Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Round Robin: Silly Pictures, Not-So-Silly Dog

Okay, here it is, Tuesday night after midnight, technically Wednesday, February 1st, 2006. (Actually, it's still Tuesday as I write this; but it will be Wednesday by the time I click on the orange Publish Post button.) Yep, it's time for another Round Robin Photo Challenge. The topic this time, as suggested by Celeste: Silly Animals!

Now, I really wanted to give you one of my patented off-the-wall interpretions of a RR topic, but I have a contractual obligation to post pictures of Tuffy as often as possible. Besides, no other animal, silly or otherwise, made itself available to me for the photo shoot. So, heeeere's Tuffy!

I took most of these at lunchtime today, when I went home and brandished some dog biscuits to enlist Tuffy's cooperation. The rest I took after work, doing the same thing. Hey, Tuffy's not so silly -she knows what it takes to get some treats out of me!

note the biscuitsNow, if there's one thing Tuffy Toro cares about, aside from (possibly) her people, it's dog biscuits. When John and I walk in the front door, together or separately, Tuffy expects a dog biscuit, and usually gets it. When we walk through the kitchen, Tuffy expects a dog biscuit, and occasionally gets it. When we eat, ditto. And she can pretty much count on a couple of dog biscuits at bedtime. When she gets a treat, she usually takes it outside, or else into the living room. When instead I say, "No food, no treat," or "All gone," it usually takes a while to convince her. Then she stalks off.

So riddle me this: why are there two dog biscuits at Tuffy's feet, uneaten? I'm not quite sure. Silly dog! I think she was trying to figure out what I was up to with the camera and calling her into the kitchen, and was therefore too nervous to eat at that moment - at least until it was clear nothing bad was about to happen.

Yes, Tuffy is a nervous dog. I wouldn't really say she's a silly dog, by and large, but she definitely has her quirks. Drop something, or make a noise, or carry a large box, and she'll probably run away. It takes at least ten minutes to get her to stop barking at anyone in the house other than John and me, and at least half an hour beyond that to get her within ten feet of you. If John and I scratch her on the bed, she'll usually roll onto her back - and start to sneeze about thirty seconds later. She won't eat unless at least one of us is home - unless we're out of town. Then she'll eat a little, eventually.

And one more quirk, although it's totally not Tuffy's fault. She does her heaviest shedding in January and February, the only time of the year when it gets even a little cold around here.

These close-ups are due to Tuffy approaching me as I took the pictures. This wasn't because she's a big fan of the camera. I don't think she really minds it, but she's probably not too fond of the flash, or my inexplicable commands as I set up the shots. But she kept coming up to me because a) she wasn't sure what I wanted from her, b) she gets excited when I go in the back yard with her, and c) (most important) I had dog biscuits. I know these aren't good pictures from a technical standpoint, but I like them. Check out those expressive brown eyes, not distorted by a camera flash, for once, and a little milky with cataracts. Yes, Tuffy's getting older. She's ten years old this year.

Really, though, I don't believe for a moment that Tuffy is the silliest animal in the house. She's just being a dog, wary of dangers, mooching for food, checking up on her people. No, the silliest animals around here are John and Karen - by far.

Here ya go, TufTuf. Good dog.


Now got see what everyone else is posting (and yes, you're still welcome to join in yourself!):

Round Robin Linking List
(as of Wednesday 2/1 at 9:30 PM MST)

Celeste... My Day And Thoughts (AOL) and My Day And Thoughts (Blogspot) Posted
Carly... Ellipsis...Suddenly Carly Posted
Karen... Outpost Mâvarin Posted
Derek... Through My Eyes and Derek's Picture Of The Day
DesLily...Here, There and Everywhere (Blogspot) and Here, There and Everywhere (AOL) Posted
Becky... Where Life Takes You Posted
Robin... Search The Sea
Julie... Julie's Web Journal Posted
T. J.... Photo Inclusions: Every Picture Tells a Story Posted
Tess... First Digital Photos Posted
Kat... Prima Luce
Steven... (sometimes) photoblog Posted
Alan... F-Stop Posted
Kimberleigh... I Shaved My Legs For This? Posted
Patrick... Patrick's Portfolio Posted
Nancy... Nancy Luvs Pix Posted

Monday, January 30, 2006

Museum of the Weird, Revisited

Your Monday Photo Shoot: Take a snap of something in the house you're pretty sure other people aren't likely to have in their house. Pets and people are not included (we're pretty sure your pets and kids aren't in most other people's houses). For this photo shoot we're looking at things -- strange objects, curios, odd keepsakes and just generally weird stuff.

What, again? Between a similar photo shoot requesting the unusual and lots of other miscellaneous entries (in which I admittedly tend to go overboard on the number of pics), I've already shown you most of what would qualify. You've seen the papier mache E.P. Bunny and the cardboard tv minibar, a canned earthquake and a can of sweat (sort of), cushions made from vintage ties, some of my rare books, most of our collection of original art, my vintage Barbies, my Remco dolls, our vintage swizzle sticks, our tikis, our 1958 Disneyland map, a Rathbone life mask, a McIntosh tambourine, vintage lamps, turquoise and salmon sailboats, our Beatles Flip Your Wig Game, and our John Lennon autograph. It's true that you haven't seen our Star Trek lemon-soaked paper napkin, but that's because it's in a box somewhere. At least I've mentioned it. So what's left that you haven't seen - and that's not in a box?

Oh, I'm sure I can come up with something!

How about some Funny Face drink cups from 1969 and 1970? Funny Face was a competitor to Kool-Aid, introduced by Pillsbury in 1964. These cups represent Freckle Face Strawberry, Jolly Olly Orange, and Loud-Mouth Punch. Maybe. The Jolly Olly Orange character replaced the culturally insensitive (but more interesting) Injun Orange at the same time Chinese Cherry became Choo Choo Cherry. I'm pretty sure this cup is the second Orange character. But the pink cup doesn't quite seem to match any character designs I've seen. Is he the later character Loud-Mouth Punch, or a smooth-faced Rootin' Tootin' Raspberry? I've asked an expert to stop by and let us know, but the more I research his site, the more I think I've got these identified correctly now. I had them wrong before.

The "What's All This Then?" policeman is a mini promo standup for Cornerstone's Monty Python trading cards. (The full size one was about six feet tall.) The black and white box to the right of that was designed by John for Cornerstone's first trading card set ever, featuring John Steed and Emma Peel - The Avengers.

Here are some vintage Hanna Barbera toys. Huckleberry Hound is a bank - and no, I don't know why some of his merchandise was red instead of blue, as it should have been. Baba Louie, Top Cat and Fancy-Fancy are Tinykins - by Marx! Weirdly, the Tinykins are labeled Barbera-Hanna Productions, 1961, instead of Hanna Barbera.

These are called Nutty Mads - by Marx! They're a John thing. Actually, most of this stuff is John's.

And here's something definitely unusual, and definitely mine. This is one of two notebooks containing my mom's handwritten sheet music. I grew up with this notebook. Most of her best songs are in it. Someday I'll find a way to transcribe them. The snowman candle to the right is at least 40 years old. There's a story associated with it - which I'm not going to tell you tonight.

Before I sign off, I just want to remind everyone that this Wednesday is the Round Robin Photo Challenge. Subject: Silly Animals! Go sign up on the Round Robin blog, if you haven't done so already, and get ready to post photos of humorous fauna!

Oh, and that entry I started last night, I'll continue later this week. I'm overscheduled again.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Burning Down the House, Part One

A number of discussions I've come across recently - friends' postings about the James Frey debacle, comments by my husband and a conversation with a friend - have me thinking about the related issues of honesty, privacy and oversharing.

As I said just last night, it seems that I constantly write about myself in this blog. To an extent this is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. After all, people say to "write what you know." What you know the most about is inevitably going to be your own life - what's happened to you and around you, your relationships with people you love and people who drive you crazy, what you're planning and doing, dreaming about and trying to accomplish, and what you think about it all. The terms "journal" and "journaling" acknowledge the fact that many blogs, perhaps even most of them, are essentially online diaries, unlocked for the world to see.

For some reason, we feel free to say almost anything online that we would say in a journal we keep hidden in a dresser drawer. I think this is because we know that the whole world isn't reading, and that the people who do read our words are likely to be supportive and sympathetic. Trolls aside, most of us read certain blogs because we like what those particular bloggers have to say. Soon we get to know them, and start to think of them as friends. As a result, we are available to lend support and sympathy and advice. This support system beats the heck out of confiding in a teddy bear - or in the diary in the drawer.

Still, there are problems and limitations to this brave new world. For one thing, on any given day, we might get a reader who is not our friend. Someone with a very different opinion about religion or politics or sex (to name the obvious examples) might surf by, and leave a hurtful comment. Or some employer or relative may take offense at something we said.

Another problem is that, Shelly reminds us, people aren't always honest online. People want attention or sympathy, and sometimes they'll lie to get it. Like the infamous Frey, they exaggerate, or just plain make stuff up. This makes no sense to me, frankly, but it happens. (The story of Black Rose Kate doesn't count as a lie, right?)

Listen, I'd love to tie this entry together tonight, and make sense of the relationship between online honesty and online privacy. But it's late, and I really need to wash my hair and get some sleep. We'll just have to continue this later. For now, I'll just say this. This journaling stuff is a fun and rewarding thing, at least part of the time. But we need to be aware that our words can have consequences - and not all those consequences are good ones.

Good night!


Saturday, January 28, 2006

That Was the Missing Equation

Well, Sarah did come up with the first of the three kinds of weirdness in last night's "experimental" entry. It was written in second person, future tense, like the 1959 kid's book, You Will Go to the Moon. I'm sure I've mentioned this book before, either in Musings or in my LJ, Mâvarin & Other Inspirations, but Google only finds me talking about it in comments to two other people's blogs. Bea's was one of them.

The second oddity about that entry, which nobody began to guess, was in what it didn't have. Nowhere in it did I use the words me, myself or I, my or mine, we or us, our or ours, or even the name Karen. As much as I typically talk about myself - almost obsessively, it seems sometimes, I've long wanted to write an entry in which I didn't mention myself at all. It made for an interesting writing exercise, but with the whole second person thing, nobody noticed this extra wrinkle. But that's okay. I'll probably try it again sometime, but without the second person gimmick.

That leaves the third secret weirdness in last night's entry. Unlike the second oddity, it involved something that was in the entry, but was barely visible. Since nobody guessed that one, either, I'm not going to say what it was. If you do find it, you'll also find out how to let me know you know, without letting anyone else know you know. You know?

Tonight I think I finished the edit of the cover letter, subject to any further suggestions I may get (and decide to take) from beta readers. Now I just need to renew my membership with Writer's Market Online, and use that and other resources to find out my best bets for agents and publishers to try next, as well as any workshops where I might make a connection without spending too much money I don't have.

Oh, and I posted the next part of Heirs of Mâvarin, Chapter Two over on my fiction blog. And yes, I redesigned that blog today, too. That one got a background photo that I actually took myself. The one on this blog is just MS clip art, but I like it. It reminds me of the River Misis in Mâvarin.


Friday, January 27, 2006

Experimental Blogging

Tonight's entry will be an experimental one; and you, dear reader, will be the subject of this experiment. You will also have something to gain from it, if you act quickly and use your brain effectively. If you are the first person to correctly identify all three experimental elements of this posting, you will win a prize. You, the clever winner, will decide exactly what the prize will be, subject to budgetary and practical constraints. No, you won't get a real live pony, or even a large wad of cash.

If you are a longtime reader of this blog and its predecessor, you may recall previous references to a book about a child going to the moon. If you remember the title of this book, you will know the book's gimmick, the same one that will probably annoy you more and more as you read this blog entry. In fact, if you read that particular picture book as a child, either in the early 1960s or in its 1971 revised edition, you will probably still remember how weird and annoying it was. If not, this blog entry will remind you - or introduce you to this unique form of annoyance.

And if by any chance you're intrigued instead of annoyed, and wonder what other books use this same gimmick, you should have no trouble learning the answer with Google. You will probably find that at least one book for adults does something similar. You will also discover, if you care to do the research, that other experimental forms of writing also exist in adult fiction. And if you research the 1959 moon book on Amazon, you will also find an audio CD with the same title, recorded by someone with an odd name.

Are you going to take on the challenge of determining the three secrets of this entry? By now you will have figured out the first, most obvious odd characteristic of the words before you. If you think about it, you will probably figure out the second oddity, especially if you consider the autobiographical style of other entries.

That will serve as your second hint.

For the third hint, you may want to ponder tonight's innovations to the rest of the template. If you figure out how they were done, you will probably come across the third and final secret of this entry. The trail will eventually lead you to Shelly of Presto Speaks, giver of great blogging tips - but that will not be the answer to this brain teaser.

So. Will you play along? Or will you click away without leaving a comment?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

No, I'm Not My Mom. But...

Weekend Assignment #96: "For ladies: Name an incident when you thought: '"OMG I AM my mother! For guys: Same with your father!"

Extra credit: What did you parents do when you told them about it?

Here is one of the very few pictures I have of my mom and me together. This was on May 12th, 1979, the day I almost graduated from college. I had four incompletes at the time, all in English. I made up one of them later, but Dr. B. never turned in the grade. It doesn't matter now. A quarter century later, I graduated for real, in a much more lucrative field than English Lit.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about tonight.

My history with my mom was long and varied. Sometimes we were best friends, sometimes bitter enemies. Early on she took care of me, and at the end I took care of her. But I never became my mom - not in the sense of growing more like her as an adult. The similarities that do exist have to do with genetics and upbringing, not me getting old and crochety, or becoming a parent. Let's run down the checklist, shall we?

Smart and creative
Smart and creative
Lifelong Democrat
Lifelong Democrat
Fat (except at the end) and sedentary
(Usually) fat and sedentary
Naturally shy, but you wouldn't know it; very outgoing
Shy, but you might not know it; somewhat outgoing
Lapsed Catholic
Lapsed Catholic, active Episcopalian
Ph.D. in Psychology
B.S.B. in Business/Accounting
Licensed clinical psychologist
Accountant, but not a CPA. Yet.
Former professional singer
Various high school choirs, but nothing since
Prolific songwriter and even more prolific lyricist
Occasional songwriter and lyricist
Playwright and would-be novelist
Novelist and essayist
Amateur actress
Does the occasional dramatic reading; church lector
Overachiever - served on 5 boards of directors (mostly charities) in 1965
Reluctant workaholic, Church volunteer and compulsive blogger
Divorced after 26 yearsStill happily married after 26 years.
Two children
Unable to have children
Multiple health problems, including back injury, polioencephalitis, Hepatitis C, diverticular desease, IBS, stroke, etc.
Just back injury, allergies, gall bladder (removed) and I.B.S.
Lifelong smoker, drank in moderationNever smoked, don't drink
Funny, but only occasionally witty
Funny, but only occasionally witty
Ethical and loving
Reasonably ethical and loving
Terrible taste in clothing
It's not true, John, I swear!

There's really never been a specific incident that made me think I've become more like my mom. John occasionally claims I'm like her, in unflattering ways; and it's true that I'm very aware of the need to start taking better care of myself to avoid the health problems she had later in life. But the similarities that exist are the same ones that were always there.


When I was in high school, and being criticized at home for "only" five As on a report card, I'd look at my overachieving mom and think that I'd never be like that. I mean, she worked downtown at a clinic, put in time at the MHA, had a private practice at home, acted and directed and wrote plays on the side. She did all this despite the fact that she needed to take a nap every afternoon, a little souvenir of the encephalitis. I was sure I'd never be that driven, never be the status conscious workaholic, striving for excellence.

So what do you call a woman who ended up with a 3.97 GPA for her second stint in college, who works eight hours a day and sometimes more, comes home and writes very single night, polishes blog entries for hours, and helps out her church as a lector, acolyte, blogger, photographer and webmaster? Am I any less driven than my mom? Am I any more able to relax and do nothing than she was in her prime? I think not. She had different interests and activities and concerns, but I'm every bit as overscheduled as she ever was.

On the extra credit, I don't recall that I ever discussed this issue with either parent. It's too late to discuss it with Mom (well, I can talk to her, but I won't get a reply), and I'm unlikely to mention it to my dad.

But here's the bottom line to all this. I do have some of my mom's faults, not all of which I listed above. I also have most of her strong points. And while I'm a bit ashamed of the former, I'm darn proud of the latter - not because of my own achievements, necessarily, but because I had a mom who passed that stuff on to me, and encouraged me to become the best Karen I could possibly be. I'm still working on that.

Thanks, Mom.


Tribute page: Dr. Ruth Anne Johnson

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Back to the, Umm, Present, Mostly

No sepia photos tonight. I will just tell you that most of the photos from the last couple of nights are less than a year old. The pictures of the train, the school and the hanging were all taken at Old Tucson on 3/20/05, using my then-new Canon Powershot S410. I was there with my dad, a.k.a. Old Man Funk in that one train shot. I photographed the bathing suit ad and the apothecary window at Trail Dust Town about a week before that. The Tombstone ones were actual black and white photos, taken around 1986 or 1987, I'm guessing. Neither of my cheap/free photo editing programs have a sepia setting, so I converted the color shots to grayscale in one program, and then used color sliders in the other program to fake the sepia tone as best I could. Then I used the first program to add fake film grain, but I'm not sure it was noticeable.

So. Anyway.

I've finished the edit on the synopsis, and I'm starting on the edit of the query. I have a 2004 version that I'll try working with first, but I reserve the right to start over from scratch. The 2004 document is a page and a half long, goes into too much detail about the second novel, and is directed at a specific editor. I think it needs to be mostly about Heirs, mention Mages just in passing, and be kept down to a page if possible. Plus I need to research whether my first submissions will be queries or cover letters, and where the heck I'm sending them. The research part will be fun, I think, but the submission part will be kind of hard for me. Still, I feel good about the synopsis. If the query / cover letter is as satisfactory, I will be the most optimistic about the submission process that I've ever been.

The year is "closed" at work - well, the part of it that needed to be closed this week, anyway. I got through what I had to do in time, so my stress level is down a bit.


I hurt someone's feelings last week, and it's still bugging me. The other person didn't say anything, and I got all freaked out anyway. Weird, huh?

See, I overanalyze everything, and overexplain everything, and being insecure, sometimes I let myself come to wrong conclusions.

I tried to explain this after church to some friends. The conversation went something like this:

Friend #1: "Is something the matter? You seem pensive.
Me: "I was just thinking about my faults."
Friend #1: "Oh, that sounds juicy. Tell us what specifically you think your faults are--"
Friend #2: "--So we can deny that you have them and reassure you."

So I told them about this overanalyzing thing, how I overthink stuff and it gets me in trouble sometimes. And no, they didn't tell me I was wrong in thinking that I'd messed up.

"Sometimes I shouldn't say words." - Xander Harris, BtVS

Yes, I know I'm being all cryptic here. Again. But here's the thing about this, the part that makes it universal, so that it doesn't matter whether you know what I said or didn't say to whom and why.

There is apparently no way to guarantee that you'll never hurt someone's feelings without meaning to, or to guarantee that you won't be similarly hurt. At different times I've been both X and Y in most of the following scenarios:
  • If Person X tells person Y exactly what he thinks about something, there's a chance that person Y will be hurt by the truth. If Person X goes on and on, explaining it all to justify his point of view and make sure Y understands, the very doggedness of the exchange can make things worse. And if X is saying something positive, Y may simply not believe it.
  • If Person X tries to say what he thinks and Person Y misunderstands it, Y will probably interpret the words in the worst possible way, and get angry or sad or crushed or frustrated, or all of the above. I've seen that happen a number of times, friendships destroyed and clubs split in two because the same words mean one thing to X and another to Y.
  • If Person X lies to Y, Y will be upset when he or she learns the truth - either immediately or later on.
  • If Person X doesn't say anything, Person Y can imagine all sorts of reasons for the noncommunication, and put the worst possible spin on the situation. After all, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." So not saying anything could mean that the other person's alternative would have been to be "not nice!"
You see? Person X can't win! Human nature being what it is, every attempt at communication - or even non-communication - between two reasonable, intelligent people who like each other, has a reasonably large chance of ending in tears.
To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.
Douglas Adams , The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
I was thinking about this again today, partly because a woman was on NPR at lunchtime, promoting a book she wrote after going undercover as a man for research purposes. One of the points she made was that men and women have vastly different norms for style, purpose, and depth of communication. She said (among other things) that women often assume the man doesn't want to communicate, and get angry, when that's not it at all. Often the man is just not adept at communicating in the expansive, touchy-feely way that the woman wants. That's not the man's normal idiom. "Suck it up and keep your mouth shut" is how men are generally socialized to behave.

Tyler Durden: The first rule of Fight Club is - you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is - you DO NOT talk about Fight Club. - Fight Club (1999)

Now, I tend to run screaming from any generalization, including this one. Not all women go on endlessly about their feelings, and not all men are incapable of expressing them. But even when the gender gap isn't in effect, there's no guarantee that any two people will stay on the same page. We're all too different from each other to have all the same reactions to all the same words and situations. And really, how much fun would that be, to all be the same? Plus any given person on any given day may react outside his or her normal parameters, because of being tired or distracted or depressed or angry or excited or elated or...well, due to any state of mind you can possibly name.

So how do we cope? I guess we just do our best, that's all. We try to get to know the other person well enough to guess how to avoid stepping on verbal land mines, and to trust the person not to have meant that particular utterance to be as terrible as it sounded. We have to cut each other some slack. And when we mess up, as we inevitably will, we have to try to learn from what happened, and repair bridges if we can, instead of burning them.

"Apologize when necessary." - Grunthos the Flatulant, poetry text in
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (tv series)

I'm sorry.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

More Adventures in the Old West

In case you think that all I did while visiting Arizona Territory in 1888 was ogle a train and watch a hanging, I've got some more pictures for you.

A good time traveler dresses appropriately for the local norms. But I could not have brought myself to wear this! I dressed ranchhand style, as seen below.

That's me in the cowboy hat, dressed fairly appropriately for one of the most famous boom towns of the era. This is Boothill Graveyard in Tombstone, not the one in Tucson where they took the man I saw strung up. (Boot Hill, a play on the idea of "dying with his boots on," was a fairly common name for cemeteries in the Old West.) The "residents" here include Billy Claybourne, Billy Clanton, Frank & Tom McLaury, someone called Stinging Lizard, and...

...good old Lester Moore. Moore was a Wells Fargo agent in the border town of Naco, Arizona. He was shot to death for delivering a package that was damaged in transit. Ah, those were the days, huh?

Educational opportunities in those days weren't what they are now. Here's one of the first public schools in Arizona. I'd be wary of a classroom where the concept of a right angle is not fully understood.

I'm pretty sure these guys were getting ready to rob a bank. Would they have found something better to do had they had a better education? Hard to say.

These buildings were in a place that was already a ghost town by 1888. Perhaps the fact that the gun shop was next door to the funeral parlor provides a hint as to why the town didn't last.

If you do go visiting the 19th century, try not to get sick or injured - and if you do, don't rely on the local medical facilities. The doctors, surgeons and apothecaries aren't going to have what you need.

Yeah. Arizona Territory. It's an interesting place to visit. But I wouldn't want to live there!


Monday, January 23, 2006

Eyewitness to History: Arizona Territory

Your Monday Photo Shoot: Share some of your favorite black and white photos. Older pictures are good, but what you also might think about is seeing how some of your favorite color pictures look in black and white -- most computer photo editors will let you make a photo black and white (or sepia-toned -- that's monochromatic, too). This is an opportunity to look at some of your best photos in a new way.

Time to hop in the TARDIS (or the Wayback Machine) for a trip to Old Tucson! As you can see from the quality of the photos, I stuck to the technology of the time rather than bring a digital camera to the past with me.

The railroad engineer, Old Man Funk, shows off his locomotive.
Unfortunately, a desperado set fire to it some years ago.

Another view of the burned-out locomotive.

The train station.

I arrived in Old Tucson just in time for some frontier justice.

From his haircut, I suspect that the man in front of me was another time traveler.

This man was arrested, tried, and hanged in the course of about ten minutes.
He never even saw the inside of a courtroom.

A judge sealed the man's fate from a second floor balcony.

After the hanging, the unfortunate criminal was carted off toward Boot Hill. The child in the photo is another suspected time traveler. I assume he did not visit the past by himself, but he appears to have wandered off. This could have had severe consequences to the timeline, but everything seems to be okay.

The U.S. Marshall, who wasn't a party to the hanging, was philosophical about it.
"These things happen all the time around here," he said.

More time travel photos to come!


(All photos by KFB, 3/20/05)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Midnight Accountant

Although it's sometimes hard for me to find the time and motivate myself to do it, there are definite advantages to working at the Tucson HQ of Unnamed Largish company on a Sunday night:
  1. It's peaceful. There's no noise, no hubbub of people moving around and talking and answering phones. Even some of the lights are off.
  2. It's private. Well, sort of. Even on a Sunday night, there are security guards and cleaning staff, and the building has electronic surveillance. But an hour or two may go by without my actually seeing anyone. I end up feeling as though it's my personal, secret domain.
  3. I can sing along with my iPod without disturbing anyone.
  4. Nobody adds to my workload. No emails come in, asking me to do something. My boss doesn't call me into her office.
  5. There are no distractions - well, except self-generated ones.
  6. I get to park right next to the employee entrance in the main parking lot.

I've worked as late as 1:00 or 2:00 AM a time or two, but tonight I only made it to 11 PM. This is largely because I was sleepy-tired before I even went over there, and I forgot to bring my iPod to help keep me going. Once I stopped using the high speed connection to look something up, I accomplished quite a bit -but when I discovered that I'd made a serious copy and paste error in the second tab of my Q&R spreadsheet, I knew it was time to go.

Now to get to bed, so I can concentrate tomorrow!


Saturday, January 21, 2006

Wanted: 48-Hour Saturdays

It's the same old problem. I had a lot to do today, and I only did some of it. That means I have twice as much to get done on Sunday, on a day that's already crowded with obligations. Chief among them is going in to the office, which I absolutely need to do, and didn't.

I did get my Heirs synopsis revised, though. Friends gave me some very good and valid suggestions for improving what I sent out a few nights ago. Tonight I edited it for clarity, explaining some things and taking out others, and reducing the instances of passive voice where I could. My beta readers will probably be a bit annoyed when they see how many versions of the thing I emailed tonight, over a period of a couple of hours. But I think the results are worth it.

I also collected and sorted about ten loose chapters from my Mages of Mâvarin printout. These were in three different rooms. Now they're in one. I'd like to use my notes from those pages, and from my Mages notebook, to start revising Mages, as I just did with Heirs. But that way madness lies. One thing at a time, Karen!

Next task: the cover letter and query letter for Heirs of Mâvarin. Which one I send will depend on the guidelines of the specific agent or publisher. I have no clue yet where I'll send it, but I will submit my first novel somewhere, very soon, once I've done the necessary research. Many thanks to Sarah, Sara, Becky, Julie and Linda for helping me get to this point!

Oh, by the way, I also posted Chapter Two, Part Two of Heirs tonight over on Messages from Mâvarin. If you're curious about all this Mâvarin stuff I'm always going on about, this is your chance to read part of it. I'm up to the bit where Del finally learns what really happened to Rani. You can, too!

Tomorrow I'll be in church, and taking a couple of friends to see Narnia, and doing the stuff at the office that I didn't get done today. So I'll probably just have a short entry. You never know, though; I might get inspired!

Speaking of inspiration, it's time to start getting inspired about the next Round Robin Photo Challenge. The topic, as chosen by Celeste of My day and thoughts, is "Silly Animals." I think we all know at least one animal that's less than dignified sometimes. Does your dog, cat, horse, pig, bird, of other pet look or act silly? Are you plagued by a silly squirrel, or dive bombed by a silly starling? What about the antics of animals at the zoo? Photograph your silly animals, and post the result on Wednesday, February 1st. Check out the Round Robin Photo Challenges blog for details. I look forward to seeing your pictures!


Listening to Lennon

Parts of this entry are going to be heavy on the cryptic, due to my self-imposed policy of not writing too much about my job. Bear with me.

So today I was on the second day of what amounts to a data entry task, one that I have to do twice a month at work. It used to take me about two and a half days to do the job, but with all the innovations I've made in the last seven months, I've finally got it down to just under two days - this despite the fact that the report I'm working with gets longer almost every time. Today I would have finished at least an hour or two sooner, but I made several major mistakes at the very end that were hard to track down. At one point my total was half a million dollars off! Frustrating, very.

But I got it done, and left work only about an hour or so later than usual. Had I not been so tired toward the end of the day, I'm sure I would have done better.

Now one of the innovations I've made in my approach to this task is designed to counter the tedium of the data entry, my sleepiness if I didn't get to bed at a decent hour, and the tendency of my mind to wander away from the task at hand - any task at hand. Can you guess what I use to do all that?

That's right. I play my iPod.

Back in December, around the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death, I filled the remaining space on my iPod with nearly the entire Lennon box set of CDs. This is in addition to the Beatles music that was already on there, along with a McCartney song, some Harrison, a bunch of Disney, pretty much everything by The Clash, and lots of other stuff. Since then, John Lennon's music has come up a lot when I've had my iPod mini set to shuffle songs. But until today, I don't recall that it ever played two Lennon songs in a row, or even two Lennon vocals in a row.

But today I heard Cold Turkey, followed by the Beatles' And Your Bird Can Sing, with John on lead vocal. I was struck by the difference between the two songs. Cold Turkey is undoubtedly a great song, with a killer guitar riff. And Your Bird Can Sing is a good but not outstanding track from the Beatles' middle period, the bridge between "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" and the post-Pepper era of non-stop innovation. Cold Turkey is all about the misery of getting off heroin, complete with a minute or two of screaming at the end, which is painful to listen to. And Your Bird Can Sing is a fun second person song, typical of early Lennon lyrics with its mild wordplay and its interpersonal subject matter, about some girl and how she makes him feel. In this case, she doesn't impress him very much. It's a good song, better than most music by anyone other than The Beatles, but nothing special compared to If I Fell and No Reply and Norwegian Wood (for example), all of which are Lennon vocals. (Generally speaking, if John handles most of the vocals on a Beatles song, it means that he wrote most of it.)

Between Cold Turkey and And Your Bird Can Sing, I'd rather listen to And Your Bird Can Sing. I'd rather have fun than commiserate with Lennon's drug-related pain.

I was still thinking about this when the next song started. You guessed it: it was yet another Lennon vocal: Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. This was the Beatles version, but I also have the Elton John/John Lennon version on the iPod. That is one pathetic recording. You can barely hear John on it. That was during his "Lost Weekend" era, and it shows, with Elton John completely carrying the performance, and John barely showing up. But the Beatles version is outstanding, Lennon at his very best. Oh, yeah, that's much better than And Your Bird Can Sing.

This little audio adventure in random synchronicity wasn't quite over yet. The next song was Angel Baby, an 1950s rock and roll song as covered by John Lennon in the early 1970s. It's not lyrically clever like either of the Beatles songs that preceded it, but Lennon clearly enjoyed singing it. That made it fun to listen to.

And oh, yeah, the iPod gave me a little Lennon encore 22 songs later, with God and Intuition back to back. That got me to thinking again about the solo Lennon era in general. For all his genius, John Lennon got in definite ruts in his solo work. His early songs without Paul are mostly either political or about his pain. And really, song after song about a rich rock star's misery and disillusionment gets to be a bit much after a while. His other subject matter, love, is less palatable than his work as a Beatle. This is because the women in his earlier work were either nameless or fictional or both. But after 1970, his love songs pretty much always have the name Yoko attached to them. Sure, she was the love of his life, and he was entitled to write about that rather complex relationship. But whereas Paul wrote lots and lots of love songs for Linda but seldom mentioned her name in them, John named Yoko many, many times. This really limits the universality of those songs.

I wrote the cover story for this.

After John Lennon died, there was a huge tendency in this country (and probably around the world) to build up John Lennon as the main talent behind The Beatles, and a better solo artist than Paul McCartney. This was a mistake. The Beatles were four talented artists, working together and inspiring each other; and the songwriting partnership of Lennon and McCartney was more of a powerhouse of creativity, discipline and innovation than either artist managed on his own later. Yes, John Lennon wrote a number of great songs without Paul, and I won't be pulling those off my iPod anytime soon. But I have to wonder whether he would have moved beyond his pain, politics and Yoko fixations had he lived beyond 1980 - or whether his best days as a songwriter would inevitably have been behind him after April, 1970.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Dust, Dollars and Disappointments

Okay, it'll be a miracle if I manage to make a coherent entry out of all that's blowing around in my head tonight. Let's get the Weekend Assignment out of the way first, and then move on to other subjects, only tangentally related.

Weekend Assignment #95: The Best Money You Ever Spent

Welcome to the first of five Journaler-suggested Weekend Assignments, leading up to the 100th Weekend Assignment a few weeks from now. This week's special Weekend Assignment was suggested by Teeisme57:

"My ex-husband always said the best 10 bucks he ever spent was buying his dog, Ace, from the local animal shelter. What's the best money you've ever spent? Whether it's something you love, something you use all the time or something that doesn't owe you a nickel, what is it?"

"Extra Credit: Aside from food, what's the next purchase you plan to make?"

This is one of the rarest titles in my Madeleine L'Engle collection. I've showed the book to you before, but not this particular photo of it. It's her second novel, Ilsa, published in 1946. The Small Rain (1945) has been reprinted many times over the decades, and most of L'Engle's other novels have been reprinted at least once. Some have been continuously in print for 40 years or more. But Ilsa has never been reprinted. It never will be, at least not in L'Engle's lifetime.

The reason is this: she doesn't like it very much.

She's right, too. It's not a very good book. It has interesting characters and an intriguing setting, mood and tragedy and excitement and pathos and social commentary - but ultimately, it's a failure. The protagonist, if you can call him that, drifts along, never really makes any decisions, and ends up with a wasted and ruined life. The title character (unlike Henry) at least has strength of character and an independent spirit, but Ilsa ultimately makes as big a mess of her life as Henry does. Plus she goes blind, as I recall, for no good reason.

Needless to say, I was rather disappointed when I finally got to read Ilsa. It started out very well, but was actually painful to read through to the end.

So why is Ilsa such a great purchase to have made?

Well, for one thing, this is a book I started to read in 1972 or so, and was never able to finish until our friend Kal found me a copy in 1996. I spent a lot of time in a lot of bookstores, looking for this elusive book, first seen in the Manlius Public Library. So I had a specific connection with this book, as I wondered for years and years whether I failed to finish it as a young teen because I wasn't old enough to appreciate it, or whether the book itself was at fault, or both. Now I know. It was both.

Second, as a Madeleine L'Engle collector, I've been trying to collect at least one copy of each of her books. Not having Ilsa would mean that I had a serious gap in the collection, one that would be almost impossible to fill.

Third, there's the fact that this is the most sought-after of L'Engle's books, and one of the most valuable. I still have the receipt for the $40 I paid for my copy in 1996. I was extremely lucky to get it for that price. (Thanks again, Kal!) I have seen the book in similar condition on eBay, selling for over $600. Even a photocopy has been known to fetch $80.

And no, my copy is not for sale.

So that's the best money I've ever spent - at least, that's the best purchase I remember at the moment. See below for the extra credit.

It was windy here today, especially late in the afternoon. When I left work there was a dusty brown cloud hanging over the Catalinas. I had a couple of chances to take pictures of it, because when I reached my car, I discovered I'd left my keys on my desk. So I made two more trips across that dangerous crosswalk, and took more photos while I was at it.

Afterward I went to Dillard's before heading home. I parked on the roof of the Park Place parking garage, figuring it would offer me still more photographic opportunities. That high parking lot offers an almost unimpeded view of the mountains. By the time I left, it also gave me a great view of odd peaks of cloud over the mountains, with an orange sunset off to the left.

Why was I at Dillard's? It was about the dress. You know the one. John hates that dress, and I clearly can't wear it without losing a lot of weight first. Nevertheless, that blue and brown dress has been on my mind. It reminds me of a magical dress Cathma is given in volume two of the second novel. Yes, I know it's weird, but there are a number of items in the real world that I like, based almost entirely on my associating them with Mâvarin and its characters. To me, that blue dress is a fantasy dress, in more ways than one. If I could diet down into it, buy it and wear it and actually look good in it, what a triumph that would be.

So I went in to see whether the dress was still there, two months after I first tried it on. It was. They even have one that's theoretically only one size too small for me, although I suspect it would take a major weight loss to really be able to wear it. And yes, it was marked down on sale - to $135.00. That blows that idea! I can't justify buying a $135 dress that looks great on me, let alone one that looks so bad that John was ashamed of me when he saw the photo.

But I still want it.

I had an odd little flurry of emails today from Carlong Publishers (Caribbean) Ltd., seeking permission to reprint my photo of the sand painting shown above. I was initally perplexed by the request, because they asked to reproduce the photo of an African sand painting from my website. Although the original photo is stored on mavarin.com, it's never actually been posted on mavarin.com - and it's Navajo, not African.

But what the heck. Carlong publishes workbooks and activity books for elementary-level students in Jamaica, and they apparently want to illustrate an activity for making sand paintings. So of course I said yes. Who am I to stand in the way of some Caribbean kid's education? No, there's no money in it, but I asked for a copy of the workbook. So I guess this means I'm going to be a published photographer - sort of.

Now, returning to the issue of the dress, and other frivolous purchases, the only way I could justify spending serious money on a "magic" dress, or a caftan fit for a wizard, which I've also been ogling, would be if I were to sell the novel. To that end, I've emailed a draft of my Heirs of Mâvarin synopsis to a handful of writerly friends. The results so far have not been all that encouraging. I see I have some work to do, getting a synopsis that conveys the gist of the story to someone who hasn't already read it, and makes it sound intriguing and marketable and all that good stuff.

Years ago, I had trouble writing the Adventures subset of the Doctor Who trading cards. I had only a tiny block of space for my text, and it needed to be what the serial was about, not what happened in it. This synopsis thing, I suspect, is a similar writing problem.

But I'll get it, and I'll sell the book eventually. This Karen swears. I'll also get dieting again, because as much as I believe that obesity should not be a source of terrible shame, it's not a good thing, either. Maybe someday I actually will buy that silly dress, or some other dress suitable for Mâvarin - or to wear on a book tour. The other thing I plan to do with the book money - and this one's for sure - is to commission the making of a pendant with the Sun and River design, the symbol of Mâvarin. I don't know when I'll sell the book, so I don't know when I'll make that purchase. But I will sell the book, and I will have that jewelery made.

And now you know the answer to the Extra Credit question.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Mountain Moods

I have a more ambitious entry planned for sometime soon, but I think tonight I'll just post some mountain shots I took today.

This was my view as I drove to work this morning. Somehow the mountains looked extra large at 8 AM. Unfortunately, the cars ahead of me ruined the effect.

I think it was something about the quality of the light, which kind of washed out the mountains as the camera saw them. The shadows were a little more prominent to the naked eye.

Also, there were high clouds, which hasn't been the norm since the monsoon ended. I heard in passing the other day that El Niño is forming. We'll probably start having our winter rains soon. The temperature this morning was about 36 degrees, which has been typical recently. The high today was 70. That temperature spread makes it hard to dress appropriately for both the morning drive AND going to lunch!

This was my third and final attempt to capture the mountains' morning mood.

I didn't leave work until after sunset, partly because at the end of the day I took advantage of the high speed connection to check out Round Robin entries. Probably saved me an hour of loading time! There's something kind of cool about photos taken at dusk, with all those late rush hour cars blaring their headlights, even though it's not dark yet. Of course, by law they have to do this from sunset on.

This last shot is facing the other direction, toward the Santa Rita mountains south of town. There was definitely more cloud cover at the end of the day than when the day started.

Coming soon: But Is It Art?