Sunday, February 7, 2016

On Death - The Philosophy of Travis McGee # 8

In case you are following the Travis McGee Series of blogs and you're wondering what happened to #7, it is here.   Three years ago I was running a Wordpress powered blog and for some reason, I can no longer remember, I added another one.  Before I started using the new one, I realized that Blogger (a blogging platform created and maintained by Google) is free and so much simpler to use.  In addition, at that time, but no longer, I could pay a small amount and buy my own domain name, in this case bert-blogging.com - so I did, and I've been using blogger exclusively until now.

One day last week, I received an email notice that my domain name, Kindle-Scribe.com was expiring.  No one wants to expire or have anything of value that belongs to them expire.  So I renewed the name, checked the site, which is hosted by Bluehost.com, and found it was working fine in spite of being way out of date.  Then I wondered if I could still operate a Wordpress site.  I thought, What the heck.  It's like an IQ test.  Give it a shot.  And I did.

Twenty-four hours later, hostgator.com  advised me that my domain, bertcarson-author.com was going to expire in a few days.  I opened the long unused site and got caught in a blog I had posted three years ago called What Are You Reading, and I thought, Well, I've got one Wordpress site running, it can't hurt to have two... or maybe it was the old picture of me writing, in my hotel room in Hawaii, while a white pigeon, perched on the balcony railing looks on, that is on the home page of the site, which convinced me to renew and re-activate the old site.

Anyway, that's why I'm now operating one blog site and two web sites.  Feel free to sign up for the email versions of my blogs posts on each site, then it won't matter where I post a blog, you'll get it in your email in-basket minutes after I post it.

And now, death, which is the business of the day, or at least this Travis McGee blog post.  I've been thinking about writing a blog about death for a while.  Before you jump to a conclusion, I'm fine, still doing everything I ever did, just a bit slower than when I was at sixteen, thirty-six, fifty-six, or sixty-six, but I've discovered, as I slow down, that slow isn't always a bad thing.  Still, every sunset I celebrate brings me one sunset nearer the last one I'll celebrate, so I think it's natural that I should be paying more attention to the topic.

Years ago, when I first began seriously considering my death, I noticed I had no fear around the topic, just some ideas about how it should happen, or maybe I should say, how it shouldn't happen.  A lingering, pain-filled, fortune-draining, process isn't in my future.  I'm just not into long good byes, pain, or throwing away money for no reason other than the perpetuation of grossly inflated medical industry and its practitioners.

As I considered the subject further, I began collecting quotes and making random notes on my thoughts about death.  Things like my buddy and fellow Vietnam Vet, Dan Beck, said commenting some twenty years ago on the body cast I'd acquired as the result of rolling my Jeep to avoid hitting a dog, "Hell, that's no big deal Carson.  We've been on borrowed time since we pulled out of Vietnam."

And then there's the George Gurdijieff quote on death that I've loved since the first time I read it:  "Every one of those unfortunates during the process of existence should constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as of the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests. Only such a sensation and such a cognizance can now destroy the egoism completely crystallized in them that has swallowed up the whole of their Essence, and also that tendency to hate others which flows from it."

However, as is often the case, it took Travis McGee to knock me on my butt and get me writing about death and what I thought of it.  Here's the quote that did it.


I sat on the tin stool, arms propped on my knees, and debated telling her. It is so damn strange about the dead. Life is like a big ship, all lights and action and turmoil, chugging across a dark sea. You have to drop the dead ones over the side. An insignificant little splash, and the ship goes on. For them the ship stops at that instant. For me Sam was back there somewhere, further behind the ship every day. I could look back and think of all the others I knew, dropped all the way back to the horizon and beyond, and so much had changed since they were gone they wouldn’t know the people aboard, know the new rules of the deck games. The voyage saddens as you lose them. You wish they could see how things are. You know that inevitably they’ll drop you over the side, you and everyone you have loved and known, little consecutive splashes in the silent sea, while the ship maintains its unknown course. Dropping Sam over had been just a little more memorable for Nora than for me. It would stay with her a little longer, perhaps." 

That's from A Deadly Shade Of Gold, the 5th in the 21 book Travis McGee series written by John D. MacDonald, originally published in 1965, five years after I graduated from Palatka Senior High School.  Now that I've seen that photo again, the fifty-five plus year old memories are flooding into my mind and with three hungry blog sites to keep fed I'll be sharing them with you.  Who knows what I'll be telling you about Inez, and Jackie, and all the others who are still eighteen as far as I'm concerned - you see, I've not been to a class reunion, so I don't know for sure they've aged.  That photo has probably been photo-shopped a little bit.  

So, what do you think of when you think of death?  Remember, as always, your comments are appreciated.








Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Dare - A Personal Pledge - And A Challenge

Martin Treptow

My friend, Tom Itsell, forwarded this video to me.  It was originally posted almost three years ago.  As of this morning, 1.8 million people have watched it.

Like you, I miss a lot of things worth seeing and hearing because they are lost in an infinite number of things that are neither.  So Tom, I owe you one for making sure I saw and heard this.

In this video you'll hear and see President Ronald Reagan.  From his first words, I was mesmerized by his presentation, but most of all I was enthralled by his sincerity.

In a world that has grown top heavy with empty machismo, sincerity is often shrugged off as wimpy, and that's why a collection of empty cans are leading in the current struggle for power we call presidential campaigning, and one of them is going to be elected.  No matter if you are Republican or Democrat, that should alarm you.

So here's the dare.  I dare you to watch the video and listen to the words of the last president we've had who didn't want the job for prestige, power, or money.  A man who sought and won the job known as leader of the free world simply because he wanted to serve.

In this video you'll also meet Martin Treptow, who pledged to himself, "I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost as if the whole issue of the struggle depended on me alone." There aren't many Martin Treptow's left in this country which was once filled with them.

Martin wrote those words in his diary as a reminder to himself.  After his death, they were adopted by the U.S. Army and became the soldier's pledge.  But Martin never intended his words to be a soldier's pledge.  They where his pledge to himself, a personal statement of who he was.  Martin Treptow was a man who took responsibility for his life, his choices, and his actions.  



The challenge.  Are you willing to follow the lead of Martin Treptow? Are you willing to take responsibility for your life, every part of it?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I Have Some Things I Will Tell You...

The Storyteller
I'm not sure where it came from.  Not that it matters.  More often than not, I don't know where "it" comes from, or where it's going... all I know is what "it" is and I'm always glad it came this way.

"It," is a random thought.  That is, by my definition, a thought seemingly unconnected to my previous thought, current direction, or logical next step.  "It" just appears from somewhere unknown and unless I'm quick it is gone before I get a good look at it, much less pin it down long enough to jot a note or two about it.

I caught this one, held it for second, scribbled a few quick notes on the blank digital page which happened to be open, like it was waiting for "it."

I was at my writing table, getting ready to write my morning pages, thinking about the three chapters of Southern Investigation - Tucson  I will edit today, a blog post or two I should write, a long overdue letter waiting for a reply, when suddenly, unannounced and unattached, "it" flitted through.  A single line, followed quickly by a second, "I have nothing to sell you. Just some things I will tell you."

I recognized the words from a song I hadn't heard or thought of in a long time.  The Grand Tour.  A huge hit for George Jones, Aaron Neville, and many others. The lines that landed in my head this morning were from Aaron's version.

I have nothing here to sell you.
Just some things I will tell you.



What was that all about?  It was and is and always will be about storytelling.  Storytelling in all of its forms - tales we share with a friend or two, deliver orally to audiences, scrawl across a piece of paper, fold and  pass across a room or send around the world to a friend, or hammer into a book for anyone who might be interested.

Before we were anything else, we were storytellers.  In fact, storytelling is the oldest profession known to man.  Much older than the other one that might have come to your mind when I said "the oldest profession."

Storytelling drives the world.  I believe the universe is a story, and we're supposed to share our experience of it.  If that weren't true, why else would we all do it?

Step right up.
Come on in.
I Have Some Things To Tell You

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Three Amazing Women and One Old Redneck

Christina Carson

Christina Carson doesn't have a Wikipedia Page, yet. One day she will, when the right person reads Accidents of Birth Book One, or Book Two, or Dying to Know or Suffer The Little Children, or her current work in progress.

That's all fine and good, but as far as I'm concerned I will never need a Wikipedia Page or a one sentence mention on an obscure blog site, like this one, to find her.  I know where she is right now, and if you ask me tomorrow, or the next day, or the one after that, I'll still know.  Christina is my wife and I waited too long to find her not to know where she is at any given moment of my life.

Long before she became my wife, Christina gave up her position in a doctoral program in neurophysiology at UCLA and left the United States to protest the country's involvement in the War in Vietnam.  Twenty-eight years later, I found her in Canada and persuaded her to marry me and move back to the States.  We are a unlikely couple - redneck and scholar, Vietnam Veteran and Vietnam War Protester, American by birth and Canadian by choice... the list goes on but matters not.  What matters is the alliance works and it works very well.

Alice LaPlante
When we decided to write, we began collecting books on the subject of writing.  Through the
years, we've accumulated quite a collection of them.  We have Stephen King's book on writing and Ray Bradbury's and Al Zuckerman's and Jack Woodford's, to name a few.  Finally Christina found the best book on the subject, The Making of a Story by Alice LaPlante.  She told me about her find but it took a couple of years for me to get curious enough to pick up her copy and read the first chapter.  That's all it took.  Now I have my own copy thanks to Christina's introduction.

Sharon Olds
If you are a writer or aspire to be one, don't miss The Making of a Story.  You won't need another book on the subject and you'll quickly find a priceless bonus as you study with Alice.  She will introduce you to some of the most amazing writers and poets ever collected in one place.  From James Baldwin (first in the permissions section) to C.D. Wright (last in the permissions section).  In between Baldwin and Wright you'll find Larry McMurtry and Anne Lamott and the amazing poet, Sharon Olds.

I vaguely knew Larry and Anne but had never heard of Sharon until I read Forty-One, Alone, No Gerbil, in the second chapter of The Making of a Story.  So here I am, a 73- year-old redneck, hammering away at computer, something that didn't exist when I was born, assembling a story about a woman who protested a war I fought in, married me, then introduced me to a woman who introduced me to another woman who, in 2005, told Laura Bush, when the First Lady invited her to The White House, what I hope I would have told Lady Bird Johnson if she had invited me to The White House.  If you are curious about what she said, here it is:

"So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it".

That's my story for this cold winter night, the story of three amazing women and one old redneck who is a better man for knowing them.





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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Bridges Across Space And Time

Memories are a major player in who we are and how we act and react.  Actually, memories, and our subsequent interpretation of them, is the player I'm talking about.

What I mean is simply this, everything that has happened to you is a factor in your behavior.  If that sounds overwhelming, it's only half the story.  In addition to the things that happened, the things you've only imagined are also factors.

Real or imagined, the effect of our memories are present in all our actions.  That's not necessarily a "bad" thing, or a "good" thing, it is just a thing, a factor in what makes us tick.  Memories can be relived, and they can altered.  There is a secret to doing that, and I'm going to tell you what it is, because you just might find it useful one day.

I'm going to ask the Hercules Air Crew pictured above to help illustrate my point.  By the way, they are the real deal.  The photo was taken in 2005, after they flew the first Hercules combat mission flown by an all woman crew.  Let me introduce them.  They are, from left to right, Staff Sergeant Josie E. Harshe flight engineer, Captain Anita T. Mack, navigator, First Lieutenant Siobhan Couturier, pilot, Captain Carol J. Mitchell, aircraft commander, Technical Sergeant Sigrid M. Carrero-Perez, loadmaster, Senior Airman Ci Ci Alonzo, loadmaster.

I found them when I was working on the first of draft of Southern Investigation - Tucson. The book is a novel, but I decided to use their real names without changing them.  I'm in the final edit process of the book and before I publish it, I'll get their permission.  Until then, the only changes for them are reassignment to the West Virginia Air National Guard and conversion of their Hercules, a cargo hauler, to a tanker equipped to carry fire retardant chemicals. Instead of working in Afghanistan, they are training in southern Arizona, after the plane's conversion.  There they meet the crew from my book Southern Investigation - Tucson.

When I write, my characters come to life for me.  I couldn't stop that process if I wanted to.  So, when the crew pictured above met the characters of the book, they came to life together and they still live in my memories.  This is the part I love more than words could ever explain - all I have to do is re-read a passage, and the book bridges both time and space placing me "on location" once again. Here's a living example:

The guys of Southern Investigation have had a closer encounter with the bad guys, a Mexican drug cartel, and they are making a run for the border.  The backup they had counted on in case things went bad, is too far away to help.

Here's what happens next:

...when I'd confirmed that no one had been injured in our forced landing, I began searching my mind for something amusing in the situation.  Something that would take away the fear that was growing by the second.  That's just how my mind works.  I didn't have to wait long.
     My handheld radio crackled to life and a female voice said, "Southern Investigation, this is Hillbilly.  It sounds like you guys could use some help."
    I didn't think, YES, help is on the way.  Instead, I instantly thought, "It is Tinker Bell.  Sid was right.  She is coming to save us." 
    I clicked the mike, "Hillbilly, Southern Investigation, what do you have in mind?"
    Major Carol Mitchell, call sign Hillbilly, responded, "Southern Investigation, go to your secure frequency."
    I changed radio frequencies, realizing as I did that Shirley or Faith Ann had given Carol the frequency.  With the radio reset I keyed the mike and said, "Southern Investigation secure."
    Southern Investigation, we just happen to have 3,000 gallons of fire retardant on board and we are looking for a place for a test drop it. Do you have a suggestion?"
    Before I answered, I glanced at Sid and David who were monitoring the conversation, and I whispered to them, "It's Tinker Bell.  She's here to save Peter Pan."
    "That will be me," Sid said, grinning like the lead boy from Never-land.

Here's the point:  I can explain the set up, to you as objectively as I can read tomorrow's Huntsville, Alabama weather forecast to you.  But when I read the actual passage, something magical happens.  I'm there, in the desert.  I feel the desperation of the moment and the joy when the radio springs to life.

Use a bridge to find and relive the passion in your memories.  It doesn't matter if the bridge is a song, a photo, or book.  They are all equally effective. Put the life back into your memories.  It's like adding water to your favorite instant drink.  Just stir and enjoy.


 


Monday, January 25, 2016

Philosophy of Travis McGee #6

Last Published Work 

This is a bonus Philosophy of Travis McGee blog.  I say that because the comments of McGee that I'm going to share aren't taken from one of the 21 Travis McGee novels.  In fact, they aren't from a MacDonald novel at all.  I cut them all from an essay he wrote at the invitation of Jean Trebbi, then Executive Director of The Florida Center for the Book.

The essay wasn't an easy piece for John to write.  When he completed it, he sent it to John Cole, then Director of The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress with this explanation for the delay.

"...the mountain has labored and brought forth a small, mangy, bad-tempered mouse of 7200 words... I could not make the essay work, and I could not imagine why.  I must have done two hundred pages of junk.  Then Jean Trebbi wrote asking why didn't I use the device of a conversation between McGee and Meyer.  Why indeed?... I am very sorry for taking so damn long."

In his Afterword, John Cole said, "MacDonald's dialogue between his fictional characters McGee and Meyer about reading was unlike anything I had read.  It is somewhat bad-tempered, but it also is thought-provoking.  Those who read it or hear it (or perhaps someday see it enacted) will remember it."

Reading for Survival is the last published work of John D. MacDonald.  The little bound essay is long out of print.  I found a few used copies listed on AbeBooks and Amazon.  I don't recommend them because they are both overpriced and in poor condition.Though they may be advertised as like new, the binding was cheaply done, and I promise you, it will fall to pieces. However, do not despair, click on the link at the beginning of this paragraph and in an electronic instant a digital copy in Word format will  reside on your computer.

Here are excerpts from the work to convince you the click will be worth the effort:

(Meyer) “Let us try to imagine a day in the life of Homo erectus one and half million years agoPicture him as a member of a hunting party, advancing through scrub land. He will be tense, using every sense. Aware of any change in the direction of the breeze. He will be listening, watching, scenting, with hundreds of dangers in his memory banks, thousands of experiences of the hunt in mind. He will have to have learned how to make weapons, learned a crude pharmacology, learned about fire, learned the vulnerability and the danger of many creatures, learned his place in his social order, learned how to fight other men, how to instruct children, how to build shelters. Perhaps, most important of all, he has learned that he will have to keep on learning and remembering or he might die in a very sudden and bloody manner, just as he has seen individuals of his tribe die when they forgot some essential crumb of knowledge.
            This is a demanding life. It is full of stress. And the key to survival is memory! That’s what takes up most of the room in our skulls. Out of memory comes the learning of relationships, and out of that comes creative change, improvements, reductions of risk. And there is a constantOWhhh selectivity at work. The inattentive child is eaten by wild dogs. The forgetful man is killed by the snake he should have seen. Those dull of wit are overwhelmed by the need to remember so many things, and so they perish and the species is improved thereby."


(Meyer) “Inevitably, Travis, man acquired so many artifacts he had to devise some way of keeping track of them. He had gone beyond the capacity of memory. The first writings we know of, other than the famous Code of Hammurabi in 1800 B.C., are records of shipments of goods in the Middle East. Pots and grain and tools. Writing and reading were elitist skills for fifteen hundred years and more, and then along came Johann Gutenberg in the fifteenth century with the invention of movable type. And that is when they began to fill the libraries of the world with the record of mankind, his tools, his history, his wars, famines, voyages, metallurgy, romances, superstitions, inventions…”
            Then Meyer did an odd thing. He reached across the table and clamped a thick hand around my forearm just above the wrist. I could feel the pressure of it. His gaze was very intense. “What we did to ourselves, Travis, within the past four hundred years, has been to make memory, as a key to the survival of the individual obsolete.” And now memory is not all that critical. I mean you can survive without having to remember much. Like remember to stop at red lights, take your pills, lock your doors. We don’t have to stalk anything in the jungle, or remember the shapes of leaves. So that takes away a big problem, doesn’t it?”
            “Does it create a bigger one?”
It is always irritating when he prods me, and sits back with his blue eyes alert and bright, waiting for me to pick up on the clues.
            “I’ll give it a shot. Okay. It must mean that a lot of the capacity of the brain is going unused. Are you saying it is going to atrophy?”
            “No. What should people be doing with that capacity?”
            “Give me a clue.”
            “There’s a clue for you in something Mark Twain said. ‘The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.’”

“How do we relate to reality? How do we begin to comprehend it? By using that same marvelous brain our ancestor used. By the exercise of memory. How do we stock the stores of memory? By reading, Travis. Reading! Complex ideas and complex relationships are not transmitted by body language, by brainstorming sessions, by the boob tube or the boom box. You cannot turn back the pages of a television show and review a part you did not quite understand.

“I would not demand that a man read ponderous tomes, or try to read everything—any more than I would expect our ancestor to examine every single leaf on a plant he remembers as being poisonous. I would expect that in his reading—which should be wide ranging, fiction, history, poetry, political science—he would acquire the equivalent of a liberal arts education and acquire also what I think of as the educated climate of mind, a climate characterized by skepticism, irony, doubt, hope, and a passion to learn more and remember more.”
            “How many of those do we have these days?”
            “A pitifully small percentage of the race, and growing smaller every year. Sixty million Americans, one out of every three adults—according to an article I read recently in Psychology Today—cannot read well enough to understand a help-wanted ad, or the warning label on household cleaners, or an electric bill, or the instructions on a package of medicine. They are disenfranchised, completely cut off from any knowledge of history, literature, and science. And because they can’t read they become negative role models for their children, who, in their turn, will become a new generation of illiterates, of victims.”

“Beautifully said,” I told him.
On the way back I told him that he had made me feel guilty about my frivolous reading fare of late, and what might I read that would patch up my comprehension and my conscience at the same time.
            Meyer thought about it until we had our drinks. He took a sip, sighed and said, “I’ll lend you my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror.”
            I am halfway through it. And the world has a different look, a slightly altered reality. That fourteenth century was the pits!

Note - I added the link to A Distant Mirror - and though I'm not yet half-way through it, as McGee was when he had the conversation with Meyer, I also recommend it.





Sunday, January 24, 2016

Jet.com Old Fashioned, Personal Service, On The Web

Jet.com

I'm a vegetarian and I avoid added sugar like it was the black plague.  There are fewer shopping opportunities for non-sugar consuming vegetarians than you might think.  So, when I find one, a good one, a really, really good one, I want to make sure they stay around.

That means, if you were thinking that I am writing this to help you get great buys, rapid service, and old fashioned personal attention, you should wipe that idea out of your mind.

I'm writing this so I can continue to get all of those things.  If you get them in the process, well, just chalk up a freebie for the home team.

Now I'm going to tell you how I found Jet.com and about my experience with them.  I'll keep it brief because I know you're getting ready to go out, in the cold, get in your car, drive around town, stop at a few places to look for old-fashioned, personal service, at a great price, in spite of knowing that probably won't happen, and I don't want to keep you from that fun task.

A couple of months ago I began searching for a sugar free, meal replacement shake,and I found one.  Best of all, it tastes great, and if you want to know what it is, email or leave a comment, and I'll tell you about that.  However, that's not what I want to tell you right now.  A couple of weeks ago I realized it might be healthier to make my shake with something besides milk, so I Googled Rice Dream, a drink I enjoyed years ago, before I shook the sugar habit.  I was excited to find they now offer an unsweetened version.  I was sad when I found not a single store in Huntsville, Alabama carries it.

So I, you guessed it, Googled again and found unsweetened Rice Dream at Jet.com.  I ordered two cartons, got free shipping because it was my first order, and I saved on each carton, and I had my unsweetened Rice Dream in two days.  A couple of days later I ordered ten cartons (free shipping on all orders over $35.00) and had the order in two days.

You would have never heard what happened next had one of the cartons not been damaged in shipping.  It wasn't a big deal, and I only lost about a half cup of Rice Dream. This morning I reordered and mentioned the damage on the previous order. Seconds later, I had email from Jet.com pop into my in-basket.  I thought it was an automatic confirmation of my order, and I was wrong.  It was an email from Jessica at Jet.com telling me she had just issued a credit for my damaged carton.  I emailed and told her the refund wasn't necessary since I had saved most of the product.

Ed responded to that email, also in seconds, and told me not to worry.  Jet.com wanted me to be happy, and they were pleased to make sure that happened.  That's when I realized I want Jessica and Ed and whoever put Jet.com together to always be there when I need one or more of the zillion things they sell, and to make sure that happens, maybe it would be a good idea to tell you about them.  However, I thought, maybe I should offer you a bit of entertainment to go with my flagrant attempt to help myself, so I did a bit of searching on Jet.com's web site and found this very funny video.  Whether you help me out or not, have a good laugh with Kumail Nanjiani - he is a funny guy:




Have a great day...you hear?