On writing, or lack of it …

May 31, 2010

photo by Matt Namin

I’ve always wanted to be a writer.   I read constantly, I make my living selling books,  I am immersed in books, literally. Boxes of books totter over my bed threatening to collapse on me. I’m sure I’ll end up as one of those stories in the paper some day, ‘Recluse found dead under mounds of books’.  But for all the ingestion of the printed word over more than half a century, not much has been produced in return.  Occasional blogs, memoirs on the computer for my kids to find some day when they try to figure out who the strange person was that raised them, aborted stories and novels that never see completion.  It’s not that I don’t have a lot to say,  I’m a very opinionated person on almost every subject (though I do tend to change those opinions frequently).

So why aren’t stories and articles and scripts pouring out? What strange writer’s block has constipated the creative process for decades? I’m beginning to suspect that I have to stop reading much to start writing.  I think that the literary tunnel to my psyche is so flooded by the torrents of writing coming in,  that the struggling creations trying to work their way upstream to the outside are just swept away.

So to test this theory I am going to try to stop reading much.   This will probably prove to be much harder than giving up cigarettes or heroin, I have been reading probably an average of a book a day for most of my life.  I can’t envision what a life devoid of literary input would be like.   Has anyone else had these thoughts and tried to stop reading? Are there support groups where we can go and say “Hi, I’m Roger and I’m a reader”?

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Twitterverse Magic

February 9, 2010

     As much as I’d love magic to exist in our ‘real’ universe, I have long ago filed it away with so many other things I wish were true. Sorry, Harry Potter. But a recent exchange on twitter has opened my eyes to the fact that there are other universes where magic might truly exist. One such is the twitterverse.

     Now the twitterverse has its own fundamental laws and particles, tweets and RT’s, links and follower bots. They interact in strange and mysterious ways, which our social media physicists are still trying to put into a grand unified theory. But at this point in the development of the twitterverse, I think we see things as being caused by forces we don’t understand (magic), perhaps we are at the beginning of an alchemical approach to it. So for now, we can just act like things operate here by magic, until somebody has an apple fall on their head and begins to really understand this stuff.

     My thoughts on this started when I was telling a friend on twitter how I had tweeted the name of a certain brand of coffee and I was immediately followed by a bot from that company. I was then contacted and I started getting free samples. She sounded skeptical.

But shortly thereafter she tweeted that  it was working and that she was being followed by friendly bots.

So wishes can come true in the twitterverse. I’m not sure if you have to tap your heels, though. And not sure if the ‘Only three wishes’ rule applies here.


Top 10 Strangest Top 10 Lists

December 26, 2009

This time of year we are deluged with Top 10 lists. Many are the predictable music, movies, celebrities, sports, news stories etc.  But there are the slightly more obscure and stranger Top 10 lists also. Here are my picks for 10 of the stranger ones!


My Grandmother, Old Ironsides, and Immovable Objects

August 23, 2009

My grandmother passed away a few years ago, in her 90’s and still the terror of the rest home where she was living. She was an amazing woman, when my grandmother met an immovable object, it moved! I loved her very much. There is much of her stubborn resistance in me.

I was probably around ten years old when these events took place, I had a younger brother and sister spaced out at about two year intervals. Every summer we’d go to Grammy’s for a week or so in the summer (we had a grandfather, but he’d given up arguing with her years ago, and my main memory of him is sitting back in a corner wreathed in cigarette smoke, doing crossword puzzles, and hardly ever speaking).
Part of the visit every year would be a cultural trip to Boston, which always included walking the Freedom Trail around downtown Boston. She would also pick a couple of other things to see, such as the Art Museum or the State House. This year she had decided that we were going to see Old Ironsides.
My grandfather would always drive us to the end of the subway line in Natick, gratefully drop us off, and head home for some peace and quiet. He was too wise a man to want to accompany us. The system was; Grammy would hold my hand, I would hold my brother’s hand, and he would hold my sister’s hand.  We must have looked like a team of mountaineers roped together. This formation would be held whenever we were on the move, which was most of the time.
My grandmother, who was a rather small elderly woman, got us off the subway somewhere in the North End, and we marched down streets until we came to a military gate with docks and ships visible in the distance. A  sailor in uniform with a rifle was standing guard beside a small gatehouse. Without stopping, my grandmother (with us in tow) started marching past.
“Ma’am, stop ma’am!” He was very young and obviously not used to dealing with determined grandmothers, though I’m sure he could have stopped Soviet spies and such without so much difficulty. She kept onwards paying no attention, so finally he interposed his body with the rifle held across his chest to physically stop her. She finally stopped and informed him we were going to see Old Ironsides. He then informed her that this was the Coast Guard Base, and that it was over at the Navy Base further around the harbour. Poor man, he thought this would end the matter. He did not know my grandmother. With a yank on my hand, forward march again! The sailor jumped in front of us again and repeated what he’d said, sounding more panicky as he realized he was losing control of the situation. My grandmother didn’t stop, but plowed right into him as he tried to stand his ground.
“I’m a taxpayer, and you work for me!” she exclaimed (probably one of her favorite lines) and pushed onwards. Somehow, to this sailor’s credit, he prevented her from pushing past him without actually having to shoot her or anything. She didn’t admit defeat, but off we went back up the street, with me trying to be rational with my grandmother, explaining Old Ironsides wasn’t there. She was furious, and next thing I know she drags the human train of us into a Navy recruiting office she’d spotted. She always carried a huge purse on expeditions, and as the astonished recruiter sat behind his desk where he’d been eating his lunch, my grandmother started stripping all the wall racks of pamphlets, taking every one of them and stuffing them in her purse.
“Excuse me, ma’am, but ….” before he could figure out quite what to say, my grandmother had finished and glancing around to make sure she hadn’t missed any, started marching out the door.
“I’m a taxpayer and these all belong to me!”  She had had her revenge.

The next year she decided we were going to tour the governor’s mansion, which had tours of public parts of the building like the White House. We were in our usual formation following behind a tour group, when my grandmother suddenly veers off and through some door on her own. “Grammy, we’re not supposed to …” and was met with her usual admonishment that we were taxpayers and this mansion belonged to us. We passed through several rooms that were obviously not intended for public viewing, they looked more and more like rooms people actually lived in. Finally we came to a large living room, with a somewhat elegant woman sitting on a couch. My grandmother marches up and sits down beside her.
“Hello, I’m Ruth Ward, and these are my grandchildren” and started reeling off our names and ages. I was mortified. The woman turned out to be Mrs. Peabody, the governor’s wife, and she was very nice about the whole thing. In fact, her and my grandmother exchanged Christmas cards for many years after that. There are many more adventures with my grandmother, I’ll probably write about some more of them sometime.


And I Had Such a Great Anecdote for Reader’s Digest

August 17, 2009

     The News that Reader’s Digest was filing for bankruptcy hit me hard. I had been saving an anecdote for years I’d been meaning to send in.  As a bookseller I have very mixed feelings about Reader’s Digest, I loved the humorous anecdote sections when younger, something about their essential common man touch really appealed to me. Maybe they were a precursor to reality TV. But their condensed books filled me with loathing. ‘Here is a great book, we have shortened it for you!’ Ecccch!

readersdigest     Well, not to fear, they are just reorganizing, see this for more details ‘Readers Digest Filing for Bankruptcy, But Will Remain in Dental Offices’  from ChattahBox.com. But it made me realize, why tell the anecdote in Reader’s Digest, when I have my own blog!  So here it is!

     A few years ago I was looking to buy a twin bed for my daughter. We live in a university town, with people coming and going constantly, and I saw a used one advertised in our local on-line classified. So I called them, they didn’t speak English that well, they were a family from Korea going back home after the husband had obtained his graduate degree. They said to come over and see it, so I drove into town to see the bed. The husband proudly ushered me into a bedroom and said ‘Nice twin bed!’. The bed was not a twin bed, it was probably a king sized bed. I explained to him that this was not a twin bed. He insisted it was, called out something in Korean, and in came running his two 6 year old twin boys. He pointed at them triumphantly and said ‘It is very good twin bed!’


The Miracle of the Worms

May 27, 2009

I always wondered about the story of the little dutch boy putting his finger in the dike. Was it really heroics, or just a small boy’s fascination with hydraulics? I remember building endless little dams in roadside rivulets, something about a child’s fascination with controlling nature, I guess. Did the little boy pull his finger in and out of the dike, to see what would happen? I’d bet on it!

But we should get back to the heroic worms. The worms that saved many of my rare books. Did they know what they were doing? Probably no more than the little Dutch boy. But is heroism to be found in thought, or in deed?

My office is located in a basement apartment in the bottom of our house. It has cement floors, so when I get huge amounts of books down there (pretty much all the time), floors won’t collapse. It does have the defect, however, of occasionally being subjected to flooding. I’m usually careful during heavy rains to keep stuff piled up on pallets and desks and any other raised object. But during dry spells I tend to get lax, and books are piled here, there, and everywhere. The weather forecast was clear last night, so I didn’t take any precautions, and left things in their usual seeming chaos (only seeming, I know where everything is!)

Okay, now a brief word about earthworms. I’m sure you’re all familiar with them coming out onto road and driveways during the rain. My children and I rescue them all the time waiting for the bus in the morning, tossing them onto the safety of our lawn. Doing a little research, I find it’s because the dampness allows worms to travel, they can’t let their skins dry out.

Now to the heroic actions of the worms last night. There are three steps leading down to the basement door, with a drain at the bottom that sometimes can’t keep pace with really heavy rains. Water will then flow in under the door (this being an old house, nothing is quite square or air-tight). Last night water started building up outside the door, ready to flow in and ruin many books I’d carelessly left lying around.

When I got up, I realized there had been a heavy rain last night, and fearfully went into my office. Everything seemed okay, so I went to the back door and looked out. A little pond of water greeted me at the bottom of my steps, but nothing was coming in like usual. Gathering towels and mop, I cautiously opened the door. Lined up in a solid line on the door jamb was a phalanx of worms, which immediately began to disperse. There bodies had acted as a plug all night holding back the water.

I’d like to think some of them were ones I’d saved and tossed back on the lawn. I think we have an unspoken agreement, now.