There’s been a strange turn in our local newspaper, the Arizona Republic. Let me explain. They’ve recently relocated the obituaries to the back of the sports section. Yes, that’s right. You can now check game scores while you peruse the passing of your neighbors. How convenient!
Smile for the camera
The redesign of the obits started weeks ago. First, they enlarged the photographs. I get it. You want to see the face of your loved one. But most of the photographs aren’t professionally shot. The enhanced size looks grainy. And as we older folks know, it’s hard to capture a flattering photograph. We need proper lighting and a bit of photoshopping. Aunt Gert looks as if she was caught by surprise. Uncle Milton seems to be in the middle of chewing. So why, for heaven’s sake (I had to throw that in), make the photograph larger?
The whole thing has got me thinking (uh oh)
By placing the obits in the sports section, is the Arizona Republic confirming that life is but a game and there are winners and losers? Is your age at the time of death the ultimate score? If you’ve reached 80, 90, or 100—have you officially won—making death the eternal booby prize? Or, are the winners determined by the length of the obituary and the scads of relatives who adored you (though they never came to visit)? Does your obit dominate the page, attracting the most attention? And if you’re dead, does any of this truly matter?
I guess winner is a relative term
Few obits seem to provide the most interesting highlights from a life well-lived. I’m not referring to the marriages or the children or even the jobs held. Those are facts. Our lives are shaped by our challenges, hardships, and lessons learned. If you were a parent, what tips can you pass on about raising children? If you were a caretaker for an elderly parent, how did you sustain your enthusiasm? If you succeeded in business, what secrets did you learn about working with people? Just imagine what a terrific read that might be. To capture a snapshot of the living, breathing, thinking human being—and not just some vital statistics.Continue reading . . .
I’ve been working diligently on a second novel with the goal of publication in 2018. That would be a year and a half to generate a second book. Or, half the time it took to finish my debut novel, The Intersect. It’s a relief to think I might have learned a few things along the way. So, in the spirit of being open, let me share a few insights.
- In the words of Dorothy Parker, “Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.” In following her advice, I’ve discovered my hip flexors, sacroiliac, and glute muscles. Yow!
- Writing and speaking can be done in the same voice but not at the same time. Too much talking, and I can’t write. And after hours of writing, I’m unable to utter an intelligent sentence.
- If I don’t shed a tear when I’m working on an emotional scene, there’s something wrong. This should not be confused with the tears that I shed when I can’t get a scene right.
- If you respect your characters, they speak on their own. Dialogue is easy. If you try to control them, they rebel and make you the fool.
- You need to believe in yourself as a writer before anyone else will. Then, you need to hire a terrific editor to teach you all that you’re doing wrong.
- Eating is a major component of the creative process. Any food will do. But try to stay away from items purchased at Costco. Large quantities can be polished off in short order.
- If you love crossword puzzles, you’d love writing a novel. Words connect scenes. Themes carry through. And everything that you put down on paper can have an alternate meaning.
- It’s truly satisfying when someone enjoys your work and writes a note. It’s even better when they go to Amazon and provide a review.
- The arc of creation matches the bell curve. At the start, there’s excitement as the story unfolds. At its peak, you’re certain it’s all working. Upon publication, you’re sure you’ve screwed the whole thing up.
- There’s a seed of truth about the author’s life in every novel. Just a seed. If it were all true, it would be called a memoir.
It’s odd, but it seems our house is just not big enough. Oh, there’s plenty of square footage. Certainly plenty of space for two men and a dog to navigate. And still, we’re constantly bumping into one another. I can’t quite figure it out.
Points of contact
The foot traffic is swift in the hallway. Living in the Sonoran Desert, you drink a lot of water. It’s not unusual for us to nearly knock each other down crossing back and forth to the bathroom from our adjacent home offices. But our most popular rendezvous is in front of the refrigerator. Here is where we have real fender-benders. Squeezing by, accusing the other of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Meanwhile, our dog hovers, standing guard at his bowl, hoping we’re engaged in a struggle to feed him.
Blind corners are also a hazard. There’s nothing worse than being frightened by the sudden appearance of the only other person in the house. It often seems that Jeff has materialized out of thin air. After I jump, he’ll say rather indignantly, “I live here too.” Perhaps because we both work out of the house, we’ve become oblivious to the other. Talk about focus and powers of concentration.
Footsteps on the path
Years ago, a friend said he’d seen us from a distance and we were standing very close. If that’s true, perhaps that’s why we keep bumping into each other. I guess if you walk through life together, it’s expected that sometimes your foot lands in the same spot. Or maybe, we’re just clumsy. Hmm. I wonder.
For musical inspiration on men walking, click on this link: http://bit.ly/2xRQJjA
It has finally happened. I was at dinner with friends and within five minutes of being seated, we were all looking down at our smartphones—Googling, Facebooking, and God only knows what else.
Nomophobia (fear of being without your mobile phone—no mobile—nomo—get it?) is the new frontier of addiction. It’s so sad. Time lost with loved ones because our attention has wandered to the technology in our hand.
I’ve heard it said that the generation raised with smartphones is struggling with the development of their social skills. To be honest, it hasn’t done much for people my age either. We now all text. It’s so much easier than having a real conversation. And Facebook gives us the false sense that we’re in touch, even though you can’t actually touch anyone. Facebook friends create the illusion that we’re loved or important or part of something bigger than ourselves. In reality—we’re really sitting alone—observing other people’s lives. I guess that’s better than nothing.
I’ve fallen into the trap
To be a successful writer, we’re told to expand our reach. People need to know who we are in order to trust that they might enjoy our work. I doubt Hemingway or Fitzgerald had an ongoing relationship with their public—but then, I’m no Hemingway or Fitzgerald. Still, can you imagine those two literary giants texting? Now, Dorothy Parker—she’d have excelled at tweeting in 140 characters. Still, being witty 24/7 is a challenge for any modern author. Best to say nothing at all. At least then you can retain some semblance of quiet intelligence.Continue reading . . .
I finally bought a new car. It nearly killed me. I know that for many people purchasing a new car is a thrill, but to me, it’s a journey to the land of confusion. Too many models….too many choices. And to be honest, if you haven’t guessed it by now, I’m not a car person. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not much for hitchhiking or taking mass transit. You really can’t do either living in Phoenix. But today’s cars all seem to look alike. I guess I’m what you might call car blind.
Do I need to pick a color too?
I test drove a lot of vehicles over a number of months (please don’t gasp—I already admitted I don’t know what I’m doing). It was an odd experience. Mostly because the person sitting next to me (the salesman/woman) was a total stranger. Someone whose very livelihood depended on my decision. And being a sensitive guy, I had a gnawing feeling that if I didn’t buy the car, their job might be on the line. So, I made nervous small talk and hoped against hope that I would like the car. But I mostly didn’t.
I’m a throw back
I guess I’m really not much for the 2017 models. I like old things. Turner Classic Movies, pies made from scratch, antiques, and yes … car museums with Studebakers and Packards. For some reason, I have a yen to own a big, shiny, gas guzzler from the 30s and 40s. I get that they weren’t good for the environment, lacked safety features, and probably drove like tanks. But anything less seems to be—well—less. That’s how you see the world when you’re car blind.Continue reading . . .
Last Saturday, we had lunch at a local Chinese restaurant in my home town of Phoenix.
Being born and raised in New York City, and after living in San Francisco for ten years, I find there tends to be a difference in style between the two Coasts when it comes to preparation. Luckily in Phoenix, you can find Chinese food that caters to either palate.
East Coast Chinese tends to be very Americanized – chow mein, egg foo young, heavy sauces, crispy noodles, sweet and sour everything. West Coast tends to be lighter with lots of seafood options and gentle flavors. East Coast reminds me of my childhood – West Coast – my once insurmountable Mill Valley mortgage.
But both Coasts share one thing in common. The check always arrives with a Fortune Cookie.
Though once disputed by the Hong Kong Noodle Company in Los Angeles, the Courts found in 1983 that the fortune cookie was an early invention of a San Francisco bakery. Should you journey to San Francisco, you can see the cookies being made at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory – part of a walking tour which includes Chinatown.
So there we were at China Chili (East Coast style) in Phoenix. The meal all but consumed and along comes the check. We both reached for our fortune cookies. Jeff, read his aloud. Typical fortune about a bright future. I opened mine and stared at the slip of paper – “Faith answered. No one was there.”
I’ve heard of a bad meal but not a bad fortune cookie. I almost insisted on a do-over as I watched Jeff fall apart with laughter.
Now I realize a writer needs more than faith to be successful, but somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I’d hoped faith in future success would be an advantage.
Next time, I think I’ll ask for the almond cookie.