PLAYBOY CENTERFOLDS VERSUS MY OLD GIRLFRIENDS

Like many young males of his generation, Kenzie in my new novel Daffodil Uprising gazes on the Playboy magazine centerfolds as an ideal of feminine form.

In fact, he mysteriously receives a manila envelope containing about two dozen of them, and they wind up being taped to the ceiling of his dorm room. They fit perfectly in the recessed space between the beams.

Never mind that he still didn’t have a real love life. She would be coming along shortly.

Thinking of this while revising the book had me revisiting images of some of those classic “playmates” online. To my surprise, they’re far more ordinary than we guys would have admitted at the time. To be honest, I think of at least ten of my former girlfriends were more attractive.

My, have times changed! Just think of all the selfies floating around on the Net or all of the plastic surgery enhancements now considered routine. Baring skin no longer has the risqué air it carried back then, either.

Me? I still prefer a natural look. As did Hef back then, when the mansion was still in Chicago.

Note the space between the beams in the ceiling. Perfect for displaying Playboy centerfolds, back in the day. By the way, we never had bookcases as standard furniture. Had to make our own with boards and concrete blocks.
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ADMITTING THE DARKER SIDES OF HIPPIE

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years pondering the hippie movement. The nation has stubbornly maintained a state of denial regarding those years – and the consequences for public policy have been toxic. The hippie side, especially, has been portrayed as an unrealistic stereotype. Nobody, but nobody, really looked or acted like that.

My wife – who came along after the flowering of the movement and grew up in the Deep South, far from its vitality – contends that the hippie label itself now means “loser.” I’d like to disagree, but when I look around at those who outwardly fit the image, I usually have to agree. Even trying to come up with a suitable synonym can be elusive. Bikers most look the role but hardly embody the light-hearted essence or its underlying desperation.

In revising my novels set in the period, I’ve finally more fully acknowledged the darker facets of the era. Some hippies were violent, contrary to peace. There was anger, contrary to love. There were freeloaders and bums and betrayals. As for bad drug trips or destructive addiction? In the end, so much feels like a string of broken promise. We had so much potential and came much closer to achieving the dream than we might have imagined, only to see it slip from our hands.

An America of Walmart and Fox is nothing like the healthy alternative of community and equality we anticipated. Politics and the power of global conglomerates has been responsible for much of the loss – I’ll save those rants for later.

The dream, though, doesn’t need to die. In fact, its essence may be more essential now than ever before. Having my character Cassia look at it from today feels quite relevant. I hope so.

That said, I’ve changed the name of the series of novels from Hippie Trails to Freakin’ Free Spirits, which I feel is more accurate regarding the individuals inhabiting the stories.

Let me know what you think.

Daffodil Uprising

My new novel reflects much of my revised thinking, as related a generation later.

THAT VICTORIAN APARTMENT WAS REAL

The once grand dame of an apartment house turned shabby that I describe in my novel Daffodil Uprising was real, though situated in Upstate New York rather than southern Indiana. A little bit more poetic license, if you will, in my relocating the blocky building.

I use the past tense, because satellite searches inform me the structure has been demolished, no doubt because of some of the health and safety issues the story relates. Bringing everything up to code would have cost a fortune.

Well, maybe a fire did it in. That, too, feels quite plausible.

When Kenzie and his two buddies flee their dorm, they have such high expectations. So did I, in what was supposed to be a haven after college. Look, this was what a professional journalist could afford – slum housing.

Still, the moldy manse was memorable and possibly haunted. I certainly heard rumors to that effect.

THIS MATTER OF BRANDING AND SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION

The Mixmaster is back.

When my first novel was published, back in 1990, I was described as “a mixmaster of ideas, images, jokes, philosophy, and nonsense that defies categorization” – as well as “very eclectic and ebullient.”

I’m realizing how much that still fits, and so I’m returning to it as a core of what some might call branding.

As one longtime friend recently described me, I’m “an eclectic human being with a funky sense of humor and a large perspective.”

That’s what I like to do as a writer and thinker – toss a wide range of colorful things together and concoct fresh and exciting connections.

So if that’s what I do and, as I hope, do well, that leads to a new label: Mixmaster Supreme.

Now, where are the frozen strawberries?

Remember, the drink is shaken, not stirred. As for the emotions? Let’s go for both. 

LIVING IN MULBERRY ROW

As writers, most of us start with particulars we’ve known and try our best to abstract them – that is, make them more universal.

The dorm quad I now call Mulberry Row in my novel Daffodil Uprising is loosely based on one where I lived, though there was none of the clandestine financial intrigue I create to symbolize the old-boy network and its manipulative contortions. No, when I lived there, it was all simply a tad dowdy.

The dining hall, too, was far from the gloriously remodeled Annenberg Hall in Harvard’s great Memorial Hall – everyone who peeks in seems to utter something about Hogwarts – but it had its own low-key potential.

When I drafted the earlier novel, I had no idea what was about to happen in reality. The quad has since been renovated and refocused. From this distance, it all looks pretty exciting, actually.

I’ll assume the fictional benefactor Mildred Chouthonian would be proud.

My room was at the corner of the building at the right, in the center of this photo.

 

The dining hall looks much more modest all these years later, but it’s definitely been spiffed up.

PLAYING WITH CROWNS, LIKE IN CHECKERS

Last week, I wrote about relearning Spanish and the tree of Crowns the online Duolingo course uses.

As I’ve been earning Lingots for rebuilding those, I’ve had a series of sessions where I’m presented with a sentence or phrase to translate and a set of mosaics or buttons to choose from, one word on each. It’s kind of like a Magnetic Poetry Kit, except that you have to click on the word you want.

In the first hour of my day, my mind wants to run off in whimsical directions.

Here are a few examples.

Approved answer: The girl wants sugar on her apple.

Rejected answer: The girl wants sugar on her husbands.

(Or just a sugar daddy?)

Approved: Are you going to school today?

Rejected: Are you going downstairs today?

(There are days we don’t want to get out of bed, right?)

Approved: I want to go to the movies with my friends.

Rejected: I want to go to the movies with my girlfriend.

(Except that she doesn’t like the action-adventure stuff we do?)

Approved: I always go to work by bus.

Rejected: I always go to work by duck.

(There’s an opera about a guy who goes to work on a big swan. I’d settle on a big yellow duck, wouldn’t you?)

Approved: Do you have to work today?

Rejected: Do you have to speak today?

(Some days simply speaking is a lot of work … especially if it’s in Spanish. That’s the polite explanation. The other one is “Firme la boca,” I think.)

Approved: We don’t open the messages.

Rejected: We don’t open the refrigerator.

(You never know what’s inside.)

Approved: We are buying a car.

Rejected: We are buying a brother.

(Hope he’s worth it.)

Approved: My husband never gets up with me.

Rejected: My husband never gets up on me.

(That would lead to a lot of words we haven’t learned yet.)

Approved: I want a modern kitchen.

Rejected: I want a modern husband.

Also rejected: I want a modern dog.

(Oh, don’t even try to make the connection. Puleeze!)

I START MY MORNING WITH SPANISH

For the past two years, a daily online language class has opened my day. The practice began shortly after the annual sessions of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, where repeated happenstances with our guests from Cuba had me realizing how much of my high school Spanish I’d forgotten.

Well, a lot of my recall also got tangled up in my college French, but that’s another story.

A conversation with my elder daughter, the linguist, convinced me to try a free online refresher course via Duolingo, which some of you probably know of. The high school text I’d carried since 1964 soon went into the trash – it was terribly dated.

So I rise, usually before dawn, brew some full-bodied, fair-trade Cuban-style coffee beans we get at Costco (they’re like espresso but better), and head off to my laptop in the attic for a half-hour of language learning. Let’s say that at that hour, I make a number of stupid mistakes. I’m still groggy.

A few months ago, the powers-that-be behind the free course decided to alter a few things. It’s inevitable when it comes to anything computer, isn’t it? So instead of seeing something like “You are 67% proficient in Spanish” on the home page, they were taking a different tack. Most startling was that my Crown Level had decreased significantly. Look, that was something that would occur if I missed a few days of practice, but I had been faithful. I felt robbed.

That’s when I started thinking about some of the motivating factors the Duolingo brain trust applies.

The first is something they call Lingots – kind of like Monopoly game cash you can hoard, like me, or spend on things like commentary or idioms. If you do 10 uninterrupted days of study, you’re awarded Lingots – one point when you hit the first 10 days, two more at 20, three at 30, and so on. You can also wager some of yours for other accomplishments. Look, it’s stupid but highly addictive, especially when you reach 150 straight days. That’s 15 Lingots, hombre.

The Crowns, meanwhile, are part of a “learning tree” Duolingo has for advancing. When you start a language, you begin by clicking on a little button labeled “basics,” do the required number of lessons within it, and it soon turns color. You earn a Lingot or two and move on to the next, maybe “articles” or “vocabulary.” Eventually, all of them – 30 to 50, maybe? – change color and you go back to raise each of them to the next level.

Or from that point you can simply do a random set of practice questions. Oh, but that option doesn’t win you a lot of Lingots.

What I really want at the moment is to hit a thousand in my account. Hoard them, in fact. Es muy loco, verdad, but it keeps me going.

And then I move on to the latest manuscript in progress or check up here at WordPress. Both in American English.