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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Journey Begins

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
~ CHINESE PROVERB

          I have written here last spring of my salvation by the original Kung Fu series that starred David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine, the fugitive Shaolin priest who wandered the old west in search of his half-brother.  A brief recap will suffice to explain what I'm up to here.

          I was quiet, small, and shy as a child, which was a recipe guaranteed to make one a bully-target.  I didn't like it any more than the next guy would, and from fairly early in life I set out on a journey to learn to fight.  I was raised by people much too old to be raising children whose philosophy was that a dime spent on me would be better used by being flushed down the toilet, so this precluded any sort of formal training.  My first "martial arts" instructors were thus the pro wrestlers on TV from the Olympic Auditorium in L.A.  They may have been putting on a show, but the techniques they used could be near-lethal, and the occasional bully would have to rethink his lifestyle if he got careless.

          I spent four years in the navy, 1965-69, about half at shore stations, and with money in my pocket and time off duty, I began to collect a smattering of "real" martial arts, basically whatever was being taught within walking distance of the base.  Upon my discharge in 1969, I moved home to spend the next four years being a caregiver for my great-grandmother, doing odd jobs around the neighborhood in my spare time, and spending the proceeds at the Japan Karate Federation, where classes were taught by a 35th-generation samurai.  He wasn't there to teach religion, but he was very much the "real deal," and I caught from him the underlying concept of a spiritual base that was the foundation of the fighting techniques.

          I wanted more, and began to seek out books on zen and meditation.  I began to realize that, without any formal training or access to a temple, I was becoming a Taoist.  I read voraciously, always seeking to learn and incorporate the peaceful path of balance and harmony with nature and the universe, and despite the fact that a formally-trained Taoist likely wouldn't recognize the way I try to live every day, it has brought me a life of peace and stability that I wouldn't trade for anything.

           But it isn't likely that I could have attained this level without some living example in my life, and in October of 1972, in the greatest example of kismet that I have ever been personally involved in, the ABC network began airing three seasons of Kung Fu.  I came for the fights and stayed for the peace.  Kwai Chang Caine, in his portrayal by David Carradine, became my teacher and guide on the road to my version of Taoism.  I have striven for the last 46 years to live every day and meet every challenge as Kwai Chang would have done.  Christians will understand; you try to emulate Jesus, and you have hundreds of movies to serve as examples.  I have Kung Fu, and it is my great good fortune that the creators were as dedicated as they were to the spiritual vision of the character.  I own the whole series and still make time to watch an average of three episodes a week to this day; it is my equivalent of attending church.  As I've said, it may not be "real" Taoism, but I have lived the last half-century, virtually my entire working life, largely free of stress and contention, and there is a level of success to that that is hard to argue with.

          My goal over the next year-and-a-half or so will be to examine the entire series episode-by-episode, extracting the lessons and the shortcomings alike for examination and discussion.  The history, the surrounding cultural context, the views of the participants, all will be covered in as great detail as I can access.  Kung Fu came under much ridicule in later years, and was featured in derogatory memes and other forms of artistic dismissal, and a good portion of this may be that Carradine himself spoke of it in very derogatory terms.  It nonetheless came to define him as an actor, and established his credibility as a true leading man.  It is sad that he didn't learn a thing from the role he played for three seasons, but I did, and that's what this series will be about.

          It has long been accepted that Bruce Lee was instrumental in creating the concept of Kung Fu, and was so outraged at not being cast as the star that he turned his back on America and went back to Hong Kong.  There seems to be a good deal of truth in this, but Warner Brothers was looking at Lee in a modern setting where he wanted to be in the old west to justify a heightened level of violence.  I have also read that Ed Spielman and Howard Friedlander had finalized the theme before Bruce was ever brought into it, though there is less direct evidence of that.  In the final analysis, Bruce Lee may have been passed over for the role because Kung Fu was never about the fighting, it was about the centered peace and unwillingness to resort to violence inherent in this gentle soul who always tried to avoid the conflict.  Can anyone imagine Bruce Lee turning the other cheek when some drunken cowboy calls him a slant-eyed coward?  Huge believability issue there!

          So, that's what's coming in the months ahead.  I will be watching each episode in detail, taking notes, placing them in their surrounding culture, and discussing what makes each episode important to me.  I hope you'll join me on the journey, join the occasional discussion, and if you're less than a fan, that you'll maybe see the value and come around.  It was a very worthy concept, and deserved better press than it got, especially from its main star.  Hopefully, I can give it a boost in the eyes of a few readers.  Want to take a ride?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Say What?

什么? ... что? ... क्या? . . . τι; . . . 뭐?

          This is a pretty esoteric post today, but as a writer, in other words, a person who deals in a very specific way with language, in my case English, I found it quite interesting.  If you have any curiosity about the differences between languages, the things you're able to say and imply in various tongues, and the limitations they impose on the cultures that created them, you may find it interesting as well.  So you are invited to enjoy this article by John McWhorter from the July 2016 Atlantic.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Oriental Vagabonds


             I finished this book last night, and I have to say that I was blown away!  Set, as the blurb lays out, on a tramp steamer plying Far Eastern waters on the eve of World War II, the characters are richly drawn, and the settings evoke the scent of the trade winds carried on the muggy heat that only the tropics can provide.  Perhaps this book spoke so intimately to me because I have lived it, cruising the Orient on the deck of a tanker in the late 1960s, but whatever the reason, the reading was fabulous!
            Let’s first cover the problems with this book:  There are a few typos, and in one spot I found “you’re” where it should have read “your.”  This isn’t uncommon in indie fiction, but in some cases, it is so rampant that it renders the book virtually unreadable.  Not the case here.  A couple of hiccups, a raised eyebrow, and on with the wonderful story.  I’d rate this 41/2 if Amazon allowed it, but I’m not knocking a whole star off for an issue that didn’t detract in the slightest from a magnificent tale of the sea.
            So, what do we have here?  Well, most importantly, we have characters.  From the time we meet Captain Rowden prepping the Oriental Venture for sea in Sydney to the moment he stands out of a nameless lagoon in the South Pacific, Bill Rowden is the undisputed engine that drives the narrative.  Matching wits with arrogant Nazis, slimy Soviets, the Chinese underworld, a Russian dancer turned English lady, and an Australian major who is a bit more than what he seems, Rowden and his crew of cutthroats maneuver carefully and entertainingly through the hazardous minefields of prewar Oriental customs, scams, and skullduggery.  It is my personal belief that characters are fiction, and no one in this cast, from the captain to the lowliest dock worker, disappoints.
            Now you put these characters into a setting as rich and romantic as the South Seas, and the finished product is a book that is an absolute joy to get lost in.  My recommendation is that you pour a mug of strong brew, add a healthy dollop of your favorite “creamer,” and settle back for an evening’s enjoyment that will be hard to match for entertainment.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Early Riser? Who is that helping?

"Early to bed and early to rise, and you never meet any of the regular guys!"
~ Anonymous

          So, are you one of these people who wakes up before sunrise every day to get a head start and "attack" the day?  Yeah, there's more and more of those.  I've never been one myself, but I met my share during the latter part of my career, and the one thing they all had in common was that they would unanimously criticize me because I didn't buy into it.  It isn't a coincidence that this became a "thing" at around the same time that leaving work at quitting time became an act of defiance.

          Now that I've retired, I've started to wake up at a time that would have placed your life in danger had you woke me at that time when I was working.  Now I use that time to do whatever writing I have planned for that day, or to read, or just play a video game before the routine of the day begins.  The point is, it benefits me, and it's been my choice to make that adjustment.

          Are you an early riser?  Do you do it for yourself, or do you just think you do?  Before you answer, read this brilliant essay by Rosie Spinx, a journalist with the courage to buck the trends and tell the truth about this insidious practice that is stealing your humanity.  No early riser should miss it!

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Elephant as a Person

          I've been straining to find something to use this blog for, and I may have found a good candidate.  This article appeared Aeon.co, a site purporting to bring thought provoking reading to a curious audience.  If this is any indication, they don't disappoint!  Oh, and I should mention that, while they do solicit donations, the site is free to use with no clickbait and no paywalls.  Check it out!

          https://aeon.co/essays/if-elephants-arent-persons-yet-could-they-be-one-day

Monday, September 10, 2018

Chameleon

          I have scratched my head and puzzled over what to do with this site. Jack's Hideout was my first blog, started back in March of 2011. My first post, the mission statement, is still up and ready to read, though the link it references is long-gone. In that time, I have posted scads of articles about some of the weirdest subjects ever brought together under one roof. I made some lasting friendships in the earliest days of this blog, the crew of Nerd Lunch, my favorite pop-culture site, Australian singer-artist-book reviewer Karen Finch, and journalist and sometimes Radio personality Nicole Vulcan, who chronicled her journey as a single mom as she made the world do the right thing by sheer force of will. I also "celebrated" the loss of my best friend here. I've welcomed over 30,500 visitors to date, and had some intense and interesting conversations with many of them. But now ...

          I am first and foremost an author. For many years I struggled to make it my profession, but that outcome wasn't in the cards, so I made it my hobby. It is now one of many things I do in an atmosphere of stress-free enjoyment. It's kind of ironic, then, that having declared writing a hobby, I've set up a "professional" author site on another platform.

          I was seduced away from Blogger by Weebly, a small-press blog provider at the time, whose main attraction was "what you see it what you get." See, on Blogger, everything you type or post goes into a big square box, and you don't know what it's going to look like when you post it, so you preview and preview and preview, making adjustments until you're blue in the face until you either get it right, or throw up your hands and run with what you've got. Weebly solved that problem for a couple of years, and you can see the gap in the archives here, but then they were bought by ScribD, who replaced Weebly's Terms of Use with their own, one of which was Clause Six.  Clause Six stated that as a condition of using Weebly, ScribD could utilize anything posted on the service for any reason as if it were their own.

          As you might imagine, I couldn't clear out of there fast enough. I came back here for the occasional post, and last February, I looked into an old WordPress account I had never used because it was so user-unfriendly that I couldn't make heads nor tails of it. But when I returned, it had been simplified to the point that even I could use it, and use it I did. I set up my author site there called Riding the Blimp, and that has become my scrapbook of all things writing where I have welcomed over 2100 visitors. But I've kept this site running in the background, and now I can't let it go because it is my proof of purchase, my credentials showing that I've been at this for more than the seven months that Riding the Blimp has been in operation. But Riding the Blimp is where it all happens now.

          As a hobbyist, I've taken to giving away my stories; I've come to terms with the fact that I'm not going to be rich or famous, so I'll settle for being read. Last Saturday I posted a complete novel there, Chameleon. Fans of dangerous dames and lethal ladies will find Colleen O'Reilly to be right up their alley, so click on over and enjoy the read, and maybe leave a comment or two along the way. There are other stories there as well, some excerpts from books for sale, some complete in their own right, but all eminently readable. Consider this your invitation to come over and get acquainted. I thoroughly enjoy meeting new folks, and hearing their views on my works and everything else, so don't be a stranger. Come enjoy a read, and while you're doing that, I'll start transcribing my crime drama, Broken English; and maybe seeking out new uses for this site as well.

          Y'all have a great day, and I'll see you around the stacks!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Being Joe


          I just read the creepiest little short that I've seen in quite a while, Being Joe, by Erin Lee.  This is only available as part of a collection, Carnival of Fear, which collects a sweet thirteen shorts and novellas that bring horror set in carnivals and circuses, places where behind the scenes horror is almost a given, right?  Fitting, since the very word carnival has its origins in the Old Italian carnelevare: taking meat away.  This one doesn't disappoint!
          I can't say much about a short story without ruining the whole thing, but let me try to set the mood.  Being Joe is told by the dominant member of a set of conjoined twins.  The subordinate twin, Moe, is little more than a head that has very little control or feeling of any part of the shared body; all he does is complain, and who can blame him for being bitter?  A one-armed baton-twirling dwarf named Cat is in love with Moe, and Joe can't stand her, not least because she may or may not have killed her last husband and fed him to the circus's big cats.
          And that's as far as I dare go without spoilers.  It is a ride worthy of a much longer work, bringing the horror and suspense advertised along with a healthy dose of sarcastic humor.  Reader of my other blog, Riding the Blimp, were recently treated to a rant about the rising price of e-booksCarnival of Fear, 13 complete stories with a print length of 537 pages, is available on Kindle for 99c, which is what I call a great price!  Erin Lee is a prolific author, and her work can be explored further at https://www.authorerinlee.com/  Come on...  Take a walk on the creepy side!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Third Daughter


          I've just finished a book so incredible that I don't know where to start, so I'll just put the wedge in somewhere and start prying.  I recently purchased one of those Kindle bundles where you get a dozen or so books for 99c.  This one was Gears & Goggles: A Steampunk Collection.  Right up my alley, so to speak.
          The Third Daughter was the first book in the collection, and one I never would have reached for had it been alone on its sales page; I'm sure there's a lesson there somewhere.  Its author, Susan Kaye Quinn promotes it as a Bollywood-style romance, and it may be.  I know very little about the romance genre beyond the fact that it doesn't interest me a jot, but I think the author may have done herself a grave disservice by placing it in this category.
          The story takes place on one of those not-Earth fantasy worlds so common in the genre, and it is centered around the Kingdom, or more accurately, Queendom of Dharia.  Everything in the land works on steampunk/clockpunk tropes, and fits beautifully into the genre we all know and love.  The land is ruled by a widowed queen who has three daughters.  The elder two have been forced into arranged marriages to seal alliances, and the third daughter, Aniri, is nearing her 18th birthday.  She is a tomboy, more interested in climbing and fencing than jewelry and silks, and has been stealing away unobserved (so she thinks) to meet a lover, a courtesan from a foreign embassy.  Their relationship has remained non-sexual up to this point, and Aniri believes, rightly or wrongly, that they will wed, and enter into a life of travel and adventure that only the independently wealthy can imagine.  She has no courtly duties beyond looking pretty during state functions, and very few cares.  Life extends before her like a huge blank canvas.
          Until the fateful evening when her mother's personal guard, Janak, interrupts her supposedly secret dalliance to summon her before the queen without delay.  Her mother informs her that she will be introduced to a barbarian prince from the northern provinces in the morning, and it is hoped that her wedding to him will avert a war that would kill thousands.
          Aniri, as you might imagine, is devastated, then confused when, instead of an ape in bearskins, she is introduced to a charming and handsome young man who seems to sincerely want peace, and needs this wedding to solidify his hold on the throne before his warmongering generals usurp power.  What's a princess to do?
          At the first opportunity to get her alone, her mother explains that the foreign custom is for the prospective queen to live in the prince's palace for a month of courtship where they get to know each other, and establish how their arranged marriage will function.  The queen is in possession of troubling rumors of a flying ship that can wreak destruction on Dharia in the hands of the prince's kingdom, and her real mission is to confirm or dispell these rumors, and if true, discover some weak point that can be exploited to defend the kingdom.
          Aniri journeys to Prince Malik's palace to face hostile factions, assassins, and creep around behind this seemingly sincere man's back to try to ferret out the truth behind the rumors.  None of this is aided by a message from her lover, telling her that everything the prince says is a lie, and the dreaded war will be triggered by their wedding.
          There is indeed a classic love triangle in play here, but that isn't the book.  If you like court intrigue, political maneuvering, and steampunk gear aplenty, this could be the book for you.  It was certainly a pleasant surprise for me, and I am certain that this will join the Drizzt Do'Urden and Tarl Cabot of Gor series as Books I'll Never Forget.  I've been active in the world of steampunk for a good many years now, and I haven't come across Ms. Quinn's name as one of the giants of the genre.  It should be.  The Third Daughter stands head and shoulders above much of the material I've read.  Romance?  Yeah, it's there, and it's handled in an effective and satisfying manner, but don't be fooled.  This is the steampunk book for every reader, and the best thing is, it's the first book of a trilogy.
          Available on Amazon right here.