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Forget About It

18 Aug

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forget About It

By L. Stewart Marsden

Never forget.

Forget, hell!

Gettysburg. Manassas. Fort Sumter. Shiloh. Richmond. Antietam. Petersburg. Vicksburg. Andersonville. Chickamauga. Lookout Mountain. Appomattox.

Images of the statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Baghdad, Iraq.

Images of the statue of Robert E. Lee being toppled in Durham, NC.

The oft-quoted maxim involving forgetting history – while a tired phrase – might apply here. The poet and philosopher, George Santayana is purported to have said:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Of course, various versions have been bantered about throughout time.

Edmund Burke said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

Winston Churchill weighed in with, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

And my favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut, put his spin on the phrase, elaborating, of course:

I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana … We’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive. It’s pretty dense kids who haven’t figured that out by the time they’re ten…. Most kids can’t afford to go to Harvard and be misinformed.

History is filled with images and symbols that act as touchstones to the past. The Roman Empire SPQR held high on a pole; the sign of the fish for early Christians; family crests (I am currently wearing a ring with my family’s crest). From the benign to the monstrous. The cross on the shields of Christian warriors who slaughtered in the name of Christ during the Crusades; the swastika, “a sacred symbol of the spiritual principles in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism”† to a symbol of Nazi Aryan race identity, hate, and mass murder.

Flags of the nations. During WWII the Japanese flag elicited much anger on the part of Americans. The Russian flag did the same during the Cold War.

And statues and busts of every imaginable sort.

A growing sentiment is being heard across the country, urging the destruction or eradication of both symbols and statues that represent to that group something odious and despicable. Confederate flags, once incorporated into various southern state flags, are being removed from, or being called to be removed from those state symbols. The sentiment is significant, but not quite a majority.

There are those who are baffled by what seems to be as vitriolic a response as those who see these symbols as touchstones to a time and way of life they have identified with for generations.

Fascists, come the cries. Bigots and racists.

Liberals, come the retorts. Pinko commies who want to take without earning.

A fear has swept over the country, like tsunamis from two directions hurtling toward each other. One group fearful that the country will revert to pre-Civil War days, and minorities will be enslaved and hunted and valued at a lesser level (2/3?) than their white counterparts. The other group, doggedly holding onto values they believe to be inalienable rights, and angry and frustrated that the country “is going to hell in a hand basket.”

In the middle – between these two groups – a large segment of the country who are confused at best, ignorant at worst, at what to do. Wishing and hoping it will all “settle down” so life can resume as it was. Content with the status quo. Spectators.

Do you eradicate any and all controversial symbols of the past? Anything offensive to anyone? Do we bury the reality of a civil war on our soil that took between 620,000 and 750,000 lives on the battlefield? ††

It’s true that many in this country cling to these symbols as a connection to a time and way of life they would prefer. It is also true the symbols are odious reminders of oppression and worse.

One group says “you are erasing history.” The other, “we are removing the icons of hate and bigotry and fascism.”

Is there a solution regarding these remnants and reminders of a time our country was literally ripped apart? Do we eradicate these touchstones to a time when people, many born in the United States, were enslaved and denied the rights of citizenry or even humanhood?

It is revealing that descendants of the men depicted by statues honoring their ancestors express mixed emotion:

“William Jackson Christian (known as Jack) and Warren Edmund Christian are great-great-grandsons of Stonewall Jackson, the general best known for leading Confederate troops in the First Battle of Bull Run. On Wednesday, they published a blistering open letter in Slate, calling statues of Jackson and other Confederate leaders in their hometown, Richmond, ‘overt symbols of racism and white supremacy.’”

“‘While we are not ashamed of our great-great-grandfather, we are ashamed to benefit from white supremacy while our black family and friends suffer,” they wrote. “We are ashamed of the monument.’”

“Bertram Hayes-Davis, a great-great-grandson of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, has been less forceful than the Christians. In an interview with the CNN host Don Lemon, he said that statues of Davis and other Confederate leaders at the United States Capitol ‘were placed there for a reason,’ but that they should be moved to a museum if their current location is ‘offensive to a large majority of the public.’”

“The statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville was the cause célèbre of the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who marched last weekend. But Lee’s great-great-grandson, Robert E. Lee V, told CNN he would not object if local officials chose to take it down.

“‘Maybe it’s appropriate to have them in museums or to put them in some sort of historical context in that regard,’ Mr. Lee, 54, the boys’ athletic director at the Potomac School in McLean, Va., said in the CNN interview. But, he added, ‘we have to be able to have that conversation without all of the hatred and the violence.’

“In a statement, he and Tracy Lee Crittenberger, Robert E. Lee’s great-great-granddaughter, said Lee would not have supported the actions of the white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. Like Mr. Hayes-Davis, they defended their great-great-grandfather to some extent, saying his life ‘was about duty, honor and country.’

“‘At the end of the Civil War, he implored the nation to come together to heal our wounds and to move forward to become a more unified nation,’ they wrote. ‘He never would have tolerated the hateful words and violent actions of white supremacists, the K.K.K. or neo-Nazis.’

“A museum, Mr. Lee and Ms. Crittenberger said, might be a better place for such statues: a place where they could be put in the context of the 1860s.

“But Mr. Lee added in an interview with The Washington Post, ‘If it can avoid any days like this past Saturday in Charlottesville, then take them down today.’”†††

I am white. I was born in the South. I am part of the “privileged class,” and grew up in a small southern town and did not want for anything growing up. While my heritage was not based on Southern tradition (my parents relocated to the South at the end of WWII, having grown up in Minnesota), the norms of that quaint community were assimilated in many ways into my family. I attended an exclusive all-boys prep school nestled in the rural hills of Virginia not far from Fredericksburg and Lynchburg and Richmond. At the time, the school was all-white as far as students and faculty goes. Many of my classmates bore the recognizable last names of families steeped in Virginia and southern history.

In public school, there were no blacks in the schools I attended until I reached junior high, and then a hand-full only. Segregation was in force and enforced, with separate bathrooms and water fountains and entrances and seating for blacks. During that day, there were no Hispanics or Latinos that I knew of in the community. I’m sure there were, though.

As part of the ruling class, I unknowingly and unwittingly perpetuated the status quo. Along the way, between then and now, I’ve come to see how this “arrangement” benefitted only certain whites – those who occupied the most prestigious classes. And those benefits still remain into this day.

I cannot identify with nor tolerate the egregious attitudes of the Alt-right, the KKK, or any other hate group. I struggle with, however, how to deal with the clear-cutting of historical monuments or statues that represent a time when our country was not at its best. I tend to agree more with the idea of collecting these symbols in museums that treat the era in a way that places like Auschwitz treat the atrocities of Nazi Germany. Hitler and Company are not deified or aggrandize to my knowledge in those museums.

But then I cannot identify with people who have suffered generations back because of their countries of origin (my ancestors were largely Irish, according to DNA results through ancestry.com), the color of their skin, gender, or any of a host of other reasons. I can’t identify with profiling, or being a victim of police brutality. I can mentally understand why the strong feelings, still, I find the wholesale destruction of historical monuments/statues unsatisfactory.

Perhaps if we do not forget, and view our past with appropriate perspective and discernment, Mr. Vonnegut’s assertion that we will inevitably repeat history will be less likely.

I hope so.

§§§§§

†Wikipedia, under Swastika.
†† A December 2011 article by Professor J. David Hacker suggests the traditionally-accepted death toll of soldiers (620,000) during the Civil War was underestimated. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17604991
††† https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/17/us/confederate-monuments-stonewall-jackson-lee-davis.html
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Give Till It Helps

6 Dec
Hair loss is one of the effects of chemotherapy. It is the most benign effect. Photo by Joe Rodriguez

Hair loss is one of the effects of chemotherapy. It is the most benign effect.
Photo by Joe Rodriguez

 

 

Give Till It Helps

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

I’m watching the Duke v. Florida basketball game, a part of the Jimmy V Classic. The background story, of course, is the Jimmy V Foundation, which raises money for cancer research. If you are unaware of the Valvano story, you are living under a rock.

Those of you who know me and my son, Graham Marsden, know he was diagnosed with ALL the summer before he turned 3 years old. ALL is Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. That story is chronicled on my writing website, http://www.skipmars.com, under the title, Graham’s Story.

Today, Graham is probably in Sidney, Australia, in the middle of a multi-country trip that combines business (Entrepreneurs Organization) with his passion of Pokemon hunting (no Pokemons are harmed during this activity).

One of the most important things that his diagnosis did for his mother and me was to focus us on what is important. Not the job. Not the money. Not the possessions. Not the power. Not the prestige.

Perspective, I believe. It put things into perspective. I’ve known many, many coworkers, friends, acquaintances and family who have fallen to various forms of cancer.

But since Graham’s diagnosis, tremendous strides have been made in battling the disease and successfully treating its victims. Tremendous strides. NOT because of the government. Because people like you, who have tasted from its bitter cup, and who are giving to organizations like Jimmy
V and others to stand and fight.

Please keep it up, friends. It’s only money.

 

Graham and his wife, Sarah, at the 2016 ACC Championship Tournament in Washington, DC

Graham and his wife, Sarah, at the 2016 ACC Championship Tournament in Washington, DC

Addendum to One Writer’s Dilemma

30 Nov

image

Addendum to One Writer’s Dilemma

In the previous post I waxed about the usage of profanity and explicit sex in my writing — which heretofore has been nonexistent. Well, crass profanity. I’ve used hell and damn and gd, and even f*ck in one story. Still makes me look around for my mother to come bursting in and ask “Who the HELL just said that?”

And sex? Innuendo. Almost exclusively. Mainly because an intimate scene has not come to mind as part of progressing the plot or subplot of a story. Until now.

Profanity for profanity’s sake, or sex for sex’s sake is not my milieu.

I don’t deny that interest in sex began for me at an early age. Thank my sisters’ Barbie dolls, and the monthly issue of National Geographic for that. And the fact the next door neighbors had a copy of Playboy on their coffee table in their basement rec room.

But, there was always a distinction between s*e*x and the girl your mom wanted to bring home. And I knew that I and my siblings were definitely NOT conceived as a result of joyous romping under the sheets by my parents, but a dutiful resignation to ensuring the family name would endure.

Hence the prudish attitude (at least on the surface) towards sex, which hung on in my writing.

I said until now.

Now I have two characters who are attracted to each other. This is NOT a Fifty Shades plot, by the way. He is divorced after many years of marriage, and she has her own past, which hasn’t yet come to light.

She is drawn to him, and he to her. He is, however, a reluctant and arm’s length kind of guy. And, as the plot would have it in the second part of this story, she is the persuer, and she pursues. Perhaps conquers is the operative word.

Here’s where you come in, if you are game. I’ll upload the scene I’ve written that made me very uncomfortable as a person and a writer. Say Yes under comments, and I’ll go to your site and leave the password and how to find the passage.

It will be out of context, but I will give enough background for you to have at least an iota of understanding.

Then I’d like you to comment about the passage. However you want to comment. I promise you won’t be linked to any salacious website, and the passage is definitely not illustrated. Just words.

It’s an exercise on my part to improve this area that I am normally reluctant to write. Perhaps it’s catharsis, in a way. I mean, all writing is therapeutic, right?

Thanks in advance if you chose to participate. From one writer to another, I appreciate your willingness to comment.

LSM

Is a Puzzlement!?

5 Mar

ImSickToday

 

Is a Puzzlement!?

 

I’ve been writing and posting to what I call my “online writing studio” since November of 2011. I don’t call it a blog. I think the word itself is less than poetic or literary or romantic. Online writing studio infers you can enter and look around at the messy corners, the stacks of paper, the crumpled self-rejections of my efforts.

Over that period of time I have posted 599 pieces of work. I have a modest 23,925 views, which sounds impressive until you divide the totals by 4, which is the real total of my full years online. 8,737 people have stopped by, but many of those are repeats, so you can’t really trust the figure. The number doesn’t distinguish between one-time and repeat visitors.

  • 2012 was my best overall year for stats, with 2,263 visitors and 9,645 views.
  • My very best day ever was December 15, 2012, with 1,085 views.
  • Most people visit my site on Wednesdays. The most popular time is 1 pm.

It’s interesting to look at the data. I’m really not sure what to do with it.

What has struck me, though, is that one poem I posted back in May 2012 is consistently viewed. In that year it was viewed 13 times. In 2013, 25 times. In 2014, 133 times. And last year, 212 times. This month it has been viewed an average of 2 times a day.

Not a lot, I know. Not thunder and lightning impact. But consistently growing in who reads the poem, and very likely who comes back to reread it.

And I scratch my head over that. Nothing I have written appears on my stats consistently like the poem.

Here it is:

 

I'm Sick Today

I’m Sick Today

by L. Stewart Marsden

Today I didn’t feel so well —
My throat was very sore;
And Mama took my temp’rature
And stroked my hair some more;

Then measured out my medicine
Into a silver spoon,
With “down the hatch” she smiled at me,
And then she softly crooned …

“I love my girl, my pretty lass,
Who doesn’t feel so well,
You know I would — if I could —
Ring loud the healing bell!

“And up you’d jump and sing straight out,
‘My gosh! I’m ME again!’
And dance and play and laugh and shout
Until the long day’s end.”

But, sad to say, I’m sick today,
All nestled in the bed,
And I will sleep the day away
And rest my fev’rish head;

And dream wild dreams of Faerie lands —
Of castles, kings and queens;
Then of the prince who’ll take my hand
And fly to lands unseen . . .

Where he and I will rule with care
The lowly and the proud;
And when a subject isn’t well
We’ll ring the bell aloud!

And all’ll jump up and sing straight out
“Oh gosh! We’re US again!”
And dance and play and laugh and shout
Until the long day’s end.
Until the long day’s end.

 

Perhaps it’s the photo I took of my daughter, who was sick on the day I wrote the poem. In truth, it was I who watched over her, and not her mother, but I made the choice because — face it — how many dads really hover around their sick children?

Perhaps it’s that every parent resonates with the scene. Or the poem hies back to days when we were small and sick.

Or maybe the fantasy of a sick child’s dreams.

As the King of Siam said in The King and I, “Is a puzzlement!?”

So, I wonder, can YOU tell me why this poem continues to show up in my online writing studio stats?

Sometimes the writing process is danged fun!

15 Aug

By L. Stewart Marsden

This might be somewhat repetitious from an earlier post, but different enough so I’m okay writing and posting along the same ground.

Last night I had Writer’s Insomnia. That happens when an idea gets stuck in the gears of your brain and everything basically shuts down except the idea. Like a song you can’t eject.

So all through the night, rrr — rrr — rrr it went, clanging loudly and frequently. No tossing nor turning, no arm flinging nor leg exposing offered relief. Rrr — rrr — rrr.

Finally dawn crept through my bedroom window, and I wearily got up and showered. As I began to give off more acceptable odors, and when my teeth and mouth had been scrubbed afresh with baking soda-containing toothpaste, I turned my attention to the task.

Illustrating a story.

I should tell you that drawing is not my forte. I’m no competition for those who have the talent to look, perceive, and then translate to paper, canvass, marble, steel or whatever in wonderful artistic strokes of genius. I’m more autistic than artistic in that regard.

Here’s the storyline: a pet lion eats everyone in the family, then burps them up again to resume status quo.

I heard that story umpteen times as a camp counselor at a YMCA camp located not far from Roaring Gap, NC. Herbert Burped left us all in stitches whenever it was told. As you might guess, the punchline was roared out by everyone at the story’s end!

Several days ago the story came back to my memory, so I googled it. What came up was a grandmother somewhere in the northeast repeating a similar story on YouTube. It was cute, I’ll grant you — but not the same as the story I heard years ago. Apparently, Herbert got around.

I set about working on stick figure drawings. You know the kind … those decals on the back windows of minivans that tell everyone how many people are in your family. May as well post them on Facebook. I googled stick figure drawings and found ample examples of the yukky drawings. Also found some stick figures that were better suited to porn sites. Amazing what you can find online!

Here’s the process I went through, illustrated with pictures I snapped along the way:

  1. I have a roll of newspaper print paper, about 20 inches wide, which I rolled out and began early sketches in pencil. Studies, I guess you might say.

sketches

2. I retraced the pencil sketches with a fine-point marker …

marker-enhanced

3. I jury-rigged a back-light so I could retrace each of my characters on a separate cell … I used to do this kind of thing when I was a kid. Then, I would tape the drawing to a window pane that was sunlit. Same results.

jury-rigged backlighting

4. Now I could trace each character to a separate sheet of paper …

voila - ready for tracing

5. Let the tracing begin …

tracing

6. Once my individual character sheets were complete, I scanned them into my computer …

scanning

7. And saved them to an external hard drive …

saved-to-harddrive

8. Now the fun begins … I pulled each jpg into Photoshop Elements and manipulated them, inverting each …

manipulating

… until:

Voila!

PhaseOne-nearlydone

Kind of a lugubrious process, I know. But I don’t own Illustrator or Photoshop, and can’t do this onscreen. For those of you who have that skill, I am envious. But, for the vast majority of us, this works pretty well.

As I worked on each character, I mentally developed a back-story that was more adult in nature. If this becomes, as my intention is, a children’s book, then these stories will not be part of the work. Duh, yeah!

The story begins,

Once there was a Daddy, a Mudder, a Sistah, a Brudder, a Dog, a Cat, a Boid, a Fish, and Hoiburt, the Pet Lion.

Here are the adult back-stories:

The Daddy

The Daddy is king of his castle, lord of his wife and kids, and all he surveys. In reality, he is subservient to everyone. No one understands him, except for the really-buff guy he accidentally met on Facebook. The Daddy is questioning much about his life, and is ready to meet his online friend at the local bar and spa.

Copyright, Lawrence S. Marsden, August, 2015

Copyright, Lawrence S. Marsden, August, 2015

The Mudder

The Mudder (mother) is a compliant female who is a people-pleezer — especially in regards to her place in the home and the church. Secretly she harbors anger and suppressed emotions, wanting to “fly away” at the first opportunity — but she dares not. She is secretly in a Facebook relationship with a guy whose profile pictures make her swoon. She knows this will probably remain a fantasy.

The Mudder

The Sistah

The Sistah (sister), while hoping to inherit her mother’s great physical looks, also disdains Mudder on account of what she calls “hypocrisy!” Under a pseudonym, Sistah is posing as the hunk of a man her mother is in a secret relationship with on Facebook.

The Sistah

The Brudder

The Brudder (brother), aka “Scooter,” is an avid skateboarder, which everyone knows is a gateway activity to cocaine and heroin abuse. He is pro-legalization of marijuana as a recreational drug, and has Rand Paul in 2016 stickers all over his Plan B skateboard.

The Brudder

The Dog

Fido (not his real name) is a rescued dog. Actually, a family down the block forgot to spay their female ho-dog, who did it with every dog within a three mile radius when she was in heat. Fido was the runt as well as the ugliest, and the owners put him in a cardboard box when he was six week’s old which they left on the doorstep of our favorite happy family. The Daddy said “No #%&@-way, but the Mudder, the Sistah and the Brudder prevailed.

The Dog

The Cat

The Cat, aka, The Cat, is content to live off of the family and contribute nothing to the upkeep and running of the home. A one-time feral, he quickly figured out it is much easier to let someone feed, groom, and take care of your medical needs than to fend for yourself out there among the crazies.

The Cat

The Boid

The Boid — aka, Caruso — livens the house with his beautiful arias. He especially-loves to sing from Madam Butterfly. He read Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and put it down halfway through and has never resumed reading it. He is certain Angelou never hung around in a bird cage before.

The Boid

The Fish

Cicero is the 4th generation (well, the fifth survivor) of predecessors who were overfed and died, underfed and died, strangled in untreated water that had too much chlorine, or somehow got minced away by the garbage grinder when Brudder cleaned out the fish bowl like his mother told him to do. His motto is Fish who live in glass bowls should not do so sandwiched between a cat and a lion.

The Fish

And last, but definitely not least, is Hoiburt, the Pet Lion

Cecil — uh, I meant Hoiburt — came to our favorite family as a gift of a great uncle of Daddy’s who illegally buys and sells exotic animals on the black market. As he grew into adulthood, Hoiburt was treated like a little lamb, and fed straw, grass, and oats. You know … lamb stuff. And he had been content with that diet until one day he sneaked into the kitchen and ate the roast chicken that Mudder had left out to cool before serving it for dinner. That took place just before our little story begins.

Hoiburt

Thus Phase One of this project is somewhat complete, and the next phases begin: fleshing out the illustrations for the entire story, formatting the book for submission to a publisher, and then submitting it.

Let’s arbitrarily target November or December to begin submitting it.

A very, very, VERY enjoyable journey thus far. Now, I hope I can get some much-needed shuteye tonight!

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 15 August, 2015

Tweaking the work

12 Aug

proofing-marks

One of the great pleasures of being a writer is going back and rereading, then reworking something “finished” sometime ago.

Not sure a sculptor nor a painter has that freedom.

Of course, when a work appears in print, it’s a bit more difficult to accomplish. But on the internet? If it weren’t for the easy of editing online I might not publish anything at all.

This online writing studio is like the artist’s studio in that work is in process. I’ve a friend who is becoming a master in what he calls plastic, metal and glass. He uses clay to sculpt a range of beautiful flowers — and was on a rhododendron tear years back. He would lay down layer upon layer of glazes of varying color, fire the work and then carve and gently sand through those layers, revealing the layered colors.

Once he was done with a work, that was it. He could only start again if he didn’t like something.

david statueImagine Michelangelo finishing his great piece David and standing back, only to think, “You know, I shouldda made his manhood a bit bigger …”

I get to go back and tweak my writing (not to be confused with twerking my writing). Change a word or a phrase. Delete whole passages. Add entirely new material. I’m doing that now with my very first book, Through the Glass Darkly, a compilation of short stories I wrote over about a two-year period of time. I’m editing like mad, enlisting others to give me the benefit of their eyes and opinions, deleting stories, adding stories.

I just finished doing that with one of my favorite poems, I’m Sick Today, inspired I'm Sick Todaywhen my youngest was bed-bound with a fever and sore throat.

I guess the challenge is when do you know something is finished? Theoretically, you don’t. Like this life we sail through, the seas and weather change daily — sometimes from moment to moment.

So I’ll continue to review and tweak. And, if you point something out to me about my work that I was myopic about, I’ll think about your input and probably respond by tweaking some more.

Emily Bronte, et. al., wrote her manuscripts by hand. I’m sure to go back and rewrite was a bona fide pain in the arse. Not so bad these days with our technology.

That is one thing I am glad to have access to as a writer. I can go back and tweak to my little heart’s content.

— LSM

The road to writer’s hell …

12 Jul

The road to writer’s hell …

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

The saying may as well be about us writers: The road to writer’s hell is paved with good intentions …

For several weeks I’ve had the best laid-out plan for my work for this summer. It has included:

  • Completing rewriting and editing the 2nd edition of Through the Glass Darkly and getting that book uploaded
  • Final edits and rewrites for The Typewriter novella and uploading for eBook download and sales
  • Revisiting The Huguenots, a historic novel on the diaspora of the French Huguenots to Charleston, SC
  • Revisiting The Knighting of Tommy McPhee, a YA novel
  • Working sales for Stinky and the Night Mare
  • Putting together the final elements of Stinky and the Best Sandcastle EVER!
  • Mapping out the second novella pertaining to Roland Dumphreys and his Royal KMM typewriter
  • Mapping out and beginning a new work, The Feral Cat, a suspense/fantasy involving Scottish lore, Indian lore, and the mountains of North Carolina
  • Beginning a new work, The Skitterers, a fantasy/horror piece about the beaches in North/South Carolina (based from my childhood)

Guess what I’ve completed?

Nope, you’re wrong.

Guess again.

You’re getting warmer.

None. Zilch. Nada. Ningún. Zero. Nil.

Two weeks at the beach with the best of intentions. Brought all my computer stuff with the minor exception of my HP TouchSmart screen. Had to buy a laptop (HP 16-inch). Struggled with the new Microsoft desktop software (I HATE IT!!!!!!)

Watched my feet swell up with the heat, sunburn and blister and peel.

Didn’t get to prepare my famous surf ‘n turf meal for my family.

Had a few other challenges along the way … although they weren’t my challenges, but those of my family. Children, specifically.

My 35-year-old son has been battling diverticulitis and several hospitalizations. He missed a family trip (the other family) to Ireland due to being hooked up to a PICC line for ministrations of heavy-duty antibiotics.

He went under the knife this past Friday and I’m headed his way in order to help out where I can. Hope not to get in the way.

Part of me thinks, “Okay, these are valid reasons for not accomplishing the list. Perhaps the list is too long. Perhaps too many items. Eat the cake one piece at a time.

More like one word at a time.

I’ll probably guilt myself for a half-dozen things until things settle down. Settle down, things.

That’s why no poems lately. No short stories. No nothing other than random reactions to sharks, Confederate flags, and other top-of-the-news stuff.

I suppose I’ll live with it.

Does this count as writer’s block?

Honestly, my intentions were good. Really they were.

 

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 12 July, 2015

 

Shark!

17 Jun

 

Shark!

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

My nephew and his daughter encounter an unexpected swimming mate. Actually, it's Photoshopped.

My nephew and his daughter encounter an unexpected swimming mate. Actually, it’s Photoshopped.

 

 

 

 

There’s shark activity off the NC coast this week. My family and I are about ten days from driving down to the feeding grounds for two weeks’ of sun ‘n sand ‘n shark bites.

One hapless swimmer was nipped at a beach to the south of where we’re staying. Her boogie board has two very nice impressions gouged out of either side of the Styrofoam carcass. The kind dentists use to make a dental impression. Say ahhhh!

Two others, a boy and a girl, lost portions or all of an arm at the next beach up. In the surf. In the afternoon. Not far from the beach’s pier where fishers have been chumming the waters around the stilted wooden structure. Both were left arm injuries. Apparently liberal sharks.

They were tiger sharks — or bull sharks, say the experts.

According to one website, you are more likely to die from bee, wasp or other insect stings than at the jaws of a shark. Actually, twenty more times likely to die from a cow bite.

Doesn’t take the attention off that meeting of land and sea, though. I’m sure the victims could care less about the remote chances of being bitten by a shark.

My youngest daughter says all sharks need to be killed. Yeah — that’s the spirit … kill the bad beasties.

Meanwhile I’m following Katharine and half a dozen other tagged sharks who meander up and down the east coast. Ba-bum … ba-bum … But it’s not the tagged sharks that cause the heartbeat to flutter.

The shark killed by humans ratio to human’s killed by sharks is something like a million to one each YEAR! I’ll bet the sharks don’t like those odds one bit. American Pharoah stood worse odds of losing the Triple Crown than sharks have of surviving the slaughter of their species.

Imagine what the shark newspapers are saying? What the headlines are … Keep Your Dorsals, Avoid Japan! And any other country’s waters where men worship shark parts over Viagra.

You know who’s fault this is, right?

Peter Benchley.

He’s not around to kick, though. And actually, Benchley became an advocate of shark protection before he died.

Spielburg runs a close second. And he is still around.

Then there’s Shark Week as well as the Sharknado film series.

Oh, god — if we can’t get hysterical over something …

Thank god for Donald Trump and comic relief.

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 17 June, 2015

So … (my rant of the week)

31 May

So …

My rant of the week.

By L. Stewart Marsden

I had a conversation with my middle-aged daughter the other day. She’s not middle-aged as in her forties or fifties. She is the middle of three daughters. Almost the middle of five, but not. She’s a teen, mere days away from “qualifying” to drive by reaching her sixteenth birthday.

I argued that vocabulary these days has become quite complex. In fact, that groups of people consciously use words and phrases to delineate and segregate themselves from others.

Some of the words and phrases my daughter uses require my asking “What did you mean by that?”

Okay, it’s true when I was in high school there were words and phrases probably alien to my parents and their generation. But they were pretty hokey — CoolPadMan. And more I guess. Pretty lame stuff compared with today’s hot word meanings and phrases.

But I digress.

Ever hear of the language abbee-dabbee? Like Pig Latin, it is a simple insertion of ab after each consonant of a word and the remaining letters. So if I want to say, “Have a nice day,” I’d say

“Hab-av-ab-e  ab-a  nab-ice dab-ay.”

Those practiced at it can rattle on and on in the midst of others — even say some fairly nasty things about people right there — and not be understood.

My daughters and Ex do this. They may as well break out into French or German as far as my ability to understand them when they do.

It’s a bit more than irksome. It separates me from those who are “in the know,” and becomes a way to segregate the ins from the outs. 

Today the practice is used by many. Some of the words and phrases are the fault of technology and social networking. My kids use abbreviations like LMAO in their speech. I’m always running to catch up on the trends so I’m not taken unawares, but it’s a losing battle.

Then there are the irksome practices.

So when did “so” become the must-use first word of each sentence?

It’s very much like the old Valley Girl speak. It isn’t a big thing. I take that back. It is a big thing. To me. It’s why I wrote this little comment.

I’m going to don my parental persona right now (some of you will understand that small bit of information … I’m hoping at least the parents will) —

Just like how you dress, how you talk speaks to others about the kind of person you are. If you are conscious about correct word usage and grammar, it says to others, “I am a well-versed and educated person to whom you should pay attention and heed what is said.” Or not, if you choose to embrace poor grammar and use words incorrectly. I’ll let you decide what the “or not” conjures up.

While street speak and techno-babble and social media syntax separate the user from others, the usage identifies the user with groups that are maybe not so admirable.

Meanwhile, correct word usage and grammar also separate the user from others. It identifies you with a group of people who has an entirely different image. Educated. Intelligent. Able. Promising. Motivated. These and other descriptors come to mind. This group seems to be on the wane. It’s getting smaller and smaller and is less prevalent and even less approved.

It doesn’t mean you can’t slip into other forms of communication. Of course you can. When it benefits you and your audience. When you are trying to be heard and understood. Or, conversely, when you want to alienate yourself from those close about. There’s even a place for abbe-dabbe. But the overriding hope of this writer is that some of you reading this, who practice the undisciplined way of communicating, will reconsider putting effort into learning and using a higher level of speech. Remember what your mother and father probably said more than once — just because you could doesn’t mean you should. 

So, I’m just sayin’ …

As much as these trendy ways of communicating help you to blend in, don’t forget to nurture and develop correct word usage and grammar as well that might help you stand out — in a good way.

The trendy stuff will eventually go away. I hope.

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 31 May, 2015

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then …

17 May

The Liebster Award

In my About page I made the following statement:

2. As much as they are appreciated for the thought behind them, I don’t respond to nominations — unless, of course, it’s for an Oscar, Tony, Grammy or the Pulitzer. I don’t understand most of the online “awards.” Plus I’m a curmudgeon.

My writing friend Clara Bush —with a bunch of other names in between — has nominated me for the distinction of The Liebster Award. She sent me an email. Said,

Hi Skip,
I nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. If you don’t know about it, you can check it out here: 
Sounds like a cool thing. Hope you think so. 
I’ve seen the award name about on WordPress. I responded to Clara’s email: Liebster? Is that Maine or Maryland liebster? 
lobster
I once ate a huge lobster at Flutie’s down in the canal area of New York City. I mean, HUGE! The animal must have been about a hundred years old or something. The black intestinal vein ran like a thick cord from fore to aft. I had quite a few glasses of wine to drink, and the trip was chauffeured in a limousine, so I don’t remember how it tasted. Wonderful, I’m sure.
So I’ve been on WordPress going on — what? — four years? And along the way there have been those people who have sent me announcements that they had nominated me for this or that award. Don’t get me wrong, I am always flattered at the notion that what I write and post is actually read by anyone, or that after reading my stuff, they like it enough to give me a badge.
But then Clara does it! I mean — CLARA! I don’t remember how we crossed paths … probably a WordPress thing … but she writes these creepy tales that combine my memories of growing up with aliens and Indians and the West. You couldn’t have a better mix. Unless you throw a court scene and Abraham Lincoln into the recipe. I took a screenwriting course at NYU one summer and the instructor said Lincoln and a court scene were paramount inclusions that guaranteed success.
What could I do? I couldn’t say, No, Clara — I won’t accept the award. Well, I probably could. But then Clara would never speak to me again, and when she becomes a recognized best-seller … see what I mean?
There have been a few times during my rather mundane existence that I’ve been surprised by recognition — other than my mugshot showing up in the local post office.
The first was when I was in my teens and was still young enough to be a Boy Scout. I loved Scouting! Nearly killed myself on several camping occasions, but boy did we ever have fun! One of theuwharriecanoing_edited-1
highlights of Scouting was summer camp. This particular summer, I literally stayed the entire summer at Camp Uwharrie, located just outside High Point, NC. I worked on earning my four aquatics merit badges: swimming, life saving, rowing and canoeing. Toward the end of my last scheduled week at camp at dinner in the Mess Hall, the camp director stood and announced a Scout had distinguished himself during his time in camp so much that he was being promoted to camp staff. And not only that — but to the Waterfront Staff!
And he called my name! Wow!
I was overwhelmed with surprise mixed with a little pride, I must say. That summer I was also tapped out into the Order of the Arrow, but that didn’t even approach the impact of being called up to camp staff!
The second surprise came when I was a junior at a Virginia boarding school. A prestigious and exclusive southern prep school, I never felt a part of the tradition. My mom and dad were immigrants to the south from Minnesota after the war. My dialect was influenced by my Midwestern parentage. Yankees, we were called. If my older sister hadn’t been such a looker, I never would have made it.
We juniors were required to attend the graduation of the seniors at the end of school. With a total student population of slightly more than 300, if we hadn’t attended, the event would have been almost a nonevent. During graduation foreplay, many awards and recognitions were handed out. Things like yearbook and newspaper honors and more. The master who headed up the history department stepped to the dais and announced the recipient of the History Award. It was me! Ironic, that. I had been kicked out of my history class for goofing with my pencil, which flew through lincolnassassination_edited-1the air and hit the instructor. Don’t ask me how I managed that. But also, I had for the first time really gotten into a term paper on the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln. This was before the internet — when you actually had to go through the stacks of a library to research a topic.
I got sucked into that process, read everything our school library contained and then my home library and other near-home libraries as well. I loved the process. And I wrote. Typed, actually. On an old Royal manual typewriter. And I drew maps, and illustrations — the whole nine yards. When my name was called I was once again floored. But proud. Neither of my parents were at the ceremony because I wasn’t graduating. They gave me a hardbound book with a wonderful color dust jacket about American Indians. I wish I knew where that book was.
The most recent surprise — other than Clara’s — came a few months after I had performed in a local community theater production of the musical My Fair Lady. I auditioned for and landed the role of Alfred P. Doolittle, the garish and drunkenly father of Liza Doolittle, one of the musical’s main characters. Years before I landed the same role for another community theater in the western mountains of North Carolina, but refused it when my then wife was not cast as Liza. It was a heroic response on my part, I thought.  This time my then-wife was a bit too old to get the role, although she auditioned for it, and accepted a part in the chorus.
My Fair Lady was one of my parents’ favorite musicals. They saw it in New York with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, and bought the cast album, as well as movie album. One of Dad’s favorite tunes was Get Me to the Church On Time, sung by Alfred. Sad to say, my dad had died before I played the role.
Dressing room chatter — as with all community theaters (I recommend the mocumentary Waiting for Guffman, by the way) — included gossip about the North Carolina Community Theatre AlfredPDoolittle_insetRegional Awards. One veteran board-stomper who assessed himself far more highly than others did, said no one from our particular theater would ever win anything. We might be nominated, but because of the politics and high competition in our particular region, he basically advised us “don’t hold your breath.”
The wonderful thing about live theater is you never know how things will be from one night to the next. And with several weekend performances, we had more than our share of not knowing. People drop lines — stare vacuously towards the audience hoping someone will cue them. So happened to me on more than one occasion. On one particular night, I forgot a line, and substituted some political remark instead which fit just as well. The audience howled. And it happened on the night the regional theater reviewer was in the house.
A few weeks after our run, the actor who played Henry Higgins emailed me a congratulatory message. I had been nominated for a Cameo Role recognition. I was one of I think eight nominees. So I checked a few months later, and to my surprise, I had won the category! Kind of a blah way of discovering it, I admit, but I was too cheap to buy tickets and rent a tux and make the drive down to Charlotte and sit and eat with dozens of people I didn’t know.
In his book Surprised by Joy! C.S. Lewis talks about those rare instances in life when something so serendipitous, so unexpected and so wonderful happens that we are elevated well above our common state of emotion. The specialness of these particular intrusions on otherwise common lives, sort of makes the living worth it.
So, Clara Bush, I accept your nomination. I am humbled and grateful you thought well enough of my work to include me in your list of nominees.
On to the administrative duties of being a Liebster Award nominee:

The rules for the award …

1. Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.

Check … did that.

2. Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”. (Note that the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog post.)

Here it is: LiebsterRed

3. Answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.

So Clara asked that I answer the following questions:

1. In the world of literary fiction, who is your hero? Hero=he or she.

Okay, I’m not sure if you mean character or author? If it’s character, then Tess of D’Ubervilles. A strong and compelling character. If author — gosh. Kurt Vonnegut ranks right up there, as does Roald Dahl.

2. The song you listen to in order to get motivated to write? Song= one only, please.

I typically do not listen to music for motivation. Normally I itch to sit down at my keyboard because all these crazy ideas and thoughts and scenarios and conversations have been playing in my mind, and if they don’t get out I’M GOING TO GO MAD!!! Maybe Adagio for Strings.

3. What quote keeps you set on go to complete your goals?

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
— A. Lincoln.

Yeah. Good question. I tend to hop from one lily pad to the other. So focusing on and completing one project at a time is not my tendency. It’s like how I cook. I’ve got something on this burner, and something on that burner, and something mixed in a bowl and the oven warming and something thawing.

4. What animal is your spirit guide?

Hadn’t thought about that. Spirit guide. If you mean my muse, I would have to say it is the Past. While some of my inspirations come from current events, much or most derives from memories of people, places and events. Even a smell can trigger a story. In my newest project, The Typewriter, the physical spiritual guide is a Royal KMM typewriter built sometime in the late 1940s.

5. If you were in a Fahrenheit 451 scenario, which one book would you hide to keep it from being thrown into the fire? Other than the Bible.

You assume a lot with the Bible comment. Well, Fahrenheit 451 might be on the list. Bradbury is definitely a favorite author. And it would make perfect ironic sense.

6. What preparations have you made for the Zombie Apocalypse? List at least 2. And don’t lie. You know you’ve made some.

Not really. And I’m not lying.

7. If you could choose, would you be a vampire, werewolf, or zombie? Why, briefly?

Werewolf. Cause vampires can’t kill you, and I’ve never seen a werewolf with a bad case of fleas. Now if I could be the werewolf in Bouchard’s short story, The Compleat Werewolf, so much the better.

8. What is your pick for the greatest science fiction movie ever?

Not a fair question. The 1956 version of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is right up there. Anything filmed in black and white pre 1960 was far more innovative and scary that what gets to the screen these days. In my opinion.

9. What scares you? I mean really creeps you out in the creepy way like look under the bed or in the closet way— not like car wrecks, or serial killers, or death of loved ones, but like aliens or alien abduction, or ghosts, or dinosaurs, or…

More than fantasy, the reality of things like microorganisms that reside in our bodies, or the thought that my next-door-neighbor might be making pipe bombs with the intent of visiting the schools my children attend. Or a government that seems okay to back down to foreign intimidation.

10. Your first kiss, would you give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down?

Down, definitely. It was just a brushing of the outer lip skins. And she was like a zombie.

11. If you could time travel, would you? Where to? Past? Future? Would you go back and repeat and/or improve your first kiss?

The past intrigues me more than the future. I’d like to be able to sit down with some of the great names of the past — Twain and Jonathan Swift and Poe and Thomas Hardy. Eleanor Roosevelt. Some of my ancestors.

The kiss thing? Naw. That was then.

4. Nominate other bloggers that you feel deserve the award.

Jots From a Small Apartment. A lovely blog that combines two forms of art: watercolor (typically) and prose.

Ray Ferrer’s Urban Wall Art. Ray illustrated my first self-published collection of short-stories, Through the Glass Darkly. His work was ideal for my purposes.

Sheila Sea’s poetry blog. Concise, sensual and intriguing are the words that consistently come to my mind when I read this poet’s work.

The Outlier Babe’s The Last Half. An oliophonic compendium of various stuff, anyone with enough sense to recognize herself and her life as fitting that of an outlier — and even using the word if you haven’t read Cold Mountain — is an opportunity for something special. Go dip a toe.

5. Create a new list of questions for the bloggers to answer.

Revenge is best served cold …

1. When did you come to realize you are an artist?

2. What did you overcome in order to reach that conclusion?

3. Would you prefer to be famous or infamous … and why?

4. What will your legacy be?

5. What would you like for your epitaph?

6. What are your currently working on?

7. Dinner with any two people, alive or dead, and why?

8. Name and describe one surprise event in your life.

9. If there were do-overs, which one would you?

10. Is literature improving or not? Why do you think so?

11. What is the difference between a stove?

6. List these rules in your post.

Check.

7. Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster Award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it.(They may have never heard of it.)

 Alllllllllll-righty, then! Doing so now.