Writing against the odds

clock I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because perfection takes work and mental resources are at low tide.

A light blue sky emerged from the dawn with a white moon, hanging like a powdered donut above Siloam Springs. At 8 A.M. Late August, an occasional school bus drives by, traffic passes in increments. A dribble that eventually transforms into a river along Hwy 412.

The curb I sit on frames the parking lot of the restaurant where I’m employed. Next door is another, where they serve much of the same type of fast food, but promote it as being fresher and healthier.
The occasional bus has turned into a caravan absent children.

The restaurant gig is something I took to pay rent. I don’t kid myself into believing that one day my work will be noticed and I’ll never have to work customer service or worry about repeated burn injuries again. In all honesty, there are many decent writers in the world who never get noticed. There are many bad ones who do. I’m not sure which is more tragic.

The business of writing is a tough one—I’ve said this too many times to count—but the reality of this hits home when you use small blocks of time to get anything written. The thirty minutes before clock-in, a thirty minute lunch break. Then there are those days you’re so exhausted you can’t think, much less write. Or your pen runs out of ink while on break and you don’t have enough time to go find another.

Regardless of the odds, most writers continue to write. I do. Of course, I’ve also quit in frustration. I’ve told myself I’m done with this, but have always come back with equal frustration in not writing.

I think the most difficult part in all this is trying to find the time and energy to keep writing. I want to write at least a thousand words a day, but am falling a bit short of that. I write when I can and that means, even when I’m exhausted, my back aches, my feet burn and I would much rather crawl into bed for the much needed rest.

I’ve had a few of those days lately. When I didn’t write, because I just couldn’t push myself mentally any further, but this past week, has been better. I wrote a short story in two days and this blog post. My novel is waiting my attention, but I don’t (yet) have the stamina to tackle that job. I’ll have to harness a bit more mental acuity before I get back to that.

So, for those readers who find themselves in similar situations, how do you find the time and energy to continue? Is there a magic pill? Perhaps a particular exercise? Meditation?

Inquiring minds want to know…


Cows and Opposable Thumbs

This is from a series of essays I wrote about five years ago. Though it is a bit dated, the ideas are still relevant.

I don’t know much about cows. They appear to be dumb animals and are bred for food. They graze and wander the field aimlessly and sometimes one will do something completely unlike a bovine.

My grandson told me he saw one make a break for freedom once. It jumped the back fence, saw what it had done, got scared and jumped back over.

A few days ago I saw one running across the field shaking its head back and forth and huffing. In front of it, a large house cat ran away from the beast.

The cows belong to a farmer who lives across the field from us. I saw him working with the cows one day, sweating and pushing, huffing and puffing. Attempting to right one that had fallen. No matter how much he pushed, the animal wouldn’t budge.

He walked away for a few minutes, looked back over his shoulder at the hulk laying on the ground. Walked a few more paces and then went at it again. I saw his lips move and I guessed that he was trying to encourage the beast to move, but then he gave one last push, let it fall back and again turned away.

Later, I saw that he and his sons brought out the tractor and I didn’t want to know what was happening. I don’t want to think about it, because it’s easier not to think about these things.

As much as I dislike thinking about it, I think we Americans are like the cows. We graze and wander aimlessly and eventually we too will fall.

If we took the time to look around we would see how stupid our nation has become. Sound bites and clips are how we get our daily updates with little or no insight of what is happening in the world around us. We are satisfied with this. It’s easier.

My grandson’s third grade teacher told him that ‘opposable’ is not a word. He told me that the teacher said there was no such word even after he reminded her of the opposable thumb.

During the parent-teacher conference she told his mother that he was disrespectful for questioning her authority and knowledge and he was given a stern warning to be more respectful.

The opposable thumb incident is typical of American behavior. A teacher teaches, therefore she cannot be taught. Especially by a bright child who questions.

When the teacher cannot be taught or passes her ignorance of the world on to future generations with no consideration there is something wrong with the system.

I live in Northwest Arkansas. This year Education Week gave the public education system in Arkansas a ‘B-‘ despite lower than average test scores. The grade came not from performance, but from policy–the state is demanding higher academic standards.

There is such a word as opposable.

Performance matters. Policies can sit. Teacher quality initiatives may look good on paper, but try explaining that to a nine-year-old whose teacher doesn’t know what an opposable thumb is. Then tell him that things will get better because the policies say so.

The Democrat-Gazette reported the good news. Arkansas students received an average D in performance in grades K-12, but rated as eighth in the nation’s schools.

Tell me this doesn’t sound like something a cow would do. Cows are large, dumb animals. They graze and wander aimlessly. And on occasion they do something completely unlike a cow. But not this time.

A few words on half a century

me_red2  My daughter reminded me recently that fifty was the new thirty. "Remember that," she wrote in her text.

Thirty doesn’t show in the mirror–fifty does.

Half a century looks good on some people. Or perhaps it’s their projection of the last century. Or that high-priced epidermis removal that scrubs away the overly-used top layer, revealing the baby smooth skin beneath. The past removed. Who knew it could be so easy?

More concerning are the creaks and aches I wake with. The knee aches the day after a bike ride. The right wrist I broke in 2006 when it’s cold outside. I’ve traded menses for migraines.

And even more concerning are a few ideas that have haunted me for awhile and I would like to put to rest.

1. George Orwell on ‘Why I Write.’

I have done my damnedest to disprove the statement he wrote, that writers are basically a lazy lot. I have come to disagree with him on this issue, simply because I rarely have time to be lazy. If I’m lounging, I’m thinking about what needs to be done, completed, edited, etc.

So I’ve come to this: Mister Orwell was speaking for himself. He had such a guilty conscience, he had to make a sweeping generalization about all writers being lazy, so he wouldn’t feel alone.

2. The End of the World.

I don’t believe in the apocalyptic tweaking of Mayan codices. I’ve read the Popol Vuh too and that’s not what it said.

3. Contemporary grunge/Thrift Store Chic.

Despite my manner of dress, I am not homeless. Nor do I live in a tent down by the river. When I sit down at a cafe to enjoy a cup of coffee people may not throw money at me or offer to purchase a meal, but they do tend to talk and despite my hearing loss, I do hear the louder, [read: more obnoxious] among them.

I happen to think thrift store chic is much more fashionable than the pink and purple crap some of the more economically viable of our female species happens to be wearing. I may see fifty when I look in the mirror, but I also see C-O-O-l. Thank you very much.

4. The Decline of Intellectualism.

Hogwash. There will always be curious, wonderful intellectuals and anyone who says different is stupid.

There may be a decline in intelligentsia, because few can afford a university education these days. The backlash of morons who can’t stand the idea that others are more educated than them, tend to keep the more educated hidden.

In Arkansas there’s a saying: "I don’t need no edyoocayshun to know how to butcher hogs."

What it means is, ‘I’ll show you how damn smart you are.’

5. The next fifty years.

I hope for global peace, the end of poverty, population control, environmental cleanup, romance, a jet pack that won’t kill me, trips to Greece and Ireland, a hot-air balloon ride, to live a long, healthy, productive, happy life and drink good coffee without it screwing with my bladder.

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Reading Railroad: Rent Day

Monday is rent day. Every Monday.

We, of the — Apartments pay our dues weekly.

My suite, a lower-end, modern-day chamber of horrors, is without a bathroom. I use a common lavatory, of which, there are two. One bathroom has a shower at one end of the
second floor and the tub room is at the other end.

The second floor is for the less fortunate guests. The rooms with no bathroom are ninety-five dollars a week. The rooms with a bathroom are a hundred and twenty. On the
first floor are larger, well-maintained rooms, bathrooms and kitchens included.

On the way to the bathroom, one is always reminded of their circumstances: the tiled ceiling with holes drips when it rains. There are places in that ceiling where bubbles have formed, gravity pulling them ever downward. We skate around buckets placed in the hallway and take care not to walk under those bubbles.

There are spots on the floor where no bucket has caught the water to save it. Those are soft spots. Like a child’s fontanelle, these are fragile spots that must also be traversed. Step on them at your own peril.

Wednesday is pesticide day. That is, the manager comes to each room carrying an industrial sized, white plastic container and sprays bug killer. When I first came to the
hotel, she just showed up one morning and asked me to leave for an hour while she sprayed.

When I complained about the lack of notice, she began scheduling Wednesdays. So we can almost always count on her. But then there are the days she’s a no-show with no
explanation and in this case, we of the second floor know a knock may come at any time.

We are obligated to schedule ourselves around her activities. If we don’t like it, we can leave. Given the lack of affordable housing in this area, it’s not much of
an option. There is no one to report bad housing conditions to and complaints fall on deaf ears.

The landlady and her husband have purchased another building across the street from this historically registered monument we live in. That building is well- kept, though no one lives there. She said, they expect it to collect higher rents and there is a note of enthusiasm in her voice as she says this.

We are not without amenities. We have cable television and on Saturday morning they purchase a dozen donuts for the residents to share. We have running water and electricity. There is a basement, in case of tornado.

Despite these amenities, I am resentful at the intrusions into my life. I would like to pay the rent and be done with management. I don’t want the landlady dictating hours I’m not allowed into the room I’ve paid for.

There are also rules we must abide; otherwise, we are warned, our rent may be raised.

These rules include:

1. Unplug appliances when not in use. If we leave the room at any time, we should not leave coffee pots, cell phones, radios or clocks plugged in.

2. We may have no visitors after 10 p.m. After this hour, we will be charged an additonal $15.00 per guest.

3. The unspoken, but very well known rule number three is, do not complain about conditions. You are subject to immediate eviction if you do complain and I found this out
through first hand experience.

It comes down to this. I pay the rent every Monday, because I make a choice to stay here. The alternative is more unpleasant than current conditions. Choices are not
always between good and bad; sometimes they are between bad and worse. Life is not always fair, but on occasion things work out and I’m grateful for that. Hope looms, just as devastation does.

Pay your dues. Don’t complain. Be grateful.

What a life.

Note from the editor (Carla): Professor Ex… is a senior citizen and does have a regular, fixed income. I don’t think he meant for this article to be some kind of pity party type essay; but is more interested in seeing some kind of change in the housing situation and inspection of such in NW Arkansas.

You can direct all comments to the Professor at: professor_extraordinarius at yahoo.com

Who is Professor Extraordinarius?

  If you research the term ‘Reader’ you will find in the United Kingdom, the title of Reader denotes an appointment for a senior academic. The academic title can be Professor Ordinarius or Extraordinarius.

I am no academic; however, I am a Reader. I capitalize the title, for I find there are not as many Readers as there once were. Evidence of this can be found at the local library. Despite the traditional function of this fine institution, now when I step through those doors, I find the majority of the patrons therein, to be concentrated at the computer banks, perusing the internet; or at the video shelves.

Oh yes. The constant mind-numbing, passive observance of movies, internet and video gaming is so much healthier for young minds than reading. This must be true, or why would parents and institutions condone such things?

Never do I find youngsters gathered at the science fiction shelves looking for the latest artist, browsing for the newest adventure of Adams or Heinlein. Or even Rowlings for that matter.

Today, the act of reading a book is extraordinary and I read at minimum, fifty per year. Hence the name and title.

To answer more fully the question of who is Professor Extraordinarius.

A character, if you will, created for the not so serious discussion of promoting and disseminating literacy, intelligence and ideas.

I suspect I am older than the average Internet user; however, I have some knowledge in the use of a computer and this type of system. I took lessons in the use of E-mail programs and I know how to use an internet browser, so I am not a complete dunce in this endeavor.

Personal details I shall leave out for now. The reader will know me through this column. I will give you this: I am a curmudgeon and have little tolerance for the intellectual sloth. If you expect to participate in a discussion do your homework, or you may be publicly humiliated.

I am not concerned with the business of book publishing as I am in the decline of intelligence, common sense and wisdom. I understand that a column written once a month may have no effect in this, but one can always retain some optimism in this regard.

Nevertheless, I have been asked by the author of this publication to write a monthly column about my reading adventures. Despite my inability at fending her off over the past few months, I did negotiate a reasonable agreement. I will write about materials I read, if I am allowed the liberty to comment about the nature of a literary life today and throw in a few comments about our social environment.

She has agreed and here I am.
The first Reading Railroad posting will begin the second week in October.

Some stats on Professor Ex…

Born in Sacramento, California; November 30th, 1921 (currently 91 yrs. old)

He loves German chocolate, puppies (as long as he doesn’t have to care for them) and taking long walks on autumn days.

Inspiration for writers

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”  

-Ambrose Redmoon

Courage is not something any of us are perfect in, nor will we be for the rest of our lives, for each day we are presented again with the choice of whether to be courageous or to be cowardly. The natural inclination of human beings is toward the latter.

From Daniel Bean Blog, What does it mean to follow your passions?

I found Daniel Bean. I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with his blog, but I’ve followed for a couple of months. I liked the inspirational posts.

But then, the other day Daniel posted something  I had to share. I find things on occasion that are inspirational, but for some reason this particular post resonated with me.

I had been struggling with Two, a short story turned novella, now turning novelette.

He talked about the courage of the writer… I won’t go into it here, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Read it. If you’re struggling with your work, you may need it as much as I did.

Here’s the link:  http://blog.danielbeanfilms.com/2012/06/25/what-does-it-mean-to-follow-your-passions-part-2-five-ways-to-be-courageous/

Kite Flying

I flew a kite today.  In the hot sun.  Attempting to instruct my five-year old grandson in steering.

This is one of those thrift kites, put together by plastic and thin sticks, but it serves it’s purpose. It rode the wind a few times.

“The kite wants to ride the wind,” I told him. He smiled, put his hands over his mouth attempting not to laugh. I laughed.

“But the wind has a different idea,” I say. “He doesn’t want any freeloaders, so he blows when we’re not looking. Tries to surprise us. That’s why we have to keep watch.”

Justyn holds on to the tail, allowing the bulk of the kite to stand upright against the small gusts that take it.

“Can I fly it Oma?”

“I want you to fly it, but I don’t want you to crash it,” I say.

“You need to learn to steer it first.” I bekon to him and he moves closer, looking at the string hand and the control hand. The one I use to guide the kite.

“Okay, put your hand on my hand,” I say. He’s learning to feel the way the string moves through the hand. How we pull it back or give it slack at just the right moment.

I realize kite flying isn’t about controlling it. Letting the kite ride the wind might be a metaphor for something else.

Literally, we develop a feeling for how the kite moves. I don’t know if that can be taught. It’s in the hands. Some extra sense that feels the wind and the string.

I want to hand over the reins, but then pull back. No. I don’t want him to crash the thing. This one will break apart easily and we won’t have another kite for awhile.

“Oma, It’s too hot out here. I’m thirsty.”

I wind the string up. Maybe next time I’ll give it up. I’ll let him take over and just watch.