Sunday, June 29, 2014

I Think I Will, I Think I Won’t

A week or so ago I received the first copies of “Unusual Suspects: Four Stories of Suspicion, Suspense and Murder.” The book is already available as a Kindle, and now has a three-dimensional version as well. But the real work is just beginning: moving books from my office to your house, or from to your Kindle or mailbox.  That will be work.

I’m not complaining. I enjoy going out and meeting book people in book stores and libraries and at book fairs and such. I like answering questions about my work, about writing in general, and of course, about the understory in every book I write. But it takes time.

About the time I have a new manuscript ready for publication, I start thinking, “Well, that’s it. I’m finished. I don’t want to go through this again. I’m too old, there are too many things I haven’t done, too much that needs to be taken care of. I’m written out.” Except, of course, I’m not. I see something that triggers an idea, a storyline develops, characters begin to populate the story and pretty soon I’m outlining, fleshing out characters and background and scene settings and so on. That comes from writing films, I guess, but I don’t do that anymore; haven’t for some years. But seeing the story in my mind isn’t something I can expunge from my thinking process.

Writing, it turns out, is more than a craft for the writer. It is a way of life. Internal, mostly. not something you can do as a team or a group. I write for me, and I hope that the ‘me” for whom I write is essentially like you, the difference being that I have a story to tell, and you want to hear or read it. But regardless of what happens once the story is written, I am compelled to share it, to hear your response, to try to make the next one better so you will keep coming back. If you do, my accountant is happy, but if you don’t, I’m not that unhappy, as long as you remain there. I believe that there is something in the DNA of every writer, especially a fiction writer.

For writers there is no “The End,” as long as there is a “Thee.”

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Holding Back the Hand of Man

Here on the mountain the sun is warming us slowly from the cool and breezy night to what promises to be a warm and sunny day. It is part of what holds us here, what each day makes us happy that we are here and not still in the city or the suburbs. Being here has also given us peace and quiet, solitude and a small but loving group of people we’ve come to know and cherish. This place, as stimulated and focused our creativity. Just being here brings joy.

We met here with a few of our friends the other evening, on our deck that sprawls across the south-facing front of the house.   It is a big deck, generous in both length and width, and except for one small area about ten feet wide, runs from one end of the house to the other. All the rooms but two have windows or doors that open onto the deck. At the outer edge we stand six or more feet above the ground, a consequence of living on a mountain.

On the other side of the house, the true front, we are at ground-level. No stairs to climb, and no barriers to getting in or out. We live on a dead-end dirt and gravel road, up a steep gravel driveway that bends back on itself. To reach the front door we have constructed  a wooden walkway bends through a courtyard of shrubs and flowering plants. The  yard is small, about 30 by 50 feet. Then the land rises again on the north and west sides, creating the heavily-treed backdrop that protects us from the winds and winter. In all, house, gardens, decks occupy less space than the suburban lot we lived on when we were just outside the city where my work was. But that is not all of our place. We have a mountain that rises beyond the courtyard, fields of hay and yet another mountain that provides the view from the deck. From any point of the house, what we see is what we hold.

When we first built here, more than 20 years ago, the trees surrounding the house were perhaps 40 or 50 years old. More gracious now, they surround us so closely that we almost feel we are living in a tree house. The view of our fields in the valley below has become more obscured with each year.

We have tried to change very little of the land we call ours. We have worked to encourage good timber growth, we keep about a dozen acres productive in hay, but in general we have tried to make as little impact on the land as possible. We came here because of the land, we stay here because of the land, we know that what ever happens to us, we will always have the land because it is now a part of our hearts and souls. It is the place were we have grown in understanding if not wisdom. Our time here  prepares us for whatever tomorrow holds.

We try to hold back the hand of man. That is our job. This place is literally and figuratively our rock. We stand on it assured that it will not crumble. In truth, the land owns us.

We are caretakers who will pass on, but the land will remain.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

My Little Girl

My little girl came into my life at a time when, frankly, I had thought I would always be alone. I had given up finding the young woman I was destined to marry, had expressed to friends that being single seemed the right place for me, and then one day, just like that, there she was. And again, just like that, there was the little girl. A woman now, of whom I am perhaps inordinately proud, and three copies of her as well. All, daughter and grand daughters, make Fathers Day a day with meaning.

What these women have chosen to do with their lives, the people they have shared them with, the goals they have set and reached, are what brings joy to parents, to this parent in particular, because along the way they have and are touching the lives of others in ways that might be considered difficult for some, but seem to be natural to them. I know for each the way has sometimes been hard, harder than it should be, and I wish only that I could have exercised a father’s power to make it easier or better or both. That isn’t something that being a parent or grandparent can really accomplish, of course, and they are strong, stronger than many, because they have found the strength to grow and go and become the people they are. If there is a gift I have given them, it is to seek the strength within.

And what I have received in return! Love, yes. Fun, of course. And learning. Everyday that I learn something new, I count as a day well spent. Being a father has brought me experiences and knowledge I would never have gotten had I followed my plan and remained the bachelor I had envisioned. And the world, my world, would not have been as rich and rewarding had I not had the experience and the opportunity to grow that comes from being Daddy.

Fathers Day is really Father-and-Daughter day in our house.

Thank you, Daughter, for making my day.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Art Mirrors Life Mirrors Art

I was going to write about being an artist. Painting, especially, has always seemed to me the truest form of art. Other than the maker of canvas, the sawyer who makes a board, the chemist who formulates pigments and media, the painter is fully responsible for what comes out of the act of painting. There is no middle-man, no agent, no manufacturer to influence or demand changes and designs. The painter sees the world, paints the picture and moves on. What more freedom could one person have, than that? But that isn’t where my thoughts have led me today.

I’ve made my living in what are called creative arts since I was in my teens. Before I was paid for what I did I worked as an un-paid apprentice in a summer stock theater learning by being useful in any of a dozen tasks. By the time I was in high school I was being paid as a radio announcer/disk jockey. Over the years in college and just after, I remained in broadcasting. I had learned basics of filmmaking by building sets and assisting in camera, editing, lighting and other jobs. Professionally I’ve been a still photographer, cinematographer, director, producer and on more than five-hundred films, scriptwriter. That’s where I earned my reputation and my living all my working years. Today, as a "retired" person (my definition: to be tired again), I am still writing, but focused on fiction and essays. Like a painter, I write for myself, but the similarity ends there. Agents. editors, publishers, marketing people can all get in the way. Even publishing formats can get in the game that starts with a fiction writer’s idea.

I’ve been thinking about the arts as a way of life, of making a living, because it seems to me society is failing in that area, and the skills needed are being denied to far too many people. The risk is that there will not be enough people prepared to create works of art and artistry that will describe and memorialize the times in which we live. It isn’t just the rise of simplified and foreshortened writing techniques that worries me. What disturbs me more than that, than technology-driven ways of communicating and recording and sharing ideas, is the reduction of expression (and therefore thinking) to a limited number of characters, to catch-phrases and acronyms, to over-used irony and so much else that represents modern communication. We are at risk of losing more than beauty in our lives just when we most need it. A finely wrought sentence or paragraph not only adds beauty, but also the time for reflection, for exploring and understanding and making better, the world in which we live.

If your state or local school system is allowing the arts to be removed or downgraded, if the funding for exposure to painting and sculpture, to music and drama, is being reduced or deleted by poorly managed, ideologically driven and underfunded school systems that would rather spend money teaching pseudo-science, consider raising your voice locally and beyond, to make sure today’s children are given the opportunities they need to experiment with the creative arts, to learn not just to express themselves, but to see the world around them and then communicate to others what they see and hear and think.

As educational systems narrow their focus, reduce their field of view, blaming it on the lack of funding instead of the silence of those for whom it truly matters, we risk not just education. Civilization is what we threaten most. It doesn’t have to be that way. That is not where the fault and the threat lie.

It is not in our stars, as Shakespeare warned, but in ourselves.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Slow Death

I was reminded of one of my favorite quotations recently when I contacted a seller to complain about a product they had supplied. It simply didn’t provide all the elements it had advertised. The missing one was even advertised by a small brass-colored tag attached to the body of the product.

When I sought out the company that provided the product to the final seller, I found an email address to use to "Contact us." I wrote a nice enough note, considering, saying only that I was disappointed, that I had bought their brand in the past and had been satisfied, and that I thought they ought to know that their Chinese producer had not delivered what the company and, ultimately, I had ordered. I wasn’t petulant or smarty, but instead, rather helpful I thought. I didn’t expect any real redress, and had decided that all things considered, I would live with what I had.

In my inbox in less than an hour was a message thanking me for contacting them, and that they would get back to me quickly. That was a few weeks ago. That reminded me of the quote.

In about 1560 or so, the Spanish viceroy to Mexico, who certainly knew more than a little about bureaucracy, must have been awaiting some sort of decision from the Spanish court. Like me, he hadn’t received an answer. He left a comment though, somewhere: "If death came from Madrid," he wrote, "we should all live to a very old age."

Well, I’m perfectly happy to be in charge of my own aging, thank you very much, and as it seems to be working, I’m happy to be doing it without help from Madrid, or in this case, Seattle. But I still would like an answer.

What I think is, nobody ever used the "contact us" link before, and I can imagine the frantic running around going on in the company’s headquarters as they try to find someone who can actually reply.

There was a time when you bought everything locally: food, clothing, tools, parts - - - everything. If it didn’t fit when you got it home, you took it back to the seller and either exchanged it or had your money refunded. If it didn’t work, the seller would replace it. Yes, most things sold for a bit more perhaps, but at least you didn’t have to package it and wait for mailing labels and instructions from the seller; you simply took it back. That’s a model that doesn’t work well today. It should, even in modern dress, but it doesn’t.

The Seattles of this world are the new Madrid.