Rearranging the furniture again

Regular visitors will notice I adjusted the look of this website on Sunday night. Longtime visitors will notice it looks very much like it used to look back when the blog was hosted by WordPress. I’m still with WordPress, of course, but I’m paying to have more control over the content, i.e., no outside ads, for example.

What I always liked about about this theme, other than it’s simple and easy to read, is the sidebar where you can browse older posts and I can post links to my email newsletter and books. Yes, this website is where I share my addled thinking and fragments of creativity with the world, but its main purpose is to give you an opportunity to purchase the books I’ve written, edited and/or published.

Hopefully the daily shameless self-promotion won’t put you off too much; I’ll still be here on the left side trying to encourage, enlighten and/or entertain you, and this part is free. And subscribing to the newsletter only costs you your email address and my occasional invasion of your mailbox, but in return you’ll get Jeep Thompson and the Lost Prince of Venus: Episode 1: Journey to the Second Planet, the first third of my long-promised next novel.

My brain has been focused on rearranging the furniture this weekend. Some dear friends came to visit and de-clog my downspouts so that the summer rains are diverted to where they’re supposed to be diverted instead of overflowing my eaves. And when I saw Summer and Dejah frolicking among the weeds that threatened to consume the hostas, I realized it was long past time to mow the backyard.

All the yard work and furniture rearranging, unfortunately, has put me a little further behind on my day-job tasks than I’d care to admit, so I must leave you with this status report and return to my regular musings tomorrow. Feel free to click around and explore the place, and, if I haven’t said this of late, thanks for stopping by.

The pleasure is in the writing

I found myself on the 150th page of my 21st journal and found myself wondering what I have learned by scribbling on hundreds of pages in eight years and four months of regular journaling. One thing I’ve learned is that I keep tripping over the same dilemmas and bad habits I was tripping over when I started.

Oh, I’ve made progress — if nothing else I’m more aware of what I need to be doing when I’m not doing it. I do have quite a few more books to show for the effort, even if no one is buying them. The moral of that story is write the books you want to write: Chances are very good they won’t sell enough to make you a living, so you may as well enjoy the process of making them. The love is in the writing. The reward is in producing the words, linking the ideas and the stories from here to there.

It’s not the next Harry Potter, is it? It’s not the next trilogy so grand they’ll need four movies to tell the three stories? Yeah, well, but it’s your story, it’s your book, told from your unique perspective, and of all the people who say they always wanted to write a book, you are one of the tribe who actually sat down and got it written. Coming up next is the joy of sitting down to write a second book, and a third, and get into even rarer territory. 

The journey is the reward. The pleasure is in the writing. Oh, it would be nice to hear the sweet sound of applause, but if you do the writing right, you have the sweet feeling of fulfillment. Whether the applause will ever come is somewhat out of your control, but reaching the finish line? That’s all in your hands.

Here on the other side

I have seen deepest despair up close now. I have emerged on the other side, more or less. The sadness grips my heart again from time to time, but I am starting to feel like I’m coming out on the other side.

And that is my message to those who are seeing deepest despair in the present tense — you will come out on the other side. Of course you will be changed — no one ever reaches deepest despair without a transformation of some sort — but you will climb out and be able to function again. The other side really is over here on the other side; despair is not everlasting.

Oh, much will never again be the same. The cause of my deepest despair is my greatest loss, the passing of my partner and companion, the end of the most peaceful and sweet chapter of my life, the last whispers of a great contentment. All creatures who love suffer loss, and deepest despair must be endured. There’s no avoiding this pain.

Despair is the proverbial tunnel with light on the other side and all the overused metaphors that accompany it. I’m pretty sure I’m not out of the proverbial woods, either. Grief will keep sneaking up on me, no doubt. Today, however, I want to send a life raft to those who are where I was not long ago, to wave from the shore and say, “It’s going to be all right, friend. Different, yes, and never the same again, but you’re going to be all right, eventually.” Yes, you will.

The magic of movie music

I was fascinated by the liner notes to the first Star Wars soundtrack, in which John Williams explained how he developed musical themes for all the characters, the feisty rebels, and of course the evil Empire. Princess Leia has a memorable theme; so does Indiana Jones in other movies that Williams scored.

There’s a moment in the third Indiana Jones film when he and his lady friend are exploring a sewer and suddenly a familiar theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark emerges from the background music. “What’s that?” she asks, pointing to a drawing on the wall. “The Ark of the Covenant,” says Jones. “Are you sure?” “I’m sure,” Jones says confidently, and because of the music we are, too. It’s a cute Easter egg in a time before Easter eggs had a name.

Probably from the moment I listened to the Star Wars album with Williams’ notes in my lap, I’ve paid attention to the musical scores when I watch movies and often been rewarded. 

Not long after Star Wars came out, we were thrilled to see Star Trek translated to the big screen — at least until the film was released. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a plodding disappointment, and among the wrong moves was the music. 

Jerry Goldsmith composed a rousing Star Wars style theme, but the Trek universe already had an iconic theme composed by Alexander Courage that we heard every week for three years, and the new theme just didn’t feel like Star Trek. They compounded the mistake by sneaking an echo of the original theme into the background about an hour and a half into the movie. I remember the audience cheering the familiar notes, which I don’t think were heard again until the second Trek film.

Fast forward a few years to the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation. They made what seemed to me to be a strange musical choice: The new TV show adopted the main theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I didn’t understand why they would do that, although I had to admit it’s a good piece of music. It just never felt like Star Trek.

Imagine my surprise the next time I felt like revisiting the first movie and that theme burst out from the screen. After a few years of watching Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his friends, all of a sudden the theme from the first movie felt very, very much like Star Trek. What had seemed like a weird musical choice had rehabilitated at least one aspect of ST: The Motion Picture.

Those memories came back this week as I watched the third season of Star Trek: Picard, which leans into our fondness for the seven seasons of TNG even more so than the first two seasons. They make liberal use of the Jerry Goldsmith theme to great nostalgic effect.

I suspect this season will fit into Trek lore much like The Undiscovered Country did for the cast of the original series. That sixth movie was a fitting last hurrah for the original cast in the wake of a somewhat disappointing fifth movie. It can be argued that the last two Next Generation movies were not that great. In Star Trek: Picard 3, they gather the gang back together for one great adventure and a more appropriate sendoff. It’s a lot of fun, it’s good to see the old faces again, and as the Jerry Goldsmith anthem bubbles up under the closing credits, there are goosebumps and moistened eyes.

Star Trek: Picard is on the Paramount+ streaming service. They have a 30-day free trial going, and I’m using it to catch up on Picard and the other very good new Trek series, Strange New Worlds featuring Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike, who preceded James Kirk as captain of the Enterprise. I’ll have to see if there’s enough other good stuff to start paying for it. 

Pastoral seen

 We open in a woods — not a forest where trees go on and on for miles, just a little woods of an acre or three — and a snail is crawling along the ground minding its own business.

A rabbit runs by and the snail says, “What’s your hurry?” but the rabbit is already gone without answering the question.

The snail sighs.

“People are rushing here and there and don’t stop to talk anymore, or even look around to see what there is to see.”

The snail sputters along for a few feet and encounters a frog hiding under a burdock leaf.

“Is it safe?” whispers the frog.

“Is what safe?” the snail asks.

“Is it safe?” whispers the frog.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Is it safe?” whispers the frog.

The snail shrugs and moves on.

A puppy scampers into view. The frog jumps away, and the puppy scampers after it. The frog jumps another way, and the puppy jumps that way, too.

“Oh,” says the snail.

Parts of me at war

I defy deadlines. I don’t know why.

I often wait until the last minute to execute when it’s someone else’s deadline, and as for self-imposed deadlines, I often just blow right past them.

Part of me never grew up. Part of me is stuck in the “Oh yeah? Make me!” child’s petulance of refusing to be told what to do.

I want to meet those deadlines. They’re essential to my desire to leave something behind when I go. Maybe that’s another part of it — a big part of me doesn’t want ever to go, and part of me doesn’t believe I’m actually going to come to an end.

I’m at war with all these various parts of me every time I face a deadline. There’s a reason for that word — cross this line, and the project is dead. Too many times, though, I’ve discovered how arbitrary the line can be. You almost always have some wiggle room, and while it inconveniences someone down the line, selfish me realizes it’s not the literal death of the project if you cross the line.

And the self-imposed deadlines? Pshaw. Those are when I “want” to be done. It’s usually as arbitrary as arbitrary can get.

I’ve always been this way, and no doubt it’s human nature. How many “complete this project in six weeks” school and work projects get completed the night before the required date? You don’t know how much of a miracle my daily blog streak is — to make a self-imposed deadline more than 1,000 days in a row? Me?! Unbelievable! And even then I cheat sometimes.

The actual self-imposed deadline is to post at 3 a.m. so that my friends, family and any other readers on the U.S. East Coast — if they so desire — will have something waiting unless they get up before 4 a.m., God bless their souls. But more than once lately it was several hours later than that. The rationalization is that I haven’t missed the daily blog goal until a day has actually passed, so I have 21 hours after the deadline to reach the goal. Talk about wiggle room.

I wish I could grow up, but wishing doesn’t make it so. And now something in the back of my devious mind is whispering that if I stop setting deadlines and just do the work, I might finish more projects on time. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

but what am I

It’s weird that I wrote about Pee Wee Herman and his expression, “I know you are, but what am I?” and days later Pee Wee Herman — Paul Reubens — died.

I thought of a new way to think of the expression, which seems to reflect this accusatory and angry antisocial media atmosphere where so much time is spent defining other people’s obvious bigotry.

Now that I know what you are — what am I? What would I find if I looked inside and defined my own motivations and beliefs?

There are plenty of aphorisms and parables on that theme. Why do we point out the speck in another’s eye and ignore the plank sticking out of our own eye? When we form our hand to point a finger at someone, three fingers point back at ourselves. We should walk a mile in someone’s moccasins before forming a judgment about them.

It’s time to stop blaming others for what’s wrong in the world. Now that I’ve formed my opinion of what you are, seriously, what am I?