One Week Left!

Please vote for “I’m a Writer, Yes I Am” so I have a shot at proving my claim! 😉 Encourage your friends, neighbors and random people on the street to do the same because really the future of the universe depends on it! I’ve been nominated for Best Overall Blog.

You (and your friends, neighbors and random people on the street) can vote here.

Or here: https://sachablack.co.uk/2018/04/06/voting-is-now-open-for-the-annual-bloggers-bash-awards-bloggersbash/

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Writer’s Block

Over this past year I’ve thought a lot about being a writer — more than I’ve written (f you don’t count this blog). I had always mocked people who whined about writers block, but I was stuck in it. I mocked myself, too, because, you know, there’s no one holding a gun at my head saying, “Write or die!” I took my own advice and backed off from the whole thing. I wrote some good short stories in the interval and occasionally worked on The Schneebelis Go to America so I didn’t lose touch with it. I put together My Everest, a labor of love that taught me a lot about myself as a writer (and as a person). Sometimes I’ve been frustrated, but mostly I figured, “If it happens (continuing the novel I was mired in) it happens. No one really cares, anyway.”

There’s liberty there. I wasn’t aware during this whole time that my mind was coming to an understanding of what it means to me to write, self-publish and, in my limited way, promote books.

Sometime last fall I was notified that Martin of Gfenn had been short-listed for the Chanticleer Reviews Chaucer Award — that’s an award for historical novels set in a time period before the 1750’s. That’s thousands of years, BTW. I was happy and confused. Did I have to DO something? Because godnose I didn’t want to DO anything. I didn’t even remember sending the book (or the entry fee). While there had been an honor bestowed up on me, there was also a problem. I am not walking really well. I didn’t want to go through the airplane (and financial!) nightmare of getting out of the San Luis Valley to a small corner of the Pacific Northwest. The conference where the awards were being bestowed was at a place I’d love to visit, but only when I’m able to sightsee, hike, go on boats, etc.

And, I didn’t think I’d win. I mostly forgot about it. Time passed, the conference occured, and I didn’t win the prize. I was mildly disappointed. I think my friends were more disappointed for me. In my time thinking about what it means to me to write, I’d already discovered what the prize is for me as a writer, beyond the work itself, (ah-HA!) It’s readers who love my work. I could sure use $1000 prize money (it would pay to board the dogs while I’m rehabbing from hip surgery) but otherwise? I don’t need a another prize. I have the book, the experience writing the book, the thrill of opening fan letters from Switzerland (where the book is set!), the reviews in Swiss newspapers, the heart-felt reactions of my friends to the novel, the expressions on their faces when they talk to me about it (wow ❤ ). What, in the currency of this ephemeral world could be more? There really isn’t anything.

Meanwhile, the situation with my arthritic hip progressed through a cortisone shot, a brief fling with mobility, physical therapy, the failure of the cortisone shot, scheduling surgery, etc. ad nauseum. And my manuscript began calling to me. I printed it, read it and thought, “Some of this is beautiful.” I used Grammarly to help me with the invisible typos and made that level of revision as well as some changes to make it consistent, then I contacted the woman who’s been my great and helpful editor in the past for help “seeing.”

Through all this (and there’s more but…) I saw that writing, for me, is like flying as it’s described in one the Hitchhiker’s Guide books; you throw yourself at the ground and miss. And now? I’m thinking all the time about the Goliards and Michele, the Italian painter who was Martin of Gfenn’s teacher. My Schneebelis need work, but I don’t know what work, and in a few weeks my editor will get the book and help me out. And I’m getting a new hip. I don’t know, it’s all pretty good from where I’m sitting. ❤

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/bestow/

Lovely Blog Post on Courage

One thing I’ve gotten from the Blogger Bash thing (You can still vote. Vote for me here 😀 ) is exposure to more blogs and some of them are great. I’m following more blogs and I think I’m being followed…

This is a really good post by a young hiker from her blog, “Must Hike; Must Eat.” She writes about the question of courage. If you read my blog, you know that question interests me I guess because maybe I’m scared a lot. Enjoy!

The Definition of Courage

Once Upon a Time

My brother had a little girl, and I loved her more than anything. Strangely, you can have unrequited love in your own family, and that love story didn’t work out well. Not because of me, and probably not because of her. I suspect all the other dark factors that affected my family. The photo is her with her mom about 1981.

When she was a little thing, just walking and talking, she was my best bud. I didn’t get to see her often because there was a lot of stress in the famdamnily, but when I did see her, it was the greatest.

Once we went out to eat together — her mom, dad, and I. We had finished dinner and were sitting around the table while my niece played in a largely empty restaurant. She was enthralled with the (to her) long distance between the back wall and the front windows. I joined her in the back of the restaurant about to share an adventure to the front.

“Let’s go!” she said. She’d just learned to run without falling on her face.

“Where?” I asked.

THERE!” she replied.

“There? That’s too vague,” I answered (to a two year old)

“OK. Let’s go to vague!”

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/vague/

Rambling Earth Day Rant

Last year on Earth Day I was hobbling in the March for Science in Colorado Springs with my friend, Lois and her son, Mark and a few other people. It was a blustery day. I made these posters in honor of my dad who was a scientist — a mathematician — in Colorado Springs, at NORAD. I thought they were awesome and they pulled on my heartstrings, but most people had no idea what that ruler was.

The march had speakers and Antifa and law enforcement and a lot of oldsters — old hippies, old teachers, and old whatever I am. There were many young families with great kids. There was even a mathematician. I think he and his sign would have delighted my dad.

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This year, obviously, with my messed up hip, I’m not partaking, but I probably wouldn’t partake anyway. I’ve never been an activist probably because I don’t like crowds of people. I’ve marched twice in my life. The first Earth Day and Earth Day last year. Many people disagree with me, believing marches accomplish a lot, and that’s OK. They get to have the parking place I’m not using. 😉

The way I see it, without a functioning planet, it really doesn’t matter what else is going on. I think it was Wendell Berry who wrote something like, “The smallest unit necessary for the survival of humanity is the Universe.”

Right now, a mile as the crow flies from the Great Sand Dunes National park, there is a drama playing out. The BLM wants to auction leases for drilling (fracking?). Those who support this argue there is a mountain range between the proposed drilling area and the Sand Dunes. Those of us who have a brain understand that a mile is a human construction and it’s all one place as far as the ground is concerned. You can learn more about this here. If you’re so moved, please write your Congress people.

The Great Sand Dunes has been identified as America’s quietest national park. The night sky there is unbelievable to people who are not used to such profound darkness (and starlight). The water that flows from the Medano Glacier every spring is crystal clear and ice cold. It is the (almost free) playground of the people who live in my valley. When I was last there, in October, on a blustery day with a cold wind and the threat of snow, there were tourists from all over the world. It’s a unique and beautiful wild place.

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The red indicates where the leasing parcels are, the blue outlines the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness area, and the green shows the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. The yellow are small passes (hiking and 4-wheel drive) over the mountains.

The human factor here is that the county in which this would take place is one of the poorest in the US with some of the highest rates of opioid addiction. Some theorize that the jobs the drilling would bring to the area would be good for the people and help solve some of its worst problems. I honestly don’t think so.

That’s the tension that confronts us all the time. People need things NOW — and I mean NEED not WANT. Back in the 1980s China justified its rape of the environment by saying, “We’re an underdeveloped country. You can’t expect us to follow rules we don’t have the technology for and that will keep us from catching up with the rest of the world.” They had a point. I got it. I’d lived there and I’d seen a highway being built by women with small hammers breaking concrete. I knew the condition of Chinese sanitation and of their drinking water (boil it first). Hepatitus was almost endemic. I’d been to factories on Chinese communes that were, essentially, in people’s living rooms. I’d (routinely) ridden a bicycle 20 miles RT to buy food. It was really a hard way to live. Should they have had to STAY at that point for the good of the Earth? That was the question. It’s huge.

If I’d been making the decision, I’d haved moved forward with what was working — and bicycles were working as was their shambling public transportation system. I’d have stuck with the bikes and built up (as they did) their public transportation. But people wanted cars and freeways. These days, many Chinese have two cars and traffic in Beijing makes California’s fabled 405 freeway through LA look like quiet country road.

Now that they CAN do something, they are, but they have to fix everything they broke. That’s complicated. Every bit of environmental irresponsibility sets off a chain of disasters. When I lived in China there was almost no smog because there were very few cars and industry was small. Thirty years later, China has had to contend with some of the most dangerous smog the world has ever known. Beyond air quality for current breathers, is the effect of that air on the atmosphere over a period of years.

Back in the 1950s, Chairman Mao had the idea that China could move forward (The Great Leap Forward) if people started making steel in their backyards. Seriously. OK that sounds nuts, but people did. He also had the idea that since birds eat seeds, an all out war on sparrows could not happen too soon. People killed birds. The result of these two dubious programs was a lot of crappy steel (and less fuel for cooking and real industry) and crops overrun by caterpillars. People went hungry. Yeah.

But he made the point that individual people doing their small parts can make big changes.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/partake/

Rosebuds

I’ve begun reading the Goliard poetry. The commentary/introduction to the Goliards of the book I’m reading, Wine, Women and Song by John Addington Symonds irked me big time yesterday. It was all Renaissance this Renaissance that and you know, that bugs me. The way historians conventionally talk about the Renaissance you’d think all that just SPRANG out of nothing, that people lived their primitive, un-Roman, grubby little lives until, voilá, Leonardo. The book is around 150 years old, but that notion lingers on.

This historian compared Goliard poetry to Renaissance poetry and, IMO, that requires a time machine. If I were an intellectual living in the 1880s I’d be tempted to look more at INFLUENCE than comparison, but not this guy. I wanted to hit him over the head with a mallet. An example — at the end of a long and beautiful love poem, the benighted Mr. Symmonds writes:

It would surely be superfluous to point out the fluent elegance of this poem, or to dwell farther upon the astonishing fact that anything so purely Renaissance in tone should have been produced in the twelfth century.

I want to throttle him.

It’s funny to me how we name historical epochs (for our convenience) and then go on as if it were a real thing. “Hey, Leonardo, dude, here’s what I’m thinking. Renaissance? What’s your take on that? Like it? I think it’s a hell of a marketing stragedy for my badass ceiling and sculptures.”

“Mike, leave me alone. I’m writing secrets backwards.”

Yesterday I read this 12th century exhortation to love (remember, these are songs):

THE INVITATION TO YOUTH.
No. 8.

Take your pleasure, dance and play,
Each with other while ye may:
Youth is nimble, full of grace;
Age is lame, of tardy pace.

We the wars of love should wage,
Who are yet of tender age;
‘Neath the tents of Venus dwell
All the joys that youth loves well.

Young men kindle heart’s desire;
You may liken them to fire:
Old men frighten love away
With cold frost and dry decay.

For some reason, it reminded me of THIS (written during the Renaissance):

To the Virgins to Make Much of Time
Robert Herrick, 1591 – 1674

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former. 

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

The Carmina Burana is filled with songs on this theme.

What IF (and this is a revolutionary thought) one thing leads to another?

But I’m not fair to Mr. Symmonds. His job was to open the minds of his readers to the notion that the Middle Ages were NOT a Dark Ages. He used the handholds he had to do this. I’m not exactly the audience for whom he was writing and I bet the audience he hoped to reach got his point which was, “Hey, these are really cool and beautiful songs kind of like all that stuff you like from the Renaissance!”

There are HUNDREDS of Goliard songs. I can’t imagine that they just lurked in dark taverns with iconoclastic young clerics. I’d bet they were EVERYWHERE these wandering scholars went in their, uh, wandering. I bet LOTS of non-wandering scholars — you know, just people? — knew them. I bet they had a larger influence than we know or the Church would not have wanted so badly to stem the tide of disillusioned drunken libidinous clerics wandering Europe, looking for teaching jobs and criticizing the hypocrisy of the church.

The OTHER egregious thing Mr. Symmonds does is compare some of the church-criticizing poetry to the Reformation. Again, that requires a time machine. BUT…WE look at the Reformation as a discrete event in history that sprang up spontaneously (simultaneous to the Renaissance?) but it wasn’t. Symmonds even opens his book with a quotation from Martin Luther. Again, for his Post-Reformation readers, that could strike a chord legitimizing the redemption of the “Dark Ages”.

The British art historian, Waldemar Januszczak, in his series for the BBC The Renaissance Unchained makes a good case (pretty much my case). His argument is that the Renaissance is Papist propaganda designed to combat the Reformation. When I began watching the series a year or so ago, and he made that point, I cheered. I’m not casting aspersions on so-called Renaissance art at all (it’s amazing), but those guys were PAID to paint and sculpt what they did to convey the message the Church wanted them to.

Do I like the songs/poems I’m reading? Not a lot, actually, but what’s behind them is very attractive. A whole world. Reading one spring/love/sex poem after another brought me to poor old Faust on Easter, bewailing his age and all the years he’d spent in study rather than gathering rosebuds.

That roses have thorns is, maybe, the wisdom of old age.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/mallet/

“Authentic?”

Back in the day when I was a teacher, I was often called “authentic” or “real.” People said, “You’re yourself, even in the classroom!”

I found this very odd. Who else would I be? ESPECIALLY in the classroom. It was one of the many mysteries of my career that fell under the heading, “What do other teachers do?”

I have no idea. When anyone said it to me, I wondered if other teachers put on a “teacher suit” and walked into their classes every day. For that matter, anyone at any job is not 100% themselves. We all play roles at work. Here’s me teaching:

Walk into the classroom — probably early. Sit down and assemble tools for the hour or however long the class is. Get the file of this class’ work out of your bag, gather handouts if appropriate, load the slide show if there is one, answer questions from the ones who’ve learned if they get there early they get time with the teacher. Joke around with students. Class fills. Look at the clock. At the appointed hour (or a couple minutes after, depending) assuming a (usually sincerely) friendly smile, look around the room. In my eyes is a SECOND message, “We’re starting now,” and the show began.

It was a performance. Always. I haven’t done any of it ONCE since I retired.

But, there were surprises, too. Maybe my “authenticity” emerged in THOSE moments like the time a student I liked, who liked me, said, “Fuck you!” He was angry and he meant it.

How did I “authentically” handle that? “You might want to leave now,” is what I said to him, quietly knowing that the other students’ eyes were on me. What I authentically meant was, “Get out of here before I call security.”

Of course, the kid had to come BACK to class. I knew the moment would come but not when or how. Sure enough, several days later the kid was waiting for me in the hall outside the classroom.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I was…”

“I know. That kind of thing just hurts you. You have to learn to keep your shit together. Come back to class.”

Was that authentic? Yes and no. I happened because of the contract I had signed with the university that carried with it the implication of a contract between me and my students. And that contract carried the notion that “You’re going to be interacting with 19 year olds. There’s no way to accurately assess their mental states at any given moment. Wear a psychic flak jacket when you go in there, and carry vases for the roses you’ll receive.”

What was authentic? I believed in what I was teaching. That was 100% real. I liked my students. I enjoyed the classroom. All of that, authentic. Maybe that was “different,” but I’ll never know.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/authentic/

Dude Wakes Up and Smells the Coffee

“Dude! Dude! Wake up! Dude! You’re supposed to be on Wilshire Boulevard in 2 hours. I don’t think you’re going to make it!”

“Wha??? Where am I? Chief?”

“You were dreaming, Dude. Some gawdawful thing that made you scream ‘moider’ every few minutes.”

“Oh Lamont! Thank Whatever! You’re ALIVE!!!!”

“Don’t kiss my hand, good grief, Dude. You just had a dream. But you have to get up and out of here with your Smilodon suit. Seriously.” Two hours is barely enough time.”

“You’re not dead?”

“Not as of now, no. But the future is certain and the end is always near.”

“Ha ha. I’ll tell you my dream when I get home. It was wacko. It was like we were in a parallel universe or something.”

“Not surprising. Every time you drink red wine with your ravioli you have nightmares.”

“That’s true. Well, I’m off.”

“True enough. Drive carefully and have fun up there in La-La Land. Here’s your coffee.”

***

This is part 4 in a four part series. To find out how our heroes got to this point…

Episode 1 in this series

Episode 2 in this series

Episode 3 in this series.

Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their past incarnations. This gives them a unique perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/parallel/

The Wonderfulness of Ignorance and the Limitations of School

I was a teacher. I even — as a student — mostly liked school. BUT I had a dad who was maybe a little unusual. In second grade when I decided to become an archeologist, my dad handed me the book, Rivers in the DesertIn second grade, I couldn’t read it, but I could KIND of read it and I thought it was GREAT that I was lying on my stomach kind of reading a grown up book about archeology in a place very far away. The Negev Desert — what the book is about — showed up again later in my life when I was ten and saw David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. Of course THAT led to my first love, T. E. Lawrence, and reading Seven Pillars of Wisdom. ❤ Good times.

I didn’t know what foundation all that was building until grad school, which I hated. By then I had learned that I am a self-directed learner and the greatest thing I got as a kid is curiosity and the willingness to do research. The best thing I got in grad school was a refinement of the research skills I’d learned all through school.

School is bullshit except for the things it teaches you how to do. You might learn some interesting stuff, too, you might get a foundation in the mainstream basics of everything (I did and it was great!) but, as I used to try to explain to my university students, anything you WANT to learn you’re on your own. Godwilling you have good tools.

One of the things that happened to me as a student in university — undergrad — was the discovery of an interest in what people in the past were ACTUALLY doing on a more individual level. You can’t get much of that in a history class.

Human life is a tapestry; even looking at my OWN life I see that. Maybe this will make sense. Today I spent alone, in pain from physical therapy yesterday, I was tired, but I walked the dogs which was nice, I fussed on my front flower beds and talked to the mailman and planted my second Scarlet Emperor Bean in a pot. I had contact with friends via computer and I missed a phone call. BUT — an example of just one design — in Colorado Springs, at the hospital where I will have surgery, they’re busy trying to get me organized for that. In the background, a nurse is planning a phone call because I don’t want to drive 3 hours for the pre-surgery class and 3 hours back and board the dogs. MY part of the tapestry (that they weren’t aware of) is where I live. THEIR part is to get me ready. WE have to come together and work that out. I will answer the phone at 10 am and we’ll weave our parts together for a little interval.

That’s how I think about the past or the lives of characters in my novels. I am interested in what ordinary individual (probably fictional) people were doing in an ordinary day. That isn’t taught in school. Martin of Gfenn is full of details of life in Zürich in the 13th century. To write it, I had to become a medievalist. I wasn’t before. I’d “specialized” in 19th century American literature, but that’s minor. It was the way I learned to do research. And how did I get interested in something like that, anyway? I was following an Irish monk (St. Gall) whom I’d just learned about and my friend’s mom said he should take me to see the little medieval church in the village of Gfenn. It was nearby, so why not? Well, turned out the pamphlet explained (in German which I could barely decode) that it had been part of a leper community in the 13th century.

I knew nothing about the 13th century, leprosy or Swiss history at that moment but my curiosity was piqued and I had been struck by the paintings on the walls inside the little church.

In my new role as a medievalist (Swiss medievalist to add absurdity to absurdity) I was frustrated because I couldn’t answer questions. It was only when I found — and hung out with — a Swiss Medievalist Historian who was interested in the same period in the same place, that I understood, “We don’t know.” We were “in” the 13th century, and the further back you look through time’s reverse telescope, the less certain knowledge there is.

To make it worse (better? more interesting?)  history like all other aspects of scholarship these days, is making giant strides thanks to technology. What was believed to be true about lepers in the high middle ages at the time I began writing the novel (1998) had been disproven by paleohistorians by the time the novel was pretty much finished (2005). In MY case, because I prefer primary sources — the words, paintings and artifacts of people living at the time — it wasn’t much of a problem for me. Nothing in the primary sources said ANYTHING remotely resembling the common view of the medieval leper as it was perceived in 1998 (marginalized, shunned, and persecuted). Nothing.

The most important thing is never what we KNOW but what we don’t know and how curious we are to learn more. I do a lot of research because I write historical fiction and I care a LOT about capturing the moments of people in my stories. I don’t write historical romances or didactic, polemic fiction to push an agenda. I have no agenda and romance is (to me) just pretty boring.

I don’t know why I write historical fiction. No idea at all. But when I get into a “new” world I love it. It’s like a great glowing labyrinth I can just wander in and glean what I need for the “world” that will (hopefully) live between the covers of a book. All the schooling I’ve brought with me to my novels is how to read, write, and do research. The facile superficial present-centric stuff that passed for history in my education doesn’t begin to help me — but every once in a while some little bit of it gleams, “Hey! Look at me! I’m useful!”

The biggest moment of THAT was when I was living in China in the early 80s and WISHED I’d paid attention to that paragraph in my sophomore world history class on the Boxer Rebellion. BUT the humiliating recognition of how my juvenile hubris betrayed me later in life was a lesson in itself.

As a teacher, I believed the best thing I could offer my students was something worth pursuing — they were already trained to pursue a grade, but an idea? Or a fact? Or a better answer? That was (for a lot of them) something new. But that was the best thing I got out of my time as a student — the desire to learn and the drive to pursue what I wanted to know. As for why I’m a writer, I have no idea other than I like it.

The upshot is that I know a lot of weird stuff no one needs to know and that isn’t useful to anyone but me. The way I see it, everyone else knows weird stuff that’s useful to them and useless to me (until I find I need it, then I will seek you out whether you’re dead or alive). That’s the essence of the great tapestry of human knowledge and experience. Ignorance — which is so often derided — can be — is! — the launching pad for curiosity.