View from the end of our street, February 22nd, 2019

Monday, December 25, 2017

My Christmas Wish

Absorb the grace and generosity of Christmas.
Carry it wherever you go.
Dispense it for others wherever you are.
What a wonderful world would result!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The First Day of Winter

A homeless man dies in the gutter.
A tree cracks in the cold: A shocking sound.
 
~ DENG MING-DAO

          The winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, has profound effects on the hemisphere at large.  Plants are deep in their protective dormancy, animals have gone to ground, using the minimum energy possible, venturing out even to forage only in desperation.  The complicated brains of humans do not go unaffected, either.  The shortening days, perhaps subconsciously associated with the dwindling days of life remaining, bring on bouts of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder.  It's a real thing; look it up.
           The colder weather also brings flu season.  Not sure why, perhaps the lower temperatures suppress the immune system.  Not a doctor, can't address that, but I am in the end-phases (God, let us hope!) of a truly nasty one.  I don't know how it got past my flu shot.  Must have been some errant strain that no one saw coming, but that's neither here nor there.  Last Saturday, and continuing through Monday, I probably slept twenty hours a day, an hour of lucidness here and there broken up by three-to-four hour naps.  I still have congestion, difficulty regulating my temperature, body aches, and a real bad case of cancer of the ambition.  TheraFlu is a remarkable product, and you can tell them I said so!
          But people don't read this blog to hear about my health problems.  Most people following here know me as a writer, and that's really what I'm here to talk about.  First, a brief history of Jack the Writer.  My fifth grade teacher turned me on to the joys of writing to entertain others in 1957, probably around this time of year.  It's now 2017, which means that right around now, I've been writing to entertain others for almost exactly sixty years.  I went through a thousand phases and never achieved the sort of success gained by King or Rowling, but I had a good time and achieved a respectable level of proficiency; there are books out in public with my name on the front and my picture on the back,  and there are a couple of dozen reviews extolling my skills, so while I am not a millionaire, neither am I dissatisfied with the outcome.
          But what has been brought home to me with agonizing certainty over the past four months, with this crippling flu serving as the exclamation point, is that I have no further interest in writing at all.  I've been trying to spark it for the last four months.  I post writing days on the calendar, psyche myself up to write, then on the morning, I get out the notebook, fire up the computer, and... nothing.  So I try to improve an outline instead of actually writing; ain't happening.  I daydream scenes starring characters of my own creation the way some of you probably remember favorite scenes from movies, but when it comes time to put words on the page, the muse is conspicuously absent.
          So be it.  At sixty-nine, I don't have time left to fret over something I can't do anymore.  I can't run track anymore, either, and I don't let that bother me.  It's time for me to view writing in the same light.  You should note that it is almost impossible for a writer to make the conscious decision that he is through with writing, even if that's what he wants and intends; all he has to do is pick up a 10c pen and start scribbling.  In my case, I don't want to quit.  What I have to recognize is that I already have, want to or not.
          Recognizing, then, that it could start up again at any time, I have to face the future in the assumption that it won't, and decide what, if any, public face I'm going to present if not that of a writer.  I've seen so many people succeed with those little "slice of life" blogs that it makes me nuts!  They talk about feeding the squirrels on their back porch, and garner three, four, five hundred followers.  I've been blogging on this site since 2010.  I have 26 followers, and probably half of them are inactive.  I don't think of myself as pigheaded, but that particular statistic suggests otherwise.  Should I talk about my religion?  Nobody wants to hear that, and besides, that just invites attacks from the "you're wrong" crowd, and I have no interest in dealing with them.  Maybe I'll just become a person who comments on other peoples' blogs.  Or maybe I'll just close the door and turn out the lights; conventional wisdom suggests that I'm not really all that interesting in the first place.  I'll probably take another shot or two between now and New Year's, but just to be safe, anyone who wants to wish me goodbye better take care of that sooner rather than later...
          Play nice, watch out for one another, and live life like you mean it!  I'll see you around the web.

~ Jack

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Emancipation of Blimprider

          "When I hear about writer's block, this one and that one, f**k off!  Stop writing, for Christ's sake; plenty more where you came from."
 ~ GORE VIDAL

           Much like Mr. Vidal, I've never put much stock in writer's block, because I never got it.  See, I plan in such great detail that I'm generally considered some sort of outlying freak by other planners.  Sure, the muse decides to sleep in once in a while, but as far as the dreaded Block goes, all I've ever had to do was lay my hyper-detailed outline beside the keyboard and flesh out the scene.  It may not have been my best writing, but it was always going to be a first draft, subject to revision anyway, and I had the scene on the page and was ready to move on; what is this "Block" you speak of, kemo sabe?
          So you might be able to imagine the turmoil I've been going through since last August, which was, with the exception of two days, the last time I was able to produce anything remotely readable.  In my last post, Back on the Horse, I talked about how I was going to haul the muse out of the sack and beat on him until he produced some usable copy.  That was a week ago.  I did that, and he came across with a scene for The Secret Society, a steampunk spy story I've had in the works for a while.  Following that success, I scheduled last Monday on the calendar to write again.  I figured that gave me three days to prepare, to psyche myself up, to do some research on the history of the location it was set in.  I did those things.  Monday came, I sat down to write, and... nothing happened.  Turned out this much-vaunted horse I thought I was riding turned out to be a worn out old mule who sat down in the road with me on his back, and dared me to make him stand up again.
          As I said, I don't have much experience with writer's block, so I don't know precisely whether that is what I'm experiencing.  At the age of 69, what I do have experience with is a wide array of hobbies.  From the sedate, detail-intensive construction of plastic models to the adrenaline-donor excitement of extreme off-roading; from the campaign planning of tabletop wargaming to exploring the mountains and deserts of the back country on foot, I've experienced a lot of widely varied pursuits.  As you might guess, I've also experienced the demise of a good number of those hobbies.  Take plastic modeling as an example.  You have all this paraphernalia, a thousand shades of paint, a dozen different kinds of glues and cements, all the tools for applying all the various forms of camouflage that the world's military forces have used on their weapons throughout history.  You've done this for decades, and know through long experience that you love it.  You visit a hobby shop and see a kit that just blows you away.  You must have it, so you risk not being able to pay a bill, and bring it home.  You examine the parts, decide which variant you're going to make, set up your work table with all the tools, paints, and associated equipment that you're going to need, and start spreading out parts...  At which time you realize that this is about the dumbest, most uninteresting thing you've ever encountered, and it almost makes you physically ill to look at it.
          That happened to me, and it was actually that sudden.  I was making an S-3 Viking, an anti-submarine aircraft used by the navy, for my office.  I worked at a naval air station where several dozen S-3s were based, and thought that would make an excellent display piece for a space on a shelf in there.  It was about 80% completed when I sat down at the table on my day off, and found that I couldn't stand to look at it.  I did eventually force it to completion, displayed it in my office, and it did get a lot of nice comments, but I've never made another one, and that was on the order of twenty years ago.  I got a model of Jules Verne's Nautilus for Christmas three years ago.  I'm looking at the box of parts from where I'm sitting, waiting in their packaging for the magic touch that will bring them to life.  I'd love to have that completed and on display, but not enough to actually build it, at least not yet.
          Wargaming faded away a bit more slowly, and I still fantasize about those good old days.  I have a few of the games left deep in my closet, and I still get one out now and then and look it over, but there's no thought of playing one.  Understand, if you're uninitiated, this isn't Risk I'm talking about here.  These are games like Rise and Decline of the Third Reich, Breakout Normandy, and Pax Britannica.  The rule books are thicker than many mainstream magazines, and maybe that's part of what drove me away.  Regardless of that, the sudden and profound loss of interest is familiar and chilling as I look at the prospect of writing now.
          All of which brings me to last Monday.  I tried all day to write.  I had material to type.  I had free time to type it.  There was no reason for not doing it, other than that I couldn't generate the slightest interest in the notion of actually spending two or three hours at the keyboard.  My daughter, the youngest child, finally took the time to put it all into perspective for me, and she was able to do it without Mr. Vidal's resort to foul language.  I'm going to paraphrase the conversation here; obviously I wasn't recording at the time, but this is pretty close to what was said:
          ME:  "Boo hoo hoo!  I can't write any more.  It's the end of the world!"
          DAUGHTER:  "Why?  Do something else."
          ME:  "You don't understand.  I need to write!  I put it on the calendar and planned for a day of writing, but now I can't get any work done."
          DAUGHTER:  "You don't need to get any work done.  You worked your ass off for fifty years providing a safe and loving home for half a dozen people.  This is your time.  You don't need a schedule, and you don't need a production tracker.  All you need to do is enjoy the time that's left to you.  If writing doesn't bring you pleasure, don't write."
          ME:  "But my friends all know me as a writer."
          DAUGHTER:  "Friends who like you for who you are will always like you.  The hangers-on who just want to be able to say they know a writer weren't your friends anyway.  If it brings you pleasure to explore Skyrim for the rest of your life, then that's what you should be doing."
          All this time, my wife is sitting in her recliner, smiling and nodding.  Has anyone ever had two better friends?  A better daughter?  I challenge you to show me one!
          And that's where things stand with the ol' Blimprider at this moment in time.  I will continue to put Writing on the calendar every four days, and I will continue to prep for it.  If it comes, it comes, and I'll be pleased to tell you a story, but if it doesn't come, I will no longer stress over it.  I've made my point with three books and a story in an anthology.  I have nothing left to prove to anyone.  Would I like to continue writing?  Of course I would.  Am I going to lose any sleep if that isn't what's in the cards?  Not any more.  I have a wonderful family to enjoy.  That ought to keep me busy enough for one man!  As for you, dear friends, play nice, take care of one another, and I'll see you around the Web.

All the best,
~ Jack "Blimprider" Tyler

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Back on the Horse

Now I sit me down to write.
I pray the Muse that things go right.
Three months off is quite a rest.
Time to dream, and do my best.

          I've been blocked for three months now.  Haven't written a word.  Oh, that's not entirely true.  I've written reviews by the score, established a forum, had some conversations, and commented on the work of others.  None of these things is writing, and it's been so long since I've produced anything that some of my readers may not know that the main thrust of this blog is to support my activities as a writer.
          This morning I determined that I would use the time until my grandchildren's visit, which starts in about an hour, to hold my cantankerous muse by the nose and kick him in the ass until he either coughed up a story or died.  In the end he coughed up a story, and I have a good amount of raw material ready in the form of a novella about half-completed and unedited.  Nonetheless, I am so thrilled to be back at it that I have opened it up to anyone who wants to read, comment, or offer suggestions.  The link is The Secret Society.
          Today was an important first step.  The mission now is to continue the momentum I've established, and if you have any encouragement to offer, that would certainly help.  That said, it isn't your job to keep me going, and you couldn't do it if you wanted to.  I'm just really happy to be doing what I love again, and eager to share.  I hope it's to your liking.  In any case, I'm blogging as a writer again, and I'm not shy about letting my friends and supporters know about it.
          I hope you've had as productive a day as I have, and many more to come.  I have to go now and prepare for the grandkids.  Have a great day!  I sure am, and I'll check in again next week to let you know how things are going.

All the best,
~ Jack

Friday, December 1, 2017

Thanksgiving, Belated.

          Last week I offered an essay about Thanksgiving as a holiday celebrated in several countries, but ignored by many more.  Or maybe not.  As a formal holiday sanctioned by national governments, Thanksgiving tends to get short shrift, but as a celebration of a bountiful harvest, I'm sure it's been observed and participated in by people close to and dependent on the land since the dawn of time.  Here at Chez Ty, it is a day we set aside to acknowledge that, despite any little squabbles we may have had during the previous year, we still unconditionally love each other, and none of us is facing the world alone.
          I mentioned in last week's post that we would be celebrating a week late.  Our son and daughter both work in big-box retail stores, and yesterday was the first day they've had off together since before last week, so this was the evening it happened.  Father Time has not been kind to wifey's knees and hips, and she just can't put in the full day in the kitchen that the traditional feast calls for.  Not a huge problem though, as daughter has declared Thanksgiving her favorite holiday, and was willing to do it all, although she didn't have to, as her mom dragged an elevated chair over there and produced a couple of dishes.  In the end, we had our son and daughter, and four grandchildren over, plus a cherished family friend who we consider one of us, no matter what her last name is, and a bountiful feast was enjoyed by all.


          The dishes for the meal took up our whole little dining table, which wouldn't have been usable with nine of us here anyway, so we ate on couches, in recliners, and on chairs, and we are all refreshed and recharged, and ready to face another year knowing where the love is, and where to find support if we need it.  And then, with the food demolished and the platters in the sink, dessert was presented.


          I was down for chocolate cream pie (I don't why they do anything else), deciding that if it killed me, well, try to name a better way to go!  Unbelievably, my blood sugar was down a good ten points this morning; I can only guess that my body saw that coming in, and put the whole crew on overtime.  I have a weigh-in Sunday morning, and I'm guessing that's where I'll find those missing ten numbers!  Not a problem.  I've started over a thousand times; once more isn't going to matter one way or the other!
          So, yeah, we ate enough food to sustain us for a week.  Yeah, we'll all have to start keeping a critical eye on the scale again.  So what?  We're all reaffirmed, our love is once more formally renewed, and who's going to let a scale interfere with that?  Not us!
          We hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, however you celebrated, whatever the date, and wish you a fun month of shopping for just the right gift for those special people in your lives.  The next thing we celebrate here is Christmas (well, after two birthdays...).  As my regular readers will be aware, I am not a Christian, but I join my Christian friends and family in this wonderful celebration of love and giving because I don't want to throw a wet blanket on their enjoyment, and Christian or not, what's wrong with celebrating love and fellowship?
          At the same time, I recognize that between November and January, seven of the world's major religions celebrate twenty-nine of their biggest holidays.  I don't believe that mine are the only ones that count, so I'll close by wishing you Happy Holidays from The Tyler Gang to Your Gang, wherever you may be and whatever you may celebrate.  Play nice, watch out for one another, and look for the beauty in all things; it's nearly always there, and it will certainly make your day go nicer!

~JT