Monthly Archives: May 2012

Don’t Think I’ll Plant a Garden This Year

I sat at my kitchen table peering blankly through the bay window as I had done countless mornings before. I yawned and took a sip of hot tea. “Mmm,” I said. Just the way I like it, Sweet with lots of lemon.I continued to drink attempting to chase the fog from my head compliments of the previous night’s sleep.

Basil sprout at an early stage

Basil sprout at an early stage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I neared the end of my tea, I yawned one final time and then noticed something on my deck I hadn’t seen before, a strange pair of eyes staring at me. Its features were subtle, almost lucid and seemed to be pressed into its vibrant green, irregularly shaped paper-thin head.

I could see that its face, along with its now appearing spindly form, was caged but I could sense not of its own volition. It bore no animosity toward me for its imprisonment as far as I could tell but that could always change as I would soon find out.

The creature’s torso and limbs were a deep green, vine-like, with four slender fingers, each hand devoid of thumbs. There were no feet to speak of, the ends of the legs simply curling upward forming a spiral.

It wrapped both hands around its right leg and pulled. The extremity popped loose as if it had been rooted in some fashion. Repeating the process with the left leg, it easily slipped through bars that were proportionally useless in comparison being spread much too wide to contain the small being.

It began to make its way toward the window dragging its legs as if injured. With each step the small green creature became stronger. When it reached the window, it easily pulled itself up onto the window sill and peered inside.

Extending a single digit with a small green fingernail it first tapped the window and then, grinning widely, dug the nail deep into the glass. A sound similar to that of nails on a chalk board, only more unnerving, emanated from the ever-growing gouge.

The now dubbed, “Cutter,” extracted his finger and examined it carefully. Turning its attention toward me it let out a guttural cackle, furrowed the ridges above his eyes, which I took to be eyebrows, and began to furiously claw into the glass with all eight fingers.

Within seconds he was through the first pane of the double glazed sash and digging into the next. Shards of glass began to drop, bouncing off the kitchen floor as the Cutter pushed one arm into the room.

As the second-hand followed the first, a black blur slammed into the glass landing on the Cutter and snatching him away before he could wriggle through the opening he had created only moments before.

The crow pushed away and began to rise. Just as he cleared the railing, one of its legs fell from its body, trailing a small stream of blood. Then without warning, the crow disappeared in an explosion of black and crimson.

Out of the deluge, a small green figure floated slowly down, landing in the back yard. I could see the grass rustle as the Cutter made his way back to the house. It hopped onto the deck railing then down to the deck. It laughed maniacally as it slowly walked, stopping to observe the small pieces of glass still trickling from the open gash.

It pulled its body through, climbed onto the kitchen table, pausing for a split second and then lunged for my head.

I jerked back in anticipation of the strike, rousing myself from my daydream, or daymare, if there is such a word. I looked at the window and seeing there was no hole, I turned my attention to the terracotta pot on the back deck.

In the pot a basilplant, surrounded by a vegetable

cage used to support it as it grew, displayed a leaf that appeared to have a face imbedded on its surface. It seemed to smile as it swayed softly in the light breeze.

Wow! Just goes to show that a story can grow-up anywhere and at any time.

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Simply Shocking

An artistic rendition of the kite experiment b...

An artistic rendition of the kite experiment by Benjamin West. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Electrical fluid.”What is it?” you ask.  “I haven’t a clue,” would be my reply. What I do know is that was the term used for electricity in Ben Franklin’s day. Now we know that Ben was a remarkable man. We know he wanted to prove that lightning was, in fact, electricity. We know that he published an article stating that a kite could be flown into a storm to prove this theory. Again we know (boy, we sure do know a lot) that supposedly June 15, 1752 is the date he performed the experiment. (More on this later).

Let’s examine “electrical fluid.” As I stated earlier, I’m not sure why the idiom, “electrical fluid,” was used instead of just using the word electricity.  But what I am sure of (this time it’s just me that knows something) we can apply this phrase to a style of writing that is, in my opinion, what most writers would prefer to write and majority of readers would prefer to read.  If you deconstruct the phrase “electrical fluid”, the word “electrical” would lend itself to writing that was exciting, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat wanting more .

The word “fluid” speaks for itself as it implies a writing style that flows and is easily read.  When putting the two words together you have (again, in my opinion) a work in its most pristine form, one that would generate interest no matter what genre you normally read.

Now, we’ll continue where we left off in the first paragraph.  Just to make you aware, “we know,” will once again  figure prominently in this paragraph.  We know (see, I told you so) that fifteen years after Franklin’s experiment, he was given credit in a published article .  We also know, that in the months following the experiment, a number of individuals were electrocuted attempting to duplicate Franklin’s results.

Finally, something we don’t know. Did Franklin actually perform the kite flying experiment?  Like I said, we don’t really know and if he did we don’t know exactly how he did it because he knew electrocution was always a possibility.

So in conclusion, what can we glean from this post?  We know, what we know. We don’t know, what we don’t know;  and most importantly, come in out of the rain.

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On and Off

Consider the light bulb. It’s smooth and round. Screws in and out easily. Operates with the flick of a switch and most importantly illuminates the darkness, saving us from all manner of evil nasties (things that go bump in the night) and worst of all, the dreaded boogie man. If you look back a few hundred years, people were eating and reading by the light emanating from wood fires, candles, oil lamps, fire flies, bio-luminescent moss and anything else that would create an absence of darkness.

Until that magical day in eighteen seventy-nine when Thomas Edison flipped a switch and …(insert car screeching to a halt effect here) …hold the phones… (I can say that since the telephone pre-dated the light bulb by three years)… You mean to tell me that we’ve been duped into believing Edison invented the light bulb for all these years and it was really Humphrey Davy in eighteen hundred six? I guess I’ll have to retract the “Hold the phones” comment. Sorry, Alexander, I honestly didn’t know that the light bulb had you by seventy years.

Coincidentally, this scenario mirrors the technique some authors employ when plying their trade. You’re in the middle of this exceptional novel, in tune with the storyline, the characters, and even the scenery and settings; in your mind, you have it all figured out–you know exactly where the author is going. As you near the ending, you’re rounding third and heading for home. With just a few pages left, you begin your slide and tag home plate. As you begin the last page, you realize that the author is out in left-center field. He has managed to throw you a curve that “The Babe” himself couldn’t hit. This is the moment when that exceptional novel turns into a great novel.

The next time you’re at a baseball game and you want to make a call, all you need to remember is that Dr. Martin Cooper invented the device we have all come to depend on: the cell phone. What does this have to do with light bulbs and landlines? Absolutely nothing. So grab a candle, tie a string between two tin-cans, and take the cheap way out.

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Portable Power

Remember that single great Christmas present, the one you’d been hoping for all year? You rip through the paper and there it is. Imagining the hours of endless fun, you carefully begin to open the box and then it slams home like a ton of bricks. The three words that bring terror to the hearts of kids everywhere. Batteries not included.

Batteries have been around for quite a long time, in fact, possibly as long as two thousand years. A clay pot with an asphalt plug which had a copper cylinder and an iron bar inserted through the plug hanging into the pot, when vinegar or another acidic liquid was added, the device would produce 1.1 volts of electricity. It was dubbed the “Baghdad battery” since it was found in Iraq in the nineteen thirties and the best scientific speculation as to what it was…you guessed it…a battery.

I wonder if the Mesopotamian children woke up Christmas morning (remember Christmas was brand new because Jesus had just been born) tore into their papyrus-wrapped gifts and dejectedly wondered where their clay pots were to power their toy pyramids?

The first true electrochemical cell was invented in 1800. It is now one of the most useful and yet frustrating objects we employ, by necessity, day after day. When we need a size D, all we can find are size C’s. When we want a AAA, AA’s roll out of the cabinet by the gross. When we need a 9-volt, if there were such things as 8 and 10-volt batteries, they would be falling from the sky, denting our cars, which use 12-volt batteries.

One interesting characteristic is that batteries produce DC, or direct current, which means it moves in one direction. If you apply this same principle to the written word, it becomes kind of boring, don’t you think? As you read, you should be able to enter the story in a symbiotic give and take relationship.

Uh oh. The power just went out. Good thing I have a battery back up…Hmm irony. No time to stop and ponder, gotta shut down before the battery dies. Oh great, my flash light is dead. Oh well, it can’t last forev……

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Don’t Tell Me. I’ll Find out for Myself!

Throughout history coded messages have been used to transfer information. While keeping the enemy in the dark, even when they were able to intercept the correspondence, plans and other intelligence could be shared without fear of vital information falling into the wrong hands.

The ancient Romans would shave the carrier’s head, tattoo the message on the scalp, and when the hair grew back send him on his way. It kinda hurts to think about this method simply because there’s a fine line between genius and…well…not the sharpest sword in the scabbard, although to be fair I’m sure it had its place.

Skipping ahead several thousand years to World War l, we see the use of “Code Talkers.” A company of Choctaw Indians would verbally transmit messages in their native tongue confusing the enemy and giving way to their World War ll counter parts, the Navajo. With their unwritten and intricate language, they were more widely used and their encoded communications were never broken. The Comanche‘s unwritten language was also used in this manner.

World War ll also saw the enigma machine come into play. This device resembled a typewriter on steroids. The machine was developed in the nineteen twenties to guard corporate secrets and became the Nazi choice to send coded messages. It was both electrical and mechanical in operation and nearly impossible to decode. The Nazi’s were enacting heavy tolls on allied supply ships with U-boat strikes using the enigma to voice enemy positions and arrange convoys to attack them.

The British countered with an ingenuous machine nick named “the Bomb.”  It was constructed with miles of wire and over ninety thousand intricate moving parts. Now here’s where I applaud the very face of arrogance. The Nazi’s thought their code was unbreakable and had no idea that the British were decoding their messages to the tune of three thousand a day. This shortened the war by two years. Now that’s what I call, “Da Bomb!”

I know it’s a stretch but at least it’s in the same vein. Have you ever read a book that seemed to be written in code? You know, a glut of big intelligent sounding words thrown together that creates a weak story line and made little sense. I’ve had the dubious honor of writing such stories and didn’t realized it until I sat back and tried to read what I had written. I know for a fact that books like this have been published. Oh well, with eight hundred new titles coming out each day you have to expect a dud or two.

To wrap up this post, the thing that really chaps my butt is the fact that I do my Christmas shopping early and now, since the Mayans, six thousand years ago, let us know that on December 21, 2012, “the jig is up,” I’m feeling a bit despondent. I realize it’s not really a code but a brilliant prediction written into a brilliant calendar by an obviously brilliant prediction-making calendar-writing guy.

Ya know, the more I think about it, maybe we could make this a reverse leap, leap, leap, leap, leap year. That way Christmas would come five days earlier…I don’t know…could work.

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To Burn or Not to Burn?

I’m a reformed smoker but in no way am I a nicotine Nazi. I know how hard it is to quit and I know how enjoyable it is to inhale the toxic fumes. While I don’t want to share a phone booth with someone who’s smoking, I’ve always been of the opinion that “if ya got’em burn’em.” Actually, I don’t want to share a phone booth with anyone, smoking or not. By the same token…or maybe a different token would be more appropriate,  when I used to drink I’d tell people I would never go to AA, and I quote “cause I ain’t no quitter.”

I penned a short story that somewhat parallels the first part of this paradox. Just like quitting smoking, the protagonist had to endure several tasks that he did not want to do. (It took me quite a few tries before I succeeded so don’t give up.)  In the end, he actually had to take a life to prevent that life from being taken in a much more gruesome manner….how ironic to have to choose such a thing as to end a human life in a more humane way.

Holding firmly to the cigarettes and the premise of irony,  I’ll do an about-face and mention having visited many cities in the forty-eight continuous states, each one with its own idiosyncrasies.   We now travel to the Midwest…. I like this particular city, the food, and the people being very friendly. The convention center has a large covered area in front as a courtesy to guests so that they may enter the building unscathed during periods of  inclement weather.

Now of course this space was designated non-smoking which was meant to promote a healthier environment but considering the lines of buses emanating diesel fuel, breathing cigarette smoke would have been preferable to the glut of hydrocarbons floating under that enclosure. Like I mentioned earlier, all cities have them. My city of origin built an eight hundred thousand square foot convention center and neglected the lack of hotels to house attendees.  It gives us something to talk about and a chance to laugh at ourselves which tends to come rather easy for me.

And now for the second part of the paradox…I got nuthin. I know I said I was no quitter and that I’d never attend AA. I haven’t written anything that remotely follows along those lines. I did quit drinking which blows the paradox theme out of the water. It is true that I didn’t  attend AA. So now that you’ve found me to be a fib wielding scoundrel it would serve me right if you were to stop reading this post right now!


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Who are “They”? And What Makes Them an Authority on Everything?

The Thinker by Auguste Rodin Bronze

The Thinker by Auguste Rodin Bronze (Photo credit: mharrsch)

How many times have you heard growing up and even today, “they say?”  It doesn’t matter who you’re talking to, what you’re talking about, or why you even decided to have a conversation, there’s always room for, “they say.”

Now I’ve used this very same concept as much as anyone else, in fact maybe more so, but that still brings me no closer to knowing exactly who “they” are.  Have you ever tried to visually conceive in your mind’s eye what these mysterious characters must look like or if they even exist?  …wait just a dog gone minute. How can I think such a thing?  “They” must exist for how could a single word uttered at one time or another by every human on the planet, past and present, not dwell somewhere in this vast universe?

I sometimes wonder if “they” are a group of crabby old men who’s sole purpose is to confuse people such as myself who have nothing better to do than to baffle the human race by adding the term “they” into our lives.  Or could they be a panel of wise aliens sitting around a futuristic semicircle clothed in shrouds of mystery engaging our thought processes to a higher level?  Actually the more I think about it, the more I’m inclined to believe that, “they,” is nothing more than the easiest word to use when describing a collective opinion.

As far as being able to link this subject in some way with the art of writing, I will spare you an attempt to create some brilliant metaphor and say the best way to blend the two together is to say that what you have read, has been written.

At least I think that’s what “they” would say.

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Complex Simplicity

My first car  (a nineteen sixty-eight GT Torino) was equipped with a state of the art AM radio. No stereo back then just good ole mono soundcomplete with static, fading in and out, and interference with anything taller than a greyhound…the dog; not the bus. The sound quality mimicked a cat being skinned in a concrete culvert but we were used to it and sang along to our favorite songs as if we had good sense.

Animated diagram representing the difference b...

Animated diagram representing the difference between radio waves modulated by amplitude and by frequency. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now here’s my question and I’m actually asking myself because I know if there’s blame to be placed it belongs in my corner. If FM has been around since the nineteen thirties why was I riding around with a squawk box in my dash instead of a nice stereo to wile away the hours cruising the asphalt? As near as I can deduce (and you don’t have to go very far) is that most teenagers can barely afford gas much less a sound system other than what came stock in their first used vehicle.

As a writer I can relate the mechanics of writing to the operational aspect of the AM and FM radio frequencies.  Even though FM produces a better sound, my writing style will fit more within the parameters of the AM frequency.

When I begin a book I use no outline; nothing but a vague idea and I begin to write. I let the story write itself sending it on its way and allowing it to return, monitoring the specifics before setting it free again. AM works much in the same. The signal leaves the transmitter, bounces off the ionosphere, and then returns to earth and repeats the sequence.  There is also a wave that travels along the ground. Metaphorically speaking the ground wave is me keeping an eye over the whole process.

On the other hand, FM operates differently. Once it leaves the transmitting tower it travels in a straight line eventually leaving the Earth and moving into outer space–not a place I would particularly want to find myself.

Sometimes a first impression can be misleading, as in the case of the superior sound of “frequency modulated” (FM), when the larger picture can actually be seen clearer through an, at first, perceived inferior format such as “amplitude modulation” (AM).

Sometimes simple is best…go figure….

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Time After Time

Cover of "The War of the Worlds (Barnes &...

Cover via Amazon

Remember the days when all time pieces had faces with hands that moved in a circular motion (usually clockwise)? …Do you get as big a kick out of me as I get out of me? Probably not. And please know that was a rhetorical question. Then came the black squares with white numbers that flipped over (made famous in the movie Groundhog Day) as the time changed. If you listen closely early morning February 2, you can just hear Sonny tell Cher and visa versa “I got you babe.”  Today most of us incorporate the red LED clocks in our bedrooms, bathrooms, spare guest rooms,and home offices throughout the house.

The classic round tick tock is usually reserved for places of gathering and honor–the kitchen, living room, dining area–where they can be seen by friends and assorted house guests. True, they normally run on battery power but have the uncanny ability to accurately keep time and not flash twelve o’clock each time the power blinks. How do they know?

Watches on the other hand, aside from a brief digital period have for the most part remained relativity unchanged…which is a good thing. Imagine having the disc on your wrist flashing red every time there’s a power outage.

These different time pieces and ones I haven’t mentioned all have their place. Even though some are visually obsolete, they are still relevant time-keeping instruments. In the same vein of thought, there are some great new works of literature on the book shelves and some have even made it to the silver screen. By the same token the classics are alive and well. To prove my point using one example of many, H. G. WellsWar of the Worlds” (a novel past the century mark) was recently made into a movie for the second time.

There are many more examples too numerous to mention but isn’t it nice to know that in this world of built-in obsolescence that some things are timeless? Now if my watch would only flash red, maybe I could find it.

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