Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I have been thinking lately about our nation’s capacity for freedom. There is an Irish tune the words of which are, in part: “I’m black and I’m pagan, I’m gay and I’m left and I’m free. I’m a non-fundamentalist environmentalist—don’t bother me.”

Our nation is that. It is also white (and other colors), religious, straight, right, fundamentalist and non-environmentalist (whatever that might be called). We are all these things and a lot of others. But not all of us. No one person can be all of these things and no one can help but be some of them. Each of us is a collection of a number of opinions and beliefs and I don’t believe that anyone can be described as possessing all the qualities that are supposed to belong to a person of any one persuasion. We are, in short, a collection of unique individuals that live and work together.

It doesn’t seem that we’re satisfied to leave it that way. There are numerous groups that are trying to change other people in ways that exceed practical considerations of safety. Many of these efforts involve organized and expensive methods. The number of lobbyists in the halls of government, for instance, attests to this fact. We seem to be willing to live with this situation, especially if it seems to provide us with something we think we want.

This constant pressure is liable to provide us with two things we don’t want: more control over our personal lives and more division between people. Either of these can be disastrous for our society. And yet this is the type of society that we are attempting to hold up to the world as the ideal. This is the freedom that we are encouraging other countries to adopt. I don’t think we’re truly aware of what we’re doing. Before we can export freedom we must be willing to give it to ourselves.

Monday, November 21, 2011

It is standard practice these days for restaurants to serve straws with drinks. All drinks, it seems—iced tea, soft drinks, etc. It is standard practice even for water. I have not seen straws served with coffee, however. Or tea. Why not? Perhaps the straw custom applies only to drinks served in glasses rather than cups. But what about milk? That’s served in a glass yet I have never seen straws accompany it.

I suppose it’s a matter of hygiene. Hygiene seems to be very popular these days—at least in some respects, drinking through straws rather that from the glass being a significant representative of that. What one is drinking through that straw seems to be of less importance, health wise. I can’t quite get into the habit of drinking water through a straw, though. A glass is good enough.

But if straws should be used for all drinks served in a glass why not serve them for alcoholic beverages? I have a mental picture of men seated at a bar drinking beer with straws. Unlikely. But would that not be advisable in terms of hygienics? Perhaps that is not necessary because the alcohol in the beer kills the germs. But in that case, why don’t we drink more beer—or gin or whatever. It might be that we are more worried about the side effects connected with those substances. Then again, if we are concerned about side effects, what about side effects from drugs? More often than not we ignore those.

At any rate, we should probably hope that the custom of serving straws with drinks continues. Besides being hygienic, it’s good for straw manufacturers—another way to keep the economy healthy, a benefit that rivals, if not exceeds, that of hygiene.

I’m not even going to comment on the added plastic burden placed upon the landfills.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Last week we had a succession of days of great weather—balmy temperatures, sunshine, no rain. On Friday that ceased to be. I wore my heavy coat that day and was glad for it. There were even a few snow flakes in the morning. The way they were coming down when I first saw them, they looked rather threatening. I thought sure there would be a good covering of snow before the day was over.

The fact that that did not happen does not change a simple fact: overcoat weather is with us. It will not be constant, to be sure, but over the next four months or so we must be prepared for its occurrence. Overcoats and boots must be kept handy. For winter weather in this area, I prefer to wear layers of clothing. No matter what the morning temperatures, the weather will vary during the day. I can shed or add garments accordingly and, hopefully, stay reasonably comfortable.

The extra clothing that people wear in wintertime brings about a phenomenon I did not understand for a while. I used to commute by bus, first to school and then to work every day. The busses seemed to be more crowded in the winter. Colder weather might have brought on some increase in ridership but there was another, simpler reason for the crowded condition. It was explained to me that people are one or two inches wider in the winter because of overcoats and other warmer items of dress. Maybe they also put on weight in the winter to help insulate them from the cold. Why not? Bears do.

The subject of weight brings on another interesting question concerning being weighed in the doctor’s office. Are the scales in doctors’ offices calibrated to account for the weight of the clothing one is wearing? And in the winter, are they adjusted to allow for heavier and more articles of clothing? And what is the average increase in weight for the heavier clothing or, for that matter, what is the weight for summer clothing? And does that vary for men and women? For children? I really don’t know. I’m going to have to find out.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I have heard it said that writers create a world of their own invention when they write. I believe that’s true. Some writers have gone to the extent of drawing maps of the areas about which they are writing and I’ve found that’s a good idea. Every time I write about some place I’ve invented, I have a mental picture of it and I watch as the story’s characters move about its environs. It’s only one more step to put the map of the area in graphic form.

I did that to some extent for A Matter of Time, my first book published by Silverbear Graphics and for The Finding of the Blue Feather, to be published by Silverbear shortly. Now I’m doing it again. I’ve been working on a book with the working title Mountains. In it, a boy grows up in a small town of my invention in Appalachia called Ellan. As the boy in the story grew and became more involved with the population and events of his life, I found it increasingly difficult to make do with my imagination’s picture of the town. So, I drew a map of Ellan.

The map started as a simple drawing of a few streets and some isolated buildings that were pertinent to the story. That did OK for a while but I soon I found that to be not quite enough. I added more buildings and some topographical features. Now, I’ve got the fever. I want to make the town map more realistic—buildings and mountains that give the feeling of being there. I’m even thinking of finishing it so that it can be included in the book.

Is all this necessary? I’m not sure. Will it make the story better or more believable? I don’t know. For now, I’ll fool around with the map a little more. If it gives me a better feeling for the story and the characters, it’ll be worth it. I may even include it in the drafts of the book to get the reaction of readers. That will probably be the final test of whether Ellan does, in fact, settle into her place in the Mountains.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Subject: writing and writing about writing. I’ve written about writing quite a bit on this blog in the short time I’ve had it. It struck me that I might be giving the impression that I have been writing a long time and know quite a lot about writing. I hope that’s not the case. I write about writing simply because I love writing and what I have to say about it is based on my personal experience, such as it is. I have not been writing seriously for a long time—only since about the year 2000—and have never taken writing as a subject in any school of higher learning. But that, as far as I am concerned, is just the point.

One of my earliest ambitions was writing. I never followed through on that ambition because I was told that one could never make a living at it. I had, I was told, to find a business or profession with a more stable future. So I didn’t pursue writing as a career. I never ceased writing altogether and did succeed in having a few things published over the years but nothing of importance. In 2000, health problems forced me to find something else to occupy my time. I chose writing as that “something else” and found a brand new world opening up for me. Since then, I have found more and more reasons to thank the problems that led me to writing.

I have always been interested in finding the “meaning to life” (for lack of a better description) and in recent years have delved into that more deeply. I have come to believe that each individual has a unique purpose for existence and that purpose is tied directly to talents and abilities he or she possesses. To express those, I believe, is the main purpose of a person’s life. Unfortunately, the talents and abilities one possesses often do not coincide with what is valued by society. As a result, they are ignored by society and. most likely, by the individual. But they never disappear and are never really forgotten. Lying dormant, they can cause problems in the individual—frustration, regret, unfulfilled ambitions. Also, their being ignored can cause the loss of potential benefit to society.

I am all in favor of anybody, at any stage of his or her life, becoming aware of these hidden or suppressed talents, abilities and dreams and doing one’s very best to bring them to fruition, whatever that may be. So that’s what I am encouraging when I write about writing and the joy I find in it. I am not an expert; I am simply saying that if you have the feeling you want to write there is nothing to do but take a chance and try it. Those are simply my feelings. As the saying goes: “Take what you like and leave the rest.”