Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ten Years After

There have been many times where I thought I should blog some idea only to back off when it occurred to me that what I wanted to say was too personal and fit more for a journal than this forum.

I've used this blog as a journal of sorts in the past, but it was more as a commentary effort than mere self-expression, though I suppose you could argue that all writing is some form of self-expression.

It was never my intent to become a well-known, largely followed blogger. The reason this blog exists in the first place was to create a venue with a link back to my website for SEO purposes. Because it is a blog, it needed content so it became a repository for mental meanderings.

Since my website has become irrelevant, most likely due to the rise of Facebook, I have decided to not renew my subscription with GoDaddy next year. All the things that can be found on www.thejeffhowe.com (and there's a bunch as I've been using it for storage of files) are being migrated elsewhere.

So when the website goes dsrk, that means this blog will have no remaining real value outside of what it is - a blog.

I have lived something of a Mayberry life. That is over now starting with its gradual demise in 2005. Oddly enough, that was about the time I started writing. It began with a couple poems and, as situations started to unfold, escalated from there until I found myself recording as many memories of the past and impressions of the present that I could.

Stories were written, poems by the dozen came pouring out, this blog became quite active, a novel was started.

It just seemed like there was a backlog, a reservoir of words waiting to burst down the spillways. The accumulation of years came to a nexus as I entered into the phase known as middle-aged.

Some say there's no such thing as a mid-life crisis. I disagree with that. It may not be significant to most, but I think everyone deals with first actual realization of mortality and time slip in their own way. Some buy sports cars. Others have affairs. I chose to write.

Confluent with my struggle with middle age acceptance was a spate of deaths which included my wife's parents as well as significant medical problems for me and her. So, it has been a tumultuous ten-year period to say the least. Through it all the idea flames burned brightly. The result was fifteen books on Amazon that are still available for purchase today.

However, with the last passing of a friend and fellow writer (four over the course of five months starting December 2014), I find that the motivations, the inspiration to scrabble words onto a page - or into a text document - have pretty much vanished.

These ebbs are not unfamiliar to me. Usually, I could expect a return to writing desire within a few months of the initial slow down. I'm not sure I can say the same thing this time.

Kurt Vonnegut's strongest work is found in his first six novels as his experiences in World War II established the energies, pathos and imagination that commonly threaded those stories. After his magnum opus, Slaughterhouse Five, the edge of his storytelling became dulled. Even so, he still wrote eight more novels, but he had publishing agreements to fulfill. And perhaps, he still felt as if he had some juice left.

The same can be said of other authors.

I'm not trying to compare myself to Vonnegut, but I believe the creation process works quite similarly for most, if not all. Look at the earlier works of those who write, those who make music and other artforms and see how they evolve to the point where they lose the original freshness which made them stand out from the rest.

That is how I view my present circumstance. It seems to me that most of what I write about these days can be distilled down to one to three topics. With such a fixation, the creative endeavor has become how to differently address these topics so as to make the written pieces seem fresher than they really are.

All things eventually come to an end. And while I'm not willing to officially stamp "Finished" on this whole project, I am realistic enough to admit that the motivations which started the gears turning in the first place have come to their logical conclusion over the passage of time.

Now that an era of our lives (I include my wife in this) is done, then the mystery of the future opens itself up to us as we wonder where we will go next.

Perhaps when we find out it will spark a whole new spate of writing exercise. However, until that happens, I can look back over the course of fifteen books and say it has been good.

It has been worthwhile.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Stupid Memes

People love memes. Memes that express humor, political positions, sarcasm, social statements. They are ubiquitous on Facebook and, I assume, all other social networking sites. There are websites that are meme generators and anyone can go select a picture and caption it with their own witty or funny statement then share it to Facebook.

Technically, what I'm posting here aren't memes. They're more like posters. But, unlike the majority of memes, these just won't die. People keep sharing them as if they are some new found wisdom that everyone must see.


1. I see a lot of dating "advice" on Facebook. This generally comes from moms who have teenaged children. Most of the dating advice seems to be geared toward elevating and/or protecting girls. This one comparing girls to apples on a tree is about as silly as they get. Not only does it create a false sense of superiority if one ascribes to its preaching, but it seems to be an attempt to mollify those who haven't found their spouses yet. I know women who are my age and still single. I also know adult guys who are single. They aren't single because that person who is "brave enough to climb all the way to the top of the tree" hasn't come along yet. Let's flip this around to a standard high school scenario...

Hey girls. See that guy over there. He's not a jock, he'll never be the star of the football team. He doesn't have his own cool car, instead he drives the family station wagon when his parents don't need it. He's not in all the clubs at school and has never considered running for student council. He does okay in classes, not great. He doesn't have a lot of money as he only works part time in the grocery store and it doesn't pay well. His parents aren't rich. Yet he is one of the best apples you could snag from the top of the tree only if you are brave enough to climb that high.

There. Does that make made-up-guy any more appealing?

Probably not. But most people get married. Some don't. And somehow it all happens despite this meme.


 2. Anyone in their right mind is against bullying. But do all these contrived scenarios need to be posted regularly. This particular meme as constructed is intended to make those who bully feel guilty about what they are doing. Maybe the worst part of it is the very last line. It is coercive; it makes this meme a bully in its own right.

3. Another set of contrived scenarios and I can't really say I've seen this specific one as often as others. But its tone of message is a common thread on Facebook. 

3b. If you ever wondered if nurses and waitresses were interchangeable, here's your proof.

4. This comes across as totally made up. I seriously doubt that this scenario ever took place. It's actually a bit amusing at first read, but totally unnecessary beyond that. And it hasn't changed people's punctuation habits any. So, what's the point?

5. There are two things about this which place this in the stupid category. The first is the sentence, "They are signs of having tried to remain strong for so long." I've witnessed clinical depression and it has nothing to do with trying to remain strong for so long. It has everything to do with monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) levels in the brain according to a study by the Center for Addiction and Mental Health. MAO-A is an enzyme which breaks down serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, mood chemicals, if you will, in the brain. 

The second thing is the last sentence. Does this stupid meme really make people with anxiety disorder or clinical depression feel supported and comforted? Really?

6.  The Facebook version of a chain letter. Do I need say more?

 7. There are quite a few religious memes that run through the newsfeeds on a regular basis. Most of them end similarly. My question is this: if you don't share, does that mean you disagree? Doesn't it have to mean that? This is another example of sharing by inducing guilt, and I don't think that's a good way to spread the gospel.

8. Mattel already makes a cancer Barbie named "Ella". Here's the proof...
CLICK HERE

9. Stupid meme... Some of us want all kinds of nice, new shiny things because we are self-absorbed. But I just want to be liked by everyone and shared by everyone because I am self-absorbed. I really don't think I'm creating an army of compassion from this. I'm not that stupid.... or am I? Hey 3 percenters out there - show me some love because 97% are ignoring me!

10. I see this one and my first thought is not to re-post. It is to ask, "Do you feel better now?" There is no second thought.


* * * * *

I will add more as I come across them. It seems as if people have an insatiable need to make their worldview statements on a regular basis on Facebook. To what end? I don't know. Those who agree with the statements will "like" them and comment with at least an "amen" or maybe a lot of verbal high-fiving. Those who disagree may argue. The rest will just ignore. 

Can't we just stop the preachiness?

Probably not.



Saturday, March 28, 2015

About My Books

I have written 14 books. Two of them were intentional. The rest were created simply because I had enough material built up to create a book-length manuscript.

I started writing poetry in the early 2000s. Actually, I've dabbled in poetry from time to time since I was a young teenager. But in the 2000s, I started producing in earnest. A desire to capture thoughts and memories overtook me, and I wanted to create work that poetically expressed those desires.

After joining poets.com and seeing how others on the site were getting their works published, I decided to follow suit. When I had enough poems compiled, I submitted the manuscript to PublishAmerica and they accepted it. Voila! I had a book titled From Here to Never, Time Travels from Maine.

I never expected my book to be a best seller. There are, quite frankly, some pretty bad pieces in it. There are also a few poems of which I'm quite proud. However, I don't think more than 20 sold and that includes friends and family who bought one as a show of support.

When I created enough material for a second book, I contacted PublishAmerica again. They told me in no uncertain terms that they would not publish my second book as there had been no sales from the first. So this was the impetus needed to find a different way to publish.

And I did.
 

Thirteen more were published, two through Lulu and the rest using CreateSpace. These are all my books.


From Here to Never

First published in 2006 through PublishAmerica, redesigned and republished through CreateSpace in December 2013.

From Here to Never is my first book. Originally just a poetry book, I reformatted it to include more prose work when I re-released it in 2013. The re-release also included some new poetry and omitted poems from the original which were pretty bad.


May 2007

I experimented with the layout in this second book, Falling from a Cloud, putting all rhyming poetry in the first section and all non-rhyming in the third. The second section was a hybridization of my short story, The Concourse, into a prose-poetry piece.

The title comes from a poetry website to which I once belonged. That website had a "cloud" which reflected the activity levels of its members. The more active the member, the higher their ranking, the larger their name in the cloud. The activity here refers to reviewing other people's poetry and posting your own. I had worked my way up fairly high in the cloud and then eased off the activity. Little by little, as others passed me by, I watched my name grow smaller, my ranking diminish. Eventually, I fell from the cloud.

I haven't seen those sort of clouds lately on websites, and I think they were just a fad. In fact, the cloud is still an internet term, but it refers to something totally different now.


April 2008

As I was writing poetry pretty regularly in the 2000s, it was fairly simple to compile enough to create a book-length manuscript. I had almost enough for a third book but no real feel of a theme for it. Then my father-in-law died. Through the trip to North Carolina for his funeral and burial, I wrote several more pieces reflecting my thoughts at the time and came up with the title poem which is about his passing. Then I knew I had a finished book and published it.


August 2008

Up to this point, I had a notion that poetry books might sell. Probably not as best sellers, but there would be something of a side income from them. Unfortunately, most of the books I sold were to other people writing poetry on the sites where I was a member or to family and friends. So, I thought about short stories. Surely they would sell better than poetry. 

Of Trains and Other Things has ten short stories. The first, The Concourse, was based on a dream I'd had years before and built the story around it at that time. The second, The Train, was my submission to a program Amazon had called Amazon Shorts.  As I seemed to be trending in a train direction, I wrote a third titled, The Tracks.  


The remaining stories have nothing to do with trains.


Hence, the book's title.


September 2008

I was still personally dealing with some fallout from my father-in-law's death eight months prior to this book. One could probably say that anger drove my writing. I talk about it in the introduction a bit. This was never a book I wanted to sell. My fears of that have settled down, though, because no one ever bought it.


February 2009

Of all the poetry books I've done, Look One Last is probably my favorite. It's laid out in the manner of four seasons though no seasons are mentioned. And the poems themselves were chosen to go in the sections based upon their reflections of the seasons of life: childhood, teen to young adult, middle age, elder adult. There are a lot of poems in it of which I am particularly fond. Among those are the world of ever shine, Thunder Bay, The Shenadoah Valley, My Love is a Spring Breeze, Coming Down, Silverlight, Dunescape, the Esoteric Vagabond series, and the four at the beginning which I call The Quadrennium, though you won't find that title anywhere in the book.



July 2010

Just Drop Me Off at the Moon was written under a pen name: J.T. Deeman. I did this because in the introduction to Look One Last, I said it was my last poetry book. And I didn't want to let on to my imaginery audience that I can be wishy-washy at times. There are a few poems in Just Drop that I like, but I don't care much for most of them. I think the cover rocks, though.


July 2010

I did Bullets for Life under the same pen name as Just Drop Me Off at the Moon. It is composed of a series of bullet points of life that I wanted to pass on to my sons. It's a quick read.



The publication date for this reads as 2012 on Amazon. I actually published it earlier than that. Not sure why the 2012 date. It is the start of expanded poetry books. By this I mean that I have not only poems, but essays and short stories. The essays come from my blog where, once upon a time, I used to be pretty prolific. After several hundred blog entries, I thought it would be a good idea to back them up into a hard copy somewhere. So I cherry picked the ones I liked and included them in this book.

The title, Hallucination of Majestic Elephants, is an acrostic. The title portion of the book spends its time in talking about the yearly trips we used to make to North Carolina to visit my wife's family. Given that her dad and mom passed away in 2008 and 2009, respectively, it was a way to explore and express meanings of home.


June 2011

The title, Echoes from the Antechamber, refers to reflections upon my much younger days. It has stories, poems and essays as well. Even though the title implies childhood, the stories themselves deal more with the aged. My first epic poem, The Downfall of Ilium, is in this book. It is modeled somewhat after The Waste Land but incorporates elements of Whitman, Cummings and Sandburg as well. There is also one of my favorite essays, Everything Looks Worse in Black and White, which takes on a different, sort of meandering writing style than I typically use.


Of all my books, Echoes from the Antechamber is my favorite.


October 2012

Patterns at the Periphery follows the same style as the previous two books. But where I felt Hallucinations and Echoes established a strong sense of purpose, Patterns doesn't seem to. It has several essays I consider good, and I think those are its strength. It also has the short story, The Tattoo, of which I am rather proud. Additionally, I have included (with their permission) a poem each by Mike Walsh, Carol Brandt and Sarah True, wonderful people I've had to opportunity to befriend through the internet.


April 2014

This book was the first of two "targeted" books  Instead of generalized poetry and story books, I wanted to put together something with a clear theme to see if it would capture any buyers. I pulled out all the pieces I had written about Spindale, North Carolina from previous books, added a few more and built Spindale from a Mainer's Perspective. On our final trip to Spindale last year, I presented the library with a copy of the book. They seemed interested in the concept. It hasn't generated any sales.


BDUDays
October 2014

BDUDays is like Spindale, a targeted book. A few of them have sold, all to people who served in the Army with me. It is available in both book and Kindle version.


October 2014

Even though by date BDUDays was published after From the Sea She Spoke, I consider this to be my last book. It is a poetry book, unabashedly so, with two essays at the end. In fact, the last essay is titled The End. I don't know if that essay was an omen for things to come, but I haven't done much writing since this book.


The whole book making experience has been a satisfying process. Even though their commercial viability turned out to be less than what may have been hoped for, it has been worth the effort. There may be more books to come, who can really say at this point? But the gnawing need to record things in words has quieted for now and causes me to wonder in what direction I'll go next.

Maybe I should look into writing songs.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Time Lapse

I am awash with mystery. I swim with the confused.

Outwardly, I am normal like that guy and that guy and that. But inwardly images and sentimemnts swirl like Spirograph gone out of control. There's a turbulating turmoil of thought, desire, franticness and fractals.

This guy that writes this, he is no different than he was twenty thirty years ago.

Yet he is.

No, he still aspires to the same sensations, the known qualities to which he has grown accustomed over the years. He reaches for that which he has reached since his youth.

But he doesn't.

It's so very strange to change. The years pile up and an odd morphing takes place for life is not static no matter how long one lies on the couch watching television reruns.

Yet, all the while, little pieces of youth are being demolished one by one, crushed under the weight of an ever-heavying clock.

People die. Those icons with which I grew up have been dropping like errant flyballs in a Little League rout. And each time one passes, I feel a bit sadder. This has been one of my mysteries.

I didn't know the person. It's not as if he or she were family. Yet, in a way, they were for there was time spent together as they came into the living room once a week, or maybe five times a week, in the morning or evening to play out stories which kept me enthralled.

And I grew to like them. (love them?)

And now they have succumbed to the same forces which tear at us all.

The warm homeliness of Mayberry lies buried in the past. But I know we lived it. The mystique of a wild wild west with tight pants and beautiful belles playing in dark realms of mad midgets and daunting giants has faded from all imagination. The thrill of boldly going where no man has gone before has turned into trepidation that maybe moving forward is a bit less desirable than once seen.

How did it all get this way? Why do my father's once strong and steady hands now shake?
And why have the mysteries that once called out so richly and deeply become quietly sere?

The shore is rapidly shrinking as I glide into dark waters under full sail. I leave a large part of me behind, but still carry it with me.

The confusion seems normal. Maybe it will all settle one day and everything will start to make sense again. Or maybe nothing ever really made sense, and I just told myself it did.

Anyway, the fractals aren't unwelcome.

Only disconcerting.



Monday, December 15, 2014

28 Christmas Gifts You May Remember if You're My Age

With the plethora of links to "list websites" rampaging through Facebook, it's no surprise that some of them play on the nostalgic feelings of the otherwise unsuspecting masses. After seeing a list of toys from the 80s, complete with Cabbage Patch smarm and Care Bear dreck, I decided to create my own list.  Here are toys I remember receiving as Christmas gifts back in the day. They were so much neater than what passed for toys in the 80s.

1. Matchbox Cars:  The quintessential car toy for young boys. Now they are collectibles, especially if they come with their original box. But most of us were "driving" them in dirt driveways and letting them roll downstairs, so they may not be in particularly good condition today. Plus, who kept the boxes?


2. Hot Wheels Cars: The sportier, cooler cousin to Matchbox. Hot Wheels were made so as to roll more freely than Matchbox which made them perfect for zipping along hardwood floors and crashing into walls or furniture or even each other with damaging results.


3. Matchbox City:  I could spend hours driving my cars around Matchbox City, stopping at the service station for an oil change, driving over the bridge being careful not to fall off, going through the construction site. Of course, those hours turned to minutes and then nothing at all. But on rainy days, when boredom was the deciding factor, we may just pull it out again and take a spin around the block.


4, Hot Wheels Race Track and Supercharger: The track didn't stay together well, and the weight of the cars flying down it made it somewhat unstable. But it was a hoot to hook up the supercharger and see if we could keep the cars going around the oval on their own. At least until the supercharger's batteries wore down.


5. Mr. Potato Head: A classic. Give him different eyes, mouth, nose, hair, hat, etc, for a different look and then make different voices (I guess) as you try to animate him. I think there were other vegetables also, but they didn't catch on as well.


6. Gumby and Pokey: Flexible, able to be thrown into trees, it took a lot of effort to tear Gumby apart by the legs. But you could.


7. Lincoln Logs: In one can there were enough logs to build a small cabin. Want something bigger? You need more cans. I took my small ones and painted the inside flat connecting section either gray or blue and re-enacted Civil War battles.


8. Tinkertoys: Sort of a relative to the Lincoln Logs, the only thing I remember making with mine were dragsters.


9. Pick-Up Sticks: A game with plastic sticks that really wasn't that interesting. But we still had them for some reason.


10. Spirograph: Enough to keep a kid busy for a long time, it was always torture when you went too fast or hard and the drawing cog jumped out of the guides leaving errant marks in your otherwise beautiful work of spiral art.


11. GI Joe: I was into Sea Hunt and any other shows which had scuba divers. Heck, I used to get books out of the library about scuba diving. I've never gotten my diving certification, though I have done some snorkeling. GI Joe with scuba outfit was great fun during bathtime. And when done with that, we'd throw him into the trees. (Maybe to look for Gumby).


12. Toy Guns: Toy guns were the de rigueur playtime toy. If they were just regular toy guns, you had to yell "bang" to shoot them. If they were cap guns, well it took the play to a whole different level. That is until you ran out of caps because it was so much neater to take a whole roll of them and smash a rock down on them. The bang was much louder.


13. A different sort of Toy Gun: I had something like this, but I can't remember if it was a handgun or rifle. But I remember the plastic attachments that would shoot off the end of the barrel like a rocket propelled grenade. Only it was a soft plastic and it didn't travel very fast.


14. Erector Set: Metal pieces you could screw together and make cranes or large structures (that's what the box said). I think I mostly made dragsters with mine. I could also scrape the surface of my fingernails with the metal beams which always gave me teeth-gritting willies.


15, Creepy Crawlers: And how cool was it that you could pour the liquid into the mold, bake it in the oven? kiln? whatever the box that got hot was - until the goop hardened into a rubbery shape. Then it had to be pried out, but you could make spiders, worms, centipedes, all manner of creepy crawler things that fooled no one because blue, red and yellow just weren't natural colors for such things.


16. Easy Bake Oven: Another kid's toy that got hot, this time from a light bulb. I guess liability wasn't an issue back the 60s and 70s. My sisters had one - I think it was yellow. They made the items and we ate them. I think we thought they were pretty good, though they really couldn't have been.


17. Etch-a-Sketch: A frustrating toy if you wanted to draw circles. And if you dropped one, all your hard work could get partially or totally erased. There are people who have since created nice works of temporary art with Etch-a-Sketches, but they must be super deluxe models because I just don't see how it could be done with the regular ones.


18. View Master: And how cool was it to view things in 3D? Very. But you had to have a lot of the discs for any sort of longevity to the novelty of it.


19. Battleship: You sunk my battleship! Seemed hit or miss at first, but we soon learned to vector in on targets and observe miss patterns to try and determine where the opponent's ships were.


20. Stratego: Another strategy game in which success was determined by how cleverly one could set up his/her army. The flag was never up on the front line.


21. Gnip Gnop: Ping Pong backwards. This game was far more exciting as a TV commercial than as an actual home game. The reality certainly didn't match the marketing.


22.  Mouse Trap Game: This Rube Goldberg-esque game never worked as well as what we saw in the commercial. The cage often got caught on the pole spikes where it was mounted, the ball didn't necessarily stay on the path on which it was launched. And it took some time to set up in order to play.


23. Operation: Yeah, another gimmicky game that was fun for the first few go rounds. Then, boring.


24: Shenanigans: I can't remember if I had this game, or a friend had the game, or if I just watched the TV show on which it was based. That's really all I can say about it.


25. Twister: Only worth playing at a party where many people can laugh at the silly contortions needed to win.


26. SSP Racers: Now these were cool. You take the toothed length of plastic, slip it down into the cogged flywheel in the center, give it a hard pull, set it down and it will fly. And they came in some rad models.


27. Supercar: A toy based on the Claymation TV show of the same name, I loved mine.


28: Vertibird: Possibly one of my all time favorite toys. Using the levers on control box, you could make a helicopter fly around and around in circles. The trick was to try to land it lightly or pick up items using the hook that hung from its belly. It was my first remote control toy, and even though it was tethered to the center control box, it was enough to ignite imagination.



There are other toys I could have named: Colorforms, Slinky, Monopoly, Legos, Johnny West, etc, but you gotta end the list at some point, right?