Sunday, September 10, 2017

Getting it to print...



Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever
prey the heart long for, and have no fear.
– Yeats, WB: The Celtic Twilight

We are all tellers of tales.

Think not?

While it is true there are those among us who are gifted in this regard, every social interaction is about telling stories of things we find of interest.

Writing a story – going from an idea, crafting and nurturing it into something that, once recorded, has something to say. Telling that kind of story is a different kettle of fish.

A little context…
Last week, Molly, a friend, and I visited the Presidio Museum in Tubac, Arizona. Tubac is one of the older communities in the state, and has for any number of years been known as an artist community. One can find items from moderate costs to the extraordinary amongst the wide variety of artistic offerings.

In the museum was a working facsimile of the first printing press in the state. A video showed a historian printing a page of the ‘Arizonian,’ issued more than 150 years ago. The lead type was first set (backward in the tray), inked, then pressed against a large sheet of paper. That sheet (containing six pages) was proofed again before approval. Once the ink dried it was cut into individual pages for distribution. None of this mattered, of course, unless there was news of interest to the readers.

It was agonizingly slow.

That was then…
An extension of the weekly blogs I’ve have written has resulted in three self-published books – life in small bites, life around the edges and life along the way. In addition to selling a few of these on Amazon.com, family and friends have been recipients – willing or otherwise.

My friend Melinda, an award-winning author, and leader of a writer’s co-op I attend had been encouraging a longer narrative – a novel, perhaps. After deflecting her encouragements, with comments like: “I’m really NOT a writer,” or “I can’t find a narrative longer to write about,” I gave in and thought I would give it a try.

Total honesty? I was (am) afraid it would range from derivative to simply awful. I think I have a healthy sense of self, but this seemed too much.

An idea…
Then I thought about my high school best friend, John. We have had little contact in many decades, but he remains deeply rooted in my psyche. AND so, a kernel of thought began to develop.

The comradery we had still resonated in the molten chemistry of my aging and faltering mind, so our relationship in those years became the basis for ‘Take the Shot,’ a novel I have been working on for a little over a year. In the briefest of terms, it is updated to the events of September 11th, 2001 attack on the Twin Towers.

The characters Hank Murdoch (loosely me) and Ben Miller (Loosely John) join the military in a moment of patriotic eagerness, become Army Rangers, and subsequently a sniper team in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The story begins with the murder of Ben’s wife and a man with whom she had a brief affair. The setting is in the town of Fairmont, West Virginia. The event leads Ben to contact and request help from Hank, whose life has been aimlessly drifting in California. The friendship, disconnected for five years, reunites the friends for an investigation of the murders.

The work is now ready for publication. Last week, seeing the printing press in Tubac, made me think a little about what it would have been like to try to get a book published in the 1800s in the deserts of Arizona. It also made me think about the process I went through at the end of my doctoral program.

Looking back a little…
When I was a graduate student, I had to outsource everything for my dissertation…someone to type it, a statistician to reduce the data, a graphic artist to do the figures, and a print house to whom I submitted the manuscript. All of this took several months. If there had been computers AND Microsoft Office, I could have done all of it myself and had it ready to print within a few days.

Today…
Today’s self-publishing environment is the equivalent of Microsoft Office as described above. Amazon.com has a subsidiary called Create Space (Createspace.com) that permits indie authors to do everything a publishing house can do but by oneself.

Creating a book requires only the ability to learn the formatting methodology, having a manuscript, getting a book cover, uploading them to Amazon.com, and ordering an on-demand printed proof – all done from the comfort of one's office and computer.

The first printing press by Gutenberg was an unbelievable contribution of technology. The Tubac press was, in some ways, light years ahead of that, but by today's standards, both are archaic. It’s easy to take for granted the electronic technology and the access available to publish practically anything. Someday, we may be able to create and print just by thinking.


There is, however, something that has not changed for the teller of tales – having good stories to tell. And that as it always has been, is a different kettle of fish.

- ted

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A secret place...


“Few are altogether deaf to the preaching of pine trees.
Their sermons on the mountains go to our hearts…”
– John Muir: Naturalist.

KA-BOOM!!!

The explosion of light and sound was unexpectedly bright and loud. It was so close we could smell it. The signature odor result of the electrical charge separating two bonded oxygen molecules that quickly form a three-oxygen-molecule bond, emitting the pungent, chlorine-like smell of ozone. Yep, the lightening-strike was close enough to excite three of our five senses. In the spirit of full disclosure, it pretty much emptied our sinuses from the instant overflow of adrenalin. It was sudden and breathtaking!

It had been raining cats and dogs creating that wonderful sense of isolation and connectedness that happens when one experiences storms from a dry and protected space. For me, there is something primitive about being in the middle of a raging storm as a shielded observer. We had been chatting about how much we enjoyed this kind of weather when the lightning hit close by.

There was a millisecond pause where we froze like two deer in headlights as our protective instincts sent warning electrical impulses buzzing down our neuro pathways. This was quickly followed by him saying, “We had better unplug everything.” He immediately began crawling the floor by the edges of the walls pulling cords and shutting things down.

The ‘he’ is my friend Clayton. I was sharing a weekend at his hideaway in Pinetop, nestled at 7,200 feet in the White Mountains of Arizona. This is tall pine country on eastern edges of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forrest, and just north of the Fort Apache Reservation, seventy-miles or so as the crow flies from the New Mexico border.

The two of us are in a writer’s co-op in Tucson that meets weekly to review each other’s manuscripts. For the past two summer’s he has invited me to leave the triple digit temperatures of the Sonoran Desert floor and take the three-and-a -half hour drive ‘to altitude.’ This past weekend it happened.

A context…
I was privileged to grow up spending summer holidays in the hardwood forests of Central Ontario. In addition to the oak and maple, there were white/silver birch and a variety of evergreens – pine and cedar. Those summer days were idyllic and almost fairy-tale like in their moments. Our cottage on the family property was tucked away on the northeastern shores of Lake Joseph in the Parry Sound/Muskoka regions of the province. Those annual visits were soul cleansing before I knew anything about the importance of disconnecting from the treadmill of life to recharge one’s internal engines.

Back to Pinetop…
When we arrived Friday afternoon, he announced, “Two rules while you are up here. The first is that if it’s solid, flush twice (for the sake of the septic tank), and the second is that you are here to vacation.”

“Sounds pretty fair to me,” I responded. In truth, the first instruction would be easier than the second…there had been a lot going on.

The first morning I was out for an early walking exploration of the wooded neighborhood. As I walked the ‘summer home’ lined streets, I was transported to the Canadian woods of my youth. Smell is a powerful evoker of memory. I can’t really describe how the tall pine-scented woods pulled me so powerfully back to those Muskoka days. Any number of people and experiences emerged as welcome guests from long neglected memory banks. Some were so real, I could feel their presence as though they were with me…Of course, they were as only I could have known them.

I would be remiss not to note these walks were not just amongst the pine and oak and birch and other living fauna. There were squirrels, humming birds, large blue jays, robins, and black birds that looked as if they had been on steroids. None of them seemed intimidated by me. If I passed by them in relatively close proximity, they simply ignored me and went about their business.

In the middle to late afternoon, it started to rain as a thunderstorm came our way. When rain is falling in the woods, it has a curious sound and unique smell. It is not the water hitting the street or the tops of buildings, but its pelting of the tree leaves and branches as gravity pulls it to earth. If there truly is holy water, it is the movement of cloud dispensing liquid falling through the trees to the forest floor. The smell is one of refreshing cleanliness. When closing my eyes and taking deep breaths, I was overtaken by a timelessness connecting me to the universe in ways unachievable by any method of prayer or meditation I have ever practiced.

As it turns out Clayton also loves thunderstorms. Once the electricity had been shut down, He said, “Let’s sit outside on the porch and watch this thing.” I grabbed a couple of chairs, and we settled in. As the rain encased our little-covered area, we were provided a cocoon of intimacy…a place of safety. We talked until dusk emerged. Clayton and I have enjoyed each other's company since we first met. He is one of the more unique people I have known. He has an ‘in the moment' personality with a serious dose of intellectual curiosity. The time we spend together is always thought-provoking. We are also both old enough to have tolerance for one another's idiosyncrasies – which each has in abundance.   

The rest of the weekend was spent watching a little football, a few episodes of Game of Thrones (I had not seen any of it) and writing. Clayton is an extraordinary cook, and so the food was spectacular.

Heading home…
When Monday rolled around, it was time to return to Oro Valley leaving Clayton and the woods behind. The early morning walks, the thunderstorms, the comradery of a man with whom I resonate made the weekend trip to the mountains cleansing and refreshing. I hit the road, energized and looking forward to the week ahead.

As it turns out, I was also successful at following both Clayton's instructions.

- ted

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Farewell, old friend...


“Time passed with cats is never wasted.”
– Sigmund Freud

Sarah came into our lives, as happens so often, by chance. Sable, her predecessor, had been ill and in June of 2001, we said goodbye. Leah, was by then, not very old but had learned to live with the older cat.

At that time, we went straight to the animal shelter with the intent of getting one kitten as a companion for Leah. It is not necessary to explain how these little creatures so quickly capture your heart. We were trying to make a final decision between two little ‘six weeker's' that touched us. I am uncertain who said what, but when we left the shelter, two tiny females found their way into our home. Leah would just have to deal with it, and deal with it she did.

Over the last sixteen years, our little family settled into a comfortable and easy life style. The girls were tolerant of each other, and it wasn't long before they picked sides. Choosing sides is not the best descriptor. Leah gravitated toward me in a sort of, "Look…When I feel like affection or I am hungry, or I think you need to get up…I will pay  attention to you." One might say she became my cat when she felt like it. She felt like it a lot.

Hannah, the second of the kittens we brought home, grew to be the largest and the most independent. She was (is) big and does pretty much what she wants. Not given to a lot of affection, one might think her aloof. But when she needs some loving, Molly was (is) the go to person.

Then there is Sarah. If there ever were a definition of a single person cat, it would be her. Early in the game, she identified Molly as her personal human being, and for the sixteen years of her life, it never changed. They traveled together, snuggled together, slept together and when in the same building were never far apart. If Molly were working on her computer, Sarah was there, when Molly came home, Sarah was waiting…Always looking to see where her best friend was – If I may be so bold to know her thoughts.

She was funny about it too. If Molly moved to a different room, Sarah would take her time following. When she arrived she had the expression like, “Oh, Molly, what are you doing here? Well since we’re both here, let’s hang out.”

I was the quintessential interloper consistently taking Molly's attention away from her. When I would come home from work or a trip somewhere, I got the look like, "I'm sorry, do you still live here?" If she were lying on the bed – it's a big bed – and I slipped in for a nap, she would give me ‘the look' and hop to the floor. Leaving the room, her backward glance said, "Do you have any idea what a pain you are?" And so it was…

The impression should not be given that we disliked each other, but after a while one expects friendship to be a two-way street. In the later years, she grudgingly gave me attention from time to time. She only really attended to me on the odd occasion when Molly was away, and I was given charge of the food. Then she made it clear it was not for the sake of comradery but rather, necessity. She needed food to survive.

A few years ago, she developed Type 1 Diabetes and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. We began giving her insulin and steroid injections to manage the chronic illnesses. With drugs on board, she lived a pretty normal life. But time and gravity take their toll and in the give and take of the universe, what was so graciously given on that day in June of 2001, will today at 2:30 be taken from us.

Today, we will say goodbye to a steady, and for a cat, predictable friend whose life and health has run its course. I suppose were I to fully anthropomorphize her…attributing human thoughts to her…she might be surprised how much I loved her…how grateful for the love and affection she gave to Molly…how she brought balance to our home.

Were it that we could slow time to allow us more of her presence...alas we cannot. She was a snorer, a high-pitched sound I found irritating on nights when the nectar of the gods seemed to elude my grasp. There will be no other nights like this…

And so, we steel ourselves against the inevitable, resisting with all our might the approaching hour of her release. It will be her release, not ours. We will continue to mourn the loss and do the best to love our remaining two geriatric girls while we have them.

I am reminded of a line from physician-physicist Lanza Berman in his text Biocentrism:

"A cat, even when mortally ill, keeps those wide, calm eyes focused on the ever-changing kaleidoscope of the here-and-now.  There is no thought of death, and hence no fear of it." 

This morning, I stroked the soft fur of her back, searching for words from which I could find comfort. Through the softly falling tears, I could muster only, “Thank you for all that you have given.”

And so, this afternoon, we will take our sweet Sarah to her place of departure. She will look at us with those “…wide, calm eyes focused on the ever-changing Kaleidoscope of the here-and-now…” There will be “…no thought of death, and hence no fear of it.”

- ted