New phone, just as my old camera was dying

Just putting those two items in the same line sends me spinning, as if it’s natural they should ever be synonymous.

Let me proclaim I’m a true conservative, unlike those pretenders using that label. Not that I’m ever confined to tradition.

Take gift-giving in our household, for example, it doesn’t always happen on the intended date, whether Christmas or birthday. And I should point out (again), that it’s often a conspiratorial effort.

One example I’ll give is my new cell phone, which they’d been threatening to impose on me for several years now. They’d given me the previous one maybe a dozen years earlier, replacing the flip phone I had accepted only in case of a midnight emergency somewhere in the wilds of New Hampshire on my commute home from the newsroom.

So much for the history. Perhaps you remember I happen to be somewhat of a neo-Luddite, in no rush to learn yet one more new technology. I’m more interested in spending those hours doing something at hand other than retraining on a new device, like an endless loop of abuse.

Our move to the island was heightening the rationale that I really needed to upgrade. T-Mobile’s coverage here is spotty, and often nil off in the neighboring wilds, and whenever my text messages were arriving through Canada, which was often, they’d get turned into zip files that took forever to download. Photos were even worse.

Blogging, by the way, had prompted my photo shooting hobby years ago leading to the purchase of cheap Kodak point-and-shoot, which they eventually pressed me beyond by having me unwrap the Olympus that has provided many of the visuals here at the Barn. Over the past few years, my wife and elder daughter have been insisting I could do better with a good cell phone, and their many fine photos had me reluctantly agreeing. It’s just that I have a workable system going, ya know, and already have thousands of shots that need further sorting. Can’t I finish that first? Besides, shouldn’t photos be taken by cameras?

Well, no.

Last Christmas, everybody piled on the upgrade-Jnana bandwagon.

I didn’t know I needed the little LED ring to illuminate my face during Zoom meetings. OK, I finally “got” the idea that the lamp was supposed to clamp onto my laptop and glow on me, but I found that bright light in my was face annoying and visually taxing. But that lamp is rather nifty attached to the little bookshelf over my desk, and other Zoom participants have expressed their preference for the warm light setting rather than the clinically cold one. So maybe I’ve needed it.

Nor did I know I needed a short camera tripod, but there was the “lobster” in one of the next boxes I unwrapped. OK, cool, it would work for my Olympus, but what about the next two – the remote selfie button and the macro-micro lenses, both definitely cell-phone attachments?

That’s when they broke the news to me that time was up, the new phone was definitely included, or would be, as soon as they could haul me up to Calais to sign up, something that finally happened in late April.

As you might imagine, I was in no rush, but my Olympus was starting to act wonky. The zoom lens (yeah, zoom as in getting a closer look rather than pressing mute or chat) was getting stuck and failing to deploy, meaning my real, albeit digital, camera wasn’t working. Change would be inevitable, even if I am no longer pressing for a return to film, which I could never afford, anyway.

Off to the UScellular store we went, and I was instructed not to look at any of the prices. I’m still shocked by what we were paying for the family plan we were on, now that it’s been revealed to me.

OK, the new phone, a Galaxy S22 Ultra (does that impress you?), is a vast improvement over the S4 or earlier model it was replacing. The latter had no trade-in value, except maybe to a collector of obsolete technologies. The sales associate was rather kind in calling it a classic and keeping her laughter lighter than a sneering snicker.

Only after we were in the car and on the way home did my wife tell me my new phone retails for a thousand bucks. That’s enough to frighten me from touching it. Oops, a figure oil smear! And kids wear these in the pocket behind their butts? I’m never going there, I’m toting mine securely in the pocket of my messenger bag, next to my nitro pills. Keep your hands off.

Flash ahead, Slim and I are getting acquainted, gingerly, and I’m starting to play with the camera half, too. Hate to admit it, but I’m impressed.

Now, what am I supposed to do with my old phone and my old camera? I can’t just junk them, can I?

There are times it’s taking me all day to write three sentences

That’s not the way it used to be, not when I was younger and could dash things off in the flush of inspiration, but it is what I’ve encountered revising my last two books.

It’s not even Wes McNair’s advice to write 400 good words every day. Not unless one of those sentences is an over-the-top wonder of 250 to 300 words.

The turtle pace here seems to arise when I’m trying to weave some new material into an existing draft, making it connect on two sides seamlessly. It’s not just the craft of fine writing, actually, but also the thinking more deeply about the unseen significance of the subject at hand.  What, exactly, is beneath the surface before us?

Of course, as a writer, this pace also has me wondering if I’ve simply used up all the easy stuff and left the bigger challenges for my senior years.

Any suggestions?

A case of real life intersecting fiction

One of the many things I like about using the DuckDuckGo search engine as an alternative to Google is that its home page includes Pocket, an informative selection of intelligent, substantive articles, many drawn from magazine archives, rather than fluff about celebrities and sports.

This morning’s Pocket, for example, included a 2015 Narratively article by Lilly Dancyger, “Planning My Father-Daughter Dance Without My Dad.”

What especially caught my attention was the ways Lilly’s experience intersected with my novel, What’s Left.

Like Cassia in the book, Lilly lost her father to death when she was 11, and like Cassia, she dressed largely in black for years afterward. (Whew! Confirmation I had that part right.)

Unlike my novel’s character, though, Lilly dropped out of high school, sought relief in alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, and embraced a dim future. The homeless were some of her favorite companions.

In contrast, Cassia had a large extended family that stayed with her, even when she kept pushing them away. Yes, she had struggles with her mother much like Lilly’s, and she skirted some of the self-destructive behavior, but each of the three aunts on her mother’s side of the family found ways during her difficult teen years to break through to her, as did several of her first-cousins. In today’s world, few are so fortunate, not with our fractured nuclear households.

Moreover, through her aunt Nita, Cassia also had her father’s trove of his professional photography to sift through, each shot reflecting his thoughts and feelings.

What Lilly presents – and I didn’t – is the workings of guilt within a survivor. As she declares, it merely “isn’t just about feeling unjustly lucky to have lived while someone else died; it’s guilt for going on without them, guilt for changing and growing and becoming a person they never knew. Any milestone is tinged with their absence, any joy feels like a betrayal, like you’ve forgotten them, if only for long enough to laugh at a good joke or enjoy a good meal. But as long as you’re in mourning, your life is still about them, and in that way, they’re still there.”

Lilly’s experience came to a head in planning for her wedding and trying to decide who would walk her down the aisle, if anyone, and who would share that first dance with her at the reception.

That wasn’t the case with Cassia, who instead chose to remain single. But Lilly’s words burn, all the same, as they point to another dimension my novel might have developed.

Ten threats to the hippie vision

When I first started to reflect on his, I was inclined to cite the obvious big forces – the superrich, their military-industrial-financial complex, and a host of similar drains on the common good. I’ll let Bernie Sanders carry that side of the argument for now.

Instead, I’m thinking of some of the themes that play out in my novels Daffodil Uprising and Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.

  1. Individualism. The do-your-own-thing outlook had its upside, but it also dampened our ability to come together for sustained work toward shared goals. Ultimately, it lessened our common identity. Like Kenzie’s housemates at the farm, finding much common ground could be elusive.
  2. Fuzzy goals. Knowing what we were against, often fueled by anger, was rarely balanced by knowing what we were for – nobody had a clear idea of how to go to the better world we sensed was possible. Lifting the draft, for instance, was only one step toward making a more peaceful world. And not wanting to have a marriage or a job like those our parents endured wasn’t the same as raising children in a new way or running a small-is-beautiful successful business.
  3. Disrespect for labor. Yes, I know the “lazy hippie” slur, but I did see a lot of effort put forth, too. An expectation of something for nothing, though, had a divisive impact. Respect for labor also means knowing how to perform a job well and how to earn a livable wage. We were so naïve on so many fronts here.
  4. Drugs. Admittedly, passing the pipe had a tribal quality, but too much simply removed an individual from action. In that sense, the rumors of CIA involvement in the importation of hard drugs as a way to blunt the peace movement begin to sound deviously rational. And LSD left a lot of wreckage.
  5. Sexism and racism. It was there, one way or another. By the way, we didn’t see a lot of black hippies, did we? That in itself could be another topic of discussion.
  6. Free love fallout. For many, it was fun while it lasted. Some even ended up in marriages that have lasted. For many, though, it led instead to betrayals, breakups, and bitterness – not exactly the ideal image when you define hippie as happy.
  7. Irresponsibility. Think of the vanishing food from your shelf in the refrigerator or the things that got permanently borrowed without anyone asking. The list of examples will be long.
  8. Aging. It was a youth movement, maybe the first generational tide in history. Geezer is not part of the definition of hippie – never has been, never will be. Besides, can we trust anyone under 30?
  9. Violence. Few of us have turned out to be as consistently gentle as we’d like. Even if we never crossed over into physical hostility, we’ve likely been verbally wounding. Anyone else remember a few from back then who bought a gun – for self-defense, as they always argued? Especially if they were involved in dealing?
  10. Global warming. I’m not kidding. This will completely thwart any Revolution of Peace & Love as everyone runs for the hills. Or tries to swim in the riptide.

What would you add to the list?

 

 

When the author starts choking up

One of Kenzie’s lovers in Pit-a-Pat High Jinks had long puzzled me. In the earlier versions of the story, I pretty much ran with a set of details mirroring those I had encountered in real life. I refrained from speculating on what she wasn’t telling me – or, by extension, Kenzie.

In the latest set of revisions, though, I ventured beyond that self-imposed taboo. I had learned from two other girlfriends how devastating childhood abuse could be. Yes, in this fictional case, the hypothesis fit. Not that it had to be factually true, but rather that it was a plausible possibility – that was enough for a novelist. As I fleshed out that incident and its impact, I began weeping. If only I had known more of her at the time or more of all three, would the course of our relationships gone differently? The feeling of deep loss and grieving was pervasive, all these decades later.

Likewise, as I was reworked the text that morphed into Daffodil Uprising, the focus shifted from the lighthearted face of the hippie experience to a broader comprehension of its desperation and even destructive fringes – and that sensation also had me grieving. As a deep sense of loss regarding the promise we saw on the horizon but failed to reach and fulfill washed over me, I began seeing the novel as a requiem for the hippie dream.

With Kenzie’s daughter Cassia at my side, though, I started thinking about the way dreams work. They have one foot in the past and the other in the present. And then, even when she was looking at her father’s history, she had her own generation in mind. From where I stand, their situation looks even more confusing than ours had. What can we who did change so much of society, pro and con, offer them now in continuing that vision?

These are dire times, friends. Anyone else feeling some déjà vu and unease?

AND NOW, FOR A COVER!

Thanks to everyone who responded to my earlier invitation for comments regarding a few possible covers for my newest novel.

The survey ended in mixed results and prompted some heated in-house discussion, ultimately sending me back to the drawing board for a more compelling design.

Just what do we want as a cover, anyway? Are people’s faces a help or a distraction? Does a jacket work best if it somehow reflects a scene in the story, as my earlier mock-ups attempted to suggest? Or is reaching for a less constrained, emotional reaction more effective?

What’s Left

As you see, I’ve opted for the later. Here the image invokes a sense of being broken out from a protected shell and falling through space. It’s also appropriate for a family that owns a restaurant – food being a theme running throughout the story. Will this cover encourage a browser to open the book to discover, in effect, just what happens to the yolk? Where it will land?

That, of course, is my goal. To see if it fits, go to Smashwords, where you can order your own Advance Reading Copy for free. The offer will expire after 90 days, when the first edition comes out at $4.95, so act now.

Your early reactions will be most welcome in preparing for that release.