Wednesday, October 30, 2013

All Hallow's Eve


                             




Many cultures, old and new, have holidays or celebration days on similar dates on the calendar.    I find it pleasing that they are often tied to the events in the natural world, thus demonstrating that history, as well as technology, has a place in the world.   Ancient Celtic cultures celebrated Samhain which meant the end of the summer.   Depending upon where you are in the world, you might agree or disagree with that but in Europe and even North America, there has usually not been a night of frost by October 31st.  

Harvest is over and, if successful, it would be a time of celebration in an era when people had to be self-sufficient and plan ahead for their needs over the upcoming winter . . . or starve.   The Celts also believed that this was the time when the supernatural world and the physical world were in closest contact.  The giving of treats originated in the custom of leaving food and drink outside our door to placate the pixies, witches and any random demons that happened to be wandering about.   In Celtic times cakes were made for wandering souls, to placate them, a preview of treats handed out to children today.  After a period of time, people began dressing up like the demons and witches in a version of whistling past the graveyard.
               

In the seventh century, the Christian Church chose the day after Halloween--November 1--as the day to honour all Saints who did not have their own day during the year.   I remember I was surprised to discover, pursuing some random research, how many Christian saints and martyrs there are and, in consequence, how many days during the year were feast days or holy days in medieval and earlier times.   Let's just say early Christians had more holidays than we do today, considerably more.


It's not too much of a stretch to connect Halloween with the other-worldly aspects of Samhain. The celebration of the harvest seems more indicative of Thanksgiving, held in early to mid-October for the colder Canadian climes and closer to the end of November for the balmier U.S. harvest.





Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pushing Christmas

                                                        



I saw the first Christmas decorations on display in a store on the past weekend.   I didn't like it.   There used to be an unwritten rule that Christmas decorations could not go up until after Halloween.   I've imagined scores of clerks drawing the short straw and spending Halloween evening switching out the displays.  It still seemed to be pushing things but since it was now November, I tried to accept it with good grace.

I used to first hide and then quickly  recycle or more likely throw out  (in the days before recycling) toy store flyers  that arrived before December.   A mother can only take so much pleading, nagging or whining and seven weeks was just too lengthy a period of time.   All that build up of longing and desire didn't seem healthy.

I try to see if from the retailers' point of view--after all, I want them to consider mine.   I've read articles and heard business analysts' statements that many (most) retail businesses only go into the black--start to make a profit--in the Christmas season.    There are enterprises that are basically in a holding pattern as far as sales are concerned and only gear up for the holidays.   This includes many independent craftspeople and artists.

I'm fortunate not to need anything any more but I enjoy the family get togethers and try not to over indulge in the food offerings.   If you have something to spare, consider remembering a charity you believe in.  Make it Christmas for someone else.

                                                                      
San Roque animal shelter, Panama City

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

LIBRARIES . . . AND READING



                                                                   


Reading is important, maybe especially so for children and young people and not just because I write books.   I'm always pleased when someone noteworthy like Neil Gaiman has a similar point of view.   In this post he discusses how important it is to  teach children how to read and to enjoy reading which in turn helps then think new thoughts and think them more deeply.

Unless it is wildly inappropriate, let children choose what they want to read.   I remember reading Nancy Drew mystery books by the bushel as well as comic books.    What adults may think is trite and hackneyed may be new and exciting to some children.   And that's fine.

An important point that Neil Gaiman makes is how reading creates empathy.   Empathy is an important part of being a well-functioning human in a society of other humans.  The connection between illiteracy and prison that Gaiman makes is thought provoking.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Is this 'Great'?


                                                          



“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.” ― Alexander the Great

As a teacher, I should be flattered by quotes like this.

Alexander the Great was speaking of Aristotle, as far as the teacher was concerned, and it is difficult to argue with the credit given.    It is interesting that he didn't consider that his mother contributed to his life.   I have read that he wrote to his mother regularly, almost daily, so she must have been in his thoughts.

But before I start to feel too gratified, I must consider the speaker of the quote.  Alexander the Great, the well known Greek, was actually born in Macedonia.   His father was King of Macedonia and left him with an enormous standing army.   It cannot be denied that Alexander was a great military strategist and never lost a battle even when he went up against armies that were considerably larger.   He was daring, usually in the thick of battle himself, and able to make quick and accurate judgements while the action raged.

He was also ruthless.  Does a man deserve to be called ‘The Great’ who was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of his own men and for the unnecessary wholesale slaughter of the native people of the Persian empire?  Alexander would mostly  loot and plunder those who  immediately surrendered and kill or sell into slavery those who mounted a resistance and forced him into an extensive period of siege.   Once he had conquered an area, he would move on, having no patience with any kind of administration or governance.   He departed Macedonia when he was twenty years old with his army and never returned, leaving appointees in his place to govern.  Historical sources, written centuries after his death by Roman historians who based their reports on primary sources, report of his violent temper and his reckless endangerment of the lives of those under him.

Alexander believed he was divine, the son of Zeus yet  he died at age 33 of what is now believed to have been malaria.  I have to wonder what knowledge and wisdom exactly Aristotle imparted to his protege.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A LURCHING EXPERIENCE



                                                                         


Watching the news can be a lurching experience for the emotions.  Distressing, even graphic, information and pictures of conflict in a strife-ridden country on the other side of the globe is interspersed with  celebrity gossip and even cooking tips.  I suspect the show producers have goals of levelling out the offerings, offering something for everyone, and, above all, keeping viewers from changing the channel.  The latter would keep the advertisers content.


                                                            

Somehow we've become accustomed to it.  There's  political scandal--a government official is ripping us off, bombs are going off  in one oil rich state or another, followed by an amusing vignette about a raccoon in someone's garbage can who ends up with an ice cream bucket on his head.   Then there's a brief segment about the red carpet gowns worn at the recent Toronto Film Festival before we're back to a distressing segment about homeless veterans.




Our emotions see-saw back and forth:   How can people be so cruel--oh, I love that dress . . . isn't she separated from him now--why doesn't the government do something . . .   It's exhausting and somehow seems trivialize the important stories.   But I didn't change the channel so the news program producers achieved their goal.   Too bad I couldn't fast forward through the commercials.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A CUP OF GRATITUDE








Many living in what is still called First World Countries--a presumptuous expression--have enjoyed the blessings that access to health care, education and good housing and nutrition can bring.    I've read that one of the secrets to a long life and happiness is to practise gratitude on a regular basis.   I don't think I can say it better than Leo Babauta does here.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Ah, technology

I've been trying to format this blog to place a slideshow of the books I've published at the side.  If wishes were horses . . . (oops, another idiom.  I love them!)   I could put them on one post but then they would disappear from sight into the vacuum of previous posts.   As what sometimes (often) happens with technology, I know what I want to do but the question then becomes how to do it.

Over the years, I have upgraded my skills and abilities in this regard.   In some cases--perhaps many cases--computer programs have improved to be more intuitive and easier to use.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find this out directly from Blogger, the program that this blog is on.  In this case it led me to the 'layout' tab and then 'Add a slideshow' but it seems I can only had photographs that are pre-selected.  These are various scenic and artsy drawings, some attractive enough, but definitely not my covers.    So I persevere.

Someone suggested to me once that I simply type my question into Google and I must confess I have found that this simple solution works quite often.      I try out something called Photobucket and go to the trouble to upload all my covers but alas, something goes wrong between steps and the slideshow fails to materialize.  I try another similar process, without success as well before ending up with the slideshow that now presents itself at the top of each post.


Whew!


Not exactly what I had in mind but I'll leave it for a while and see if it grows on me.   Meanwhile, I am also attempting to find out how to undo the present pagination in a book and re-place it so that will occupy me for a while.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wandering Wilderness

Now published and available in soft cover and e-book versions:







SEQUEL  TO  WHEN BEES DIE

Escape from the oppressive and depressive life behind the fences in Rossville  was the dream, but now what?

Are they each prepared for the hardships they will encounter?   Did they bring what they will need to start a new life?   Will they die in the barren wilderness, unknown to those left behind?

The Resistance  may be small, insignificant really, but they know that somehow they must   do  more  than survive, they must prevail.


This is the second book in a trilogy.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

HAS THE HERO REACHED HIS DESTINATION?

                                          



Joseph Campbell, American writer and scholar, identified a pattern of storytelling that has evolved and been perpetuated  down the centuries.  He called it The Hero's Journey.   To describe it as a template would trivialize it but nevertheless there are identifiable elements.  We see it most particularly in the fantasy genre:   Think of Lord of the Rings.

I've attended workshops dealing the stations of the Hero's Journey Outline, often depicted in a circle.   It begins with the introduction of the hero or heroine who is depicted in a sympathetlc way. You like the person;  you can identify with them. You find out a little about their background and personal history.   But, there's a problem and our hero is going to act heroically and find a solution.

First there is the Call to Adventure.   This is something that has occurred, usually outside the hero's control, that provides an impetus to action.  There then follows, in numbered sequence, the various stages of the action.  The hero is at first afraid but after meeting with someone wiser who provides some assistance, he decides to proceed.  He meets with allies, comes to face problems and makes a plan.   Somewhere in the middle of the story the ultimate challenge is faced and our hero is victorious.   On the journey home, maybe three quarters of the way through the story, there is a challenge to the victory, maybe in the form of a chase.  There is a final confrontation and great danger.  At the end, the hero is victorious and is himself transformed as is the world he now inhabits.

I've compressed the steps--there are twelve in all.  

It would be difficult to underestimate the influence of The Hero's Journey but I read an article recently that attributed some of the sameness that Hollywood blockbusters can seem to have to a slavish devotion to the form.   

In a similar vein, I have read advice to writers which advises that the reader must be grabbed by the throat, in the words of one description, in the first chapter, the first page or even the first line.  Otherwise, the reader will stop reading the preview and definitely not purchase the book.   Again, this must inevitably lead to a feeling of deja vu;   somehow we've read all this before.

What's the solution?


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps

From a writers' club prompt:


                                                                 



That was what the advertisement said, but what did that mean?    She paused to consider, glancing down at at her dark brown ankle boots with the imitation leopard plush trim around the top.  A thrift shop find. 

No straps there.

The more she contemplated the concept the more puzzled Erica became.   Even assuming her boots, of an admittedly vintage era had straps--which they didn't--and assuming that her arthritic spine would allow her to grasp these straps on both sides, what exactly would be the result?   With the boots securely ensconced on both her feet, no doubt she would swiftly tumble backwards.  Most definitely, Erica would not be 'pulled up.'

She decided to read a little further in an attempt to assuage her confusion.  The rest of the ad involved a suggestion that the reader send away for a correspondence course in furniture upholstery with the goal of starting one's own business along those same lines.

Erica felt more confused than ever.   At the very least, it should have been a course in shoe and boot repair!