loyalty and affection between myself and my hound and cat; and there is meaning in the courage I have had earlier in my life to choose to walk away from my own dire circumstances in order to preserve my health, self-esteem, self-confidence, self-worth, and dignity.

Frankl, though Man's Search for Meaning, speaks to me loudly from his past experiences and has taught me that even in our darkest moments, if we do decided to search for the light, and if we focus hard enough, we will find it. 

~~~~~~
*There are many versions/printings, in multiple languages, of
Man's Search for MeaningHere is a link to the listing OF English translations, found on bookbinder.com: http://www.bookfinder.com/search/?ac=sl&st=sl&ref=bf_s2_a1_t1_1&qi=,F5IHj7cKO9BoVFM5TVerPjuLSw_8510263365_1:53:310&bq=author%3Dviktor%2520e%2E%2520frankl%26title%3Dman%27s%2520search%2520for%2520meaning. The edition I used for this review is a recent paperback, translated from the original German by Ilse Lasch. The ISBN is 978-0-8070-1427-1 (PBK). Part II includes Frankl's revised tract, Logotheraphy In a Nutshell.
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Monday, November 21, 2011

Sugar and Spice

The last Sunday in July was hot and sultry; too muggy to play tennis, too humid even to walk the dog. So, I cranked up the A/C, poured myself a tall, cool iced tea, commandeered a corner of the couch from the Frankster, and began one of the best "popular" novels I have read in an long time.

Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago (2011, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY), is a broad and sweeping epic set in the first half or so of the Nineteenth Century (1826 through 1865), spanning both sides of the Atlantic Ocean—from Spain to the tropical island of Puerto Rico, where most of the story takes place. This is the life of Ana Larragoity Cubillas, who grows up in Spain, falls in love with and marries the older of a set of twins, then moves to Puerto Rico. There, as the hardcopy first edition dust jacket blurb states, she "faces unrelenting heat, disease, and isolation...the dangers of the untamed countryside...while she relishes the challenge of running Hacianda los Gemelos".

Hacianda los Gemelos (House of the Twins) is a run-down sugar plantation that Ana's husband and his brother have inherited; hence the reason for the move from the veritable lap of her luxurious life in Spain, to near destitution in the hills of a fledging country. Beset by the forces of nature, raging storms, and devastating fires midst the turmoil of civil unrest, which lead to a daunting civil war in the later part of this novel that rent Puerto Rico in two, plantation owners struggled to grow, reap, and process their cane crops, satiating much of the world’s addiction to sugar. Some were quite successful, while others miserably foundered. It wasn’t until consequences of our own Civil War started the decline of the industry and precipitated the unsettling years during which Puerto Rico, then a possession of Spain, became, as a result of the Spanish-American War, a territory of the United States in 1900 with the passing of the Foraker Act that reestablished a civilian government.
 
Enough history! But, that is what I learned in the process of enjoying this novel. Santiago, herself a native of Puerto Rico, brings to her lucid and often lyrical writing her own vast knowledge of the island’s history and her heritage. The descriptions of the countryside, the peoples, and of the native traditions, sprinkled with Spanish and Puerto Rican words and phrases, perfectly seasons this saga of a woman who struggled and then succeeded, despite her own character flaws, to conquer the flawed hardships of her life, the betrayals of friends and family, and the onerous tasks of making los Gemelos a successful sugar-producing plantation.  

I would go so far as to say, as other reviewers before me have also suggested, that Conquistadora is Gone with the Wind set thirty years before in Puerto Rico. And it is just as good, if not a more satisfying read; complete with a beautiful heroine, dashing heroes, a motley crew of slaves, and dissenting families and neighbors. Like GWTH, I “raced” though it yet savored every line of it, eagerly anticipating what would happen next, but not wanting the book to end. It was like opening a can of salted cashews, trying to eat only a few, but suddenly finding that I had consumed them all. Only, this time, the contents were sugar-coated.  

I lent this book to a buddy of mine, who is also a voracious reader. She, too, liked the tale, saying it completely transported her “out of the Twenty-first Century to a place beyond” our little town. It taught her, like it did me, the hard work that was involved in raising and processing sugar. The descriptions of the processing steps are akin to Hermann Melville’s rendering of the, well, rendering of whales during the latter part of the same century. Fascinating. They formed a vital part of the foundation of Ana’s quest to conquer every thing and every one around her.

And, then, of course, we come to the “spice”. While many will be turned off by the sometimes vague and often graphical smatterings of sex in variant forms, they helped to bring Ana to life, rounding out the portrait of her personality that depicts her as a complex and multifaceted woman. Of course, in the end, her nefarious relationships “do her in”. But I’ll not ruin the story for you by going any further… 


This sweeping novel is richly embroidered with lush historical facts, the threads of which twist and entwine in the very fabric of the fictional account of its main character. Reading about Ana, the Conquistadora, conquered my mind and my imagination. A truly “sweet” read.

→ If you don't already have a copy of Conquistadora,  you can purchase it from any of these sites: http://www.bookfinder.com/search/?ac=sl&st=sl&ref=bf_s2_a1_t1_1&qi=rGFRb1Zaa2CbYZJCJR0.SfikHhE_8853308212_1:6:188&bq=author%3Desmeralda%2520santiago%26title%3Dconquistadora

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gilding the Lily

I have been recently told, probably because of writing this blog, that I have a "feel" for books. I’d like to think that that means real books, not the electronic versions thereof, but those made of pulp and cardboard, ink, vellum, and leather. Well, yah. I not only love to smell them, but I love the way they "feel" in my hands, how they rest solidly on my tummy at night when I am cosseted in bed surrounded by my softly snoring cherished pets, slowly sipping a nightcap, with warming glows from the scented candle and the CD player that wafts soft Classical music on the small table beside me. How concrete and comforting it is to physically turn real pages, to feel a book's heft and weight between my slowly-succumbing-to-arthritic fingers...the sense the "feel" of the author's words seeping into my totally relaxed and absorbing mind and being....aaahhhh! This, to me, is the true nectar of the gods.

And, lately, I have become "addicted" to the feel of books whose pages, on their ends, are gilt with gold.

The edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (Collector's Library, 2004, Barnes and Noble, New  York, NY), which I am currently reading to comment upon in a future blog entry, is a small (6.15 x 4) book that easily fits inside my jacket pocket. Its page edges are gilt in gold, with a small ribbon attached to the top of the binding streaming down the page to use as a bookmark, just like most of the good books that were published in the 19th Century with similar amenities. The compendium of The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll, also by Barnes and Noble, which I wrote about in an earlier entry (Monday, November 14, 2011), is also gilt-edged. It, too, has an attached ribbon bookmark, and while it is heavier than most of the books I am currently reading (four right now, simultaneously, each one picked up as the mood strikes), because of its "feel", in all respects, it, along with Uncle Tom's Cabin is a very satisfying read. Sometimes, just the physical act of reading a book is all that is needed to satiate one's soul.

And so we come to tonight's pick: A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Biblionmanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas A. Basbanes (1995, Harry Holt and Company, Inc., New York, NY). I don't quite recall how I obtained this copy, although I think I ordered it on a whim from a now-defunct online book club. It is a first edition and copies of it, in various printings, are still available for purchase from various booksellers are listed on bookfinders.com. Here's the link: http://www.bookfinder.com/search/?keywords=0-8050-3653-9&st=sh&ac=qr&submit.

I must forewarn you, while I have not completely read this book yet, having only just realized yesterday that I have it and found it, like my more recent selections for this blog, in the glass cabinet in my living room, I have cursively scanned through it. However, I have every intention of reading it in full this weekend because, at first glance, it looks so intriguing. I intend on consuming it after solving this Sunday's New York Times Crossword Puzzle, starting my next children's book, Cat Tails, and after my typical Sunday afternoon-after-lunch nap.

A Gentle Madness  is a non-fictional account of obsessive book collecting, but as much of it as I have read so far, it reads like non-fiction; that is, just like a well-written novel. The Prologue starts with meeting Stephan Blumberg, who, in the course of twenty-five years before his arrest, has "removed rarities he stole from 268 libraries throughout North America and placed them in a secret Nebraska warehouse". He is on his way, accompanied by the author, to his home in Ottumwa, Iowa, where he has a humongous collection of books--first editions and rare manuscripts, most of them collected throughout many years; many of them acquired via nefarious means. The book proceeds from there to the relation of histories of book collections of famous people; facts and tales about how books were first created--the Bible was the first book printed by Johann Gutenberg between 1450 and 1458--through to such notables as John Quincy Adams, Alexander the Great, Samuel Beckett, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Demosthenes, Charles Dickens…the list goes on and on... through to John Updike, George Washington, Oscar Wilde, and Zenodotus, who drafted the first pastoral poems. The bibliography is equally impressive. Obviously, Basbanes did his homework and has provided us in all of 638 pages, including Epilogue, Notes, Bibliography, and Index, with a wonderfully detailed account of how books came to be, how collecting them has affected many lives, and how those of us more famous through the ages have so truly appreciated them so much that they devoted a better part of their lives, as I have, as some of you also have, to reading and collecting them.

I am truly struck by the prospect of reading this book and learning more about fellow readers and collectors. My love of books and literature and the stories behind them holds no bounds! To find a book unto itself that relates background material about book readers and lovers like myself, like yourselves, is, truly, a gilded, gold-edged gift in itself! Even though its pages, sadly, are not.
Now, I know I titled this entry, "Gilding of the Lily". According to Wikipedia, this phrase, albeit used through the ages, is actually a misinterpretation of the quote from the second scene of the fourth act of the play, King John, by William Shakespeare:

"To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw a perfume on the violet, to smooth the ice,
or add another hue unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
to seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish, is wasteful and ridiculous excess.
"


Well, maybe it is a "wasteful and ridiculous excess" to read (and write) books about readers and collectors of books when there are so many worthy books “out there’” that we should be reading. And I promise, I will be devoting many future entries to them. But reading books about books is just as intriguing as A Gentle Madness is going to prove to be. It is, to my mind, part and parcel of the fun of reading and collecting: to read about the very thing that we, and hopefully, you, too, enjoy almost above all else. A Gentle Madness, I am sure, as well as being a valuable and delightful member of my vast collection of books and manuscripts, is going to prove, as I absorb it, to be an enjoyable and enlightening read. It will be one, I am sure, that will add valuable, gilded information to relate as we go forward with future entries of this blog. I'll keep you posted.

Gild the lily, indeed. May your tomorrow, Sunday, as I take the day off to relax, read, reflect, and jot down notes about what to write for Monday's entry (Conquistadora  by Esmeralda Santiago, be delightfully gilt with golden rays of sunshine. 
 

And, may you find the time to be forever enraptured in the gentle madness of reading and savoring a good book! 
5:51 pm est          Comments

Friday, November 18, 2011

μετανοεῖτε

Metanoia (the Greek word in the title of today's entry) means "a change of mind". In the theological sense, it connotes a change of mind or heart brought about by repentance; in some religious sects it means a spiritual conversion. The Greek word appears in the Bible twenty-two times; and variations of it--repent and repented--appear an additional sixty-two times; more so in the New Testament, then the Old. In a psychological sense, the term refers to the process of experiencing a psychotic "break down", followed by the subsequent, positive phase of rebuilding and "healing". Rhetorically, it is simply a correction; a rhetorical device often used in literature, as we shall soon see.   

Thinking about most of the myriad books I have read in the past few years, just about every main character in the well-written and more literary novels experience some sort of metanoia, whether it be true repentance, change of heart, or a more cathartic emotional break down with a subsequent cure or restoration. Often, it is for the betterment of the character(s); sometimes not. A number of novels come to mind that employ metanoia as the core basis of the plot--the major protagonist has a transformation of outlook, a change in vision of her/himself, of the world, sometimes coupled with a new way of loving others and the universe. The most prominent and popular one is, of course, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

I may be jumping the gun on the Holiday Season here (if the Christmas decorations appear in stores and on neighbors' houses, can Halloween be far behind?), but I thought in anticipation of it as we enter Thanksgiving Week, that we take a look at A Christmas Carol. This book first appeared in December of 1843, following what Dickens termed a "dismal failure" of Martin Chuzzlewit. Since then, it has been published in literally thousands of editions, and there have been countless movies, plays, musicals, and television shows made of it; not to mention the variations of...the often hackneyed stories that use the basic plot. I have a copy of the story in the Christmas Books volume of the Oxford Illustrated Dickens (Oxford University Press, 1997, New York NY), a serial collection of all of Dickens' works, replete with reproductions of the original illustrations, Most of the text is based upon the Charles Dickens Edition revised by the author in the 1860s.

Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1871), you will recall, was the most popular writer of the Victorian Era, and still retains much of his popularity today. The second son of eight children, he had a checkered childhood, raised during some of it in relative ease and wealth and, at other times, in abject poverty. He had in his life a host of kind as well as nefarious people and family around him. And, I suspect, during his lifetime, as I am sure as in each of ours, went through a few periods of metanoia himself. It is not surprising that not only Scrooge has gone through it, but that most of his main characters in the majority of his fourteen novels have, including the five Christmas Books, of which A Christmas Carol is the first. Note that he also wrote cathartic poetry, as well as his whimsical musings as Boz in various British periodicals. For an outstanding, complete, and enlightening write-up of his life and his works, I refer you to this Wikipedia site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens.

Ebenezer Scrooge was not always a moody, miserly, old curmudgeon. As it states in A Christmas Carol, he was a rather nice, kindly, and likeable young man, having had a rather privileged childhood, complete with a proper education. It wasn't until he ventured out into the world as an adult and discovered the glitter of gold and "all that money could buy" that he became the selfish, greedy, person that we first meet in the opening chapter. For the love of money, he lost the lady love of his life; his sister; and alienated all of his family, including his nephew who comes to wish his uncle a "Merry Christmas". Scrooge shunts him aside, wishing only to be left along, chiding his nephew for marrying "for love, as if," he says, "that were the only thing in the world more ridiculous than a merry Christmas. Good afternoon!" He even was at odds with his equally miserly, now dead-as-a-doornail partner, Jacob Marley. Only Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's clerk, stands by him, suffering his employer's abuse even to the point of almost freezing his fingers because he was allowed to put extra coal in the fender on the coldest of Christmas Eves. It isn't until the nighttime visits of three "presences" (I read these as “presents”)--the ghosts of (Scrogge's) Christmas Past, Present, and Future-- that his process of metanoia begins. After the third visit, our dear Ebenezer has a change of heart, repents his greedy life, and comes to see the world and those around him in it in a new, loving light. He is literally a changed man.

I need not go on with all of the plot details, as I am sure you know the gist of it, having probably watched many times the Christmas Carol movies and television shows that are run and re-run ad nauseum during the Holiday Season. (The 1951 black and white movie version starring Alistair Sim is, by far, in my opinion, the best.) However, if you do get the chance, this Yuletide season, I heartily recommend reading the  book (with the original text).
 It is a holiday tradition of mine to read it every year, often out loud to anyone who will listen, both humans and pets alike. Each time, I always find some new and wondrous detail that I've missed or forgotten. For example, it is not only Scrooge that has a change of heart. His father does, too, deciding that his son is better off at home "to become a man," as Scrooge's sister, Fan, who comes to fetch him states. "Father is so much kinder than he used to be," she tells her brother. "....he spoke so gently to me..." leading us to believe that he wasn't the kindest of parents to begin with. And, of course, besides Scrooge changing in the end, it is Jacob Marley himself, in the beginning, who first visits Scrooge, and has also gone through repentance, albeit not in life, but after his untimely demise. But, alas, for Marley, his metanoia came too late. He visits (I was going  to write "in the flesh", but that's not quite right, is it?) and tells Scrooge how, doomed to dragging his chains forged, link by link, during his lifetime, all over the world, he has changed. He is full of great remorse, for Marley must carry his heavy burden throughout all eternity.
 
And that is the crux of the tale: Marley, a kinder, gentler man in death than he ever was in life, comes to warn his former partner: Repent! Have a change of heart! Don’t suffer my fate! Don’t become like me! Then he sends the three spirits to guide Scrooge through the process of metanoia, where he breaks down his own chains that bind him he has so far forged in life, and comes to learn, understand, grasp, and love the true meaning of Christmas.

So, as my ninth grade English teach was wont to ask, "How does reading this book affect you?" Indeed, how does reading this book affect anyone? Its message must, because of all the movies and shows made of it, touch a lot of people. It has become a solid Christmas tradition, just like Santa Claus, fir trees, holly and ivy, carols, roast turkey with all the trimmings, tinsel and glitz, multi-colored lights, and stockings "hanging by the chimney with care"--lest we not forget, however, the True Reason we have the season in the first place. This has touched so many hearts and souls and lives in so many ways...I can only share with you how it has touched mine.

Remember, as I told you in an earlier entry, I was raised on the classics, first acquired on the top shelves of the secretary in our front foyer. A Christmas Carol was one of the first books I discovered--a battered and torn copy of which I soon learned was once my father's when he was a child, carried from house to house--the family of ten children having had to move quite often. It was his constant companion and his "salvation". Reading and re-reading it, Dad believed--as I have, too, since come to believe reading and re-reading my own copy--in its message: That everyone, however bad or nasty or mean or miserable--and misery--has the capacity to change—even you. Even me. 
 

Deep down within everyone is that one small spark of niceness, warmth, and compassion that, if fanned just right, enables them, us, to alter their life and how they, we, treat others. We all have the ability to repent, have a change of heart; to transform and become nicer. Dad truly believed that all his life and he treated everyone he met, however vile, evil (note the anagram here), or curmudgeonly they were, as if they were the nicest people he had ever met.  I inherited this blind trust of my Dad's and although, in my own lifetime, I've had to deal with--as all of us have had to do at one time or another--a few (thank goodness, just a few) really nasty people, I've tried, like he did, to be as nice as I could be with each one--despite how they treated, abused, and misunderstood me. Because of uncaring, unfeeling, selfish, and curmudgeonly actions, both singly and collectively, my life has gone through a number of drastic changes. Most of them, thank goodness, eventually, have been for the better. I am sure some of you have had similar experiences.  


Yet, through it all, I know--hope, pray, forgive, and forget--that sometime, somewhere, somehow, they would, could—we all would, could—repent and change, and be just as nice to one another as I imagine we all can be. It's the real meaning and Spirit of Christmas. It's just a matter of metanoia. Just like that of Scrooge.

2:06 pm est          Comments

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Down Time

The last few days have been really hectic for me, what with taking my early retirement, doing a bit of reorganizing of my household--my life--and starting to make plans for the holidays. So, today, I've decided to take a brief respite from writing this blog to catch up on some household chores, and to sift through my library for those books that have significantly affected my life to share with you in the next few entries. And, then, after a few errands, to take a long nap before dinner in front of a cozy fire. It's one of those dank, and dreary days; a good day to "veg", relax, and recoup one's spent energies.

While I'm "gone", however, please be thinking about the books in your life that have had an impact, have touched you, have helped you make a decision, or just plain entertained you to the point when you just couldn't put it down. You can tell me about them using the Comments link at the end of this entry, or shoot me an email to the link is the left, under the notice about The Basset Chronicles. (If you haven't had a chance to, please click the link and order a copy for your favorite child--of any age--and one for yourself! Greatly appreciated!).

Also, I'd like to thank those of you who take the time to write your wonderful, encouraging comments about this blog and specific entries. I wish there was a way I could humbly share my email with you without seeming like my head is swelling from all the kudos. However, if you like, please post your comments using the Sign My Guestbook link on the left. There is a space on the electronic form for your to write a few words. This way, if any or all of you are curious, you can click the View My Guestbook button to see what was written. Again, humbly, I am thrilled that I am gaining more and more followers each day and I am deeply honored to be part of your life as you read my daily musings. A dear friend told me last night that it was like chatting on the phone with a buddy. I feel the same way. Thank you.

So, everyone, please enjoy the remains of your day. I'll see you tomorrow.

Happy reading!
2:00 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sharing, Caring, and Daring

Tuesday evenings have become Wii night at my house when a young, delightfully precocious child from a family that I consider part of my own comes over to play "The Daring Game for Girls" adventure game. For two hours or so each visit, we have been glued to the TV, Wii-remote and nunchuck in had, virtually wandering around together via her blond avatar in the nether land of a small village. There are houses, cars, a hardware story, a craft shop, a secret garden, a camp ground, a playground, and a cave to explore for hidden treasure. There is even a corner stand from which we can sell what we make in our garage-workshop. Various children roam around, doing all sorts of activities and, if you click the (A) above their heads, you can garner clues for playing the game and engage activities that, geared to the average pre-teen girl, are fun, educational, and often quite challenging. If they are completed correctly, you are awarded points, badges, and essential gear items, which, at the end of the game, entitle you to take one of three fantastic "great" adventures.

This Wii game is based upon The Daring Game for Girls book by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz, with illustrations by Alexis Seabrook (copyright 2007 Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY). My friend happens to have a first edition and when she comes over to play, she brings it with her so that I can scan for clues to help us play the game. Well, actually, she plays the game...I just supervise and guide (although I have become the designated “driller”). As it states on the back cover, the book is "For every girl with an independent spirit and a nose for trouble, here is the non-boys-allowed guide to adventure." (My kind of game!) As I leaf through it, I have discovered that this is a book not just for young girls, but for girls and women of all ages. It is, very much like the Girl Scout Handbook, a survival kit for life. The projects encourage you to build, make, create all sorts of things, as well as urge you to figure things out. In addition, there are all sorts of inspirational stories about famous and accomplished women, scientific and historical facts, while encompassing knowledge of outdoor activities and the world of sports.

It is a harkening back to “the good old days” of childhood, when, I remember, girls on my block rode bikes for hours on end, exploring the neighborhood; played “Spin and Marty”; solved Nancy Drew mysteries that we made up; camped overnight in the summer in makeshift tents on the “Battle Field”, where the circus would come in the Spring; played tennis on the asphalt park courts that were iced over in the winter for ice skating; built scooters in our Dad’s garages out of wooden milk cartons and bits of lumber; and, during hot, lazy summer afternoons on the back porch, voraciously read books of all kinds that we had checked out from the library.

Back then, there were no computers, cell phones, iPods, iPads, or iPhones. No Kindles or NookColors. Not even a Wii! No email, voicemail, nor any other electronic device to clutter our pockets and purses and minds, incessantly commanding our attention away from the simple joys of being and learning together as we grew up. We had books made out of paper to read, board games that came in cardboard boxes to play, and, when we wanted to communicate with one another when we weren’t together, we wrote notes using pencil and paper or dialed each other up on the wall phone in the kitchen, first asking the real, live operator to “Please connect me”. Imagine that!

As I play this game with my young friend, I am graced with the opportunity to be part of her growing up…to watch and listen as she tells me how she has done many of the activities or completed many of the projects in real life, both in school and at home, that she has gleaned from the book and now does virtually once a week in my living room. For me, our time together is a throw-back to my own childhood. As I share the game with her, I also relate to her some of the activities I did when I was her age. Amazingly enough, they are many of the same ones that she does today, Daring Girl that she is. Most of them she learned from, the game and book aside, her parents and family, teachers and friends. And in sharing them with her, I am carried forward into the future of her own adulthood, knowing and comforted that what she is learning now, besides how to text, tweet, and type, is providing her with the real survival tools and essential gear she needs in the great adventure of life. 

1:20 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Touching Our Lives

While this blog is mostly about how books that we've read, liked, and, maybe, didn't like all that much, touch our lives, perhaps we should think about how people, too, touch the many pages of our lives. Sometimes they do, all too often, in ways that we don't know about. And when we realize it, it's often years later.

Last night, after posting yesterday's entry, I got on Face Book (yes, folks, as much as I fought not doing so, I am finally on FB...posting away and reconnecting with all sorts of wonderful people from my far, distant past years in both high school and college, and even with a few people from former companies where I worked and neighborhoods where I once lived. What fun! Anyway, I was posting a notice about last night’s entry, as well as my books, when I noticed a then dear friend from both high school and college was on "Chat". Of course, I had to do a bit of instant messaging, and the conversation led us both to remember and realize that we had, indeed, touched deeply, greatly affected each other's life in ways we did not, back then, expect.

For one, Donna (I hope you don’t mind me using your first name) was two years ahead of me in high school; and while we weren't in the same "social" crowd, our paths did cross, both in some classes and outside of school. Our parents were close acquaintances, my father and her mother grew up together, and we found ourselves at a number of Church and Social Club functions. When it came time for me to decide whether to attend college or get a job, Donna stepped in. She was the first recipient of a full tuition scholarship in memory of one of its founders to the small, local Catholic girl's college. As far as a higher education was concerned, my father was all for it and had urged me to apply to Columbia, Boston College, and to an upstate campus of the State University of New York (SUNY), knowing full-well that if I did get accepted (which I was--by all three), we really couldn't afford the tuition, let along the room and board. Mom really wanted me to get a job, marry, and then give her grandchildren (obviously, that did not happen). She finally agreed that if I was to go to college, it had to be the one in town, which we still couldn't afford. I was torn, because while earning my own living was appealing, I was very much back then a "scholar", with my nose always in books, hanging out at the local library, visiting bookstores every chance I got. I'd rather read and scribble my stories than anything else. Okay, I admit proudly, I was then--and still am now--a nerd. 

Donna, who was a sophomore, and her Dad, who was my eighth grade math teacher, told my mother about the scholarship to Mercy College. Through their intervention and finally convincing me that this would be the right choice, the application was made on my behalf. Lo, and much to my surprise, on the night of my high school graduation I was handed not only my academic diploma, but a free pass to the world of higher learning. I wrote in one story of The Basset Chronicles how a nexus point in life is a decision that, once made, changes everything. If it weren't for Donna, at that nexus point of my life, I would not now have my degrees in Mathematics and English, gathered some really wonderful, close friends along the way, nor followed my dearest desire and ambition to be a creative writer. And if that decision wasn't made, now where would this blog be? Thank you, Donna!

On the other hand, she told me about an afternoon standing with a mutual friend in the kitchen of the college cafeteria where, incidentally, my mother was the dietician and food manager. Donna says the friend and I talked about Bass Weejun loafers--we were both wearing scuffed-up pairs at the time--regaling her with how comfortable they were and how collegiately "in" you were if you wore them. During or "Chat" last night, Donna said that she, since then, all these past following  years, couldn't pass by a store that carried the brand or hear about Bass Weejuns without thinking of me. Imagine that! Now, that really humbled--and quite deeply touched--me! I am eagerly looking forward to discovering how, now that we've reconnected as friends, albeit living in different states, we will wondrously affect each other’s life again.

Distant Hours, the third novel by the Australian author Kate Morton (2011, ATRIA Books, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY) is about people in both past and present times who affect the lives of Edie, a young woman who works in an English bookstore. A letter that should have been delivered to her mother fifty years ago finally arrives and the consequences of that late delivery take Edie on a visit to the decaying castle of Mindenhurst in County Kent, where the three quite elderly Sisters Blythe live. These three sisters--each one an intriguing character unto herself--greatly impact the course of the lives of both Edie and her mother. In the course of her "adventures," she meets various characters, both fictional and non-fictional within the plot, including "The Mud Man," a nosy innkeeper, and a former lover, whose lives and those of the main characters are intertwined and laced together in this finely-written novel that borders on Gothic mystery. As I read it, I was touched by the fact that as young a writer as she is, Morton has the mature sensitively, as she does in her first two novels, Forgotten Garden and House at Riverton, to create and develop characters with depth of emotion that far exceed the typical, shallow protagonist portrayals so common in most modern-day novels. Indeed, each one of them in this book poignantly touches the life of every other. And, if you read it closely enough, you'll find that they will, too, touch yours.

While sharing my favorite reads and how they affect my life with you is, indeed, fun, there is even more fun in knowing what your favorite books are and how they have affected, shaped your own life. I thought, as we move on with and develop this blog, that it might be enlightening and interesting if you would please share with me your favorites--any genre--and how they have touched you.

Using either my email on this site's left pane or one of the Comments links, please send me your entries. Include the title, author, publication information (if available), a brief plot outline and description, and how reading the book has affected you, your life, and, maybe, those around you. I have a feeling that I'll be getting a lot of suggestions, so I may not get to them all at once, but I'll try to peck away at them. Chances are I may have read one or two of your suggestions and could "instantly" write about them. Chances are, too, I haven't, and would have to do a bit of reading and research. However, with the help of your comments and suggestions, perhaps we could cobble together some future entries that share our common bounds: the love of reading and the touching bounds of friendship.

4:44 pm est          Comments

Monday, November 14, 2011

Every Day is Saturday

It's official! As of today. I have "formally" taken my early retirement from Siemens Medical Health Solutions, where I served the past ten years as a Senior Technical Writer. The first of my two major life-changing decisions has been made. And after a few hours of nervous-nelly-belly butterflies in my stomach--did I really make the right decision?--I breathed a few long, great sighs of relief--in with the nose, out with the mouth--and went for a long walk with my Basset Hound and then played a little tennis, came home, checked my email, took a shower, and then even took a short nap! These are the activities I normally used to do on Saturday afternoons when I was working. And, now, I can do them virtually every day!

This evening,  I thought I'd share a few thoughts that filtered in and out of my mind today as I went through the motions of making my first decision final.

First of all, I brought a proof copy of The Basset Chronicles down to my neighbors yesterday to show to them during an afternoon visit. I  have to tell you, and I tell you not with boasting, but with great humility, that their very smart, often precocious, nine-year-old daughter instantly immersed herself in its pages and was, as she told me, "totally enthralled". She read the entire book cover-to-cover in two hours. Hey, I told you she was precocious! She said, when asked, that she "really liked it! Will you write more?" High praise, indeed! And, again, in all due humility, yes, dear friend, I will. Now that "every day for me really is Saturday," I will make it a point to write more about my cherished hound. If, for no other reason, then to see the look of sheer delight on your face.

Secondly, I'd like to tell you how I acquired my great love of books. My father was a great reader and, in his own right, a decent poet; although, sadly, he never had the chance--what with trying to support a family and all--to realize his one great dream of being a writer. He used to say, "Some day, when I retire." But he never did make it to retirement, dying at a relatively young age of pneumonia. I often wonder if, vicariously, I am now living out his dream (this is for you, Dad...belated thanks for passing on your gifts). Anyway...when I was rather young and was able to read books beyond the "See, Jane. See, Dick. See Spot run." stage, he began putting books on the top shelf of the dark maplewood secretary in the foyer of our little house. One night at dinner he announced, "Someone put some very interesting books on the top shelf. I wonder what they are."

Well, curious and also precocious child that I  was, I could not resist. So, the next day when no one was looking, I lowered the drop-down desk of the secretary, climbed up on it, and opened the glass doors encasing the shelves. To my delight, I found copies of The Wizard of Oz, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, Little Woman, Black Beauty,  A Christmas Carol, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn... You name it, and it was there--because, at any given point in time, most of the great children's books of literary merit (many of them first editions!) made it to that top shelf. The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of hte Rings, Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan...I'd sneak a book down and read it under the covers at night, sneaking it back again when I was finished; taking another and another, as more miraculously appeared, until the shelf was overflowing and spilling on to the other shelves. (Eventually, the books made it to boxes and bookcases in my bedroom, but that is another story.) At dinner, Dad would often state that a particluar book was "stolen", or comment that one was "returned". And I, of course, did not admit that I was the culprit. Of course he knew. That was his plan all along. We had a tacit agreement never to say anything out loud to one another. It was the great secret joke between us. And I will always love him for what he did to spark and fan the flames of my reading passion. THere are many, many books today I cannot pick up without thinking of him and silently giving thanks for his brief presence and presents in my life. 

One day, I found on the shelf a copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, along with Through the Looking Glass in a Modern Library edition volume. I sequestered it upstairs that night and, under the covers with my trusty dpuble-D-celled battery powered official Girl Scout flashlight, fell down the rabbit hole in to the glorious, wondrous fantasmigorical world of Lewis Carroll. "Twas brillig and the slithy toves..." I read the book well into the next morning, oversleeping until noon, obviously, missing school ("I'm late. I'm late!"). Oh, how I wished back then that every day was Saturday! Needless to say, that book never made it back to the secretary, becasue I reread it over and over and over again, hiding it under my pillow or under my sweaters in one of my dresser drawers, sneaking a read for years every chance I got. That book. along with many others that originated on the secretary shelf, has survived my many moves and, still with its pristine dust cover, has an honored place in my glass-doored cabinet. For some reason last night, as I returned Gifts from the Sea (see Saturday's--Novembe 12, 2011--entry), I picked it up again and, once again, found myself reading it well in the night and through to this morning's wee hours. Mesmerizing. Just as wondrous and wonderland-wonderful as my first and subsequently many readings in my childhood.

But, wait, as Ron Popiel (remember him?) was want to say, "There's more!". This morning, while in my upstairs library, I found a 1994 Barnes and Noble compendium of The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll, beautifully bound in simulated leather, repleted with gold gilt on the page edges. It was minus, of course his scholarly works on logic and mathematics--remember, he was really Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), the Mathematical Lecturer at Oxford (England) when he first wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland  for Alice, the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. The Complete Works.... note only includes Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Throught the Looking Glass, but all of the original illustrations by John Tenniel and all of Carroll's other novels and whimsicals, afew of which I have either never learned about when I finally studied Carroll in the Literature of Great Britain 102 course I took in college or have forgotten about: Sylie and Bruno, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, The Hunting of the Snark (well, that one I do vaguely remember), poetry, acrostic verse, puzzles and their solutions, as well as Phantasmagoria. All of which I am literally hankering to read. An amazing and delightful discovery! A teasure trove of all that I have come to LOVE in childrens' literature (and wish I had the gifted talent to write, too)--worth once again sneaking upstairs for an early bedtime-well-into-the-morning read!

And since tomorrow, Tuesday, and every day afterwards is now really, actually, yet another Saturday for me, you can easily guess what I'll be doing after my now daily walk and tennis match.

"The Time has come," the Walrus said,
"To speak of many things...."

But, for me, it's time for bed.
6:11 pm est          Comments

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Choices
5:10 pm est          Comments

Friday, November 11, 2011

11/11/11 -- A Windy Veterans Day

Today was "one of those days", when nothing seemed to go right. I am not sure if it was the combination of the almost full moon and the fact that this date is a palindrome (like today--11/11/11, "Otto," "ada," "kayak," and my favorite, "Able was I ere I saw Elba". I need not go into the details of my own trials and tribulations--needless to say, though, I want to know when the Social Security benefits earnings rules changed just when I am about to take an early retirement; why trial versions of certain software are not "exactly" the same as the one you actually purchase, which messed up my whole  efforts for finally publishing The Basset Chonicles; and why, in goodness sake's name, are most foods, especially bacon, packed in those ridiculously hard to open plastic packages hermetically sealed so securely that you need heavy scissors and a crowbar to open? Give me a break, folks. I, as well as most of the baby boomer crowd--of which I am a proud member--have arthritis in places we won't/don't even care to mention--and there are some companies, amongst other people, that should take this, and us, into consideration. Let's make it easier for us older folk as we get on in our golden years, not harder, ya think? But, no, unfortunately, currently, with a lot of people out there that is not the case. Aaargh. 

Add these to the fact that it was a very , very blustery, windy day. Whether (weather?) any of these contributed to my frustrations or not, it was, frankly, a weirdly bad day. I am sure some, of not all, of you out there have had lately one or more of these, and will commiserate, especially with today. That being said... 

Today, in my preferred writing space of late in the family room upstairs, I could almost see the strong, persistent, cold wind outside my window as it whipped the dead, fallen leaves into eddies of air and as it twirled sticks against the side of the house across the way. It reminded me of two books that I have dearly loved (and still do): one apropos of today's holiday, Veterans' Day; and the other reminiscent of a war and its consequences that was fought on our own soil a century and a half ago. Let's take a look:

-- The Winds of War by Hermann Wouk, is a sweeping novel--Wouk's second after The Caine Mutiny--which was published in 1971 to great acclaim. It covers the life of its main character, Victor "Pug" Henry, a middle-aged Naval officer and companion of the then President Franklin Roosevelt, in the years prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. This book goes into great and captivating details about Pug's life and times, chronicalling both personal and worldwide historical events. Wouk was a very fluent writer, who left no stone or twist of plot unturned. I remember reading this novel with awe and wonder, gaining a deeper appreciation--at the much younger age when I first read it--of the major sacrifices our Veterans made during World War II. For that matter, all wars. I was a child of the 1960s and 1970s when the Vietnam War loomed over our heads, and when I read this book back then, I was enlightened and amazed at how all aspects of personal life and war are the same, regardless of what and when wars we fight--right down to our present involvements in The Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan (not to mention all those littler skimishes inbetween). Wouk followed this masterpeice up seven years later with his two-volume epic, also a masterpiece, masterpiece, War and Rememberance--chronicles depicting most aspects of WWII. I have somewhat pristine first editions of it, which I am proud to say, still graces my library shelves, and which I have tenderly opened this morning to puruse and have every intention of reading this week and next. This month, as we continue to honor our Veterans, I suggest that both of these would be great reads to absorb, in tribute to the fine ladies and gentlemen, young and old, of our Armed Forces who, literally, bravely faced the "winds of war".

--Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was given to me by my mother, as an early birthday present, the beginning of the summer that I was just turning twelve. As she handed me her first edition [(c)1936 The Macmillian Company, New York--I still have that much loved and many-times read battered copy, by the way], she said she thought I was old enough to enjoy the story and that it would take me the better part of the long school vacaton to finish reading all of its 1.037 pages. Hah! I finished it in a little less than two weeks, begging for more. Unfortunately, Gone with the Wind was the only novel Mitchell ever wrote--although it is, by far, the ultimate pinnacle, the paradigm, in miy mind, of modern American literature. Would that we could all be so blessed with such talent! I need not go into the details of the story--we're all familiar with the faithful rendition of David O. Selznick's 1939 movie starring Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh (http://www.warnervideo.com/gonewiththewind/), but when I read it perched in eager anticipation of what was going to come next on those sultry afternoons on the fading green back porch wicker settee, I was mezmerized. I was enthralled and appalled that greed and selfishness could render whole families apart, turning brother against brother, son against farther, woman against woman -- ah, yes, the ravages, the winds of war. Blustery winds indeed. This winter will be my, let's see, 20th reading of Gone with the Wind --and I am sure it will be as  enjoyable, as enriching, and as enlightening as my very first time.

Both of these books, with "wind" in each of their titles (still being published, by the way, with various editions still availabe on most book-selling sites), call to my mind the devastation of the winds of time, of, unfortunately, war, of weather, of the fates that are "blowin' in the wind" (thanks, Bob Dylan, for the song!), as well as the joys of the "Wind in the Willows", the winds that move across the sands of time, often shaping our lives and our destinies...buffettng us and blowing us forward and often, like kites, bolstering us up, soaring higher than ever we would/could think possible.

May all of the winds in your life be strong, but gentle breezes, lifting you up to greater heights.--the wind beneath your wings.
6:08 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Special Day

Today is my Basset Hound's fourth birthday. That's 22 in dog years (according to the AKC, you count the first year of a dog's life as one and then add seven times the remaining years. So, the formula is [1 + (3 x 7) = 22] ), and that's him--FrankieBernard--with me on the banner of this Web site. The picture was taken during a party for this First Birthday at Wagsworth Manor in Malvern, where he sometimes attends doggie daycare. Isn't he adorable? He's a little grayer now and much bigger, but still...you gotta love him!

Besides it being FrankieB's birthday, this is a banner for me, too. Not only has he turned four, but today is also the publication date of The Basset Chronicles, the collection of stories about Basset Hounds through the ages--and he is, of course, one of the main characters. I just received the galley proof from the publisher and it looks--and reads--amazing enough really great, if I must say so myself. Along with the delightful illustrations by Linda F. Uzelac, it is complete with FrankieB's latest picture on the cover! It should be available for purchase on www.Amazon.com  by tomorrow and through CreateSpace within the next day or two. The links will be below on this Web site just as soon as the book is available for purchase. Just in time for Holiday gift giving!

Most of my readers, along with myself, consider our pets, especially our dogs, cherished family members--we treat them almost, if not exactly, like children. This means that at "22", FrankieB is old enough to have had graduated from college, gotten his driver's license, and is now ready to embark upon the reality world of adulthood--dog adulthood, that is. While my Basset didn't really go to college (if he did, I think he would have attended Harvard), he does hold a number of certificates from various training and obedience classes, including Basic Agility (yes, he does jump over hurdles and "flys" through tunnels). He does, of course, have a "lifetime" license, complete with a electronic chip buried deep under his skin that be scanned for my name and phone number by any veterinarian--just in case he should follow his nose (as he often does), wander off, and get lost. As for dog adulthood? Well, suffice to say he's a wonderful friend and companion--each day we grow closer and closer. And he is getting better with age. I don't know what I'd do without him. 

Since FrankieB is my bestest buddy, in honor of his 22nd, er, fourth, let us go forth and take a look at one of our favorite dog books: How to Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication by Stanley Coren. This is literally a manual for dog owners; a compendium, if you will, of the various ways we communicate with our pets and, more importantly how they communicate amongst themselves and with their human counterparts. And just like all well-written manuals, this trade paperback (Free Press, New York, 2000; 274 pgs) is replete with diagrams, a visual chart that interprets body language, and "A Doggish Phrasebook" that translates into English those yips, growls, barks, howls, baying, whines, whimpers, moans and cries that our canine pals "speak" to us each day. Complete with dialects! Amazing and very enlightening.

I sent a copy of How to Speak Dog  to my sister in Atlanta, who had just recently adopted a 10-month old female Labrador-Rhodesian Ridgeback cross. Halfway through the book, she was able to instantly understand what her new canine family member was "saying". Talk about instant messaging! Likewise, I often apply the translations to my own hound's various and myriad howlings and bays. He looks at me quite quizzically with that slight, inquiring crick of his head as if to ask, "How did you know what I wanted?" 

On the cover, there is a photograph of whom I surmise is the author and a scruffy terrier on the floor with a chessboard between them. The black queen, a knight, and a pawn are off the board, on the dog's side, leading us to infer that the dog is winning the game. It also implies, as this book clearly states, that our dogs are much brighter, more intelligent, infinitely smarter and oh so wiser, and delightfully, amazingly more communicative then we imagine or give them credit for. If only we would listen to them more often. This is a book you'll want to own and keep at hand to aid your listening--dog-earring (pun intended) those chapters and verses that especially apply to your own best buddy. 

Ah, "speaking" of whom...here's my own pal now, resting his chin on my knee, softly whimpering. He's telling me it's time for our long walk around the neighborhood, and then--what's that you say? A ride in the "car-car" to the pet store so you can sniff out a favorite treat for your birthday? Are you spoiled or what? Okay, big guy. Find your lead. here we go.
 
WOOF!

5:20 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

One of My Favorites

Now that I've regaled you with my boastings of my own work, let me start sharing some thoughts about my favorite mainstream writers.

Let's start with Helen Hoover Santmyer (1895-1986). Actually, she was born in November, 116 years ago, so it is fitting that I pick her first. Ms Santmyer was a talented poet and at Cedarville University in Xenia, Ohio was the Dean of Woman and the head of its English Department. An esteemed career. She is also the author of Herbs and Apples, Ohio Town, The Fierce Dispute, and And Ladies of the Club, the latter being one of the foremost New York Times Best-Sellers and main Book-of-the-Month Club selections of 1984.

It's also one of my most favorite reads, following the lives of a group of women in the fictional town of Waynesboro, Ohio, who start the Waynesboro Ladies Club in 1868 that quickly evolves into a significant community service organization. The plot centers around the two main characters, Anne Gordon and Sally Raush, and follows them and their children and grandchildren, friends, and other town residents, through fifty years of American history from 1868 through 1932. It's a wonderful, thought-provoking, and inspiring read (still available in print on many book-selling sites)--the type of book that you can curl up with on a snowy or rainy afternoon and find yourself still enraptured in reading well into the late hours of the next morning.

When I first read And Ladies of the Club, I was still in my late 30s, about the same age Helen was when she started writing it, and about the time I started to seriously consider starting my own creative writing career. I think it was the story about the story, not the story itself (although it's a great one), that so inspired me. It took the author fifty years of dedication and perseverance to write this book--her life's work--finally finishing and seeing it published just before her demise at the age of 88 in a nursing home. What is amazing is her stick-to-itiveness, her discipline, and her courage to complete the book, despite her age and probable infirmities. Regardless, she forged on and accomplished what she set out to do--and did it quite successfully. Which, along with the fine writing and engrossing story-telling, is the main reason that I adore this book.

I'd like to think that, as we grow older, each of us has within that special spark of courage and tenaciousness that Helen Hoover Santmyer had. That spark that lit her fire to continue on despite all odds--to be dedicated and persistant enough to accept and accomplish what deep in her heart she knew she was really meant to do. She did not depend upon outside forces or mind-numbing corporations and their often sterile environments, like many of us did (and some of us still do). I believe there is a creative spark in all of us and, if we each try hard enough, we'll find it. When we do, with the right encouragement to fan the flames, we'll all use it and join Helen's club.

Happy reading and creating!

2:04 pm est          Comments

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sunday is normally a day of rest for my household. It's a full day to rest and recuperate from the myriad stresses of everyday, week-in-week-out life. On cool autumn afternoons, as yesterday was, we normally spend it in the family room in front of a cozy fire, reading a good book, watching old movies, brewing up a hearty stew, and generally communing with the presences (these are truly presents) that be. So, yesterday I spent an hour or so after a long walk around the neighborhood with my Basset Hound, reflecting upon this venture of mine to start a full-time creative writing career. For me, it's a massively major leap of faith, one of many I have taken in the course of my life. To firm up the foundation for the future, I had to look back on what those were.

For one, I wrote a fistful of children's musicals with my dear friend and collaborator, Linda uzelac, over the course of the past twenty or so years. You may have heard of them, or at least seen a production or two in Atlanta or Nova Scotia: We Three Kings, Beauty and the Beast, Noah's Rainbow. Or, maybe not. They are three of the five we've written together--so far. There is one more still in the works, if I ever get around to finishing the second act and writing its lyrics...

Anyway, let me preface this by saying that I had promised to share a few of my personal preferences...one of them being musical composers--Mozart, Bach, Beethoven...the usual classical bunch. And not a day goes by without an album (yes I still play vinyl) or CD of various symponies and/or sonatas blaring through my stereo. Linda is not a classical composer, but as far as theatre musicals go, she ranks up there with Webber, Sondheim, Hammerstein, and Schwartz, to name just a few of my favorites. Her talent is, I must say, amazing. And every once in a while, I'll throw on a CD of one of the few productions of our musicals as inspiration and to remind myself that, yes, we, too, have written some good stuff and are worthy of recognition.

So, here's the deal...I have to brag about our musicals. They're good; they are fun; they appeal to children of all ages; the dialogue and lyrics are clever, and the music is lyrical, often touching. We believe that they are worthy of being staged mny times by many theatres, churches, and schools across the country. However, outside of the few productions in Georgia and Nova Scotia, and despite hours and hours, days and days and even weeks of marketing efforts contacting productions groups--both community and regional, as well as schools--we've nary, barely, at best, maybe one or two, a look-see.

We know there's a plethora of new musicals to choose from, and we also know that the bottom line for theatres is to make some money--even community theatres. I've gotten comments that they want "proven" shows., not new ones, that will bring in the crowds and satiate the gate. Well, folks, "proven" shows were once new. And ours are just as freshly creative and alive and crisply "new" as a good show can be.

Come on, all you theatre troupes out there, access www.stagedoormusicals.com and give us a look-see. Give us a call. Give us older cronies a chance. 

I am sure you'll be pleased by what you see, and amply rewarded by the shows of ours that you decide to produce! And, it will give your theater(s) and my writing career a major boost.

Break a leg! 
12:10 pm est          Comments

Saturday, November 5, 2011

First Entry

First of all, I have to admit I am not sure how to go about this. As my friends and family know, I am a very private person and while I don't wish to reveal anything really personal nor share my innermost secrets like some other blogs I've been reading, I do wish to share with you all the writing part of my life. Which is the most important part.

From time to time, then, I will be posting entries to this blog, relaying thoughts about books--books I've read and, more importantly, books I've written, as well as thoughts about (my) life in general. And, already, two books are foremost in my mind: Adventures of Oreigh Ogglefont and Help is on the Way.

-- Adventures of Oreigh Ogglefont , of course, I wrote. It's a series of allegorical stories written over the span of two years and describes the adventures of what I would term a "book avatar", the avatar being, perhaps, an alter ego of mine. What the allegories mean and what the various circumstances of Oreigh's adventures represent, I leave up to you, the reader. They're the kind of stories older children and adults can relate to on many levels. Joyfully illlustrated by a dear friend of mine (Linda F. Uzelac), they boast both seriousness and touches of humor. My favorite story of the lot is the last one, "Distant Melodies"...and those of you who are familiar with musical terminology will surely enjoy the puns. However, the other stories are just as equally, I hope, enlightening and entertaining.

-- Help is on the Way is Book One of a 7-Continent Series by A. M. Brimmar about four cousins who go about saving representative members of endangered species around the world. The four cousins are really cousins who, together, with the help of their wonderful grandmother (who is, in real life, as close to me as a sister can get), actually wrote and published the book. This first in the series is set in North America and with the help of a wondrous, large Eagle who communicates to the children telepathically, Ben, Melanie, Adam, and Rachel--founding members of the Animal Protection Club (APC)--go about traveling and saving a Gray Wolf, a Black Footed Ferret, a Manatee, and a Florida Panther. As I wrote in my review on Amazon, "I am heartwarmed to know and trust that future generations of adults who will one day inherit what is quickly becoming a tired and dying world habitat truly, truly care and want to do something about saving and making our world a better place to live.This book will definitely rouse its readers to act upon its message, and, subsequently, ensure that help for endangered species will really be on the way!"

Both books are available on Amazon.com. Here's the link to Help is on the Way: http://www.amazon.com/Help-Way-America-M-Brimmar/dp/1461117909/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1320521369&sr=1-1. The link to mine is at the bottom of this Web site.

And, just to alert you... my collection of stories about Basset Hounds through the ages, The Basset Chronicles, is coming soon from B'Seti Pup Publishing through CreateSpace, and will be availabe on both Amazon.com and bn.com (Barnes and Noble) within the next week or so, just in time for the Holidays! This book includes, pardon the pun, "tails" about my favorite breed of canines and how various members, all aptly named "Frankie", were involved in events in Biblical history and in modern times. Of course, I had to choose a Basset Hound, because I am enamoured of the breed and have one--rather, he owns me! It have thoroughly enjoyed writing The Basset Chronicles, especially the modern stories. The illustrations, again by Linda F. Uzelac, are both whimsical and poignant. And, like Adventures of Orieigh Ogglefont, I hope you'll find these stories both enlightening and entertaining. I'll let you know when the book is published and ready for your Holiday gift giving! Children of all ages are sure to enjoy it.

Happy reading!

3:32 pm edt          Comments


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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currenty published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations, two volumes of poetry, stories for children (of all ages) and a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:

the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Forty-Thirty 
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members

Adventures of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Spinach Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A Collection of More Spiritual Poems

We Three Kings

Beauty and the Beast

Bethlehem

Noah's Rainbow

Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding Hood

 

 

Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She is currently working on her fourth novel.

June's novels can be purchased at amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble,
at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area,
and 
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA
.

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,