Saturday, October 29, 2011

We're Spinning

Is this book stellar? Cosmic? Heavenly? Is that too cliché of a characterization?

Well, yes and no, I guess. It depends on how literally you take it. At least in my mind, this work probably deserves something like a 3.5 or a 4 rating. I definitely found it a better read than 3.0 or below.

I am certainly no historian, scientist, or astrologer, and those who are, or who pretend to be, seem to have given their ample, comprehensive, and fairly convincing reviews so far relative to this work based upon perspectives and expertise. I defer to them on such matters. I also submit to them relative to their recounting the structure of the book and summaries of its contents. I can do no better than they have.

So now I will just throw in my two cents as a common reader, certainly underqualified as anything more, who picked this book up because I enjoy the interplay of the roles of the church (or theology), the government, and the discovery of knowledge, both in the past and in the present. Most people generally realize that Copernicus played a significant part pertaining to the historical tensions between theology and the church, government, and accepted knowledge as his discoveries rolled forth and spilled the glass of wine. His discoveries changed perceptions and minds. But it did so only after it caused great pain and hardship and grief. Probably much soul-searching. This book, of course catalogs some of those problems that had to be endured or worked around --- celibacy, the deference to interpretations of others regarding history and scripture, legitimate applications gazing at the heavens could have --- that eventually led to changes in apprehension. It does so with historical documentation and narrative, but also with insightful nuance through fiction. No matter how complete a historical record is, we are never able to fully comprehend the past, even our own lived ones. One of Ursula Le Guin's fictional characters described truth as a matter of the imagination. As it pertains to comprehension, truth is a matter of the imagination. You cannot divorce yourself from its effect. I think probably Sobel realizes as much, and I personally delighted in the play that was inserted between the dense, although very interesting, prose sections.

Religion has played a role throughout my life and in my society, especially in the locality where I lived most of my life (Utah). It continues to do so. No less so have my church, my government, and the increasing knowledge in my environment had significant impacts upon me. I suppose that's probably true, to some degree or another, of everyone. The tension between discoveries of knowledge, science, and mind over against the sway of theology, religion, and worship --- the mystical, if you will --- intrigues me. Faith versus knowledge. Obedience versus discovery. I read Sobel's previous works, LONGITUDE, and GALILEO, and, from reading the latter, was fairly certain A MORE PERFECT HEAVEN about Copernicus would be insightful. And I was not disappointed.

If you are intrigued by the interplay of church, government, and knowledge, as I am, you surely will benefit in reading this book.

Friday, October 28, 2011

He Still Doesn't Cooperate

"But I didn't drop him," Papa says when everybody stops giggling.

They all laugh again.

I don't think Papa would've dropped me. I trust him.

"So you were there, too, Mr. Romero?" Sedge asks.

"Oh, yeah, I was there," Juan says. "It's good, too. Who can say what would've happened if I hadn't been. After all, Emilio dropped the baby."

People who get immigrants across the southern U.S. border are called coyotes. Juan had kind of been an unofficial one for my parents, helping to lead them across. He had experience crossing the desert and was a lot cheaper and safer than trusting a real one.

"He was mostly ordering us around," Papa says.

"Telling them where to go," Juan says.

"No kidding," Papa says.

"So you didn't get lost. I was trying to hustle my sobrina along, hoping she'd make it to civilization before Alejandro came out."

"But they didn't make it?" Sedgwick asks. "Alejandro was really born in the desert?

"Uh-huh," Juan says.

"Oh, that's so sweet," Sedge says.

Not so sweet though. They always told me it was on the wrong side.

"I carried him across that desert," Papa says, "past the saguaro and prickly pear cactuses, keeping him away from king snakes and cottontail rabbits, all the way in a sling. He was naked against my chest, without a diaper. There was nothing to catch his pee."

"Or poop," Juan says. "I had to keep telling Emilio where to turn, urging him not to stop, and reminding him of creepy crawlers: poisonous scorpions and rattlesnakes, sidewinders and centipedes, Gila monsters and tarantulas."

"I don’t remember," I say.

"It wasn't fun," Mama says. "No doctor or midwife. Only Emilio and Tio Juan. It's lucky you even survived, Aljehandro."

They usually don't tell about being nervous about la migra—the Border Patrol. Not to people like Sedge, anyway.

"At least Alejandro was pequeño when he came out," Juan says. "But he sure didn't stay little."

"He came out early," Mama says, "that's why he was so small."

"He was a niño when you wanted a niña," Juan says. "And right off he didn't cooperate."

My grandparents and parents agree, nodding. Mama had wanted a girl. She still does.

And of course they had wanted an American. A girl and a citizen, that's what they had wished for.

"He still doesn't cooperate," Sedge says. "I wanted him to do my Spanish homework, and he wouldn't."

Everybody laughs still again.

"I just wouldn't help you do something wrong," I say. "Besides, you need practice."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Alejandro the Great

  I play only pickup games with neighborhood kids here at the small park in East Clayton, near my house. I've got a reputation for being rock-hard and fast, two traits most people don't put together in soccer players. Nobody can catch me, and nobody I've played with comes close to being as bulky strong.
Fink comes at me again, fuming. It yet again ends badly for him, and he whines. "You're a freaking wetback, Alejandro, I know you are. Someday they'll come and arrest you and send you back to beanerland. You stupid illegal."

I don't say or do anything. My best friend, Sedgwick Benson, comes over to Fink, and I jog off, continuing to follow the game's action. "Knock it off, Keith," I hear Sedge say. "You know he's a mini version of The Hulk. Pull your panties out of your butt and let's play."

"He's a freakin' fire hydrant," Fink says, "and one dog too many's peed on him. He smells like piss."

Later, heading home, I ask Sedge over for supper. Earlier Mama had said it was okay to invite him; it's not something I've ever done before. My family trusts Sedge and his mother too, like they do Maggie's family, even if they're citizens and Mormons. Mrs. Benson --- her name's Ivy --- and Sedge's sister, Tonia, are going to some church dinner just for mothers and daughters. Sedge's father is dead; he died in Iraq a couple of years ago. He was a soldier.

If I don't invite Sedge, he'll be home alone eating something microwaved instead of Mama's home cooking.

Sedge knows we lay low. I'll ask him what he thinks it means to be an American.


"Alejandro was born in the desert," Mama tells Sedge, "in November 1995."

In the Mexican desert, I've always been told. Nobody's told Sedge about it before. I know I haven't, but I think he assumes it. Mama doesn't say now that I came out a few yards south of the U.S. border, but that's what I've always been told. My family wishes I'd been born in the U.S.

"So he was born in a desert and not in a hospital?" Sedge asks. "You're kidding, right?"

"No, it was a desert," I say. "Papa saved me. I would've dropped straight out of Mama's belly onto hot sand and cooked weeds, but Papa caught me. Papa's got good hands."

"That's right," Papa says. "I caught him."

“You dropped him on a cactus,” Juan says. Juan's mama's uncle, Grandma Augustina's brother.

We all laugh. Juan always says this whenever the story comes up, usually around the family or other undocumenteds we trust. It's Sunday, so my family is all here: my parents, Emelio and Mariana; my grandparents, Carlos and Augustina; my uncle Juan, grandma's brother; and me. And of course Sedge.

“It’s how your hijo got that scar on his caboose,” Juan says.

It's a legend ---that scar --- a family one. Part of it, at least, is a myth. I do have a big mark that looks like a scar en mi trasero. Whether it's a scar or birthmark is anybody's guess. It’s where it’s hard to show anybody: on my right cheek, near the crack. The only place anyone could ever see it these days is in the shower, after gym class; I doubt anyone would be looking. It's not as cool as a lightening scar on your forehead.

"Harry Potter's got nothing on me but location," I say. I always do say this when the story comes up. It gets a few laughs.

"Butt location, B U T T," Sedge says.

Everybody laughs again.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Sonoran Desert --- Still No Daffodils, 2009

  I don't see Keith Fink coming because I'm looking the other way and thinking about a writing assignment for Mrs. Moll: what-it-means-to-be-an-American. So Fink and I collide, to the max. First, I hear the air go out of him, and then I hear an oomph as he hits the ground. I try not to smile, thinking that Keith's teeth must still be jiggling. All right! I pump my fist, but I don't say anything. That's got to hurt him, although it barely fazes me. I'm solid, unlike so many other skinny and out-of-shape ninth-graders. Some kids call me the fire hydrant.
  Anytime I can play pickup soccer and take out a Fink, it's a good day. Only thing better would be if I'd taken out his dad, George Fink, co-founder of Grassroots Boots. But I'd settle right now for a good idea for that writing assignment. And it'd help to be an American.
  I pass the ball off and turn to see if Fink's still lying there. He's all pissed off like the weenie he is, squinting as if he's hurting and it's all my fault he ran into me. The red rises in his white face. Big baby. A little blood trickles out his nose. He swipes it with the back of his wrist.
  "You freakin' beaner," he says as he pushes himself up. "Idiotic spic." He faces me and spit flies from his mouth. "You're a stupid greased pig; that's what you are."
  He comes at me, but I stand my ground. I keep my mouth shut and stay cool. I have to.
  His body runs into me again, but it just bounces off. Another impressive oomph escapes from Fink. He doesn't fall this time; I'll give him that.
  I look toward the backyard of Maggie's house that borders the grassy field. Maggie's my girl, although if you asked me, I'd deny it. I'm not sure if she realizes it yet either. My family knows hers from the Cathedral, and Maggie goes to school with me. Often, she sits on her deck to watch who's playing on the field behind her house, maybe checking out the guys. I see her smiling at me now. She waves. I smile back and signal. Her family is one of a couple outside the ring of undocumented immigrants like us that my parents trust. Yeah, my family, we're what a lot of people call illegals.
  As I play, I make use of my solid body as well as I can, especially with sissy-prissies like Fink. He's used to "team play" in fancy-shmancy uniforms with referees and a coach to protect and baby him. Even in organized games, he's a wuss, shooting off his mouth when he doesn't get his way. I've watched from the sidelines lots of times. For years I've been watching him and the others. I think I know what it means to be an American; I wish I was one. If I was, maybe I'd tell him to stick it where it stinks and there's no sunlight.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole

I've not directly known cancer's grip on/in my body...yet. Maybe it will come to me --- chances are probably good; but maybe it won't. Nonetheless, like almost everybody living, it's affected me, it's affecting me. That's how I came to pick up EMBRACE, RELEASE, HEAL. There are some great reviews of it already out there, so I'm not so much intent on recounting what it contains. Reading it is probably worth your while if you have cancer or are dealing directly with someone who does.

My wife, a brave dear soul if ever there was one, presently has fourth-stage peritoneal cancer. She had a severe case of Hodgkin's disease some twenty-six years ago and overcame it, living cancer-free with relatively good health until about a year ago. She loved and appreciated the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers who helped her through those times. Now, there's this new challenge for her...for us.

Recently, my wife wrote that she had finally finished reading ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND for the very first time. Of course, she was familiar with the story from childhood books, the movies, cartoons, etc. But she had put off reading the fantasy for several decades, indicating it had always seemed too "...curiouser and curiouser!" to take on.

After being diagnosed with cancer again, and after undergoing various procedures and treatments, she decided things couldn't be much curiouser and curiouser than they were at that point in life. She indicated, however, that when she finally began reading the book, she had to constantly keep in mind that Lewis Carroll was writing dream-like scenarios. She quoted from the work:

"Alice, childish story take
And with a gentle hand
Lay it where her childhood's dreams are twind
In memory's mystic band
Like Pilgrim's wither'd wreath of flowers
Pluck'd in far-off land."

Cancer, which shows up any time in the middle of life, whether you're young or old, can be, I suppose, a lot like young Alice falling unexpectedly into Wonderland. It certainly is curiouser and curiouser, but usually not, I can only surmise, in as fun or entertaining a way as in Lewis's fantasy. It seems more like Horrorland. It certainly can be for someone like me, who is only tangentially affected by it, and seems like it can be for people I have observed closely like my wife.

So, I enjoyed reading the case studies, analyses, and personal life stories in EMBRACE, RELEASE, HEAL. Certainly, firsthand accounts tend to confirm the disorienting nature of falling down the cancer rabbit hole. I liked that Leigh Fortson recounted her own story and retold some of the stories of others, who had mostly positive experiences down the hole. I also liked the alternative approaches to the problem people recounted to cope with the problem of being down the rabbit hole, trying to get along enjoy the experience as much as possible, and trying to get out alive.

The thing I didn't like so much about Fortson's approach was its lack of balance, perhaps, I'd say it's dreamlike quality. There seemed to be throughout her book a sustained attack, although subtle, on the conventional medical establishment. It is fine to tell a tale, to go down the hole into Wonderland --- and I delight in that as much as the next person does. However, at some point you have to face life outside of Wonderland. Sure, there're greed and avarice built into the healthcare system. I acknowledge it. Greed and avarice, I'm afraid, have a foothold in just about everything. But it doesn't, in my experience, predominate within the medical field. There're good, kind, gentle practitioners, caregivers, researchers, and even people who work at and run drug companies. There are also villains, just like there are in Wonderland or in Horrorland. The author seems somewhat to suggest that medical professionals' hands are tied in pursuing viable alternatives. Maybe, to some degree, they are. But that is not always the case. There are viable studies underway.

Not every hole that people go down is wonderful. As I've mentioned, often there is horror and you don't always come out once you go in. The biggest hope is that we can dream.

Overall, I give the book kudos and appreciate the positive, life-affirming approaches.

View'>">View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Terrific! I'm Not Lying.


I'm not lying.

And I'm no chump in saying so.

Perhaps I should just leave it at that and hope you have the good sense to buy and read the book, if you haven't already.

Everyone should.

OKAY FOR NOW deserves the Newbery Award --- not a Newbery Honor, but the award, in my humble opinion.

And my opinion is humble, but it better be accurate in this case. I have to warn you, I have Christopher Swieteck waiting in the wings to do some arm-twisting.

This is a book about family --- mostly, the Swieteck family --- and community --- mostly Marysville ---, and the institutions --- like the library and Audubon's collection in it, the local deli, the dream of Broadway, the military, the nearest professional sports team, the schools, the police department --- that flesh the people who occupy them out and make them better or, in some cases, worse.

It is about the dynamics of art and sensitivity over against rationality's often heavy hand and stifling effect in ordinary life.

It is about the way things of the heart affect things of the mind and vice versa; it is about people, good and bad, beautiful and ugly, sensitive and not.

It is a love story about Doug and Lil and lost art and so so much more.

It is well fleshed out, nicely sketched, colored almost to perfection. But not overdone.

It has wings as light as feathers and it takes flight. And soars into the heavens.

Hasn't almost everyone as a child or youth been cast into a new environment, whether in a move to a new town, going off to a new school, or finding oneself with different people in a new family configuration? Then there is the resulting disorientation, the inherent fear and anxiety. This is what happens to Doug Swieteck, Gary D. Schmidt's protagonist in his latest novel. How will Doug fare? How will be affected by the new people and institutions in his life? How will they? The narrative of the story provides the answers to these questions.

Although, perhaps I shouldn't have read this book just when I did --- while my wife is suffering chronic cancer --- or the way I did --- reading it out loud, I'm so glad I did. But, I must say, it's very hard to read aloud in an emotional storm, seeing words blur on the page through a stream of fluid flowing from your eyes.

I was born a few years before the protagonist of this adventure. I loved reminiscing, visiting the past's sights and sounds and events portrayed in the story, wallowing in it, reminiscing in my own private way. After all, I have my own Lil with whom I share a love for great art and literature. And life.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Critiquing Writing

Sometimes somebody can't come to critiquing.

That can be good…and bad. It means we can utilize more time on fewer pages or that we get done earlier. It's not like we don't have other lives. On the other hand, it means that someone who may be a very able critiquer is perhaps gone. Furthermore, we get invested in the stories of others and want to see what's coming next.

This past week --- in fact, the past couple weeks --- M has not been able to come.

Not coming, however, is not entirely optional; you need a pretty good excuse for not being there. The consequences of not being there consistently eventually comprise of being replaced by somebody new. There's basically only time and space around a decent sized table for six of us. Family emergencies, personal emergencies, sickness, work conflicts, and, and since we're writers, book signings, speaking on writing, etc. are all acceptable excuses for not being there, within limits.

M is our only professionally published book writer at this time. The second book he worked on in the critiquing group got published by Scholastic. He made a three-book deal with them, as I understand it. The first of the contracted books --- the second he worked on in the group --- came out last October. The third one he worked on in the group will come out I believe in October. The first one he worked on in the group will be the basis for the third one that comes out sometime in the future, unless things changed. The last time he met with us, he indicated he had had an epiphany about a new book --- or a new book series --- and was having a hard time not diverging from what he had been working on to write it.

B is a schoolteacher by profession. She had written in excess of 200 pages in her novel that she has been presenting to us by the end of the school year, but when she got the break because of school being out for the summer, she hurried and completed her book. She is in the process of editing it and pitching it to agents. She said she has had some encouraging feedback.

C went first the other night. So she passed out her four pages to each of us, keeping four pages for herself to read from. Then she read. She's now several pages into a new novel set somewhat in the future geographically in what is now Montana. Her protagonist is a girl, about fourteen years old as I recall, who is enslaved to a master. In this particular episode, her protagonist is pretending not to be enslaved and is visiting a local official, trying to make some inroads with regard to her situation. So since C read first, M was gone, I critiqued her first. And on it went around the table: D, J, and B.

"… we're seeing this at the tail end of where you've changed a lot, so it might work after we read the hundred pages," says B to C. B goes on and, of course, has said more before this clip, explaining her take on the pages read, noting major pluses and minuses in what has been presented. And there's a conversation back and forth.

After one of us have finished a hundred pages we're entitled to request a meeting to discuss the entire hundred pages in context. So arrangements are made for the hundred pages to be distributed, for a time everyone has to fit it into their schedule to read and critique it, and a meeting date scheduled for that to take place. The discussion of the person's hundred pages then takes the place of the typical meeting .

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Critiquing Writing with B, C, D, J, & M

I do one thing on Tuesday nights.

That's right, one thing. Don't even start thinking about me eating or satisfying my visceral needs or attending to family emergencies. I said I do one thing on Tuesday nights, and I mean it. One thing. Got that?

Beginning at 6 PM, I sit together with five other people --- four women and one man --- and we critique each other's writing. We continue on in that endeavor for three solid hours, without interruptions, with no kids present, no spouses interrupting, and all cell phones off.

Well, let's be practical here; there are emergencies, but they darn well better be occasional.

The typical mode of our endeavor has us going over twenty-four pages --- four pages each.

I've wanted to blog about this endeavor for a while. So now I am, and I want to do it consistently. However, don't cross your fingers about that.

This is our methodology.

We take turns.

Whoever's turn it is begins by handing out copies of their four pages to everyone else and then reading them out loud. Their four pages consist of of whatever they choose. They determine that. For the most part, what is worked on are novels. But there are exceptions. For example, D has been working on a dialogue between the narrator (herself) of her new novel (First? She's new to the group.) and her protagonist, whose name is Rachel. She's trying to work some problems out.

Anyway, the beginner reads while the rest of us listen, taking notes, and make editing marks on the four pages which have been provided to us. After finishing the out loud reading, the reader waits while the critiquers continue making their notes and suggestions on the four manuscript pages. After everyone finishes, a discussion ensues, hopefully, in an orderly fashion. The person to the left of the reader starts, revealing their thoughts about the manuscript, positive and negative. For the most part, the others listen during this process until it's their turn. The process continues all the way around back to the reader. The reader has a chance during the process or at its end to comment, ask questions, try and get clarification. Then the next person in line reads and the process continues on, like I said for three hours. Three hours of hard work, if we do the work well.

I have written a tax book for writers, Making Expression Less Taxing, and two novels: Time for All Eternity and Alejandro the Great. I have worked on all of these books utilizing feedback I got from this process.

M, J, B, and C have all worked on various novels in this group. D is new to the group and, to my knowledge, has not completed a book-length work.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Please Look After Mom

This novel about a Korean family cut and passed through me, stabbing me, penetrating my soul.
Yeah, that's the adjective I want to use, piercing. That word describes my thoughts about PLEASE LOOK AFTER MOM by Kyung-sook Shin.

The novel's story, which recounts interactions and their resulting implications between a husband and his wife and the same with respect to a daughter and son from the same family with their beloved mother, made its way through me. It forced its way into my conscience as a son, as a husband, and as a father. I could identify with its characters and their flaws and failings in many ways, even though it was set in a foreign land with people of a different race and milieu than mine. It moved me deeply relative to its characters and story, but at the same time, it made me introspective as to my roles in similar situations in America. Also, it's foreign setting provided entertaining novelties --- for example, ancestral rites, various food dishes and historical sites, and the Full Moon Harvest --- I was unfamiliar with and interested in learning and hearing about.

However, in using "piercing" here, I realize the nature of the word has changed during the later years in my life up until now.

I'm in my sixties, and the way the word "piercing" is used today is different than it was when I was younger. The word "piercing" now has a meaning that predominates in contemporary culture that it didn't have when I was younger, one that doesn't seem nearly as poignant as that older meaning. "Piercing" now often refers to the accommodation for a decoration and/or a modification to a body, usually a person's body. It can include, for instance, tattooing and the making holes to accommodate ear and nose rings and the like. It relates, as I understand it, to body art. So when I use piercing here, I use it in the earlier sense.

I liked how Kyung-sook Shin utilized varying points of view in her depiction of characters' reactions to Mom gone missing. I also liked how the author utilized the less familiar second person in telling the Father's and daughter's stories. I also liked the subtle underlay of faith and its final manifestation in the story arc.

After reading the book, I feel it has touched me and informed me, made my life more interesting and me more introspective because it has cut and passed through me, stabbed me, and penetrated my soul perhaps in a way that younger persons may feel informed by various manifestations of body art they undergo, including piercings and tattoos.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Flip Out

FLIP is an interesting word. It means many things, of course. It can be a transitive verb — to throw or toss, to spin, or to flick; an intransitive verb — to turn over, to somersault, or to move quickly and lightly; or a noun — the act of flipping, as in a flip of the wrist, a reversal, or a mixed drink made of alcoholic beverages often with beaten eggs. It has transformed into other words, too: flip-flop, flipbook, flippant.

When I was fourteen or so, the age of the protagonist, Alex Grey, in this YA novel, the kids in my neighborhood used the word "flip" when they were frustrated. If, for example, you tried to make a layup when you were playing basketball and missed, you'd say, "Flip! I should've made that!"

Martyn Bedford chose to call his main character by the moniker, Flip. It was also chosen as the title of his book. It was a careful and calculated selection, bringing lots of inherent connotation with it. It's selection is indicative of the care with which Bedford has constructed an adventure in the lives of Alex Grey and Philip "Flip " Garamond for any willing reader to consider. Flip denotes action: being turned over or around, the dizziness of spinning, the frustration of — not a missed basket — but a missed life.

As a redheaded kid — or, as the British say, ginger-headed — with a freckled face, I identified with this story. Often, as a lad, I daydreamed about being popular, being athletic, having dark hair and skin that tanned, and being good-looking. Wished for it. "If only," I thought. Well, that's the basic premise in this book. Alex Grey plays the clarinet and likes chess. Boring. He sunburns and does relatively well in school; he doesn't get in trouble. He is not popular, there's nothing much about him to attract much attention. But all of that is, of course, backstory that unfolds after his life has flipped over and he has become Philip Garamond, a.k.a. FLIP the beautiful. If you were a coin and got flipped high into the air, turning over and over and over again before you alighted, you would be dizzy and disoriented.

So, with a new identity, also come new challenges and responsibilities for Alex, who now is Flip. For as Flip, you have to live the life of someone athletic, of someone attractive, of someone prone to trouble; you have to put up with all of the intrusions of popularity and a whole new set of people to deal with. And it makes you think. It makes you wonder. It makes you analyze.

As I finished the book, I said to myself, Flip! It's over! It wasn't a missed layup, although I'm still trying to figure out all of its meaning. Very nice job.


Monday, April 25, 2011

The Professor

By 7:10 that evening Julie was sitting at a table in Starbucks, drumming her fingers, waiting. Melissa had agreed to standby just in case. Julie had hoped Clayton would be waiting when she got there. He wasn't. So she ordered a latte and blueberry muffin and sat down. She wished she'd brought her laptop. She could've gotten something done.

Finally, the professor made an entrance. He came right up to her, like he knew her. "Hi, Julie," he said, no question in his mind it was her. "I'm Clark Clayton. Do you remember me?"

She nodded, stood and shook his hand. It felt large. He was tall, six-four or five, slender, in great shape. She liked being around someone taller than her five-eleven. He looked handsome, if old. He had an engaging smile and a gentle, yet masculine voice.

"You had a class from me. It's hard to forget your beautiful smile."

"I remember you." she said. "You're grading wasn't that complementary though. I enjoyed your class. Especially the lectures, even if sociology wasn't my tea."

"Well, speaking of tea, it looks as if you've ordered. Maybe I should get something. Will you excuse me? Can I get you anything else?"

"No, thank you," she said. "I'll wait."

Professor Clayton was a surprise. He had on a suit, a conservative one, not made of leather either. In fact, he was wearing no leather, except for a belt and some shoes. The shoes looked store-bought, the belt inconspicuous. The outfit was blue, pinstriped, expensive; he had augmented it with a nice buttoned-down white shirt and an artsy tie. He looked distinguished.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sketching It Out

Melissa had insisted that Julie meet with Professor Clayton.

Julie found her request strange and tried to probe Melissa more about its necessity. It seemed like rain out of blue sky, without any detectable cause or logical explanation. However, Melissa wouldn't give any clues or additional information. She just said Julie had to.

So, to appease Melissa, Julie agreed. What could it hurt? Julie met with strangers of all kinds in audits all the time; she didn't think meeting with the old, gone-off-the-deep-end professor would be any more challenging than meeting with some arrogant taxpayer with over-bloated claims on his business's tax return. And, besides, now she was curious about why Melissa thought it was so important.

But she saw no urgency in doing so and wanted to put it off for at least a couple of days. After all, detritus cluttered her life at every point of the compass at the present, what with work and trying to facilitate an excuse to get out of going to Atlanta, the separation from Ron and the divorce and its fallout, especially, as it related to Tommy. Furthermore, Angela was still sitting in jail without Julie having even been able to visit or help her in any way.

When it came right down to it, Julie saw no purpose in meeting with the weird, old professor. "And if I do," she said, "I want you there with me."

"That's not going to happen." Melissa was adamant. "You need a couple of minutes at least to talk one-on-one."

"Then a meeting isn't going to take place." Julie tried to be as firm.

Nonetheless, Melissa insisted and demanded that the visit be as soon as possible: that night, at the very latest.

God, Julie thought, she's a bitch. "So, am I supposed to - what? - just show up at his office?" Julie asked. "At the University? Like I'm a student or something?"

"No, that's probably not a good place to meet or strategy," Melissa said. "It'd be better someplace else."

Why? " Here, in one of these audit rooms, like this one? Him over here and me over there. Like it's an examination of his financial records? I'd be totally comfortable doing that."

"Very funny. No." Melissa pulled out her telephone and made a call. "Yeah, it's me," she said after a moment. "Is tonight okay?" A couple of seconds passed. "All right. Let's say Starbucks at 7 PM, the one at the Courtyard Marriott where I'm staying."

So it had been arranged and Julie agreed to go.

A little after 2 PM, Julie took a break from work to go get Tommy from school. It was her turn to pick him up, so she didn't anticipate any problem relative to Ron interfering. She didn't know yet what she would do tomorrow, however, when it'd be Ron's turn to pick the boy up. Julie hadn't thought that far in advance yet. By now, the divorce and injunction papers had probably been served on Ron, who therefore wouldn't be able to legally contact her. So she would have to work through Bob Cartwright to make arrangements with Ron as to how they would handle matters relative to Tommy in the interim until everything got all sorted out.

Before leaving to go get Tommy, Julie called Katie Truman, a college-age girl Julie usually counted on for babysitting. Katie was always desperate for spare change, and Julie regularly utilized her services. Katie agreed to meet Julie at Angela's, where she'd watch Tommy until Julie got off of work around five o'clock.

So after work, Julie hurried home, relieved Katie of her babysitting duties, fed Tommy and the dogs, and called the Sheriff's office to see when visiting hours at the jail were. Not until Wednesday's. Then Julie hurried off, dropping Tommy at Claudia's to play with Claudia's son, Doug, his cousin. Then she went to the appointment.

Now Julie sat at a table in Starbucks, drumming her fingers and waiting alone. Melissa had agreed to be on standby in case Julie called her and said she needed to be there. Julie had hoped that Clayton would already be there, waiting for her, but he hadn't been. So she ordered a latte and a muffin and sat down. She almost wished she had brought her laptop - after all Starbucks had Wi-Fi - so she could get something done as she waited.

Finally, the professor made an entrance. He came right up to her as if he knew her. "Hi, Julie?" he said, a question. "Clark Clayton. Do you remember me?"

She stood and shook his hand. He looked great, handsome, had an engaging smile.

"I think you had a class from me years ago, at the University. It's hard to forget that beautiful smile."

"I remember you." she said. "I enjoyed your class, the lectures, even if the subject wasn't quite my cup of tea."

"Well, speaking of cups of tea, it looks like you have ordered. Maybe I should get something, also. Will you excuse me a moment. Can I get you anything else?"

"No thank you," she said. "I'll wait right here for you."

Professor Clayton surprised Julie. He had on a suit, a conservative one, not made of leather. In fact, he wore no leather except for his belt and shoes, and the shoes looked store-bought. The suit was blue and pinstriped; it looked medium-priced, if she was guessing right, and he had augmented it with a white shirt and a dark tie. He looked distinguished.

When he returned and sat down, he said, "Well, sociology as a course of intense study isn't for everybody."

"Yeah, I know." Damn if he didn't look like a lawyer scheduled to appear before the Supreme Court.

He sniffed and then slurped at his drink and complimented it. "It's not often I get my coffee done up so dignified."

Julie laughed. She'd never seen Clayton dressed like he was. Especially, lately when she'd caught glances of him around town. Once, not long ago, she'd seen him on the news. He'd even looked his mountain-man self there, and she wondered why he hadn't worn something to lend more authority to what he was saying to the journalist. He had, according to the newscast, invited a group of neo-Nazis to speak to one of his sociology sections. It turned out a media event. All of the local stations carried the story, including an interview with the professor.

"So, what did you study at the University?"

"I got my degree in accounting," Julie said. "I'm a CPA. I work as a revenue agent with the Internal Revenue Service."

"That's quite different from sociology. However, I bet it requires considerable contact with the public."

"Sometimes more than I like."

Friday, April 22, 2011


Light-years from middling, not just MILES FROM ORDINARY.

That is Carol Lynch Williams's latest novel for youngsters, and it is light-years from middling.

I enjoyed reading the novel, but, in the interests of full disclosure, I am an oldster, and probably not among those of its primary audience. After reading Williams's THE CHOSEN ONE, however, I just had to read her latest offering, which is set in a very real, if atypical, world.

Recently, as my wife and I walked through Barnes & Noble, she noted how difficult it seemed to be to find new books for kids and young adults that didn't deal with vampires or other fantastical elements, with dystopian adventures, or alternative realities.

What is it? Have we become so fraught with challenges of everyday living that we have to resort to escapism to entertain and inform our youth?

Well, this novel, MILES FROM ORDINARY, fits the bill for the here and now; it is very real and most compelling, yet just as horrifying and challenging of mind as anything in fantasyland or sci-fi. It doesn't have the ubiquitous vampires or a panoply of Hogwarts-like characters or characteristics; it isn't dystopian, and its realities aren't alternative. At some point in time, all of us, even the youth among us have to face reality.

After all, who needs the paranormal when you can read first-hand paranoia and insanity in a tight, fast moving story arc like this one? Or when you can see the effects of mental illness in Lacey's mother and its consequent demands and eventual effects upon the thirteen-year-old's life. She simply longs for some degree of family normalcy and friendship outside of home.

Lacey indeed: the delicate interweaving of a thread of life of a sensitive, caring, and concerned daughter of a very sick and, as it turns out, most dangerous mother. Lacey. Dicey.

But this novel produces the same emotions and intellectual challenges as fantasy and sci-fi do in a far more immediate and practical way. There really are young people like Lacey: classmates, neighbors, riders on buses, customers at the grocery store. Not only do the children and teens in such circumstances need to read this book and understand its implications, but everyone does. We all need to realize that our society is diverse and contains all the horror and intrigue of fantasy or sci-fi. It behooves us to recognize it and to show the proper sensitivity for it, and face it more realistically.

Carol Lynn Williams's MILES FROM ORDINARY, in my estimation, achieves that end.

It isn't perfect. There were a few grammatical and punctuation errors. (After all, I was reading from an advanced, uncorrected proof.) Some of the other criticisms in the critiques present here certainly have validity, but overall the novel has a nice story arc, compelling characters, tremendous conflicts. I believe it is original in the contemporary literature out there for children and young adults. It was a plausible scenario and seemed realistic in its presentation. I didn't find that it made unjustified leaps in logic. I found the writing at times powerful and, at times, a little less than powerful. I liked it's building pace, and what some others took for a slow start, I took as calculated, a deliberate attempt to make the quickening pace more compelling. I thought flashbacks were overused. In fact, I was quite surprised by the number of them given the intended audience.

I wrote Time For All Eternity.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Our youngest daughter was born to her biological parents — possibly just to her mother, but we really don't know the whole story, or truthfully, any of the story relative to her parents or birth other than through supposition — on February 15, 1980. So she was about as close to a valentine baby as you can get without having a valentine baby. She didn't come to live with us, her adoptive parents, however, until about six months later, probably in August sometime. I'd have to look to see the exact date of her arrival.

She was born in Korea, in Seoul Korea, as I recall, or thereabouts. She was apparently abandoned at an orphanage there, I believe, but I'd have to talk to my wife for clarification and to get greater information about anything we know or found out about her or her family in advance, but I don't think there was or is anything. My wife did most of the paperwork involved in the process. She wasn't working at the time outside of the home. We utilized the services of the Holt Adoption Agency to arrange for our youngest daughter to come here to the United States to live with us and to be adopted and naturalized as a citizen.

We had some experience adopting already, since we had adopted her older brother. He was born in the vicinity of Boise, Idaho and we were able to gain custody of him a few days after his birth — he was born May 30, 1979, and we took custody of him on June 8. We went through an agency affiliated with our church to adopt him.

We also had a biological daughter who was born in 1973.

Our adopted daughter had a birth defect. She was born with cerebral palsy and a tendency to have seizures, both petite and grand mal, which early on were controlled pretty much by phenobarbital. In her infancy and toddler state she underwent considerable therapy, which included physical, occupational, and speech therapy. In her early years most of the therapy that she received was provided by the Shriners Hospital in Boise.

As she grew into puberty, the seizures became more frequent and more difficult, even impossible, to completely control. She has over time taken more and more medicine and had more and more severe and frequent seizures. In her elementary school years, the phenobarbital more or less held her seizures in check but she still had to deal with the effects of cerebral palsy, which included partial paralysis on her right side and diminished mental ability. From the onset she needed accommodation in school.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Cellist of Sarajevo

I finished reading THE CELLIST OF SARAJEVO a few days ago. Carol picked it for us to read this month for our book club.

I liked it. Everybody in the book group liked it, I think. There were criticisms. Cheri, for instance — I hope that's the correct spelling — didn't like it switching between viewpoints so often over against a more even and flowing story arc.

If life were longer, it was good enough it would definitely be among books I would revisit. I may, in any event. I liked it.

Did I already say that? I did.

I flatter myself thinking that I am a pacifist. I consider myself one. Of course, I'm not that good of a pacifist. But I'm opposed to killing. I'm against the death penalty, for instance. I take literally the "thou shall not kill" admonition in Christian Scripture. I take it literally even over against stories in various scriptures that illustrate something quite the opposite – I'm thinking of the Mormon Nephi-Laban killing. (No wonder so many people say the Mormons aren't Christians, ha ha).

The book is nicely put together. I found it well organized, with its characters carefully selected to illustrate the effects of war upon common citizens. Of course, all of the characters were good guys, from the cellist to Arrow, the sniper, who is on the side of those being shot at from snipers on the hills above and around the city. At least, I considered them all good guys. They felt real to me, given their circumstances. They seemed well-rounded within the parameters of their existence in war-torn Sarajevo during the war there in the nineties. Was of the nineties? Yes, in the mid--1990s. They also, ask characters, seemed flawed and at the same time displayed heroism to some degree or another. From the father, going to get water for his family and for his cantankerous, hard-to-get-along-with neighbor to a baker frozen with anxiety and worry about crossing a street for fear of being shot to death yet hungering and worried he'll starve if he doesn't cross and get something to eat. Over against them there was the clearly evil of the snipers on high, who represented the devil in war and killing.

I liked the book's originality. It stole, it seemed to me, enough of history to color in with sufficient original palette to make a nice, new detailed painting to accompany the sound of the one-man adagio commemorating the killed.

I found the book plausible.

The writing felt strong and vibrant to me.

The following represents some of the very powerful positions taken by characters in the novel:

"But power is rarely given up voluntarily. It's a question of who will prevail. She knows the survival of the city depends as much on the attitude of the defenders as it does on repelling the attackers. A city of the zealots and criminals isn't worth saving."

I highly recommend this book.


The life of servitude. Who really knows anything about it? That is, that I know about? In this day and age? In this land? In my neighborhood?

Hopefully no one. But who knows what goes on behind the walls and doors and the windows of the neighbors? You think you know, but truthfully you don't. They think they know about you, but truthfully they don't. We have more private lives then perhaps we think we have in this modern era of social media and everybody spying on everybody else, taking photographs and watching each other and filming and listening without telling or disclosing or otherwise indicating you are doing such.

I'm pretty certain there are individuals out there who are like slaves, who are in the command of somebody else. In fact, you hear about such instances in the news — I want to say all the time, but it is not that frequent. It occurs in the drug culture and in prostitution rings. Undocumented immigrants are particularly vulnerable to such treatment. And the unscrupulous with power and money are not above imposing such restraints on individuals to the benefit of themselves and the detriment of the individuals who don't have documentation.

What must it be like to be a servant, a slave?

There is a difference between being of service and being in service. One is voluntary; the other is not. I suppose they can and often do overlap. No employer considers himself/herself as going without a servant. Employers have expectations of those they employ, probably not unlike the expectations upon those who have slaves. Yet there are also differences. There must be.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Up or down?

I've hurried away from the house, wearing a coat too heavy for the weather. I've done it already this year. I've faced the music, to use an old metaphor, a cliché, in doing so, too. I'll do it again if I survive until next year, too. It's almost as if it is inevitable, or as if I'm too stupid to ever learn better. I'll use old worn-out clichés again, too. That's just the way it is. I don't think it's predetermined…you know, the way life plays out isn't; I don't believe in predestination. Do you?

Likewise, I've used this program in Word before with similar faulty results, and here I am doing it again when I know it isn't as efficient as it is using it in the other program first and then copying and pasting. I am a slow, inefficient learner. Perhaps we all are. I plod along, making commitments that are difficult to keep up with and doing little to improve myself the way I dreamed and hoped for and planned to do.

Anyway, somebody said hard work can be the ultimate refuge. Balderdash. It is not refuge. There is no refuge. There is just life in all of its complexity and perplexity, or not. We see it through rose-colored glasses on one day and through Coke bottles the next. Guess which day is today.

Friday, April 15, 2011

What Is Engaging?

Often times when I sit here to write, nothing seems that engaging that I want to write about. Either not that engaging or too engaging to want to bother with. I need to write about privacy laws in the United States and WikiLeaks and espionage and all of that, for example. I could begin writing my pages for critiquing on Tuesday, but somehow I don't want to, not yet. I could go back and edit Alejandro. It needs to be done. But I don't want to do that either.

It would be nice to be able to just sit down and let the words flow like the enthusiasm of a nice spring creek. That doesn't happen often, if at all. I don't have that gift of gab that some people seem to have, or at least, I haven't nurtured it. Also, on that note, I think I've talked myself into thinking that it is too late to nurture it or anything like it. That's probably a false assumption, pure laziness, but I guess it's one I mostly accept.

It's getting late. The sun is either set or off in the western sky where I can't see it or its effects. It isn't dark out, but it's getting there.

Off in the still-barren oak trees, a magpie sits above the entire oak tree forest and watches for a few minutes, that he sails down, down, fast and controlled. Not stuck in his flight or correction on words or thoughts like me.

Pretty soon some of the closer magpies are squawking at each other before it's too late to squawk much and they retire for the night. It always makes me wonder where they sit during the darkness. They are still busy, fighting over something, arguing like they do. I also hear the distant traffic along the highway down below, people coming and going on a Friday night, people younger than I, with more energy, with more going on.

Someday, maybe, my thoughts would be so rambling and insecure. Maybe. There are plenty of people out there to admire who are much more organized than me.

What's Coming Up

The plan for Shelley in the immediate future is to have her undergo surgery a week from next Thursday, July 27, 2011. It will be done in Salt Lake City, at the Intermountain Healthcare Center just off of 52nd South sometime in the afternoon.

They call it a debulking surgery. Typically, they open patients up from just below the bottom of the lungs to the pelvic bone to do debulking — removing and scraping out whatever is cancerous that can be done reasonably.

With her, the plan is to go in and do a laparoscopy first to look around and see what they think is prudent to work on and remove. It might entail the long convertible incision of our regular debulking procedure, but it might not, too. It depends on what they see through their scope and what seems the most sensible thing to do. Sometimes they can remove the most affected tissue through small incisions. For example, in Shelley's case, the omentum is involved. Sometimes the omentum can be removed through a smaller incision. Same with ovaries.

In the interim, Shelley needs to work on getting stronger. The big prescription for that is eating and drinking lots of proteins and getting some small degree of exercise.

Lately, Shelley's oxygen levels have been back to normal or near normal. She has ceased wearing oxygen all the time and now just wears her when she's asleep, and then because of sleep apnea.

After the surgery, she will have to be in the hospital a few days — from two or 3 to 5 to 7, just depending on what they do. Afterward, they planning on her having some physical therapy to build your strength up. Also, as soon as she can she'll go back on chemotherapy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

We can't separate ourselves from the past

We can't separate ourselves from the past. Nor should we want to, I suppose.

I grew up in Utah. My parents also grew up in Utah.

My mother was the oldest in her family, the big sister to her siblings. She had both brothers and sisters. She was born in Central Utah; I think in Richfield, Utah. I know that she graduated from Gunnison High School, which isn't far from Richfield as I recall. She never talked much about growing up in Central Utah. I don't remember her ever taking me there to those small towns or showing me where she went to school or anything like that. I don't remember any stories from her youth. She didn't talk much about what it was like being a kid or going to high school in such a rural area. I wonder why. Actually, my mother didn't talk much about anything about her life to me. She liked to focus on me, not on her.

My father had ten siblings, and he was one of the last of the ten. Maybe he was third from the last; I don't remember for sure. He was born in Ogden, but not in the hospital but in the home his parents lived in, located someplace — I'm thinking about twenty third street — below Wall Avenue. He talked more about his youth than my mother did. His father died early — I'm thinking when he was about fourteen, maybe younger. He told me how difficult it was trying to make ends meet, emphasizing that he had quit school because of the hardship, whether that was true or not. By that age he had taken up smoking and he smoked as long as I lived with him. I think he quit after I married my wife, sometime after 1971. He was born in 1920. I'm thinking he quit smoking sometime around sixty, perhaps later.

Even though my parents grew up in the midst of Mormonism, neither of them adhered to its tenets or seemed to care about it much at all. While my mother had been baptized a Mormon and even graduated from Mormon seminary when she went to high school and graduated — I saw her yearbook and that's how I know, I never knew her to be engaged in the religion or to practice it. My father was never baptized. His mother was disaffected from Mormonism early on — possibly before she even married. Her husband wasn't Mormon. She came from Holland when she was a youth — I think when she was fourteen. Perhaps she came under false pretenses, lured here by promises never kept, but I'm not sure. I'm just left with that impression.

After I married, in 1971, my wife and I finished our bachelors' degrees and then left Utah. We went to Illinois, then to California, then to Idaho.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

imagine blooming flowers falling from the heavens

I picked up BEYOND RAIN OF GOLD mostly because of the illustration on the front of the book jacket (by Steven Yazzie).

That painting shows what I take to be a young man — his back is to you, but his hair is dark and not grey or silver and he doesn't look overweight or disfigured or bent over with age. He appears to be conducting the orchestra of a desert. The shirt he wears appears to be split at the bottom like the back of a tuxedo is. His arms are raised, and his right hand holds a baton; his left hand is opened and a bird sits in its palm. The sky is blue with a few clouds on the horizon, the mountains in the distance. The desert is out ahead and all around the conductor, cacti and other desert flora covers the landscape out to a ridge. The sun is peeking into the picture in the upper left-hand corner. For the most part, the artwork looks like it is set in the physical here-and-now. It seems to suggest that the book is about a confident young man who is egotistical enough to think he can lead the music of a natural setting familiar to him, and perhaps tame it.

Of course, I had kind of an agenda in picking up the book because of the cover. I had myself, an old, once redheaded but now white headed Caucasian, been writing the fictional story of a boy born in the desert as his parents crossed the border from Mexico into the United States some fourteen years ago. (Oh, the arrogance of me to take on such an endeavor.) So I was interested in reading about the life of a Mexican-American first-hand, and the book seemed to have that flavor from what I read on the jacket and saw in that painting.

But then, in the artwork on the jacket of BEYOND RAIN OF GOLD, blooming flower buds are falling unnaturally from the sky all around the conductor. And I reminded myself that that little bird was sitting there unnatural-like in the young man's palm. And I asked myself, what's with all of that?

Please excuse me for a little tangent. I have lived most of my life in Mormon country. Recently, Gary Lawrence wrote How Americans View Mormonism. One thousand randomly-selected Americans were asked fifty-five questions about Mormons. The results indicated that those individuals saw Mormons as friendly, honest, kind, having strong family values, willing to help the needy, and patriotic. Conversely, they also saw Mormons as self-righteous, out of touch, insular, brainwashed, fanatical, and narrow. Mormons in the Mormon area I am from for the most part see themselves in the positive forms indicated but not in the negative ones.

I think a similar dynamic is at play with respect to Victor Villasenor. Often, the problem is that we seldom associate very closely with groups of individuals who aren't like us. We often don't know how to talk to other people about what we believe in ways that they can understand or find useful. Furthermore, often we don't have a clue about our own naïveté and talk past other people.

Now it is quite obvious that Victor Villasenor sees himself as the youth in the picture, the conductor of an orchestra of his desert. The falling flower buds in bloom seem to speak to "magic" or the "spiritual" — some say fantastical — elements in the "musical" score of Villasenor's life as a writer, conducted by him but influenced by all of the characters in his life, including his parents, Lupe Gomez Camargo, his mother, and Juan Salvador Villasenor, his father, and his wife, Barbara. You a lot of individuals who says have passed away and gone before and have come back to him.

For instance, he writes: "It was like heaven had really come down to Mother Earth. For instance, every morning my writing room would fill up with these Grande Masters from the Other Side – like Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Frank, Confucius, though Stravinsky, and many others — and they all wanted to help me.

"Also, I didn't know my dad's cigar anymore. No, now I smelled wildflowers, just like I smelled outside of Phoenix, Arizona, when I heard OUR SYMPHONY OF CREATION!"

The book is classified, among other classifications, as a biography of a twentieth century Mexican-American author on the copyright page. It is published by Hay House, a "new thought" and "self-help" publisher.

I won't reiterate all of the faults and irritants that I, too, found in the narrative characterized as Villasenor's autobiography . Other critiquers have more than adequately covered them, even ridiculed them, and I, for the most part, agree, except with the ridicule. Despite them, however, I did find enjoyment as I read along and contemplated the spin Villasenor tried to put on his life, the spiritual and fantastic elements of living.

For me, it is easy to contemplate that when the "downs" in life exceed the "ups" that it can have an effect upon your perception, and can make it sometimes difficult to separate reality from what is hoped for and believed in. And when you get to that point, it might be difficult to communicate with somebody who hasn't had that experience or contemplated it.

I'd say if you read this book, read it with curiosity, trying to understand the elements of Villasenor's life that took him where he is. Try and imagine blooming flowers falling from the heavens in all of the music.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Long Day

I've worked on and off all day on Kiele's computer which has been infected by a FakeAlert malware attack. It occurred after Mike helped her set up online Scrabble. Of course, it might not have anything to do with that. Also, washed sheets for Shelley's and Kiele's beds, etc. and took Shelley to see doctor for her edema. That took at least two hours and then we went to eat at Crown Burger. I never did get to the store to do some shopping I need to do. Tomorrow. I did manage to finish my four pages for tomorrow night.

Shelley is restless and unsettled tonight. Asia is right now too, begging for treats at 11:26 p.m. It's time to shut this down and go to bed. Below my stomach and my lower back hurts; it has a couple of days now. Poor me.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Foundation


It is late again tonight, and I've felt tired all day and especially so tonight. I had already shut down my computer, put on my nightshirt, and went in to the other room to read a bit more of Victor Villasenor's book Beyond Rain of Gold — it's slow going reading it. I almost dread having to do a critique of it because of the mixed feelings I have about it.

Then I remembered my baseboards' blog entry last night and knew I needed to come in here, start the computer, and write this. So here I am to make a small entry. I don't want to spend a lot of time doing this but I do want to do it. There is something about a foundation that his firm. Usually, the ones underneath houses here are made of concrete. Solid. People hope they are immovable. I guess a commitment to make an entry on a consistent basis is like that: a foundation of sorts.

It would be sad — at least two would be to me — to have made a mental commitment to myself to make entries more consistently only to give up and not do one the very next day. It wouldn't be a very firm foundation. So here I am, doing one. Hopefully, I put in the right ingredients to make this foundation solid and hard and immovable.



I want to talk for a moment about baseboard. After all, it is late, — almost midnight — I promised myself I'd make a blog entry, and it's the first thing that came to mind that I found acceptable for a short analysis.

The baseboard I have in mind, without looking the word up in the dictionary or in an encyclopedia, is the board at the base of the wall on the interior of a house. For instance, in this room I'm in there is a baseboard. It is at the intersection of the finished sheetrock and the floor, in this case a carpeted one. The baseboard in here is an inch-and-a-half to two-inches in height and perhaps a little more than a half-inch wide at its widest. It is painted the same color as the wall is. It is grooved, I suppose to make it more appealing to the eye. It is not only grooved, but it his also notched, I assume to further please the eye and overall to cover the more unpleasant transition at the bottom of the sheetrock when it meets the floor. I've seen much more simple and considerably more complex and intricate baseboards. The one in this room is pretty standard for the construction at the time the house was built.

I doubt that baseboard, like the one in this room, or even generally, adds anything to the structural integrity of the wall or house. I don't think it makes anything particularly stronger or more functional in a strictly practical sense. If it did, it would be so minute as to additional function that the additional cost would not justify having it. No, the baseboard is aesthetic. It is to make things look better. To cover up what would be considered ugly. Less artful, less pleasing to the eye.

More generally, what issues in life, if any, are important to structure and integrity over against mere aesthetics. Is an analysis of that issue important to me? What do I think about it?

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I read NECESSARY SECRETS as a fluke. It isn't my normal fare.

At the height of the WikiLeaks and Julian Assange news blitz, I had a conversation with my brother-in-law. I told him I didn't think there was much room for keeping secrets. A secret, of course, is defined as "something kept hidden or unexplained." Thus, it seemed to me antithetical to everything I was taught: that knowledge is power and its application is wisdom. Keeping things hidden and unexplained kept me from knowledge and, hence, from having wisdom. "Necessary" of course means absolutely essential.

My brother-in-law reminded me, however, that there was a need for secrecy — times when it is absolutely essential. Some secrets are necessary. For example, he suggested I probably didn't want anyone knowing my daughter's bank account information. (It gave me pause that he didn't use my bank account information for his example.) Otherwise, he said someone could go in and withdraw willy-nilly. It is necessary, he argued, to keep the critical information secret or unscrupulous individuals or entities will make you regret it.

My conversation with him got me thinking more and more about secrecy, more than I ever had before. It even spurred me on to start writing a novel with secrecy, privacy, or confidentiality, or all three, as a theme. It also caused me to start considering those matters — secrecy, privacy, and confidentiality — more fully. I ended up, through happenstance, picking up NECESSARY SECRETS to read and learn more about the subject.

Obviously, since my immediate take on secrecy with my brother-in-law was to want to do away with it, I wasn't very close to the position of Gabriel Schonfeld, the author of NECESSARY SECRETS. Schonfeld argues that some classified information is so sensitive it needs to be kept secret and not disclosed, because, if it is, it will be harshly detrimental to Americans. And Schonfeld argues that those individuals and organizations who do make such disclosures of a harmful nature should be punished harshly under U. S. laws.

The Schonfeld book was written before WikiLeaks and Julian Assange hit the newsstands big time. It basically covers the history of secrecy in the United States from its inception to the time the book was completed. Since it focuses mostly on the history of secrecy in the United States, including case law and issues covered in the news, it moves quite slowly, especially in comparison to much of my normal fare. However, it is well written and not difficult at all to move through or understand. Schonfeld basically tries to make the case that the press should not be releasing sensitive classified information that could bring harm to individuals or to the U. S., and if it does, it — including all individuals who participated in its release — should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

It seems to me that secrets are only necessary when there are individuals or entities that are dishonest and unscrupulous. Of course, there are such individuals and entities. It also seems to me that, over time, the ability to keep things secret becomes more and more difficult with modern technology and social media being what it is today. Hence, it was informative to read NECESSARY SECRETS and to contemplate its history and arguments. I am not certain I am where its author is on the subject, but I'm certainly much more informed on the subject matter as it pertains to the United States.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Blue Sky in the Winter

My dear Shelley is resting this afternoon, and I find myself with a rare opportunity to sit here and write something. It's been a difficult few months and more months of challenge loom ahead. Nonetheless, we find delight every day.

Just this morning, I was looking out the window into the beautiful blue sky of winter and saw a black bird fly across the sky. It was just that fast, in the blink of an eye, the bird displaying its proficiency in flight, moving from treetop to treetop. I think I could tell that the bird was having fun flying. It didn't just streak through the sky, but fluttered up and down, like a young kid with the new bike going down the road. Such delight in an instance.

And so our life goes. We have such moments alone and together that bring happiness and delight. Every instance is not relished or cherished. But if we take a moment, and contemplate what happens thoroughly, I believe we can and often do find something to appreciate and find joy in. Of course, my perspective differs from Shelley's; I am not called upon to suffer so. But we do laugh together often. And cry.

Shelley has now undergone three chemotherapies. They have been hard on her, very hard. She has lost considerable weight and most of her hair, had persistent nausea, struggled with bouts of diarrhea and constipation, bled from her nose and down below and other places too, suffered shooting pains and cramps, terrible fatigue, etc. She still cannot breathe well; is supposed to be on oxygen 24/7. It is hard. There is, after all, still a plural effusion and clots in her lung, besides everything else. There are persistent appointments at the doctors' offices, prickings and pokes, probings and sticks. It is not possible for me to articulate all of her various troubles and trials. Yet, she still is able to find laughter and a smile and delight and happiness, more than you would expect.

Some days are better than others. Some moments are worse.

At times, I think I should catalog all of this better. I think sometimes I should tell the whole story, if that were somehow possible. It's not. First of all, it would all be just from my perspective, not hers. I miss a lot.

The type and the advancement of the cancer Shelley now has — peritoneal (related to ovarian cancer) — is chronic. It differs from the kind of cancer she had twenty-five — going on twenty-six — years ago. Then, her Hodgkin's lymphoma was curable, not chronic. The cancer she has now was first detected when doctors drew out fluid from her pleural cavity and tested it. It did not originate in the pleural cavity so it had traveled there from another location, which means it is metastatic. It is also diffuse.

The foreseeable plan includes her visiting with a specialist in her type of cancer in Salt Lake City this week. She will need to have an other CT scan, but she has difficulty drinking the prep fluids, in this case, barium, for such scans — she can hardly get the fluid down, and if she does, it usually comes right back up anyway.

Friends and relatives have been very sensitive and loving. They want to help and serve and, when we let them, they do. They're very supportive. It would be difficult to articulate here all of the get well wishes and cards, gifts and flowers and plants, letters and notes, visits and phone calls, meals and treats we have received. The cousin who came and gave Shelley shots when she needed them. People have come and taken Kiele out to eat or to a movie to help out, have made certain that she feels welcome at meetings, have called her to help her deal with all of this. The same is true of various healthcare providers, generally. They have been wonderful — caring, sensitive, comprehensive in their attentions.

We are, by nature and by choice, an independent couple. Since we married all those years ago and left our respective homes and immediate families to forge a new life together as husband and wife, we have never needed or sought much help from anybody; anything anyone ever did for us, we always tried to pay back, generously. I hope we have succeeded in that regard, although there are many people much more generous than we are who make it very difficult to do, and now, I'm afraid, we've fallen behind them will never catch up. In any event, over a lifetime we have grown quite self-sufficient — made it into a way of life. We like it that way and believe it's the way people should generally live, if they can. Plus, I think we like our privacy.

Anyway, we are grateful. People have prayed for us and blessed us. They continue to do so, perhaps in measures that we will never be able to fully appreciate or repay. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.