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I Found It!”

Okay, this happened a couple of years ago. However, I still think of it often, usually in the morning or in the middle of the night when I’m remembering a particular dream. For over 35 years I’ve had a recurring dream. It went like this:

I’m in high school. The building is huge. I’m late for math class. That’s bad, because I’m failing math. I run through hallways and up and down stairs, taking them two or three at a time. I can’t find the classroom! The clock is ticking and everyone else has settled into their rooms. I’m still running through the empty halls like a mad man. Where is that classroom? I peek into rooms, hoping to find the right one. Students are busy at work and don’t notice me. It occurs to me that I have been unable to find the room for quite some time – weeks now, and that my absences will likely cause me to fail the class. I will not be able to graduate.

Then I wake up.

This started in my late teens and continued into my 50’s. I HATED this dream! Where did it come from? The seed likely germinated from the fact that I was having one hell of a time passing Algebra. So much so, I’d get up early every morning and go for extra help before school started. It was a very stressful time, and frustrating. Algebra just was not clicking for me.

I did some reading on this kind of dream. Not being able to find your classroom is fairly common, it seems. Right up there with forgetting your locker combination (had that one, too, off and on). Most say that it’s simply the subconscious revisiting a time of high anxiety. One of the functions of our brain is to solve our problems; to seek solutions for what it perceives to be damaging to our mind and body. I heard somewhere that the phenomenon of seeing your life pass before your eyes when facing death is actually the mind rapidly searching for an experience that could come to your aid. I had a near-death experience many years ago and that really happens! Images fly through your head, sliding through, one after another; each one recognizable, but lasting only a millisecond. Even while asleep, our brain is on duty, sifting through solutions to problems.

So, it seems that math class did a number on my psyche. Then one night I slipped back into that dream. Running! Running! Running! Where is that room? Will the teacher even recognize me anymore? And then…

I FOUND IT!!!

I stepped into the class. Everyone was there already, taking a math test. The teacher sat casually on one desks and smiled. I apologized to her for missing so many classes. She said not to worry about.

“But I’ve been away so long,” I said. “I am going fail this class!”

“No,” she said. “Life experience counts toward your grade. You’ll be fine.”

I realized at that point I was my current age. My teacher, Miss Zorn was the age she was when I last saw her – mid-twenties. I was actually over 25 years older than her, but it didn’t seem that way. She was still my teacher. I was still her student. “Life experience counts toward your grade. You’ll be fine.” I will never forget those words – hell, they did come from my own brain. It’s a cliche to say that the “relief washed over me”, but there’s no better way to put it. Decades of seeking resolution came to an end.

Then I woke up. I was smiling and shaking my head in disbelief. I said aloud, “I found it!” That feeling of relief in my dream carried over into my waking world. It was true elation! I felt a real sense of accomplishment.  I balled my fists and shook them victoriously in the air. “I FOUND it!” I repeated.

I wondered then if I’d visited that scenario for the last time. Wouldn’t it be interesting if a single resolution in a dream had the power to vanquish forever the problem that demanded that resolution?

The answer is yes. I have not had that dream since.

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Day after day after day after day… I pick up a newspaper and read about another “author” who has published another book. The key point here is that he or she published the book. It wasn’t acquired by a publisher, where it is vetted, deemed print-worthy, paid for, sent out for reviews, and bought by bookstores and libraries. Instead, the writer paid some online entity to print it out for them. Or, with print-on-demand, the equivalent of a consignment shop for words, they can forgo the payment to that entity. If that writer wants his friends to read what he wrote, he pays the “consignment publisher” to send them a book, a percentage of which goes to the writer. Once the friends and family have their copies, the book generally dies on the vine.

Why does this drive me crazy? I AM a published author – for real. I’ve worked for over 30 years at this craft. My ability to make a living depends upon my ability to write stories that will get me paid. My work has to be thought good enough by people who have read thousands of books over the years. Even after all this time, getting an editor to acquire something I’ve written is a major accomplishment. It – is – not – easy. Seriously.

So now anyone can get their book in print – no matter how awful it is – and I mean anyone and I mean awful! And that’s fine. What drives me mad is seeing the newspapers touting this as a newsworthy achievement. The self-published writers (Hmmm… SPriters? SPauthors?) give author book signings and lectures. They get on TV to talk about their project.

They are watering down the market.

In the back of Black Belt Magazine, there are ads where for a walletful of money, you can buy a black belt. You get the certificate, the belt, and the title of a “blackbelt”. Does that make the recipient a real blackbelt artist? Hell no.

There are exceptions to my outrage here. Our Town Historian, for example, wrote an excellent book on the historical buildings of Killingworth. There are no houses out there to publish books where the readership is not expected to expand much further beyond a single town. There are other instances where the subject can be so confined to micro-interests that the only way to share what you know is by self publishing. Great! Do it! I own some of those books and love them – warts and all! Some authors have backlogs of books that were published and the rights have reverted back to them. Again, the book has already been vetted and edited. It jumped through the literary hurdles and made it past the finish line. This level of quality control is absent in self published work.

That’s not to say that gems cannot be found among the works of the SPriters/SPauthors. They certainly exist. However, they are rare gems. A vast majority of the SPbooks (okay, that one’s not working) are … dreck. They are riddled with the cliches, spelling and grammatical errors, and just plain bad writing that are otherwise weeded out by editors or are simply cause for rejection. I saw one self published children’s book getting the royal treatment in a local paper where the illustrations were photos of a stuffed animal posed different positions. They looked like they were cropped by a six-year-old playing in Photoshop. And it was a store-bought toy – probably legal issues there! The SPriter/SPauthor and SPillustrator was lined up to do all kinds of book signings.

As my rant winds down, I’ll admit that not all books published by real publishers are good reading. The difference, though, is that the odds of it being good for what it is are in indirect proportion to those put out by vanity publishers.

The media needs to distinguish the difference between SPriters/SPauthors and those who are real published authors. Bookstores have to do the same. It’s tough enough making a living at this. It’s why so many give up. We’re battling the shrinking numbers of publishing houses and bookstores, the decline of actual books, strained budgets, competition with “celebrity authors” (don’t get me started), and now the droves of people claiming to be what they really are not. When you get paid to write, you are a published author. When you pay someone to print out what you wrote, you are something else.

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Traveled through time with this one...

 

 

I was thinking about a book I reread in the 90’s and thought I’d share how I came to rediscover it.

Many of us have books we remember as a child that left behind the gift of a fond, albeit hazy, memory. There are several in my past, many of which I remember quite clearly. One, however, stood out. While the title eluded me, the story continued to visit, usually in the wee hours while trying to fall asleep. I remembered a young king with a yodler’s hat and a pointed beard. He lost his kingdom and was told that he could be a king again if he could accomplish a number of impossible feats. To do this, he enlisted the help of some men he rescued from various dangers along the way. I remembered that one turned into an elephant (and drank a huge vat of wine, as only a king could do). Another, a swarm of bees (who defeated an army). One, a hatchet, and one a tree. There was also a man who could become a snake (who spanned a gorge, making a bridge for them to cross) and one who could turn into fire (who “consumed” a king-sized meal). The last line of the book was etched indelibly in my memory. When asked why the king should be given a kingdom when these impossible tasks were accomplished by his friends, the elephant guy said, “He did what a good king should do. He led us.”

So, that was the gist of the story. It was also the first time I put the then-newfangled Internet to its proper use. I consider myself a pretty decent “keyword artist” and was able to track it down, despite having forgotten the title. Turns out it was called “The King With Six Friends”, written by Jay Williams.

I will never forget receiving the book in the mail and reading it for the first time in over thirty years. It was truly just as I had remembered! But here’s the surprising part; while the story had changed little in my memory, neither had the feeling I had inside as I read it. As we get older, the way we look at things change. However, while there are different triggers to different feelings and emotions, the effect of those emotions on the who we still are, can be the same. Happiness is still happiness. Sadness is still sadness. In reading this book, the warmth of friendship and the feeling of satisfaction in watching the impossible overcome had not changed. Nor did the ability of Imero Gobbato’s illustrations to draw me into this world.

In a way, this was time travel, or as close to it as I’ll ever come.

 

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Subtitle: John Himmelman’s further descent into curmudgeonry.

I’ve seen my last movie in a movie theater. Unfortunately, it was Ironman 2, a big letdown after the first Ironman. Oh well. The movie itself had nothing to do with this decision. I still love watching movies, but for now on it will be in the comfort of my home.

So, you know what did it? Having to pay $9 to sit through a long string of TV commercials prior to the movie. These are commercials you cannot mute. You can’t get up and go to the fridge or switch to another channel. You’re held hostage as commercial after commercial blares out of the theater’s Dolby speakers. This practice began years ago with “The Jimmy Fund”. This caused a bit of controversy, but it was difficult to complain about helping sick kids without coming off as a misanthrope. Then they started sneaking in other commercials – usually one or two – irritating, but survivable. Having gotten away with that, they began adding more and more. Betsy and I walked out of Destinta Theater in Middletown, CT as the 5th commercial came on. We got our $18 refunded. At the Marquee Cinemas in Westbrook, we were assaulted by 8 commercials! And this was well after the movie was scheduled to begin. I’m not talking about coming attractions, mind you. I actually enjoy those. We’re talking about TV ads on the big screen.

A couple of people have suggested showing up later in order to bypass said assault. But then you run the risk of getting lousy seats.

And it’s just WRONG!

We pay a hefty price to see this entertainment! Add to this what we overpay at the snack bar. We should not be subjected to ads once the movie is slated to begin!

I know that some of you are rolling your eyes. You really don’t mind commercials. Well I hate them. In fact, my first blog entry was on how TV ads manage to annoy the bejeezus out of me.

When our son Jeff moved out, we turned his room into the entertainment room. It has a big screen TV, DVD player and surround sound. There’s a wide range of affordable refreshments downstairs and adult beverages. And a comfy lazyboy chair. When we want to watch a movie, we dim the lights and settle in. Amazingly, no one screams at us from the screen, trying to sell us stuff we don’t want.

I know I’m not alone in abandoning the theater experience. It’s probably part of the reason the theater owners are sullying what they offer by subjecting their paying customers to ad barrages. If I’m not there to see them, they can’t bother me.

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B.A.L.L.S. Trophy

Last Thursday night I received the coveted B.A.L.L.S. trophy at the annual Awards Banquet at the Pattaconk Bar and Grille. Many have fought and died for this prize only to have it fall into my hands as a result of a total fluke. Gaze upon its awesomeness in, well… awe.

(B.A.L.L.S., by the way, is the acronym for Bocce Amateur League of the Lower Shoreline. Okay, so it’s kind of a forced title to fit the acronym.)

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Betsy holding freshly dug wild leeks.

Betsy holding freshly dug wild leeks.

I went leek picking the other day. Betsy, the dogs, and I hiked into a super top secret place I know of where they are abundant.

Years ago, when I first came upon this trove of plants, I thought they were some kind of lily. A sniff of a leaf quickly dispelled that assumption — smelled like an onion. The leeks (Allium tricoccum), also known as ramps, grow in the hundreds along a shallow brook. Every year, I make a point to bring home a handful. I love their garlic/mild onion flavor. They make for a more flavorful onion in onion dishes. In garlic dishes, they are a slightly milder substitute.

digging leeks

Part of the allure in harvesting these plants is the hike to get to the spot where they grow. It’s a bit of a trek, but there’s always much to see along the way.

A bigger part for me, though, is the whole seasonal phenomenon aspect. The ramps grow at a time when spring has found its feet. It’s something to celebrate. I’m not alone. Spring is time for the Ramp Festivals down south, where the tuber’s culinary accents are celebrated. They’re often accompanied by bluegrass music and the odor of ramp-fueled dishes cooking under the tents.

Our little handful of wild leeks should keep us festive for a while.

Blueberry season next…

Rinsed wild leeks.

Rinsed wild leeks.

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No milk for my morning coffee? AND we’re out of the emergency creamer?

I’ll drink it, but I won’t like it!

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