adventures in dysthymia

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Text, Tax, Whatever


 

A little wasted time -- not something for the shop, I think! Incidentally, I've uploaded and got a couple designs on line at the Emporium today. More as I can.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Protection

I've figured out that Tucky doesn't want in my mom's room when it thunders. She wants to be in whatever room my mom is in.

Obviously, she doesn't think Mom is going to protect her so I assume it's the other way around -- she's looking to protect Mom. It's her herding instincts taking over. Has to make sure her flock is all together and safe!

A pretty massive front passed through the area yesterday but we avoided any heavy storm activity here on Peanut Road. Just plenty of welcome rain, though it might have been better to have it spread out over a longer period.

It'll help what I've planted so far grow, anyway. I've ordered fencing to protect my trees and won't put any more into the ground until it arrives. The dogs just like to chew on a stick and it sometimes turns out to be one I planted!

A bed full of dogs at four in the morning,
they jump on me without warning!
Lick my ears, lick my nose,
lick any body part that shows
above the covers, so pull them high...
I'll get up, doggies, by and by!

I left the flap open last night and Tucky's little buddy came over to visit from next door way too early. Oddly, I'd dreamed earlier in the night that a very large orange cat had come in and was perched on the end of my bed. Then all its fur fell out...I guess I've been cleaning up enough shed hair lately that it's getting to me.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Penny Candy


Another design I'm working up for the Emporium. This would be the version for black/dark tees.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bars

Until, oh maybe seven years ago, I had never gone into a bar except as a performer (or support for a performer). And aside from those two or three times, I haven't since. I'm not a bar person.

Not because I don't drink but because it's expensive and, well, kind of boring. I would never have gone in if my date didn't want to. I can sit at home with a glass of wine and a book and be much better entertained. With or without a date.

Having fun has never been much fun for me. I admittedly enjoy working more than relaxing. Shoot, I even tend to be jealous of the time I might spend on a relationship. So much to do!

* * *

I'm slooowwwwly updating my Insolent Lad Emporium at Cafe Press. The interface there is not friendly to my dial-up connection but it's getting done bit by bit. I'm finishing the consolidation of all my old stores into the one new shop. Eventually I'll attempt to get the new designs up too.

* * *

The passing of my brother-in-law Bill James serves to remind me that I will be losing my mother. How soon? Only God knows; Mom is 93 now but in surprisingly good physical health. That's a year and change older than Bill was.

It's a bit regrettable that Bill never got around to writing a memoir. Perhaps Jeanne has enough material from listening to his stories to attempt something. He certainly had an interesting life (including a career as a safecracker).

But back to my mom: she continues to drift further into dementia. I assure you that it hurts when she asks me who I am. It's like losing a loved one over again each day.

Monday, January 23, 2012

More on SiteBuilder...

...and more to bore you, I suspect! Anyway, I stated before that I rather like Yahoo's SiteBuilder. It's not perfect but it gives me the sort of artistic freedom I expect from most of the other programs I use. As I said, writing html is like trying to paint a picture with a typewriter.

Well, okay, I'll do little html edits here and there (like adding font stacks). But I don't like html editors in general, even the wysiwyg sort. They still seem stodgy and slow down my creativity. Could you see graphic artists accepting those sort of interfaces in Adobe Photoshop or Corel Draw?

I did get it working in compatibility mode on Windows 7 64 bit. I'm not sure I even needed to do that. But I have continued to have one big problem -- also on Windows XP -- and that is their upload procedure. It gives me lots of trouble and that may be caused in large part by my slow and erratic dial-up connection. I finally got it to work on my Windows 7 machine by turning off the secure connection.

So it's my my web site computer from here on. I can get some serious updating done now. And I won't need to change my software!

Family

My brother-in-law, Bill James, passed away last night. It came somewhat suddenly, although he had previously suffered strokes. Bill was the husband of my sister Jeanne, father of 'Mean' Mary and Frank James, as well as their older siblings James Howard, Robert, April (Ritter) and Floyd.

My condolences and prayers go to the family.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Skiffle

I'm old enough to remember when Skiffle music enjoyed its brief popularity in this country. More specifically, I recall Lonnie Donegan's 'Does Your Chewing Gun Lose It's Flavor' on the radio. I'm not certain, but I suspect that one of my older siblings may have had the 45 too.

For those unfamiliar with Skiffle, it was something of a reworking of American jug band-like music in 50s England, adding elements of the music hall tradition. The name 'skiffle' was used in America for amateur blues-oriented bands playing at house parties and such as far back as the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

Within a few years, Rock and Roll and the Folk Revival displaced Skiffle's modest popularity. There is no doubt it played a role in the renewed interest in Folk in this country and it certainly was pivotal in the development of the British rock sound of the 60s. Practically every English musician of that period cut his teeth on Skiffle.

It also helped form the Punk aesthetic: modestly skilled players banging away loudly and enthusiastically. So, naturally, being modestly skilled myself I have a liking for it!

Lonnie Donegan would be one reason I play around with a plectrum banjo these days. It's just the right sort of instrument for Skiffle, loud and relatively easy to play. A certain amount of my own song-writing might fit well into a Skiffle repertoire. Except people would probably call it 'folk-punk' these days. You say potato, I say 'tater.

~ ~ ~

All my weeping willows are coming out in leaf, thanks to the rain and warm weather. I do hope a hard freeze does not knock them back but that's a probable occurrence, considering the current date. We'll see. I continue to put in my peach trees when I have a free block of time. Three or four at a go is enough. I am going to have a LOT of watering to do this year.

~ ~ ~

I'm trying to get Yahoo's Sitebuilder to work on this computer. I am assured that it is possible to get it operating properly on 64 bit Windows 7. If I had high speed internet, I would use their beta online version (apparently the direction they are going with the program) but I know from experience how much of a pain that can be with slow dial-up. Better off working off-line and using ftp to update.

The reason I use Sitebuilder is 1) I am an artist, not a programmer, so the drag and drop interface works much better when I'm designing than writing out html (writing html is sort of like writing about painting instead of using a brush) and 2) it is way more versatile than most of the simple template-based programs out there -- the results can look completely custom if you put the work in. If I wanted a preset look, I'd just use a blogging service.

I could always switch over to CoffeeCup's VisualSite but it's a bit like Sitebuilder's dim-witted little brother. Not to mention the work involved in completely redoing the site in a new editor.

next morning: I'm getting everything to work except upload, using all the suggested compatibility settings. Whether that's a function of my slow connection or a program problem, who knows? I'll keep trying...I wonder if I could just ftp the pages in a different program.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Stuff, On Line and Off

All the writing/illustrating projects I've mentioned have been pushed aside temporarily, as I have been working up new designs for The Insolent Lad Emporium, my shop at Cafe Press.

Since I am creating these on my computer, rather than a drawing board, it's easier to work on them at the moment. Once I expand back into my studio area, come warmer weather, that will change. In the mean time, I have three new designs to upload and more in the development stage. Not to mention that I need to revise the stuff I have at CP -- I still have some 'basic' shops with designs that should either be jettisoned or moved to the main Emporium store.

I shouldn't ignore the shop. I really make more money there than anywhere else and there is loads of room for more merchandise. At any rate, watch for announcements when I get the new graphics up. Mostly for tee shirts, maybe some posters, mugs, etc.  We'll see what fits where.

* * *

Now and again, I try to check my Twitter account. It's pretty much useless and unusable with my connection. I can sort of follow others there but forget about me posting or anything like that. As with MySpace, it just hasn't been used the past year.

* * *

I've taken to sometimes specifying Tahoma as body text font at my sites. It was designed to be the same size as Arial and Helvetica but is more readable on a computer screen. It is quite  widely installed on computers but, for some reason, not used that much on line. If the viewer does not have Tahoma installed, it should display their default sans font, in most cases Arial, so everything should still fit and look right.*

It might be noted, though, that all the Windows Vista and 7 machines have the newer 'Clear Type' fonts installed so more and more of those who visit our sites can use Calibri or Segoe UI or such. These are, on whole, nicer looking fonts than the old standards. Calibri is certainly an improvement on Arial!

I'm not ready to attempt any @font-face sort of font embedding at this point. The whole process seems too much trouble. If I have a document that calls for uncommon fonts, I'll put it up as a PDF.

  *Strictly speaking, Tahoma is just a teensy wider than Arial (as is Bit Stream's Helvetica clone, Swiss721) but unless you have extremely long lines it's not enough to  make a noticeable difference.

* * *

It's been rather spring-like so I've been doing spring-like chores around the place. Spring cleaning and moving of furniture...some of that, but I intend to hold off for a month or so on most of it.

Outdoors, I've been transplanting, cutting, etc. Moved all the mulberries, working on the peaches. Got all my hedge plants in place. Pecans and willows are in the ground. Pears and cherries later.

And I bought a good-sized chain saw. I'm making space for the trees I actually want. Actually, I'll just ring the big oaks and leave them up for the woodpeckers to play with. The biggest oak, though, is probably too much for me to tackle and too close to the house to chance it anyway.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Knots, a little poem

KNOTS

Without a few knots, we'd fall apart:
Thou shalt not lie nor break my heart.

The ties that bind, too easily loosed,
Lead us only to be seduced

By any whim, the road untried;
It's best we keep our knots well tied.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

Every 'not' is not necessarily a bad thing. No, it's knot!

(I wrote this quickly after seeing a FaceBook post this morning that basically had the opposite message. And I consider both valid.)

Magic Realism

"Magic realism is fantasy written by people who speak Spanish." ~ Gene Wolfe
Magic realism "is like a polite way of saying you write fantasy." ~ Terry Pratchett

Is the label 'Magic Realism' nothing more than a bit of literary snobbishness? Are its writers simply writers of Fantasy? (Not that there is anything simple about Fantasy or its writers.)

In Fantasy, the magic arises from the logical underpinnings of its world. It is part of the fabric of existence. In MR, it is thrown in somewhat off-hand, seeming at times nothing but whimsy. Although it goes unquestioned, a part of the nature of things, there is no reason for the magic to be. It simply is.

This places MR closer to Surrealism than Fantasy. In the Surreal, the magic has psychological symbolism. It is 'the stuff of dreams.' The reality of a dragon in Surrealism comes from the mind. In Fantasy, it -- although it has metaphoric content (assuming it is good Fantasy) -- is an actual creature that belongs in its world.

What is true of Fantasy is also true, it should be mentioned, of Science Fiction. Both must have a logical basis; both attempt to make the unreal seem believable. MR makes no such effort; it simply presents the 'unreal' as real.

So what is a dragon in Magic Realism? Certainly, it also has meaning as a metaphor. But why does it exist? The answer is that it simply does. There is a dragon next door just as there is a shoe under your bed.

Yet the writer must have had a reason to place that dragon there. If it was only a bit of whimsy, then it was bad writing. The point in both Surrealism and Magical Realism is to jolt the reader with these symbols. For the Surrealist, the symbolism is psychological, how the mind perceives existence.

But the 'magic' in Magic Realism is just that. It is akin to the symbols of a Kabalist: metaphors for deeper truths, things we can not understand directly but only glimpse sideways.

Admittedly, this also exists in Fantasy. It exists to some degree, perhaps, in all truly good fiction. Ultimately, though, MR's goals and methods are most closely aligned with those of Surrealism.

Is there a fundamental difference or is it simply a variant of the Surreal, a different angle of attack? It would have to be noted that Magic Realism arose from the Surrealist movement, not from Fantasy (although the latter most definitely did influence it). It is 'Modern.'

It is of the school that says the image is of primary importance. It places these unexplained and unexplainable occurrences before its audience and says 'make what you will of it.' That sets it apart from Fantasy.

And it makes Magic Realism, at least, the child of Surrealism, its descendant in the Post-modern world.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

Certainly not -- nor intended to be -- any sort of in-depth analysis! I also recognize that genres inevitably overlap. As usual, I wrote this out to get my own thoughts into some sort of order.

Incidentally, I would recommend Tolkien's essay on fairytales to anyone who wants to investigate what makes up Fantasy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Not Fair, a poem

NOT FAIR

Some tell me 'Life's not fair.'
I say 'So let's fix it.'
But when offered a plan
They are bound to nix it.
'It's always been this way,'
they claim, 'and we won't change.
Familiar misery
is better than new and strange!'

'It's how our parents lived
And theirs before them, too;
Life wasn't fair then, either,
There's nothing you can do.'
I guess that we must leave it
All up in the air;
We'll keep on as we have,
For life is not fair.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

More doggerel from Steve

Frisk, a poem

Frisk

Collies don't drink coffee,
Terriers don't take tea;
And chocolate is anathema
To doggies large and wee.

Caffeine is a human vice,
Cup by steaming cup;
Our canines sit and watch us
And wonder just what's up.

Come frisk in the yard,
It's more fun
, they'd say;
But we must have our boost
Before we go out to play.

Perhaps a morning romp
Is all we really need;
Collies and terriers know --
Why not the human breed?

Stephen Brooke ©2012

Another light verse throw-away.

Lots of thunder and stormy weather last night. Glad to have the rain, especially as I have gone ahead with the tree transplanting. Looks like continued mild and not very winter-like weather for a while. Gosh, in a month it will start feeling like spring!

Tucky wanted to escape the storm by going to the one room where she is not allowed at night, my mom's bedroom. Every thunder boom and she was up scratching at the door. Why she would think that room was safer, I'm not sure -- maybe she wanted to hide in the walk-in closet!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dog's Day


An idea for a tee-shirt and merchandise design. I really need to update my Cafe Press shop!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Little Bits of News

If anyone had a problem with the link in the last post, I rechecked and it does work. I'd hazard that the server on their end is fussy so it might be simpler to just go to gladwell.com and navigate to the article from there.

~

Mean Mary James will be at the Florida Folk Festival again this year. I hadn't heard or seen anything on her schedule but have been assured she is performing. Not that I'm likely to get over there myself. She'll have new CDs and stuff with her.

~

So, yet another ex-girlfriend has turned up and become a facebook-friend. I may need a 'friends' category just for them. It's nice to know they all still like me anyway. That, of course, is because I have such excellent judgement when it comes to women. :D

Unfortunately, they also had excellent judgement when it comes to men...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Projects

So what have I been working on lately? I tend to dabble in a bunch of different projects until one steps forward and says 'finish me off, already!'

This time, that would seem to be a picture book for the little ones, titled 'Awful Alvin.' I originally wrote a version and sketched out a few quick pictures to entertain my nephews some twenty years ago. Here's one of the original pictures (digitized and sans color).

I did rewrite the text later, going from a simple short narrative to a longer rhymed poem. Perhaps a tad sophisticated for the kiddies to read themselves (most of them) but that's what parents are for, right?

Anyway, I'm working on a new set of illustrations, though I really need to organize the studio some first! It's sort of an unused mess of a room at this time of year. The pics are to be black and white this time (but not necessarily pen and ink -- my originals were pencil). Maybe I'll tackle a short color book someday. One thing at a time, as I feel my way.

Speaking of which...

"I seek in painting." ~ Cezanne

A friend pointed me toward this essay, 'Late Bloomers,' by Malcolm Gladwell, originally published in The New Yorker --
http://www.gladwell.com/2008/2008_10_20_a_latebloomers.html

An interesting read, especially for middle-aged artsy types. There's hope yet!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Banjos and Other Things

I've been enjoying the new Banjo DVD and instruction/tab book from the Mean niece, 'The Sparrow and the Hawk.' It's officially out next week but I received an advanced copy. Pretty cool, though of course I'll never even attempt any of the songs in it. Five-stringing of that sort is just not my thing.

I'm much better off strumming rhythms on my plectrum 'jo. The set is available at the Mean Mary site and will also be in some music stores, as well as at the Deering Banjo site now that she's an official 'Good Time Gal.'

* * *

As the election season gathers steam, I once again see the misuse of the term Socialist, by people on both sides of the political spectrum. Socialism isn't about sharing the wealth, folks, it's about the government owning the means of production.

I suppose I've always tended to be a bit of a Distributist myself. The 'Third Way,' if you will. And I suspect so would a lot of other people if it were presented to them.

I know much of Distributist thought is somewhat impractical but that does not prevent its core concept, the distribution of the means of production and of political power to the smallest possible units, from still being relevant. Family farms, small businesses, local governments. This also sounds a lot like some of the 'Key Values' of the Green Party, doesn't it?

Of Whores

Many, when they hear the word 'whore' think of sexual promiscuity. They can't get past that, they may even see its use as a condemnation of women's freedom. So I learned not to use it (most of the time, anyway...occasionally it just fits).

But I would never have intended it to have that meaning. To me, a whore is someone who sells him or herself -- for whatever purpose. I don't particularly think of sex when I employ the word.

It just goes to show the cultural differences that can exist within, well, a culture. Different backgrounds, different educations or upbringings, lead to very different understandings of everyday language. And the way we use language very much impacts the way we think.

For words provide the metaphors and symbols that allow complex thought. They shape it, they shade it. They do so differently for each of us, sometimes subtly, sometimes quite radically.

If we speak completely different languages, the difference will be even greater. Does not a Spanish speaker, to whom all things are either male or female, regard the world differently than we who see most objects as neuter?

Ultimately, each of us speaks our own language. Each of us has a unique set of connotations, of implications, for the words we hear and say. You hear 'whore' and have a different picture than the person next to you.

It's a wonder we can communicate at all!

I've admitted before to a fascination with this aspect of language. It is a part of what drives my own writing, the nuances of metaphor and symbol, the myriad meanings hidden within a word. No matter how carefully I might choose those words, they will mean something different to my reader than to me.

Yet, if I am skillful enough, that reader will suspect that there are other meanings. That is certainly one of the purposes of poetry, to broaden our understanding of metaphors and, therefore, our ability to think outside that cliche of a box.

Ah, the comfort of cliche. I've certainly fallen back on it at times, written what I think people want to hear. Not that there is anything wrong with wanting ones work to be accessible; the point is to communicate, after all. Still, there are times when I feel that I would trade any and all attempts at insight for a number one song.

But then I would be a whore, wouldn't I? ;)

Stephen Brooke ©2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Will

WILL

The 'Song of Brother Sun' by Francis of Assisi
I would take over all the books of Friedrich Nietzche.

There is contentment in the beauty of one flower
that can not be attained through man's own will to power.

For powerless we come into this world, friend,
and powerless we'll be when all comes to an end.

I'll praise creation now and walk with Brother Sun,
believing in God's will until our journey's done.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

Not intended as a deep philosophical thought!

Visitors, a poem

VISITORS

Megrim and Melancholia,
siblings of the dark,
visit on the waning wind,
the sun a fading spark
in the ashes of the sky,
heaven's sullen arc.
Clouds lie close on my horizons;
despair is standing stark.

Drum of heartbeats in my head,
crashing, clanging gong;
light moves in a grotesque dance,
every rhythm wrong.
My guests crouch close on either side,
howl a hollow song
of loss and wordless yearning,
the yammer of the throng.

Curtains drawn about the world,
close around my pain;
forgotten wrong I can't atone,
loss I must regain.
Only imps and demons answer
prayers I whisper in vain;
brother and sister of the dark
come on winds that wane.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

I'm typically not quite so literal in my stuff but this poem seemed to call for it. Not that it's a particularly good piece, at least as it stands -- it's first draft-ish so revision is likely.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Unions

I do not quite understand why those who continually harp on people taking responsibility for themselves and the government having less of a role in our lives are also often anti-union. Unions ARE people taking care of themselves.

One of the worst things that ever happened to labor in this country was for it to be co-opted by the government. Unions lost some of their independence and much of their reason for existence as more of their demands were made into law.

But the very worst thing was the movement, endorsed by both major political parties, to a free trade economy. That's a done deal now -- the world economy is here to stay and we must learn to work with it.

The answer must be strong international unions and political parties that are willing to accept and support their existence. They are the needed counterbalance to international corporations. Not just labor unions, either; anything that can organize people to fight for themselves is welcome.

'Special interest groups' some would call them, but they are unions too. Consumer unions. AARP would certainly qualify. Yes, all you senior citizens, if you belong to AARP you are essentially union members. You recognize the value of organization.

So why do those who call for people to take more personal responsibility so dislike it when they organize for just that purpose? Well, everyone has an inner hypocrite but I suspect it's also just sloppy thinking. There's a lot of that going around, you know.

By the way, speaking of hypocrisy, I decided to put my money where my, ah, pen is and have not shopped at Wal-mart in something like a year. Not only to support smaller local businesses but also in protest of their labor practices. It won't matter to them but I feel better for it.

SB MMXII

Friday, January 06, 2012

Dogs, Degrees, Deciduous

The little Jack Russell from next door thinks he lives here now. As soon as his people leave for work, he's over here to hang with Tucky for the day. It didn't take him long to follow her through the pet flap!

And he doesn't want to go home in the evening. I pretty much have to set him on the porch and lock the doggy door behind him or he'd be here all night.

~

Despite a reading of 19 degrees on my carport thermometer on Wednesday morning, it's still the mildest winter I've had here. So far...and we're moving into mid-January, the statistically coldest time of the year, with no freezing temperatures in the ten-day forecast.

This is my sixth winter on Peanut Road and I've managed to get the place a little better weather-proofed each year. Just finished stuffing insulation into all the eaves around the music room before the cold air arrived; it's temporary but it helps. Eventually, some sort of sound treatment, whether foam or fiberglass, will cover those areas.

I do intend to spend more time in there this year. Maybe even use it for music.

~

To my surprise, my nursery order already arrived. Being trees/bushes, I suppose I could plant them right now -- or 'heel' them in for a month or so. Willows, 'Rose of Sharon' hibiscus, pecans. Time to get busy. And to make sure I have protection around all of them so the dogs won't dig them out and/or gnaw them off.

Oh, and the 'free' trees that usually come with an order were maples this time. I've not had much success with them here before but I guess there's a first time for everything. I'll plant them in a group where it's shadier and I can care for them properly and in a couple years, if they survive, I can transplant them somewhere far from the house. Or give them to someone.

I received green ash a couple years ago -- they're great for placement somewhat close to the house, medium height with a high crown to shade the roof and room for under-story trees like redbuds below them. They do like lots of water, though!

As long as I'm getting onto all these, I suppose it's time to start transplanting the rest of the peaches and mulberries and wild cherries and seedling pears too. Writing may take a back seat for a while.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

In Print

I have created a catalog for Arachis Press, in PDF form. I consider this no more than a 'sketch' for things to come, but it can be downloaded/seen at http://insolentlad.com/files/apcat2012jan.pdf if you have any interest.

I found that I could not get Myriad -- my first choice font for this catalog -- to embed in PDFs in either of the two programs I normally use. Subsequent research shows this is a common problem and Adobe's Minion may act the same.

No problem. I have plenty of replacements. Humanist 777 (from Bit Stream) is a rather similar Frutiger-like font, though I actually ended up using one of my long-time favorites, Humanist 521.

In other publishing news, I fixed two typos I found in 'Dreamwinds' and uploaded new versions for print and PDF. If you already purchased a copy, you now have a collector's item. ;)

The EPUB version, however, has not been changed as it would require going through the whole acceptance procedure at Apple and Barnes & Noble again. If I can live with a missing 'n' and a misplaced apostrophe, so can you all.

I'll have print copies on hand in a few days for direct distribution. Not that I can actually get out and distribute.

Chewy


more foolin' round with graphics

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Mosquitoes

The screen was thick with mosquitoes.

We did not close our jalousie windows to the night. This was before air conditioning was common in Florida, when electric fans moved the heavy Gulf air from one room to another.

Too many mosquitoes, too many sand flies, to sleep outside, though the spray truck drove through the neighborhood each evening, leaving a white fog of insecticide lingering along the street. It knocked down some of the insects, I'm sure, but who knows what that mist did to our own lungs?

Especially those youngsters who would ride their bicycles behind the truck, dodging in and out of the fog.

Dad knew where to escape the bugs. And maybe escape a houseful of rug-rats, as well. He was down at the pier, fishing, and we kids wouldn't see him till tomorrow morning. There might be a couple more snook fillets in the refrigerator, waiting to be deep-fried for our supper.

We actually grew tired of snook, as delicious as it can be. Dad gave away more than he brought home.

I might have been three, I might have been four. The story is the same, the little house on the curve of the road, empty, white sand lots on all sides, where nothing grew but sand spurs. We sat by the jalousie window at night, framed by the maroon drapes with their abstract patterns, Fifties-style, rounded rectangles like little TV screens.

And in the dark beyond them, as Mom read a bedtime story, the mosquitoes buzzed.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

Monday, January 02, 2012

Summer 1953

It was miles down.

Or so it seemed to a three-year-old. Years later, I saw that 'cliff' was no more than four or five foot, my father's arms could have easily caught me, lifted me down. But there was no way I was going to jump.

There was no way I was going to be dashed on those rocks -- okay, it was a pebbly sand bar -- below. Before the mistrustful man came the mistrustful kid. Then, as now, I had trouble 'reading' people. Even my dad.

We had returned to Ohio for a few weeks, a vacation of sorts and a tying up of loose ends. Our temporary home, that summer, was the 'Hill Farm,' my late grandfather's place in the Hocking Hills. I remember little else of our time there.

But that little event down at the bend of our creek, where a deeper swimming hole had been carved from the rock and sand, the work of uncounted spring floods, stays with me. I even had nightmares later of peering out over that cliff, while voices cajoled me to take the leap. No, Mom. No, Dad. I'm not ready to die!

Ha, I alway knew you liked my little brother better.

And that is the other memory of that summer, of that stay in the hills. My brother. Sickly, whiny little brat, being fussed over by sisters and mom. I do recall going off into another room and crying because they didn't seem to love me anymore. And here I'd always been my big sisters' favorite plaything, their real, live doll.

Feeling sorry for myself...the first time I can recall but certainly not the last.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Christmas, 1952

The house was empty, except for the Christmas tree.

Though I was still four months shy of my third birthday, I remember it clearly. It is the first Christmas I can recall, the Christmas we spent in the tourist cottages beneath the Australian pines, our little house not quite ready yet.

But Dad set up a tree in the bare living room, placed our presents beneath it, and we all went over on Christmas morning to open them. I remember a toy truck...or was it a fire engine? I pushed it all over the empty rooms, across the terrazo floors. I also remember being loathe to pick it up because I wasn't sure it was for me.

I was new to Christmas, after all. It's the first gift I remember receiving at any time. My parents assured me it was mine and an older sibling was not going to take it from me.

We had left Ohio a couple months earlier, just as winter was moving in. I do have a few memories of our home in the north and, in particular, everyone getting into the car on a cold day to start a trip. Was there snow or is that a detail my imagination added?  I assume it was the family setting out for Florida.

Florida -- that's where the memories truly begin, with a Christmas tree and an empty house.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

Criticism

Being active in poetry criticism is one of the best ways to carve out an idea of poetry firm enough to stand up to the public demands of a career as a poet. ~ Annie Finch

This would, of course, apply to any of the arts. Shoot, it would apply to ditch-digging. It's one of the reasons I write reviews -- to get my thoughts straight about why I like or dislike something and apply it to my own work.

I'll admit it: I've written my share of 'puff' reviews of work by friends. But if I truly disliked any of it, I would have declined to write a review at all. It's a good exercise to dig in and find just what aspects are worthy of compliment. Ignoring, of course, the weak points or, at least, glossing over them.

Chances are I'm a little too nice most of the time anyway. It's not really in me to savage other folks' work. I respect anyone who is willing to do anything and put it out there.

The exception being those who rub me the wrong way by espousing a viewpoint I find morally repugnant. If you are evil, I will say so. And then come burn down your village. :D

By the way, I do maintain a little review site/blog where I occasionally post: http://rangerreviews.wordpress.com

Stephen Brooke ©2012