Sunday, December 18, 2016

Be Careful What You Wish For

The British Broadcasting Corporation let loose with a bit of wisdom and advised that It's not unusual to get your dream job and then hate it.    Loving animals and wanting to work with them may, after an expensive and exhausting education, turn out to involve a lot of  outside work in bad conditions wherein the animals often die or in a veterinarian's office where too many decisions are made based upon money.  A dedicated archaeologist does not unearth this century's Tutankhamen but rather endures a lot of time hunched over, again in poor weather, using a small brush on large areas of dust and soil.   Don't forget, someone else will get the credit, whatever you find.

I wish job shadowing was a more established thing.   I know that a day in the school year is designated for parents to take their Grade 5 student to work with them.  I guess it's a start.   Some programs do require a certain amount of volunteer experience in the field as part of a university admission package.   Those programs probably have an excess of applications as they will lose three quarters of potential applicants after a few weeks at the job site.   One problem is that many volunteers have to pay for the privilege and young people are notoriously short of funds.   Another issue arises is that you have to know someone.  Not everyone does.  


But let's assume that you were admitted into the program, slogged your way through it and  graduated.    Hooray!!  You got a job in the field.   Double Hooray!!   You've grabbed the brass ring, as they used to say.  Ten years on the job and you have seniority and have reached the top pay category.   (and the lifestyle to go with it).  Now is not the time to realize that you never liked  _____.   (fill in the blank).   Or you liked it a little initially but now you truly loathe the work.   

There's no escape now.

(Well there is but it wouldn't be easy.)

Blog hiatus until the New Year!

Sunday, December 11, 2016



What is it with swearing?   I've written about this topic before, mostly with regard to verbal swearing by individuals in public place.     The internet has its own rules (or lack of them--incidently what happened to netiquette?) and this has spilled over into print journalism)  Perhaps it annoys me because I can recall a time when published swearing in magazines, journals and newspapers did not exist.   I don't think it was that long ago, either.    In the past few years it is as if a magic fairy waved a wand and pronounced, "Go to it!"   The New Yorker magazine to name one of many publications has apparently made an editorial decision that expletives make fine copy.  Today, I've been reading blog posts by an intelligent, educated woman with strong opinions on many subjects.   I just wish she could stop dropping F bombs in most posts.    

After a while, it is easy to think, 'It must be me.   Nobody else seems bothered.'   I try to reason my annoyance out and  consider whether in was the eleventh grade English teacher who opined that people who swear a lot are deficient in vocabulary skills (who wants to be like that?) or whether it was articles in women's magazines of the past that declared that swearing was 'unladylike'.  I'm a product of another generation.  But after all, what's in a word?

Swearing used to be something that was done for effect.   You really meant it if you added an expletive.   It was saved for heinous crimes not hangnails.  Surely, swearing must be losing its effect as shock value;  new words will have to be invented.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Many years ago while visiting Scotland, an older relative by marriage, Fran,  related a situation that had become family lore.  She wanted to share it with me.    It seemed that Uncle Cy, God rest his soul, had lived a happy and carefree life.   He had been a pleasant fellow, well-liked, a raconteur at gatherings and a generous friend at the local pub.   A bit of a ladies' man, as they called it in those days, he was chivalrous despite a fondness for practical jokes. He remained a bachelor all his life and enjoyed annual sojourns to Spain during Scotland's brutal winters.    Towards the end of his life, some health issues forced him into a seniors' care home.   There he continued to charm the ladies, the staff as well as visitors for a further seven years until his peaceful end.   "We should all be so fortunate," was how the situation was summed up.

Then, there was Aunt Mabel.  She was cut from a different cloth.   Somewhat shy, a bit of an introvert;  life had made her fearful somehow, but she faced it with quiet determination.  Always expecting the worst, she starting saving for a rainy day long before her age-mates would give the future much thought.   She was careful with money, was how the relative described her, and, of course, she was Scotch so that came naturally.   She always paid her bills on time and no one could accuse her of not paying her share on the rare occasions when she attended a social function.   Her small house was well polished and Aunt Mabel was always pleased to provide a home for cast-off furniture from more well off relations.    She worked all her life except for the decade when she was married.   'At least she had that', was how it was described.   Her husband died of natural causes and Mabel had been alone again.  No children.  She knew Uncle Cy, of course, but except for semi-annual family gatherings, they moved in different circles.

Now,  Fran's voice rose a tone.   It seems Aunt Mabel, in due course, and it being a small town, ended up in the same senior's care home as Uncle Cy.    I had listened patiently to the story, interested to hear some details of how life had been during and after the War.   Scotland had been so affected by it, the River Clyde bombed incessantly.     But Fran's rising indignation concerned other matters.   It had somehow been discovered by the family that Uncle Cy had entered the government established and funded home with not much more than a smile and the clothes on his back.   Aunt Mabel, penny pincher that she was, had amassed a considerable amount, closer to a million pounds than a half million, was how it was described. The relations were all agog.  Both enjoyed equally the care, medical, social and emotional, that the home provided.   Uncle Cy was entirely funded by the state and Aunt Mabel paid the full monthly amount prescribed, for those with personal means.     Fran was pleased to tell me that Aunt Mabel could have, had her health allowed, gone on a never-ending cruise for the same price.

Aunt Mabel outlived Uncle Cy by nearly a decade, making it to ninety-eight.   What remained of her carefully scraped together fortune paid for a nice funeral.

"What do you think of that?" my husband's aunt enquired.   She didn't wait for an answer, me being a foreigner, but gave her own response.   "We've all learned from that, let me tell you."   She didn't elaborate.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Do you feel a little tricked?


I recall being surprised, shocked even, when I read that MacDonald's French fries were dusted/coated with beef powder.   This was at least a decade ago and perhaps their preparation ingredients have changed.  It must be almost that long since I  visited this establishment.   (I'm not making a value judgement; as you may know 'to each his/her own' is my motto.)   There was an item in the local newspaper about a man who, as a practising Hindu, didn't eat meat.   He was distressed to discover that without meaning to he had been consuming it.   Something so unusual should have been posted on the menu board for the elucidation of vegetarians and vegans as well as those with religious requirements.

I've recently read similar information about pork.   For some reason known only to them, food processors/manufacturers include pork flavouring, tinctures, bits of it in many unexpected food items like cookies, cereal and sour cream.   This article might be an eye-opener to you. 

Manufacturers know that many consumers don't like to buy products where the main ingredient is sugar.   The way around  this is to use  use a combination of sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, brown sugar, dextrose and other sugar ingredients to make sure none of them are present in large enough quantities to attain a top position on the ingredients list.

Remember that ingredients are listed on products in order of their proportion in the product. This means the first 3 ingredients matter far more than anything else. The top 3 ingredients are what you're primarily eating.  Don't be fooled by fancy-sounding herbs or other ingredients that appear very far down the list. Some food manufacturer that includes pomegranates towards the end of the list is probably just using  it as a marketing gimmick on the label. The actual amount of pomegranates  in the product is likely miniscule.

 If the ingredients list contains long, chemical-sounding words that you can't pronounce, maybe google the word(s) so you'll know what you're eating.  

Think about your pets, too.  I was taken aback to discover that In 2004 the American Veterinary Medical Association undertook a  20 year study involving thousands of cats, including 3,470 hyperthyroid cats.  While the study found that feline hyperthyroidism was definitely more often found in older cats, there also was evidence that BPA was a factor.  BPA, Bisphenol A, is used to line the inside of many cat food cans.

Knowledge is power.   Don't feel helpless!  I tend to try to make most of the food I eat from whole ingredients.  Works for me.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

How Price is Determined


I came across an interesting comment here, a blog I check in on from time to time, which postulated that:

   "the price of housing . . .  given an endless supply of credit, will tend to find a level where the cost of servicing a loan can be managed by two people working full-time, because that’s what most people in that market are doing." 

Is that another way of saying that the cost of something is the maximum that people are willing to pay with no relation to the cost of the raw materials and labour to produce the product?   I guess so.  If women decided en masse to leave the labour force as in pre-1960's would the price of houses go down?

Who are these 'people'?   Does that include me?  Why does this situation make me feel like the donkey's hind quarter?

I suspect the quote refers to the majority of people or at least a lot of people.   As an individual I carry little consumer heft.    Often there's a cry for government to do something about a situation, such as rapidly escalating real estate prices in some markets.    Government actions are all too often a blunt tool that misses the mark.

Some people resort to renting out a room or two in their home to visitors/travellers/tourists to offset high housing costs.   Does it help?

Sunday, November 13, 2016



I recently came across  this post on The Joys of Solitude by Philip Daoust in The Guardian.   People who enjoy being alone or even prefer it to company may be thought of as odd and eccentric by those who are sympathetic.   Others, more judgemental and fearful, view them as anti-social and potentially dangerous. 

But surely people are not measured by the number of words that spill out of their mouths in their lifetime.   Do we consider those who prattle on without end about the doings of the latest television reality show stars to be more socially acceptable?   Or merely boring?   Do you suspect those who tend to prefer silence of silently critiquing or cursing the rest of the social gathering?   Plotting the downfall of the government?

Do you recall the poem by Max Ehrmann entitled Desiderata, or at least the first lines:

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. 

Some of Daoust's article seem to me to belabour the potential for living like a slob, eating out of cans and wearing pyjamas all day.  He appears to commend the benefits of this way of life.   Two of the individuals described as examples of solitude seekers had gone to great lengths to avoid any interaction with others.   One lived on the Scottish moors with no means of communication and another on a deserted island off Chile.      There is a middle ground.

Did humans become social to avoid becoming prey as anthropologists claim?  We stuck together, not because we preferred constant company, but to avoid being eaten.

How did Henry David Thoreau spend two years alone in the Massachusetts woods?   Was he a cranky misanthrope?   It is possible to be alone in a crowd.   Why do our screen savers show scenic vistas bereft of humans?

People seem to converse less as they age.   Compare, for example, a classroom of twenty-five twelve year olds with lunch time at an extended care home.    Are there a finite number of words we can express before we run out of things to say?

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Clean Plate Syndrome

They're starving . . . somewhere.   Many of us, of a certain age, heard our mothers remind us at the dinner table that 'we should eat up, they're starving in China.    That was in the old days when it was Red China, a scary Communist country where everyone dressed in identical Mao suits.  Today, China is a travel destination.   I believe there are still parts of China, tucked away from the tourists, where people still struggle to feed themselves.   Or another country could easily be substituted, but somehow it is not.

Cleaning your plate has gone out of fashion.    Mothers were accused of contributing to obesity or
eating disorders by their nagging.    People should stop eating when they are full became the accepted approach.  The challenge then became to cook the exact amount that the family would consume while at the same time encouraging family members to only load their plate with what their appetite would value.   Complicated if not impossible.

Recent reports have found a new target to blame (yes, let's lay off mothers for awhile).   Supermarkets apparently discard perfectly good food for reasons only they know.   A reporter took the job of rummaging through the waste bins behind the stores, under the tutelage of an experienced dumpster diver, and discovered vast amounts of food that was discarded well in advance of their Best Before  date.   Or perhaps a bag of potatoes or apples with one daring to be blemished causing all to be dumped.   Why was this perfectly good food discarded when some people do not have enough to eat was the the question.

The contents of the bins were  mostly what we would call perishable goods that made their way to the trash.   There were no cans, for example.   Perhaps stores fear litigation if someone becomes ill.

Some stores in the U.K. tried a novel approach to dealing with wonky produce.  (Must be a British expression).   It seems that sadly up to 40% of farmers' produce ends up discarded for aesthetics only.   They lack the proper shape and form.    Maybe the vegetables were threatening to sue for discrimination based on appearance.

Sunday, October 30, 2016


Despite considerable international travelling I still feel a sense of wonder when a mere eight or ten hours transports me to the other side of the world . . . and then back home again.   It can even be done on short notice.   Just head out to the airport  (don't forget your passport) and merely by producing a piece of plastic you can be on your way.   Movies like The Martian take this to the next step even though that didn't turn out to be trouble-free.   But we fully expect that before too long even that journey will be in the realm of possibility.

Travel to Mars in the movie took about six months, about the same amount of time as a sea voyage to the New World in a sailing ship like the one pictured above.   No pleasure cruise,  your very life might be at risk from disease and bad weather.   When friends and family left, they were gone for good.  Few would venture, or could afford a return journey.

Would you embark on that for pleasure or only in desperation?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Good Story . . . but Gory


This was the summary provided by a family member half way through a novel.   The story was engrossing and exciting but the gore was overdone.   The author description including the information that he was also the creator of video games which may be a factor.  Video games can be notoriously violent.    I suppose it is something like the over the top realism in popular television shows like  Game of Thrones  and The Vikings.    I suspect there are various approaches to viewing program of this nature, perhaps similar to how graphic books are dealt with.

Some people revel in the gore and violence.   They are no doubt mild-mannered people who wouldn't hurt the proverbial fly but somehow violence viewed is a vicarious pleasure.   Perhaps it is cathartic in some way.   Then there are those viewers or readers who avert their eyes, fast forward the remote, take a bathroom break or flip pages when some hapless victim is being tortured, beheaded or similar.   Other parts of the movie/book feature terrific dialogue, suspense and character development.   The gore is the wasabi on the sushi tray that their palate seeks to avoid.   The rest is delicious.

Movies have ratings, sometimes focussed more on the sexual content than the violence level.  At the theatres the ratings served to keep minors from entering.   Television often/sometimes would only screen an adult movie after 9 or 10 p.m.  With Netflix you are on your own.   Perhaps there are parental controls that can be instituted.

Research has been done as to the effect of viewing violence on children and young people.   Is there a desensitization that occurs?   An article in the Psychiatric Times concludes : 

Despite the links between media violence and aggression, Anderson stressed, “media violence is only one of many risk factors for later aggressive and violent behavior. Furthermore, extremely violent behavior never occurs when there is only one risk factor present. Thus, a healthy, well-adjusted person with few risk factors is not going to become a school-shooter just because they start playing a lot of violent video games or watching a lot of violent movies.” 

That's good to know.   

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Blogs, blogs, blogs

I like blogs.   They are the new version of full-of-ads magazines which I used to buy in my younger days.   After awhile I realized there were more ads than copy and that the copy was sometimes suspiciously like the ads.   Even the articles in women's fashion and beauty type of magazines on how to achieve a natural look didn't involve not wearing make-up but rather buying a new supply of supposedly more natural looking make-up.   And look!   There's a handy ad facing the article for just such a product.   To think I paid to be an advertising victim.

Lest you think me narcissistic, let me haste to say that especially as I grew older I read other magazines besides Glamour and Cosmopolitan.   (Especially as I came to feel less attractive, less desirable, less sexy . . . after spending a couple of hours with one of these magazines.  A problem that could be solved  by following their advice slavishly!)  I read New Yorker,  The Economist, MacLeans, Time Magazines . . . you get the idea.   These days these former print magazines all have on-line versions.   Some try to encourage you to subscribe for a 99 cent trial run with the hope you will pay for a few extra lines or articles.   I guess some people do.

These on-line versions have on-line ads but they don't seem as focussed.   On different pages of the on-line version of  The New York Times I observed ads for casinos, encouraging me to use a realtor as opposed to D.I.Y., information about development plans at the local airport.   

Blogs are better I find.  There are ads as well;  usually useless ads for how to lose belly fat, trivia about a move star  or encouraging me to click through to Amazon.   There are blogs for everything and anyone.   If you have a lot of time at your disposal you can go down the rabbit hole for a long time as many blogs contain links to other blogs or interesting related articles.    I feel I meet interesting individuals on blogs but if I don't care so much for them personally it can be sufficient if their information has some value to me.   I don't have endure time in their company and I don't have to feel I am using them for their knowledge.   

It's a win-win!

(To let you know, If Llamas could Talk . . . is available free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers for the next few months.)

Sunday, October 9, 2016


Some people set lofty goals for themselves.   Others indulge in unrealistic expectations as in  if you want something enough, the universe will provide it.  To achieve the pinnacle of success in sports and be a professional hockey player is a dream shared by early rising hockey parents and hopefully their offspring as well.  What about producing a top selling song that is covered by big name artists and an appearance on the Grammy's to graciously accept an award.   You've prepared your acceptance speech already.  For authors, some long to see their book turned into a movie to critical acclaim (and their financial betterment).

Those who have neither the talent nor the drive, must resign themselves to not attaining their goals.   Perhaps youthful optimism gave way to adult realism.   Some go through life bitterly blaming parents who couldn't afford the time or money to continue sports lessons or a coach who didn't recognize their obvious talent.   They should have been great.

For those few whose stars align and the top of the ladder is attained, I wonder if they enjoy and revel in their achievement and success.   I am surprised when I read of musicians who suffer from depression or actors who become addicted to drugs or  alcohol or athletes who stop trying and quickly lose their competitive edge.Their family life is problematic, they divorce over and over and have conflicts with their children.   They don't speak to their parents for twenty years.  They're not happy.    Having achieved what so many long for, dream of, has not brought them lives of ecstatic happiness.

To paraphrase an old Spanish proverb:   The worst that can happen is that your dreams will come true.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Bath or Shower?

I recently read an interesting piece by Jessi Klein in the New Yorker magazine (May 2016) entitled The Bath:  A Polemic.   (I suppose it is embarrassing to admit I looked up the word polemic.   I had a general idea, but I wanted to know specifically.  Google was pleased to advise:

  A strong verbal or written attack on someone or something.   
Synonyms:   diatribe, invective rant, tirade . . .

  1. The two page article engendered two responses which I value when I read: It made me think and it made me laugh.     She postulated that women like baths, love baths and need them as an escape from the stresses of life. A place to be alone, a room of her own.   Men, almost universally, prefer showers.

    The writer (and myself) placed herself in the small minority of women who don't care for baths.   She goes as far as to describe them as vaguely miserable.   She feels "as if I were stewing up the world's saddest soup out of myself."   See . . . funny!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Can You be Useful to Me?


When networking first became a thing lots of people loved it.  (Here's a definition by the way:  Interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one's career.)    Sure, this type of thing has been going on since the beginning of time.   I visualize an early hominid chatting to a fellow hominid about matters that generally concern  both of them before enquiring whether his new friend had discovered a new way to make fire.   Something that didn't involve waiting for lightning to strike a tree.

Friends have always helped friends and nepotism (the practice among those with power or influence of favouring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.)  has a long history.  These are people with whom you have a known for a long time and they would be your friend (sister-in-law, cousin, co-worker) even if did not have any useful job leads.

But have you ever been introduced to a charming and attractive person at a social gathering and had the suspicious feeling that you were being evaluated, not for your character and sense of humour, but to see if you could be useful to them at some point.     Do you own a truck that could be used to transfer a garden shed?  Do you work for a large corporation that always has job openings in various departments?   Are you a computer nerd who could be called upon for network meltdowns?  Are you a good prospect for their home sales party next month?  Or, is your conversational partner's interest starting to wane as to your future usefulness?   Are their eyes starting to scan the room for more promising prospects?

Consider your escape fortunate.    Network friends may not understand the concept of reciprocity. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016


Perhaps you have visited a small town or country museum at some point in your travels.  They are full of relics from the past, lovingly curated, labelled and displayed.   Old milking cans and school slates, tin washboards and rusting disc plows suitable for the sticky soil of the area share the space with yellowing theatre programs, ornate ladies' hats and sturdy travelling trunks.   All recaptured from someone's attic, scrapbook or shed to show us how people of this area used to live and work.

Rust aside, they would still all work today, should the need somehow arise, but they do require manual labour to perform.   We may congratulate ourselves or feel grateful that those labour-intensive, backbreaking days of our ancestors never applied to us.   Some can still be purchased today;   the washboard above is available through Amazon.

But the list of items that are fading into obscurity and will one day grace museum shelves and walls is not static, rather it is growing.   That we have used some of the items might make us feel like relics ourselves.  True,  all are still in use, more or less, sometimes, when all else fails, but transitions happened gradually in the past, too.  The moral is, if you own one of these items, especially if it is in pristine condition, wrap it up carefully and put it in your attic.   One day a  museum might come calling.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Think about it for a minute.   Or survey those in your immediate vicinity.    Where are you likely to get the worst customer service?   . . . Right, a Government monopoly.   The Department of Motor Vehicles,  the Passport Office,  the government Medical Services Plan, the tax department.    There are no qualms it seems when the in person waiting time is an hour or more or when you wait on hold for thirty minutes.   No, a disembodied voice on your phone cheerfully advises that wait times are estimated to be 40 minutes.   How can they be so cavalier about this situation and without fear of losing business or declining revenues?   Because you have no choice;   they are the only game in town.   You need them; they don't need you.   You want a:

a)  Passport
b)   Driver's License
c)   Answer to a question about the government medical plan
d)    Information about your income tax deduction that was disallowed

Be prepared to wait! 

Following on the heels of government monopolies must be  organizations and institutions that have your money.    You've paid your University fees for the year, talking to you will not generate them any more revenue.    The bean counters have taken over.  Your local cable company, which has you on a 2 year plan,  has high call volumes and, of course, no plan in place to deal with this.   Why bother?   You're committed to paying them for another twenty months.    Credit card companies can be guilty of this as well, especially annoying after you spend five minutes replying to a circuit of menu options, involving entering your account number and various other options.   It doesn't help when the person who eventually answers doesn't seem to have access to the information that you diligently entered and starts the question process confirming your identity all over again.

But try to remember:  The person you eventually end up speaking to has little or nothing to do with the unacceptable service.   Customer service doesn't generate revenue and is prone to being the victim of budget cuts.  He or she is doing the work that three people previously shared.   Their hours are cut and calls are monitored to ensure 'quality' as in how quickly did they get you off the line. 

If only a small portion of what  is spent on government publicity/photo-op budgets was spent responding to citizens/residents queries, much improvement would occur.   The ads are so clever, the promises so profuse, the self-congratulation is ubiquitous.   The multitude of happy smiling faces must be residing in an alternate universe.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

A Vacation Read

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquinn Hall

      I found this book in the library on a recent cruise and enjoyed it very much. Looking at the cover now, it seems very busy to me as if it is trying to incorporate every aspect of the book.   I don't recall any elephants though.

      But, aside from that small quibble (and I have read that traditionally published authors have little control over the covers chosen by the publisher) this was a delightful book.   It distracted me from both the cruise ship buffet and scenic delights of the Inside Passage to Alaska.     I love books that immerse the reader in the sights, sounds, smells, foibles and culture of another country.  The main character, detective Vish Puri, known as Chubby to his friends is delightfully described and developed as smart, quirky, vulnerable and clever.   The details of Indian society reflect the time the author spent in the country.   The book reminded me of the earlier books of the No. 1 Ladies Detective series by Alexander McCall-Smith, set in Botswana.

    The plot moves quickly, the violence is minimal.    The supporting characters, Chubby's undercover operates  with names like Tubelight and Facecream  as well as his mother and wife, add to the drama.   Yet the book at times is light, almost humorous even while not shying from depicting the poverty and misery that is the plight of this very stratified society.

     There were quite a few Indian words and phrases employed with fortunately a glossary in the back to refer to.  I suppose it would be handier to have a footnote on each page but many recur.   I think it added to the authenticity.  

      The corruption of everyday life including the police and judicial system was discouraging but Chubby seemed to know how to work his way around it.  He was firm about not working for peanuts (I think he referred to the Indian equivalent) but from his results, he was worth it.   

     I want to read more of this series and am enjoying the small frisson of excitement of looking forward to reading a book I know I will enjoy.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Too Many Characters?


    I picked up a 'Grab Bag' labelled Historical Mysteries at the small local library in the Island town I now reside in.   I like historical mysteries and   I settled down to read one of the books with quiet anticipation.   Set in the early 1800's England, I was hoping for something along the line of the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters.  I won't name the book in hand but unfortunately consternation soon ensued.

     I've come across, and read, books that have a List of Characters in the first pages (sometimes as many as three or four pages) but at least there is a place to refer to.   As I began to read, I soon became dismayed as one character after another was introduced and then abandoned.   It became apparent that there were also several storylines.   A brief Chapter one of three and a half pages made three characters known  but, making up for lost time, Chapter two, in a different setting in England brought to life seven more characters, with descriptions of their appearance and attire.   My fingers twitched for a pencil and notepad as I admitted to myself that I was losing track.   Which characters were merely passing through the chapter and which persons, their quirks and alliances, should I attempt to imprint on my memory.

    Before I started Chapter three, it was starting to feel like a University exercise and since I have engaged in that activity sufficiently, I closed the book.  It was only Page 9.

     I've heard that people who attempt to read War and Peace,  have similar difficulties.   Wikipedia indicates some three dozen characters with Russian names that may be difficult to assimilate.   I definitely feel wimpy about my fragile effort but console myself that there are so many books and so little time.   

Friday, August 19, 2016


From a Prompt from my writing group:

     There needs to be difficulty so we have something to strive for . . . or against.

     Difficulty can't mean impossibility or we would be too discouraged.   Yet the difficulty must be real or we fool no one, least of all ourselves.

     The depth of the feeling of accomplishment is commensurate with the difficulty we have overcome in attaining our goal.  This cannot be determined objectively;  what is simple for one is challenging for another.  But then there's the risk of running into someone who has appropriated the motto:   You don't have to lift a finger if you can prove you're all thumbs!  

    Overcoming formidable tasks is reserved for one of a kind labours of love, not routine housework or yard word.  No, it must be something for posterity;  something to hang on the wall of a public building, or entered in the record books for all eternity.    But that leads to the query; is it useful, does it help humankind?    With artistic endeavours, who is the judge?   Some inventions, like the ubiquitous combustion engine have been both praised and cursed, perhaps particularly as they have lingered on past the date when some more environmentally friendly substitute should have been found.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

As a or Like a . . .

Many students remember learning about similes and metaphors.   Here's a definition in case you've forgotten:

    A simile, is a comparison using "like" or "as." for example:  My love is like a red, red rose  (Robert Burns)

    A metaphor is a comparison that speaks of one thing as if it were another:   The fluffy clouds were marshmallows wafting across the sky.

    Many similes and metaphors seem banal and over-used.

    I started a recent book, described on the cover as 'One of the great creations of modern thriller writing.'  (Daily Mail)   The author, Philip Kerr, has won prizes and awards and has his own page in Wikipedia.  Unfortunately, his book,  March Violets wasn't for me.   I found all the characters in 1930's Berlin to be some combination of violent, cruel, ignorant or immoral.  

    What came to my notice, and began to pull me out of the story-line on a regular basis, were the metaphors and similes in number and description of a degree I hadn't read before in one book.    Here are some examples:

    "Fatso pulled the huge brown-and-black moustache that clung  to  his curling lip like a bat on a crypt wall."  (Page 66)

    "Me, comfortable?  Like a Bauhaus chair, I am."  (Page 71)

    "It was meant to get me to climb aboard her bones like a creeper onto a trellis."  (Page 73)

    "I drove home feeling like a ventriloquist's mouth ulcer."  (Page 77)

    "Tesmer pointed a face at me in which belligerence was moulded like cornice-work on a Gothic folly."(Page 83)

    You'll notice that the preceding four examples are spread over a little more than a dozen pages.   I suppose the frequency with which they occur was what made me notice.

    And again, over the course of a few pages:

    ". . . but I hoped I had said enough to put a few ripples on his pond."  (Page 87)

    ". . . was possessed of a stomach that stuck out like a cash register."  (Page 90)   "He shook me by the hand . . . It was like holding a cucumber.  (Page 90)  "It was time to stick the nettle down his trousers."  (Page 90)

    "It made me feel about as comfortable as a trout on a marble slab,"  (Page 91)

    ". . . a nine storey building . . . looked like something a long-term prisoner might have made, given an endless supply of  matches . . ."  (Page 91)

    I found these metaphors and similes so fascinating that my writer's mind overcame my reader's and I was lost to the story.   I felt the urge to look up cornice-work on a Gothic folly and try to make the connection to someone's facial expression.   Was it a gargoyle that was being described?    The comparisons were all so fascinating and unique.   Had the writer left a '*' for himself on his working manuscript to come back and insert a simile or metaphor or had each one sprung into his mind in the course of writing?

    * My references are to the book contained in the trilogy Berlin Noir 2012.

    Sunday, August 7, 2016

    How much description is too much?

    Ernest Hemmingway was a writer who got to the point.   Cliff Notes, that longstanding resource of harassed college students, described his style thus:

     Basically, his style is simple, direct, and unadorned, probably as a result of his early newspaper training. He avoids the adjective whenever possible, but because he is a master at transmitting emotion without the flowery prose of his Victorian novelist predecessors, the effect is far more telling.

    He used short sentences and a terse style to get to the point in his stories and avoided adjectives.  

    When I read a book with a lot of adjectives and adverbs it can feel like I am walking on sand or worse, deep mud.   The story seems weighed down and it seems like the author is determined that I can visualize the scene or person just in the way he or she does.   I paused at Chapter 2 of a particular, to be unnamed mystery novel, after some ceramic floor tiles were described as celadon, unfortunately a new word to me  and this fact nagged at me sufficiently that I had to put down the book and look for my laptop and   (The colour is pale green or green-gray, by the way)  I thought I had mastered the colour wheel when I familiarized myself with puce, chartreuse  and cerulean.  

    The heroine had copper coloured hair and wore an aqua camisole and nude pumps, the second character  silky golden hair, navy slacks and  a gray linen blazer,  a third, mink brown hair and green eyes.   Then there was the aquaintance with doe-like brown eyes . . .

    What is your preference?   Lots of details and adjectives or do you create the character's appearance in your own mind?