Monday, December 15, 2014

Blooming Iris

[I tried, once, to write a Sonnet, just to prove I could. And to turn it into something that, while it could rhyme, it didn't have to (and of course, is one of the things that Sonnets are supposed to do.) I actually have a couple of versions of this, the earlier that does rhyme, almost forcefully so.  Which is why I don't like it as much.  The issue is that some images in the first poem are better than the second, and vice versa. The great thing about writing poetry, or short stories, or novels, as some of my friends are discovering, is that they can always be re-edited, redone, words omitted or added, and meanings found in the letting of blood.  It's the difference between writing poetry versus novels.  In editing a novel, whole paragraphs can be lifted out like some form of liposuction, whereas poetry, editing becomes word by word, as if the surgeon uses a laser scalpel.]

Blooming Iris 

Stare and wonder, at blue eyes shining, 
A sea of periwinkle, saddened mercury.
Shivering, icy raindrops falling,
They look at you, plead for soft-heart empathy.
After the clouds have settled round the moon,
Before dreams remove their glimmering veils,
The iris seeks safety, but finding none,
Lies frost-bitten, weeping, as simplicity fades.
Forget your far-off shores, grasp a timid hand.
The deep eyes, fallen, must rise aflame,
Driving beasts away, allowing hearts to mend
The blooming iris, joyful tears running down the stem.
One touch will quell all monsters, end their reign,
Replace cold fears with warmth, and calm the pain.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Book Review: The Alien Effect by Cary Neeper

The easiest way to write a Science-Fiction novel is to do away with Old Earth.  Let the action take place on some planet in a distant galaxy, long ago, or even better, lets just destroy Earth completely and let man explore the stars in their ragged looking spaceships, like some nomadic band of camel riders in the foreign desert.  I guess it's Romantic that way, to push the future away, for the goals that mankind has reached and surpassed are so far away from us now, we could never reach them.  Or at least, that's what we realistically think.

But of course, the Science-Fiction writer's most fervent wish is to bring the message of a better Earth back to his or her reader.  Than mankind can be better than what he is now, knock down the obstacles that hold him back, find his way through the unknown and progress to a Utopia that must be reachable.  There are frontiers out there, if only we could get past our own failings and reach them. However, the challenge for the writer is to portray an Earth that has changed sometimes beyond what we could even imagine it being, for the better or, more often, for the worse.  A world of biological or nuclear wastelands, of endless pollution, of environmental catastrophes, or of a population that has to live in a world like The Fifth Element or Corsucant from the Star Wars series.
It's hard, really it is, because a story taking place on Earth has to contend with the myriad of issues that plague our homeland. It's possible to become overwhelmed by them.  And more likely than not, if you bring the hope of progress to the reader, they will find cynicism and discouragement, as it's something that, given the condition of the world currently, it would be impossible to achieve.

I say all this as a preface to a review of Cary Neeper's third book in the Chronicles of Varok series, The Alien Effect.  You can read the first two reviews here (A Place Beyond Man) and here (The Webs of Varok), and you must read the first two books first before this one (unlike the second book, which is easily read without the first).  It's the first criticism of the book, that a prologue might be in order, to catch a reader, even if they have read the other two, back into the groove of the novels themselves. The third book continues Neeper's quest of bringing a palatable model of steady-state economics to the attention of the world. And unlike most other scholars on the subject, she's trying to do it through the application of the system in a fictional world.  And unlike most other Science-Fiction writers, she accomplishes her goal with remarkable, robust characters with a similarly developed culture.  The Varoks, Ellls, and Ahlorks (Nidok's dialogue is excellent!) are great alien races, who are developed by dialogue, which is the best way to write a Science-Fiction novel.  I cannot praise enough the characters that Neeper has made.  As a writer, she has this aspect completely mastered.

Unlike the first two books, the plot suffers from being on Earth, with all of the complexities that must be taken into consideration when dealing with the world we live on. I found some parts, especially on the boats out in the Pacific, to be gold mines of interaction between Alien and Human, places where the general plot can be fleshed out.  I would have loved to have heard the conversations between Orticon and the Captains, or Nidok and the humans aboard ship.  The plot twists, the sudden storms, the traps laid by fishing vessels, they tend to just appear, in a couple of sentences.  The difference between this book and the other two is that the plot in The Alien Effect is progressed by external events and directions, whereas the first book took place within a small moon-base, and The Webs of Varok took place on a small, hidden moon of Jupiter.  The crises in both novels were internal, happening within the minds of the characters.  In The Alien Effect, Neeper has to bring that conflict to Earth, to handle the problems and complexities of bringing the Steady-State system of Varok to our own planet.

In most Science-Fiction stories, like Neal Stephenson's Anathem, for instance, this problem of plot isn't a big deal.  I love Anathem, and as long as I don't have to worry about the plot, I can read that book forever, with its philosophical conversations filling pages upon pages.  But again, bringing the setting to Earth makes doing this much more complicated.  The scenes with Shawne at the Economic School on Earth tends to become a background issue, one that is mentioned only as a backdrop for Shawne's moods and her attraction to visitors later in the book.  The idea of population control, one that is essential for Steady-State to work, is whisked away by objections by devout religious students, who suddenly disappear, taking their argument with them.  The futility of Shawne's efforts with mankind becomes evident, and I'm not so sure that we don't need more of that hope here. This combines with the diary or textbook sections that talk about the actual "Alien Effect," which show that the actualization of Shawne's dream doesn't happen for millennia, and only because of extraterrestrial influences on human evolution (without the black monolith and the usage of "Thus Spoke Zarathustra").  This part also needed some fleshing out, with maybe some of the students becoming actual characters, which would have been great, as Neeper's ability to make outstanding characters would have added to this section.  Shawne and the Varoks and Ellls could have had a Plato-like discussion which would have been essential in bringing the ideas of Varok to the fictional Earth and to our own world as well.

And while I criticize the book, I would easily rate it (on the Amazon scale) as 4 stars, because I've read the other two novels, am familiar with the ideas of Steady-State Economics, and love the interactions with the characters.  This is never a problem at all with any of the stories, and is usually the main criticism I have of other idea-based Science Fiction novels.  To see what I mean, without taking too long to wade through an entire book made by, say, Robert Silverberg or Clifford D. Simak (both have written amazing books, by the way, so I'm not saying don't read them, but just to throw out a quick example) go watch the first Science-Fiction feature film to hit theatres, Rocketship XM, which was covered by Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the 90's.  This demonstrates how characters should not be created.

So to end the review part of this, go read the first two books, then read this one, and anticipate future novels, and you'll have no problem with the shortcomings of the third book.  I don't either, actually, but as a reviewer I have to maintain an honest opinion of the book as written, separate from the rest of the books in the series.

Now, to the ideas presented in The Alien Effect.  All you have to do is walk into a Wal-Mart to appreciate the idea of runaway materialism that is plaguing our society.  Mounds upon mounds of crap.  It's all it is.  I've presented many times the idea of material inflation.  In fact, a great example happened to me just yesterday.  I broke a coffee cup.  I cleaned my office at work, and, finding an old coffee cup (with Brookhaven College on it, which is where I work), I decided to take it home and wash it.  Well, I dropped the bag it was in, and broke it.  Instead of weeping and ruing the loss of a cup which could have easily been the only one I owned, had I lived a century ago, I just shrugged, threw it away, and looked at the dozens of other ceramic coffee cups I have sitting on my counter. We have no problem with planned obsolescence, or of the casual ruin of the things we own, as we can always go out and get more, at substantially cheaper costs.  It's is amazing how many brand name, high quality clothes I find at Goodwill for a fraction of the costs of getting something new.  But walk into a Walmart, and you'll see mountains of product just waiting to be bought, used, set aside, and find its way to our growing landfills.  And all for the boost of dopamine that Neeper talks about in The Alien Effect.  It's so true.  I've seen children scream and cry "I want a TOY!!!!" and, just to get the child to shut up, they buy him or her whatever trinket they want.  More than likely, the object will either be thrust back into the parent's hand as the child runs off to gaze into the Vending Machines (you know, those little rings and rubber things in mysterious bubbles, just waiting to be bought, lottery style. That's Dopamine X 2!).  The child didn't want the toy, they wanted the dopamine boost, as well as the feeling of attention and love that they got when their parent bought them something.  Materialism and Love are the same thing.  And that's something that has changed dramatically from even a century ago, when possessions were so much more valued, coming out of world-wide depressions.

It's easy to see, then, where the dopamine boost comes into play, with materialism at the store, with collecting of action figures and other worthless objects (and I know, I still collect the State and National Park Quarters), with the episodes of Hoarders, where throwing away anything will cause temper tantrums to erupt.  Entire economies are based upon the buying of trinkets that cause that momentary dopamine boost, and there are whole factories of children in China hoping to make that boost happen.  How much of that same boost, then, happens when people have yet another child?  Can material inflation be extended to People Inflation?  Why should we care if someone on the south side of Chicago gets into a gang war and is shot dead? There's always more people where that came from.  The body count on the news rarely becomes news anymore, unless the death can be used by political parties or other organizations to increase negative emotions, and therefore, donations to their coalitions.  But I digress.  Why should we care about people at all if there are so many of them?  And this attitude is in addition to the resources that those people use day to day.  In essence, most of the issues of this world, from the Environment to Crime to Disease to Politics, come down to Population Control.  This, too, is a result, especially in modern times, of a desire for brain chemical boosting.  In other words, the erotic pleasures of sex.  And as everyone knows, Pregnancy is a by-product of sex.  As long as we have a system where continued child bearing is rewarded, and self-discipline is unnecessary, we will continue to see parents of 8 children walking around Walmart trying to keep their kids from screaming by buying them whatever they think they want at the time.

What I have been consistently impressed with by Cary Neeper's ideas (and by extension, the ideas of other Steady-State Economic thinkers), is that these ideas exist outside of current political modes of thought.  While ideas like Carbon-Capping and Environmental Regulations sound like ideas right out of the Democrat's playbook to extend power over businesses, the ideas themselves are neutral in political ambition.  The idea is to make the world a better place to live, and to sustain the world as a healthy place to live for all the inhabitants of the world.  In other words, for mankind to live in a symbiotic relationship with the world that they value.  I have said many times that, while I have no desire to join modern environmentalists and go hug trees (and you can start here for some ideas I have on the subject), I am earnestly a proponent of taking care of the world we live on.  The ideas that Shawne had in her classes were ones that Conservative thinkers could agree on.  I especially liked the idea of regulation and oversight by local, non-centralized governments.  In Neeper's America, the Nation-state is decreased to geographical regions, such as the Pacific Northwest, or Southern California.  The idea of Nationalism has waned as problems on Earth became too complex and too impossible for large governments (such as our own) to provide for people's safety.  A great example of that is the recent Ebola outbreak.  When the Federal Government refused to block travel from West Africa to different airports in the US, individual states enacted regulations.  This sort of thing is the best way to maintain optimum living quality in any given area.  This is also something that every Conservative should agree with.   That Conservatives (of which I happen to be one) and Liberals can work, compromise, and achieve real solutions to major problems, is something that should be very exciting for anyone working to solve the world's problems.  However, this dream fall short when it is blocked by politicians hoping to keep themselves in power and comfortable by the contributions of lobbyists.  In today's world, nothing will get done at all on any subject as long as the political atmosphere of Washington DC continues to fester.

Lastly, I want to address the issue of technology.  In this case, I disagree with the descriptions of The Alien Effect when they find technology to be an unneeded part of establishing a proper steady-state system.  There are very few ways that you can fundamentally change the ways of thinking by any culture.  Religion is one way.  It takes a long time, to change the religious beliefs of any one culture, especially the entire Western World.  The other one is Technology.  And while technology can be used to further manipulate and entrench current thinking patterns into any given culture (see Neil Postman's Techonopoly), there are examples of fundamental changes brought about by technology that are immediate and obvious.  The food replicators in Star Trek, for instance, or the wormhole creators in Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter's The Light of Other Days.  Both these innovations would ultimately forever change the way we think. And I think there are technological breakthroughs which are quite within our reach that would do the same.  Take Clifford D. Simak's Ring Around the Sun. In it, aliens (or a further evolution of mankind) start to mysteriously create light bulbs that would last forever.  In getting rid of planned obsolescence, the economy of the world is changed in an instant.  Razors, cars, houses, all that never break or wear down, and all made so that anyone can afford them.  It breaks down the consumer society, and leaves us with no wants in the material sense.  The dopamine push is gone, and then we have to find our chemical boosts in other ways, perhaps from exercise of the development of our own minds, the progress of mankind itself.  This is what Roddenberry envisioned for Earth of the 24th century.

In the end, it comes down to those Millennium that Neeper talks about at the end of .  It would, in that world, take countless generations before a Steady-State world would stabilize Earth, and in our finite mode of thinking, that's too long.  Heck, in our world, something that takes more than a week is too long.  If we can immediately change something to make it better (from Obamacare to a struggling Football team firing their coach...etc...) then that is something that must be done quickly.  It might even be a band-aid, something to cover up the underlying problem, but that's better than actually solving the problem, because it's something that can be done quickly.  When the solution would take more than an election cycle, or a football season, then why bother.  We want pleasure and satisfaction now, not later... that doesn't give us bliss.  

Noel Paul Stookey (and I'm going to mention this for the umpteenth time) said that there's two ways for us to miss things.  One is if the world goes by too fast.  The other is if we go by too fast.  Some people look up one day and see a tree, fully grown, and they had never noticed, while other, more fortunate people, can simply watch the rings form.  It might take half our lives to see a tree grow from seed to mature towering being, but the tree will be more worth it if we do.  Same thing for our own world.  It might take us countless lifetimes to make our world a paradise, but it will be infinitely more worth it when we do.  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

From One Cross to Another

For Thanksgiving this year, I went down to the town of Orange, Texas, where my Cousin lives and spent the weekend with her and her husband.  A little about travelling in the state of Texas... It is possible to go anywhere from anywhere, but not without avoiding the toll roads.  The astute driver will first consult many maps, go over all the backroads, and finally come up with great shortcuts that are free to drive on.  Thus Texas, who has put most of their revenue building for roads into these Toll Highways, will never make as much as they think because people will find a way around it.  The only option the state has is to basically make all highways into Toll Highways, which means that no one will ever go anywhere unless it's on Gravel roads.  I made it down to Orange from Dallas in 5 hours, 30 minutes.

My cousin's house had recently been burned to the ground by fire, and has now been rebuilt.  A marvelous abode, much like the house my friend A., has, with the raised ceiling and a den above the living room, much like a balcony over a sanctuary in a church. Getting out of my car in front of their house, I could smell the cool air blowing off the Gulf of Mexico, filled with a sweet odor, something

that I've only smelled once before in Jacksonville.  The area is more like Louisiana than Texas, the part east of Houston, which harbors the cities of Orange, Beaumont, and Port Arthur.  Connecting them are bridges of immense size, true monuments of human ingenuity, that allow barges to travel beneath them from the Sabine Lake to the Intercoastal Waterway to the Gulf.

The people of these towns brought with them the cultures of their homelands, combining with Texan, Mexican, and American customs to make a truly unique area.  You could travel to Nederland, and see the giant windmill signifying the Dutch ancestry of the citizens, or go eat in Chinese Restaurants with a decided Cajun flair.  We went to the  Stark Museum and saw the paintings of the Taos, Arizona artists collected by the Stark Family and shown in amazing galleries.  I liked the landscapes, as well as the pottery made by women of Newcomb College (part of Tulane's college for women at the time of the Civil War), with their rich blue colors and designs.  In the same area are architectural wonders restored by the Stark family. To quote Wikipedia: The First Presbyterian Church on Green Avenue uniquely captures the classic Greek Revival architecture. Completed in 1912, it was the first air-conditioned public building west of the Mississippi River and its dome is the only opalescent glass dome in the United States.  

I left on a Sunday, and a strong cold front was due to sweep through in a couple of days.  That, of course, meant that the winds would be out of the southeast, and it would bring warm air out of Mexico.  It was in the 70's, and I decided to see the Gulf of Mexico in all its glory.  I took 124 south from the small town of Winnie to High Island, and there it meets what used to be Highway 87, prior to the street being destroyed by Hurricane Ike.  The highway, right next to the beach, was never rebuilt.  Driving up over a hill, I suddenly see the Gulf of Mexico spread out upon the horizon, and it was an amazing sight.  We live on such a magnificent planet, something so unlike any other planet in the area, and there are times we have to step back and realize what we have here, how gorgeous it is, and how we can add to the beauty, and not take away from it. 

I parked in front of a huge wooden Cross, standing on the beach in memory of those affected by the tragedy.  I decided to leave my work keys in the car, and so I took apart my keychain, left my car keys in the car, and promptly locked it.  Of course, I realized my mistake, and after several seconds of berating myself, I realized that I had left the windows of my car down a little, so maybe it was possible to stick my hand (which didn't work, that hurt) or something else down into the door to unlock it.  I went down the beach looking for trash that had washed up that just might help me.  I found, after a time, the back part of a broken fishing rod (someone was having loads of luck that day), and thought it just might do it.  I returned to the car and, after a little maneuvering, managed to unlock my car.  

So, back to the beach, to the cross, to the stereo sound of waves crashing upon themselves, and upon the shoreline.  To the waterbirds that take flight, long wings and necks  like feathered dinosaurs, flying up and over the water and then back down shore where my walking wouldn't bother them.  To the shells that washed up on shore after so many years of being houses for mollusks, only to become a pathway for fishermen to bring their trucks, their poles, and drive down what was left of the highway to places where they might catch a fish or two.  Yes, back to the beach, and even though the water was cold (I took my shoes off and let the water crash into my toes), it was an amazing place to be.  

On the other side of the beach were giant horses, or that's what they seemed to be, just standing in grassy swampland, waiting to be activated again for the search of oil.  They stand solitary out there, and it reminded me of the all knowing cow that Robert Penn Warren wrote of in All the King's Men, the cow that you pass as you go west, on the train, the one that looks up at you as it's chewing its cud, and you wonder how many people it has seen and how many people have seen it, really seen it, not just passed by without a single thought.  How many fishermen have passed by these oil rigs, not paying any attention to them?  In thousands of years, when the highway and the crosses and the houses and the fishermen have all been blown away by time and wind and wave, the iron horses will stand, and future people will come and stand in front of them and wonder what these great machines saw, and who made them?

A mile east from one cross is another, one that used to be the carrier of telephone wires and cable wires, the voices of countless humans travelling down the beach.  Now, however, a bird perched on it, and next to it, a sign, signifying the McFadden National Wildlife Refuge.  Having walked a mile, from one cross to another, I decided to head back, for I had many miles to go before I got home.  I will, when the time comes, return to the Gulf, and bask in the sunshine and the sound of the water hitting the shore, and see the solitary iron horses, and the crosses and the fishermen.  I loved it.  

It was then time to drive back to Dallas, avoiding the Toll Roads, and, it being the Sunday after Thanksgiving, to stand the heavy traffic on the interstates with all the other people driving back from wherever to their homes to work the next day.  And my car died on me once, and I waited 15 minutes for it to cool down, rest, and then it started back up (it does that when I take road trips, and it'll do it again, I expect, but I can adapt, for now).  I was glad to get back home, to continue this journey.  If you ever get the chance, do head down to the small towns along the Gulf of Mexico.  You'll be glad you did. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Book Reviews: Auraria; Waycross and Winter, both by Tim Westover

I'd put the cover of the book on here, but it hasn't been made yet.  Tim Westover is a Medical Software designer and IT consultant who plays the banjo, has one of those daughters who makes every conversation a "Facebookable" one, and hikes across Georgia and elsewhere looking for the ruins of our recent past.  He finds the rubble of mills and walls covered over by vines and pine straw, the abandoned wooden sheds, the majestic waterfalls appearing out of nowhere and flowing down to make great rivers and lakes.  And he write stories. His first novel, Auraria, was an episodic romp into the supernatural world of the Appalachian Mountains. Briefly, Holtzclaw, a real estate developer in the pre-modern days (early 1900's? there's not really a date given, nor is it needed), is sent by his boss in Milledgeville to the area around modern day Dahlonega, Georgia where a resort town was to be constructed.  There he proceeds to buy up land from the residents, and finds them very odd, almost Alice In Wonderland-ish.  Ghosts play pianos and remain in the houses with their still living husbands, fish are caught out of thin air, and giant turtles sleep for eternity inside the mountains.  It is a wonderful book that I highly recommend, as it's the kind of book that I enjoy.  The plot isn't really the most important thing; rather, it's the experience of existing with Holtzclaw in this strange and wonderful world.  Is the book perfect? No, as I talked about in my review on Amazon, but it was a book that I enjoyed reading. Knowing the author, and going to one of his books signings (at Charis Books Atlanta, in which, sadly, the only audience was me and the people that worked there), puts me in a unique position of being friend and reader, in which reviews are read by the author.
So, when Tim announced he had finished his second novel, Waycross and Winter, at least, a good rough draft, he wanted those of us on his Facebook page to read it and help edit, give suggestions, give impressions. I downloaded it onto my Kobo and took it to work with me so I could read during my lunch breaks.  The interesting thing about reading a book that hasn't been fully completed, with every i crossed and every t dotted, is that it changes the way you read the book. Are you reading it as an editor, looking for grammatical mistakes? Or as a reader, absorbing the text and reading for context? 

I think that in reading the book, I became a book surfer.  If I hit a rock or a large wave, and I fall of my board, I'll become an editor and go investigate the rock.  I told Tim, among other things while reading the book [the block quotes are mine, edited from prior messages to Tim]: 

 Reading is a flowing motion, like swimming in the ocean (no, I'm not trying to rhyme...), and the ebb and flow of words are essential to a text, be it a book or a blog.  I was reading along fine, understanding the character of Waycross, and more importantly, the writing style, as something I would read in a 19th century Gothic book by Stevenson or Shelley (both of which wrote about doctors). And then, on page 3 of the text in my Kobo, I came upon the phrase "conscience wasting my time." I fell flat on my face.  The wave struck me and I got water in my nose.  I know what you mean, but a reader, especially not one familiar with 1800's literature, is going to feel it as a jolt away from the book. [I include this as an illustration of how being a reader and being an editor are different when reading. Tim changed the wording afterwards.] 
 The book tells the story of Aubrey Waycross, a doctor in the early 1800's Georgia, who travels from Savannah to the wild frontier town of Lawrenceville, Georgia to begin a practice.  For those who know the Atlanta area, you know right away that Lawrenceville is in Gwinnett County, near Discover Mills, and Sugarloaf Parkway, and all the modern day everythings that are suburban Atlanta.  But in this time, it was a town far away from anything resembling a city. Once there, he finds that people's medical needs are served by quack salesmen, like those who sell bottles of fizzy drinks that are now found in every vending machine in the nation. They are also helped by old wives' tales, the trial and error of herbal remedies, and, of course, witches. And so, with the righteous indignation of a Doctor fresh out of medical school, Waycross goes up to the house of the Winter Sisters to give them a piece of his mind. It's here that the story really starts, and I stopped worrying about editing, as the flow of that ocean became calm and peaceful.
Speaking of flow, the story starts on his trip to the Winters' residence, especially with the episode with the pigeons.  I could feel you exhale as the character came alive, fleshed out.  Before hand he was a stick figure, a stereotype of a haughty, over confidant doctor in the early years of this nation.  At this point, he becomes human, and I have enjoyed the story since then.  [Since finishing the book,  I realized why the doctor was who he is. Characters change, grow, as a book progresses. You grow to care about Waycross, especially when he grows to care about other people.]
The main problem I had with the story was the usage of so much human excrement when talking about the doctor's procedures on patients.  Of course, in these days, draining blood to calm humors, and using enemas as a way of draining toxins out of people were among the most common ways to cure people of whatever illnesses they might have.  The fact that I was reading while eating made me, admittedly, skim through some of these sections.  I did the same thing when reading Martel's Life of Pi, when he was talking about his waste in terms of his dietary condition while lost at sea.  And I mentioned that to Tim, and he wanted to know if he should take some of it out.  I thought about it for a long while, and actually finished the book before replying back.
I think the main problem with the excremental parts of the story is that I usually read while I'm eating.  But I don't want you to change that just because of my reading habits.  Orson Scott Card included quite a lot of vomiting in his book Lost Boys (which has nothing to do with Peter Pan or Vampires), but he was using it for a symbol of the real or physical world vs. the supernatural. It shows that both Sarah and Aubrey are rooted in the real world, at least, for the time that Aubrey was more interested in what the classic doctors said than the herbal and mental parts the Winter Sisters practiced.  There are strong reasons for leaving those parts completely as they are, but the opposite deals not with the story, but with the readers.  The people that read your book, are they going to stop reading it when they get to Sarah's story, or when cutting off the farmer's arm? The answer should be a simple one. You are the author, it is your creation.  God didn't leave out the gross parts of this Earth because he thought we might not like it. Pat Conroy could have left out the rape scene in Prince of Tides, would have saved a whole lot of challenging by conservative mothers wanting to ban books, but he didn't, because that was part of the story. 
When I finished the book, I began to see the layers of the story, the reasons for the rabid "creature" in the woods, the actions of the doctor when dealing with the supernatural, and when dealing with matters of his own mind and heart.  I questioned the existence of characters, wondering if they were just people in Waycross' mind... It was very satisfying, to see a story more compact than Tim's first novel, one that could be read and interpreted in different ways.

The other thing I enjoyed about the book was the literary references and the usage of themes that have been used in the greatest of literary works.  Aubrey Waycross is, in the context of the novel, part Dr. Faustus (Marlowe or Goethe), part J. Alfred Prufrock (Eliot), and part Candide (Voltaire). Now, this probably has to do with my own reading history, as for most people, you bring into a book the experiences of your life, and it helps to shape what you read. But in these cases, it's true.  It was refreshing to read something that, with a turn of a phrase, it connects you with a work, a twinge of recognition.  I won't give examples, because that would ruin the fun.

I look forward to the time when this book becomes available to the public, when I can hold the actual book in my hands.  I echo the dream of the author, to see Tim Westover's books on a bookshelf at Barnes and Noble, be able to pull it off the shelf, read the dust cover or description, and feel the book calling to me.  Or better yet, to have a bookstore worker be able to recommend the book to readers with the passionate zeal that I know they have (because I have it, too.) Amazon just can't do that, no matter how many reviews are below the price.

 Shelftalker review: Dr. Aubrey Waycross travels to the frontier town of Lawrenceville, Georgia to set up a practice, meeting quack medicine salesmen, flocks of pigeons, and the Winter Sisters. In layers of complexity, with scenes both graphic and hauntingly beautiful, Tim Westover blends the supernatural with the historical in a unique way. Readers of either will be right at home, and any reader will be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Depression and Comedy... Birds of a Feather

Saw Wayne Brady's interview on ET is trending on here (you can find it easily, not gonna put a big picture sharing thing on here.  Text will do).  Comedy is often part of a program, a way to deal with people when we would rather be alone.  Most people would think it crazy that I'm an Introvert, that all the voices and meows and snarky remarks aren't to get attention at all, but as a part of my own mechanisms for living in this world.  I have depression (I've talked about taking Prozac many times, and it helps), and it's a brain chemical imbalance, something that, I think, most comedians have.  It's what divides the serious from the funny, one part of their personality from the other.  It's a program, just like Word or Netscape or Minesweeper is on a computer.  I've had people ask if I was ever suicidal... nope... I'm too self-centered for that.  Life is too wonderful and there is so much beauty in the world (not to mention good food) for me just to give in to all that negativity.  But I do know what Wayne Brady is talking about.  And I know that the comedy is just as important a part of my life as it is to Wayne's or Robin's (RIP) or anyone else that is funny.  The important part is not to silence it, not to say "you should act more serious, more grown up," but to understand that it's part of who I am, that I need to be funny just as I need to breathe, to eat, to pee.  Think of it as the by-product of whatever brain chemicals are going around up in my head.  That's not to say that "Shut Up Denzil" isn't a wonderful response. I need that, too.  That's the ADHD (same brain chemical imbalance, just like Robin or Jim Carey has) kicking in.  

I remember sitting in the center of my bed (at home in Georgia) with my room a mess, and needing to clean it up, and not knowing where to begin.  I can't tell you what day it was, like Wayne can, but I can remember it vividly.  After that, my family decided that I should go to a psychiatrist and she gave me Prozac, which helps, but a lot of the issues I had (and some still have... go ask me to balance my checkbook, see what response you get), had to work themselves out naturally, through time, through circumstances beyond my control.  I'm not over some of it yet, and obviously this past couple of years has helped in some way, but not in others.  You keep having those memories of difficult times that flash into your head when you're sitting at your desk at work, and you have to lock them back up in the filing cabinet, saying "That's the past, I can do nothing about it." It is best to think of the future, or of the present, of things you have control over.  The complexities of my mother's death, those are hard to deal with, even with the obviousness of it all, looking back.  But I can't do anything about any of that now, because I'm not a time traveller, nor would I want to if I could.  I have to learn from my experiences and continue my journey, now here in Dallas.  I've made decisions which I think will help me out in the future.  I also think that I have still other decisions I must make (weight, health, diet...etc.) which I will make in time (some of which is a direct result of the Prozac and the depression side effects).  But for now, I will go to work, and sit in on the conference call slated for today, and figure out how to get Dr. Pepper stocked into our coolers (cause, you know, it's Dr. Pepper!!), and I will come home and read and make snarky remarks on Facebook, and Martin will tell people not to encourage me, which is quite all right, it wouldn't be him if he didn't. I'll continue down this road, and whatever I'm supposed to do with my life (which I'm sure writing these blogs are a part of it) will present itself, as it always has.  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Dreaming of Reality TV

 I dreamt I was at a college dinner, one of those that they might serve to get everyone acquainted with the college at an orientation.  I was sitting at a table with all these other people, most of which were very odd, and there were television cameras all over the place, above and in the corners.  It was perfectly normal, except, I knew that the people I sat with had various psychological disorders, ones that would not get along well without medicine...etc... After a time I left the room and found myself in a large television studio, a place with large "habitats" where people were going about their daily lives, except with cameras everywhere.  Sorta like The Truman Show, except this one had an odd twist to it.  The characters in these stories were picked from mental institutions, facilities, along with normal people, all in an attempt to make a Reality TV show where the people in the situations were just a little more odd than normal, and watch the madness unfold.

I remember while I was working at Borders, that we had a running joke (at least, my coworkers did prior to me working there), that we were unwittingly a part of a Japanese Reality TV show called Happy Booktime Go!, where the strange customers and the strange employees interacted and provided hilarity for the viewers. It made sense, as some of our customers were indeed very strange.

But in my dream, they had more control over the people.  People were taken from one scenario to another, their memories wiped and replaced with alternative ones to match the theme.  Those that were boring or lost ratings were eliminated... as I saw people with machine guns around, for that purpose.  It was built into the show as a terror plot, or a bank robbery, or something like that.

Yes, it was a strange dream, one that I had prior to waking up, which is when I have the strange ones I remember, right before I wake up totally, coming out of the final sleep cycle.  It got me to thinking though.  All our television shows, whether they're actually called "Reality TV" or not, are similar to this. People watch Gotham or Modern Family, and they are just interactions between very odd people, some that deal in gruesome murders, some not.  Some have outrageous violence and sex, some don't. Some make commentaries on society using stereotypes (which may be true or contrived), and some are just made to humiliate people.  I don't honestly think that Chris Rocker is going to become any more loved after his stint on Survivor than what he was before.  He is societies' Joker, made up to be laughed at and scorned, to make everyone feel a little better.  We are better than him, at least.  Push your scarecrows over, and feel better about our lives.  I mean, we all lead lives that may or may not be difficult, but we can all be assured that the side show mentality of the television shows will pick people who are living much worse lives than we are, and it makes us feel good.

So why not pick those people out of the crazy farms, the looney bins, the Mental Hospitals, and put them in a place where they can entertain the rest of us.  There are enough of them, even in the smallest towns, that we would never run out of stooges to laugh at.  So what if they like running down the street naked with a lamp shade on their head... that's funny!! At least we're not like that!

It can easily go that way, you know.  The normal life is no longer appreciated.  Those that live comfortable lives want to see the way others live, so we can laugh at them and scorn their ways. We watch Hoarders or 16 and Pregnant and feel badly for them, even as we laugh at their misfortunes. And we turn the TV off (if indeed it ever goes off) and feel better about ourselves.  It's either that, or take medicine, and the other way is cheaper, and more fun.

I haven't watched much television since moving to Dallas, except for Football on weekends, and even then, I could listen to it on the radio just as well.  I love the Simon & Garfunkel line from "The Only Living Boy in New York," "I get the news I need on the weather report."  It's what I worry about the most, if I got rid of television and cable and everything all together.  I wouldn't have that outlet for looking at storms as they come in.  Sure, I can use the radio and the radar on the Internet which I can read as well as any meteorologist can, but the reassurance of the TV Weather Guy is something that has been coded into me since I was a wee child watching Gary England on CBS in Oklahoma City. So I think I'm going to dump cable, keep the Internet, and then hopefully by the Spring, I'll have an antenna strong enough to pick up the channels on the south side of Dallas (all the towers are in Cedar Hill, and Downtown Dallas is between me and them).  Until then, I'm going to unplug this thing and use it for computer games and other escapes from reality.

I have no problem escaping from reality, but I want to do it without making fun of other people.  I would rather do it with books, Audio or otherwise, and put the images in my head, instead of on my screen.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Road Trip! You Can't Go Home Again...

...but you can try.  I had a prior business arrangement in Oklahoma City, and so I hopped in my Blazer and made a weekend out of returning to the city of my birth.  The saying "You can't go home again" isn't exactly true.  You can, but both "you" and "home" have changed.  The minutes and miles have passed, time's erosion has done its damage.  But instead of waxing metaphoric about the roads traveled, let's put the pavement under foot and experience it ourselves.

Crossing the Red River, which has been shrunk to a small creek with the years long drought here, I was amazed to gaze not upon the "Welcome To Oklahoma" sign that I was expecting, but a huge sign, purple and gold, with a large arch, announcing to the world that a marvelous casino was just a few stops down the road.  I can only imagine a thousand years from now, when archaeologists explore the society of the Native people of this great land, they will find piles of poker chips and alcohol bottles.  It drives me crazy to think that the only way they can make a living is through building of casinos based on loopholes through the separate nation status that the Native Americans enjoy.  And no doubt that the owners of these places aren't "Indians" at all, but outsiders who are using the loophole to their greatest advantage. So you come across the abominations, a casino shaped like all the monuments of the Western World... not the world that should reflect their own heritage... ridiculous...

The area from Ardmore to Sulphur is peaked with slabs of Granite, Limestone, Shale, giant rocks with plateaus that stick out over the Interstate.  What I wouldn't give to stand upon those peaks and look out over the plains, to see for miles, with the Oklahoma wind blowing and the dry heat of the summer. It would be certainly glorious!  And beyond those slabs of rock is Turner Falls, which I've never been to, but from the pictures I've seen of the waterfalls and the river valleys, it is someplace I will certainly explore when the weather turns back warm, the Good Lord willing...

Driving through the town of Davis (past the new Choctaw Casino....), I see the same little town I remember from the 80's.  Sooner's Foods is still where it was, with the darkened isles and the stubborn tenacity to remain in business while Walmarts spring up throughout the area.  And the small shack where we bought firecrackers to set off at the Lake House is still there, still advertising its wares.  There's the turn-off to the Lake House (now cornered by a McDonald's and a Walmart), and past the Chickashaw Heritage Center, a place where they have stored how they used to live so that it won't be lost in neon lights, rounding the corners where mobile homes, A-frame Houses, and people that have lived there for decades still live, still sitting on their front porches and listening to the cicadas in the trees and the wasps building a nest in the corner of the porch.  That's the Oklahoma I remember, taking myself forward on the road and backward through time.  I turn off onto the gravel road that turns to the lakehouse, past the bumps and the hills, but there are new road signs, and Hilltop Road is actually what we called Rock Drive (and that's what it's named on Google Earth, see my prior blog about the discovery), and I drive to the end of the road... to find the gate closed and the grass growing high.  It woudn't surprise me if the bank owned now, from whatever people bought the house after my Grandmother sold it.  The road was the same, and although I was different, it felt good to find my way to one of my homes.

Drove down to the end of the road to the Lake of the Arbuckles, and found that the drought had hurt the lake something fierce.  The buoy that signified "No Boats" was so close to "shore" I could have walked out and touched it.  It's funny, because I remember that buoy being so far out in the middle of the lake, I could never have swum out to it.  But something tells me it's not the drought that made it look odd.  The lake may have grown smaller, but I've grown bigger, and those distances aren't so far anymore.

Pulling into Oklahoma City, the old knowledge of the roads took over, and it would be impossible to get lost.  I asked my mother where every road in town went, and I knew it by heart.  Having time prior to my meetings, I drove out to Westbury, where I used to live.  The outlet malls along I-40 and Rockwell look just as bad as the casinos, but at least they tried to approximate the teepees and other colors of the Native Americans.  The truck stops had grown larger, a sign of prosperity (the outlet mall had sold all of it's shops well before it was even made, and three additions later, it's still full) in the Grand Old State. The houses and roads of neighborhoods newer than anything I knew of (I last was here in 2005) grew up like the grass in the fields, spreading out for miles.  And there is the neighborhood I lived in, the street, the house.... and it looks good! Someone has repainted it and it still looks as I remembered it.   I drove to both my grandparent's houses as well, and they looked okay, both sold long ago and now have new tenants. It's good to take a dip into the past.

I sat upon the bench in front of Mustang Valley Elementary School and called those who I wanted to meet, and while some were out of town, others were there and available.  Mustang Valley look exactly the same... except they paved over the playground to make a parking lot (cue Joni Mitchell) , and the new playground is plastic and safe and looks like the things they are supposed to represent.  We made the rocket ship into such a place, and the Spider, and the gigantic Teeter-Totters that I'm sure would have spawned lawsuits today... but it used to be my playground (see prior blog for that, as well).

I went to visit my mother's friends who agreed to let me stay the night, and we went to BJ's Brewhouse and I had some wonderful Balsamic Glazed Chicken with White Cheddar Mashed Potatoes.  I also went to see the Granddaughter of Robert Orbach, my grandmother's boss.  I found, while cleaning out my house, a scrapbook of all of the goings on of Orbach's Department Store, along with the writings he did on his own Printing Press.  I brought the scrapbook to them, as I felt it would the only place on Earth it would be appreciated.  I was so right on this, as they had lost a lot of Mr. Orbach's writings in a house fire a couple of years ago.  It made me feel good to bring them home.

One other thing I did was to drive to the east side of Oklahoma City and visit the Omniplex (okay, yes, it's now called Science Museum Oklahoma, but to me, it will always be the Omniplex).  It was like reliving my childhood.  Some things had changed, some were the same as I'd always known it.  The balls that rode along their prospective tracks have been doing it for as long as I remember.  I stood there watching it for quite a bit, as it was, if nothing else in that city, the idea that, in a world where change is inevitable, there are always those points of constancy. It made me feel good.  I missed the pendulum, slowly swinging with the power of the Earth's Rotation, and the Geodesic Dome Playset (which probably was taken away when someone got hurt and wanted to sue...).  The Earthquake display was still there, showing that same movie with actors with 80's clothes.  The planetarium did their daily show, and I went into the darkened room with the night sky projected on the domed ceiling and relaxed.... until a family with 8 kids came in and sat behind me... all with attention spans of 30 seconds.  Last time I'd been there, the guy doing the show probably hadn't even been born.  It was a perfect ending to my trip, my look back into my past.  

There's a certain confidence I found there, to see everything that had changed, mutated (the casinos and outlet malls), and grown up all around the city. And so had I.  I could now drive anywhere I wanted, go anywhere, and I had the ability to do it.  I brought things home, even as I had come home, to a certain extent.  But in the end, I drove back to Dallas, to my apartment, to my job, and to my home.  And I'll go back... there's so many people I didn't get to see, places (like the OKC Bombing Memorial and Bricktown) that I want to visit, but there will always be time for that.  Just 3 hours north.  A short jaunt, as the hawk flies.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Great Sleepers

I wrote this about my dad, being one of the few memories I have of him, of the house in Oklahoma City.  The fan was high on the vaulted ceiling, and woe be it to whoever let a balloon go in that room.  The light would shine in from the patio doors and the windows and reflect off the dust (and smoke) in the air.  It was usually quiet on Sundays, when a football game wasn't on.  And when it was....

This poem, in whatever form I submitted it, won the 1999 AWP (Associated Writers Press) Intro Award and was published in the Mid-American Review.

The Great Sleepers

Sunday afternoons, the ceiling fan
whispers as it turns around--
A chair squeaks, an ancient squeak,
the contemplative creak of a sleeping lord.

He sleeps in that chair,
old, rustic and blue, the way
Caesar on his throne watched
gladiators battle, and genuflect,
saying "Morturi te salutamus,"
so does this king, owner of all he sees,
snoozes through the Cowboys beating the Bears,
or maybe dreams
of when his dad sat on the couch
eating donuts, smoking cigars.

The rulers of this world, look at them.
They sit in their ancestral halls like old kings
overlooking tiny empires. And then sleep.
Even Charlemagne had blue slippers,
  lying on the floor.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Pursuit of Happiness

Hiking down the Champion Trail, completing what would look like a large snake on Google Earth, I looked over to the left of me, and the wind created waves on the lake where Farmers Branch and Elm Fork Trinity River meet.  Across the lake were large buildings, office buildings with the well known brands displayed proudly upon the apex of the structure. To the right of me, a neighborhood of spacious, well built houses around park lands and canals and sidewalks.  People rode bicycles or tended plants near the trail, and it all seemed peaceful and calm.

I wondered, "Is this Happiness?" Of course it is, the realization of an American Dream, a house, a job, a considerable amount of security, the ability, probably, to go wherever you want.  Now that's freedom.  "But," I asked, "I'm happy. Does all this make them any more happy with their lives?"  I have an apartment, and it's not big, nor do I have the elegant openness of the houses I saw, nor the office in a large, glass-filled building where, at my leisure, I can look out over the parks and the lake and the canals and see my house. But I have a job that I am happy with and grateful for.  What makes my happiness different from theirs? 

I remember back in Georgia, as I have talked about many times, that my stepdad drove an ice cream truck around the poorer neighborhoods of Rockdale County.  We actually sold more ice cream to the children in the trailer parks than in the affluent neighborhoods.  The people watching their large televisions or playing whatever console was out at the time would not have bothered with the ringing bells of the rickety old van when they could get ice cream out of their own freezers.  But in those small streets that wound their way through the mobile homes, the ice cream truck  distributed not only ice cream, but happiness.  They ate sugary goodness, then continued to play outside.  I never once saw those children unhappy.  For while I'm sure they were aware of those places where rich people lived, where they were was home for them.  It was their world, and the things they had were good.  I will not pretend to think that it was all roses and lollipops for them, either.  I'm sure some had parents that were abusive, or drank, or worked all night to provide a roof over their shoulders.  I'm sure they came home tired and had no time for their children.  But so, too, are the people who live in the opulent homes.  They could be abusive, or drink, or spend too much time at work, not able to see their kids.  The conditions in which they live might be different, but often, the emotions around them are the same.  

So, back to my own situation, yes, I am happy.  I thought about it further, and realized that the ability to be happy in this country is the main reason why so many people come here, legally or otherwise.  And that's a rather common thing to say... you hear it on the radio and the television all the time.  But I don't think that people really know what that means.  To people who live in those houses, to them, why would people cross a river with nothing but what they could carry just to come here? I mean, poverty (as we define it) is here as it is elsewhere?  The difference being that here, there is the opportunity for happiness.  It's an old argument, one that goes back to the Declaration of Independence.  "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."  The argument from the free market 
Trail underneath I-635. Dallas loves their bridges!
world is that our government provides for the opportunity for happiness, not necessarily that you will achieve it.  Honestly, happiness is relatively easy to achieve here, with a job, and the basic needs of survival met, the rest is the pursuit of being happy, comfortable with your life.  Any external force that interferes with this should be dealt with by the Federal Government.  I will admit that this is a little more liberal of a stance than what I would normally take, but every citizen should be afforded the "opportunity" to pursue happiness.  According to Maslow, this cannot happen until the basic needs of human survival are met.  Shelter, Warmth, Food.  I think this is ample justification for the programs that welfare extend to those people who might not have it otherwise.  And this is something that is taken advantage of and used for political gains, undoubtedly.  I do not agree with the extent that these programs are used, but that they are absolutely necessary, I will stand by and defend.  I would even go so far as to agree with the need for basic health care, the basics that keep us all healthy and able to pursue our goals.  Again, this is not to say that everyone should be taken care of completely for their entire lives, as we have had thrust upon us, but for children and those who cannot afford it, it's absolutely necessary.  

I have digressed some, but that's okay.  My main thought was that I am just as happy living my life right now as the people living in those houses and working in those buildings.  I know I've had a lot of stressful things that have happened to me (my Cousin who is a psychologist pointed out that of the list of the most stressful things that can happen to a person, I've had most of them happen to me in the past couple of years). I think I've come through the fire , with Help, of course, very nicely, and that, with that same Help, I can overcome any obstacles in my way.  The journey that I'm on, one that, in the end, will result in my independence, in my "growing up" as it were (you know that's not going to happen fully, but a little maturing wouldn't hurt), is just starting.  The one lesson that a lot of people need to learn is that looking up at the houses on the hill, or the towers of offices and the opulent stores that sell temporary satisfaction, all these things are just that, temporary, and there's little of that which is different from what I already have.  What ultimately improves that happiness is what I do with it.  From the people I meet to the things that I do, that will provide happiness, not the material objects I have around me.  Again, this sounds like a common theme, realized over and over again in sit-coms and cartoons, but it's the truth, and is something that is so hard to realize.  Not when every window out in the world broadcasts what you don't have, and how wonderfully happy those people are that do have it.  It's not the "haves" and "have nots,"  but the "lives" and the "lives not."  I would rather live, and be happy, in my small abode, than toil and strain, simply to get more of what is out there, and not be happy at all.  As Candide said, I am happy simply "tending my garden."  That is what I intend to do.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Roadrunners, The Galleria, and Global Warming...

In other words, it's time for a "things that bug me!" post.  That's right, once again I find things that irritate the fire out of me, and I let you know what they are! Aren't you excited? I knew you would be.  And this episode is the special Texas edition.

In the last episode, I talked about my Blessed Flyswatter.  You know, the one I can't find in all my boxes and shelves because I. Don't. Need. It. Here. Either the Arts at Midtown Apartments have amazing pest control specialists (and they probably do. I've seen a cricket, and a couple of little bugs inside my apartment, and absolutely nothing outside.  In fact, the whole time I've been here (a month now), I've seen exactly one cockroach (but more on that in a minute).  We have two stray cats on the premises, or at least, I think they're strays, probably belong to someone around here. I've seen no stray dogs. In a huge city like Dallas.  I saw a skunk once, while I was driving home from the college. Never seen one of those before.

The reason I bring this up is that in Texas, as you know, everything is bigger (and that's a stereotype with loads of truth in it). In Texas it's what eats the cockroaches that is a pest.  I need to send these things over to Georgia... they'd have an absolute feast!  Thing is, I don't know what they're called. but they're everywhere.  Birds.  About the size of blackbirds, but they don't fly, and are brown-ish.  They have their mouths open constantly (mainly because it's probably 110 degrees near the pavement), and they make insanely loud squawking sounds.  I call them roadrunners, not because they are, but because the run on the road.  They sweep the streets clean of bugs, leftover food, anything they can devour.  Even the bugs off of cars.  And they're not scared of you at all.  They stand on the sidewalk and watch you pass, about like the buzzards do in Georgia.  And they're everywhere!  I guess it's a mixed blessing, to have no bugs, but lots of large birds around.  (after some looking, I think they're called "Great-Tailed Grackles," and from the description that wikipedia gives them, it makes sense.  A pack of Grackles is called an "annoyance."   It says they're not afraid of humans and make loud, raucous sounds.

Couple weekends ago I took a two minute trip west to the Galleria Mall, the opulent center of human decadence located conveniently right next to my apartment.  I even dressed up to go in, thinking it would be better than shorts and a t-shirt.  Four floors, with the bottom being an ice rink and food court, and the other floors ascending as they decreased in price.  On the main floor is Nordstroms,
along with alternating shops that sell the finest of women's clothing and purse/handbags stores.  Fine jewelry, watches, accessories for the latest Apple products... all of which is totally worthless to me.  The one store I was delighted to find was one owned by Papryus.  Borders carried a line of Papryus products, and I was glad to find such great greeting cards within such a short distance of my house.  I would definitely go back to that store for birthday cards and, of course, for amazingly sparkly wrapping paper.  :)

The upper floor is where the normal mall stores are: Spencer's, Hot Topic, Subway.  Packed within this area are all the people who, like me, couldn't afford the lower floors but have to buy something while at the Galleria Mall so they could say they did it.  I declined that opportunity, at least for now, and I do understand the attraction for seeing how the rich spend their money.  However, I feel much more at home at the Valley View Center on the other side of my street, or even at the Thrift Shops over on Harry Hines, where, amongst the loud Spanish Pop songs and screaming children and toys all over the floor, I found some great Jeans for $4.00 a piece, ones that I can wear when it gets cold around here (which I hope never happens.)

One thing I have loved here in Dallas is the 100 degree temperatures.  With relatively lower humidity than the saunas that are prevalent in Georgia.  I walk outside and feel the warm (to hot), crisp, air, and it warms the muscles, the skin, relaxes it.  It's amazing that such a ball of fire as the Sun, 8 light-minutes away from Earth, can generate that much heat.  It reminds me of my now long gone Large Dangerous Space Heater which I loved so very much.  Without the humidity, you sweat more here, but it evaporates, keeps you cooler when the Dallas winds go sweeping down the plains (oh, wrong state).  And every single person I know would think I was the craziest person on the face of the planet for liking warm temperatures... I mean, it's getting hotter, isn't it? We're going to bake in an oven of our own making? Global War... I mean, Climate Change... is going to do irreparable harm, and the only way we can fix it is to let the Government tax, regulate, and force us to be kinder to our environment.  After all, they know best, don't they???

Truthfully, do I think that we have had something to do with affecting the overall climate of the Earth? Probably.  I don't know what that is, as I have little proof and even fewer reasons to go looking for that proof.  But... do I want the Government to control everything that I do, consume, and waste, all in the name of protecting Mother Earth?  Of course not!! I will leave my lights on if I want, and sleep with icicles hanging off my feet if I so choose.  And I will pay for that in the electricity bill that I get each month (which, in Georgia, was in the summer around $350).

I say all this because the college that my bookstore serves is requiring every student in the school to read Global Weirdness, and wanting every professor, whether it's an English or History or Science or Math professor to use it in some way.  And I can see how it can work, I took Environmental Algebra at GC&SU, and made an A in the course. It was very enjoyable.  I only hope that in those classes, they are providing the students with a balanced look at the issue, showing evidence that, perhaps the world isn't going to bake in an oven as quickly or as dangerously as they think.  They could easily show how climate change oscillates from one century to the next, cooling and warming, and depending on forces like El NiƱo, climate is changed more by natural phenomenon than the things we are doing.

The main reason I couldn't care less about the whole Environmental movement is that sometimes the real goals are cloaked in the humanitarian mission of saving the planet.  Control, Power, Money...and the people who are ambitious for them, can easily use the Evironment as a tool to gain them.  And besides, let's be honest about our reasons for doing things.  Do I want to go back to incandescent light bulbs? Heck no... I had to change them every two weeks in fixtures that were impossible to undo.  Put an LED in there, save money, save time, and I can be lazy and not have to change it for years.  That's environmentalism for you.  If the college turns off the AC in a building because they are trying to "conserve" and be "green" about things, that's a load of compost.  They do it to save money. And that's fine.  Just tell us that you're saving money, and not because of some altruistic sense of duty toward this rock we live on.  I'd do a lot of things to help the environment (and I've seen the many things that liter, light pollution, noise pollution, water pollution (the rivers in Dallas are Green), do to our world, and I don't like it. But that's not enough for me.  Give me an incentive to take that extra step.  Saving money, or saving time, or letting me be just a little bit more lazy when I don't have to unscrew that light bulb.  That's all I want.  And that's the true answer to that riddle.... "As few as possible."  And while we're at it, let's go shop online and not have to worry about spending electricity and other utilities to power that thing to my east.  What savings that would create! We pick and choose, when it suits us.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Valley View and Pan Pipes

I recently took a 2 minute drive east and took a leisurely walk around Valley View Center.  It's a mall, much like the Macon Mall in Georgia, or Crossroads mall in Oklahoma City, which, in the prime of its existence, was the most attractive shopping destination in Dallas. But bigger and better things are built. Superhighways of goods flow across the Internet, and towers of glass and steel rise above the horizon, leaving the flat shopping paradise behind.  They have a web site dedicated just to those slabs of granite, Deadmalls,, that paint in detail the dying world of shopping malls.  But where people see crime infested corners and empty shops, bringing poverty and depression, I see a world filled with potential.  Perhaps those in this part of the world do, too.  For what is now inside Valley View Center is worth the notice of any traveler to Dallas.

Upon entering, you see that the shops are indeed closed. Go on a Sunday, like I did, and the entire mall is basically empty. But the few signs of life are vibrant, colorful. A church gathers in one small shop and sings patriotic hymns, praying for our nation. An artist works in his shop, preparing paintings for the next week.  The lights from the dance studio are on, thought no one is inside, and the lady on the second floor selling fake Peruvian jewelry has Incan Pan Flute music playing, and it echoes throughout the empty hallways.

Upstairs, the mall has been turned into an art gallery, each framed and ready to sell, for the right price. It's here that my dad would have felt right at home. He was a sprinkler engineer, and designed pipe layouts for skyscrapers like the Peachtree Tower in Atlanta, and the giant glass greenhouse and Arboretum in Oklahoma City. In his mind, the steel beams ran through the walls, across floors and elevators, and in those urban landscapes, I'm sure he saw the construction of those buildings in his mind. Why not see the ideal structures erected inside your mind while the real ones, imperfect maybe, slowly assemble up from the rock and the noise of the construction crew. He would have seen these paintings, of urban landscapes such as those of Ozz Franca, a Brazilian painter who drew abstract landscapes of towers and bridges (as well as Native American portraits), and he would have loved them. The fantasy works that might as well have illustrated the covers of his science fiction novels, the geometric designs filled with color and depth... these are the things he would have loved.  I hung (or will hang) the ones my dad had in their bedroom in my living room.

I know that James (a co-worker from Borders) would have loved the gigantic space to work and create art and sell it to the world.  The idea is amazing, that the owners of this mall could turn it into a service based center for arts and movement, the tactile creations when we move our bodies and create.  They have a boxing ring there, for lessons, and a place for martial arts. There are soothing spas for the masseuse who has learned to press stress from the body. And all the while, the music of the pan pipes play, and the colors from the murals dance. There is no other place, except the dirt trails that meander through the forests, where I could be utterly at peace.  It's evident that the Hispanic culture has influenced the culture around here, but also that of Japan and China, and that of America. 

As I left, I found a Western shop, where cowboy hats could be bought, and boots, and jeans. All symbols of the Nostalgic American West. It is a part of this country, just as the Mexican culture and the Japanese culture are as well. We think of Hispanics and we immediately think of those who would cross over the Rio Grande, smuggling drugs and bringing their crime-ridden pasts with them. But remember that also, they bring with them a vibrant culture of food (which I'm sure I'll sample much of), art, music, and a hard work ethic. Let's not throw the amazing things humans can do out with the vices and flaws that we all have.  I'm not saying we should just give everyone amnesty (in fact, I have no real solution to the problems facing our country today). Perhaps, though, if we went inside this center of beauty in the middle of Dallas, and saw the colors of paint dipped onto easels, and heard the melodies of the Incan Pan Pipes, maybe some thoughts would come to us.  It's worth a try.   

Friday, August 22, 2014

Letter from the Apartment

Silly morning rains... I was sitting in a chair next to the pool in the apartment complex where I live now. Dallas, Texas. I was waiting for my laundry to finish, and it was so peaceful that I thought, "This is a perfect place to write blogs." So I went back to my bedroom and got my AlphaSmart 3000, which is a cordless typewriter with a usb plug, and I started walking back to the pool when it started sprinkling.  Looks like it's stopped now...

Now, back by the pool. I was reading a book, as well, and I didn't want the pages to get wet. I've said before that reading a book is much like taking a dip in this pool in front of me. You can only stay underwater for so long, then you have to come up for air. Same thing with books. For me, I can only read for so long, then I have to come up to reality for a time, to breathe, to relaign myself with this world and place.

I think the same thing goes with television series as well.  I haven't hooked up the cable or Internet yet, so I've been watching seasons of Star Trek DS9 while unpacking boxes and the like.  I remember thinking, as I drifted off to sleep that night that, there was no need for my brother to send the things I had forgotten in Georgia, that he could just beam them over.  Problem was, I'm not in the 24th century, nor have transporters been invented yet.  A shame, it would have made moving much simpler.  Of course, if that economy was here, now, I wouldn't have this job.  Textbooks would be on tablets (more so than they are now... as life imitates fiction), and there would be no need to buy them. I can't help but think that the world of the Federation, with the technological breakthroughs that they would have, the whole idea of Capitalism would fall by the wayside. I know that some references are made to credits and rations when it came to Transporter usage and trade with other races... but the society would work on a service base, not one of marketing goods and materials.  Only what you could make yourself through your own skills would be marketable through some kid of market.  Like Cisko's father's restaraunt in New Orleans, for instance. But I've digressed. I'm sure enough theses have been written on the economy of Rodenberry's world that I have nothing to add.

Like I said, I haven't had Internet at my apartment since I moved in, and while that will change in couple of weeks, I've not had a place to work on blogs, save for the Subway next to the bookstore, which has a row of computers. It's been a pain, but, no major withdrawls, since I can access it from time to time.

Dallas' summers are dry (except for the occassional summer storms which, when it rains, forms a private lake outside my apartment. I'm sure if a Tropical system ever parks over Texas like Alberto did in Georgia in 94, I would have flooding issues. But for now, I wont worry about it. The hot summers are tempered by low humidity and a nice breeze that keeps 100 degrees not feeling so bad.  It would be unbearable in the humid, muggy, Georgia climate.

My apt. is underneath the left chimney in front of the
building on the left side. 
I'm very satisfied with the apartment complex I've moved into. The Arts At Midtown right next to the Galleria Mall. Very quiet, great security, I feel at peace here.  Moving into an apartment, however, teaches you certain things. Living by myself, I didn't realize that there's no reason to have 50 cups or three sets of silverware (which was too heavy for the board shelf it was on, and came crashing down inside the cupboard one afternoon). I use the dishwasher (I have a dishwasher!!) and clean the same three plates and the same two or three cups and silverware that I use every three or so days.  So unless I have a large gathering (not going to happen...), all these dishes will remain stashed away.  I think laundry room ettiquite is not practiced in most places. In a laundry room with 10 washers (and 4 are out of order) and 8 dryers, it's not necessary to bring 6 loads of laundry to do all at once. Do a couple a day, or whatever, and let more people clean their clothes.  I only have three loads total, and so I've done two on Sunday, and I'll do the other tomorrow.

I'm in building S.

All the things I talked about several years ago about the way a town should be built is realized here in North Dallas. Apartments, houses, all right next to shopping centers, parks, colleges, and offices, all so that you never have to drive more than 10 minutes to work.  Assuming that I never drove out of the area around me, I could easily fill my tank up every two or three weeks, and that would be sufficient for my needs. Or, I could walk, or tke the DART bus. But with the amount of gas I save just by being right here, I doubt it would be necessary. I could walk about 10 minutes and get to a Target, Burger King, Macdonalds, two shopping malls, quite a few other restaurants, and probably a bank, if I wanted to switch. Not to mention the parks around where I work, with miles of trails.  This is the way a town was supposed to be constructed.


Yeah, I know, no big philosophical musings in this blog, just the act of living my life in a new place, and being on my own to do it.  Perhaps just surviving is the greatest happiness we could have, and no lofty ideals should ever climb above that.  I keep thinking back to Voltaire's Candide, where his answer to the best of all possible worlds is simply to live in a house and till one's gardens.  I don't have any gardens to till, but I know it's a metaphoric garden. My little spot in this world is my garden, and I shall nuture it and watch it grow.