Monthly Archives: January 2012

Review: The Namesake

The Namesake
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book that allows the reader to gain an understanding of what it is like to immigrate from one culture to another that is dramatically different. As the father-in-law of an Indian-born naturalized citizen, I feel this book has given me a much better grasp of the large community people that have become related, through marriage, to my daughter.
In all honesty, I should give this book five stars. Lahiri is a masterful writer with a unique voice that pours her character’s conflicted emotions directly into the reader’s consciousness and makes it easy to view their life as each of those characters see it. Though a work of fiction, this story feels real and challenges the reader to examine his or her own life through just such a clear and honest lens. I did not give it a five because I found the book depressing. I’m too much of a romantic to accept that love is so easily gained and lost; that a real connection between two people can be cut completely and irretrievably. The main character finds and loses love many times and I could feel myself losing empathy for him–I didn’t want to be in position to feel the pain that is obviously coming. In many ways, it appears that this is what Gogol himself does.
In terms of the clarity of the writing, I count this among the novels that set the standard to which I aspire.

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What kind of people … !!??

Litter

Image by nifwlseirff via Flickr

(Be warned! This is the first rant I’ve posted on my blog. It may not be pretty; but I’m pissed enough that I don’t really care. I took my own pictures of the trash along the road, but left my cable for downloading back in Wyoming. And now–on with the rant!)

This morning I awoke to a January 19 that was glorious–sunshine, brisk clean air and a light breeze. I was in a great mood because I was in the midst of a four-day visit with my grandkids, because I was about to kick off a five-city book tour, because I got to run with my son last night, and because I was feeling healthy and confident about my training for the Boston marathon. Running through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this should have been one of those memorable long runs, and it was … for all the wrong reasons.

It started well. I ran out of my son’s neighborhood, over Route 340, across a field to the railroad tracks. I was thinking about running north along the tracks until I found that this set of tracks didn’t have a service road alongside like the ones back home in Wyoming. So I made my way along the tracks, skipping and stuttering down the ties–having fun despite the uneven footing–until I came to a road, which I then followed and began a long loop course on which I eventually covered eleven miles.

My son lives south of the small Virginia city of Waynesboro. This farm country lies in the rolling foothills below the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is land that shocks you with its generosity. The exuberant, fertile goodness of the earth is close to the surface here in Virginia. After almost two years in Wyoming, Virginia seems like a rich, green Eden.

Back on the roads, well into my run, I began to notice the trash strewn about this otherwise idyllic landscape. I was on a roller coaster of a country lane called Rockfish Gap Road. It runs between farms and homesteads, some new and some old and stately. Wide fields that look verdant even in winter were interspersed with bright, well-kept houses sporting broad lawns, covered porches, and field stone fences.

Rockfish Gap is not a commuter road. The people who use the road live around here. This is their “home turf” so to speak, their literal front yard. For almost five miles I ran alongside a litter-scarred shoulder; I couldn’t go more than twenty feet without seeing evidence that our society has truly taken “throw-away” to new heights. I couldn’t understand why some of these people would trash the place they live.

I’m a “devil’s advocate” kind of guy. People who know me well accept that I often present the opposing view-point, even when that view is the exact opposite of what I believe. I pride myself on being able to consider other people’s opinions fairly. But trashing our world is something that there is no “other side” to consider. People who toss their cigarette butts, beer bottles and fast-food trash out the window of their car or truck are the dregs of mankind, the lowest form of life our society produces.

How can I say that? Absurd, you say? Well, let me just tell you that I identify these littering SOBs with all the mass-murderers, child-molesters and spouse-abusing miscreants out there. Wait, it is more than that! I say the aforesaid miswired perverts and lowlifes are all litterbugs. When you see someone throwing their trash onto our roadsides, you are seeing one of those awful people at work.

And, based on observations from my run this morning, I can tell you that most of them smoke (probably Newports or Marlboro), drink Mountain Dew and/or Keystone Ice beer, and eat at McDonald’s. Unfortunately, we can’t just round up all the people who partake of these vices and shoot them. Because it was disheartening to see just about every beverage & food brand represented alongside the road– lots of Bud Light, Dr. Pepper, pizza boxes, Chinese food containers, pretty much anything you can name I saw along the road; even my poison of choice–Diet Coke.

I believe a comprehensive “litter census” should be taken and the corporations whose logo is found the most along our nation’s byways should be forced to pay for cleaning them up. It is their consumerist, me-first, “gimme what I want and make it cheap and easy” advertising that contributes to people thinking that they are only responsible for their own happiness; the hell with how it impacts the world around them.

When I turned first onto Dooms Crossing Road–some imaginative thoughts of what to do with litterbugs were generated by that road name–and then onto Rte. 340 North, it was even worse. Here, it was obvious that it wasn’t just snack and mealtime trash that people felt at liberty to distribute along the roadside. A broken lawn chair, an empty hand lotion pump bottle, empty ice bags, oil cans, broken tools, and a huge variety of packaging for all types of stuff lined the road. I could easily have run back stepping from one piece of litter to the next. Only where a home fronted the road was the shoulder mostly clean. I felt bad for those people. It is likely that almost every day they must gather the trash in their yard so that visiting friends don’t think they live like pigs.

Some of you might say that not everyone who tosses trash out the window is a degenerate. You’ll argue that some are just irredeemably lazy a-holes or thoughtless, ignorant bastards. But I don’t agree. The same character flaw that allows them to think that they are free to abuse our roadsides with their detritus also frees them to abuse children and treat the lives of others as beneath their consideration.

I will make one small allowance; I’ll allow that some litterbugs have not stooped to mass-murder and perversion … yet. They may still be redeemed. Share this post as widely as possible. Maybe some near-perverted human can be saved. If they recognize the road to hell that they are on, it is possible they can pull themselves free and resist the temptation to roll their window down and toss that cigarette butt. Otherwise, eternal damnation will certainly be their lot.

Not that I think fear of hell can save these people. We need to make our littering laws unreasonably tough–$5,000-fine-and-100-hours-picking-up-alongside-our-roads tough. I am sick and tired, and really angry, that everywhere I run–be it city or country, east coast or west, or anywhere in between–I have to put up with seeing the beauty in this world–and there is a lot–spoiled by other people’s disrespect of both man and nature.

This seems like such a simple issue. I think it would be nice if everyone saw littering as the sign of a deeper character flaw. Because it is. What kind of people look out on the world and see a trash can?

BTW – I used the empty box from a 24-pack of beer and an ice bag to pick up the trash I photographed, and a bit more. It felt like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon.

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Taking out the Garbage

This would be a good title for a post about writing, and getting rid of the extraneous junk that keeps a reader from getting into the flow of a story. But how could I write a post like that? I’m one of those who enjoy Neal Stephenson, despite the fact that some of his paragraphs are two pages long and filled with endless lists of … well … junk. It may be the challenge of wading through all that and staying with the story that makes me like him. I’m a sucker for challenges.

But this isn’t a post about writing, unless writing about methods for clearing the detritus out of your brain so you can write counts. Since the methods I used this morning were only marginally successful, I may not be qualified to pen that post either.

So, in the end, this is a post mostly about how I deal with … stuff. Of course, that sometimes includes running away from it.

Taking out the Garbage

That is what I set out to do on my run this morning. I wasn’t sure how far or long it would take and wasn’t fully prepared for how much I would find. It is surprising how much junk accumulates when you are distracted by the demands of life. My e-mail inbox, with its ever-expanding collection of spam and almost-spam, looks organized and spiffy in comparison. There was so much debris that twenty miles was not enough to jettison it all. Garbage remains and some of it may end up in this post … sorry.

It is no wonder that I am in the position of never being able to remember if I’ve put my deodorant on after my shower, as in every single time. I turn to put my shirt on and my shoulders slump because I CAN’T REMEMBER! Don’t worry, this always results in my putting deodorant on again, likely for the second time, but maybe the third–maybe I need to stop using the clear stick. This forgetfulness may be a sign of Alzheimer’s, but I would prefer to think it is because my head is too filled with bits and pieces–some pretty big pieces–of stuff I need to write down, or just let go.

I had only the wind and my jumbled thoughts as constant companions. It was a long, lonely run; more so since it was a result of my hurting the person I love most in the world, and her reaction to that hurt.

“Harvest of the Heart” went live on Amazon on December 13, exactly one month ago. Lately, I’ve been scrambling to get my next book “Running Scared” ready for publication, going back and forth with the editor, tweaking and hopefully perfecting what I think could be a great collection of short stories. I’ve also tried to regain some momentum in my writing of the sequel to HotH. Oh, and there is also the biography for which I’ve been collecting baseline information.

Additionally, I’ve been working a half-dozen social networks, doing interviews, setting up my physical launch, arranging a book-signing tour and Maryland launch, sending out books, and, always, looking for other marketing avenues. In other words, doing what I could to get sales. And you know what? I don’t really care about selling my book. The only reason I’m being a pseudo-spamming pain in the ass to friends on dailymile and Facebook, the only reason I’m in a radio studio at midnight for fifteen minutes of airtime, is to prove to my wife that I can earn a living with this writing obsession.

Because that is the bottom line. No matter how many stories are in my head, no matter how much I want to write, if I can’t pull my financial weight with my writing, I’m going to have to give it up. I know, from over thirty-five years of experience, that I will not be able to work a full-time job and continue writing in any manner that will be fruitful and satisfying.

Six times over the past year, I have been willing to do that–give up writing–in order to ease the financial worry that now rests on my wife’s shoulders. I’ve applied for six different jobs in the past eleven months; interviewed for three. For one, I was over-qualified and I’m certain the company didn’t think I would stay long enough for them too get their money’s worth out of me. The other two I applied for would have been challenging and rewarding, easing the sting of what I would give up to take it. I believe I gave my best at the interviews. I know I could have done those jobs as good or better than any other applicant. But I didn’t get them–and felt like a death row inmate who’d received a temporary stay of execution.

All the above is the backdrop for a major screw-up. My wife made the sweet gesture of purchasing her own copy of Harvest of the Heart through Amazon. It would be hers alone; she said it made her feel like a fan. After waiting patiently for it to arrive, she brought it down for me to autograph. I wanted the message in her book to be extra-special, so I set it aside, in a place that I thought would be safe, until I could get some quiet time to find just the right words.

In the frantic period leading up to my physical launch, I received a request from the Cheyenne Frontier Days to donate a copy of my book for a basket of books by Wyoming writers for a charity auction. You can see where this is going. My wife’s book is setting up on the kitchen counter, sealed in a padded envelope to mail out. It is signed “Thanks for supporting Cheyenne Frontier Days.”

This was a big mistake. I know that. And there is no way for me to undo it. “I’m sorry” wasn’t near enough. The sum of her reactions sent me out the door this morning for a run that had no planned end.

I ran out to the railroad track west of Rte. 287, hopping two fences on the way, and turned south. And just kept going. I had no business running fourteen miles, much less twenty; but, for a time, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get myself turned around. On the way out, I tried to shovel old stuff from my brain that I had no business holding onto. I was only partially successful; like moldy newspapers piled in the basement, some scraps were stuck to the floor. There was so much crap to go through, a point was reached where I could see myself not stopping at all. Like a character in one of my short stories I would just keep on running. Guilt wasn’t the only thing driving me; there was a lot of hurt, and confusion … and anger, too.

In the end, I was able to circle about and head home. Unfortunately, not all the mental garbage was left behind. On the way back, I picked up a twisted piece of iron from alongside the tracks with the intention of carrying it until I dropped the weight of rubbish that was cluttering my mind. The iron probably weighed between six and eight pounds. Picture me with eight miles to go, already dragging, and now carrying a big chunk of iron. For two miles, it went from hand to hand as I tried to maintain some semblance of decent running form. At the same time, I struggled to get my head straight.

After a bit, I found that I had adjusted enough that I thought I might make it all the way home lugging that rusted, heavy, ugly POS burden. Then it hit me–I was doing the same thing with the garbage in my head–finding a way to adjust, to carry it along. I tossed the weight and a lot of the garbage. Not all of it; there is more that still needs to go. But, like used motor oil, I’m going to have to find the right place.

So I dragged myself home. After 20.35 miles, I was exhausted, aching and dehydrated. For almost three hours after I finished, my eyesight was blurry because I was so dried out. I know the self-flagellation I put myself through doesn’t change anything and this public “mea culpa” isn’t even an attempt to do make the situation better.

Most of the challenges I get into are meant to prove something to myself. I’m not sure that this one proved much of anything except, I don’t know, that maybe I am sometimes dense and stubborn. Whether it accomplished anything at all remains to be seen. I decided when I started this blog that my writing for it was going to be unflinchingly honest. Even if it isn’t what makes for a popular blog.

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The Iceman Cometh

Like a boxer exhilarated by the battle he faces, I fought the weather with a fierce determination. A gust hit me in the face; I absorbed the punch and countered, driving my arms and moving forward. Mother Nature had six degrees, an unblemished record, and a stiff west wind in her corner. I had Under Armour and a spirit lifted by my approaching book launch in mine. The early rounds fell  in my favor, despite the slippery trail and the rock that caught my toe and sent me sprawling. I bounced back up, an embarrassed smile on my face– “No ref, I’m not hurt a bit.” I ignored the little twinge in my back and got back into the ring. By the middle rounds, Mom had me reeling. A steady barrage of frigid blows to my head and body made me question why I was in this fight at all. But then I summoned my inner Rocky. “Is that all youze got?” I held my head and took one on the chin … and laughed. I had become the Iceman; windy punches shattered against my hard, red face. As the fight drew near the end, it was clear there would be no winner. I was tired, but still standing. Mother Nature was unbowed, and still undefeated.

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Running with rose-colored glasses

It was another picture-perfect morning here in Laramie, Wyoming. The Snowy Range was painted a soft rose by a sun that was still below the horizon from my vantage point on the prairie. Although the rest of the beautiful blue sky was clear, above that shy sun was a selection of clouds that looked as though they were designed by an artist determined to impress me. Just above the horizon was a broad, thin swirl that looked like cream spun into coffee–if coffee was blue.

My granddaughter Kate

Where the still-hiding sun reflected off this swirl it was shining like a silver Christmas ornament. Just above, a narrow contrail divided the silver-tinted art from a group of symmetrical white puff-balls that balanced on the line like a large ellipsis on a page … I was enchanted.

Although it was only fifteen degrees, I was dressed just right and the crisp air was refreshing. After two days of hard runs, my legs should have felt tired and a little achy, but the truth is, I felt great. Keeping hold of the reins so that this run would not turn into another hard one was difficult. Between the beauty of nature around me and a weekend filled with happy news from one source after another, I had energy to spare.

Dashing through the snow... sort of.

My sixth grandchild came into this world on Saturday. She is the second girl and the first for my third son, Phil, who already had three sons of his own. That my wife and I had our daughter after three boys gave a bit of synchronicity to the occasion. Phil, Tory and their daughter are healthy, happy and got home from the hospital this morning. A week from tomorrow, my wife and I will get to see them all.

Also on Saturday, in the morning, my wife and I took part in the first Snowy Range Snow Shoe races. There was a light snow throughout the event, temperatures were perfect, neither of us got hurt, and, thanks to Tom Holt pulling me along, I ended up the Wyoming State Grandmaster Champion in the 10k. On top of that, I gave away a copy of “Harvest of the Heart” as a random prize and was able to invite everyone there to my Official Book Launch on Thursday. Finally, I won a random prize myself–lunch at the Beartree Tavern and Cafe in Centennial, Wyoming.

The weekend also included running with my daughter, who is having an excellent recovery from surgery, and holding grandchild number five, who continues to amaze me with how intently he studies the new world around him.

My grandson Chaitan

All of the above is more than enough happiness for one person, but there were also good things that happened on the writing and book marketing front. “Running Scared” is finished and in the hands of a talented editor. “Harvest of the Heart” received more excellent reviews, including those from Heather Faville @ Doubleshot Reviews and Rachel Abbott @ The Kindle Book Reviews. The Kindle Version of “Harvest of the Heart” is finally available and linked to the paperback and includes the “Look Inside” feature. I was interviewed for an article in a newspaper in Maryland that will help publicize my Maryland Launch. It is beginning to look like both my Official Launch on Thursday and my Maryland Launch will be well attended.

The weekend truly did see a flood of good happenings for me. Those glasses didn’t have to be rose-colored, since everything is rosy enough right now. I’d wish for such goodness every week, except I’m not sure what I would do with so many grandchildren! 🙂 So I wish instead that everyone could experience such a weekend.

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My First Book Tour!

Five bookstores in Virginia and Maryland will host signings for “Harvest of the Heart”

Over the Moon Bookstore – Crozet, Virginia

January 19, 2012 5:30 – 7:00 pm

Facebook Event Page

Bookworks LLC – Staunton, Virginia

January 20, 2012 4:00 – 6:00 pm

Facebook Event Page

Winchester Book Gallery – Winchester, Virginia

January 21, 2012 3:00 – 5:00 pm

Facebook Event Page

A Likely Story Bookstore – Sykesville, Maryland

OFFICIAL MARYLAND LAUNCH PARTY!!!

January 23, 2012 6:30 – 8:00 pm

Facebook Event Page

Ukazoo Books – Towson, Maryland

January 24, 2012 4:00 – 7:00 pm

Facebook Event Page

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Running With Scissors

So I’m running down Route 287 just before sunrise and there on the edge of the highway is a pair of nine-inch scissors with a red handle. They looked brand new, so I scooped them up, not thinking how I would look running down the road as all my neighbors were leaving for work. Once the steady stream of cars  started passing me on Spring Lakes Road, I could imagine the conversation inside the vehicles:

“Mommy look! That man is running with scissors!”

“This is too much!” Mommy says. “Running in the middle of the night–weird, but he’s from back east, what do you expect? Running when it’s minus 22 degrees–crazy, but he’s a writer, they’re all crazy. Running when the wind is 50 mph–insane, but it’s what that Selmer guy does. Now this! Running With Scissors! Totally unacceptable!”

I felt like I should send out an e-mail trying to explain, but I have a suspicion that my reputation is already set in cement and nothing I can say will change it.
I was pretty tired for this run but that was to be expected after the unplanned sort-of tempo run last night. Only nine hours, and no food, between the two runs. If I’d fallen from exhaustion onto the scissors, at least the neighbors could tell their kids, “See! That’s why you don’t run with scissors!”

While I was out on the run,  and before I found the scissors, I realized how incredibly busy I will be over the next four months … five months … oh geez, I’m not sure I’ll ever not be busy again. I think it was one thing that contributed to the tired feeling I had during the run.

“Avenging Angel”, the sequel to “Harvest of the Heart” is just screaming to get out of my head and onto paper. At some point, I have to get moving on the biography I want to write. Then there is the short story collection “Running Scared” that is in the editing phase and will require more work before it goes to the publisher. A book launch party next Thursday; a book tour and DC area launch on January 23; and, on top of it all, I have to train for Boston–I believe I may have bitten off more than I can chew.

This is starting to sound like a whole ‘nother post I need to write. I hope that camel has a strong back, because the straws are piling up.

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