Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Can Anyone Write?

Matt Kirby had a friend ask him recently his opinion about being born to write. The friend, it appears, took the position that writers are born to write and that they know it early-on, and, if they take it up, they are good at it, but people who are not born to write shouldn't take it up, especially later in life. Something like that, anyway.

On his blog, Matt embedded a picture of what looked like a gigantic human skeleton being worked on by a couple of archaeologists who appeared to be about one-third the size of the skeleton's head. Matt observed that the compelling picture required anyone looking at it to try and figure out what was happening with it. He suggested that any onlooker would create his or her own internal story about the picture. He went on to say that every person tries to make sense of their experience in life and, in doing so, is a writer or a storyteller. However, in one of the comments to his blog entry, he suggested that there are people who can write and those who can't. And it all boiled down to the will of the person who wants to write.

I agree with Matt. We can all write; it is a matter of having the will to do so.

Like almost everyone, I suppose growing up I thought I could write reasonably well, and if need be, I could produce novels on par with most other people out there producing novels, for example, John Grisham. I always thought I could produce something on par with what John Grisham writes, because reading Grisham's novels is so effortless and, therefore, it seemed like his type of writing must be somewhat effortless, too. All it would take for me to do it was effort. I have learned what an understatement that is. If you don't take up writing early-on in your lifetime you give up opportunities for experience and improvement.

In high school and college, I received kudos from some of my English teachers, especially in creative writing. So I always believed from an early age that I had a propensity for words and wordplay. And, to some degree, for storytelling. However, I didn't take up the practice of writing or do anything substantial with the innate ability that I had demonstrated to the apparent delight of a couple of teachers. I never was much of a diarist, and I never really routinely kept any sort of journal, or the like. There were periods of time when I tried, and, if you look on my computer, you'll find scattered attempts at keeping a journal, but it was nothing ever consistent.

What finally got me going was an event that happened in the life of another individual I knew. This particular individual worked in an electronics store that specialized in photography. I knew him from my college fraternity. Additionally, he ended up marrying my wife's cousin. We had visited him and his wife over the years when they invited us to come and look at their latest slides and photographs of important events in their lives, primarily their vacations. They had had a couple of kids the last time we had visited them, and they had another one, as I recall, sometime after that. So they had three kids.

Invariably, as my wife and I shopped for Christmas, we would stop by the electronics store to see this fellow, to talk to him, and to figure out if we want to buy anything from the store. Mostly though, we were stopping by just to say hi and to catch up on the news of him and his family. One Christmas, this guy told us that his wife, my wife's cousin, was leaving him for a polygamist, one he thought was not only a polygamist but was also running a scam. It was just so inconceivable that his wife would leave him. It caused me mental duress and caused me to begin writing the story that has become a novel, Time for All Eternity.

I was an old man by the time I started writing the novel. I am still older man now. I missed a good forty or fifty years of experience by not writing earlier. But the thing that got me going was something compelling, like that picture on Matt's blog of a gigantic skeleton, real or imagined. Something that compels and challenges your mind and imagination.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Updike’s Rabbit, Run

I like the protagonists in the novels I read to be well-grounded at some point in the story. If the protagonist in a particular novel is not grounded, I expect some major character in the work to be grounded

What do I mean by being well-grounded? I mean that the protagonist or some other major character in the story line can make sense out his or her existence at some point in time. I'm not big on pervasive existentialism; I don't think the world is meaningless or absurd, even though it can seem that way. Therefore, I reject that disorientation and confusion arise because the world is meaningless or absurd. I don't deny that people can believe it is, but my experience in life is that even if somebody believes it is meaningless and absurd, in that person's life there are enough people who discount that notion and live their lives otherwise who need to be accounted for in a work of fiction.

For me, Rabbit, Run fails that test. I didn't find a single redeeming major character in the book that can make sense out of his or her existence at some point in time. First, we have Harry "Rabbit "Angstrom, the twenty-six-year-old former high school basketball star, who now demonstrates kitchen gadgets for the Magipeel Peeler Company. During the entire story, Rabbit is never once grounded. All his longing is for the past, for his stardom as a basketball player, or for some immediate temporal gratification in the present. Rabbit's pregnant wife, Janice, mother of their son, Nelson, likewise has no moment that makes sense to her in the overall scheme of things. Marty Tothero, Rabbit's former high school basketball coach, is as profligate as they come. The same is true of Ruth Leonard, the prostitute. And over against her, is the Rev. Jack Eccles, the young Episcopal minister who would "heal" Rabbit, but in the end is as confused as anybody else in the novel.

The only character with any real potential was little Harry. And look what John Updike did to him.

There's no question of Updike's ability for intelligence. Only of his heart.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Thirty-one years ago on this date I turned thirty. That evening, although it was my birthday, I must have left Shelley and Amy at home and gone to a priesthood meeting at the church in Twin Falls, Idaho. I was so faithful then. I suppose I was a little more hopeful and a little less jaded. Or perhaps, I was more naïve than. In any event, I was surprised to hear an announcement from the pulpit that day. It was an announcement confirming that what I had been praying for had happened. The LDS church was extending its priesthood to black men.

I can't remember where I stood on feminism or on homosexuality back then. I know I was for the ERA --- the equal rights amendment. However, those issues weren't as ever present as they seem to be now in our culture back then. Racism and the black issue had been in the media for years during the civil rights era and whatnot. Civil society had, to a very substantial degree, come around, and great progress had been made. It almost seemed that the time for the LDS church being shamed into the change had come and gone. But, according to the news that night, a revelation had been received, and a change was being made. Hallelujah!

It was a nice conclusion to a lovely thirtieth birthday. The next year, again on my birthday, we received a telephone call from LDS social services that they had a new baby for us. So, on that birthday, we drove to Boise and got a new baby boy. His birthday was May 30, 1979. My oldest son. Hallelujah!

For many years since then, I have been praying that the priesthood would be extended to women. And now in more recent times, I pray for same-sex marriages for all who desire them. It is not unrealistic to hope justice is done and to have faith that changes can be made. It doesn't even have to be on my birthday.

Saturday, June 6, 2009



Adaptation is a characteristic of existence. I recognize it in my own life and actions. I read an article about fighting malaria. Mankind has known how to prevent and treat malaria for a long time. Over time, scientists have developed a large contingency of means to combat it. The pesky little parasite, the mosquito, has evolved, however, adapting to overcome whatever adversary we throw at it, and it keeps on adapting. No wonder they call it a pest.

One of the things adaptation does is to cause other things to adapt too. It is all interconnected. Because the mosquito carries malaria and it makes a man sick, mankind decided it needed to figure out how to combat it. As the mosquito adapts to whatever man figures out,

We need each other. There is no need not to give feedback, even if some people deride it. Feedback and push back permits adaptation and adaptation in false progress.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Contemplating My Wealth

What I think I want always seems to exceed what I truly need, or for that matter, what I really want. I have purchased so many things that I used for something to begin with but then ignored. In fact, some things I purchased, I never used at all, even though I had every intention of doing so. A case in point is the perfect binding machine I purchased, intending to publish my tax book with it. By the time I got around to ordering it and receiving it through shipment, I had found a better alternative for publishing my book. So my investment of almost $1,000 was all for naught.

Not only do I acquire and want things above and beyond what I will actually use, for some products that I have and do use, I am unsatisfied with what they do or how they perform. So I am always looking for improvements that may not be even possible yet. My Kindle is an example of that. When I purchased my first model, I wished that it would accommodate, for example, PDF files. Of course it didn't, but it's advantages outweighed its disadvantages and so I purchased it, hoping sometime in the future they would modify it to accommodate PDF files. Instead, what they did was to produce a new model that accommodates PDF files without making the existing models accommodate them.

Means for satisfying wants are scarce. Gathering up resources --- the ingredients for goods and services --- only comes about slowly, as do advances in technology.

What would it mean to live a life of scarcity? A life where I didn't have the basic needs I needed? How can I even imagine it? And how does it relate to those within my circle, the people I know, the people I care about? Really, who do I know who doesn't have enough to meet their basic needs? Now, it might be true that individuals I know don't provide for their own necessities, because they rely on somebody else to provide them for them. Nonetheless, their needs, their basic needs of shelter, food, and clothing are met by somebody. But it is true that in the world there R. many whose basic needs are not being met and who are therefore dying because of it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Can't Get Enough of That Stuff

What we want and what we desire ends up creating a marketplace. If I want chicken and salad for supper --- and every day I do want supper, whether it's a chicken salad or not --- I go to the market and buy chicken and salad. In fact, every day I do need supper or at least every day I need something to eat, whether you call it supper or not. Either I go get it from somebody else or I have a larder full of it, a garden and a chicken run. Something like that, something that fulfills my wants and needs. In any event what I desire, whether it's a need or a want, ends up creating some kind of economic activity. Now, on the other side of the equation is somebody who provides what I want or need. Somebody who raises chickens, somebody who raises the stuff you make salad with. They want something too. I don't know what it is, but it's something. So they provide what they think others will, like chickens and salad stuff, while on my side, in some sense or the other, I must do the same thing: provide something somebody wants.

In the academic world, they say that what people want is unlimited; no one can satisfy it. Once our basic needs are met, we want something else above and beyond food, housing, clothing or whatever our basic needs are. We're a competitive lot, and we look around and see others enjoying something that might make our life more pleasant, so we want it too. Right now I have on order a Kindle DX. I had a Kindle I, bought Shelley a Kindle II for her birthday because she needed it, and then I saw Kindle DX and wanted it. Therefore I ordered it. My appetite for things is insatiable. We always want more than we need.

Earlier this year, my wife's father died. He and his already-deceased wife had created a family trust and of course had wills in place. My wife ended up as the trustee of the family trust and is the individual responsible for carrying out what their will said should happen with what was within the family trust. Part of the process involved taking inventory and disposing of all of the assets of the estate. The reason I mention this is because it was a testament of the notion that our appetites are insatiable. Her parents were inclined, like I assume many are, to keep almost everything that they didn't fully consume and more. They kept detailed financial records, food stores, old jars, broken furniture. My mother-in-law had been a quilter. As such she had accumulated the stuff of quilting, including bat after bat of material, spool after spool thread, needles, pins, batting, quilting frames, etc. Her father kept every old piece of equipment or electronic gear they ever owned. Not only all that, but my wife had such an attachment that she of necessity had to go carefully through everything and make sure everything she wanted or someone else might want was preserved to satisfy that insatiable appetite.