Sunday, August 27, 2023

School days, school daze.

 School starts tomorrow. 

This summer had many great aspects, but I had a massive health challenge through which I'm working my way. Treatments and medication continue, but hopefully the main problem is fully resolved. Put most succinctly, that aspect of the summer was less than ideal, but I count myself quite lucky.

This semester will be great, and I expect to learn as much as I teach. I'm excited about teaching BritLit again, which is one of my favorites. I'm already practically hopping with excitement about teaching Samuel Pepys, who was a remarkable character, despite his shallow vanity. Also, I love the way his name is pronounced: peeps! 

The heat broke overnight. I'm in the hottest place in Texas, and the past couple of months have had more days over 110 F than below 100. Today is only 95, which sounds hot, until you compare it with 115. I will be taking a fan with me all over campus for my classes. Hopefully it won't be too brutal. In any case, fall semester is here, Summer heat will hopefully be winding up within a month, and I'm ready for some cold weather. 

Onwards and upwards. 

Out with some of the old...

 I finally replaced my phone that had woefully small (32G) storage. Found a great buy on a Samsung xcover, and it seems to be a superior phone, already. However, to upload all my old stuff to the new phone, all data and records could be transferred to the new phone except for the billions of text messages I have stored therein. Most of them I am happy to jettison. However, there are several text threads that happened with friends and family (group texts) around the time of Dad's death. I don't know why it hurts so bad to not have those in living in my phone forever. I don't know if this is mentally unhealthy. We can't keep every receipt and every little thing, can we? Also, I know that conversations about Dad are not the same as conversations WITH Dad. Just the same, it feels painful. I don't know. Possibly I wouldn't be ready to jettison them even when I'm getting ready to pop my clogs. 

This is all just a by-product of grief, and the feeling that I could never happily let go of Dad. Maybe reliving the days immediately after his death doesn't help the healing, but it's still what my heart wants.  All the physical objects are just things, replaceable or not, and however I want to view them as significant for the record they bear of a time, they don't change anything. More than anything, I'm happy and blessed to have such an excellent father, and I guess in the end, that is all that matters.

Friday, August 04, 2023

Moggies in Space! Part I

 Late last year, I composed a short story about a warrior princess cat who does vermin duty on a large spacefaring cargo ship. Sarah Clithero said "you know, cats in space would be a great topic for an anthology." 

Sarah was right, and Raconteur Press picked up the ball and ran with it. 

"Moggies in Space" is now live on Amazon. I think it's super cute, and I'm proud of the stories we compiled for that publication. 

Hee haw!

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

It's so hot. How hot is it? Hot.

 So, silly me. It's still hot. Not off the hook with this. I'm hoping for maybe a 90 degree average by my birthday in early October. J/K. I'm hoping for a blizzard for my birthday.

It turns out, since my two bouts with the 'rona, I'm extremely heat fragile. I be-bop along in the heat, and suddenly, I hit a wall and feel sick and faint. Possibly this is a combination of factors, including having a mild heat-stroke in marching band all those decades ago. Go figure. 

That's a thing, but it's not every thing. I've made progress on many fronts this summer, so I'm happy with the progress since I posted here on June 30. 

July was busy with trips to conventions in Chattanooga and Louisville. I had a grand time with friends at both conventions. We stayed with dear friends in Louisville, and it was so good just to hang out with them and get to know them better. The last weekend of July, I drove down to the Alpine area to visit my sister. After those 16/17 hour drives earlier in the month, the 7 hour drive to her house was a cakewalk.  

Tomorrow I'm heading for the Ozarks to see family and go with Mom to her 60th school reunion. It will be nice to see friends and family again. Also, this is another relatively short drive, so 9 hours will feel like nothing compared to the long hauls to Tennessee and Kentucky. Also, I'll be driving to a place that is presumably cooler, albeit with higher humidity.

I've been getting after it with my flowerbeds and making progress on that front. My best specimens are bearing up, with more watering this year than I've ever done. When it's looking less shabby, I'll try to post some photos for you.

School starts on August 28, so I have a few more weeks. However, I plan to get into my office next week and get as much of my syllabi and schedules completed as possible, so that I don't feel like I'm scrambling around just before school starts. As ever, I do love many aspects of the job and I look forward to seeing the shiny faces of my students then. I hope that I have a good effect on them. I try to be as positive as possible, and I try to demystify things like the composition of research papers. I hope they come to recognize that this type of writing is somewhat formulaic, and that they can crack the code and then only have to dread their own procrastination. The procrastination thing is the hardest to overcome. I'll let you know if I ever get there. 

Speaking of writing, I'm tucking back in to write a novel that I started a handful of years ago. It's funny and goofy, and I hope people will get a giggle out of it. I'm also working on another Mabel Murkwood story to submit for a Raconteur Press anthology that is coming up soon. This will be fun. 

In the most pressing news, on Friday our Raconteur anthology on cats in space will go live. I can't wait to see what people think of it. I love the variety of stories, and I hope you will, too. The deadline for Moggies II is the end of August, and we have some great stories to go there, too, but we've room for more. Moggies III will burst on the scene early next year. Good times at the scratchin' post! :) I'll try to get in here on Friday and post a live link to the book on Amazon. 

It's busy and hot, but this feels like progress. Onwards and upwards! <3

Friday, June 30, 2023

I know it's not profound or remarkable, but...

 ...this heat is overwhelming. When I go outside, I quickly feel like a chicken-fried zombie. It's stupefying. Hopefully this is the worst of the summer heat, and hopefully it breaks soon. I thought El Nino was supposed to be milder/cooler here for us? Perhaps I have that backwards. 

I don't generally agree with Scott Adams on many things, but one thing he said that I have come to recognize as wisdom is that it's more important to have a system than to have a plan. I had a plan to produce a great deal of writing this summer, but I've worked very little on my fiction. This needs to change. The weird part is finding the new normal and establishing a routine now that I'm no longer a student. The great thing about being a student is that the way is somewhat mapped out for a person. Just lock onto the rails and ride them to the terminus. Now, especially in the summer while school is not in session, it's more difficult to hold myself to certain objectives, if that makes sense. The enervating feeling of the oppressive heat is somehow compounded by the feeling that I should be doing something, but that without a hard and fast deadline, I start feeling like one foot is nailed to the floor and I'm just spinning around in a circle. 

Don't mind me: it's the heatwave talking. 

I'm getting sadly close to the mid-point of the summer. I'll be sad when it's over, but so far, it's a good one in spite of the heat. 

Late last year I wrote a short story about a cat who lives on a cargo ship in space. The lovely Raconteur Press folks took this on as a topic for an anthology, and tonight is the deadline for story submissions. The stories I've read thus far are fantastic, and I'll let you know when the publication goes live on Amazon. I hope it will a fun read for everyone at the end of August. :)

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Tuesday, June 27, 2023


 I returned last night from a long weekend in Chattanooga at Libertycon. It was great to see so many friends, old and new, and to have a few days of discussions on storytelling and writing with other people, fans and writers alike. 

It's interesting how every convention or conference has its own atmosphere. As they go, Libertycon is a modestly sized convention, and on the scale of around 1000 attendees, it has a sort of family feeling to it. My room was on the 14th floor of the Marriott, and from my bed I could see Lookout Mountain. The matter of Tennessee is rather loaded with emotion because I kept thinking of trips in my childhood to Nashville and Chattanooga with Mom and Dad and my siblings. We lived in the mid-south, around Memphis TN/West Memphis AR most of my childhood. It was bittersweet to drive those roads I'd previously only ridden when Dad was driving. It was more sweet than bitter, but it still hurts. The summer of 1976, Dad drove us to Nashville for Opryland, and then to Chattanooga to go to Lookout Mountain and Ruby Falls. Those towns in my memory are the domain of that particular trip. Life was exciting and interesting, and the future seemed a vast, amazing world of possibilities.

This weekend I stopped in West Memphis to see the dear lady who was next door for all the time we lived in that house in town. It was wonderful to see her, and talk about Mom and Dad and also her kids and her husband. She said Mom and Dad are the best people she ever knew, and that the time we lived next door was the happiest of her life. Later on the phone, Mom said that was the happiest time of her life, too. <3 It felt so good to reconnect with dear sweet Reba.

I was tickled to see our old house which is not very different, but is still well-kept. The park across the street is still there. I took a photo of the pavilion where people picnic at the park with its benches and tables. The tables have changed, as the ones from my childhood were heavy wooden planks, and were carved up with the usual graffiti of the 1970s. 

One summer, a group took to hanging around the pavilion at night, smoking. We soon noticed a strange, exotic quality to the smoke that drifted across the street to our front door: they were smoking pot. The group seemed comprised of hippie teenagers, probably some twenty-somethings, and one older man, possibly in his 50s. When they sparked up the funny tobacco, Dad went over and told them to clear out, and not to come back. They took off that night. Some days later, they all came back to the pavilion, and Dad was ready. He had a hand sprayer attachment on his garden hose. I don't know the particulars, whether the sprayer was naturally turbo-charged, or if Dad modified it, but I suspect the latter. They were settled in, lighting up and stinking up the neighborhood when Dad came out, turned on the hose, and proceeded to dowse them with a jet stream of water that went about 80 feet from our front door to the pavilion. They left and never came back. That was so Dad. He did not tolerate baloney. 

I know it's not him, and it's not the same as having him here, but it's a place where a thing happened, and I was there, and I feel him in my heart. It feels comforting to see it again, to remember all the wonderful times in that house, that very nice house he provided for his family. He is still here, just in a different form. 

Anyway, it was nice to go back and to see a dear lady from my life. Today I'm mailing her some pecans from Wichita County, and I plan to go by next month and bring her a nice plant when I'm on the way to Imaginarium in Louisville.  I look forward to driving some of those same roads again, and hopefully with even more sweetness and less of the bitter. I'm feeling like the exercise is important to work out the bad feelings, to grind through the grief, and get on with the cherished memories. This is life as it is. I'm trying to make the most of it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Moving right along...

 Father's Day ended more happily than I could have imagined. An urgent heath situation erupted for a friend, and it was stressful but he came through the experience and that is a great blessing. Spent part of the afternoon/evening at the hospital anxiously awaiting good news. 

Got home about 630 or 700, and went out to pull the army of wild lettuce that loves my yard with such abandon. After a while of toiling and sweating, a man came up the street on a gigantic riding mower, and he said he'd seen me struggling to clean the place up (mentioning the slow tedium of a push mower), and he asked if he could make a pass over the yard, said it wouldn't take him 5 minutes to mow the whole thing. He refused any pay, but may do some work for me in the future. 

We chatted a bit and he asked me what I was trying to achieve with my yard. I told him about losing Dad suddenly 4 years ago, and I admitted I'd let the exterior of the house go to pot. In  fact, I need a new fence, desperately. In January of 2019, I ordered materials for a new fence, hoping to install it before Summer. The materials were delivered to my house at the beginning of March, Dad died at the end of March, and I just haven't been able to muster until recently. The materials are where they were delivered. My goal is to finish that work before this year is over. At least now I'm making progress.

He went on to tell me that he and his family moved to town a couple years ago after the sudden death of his mother. He said they'd moved here to keep his father company and so they could have more time together, but his father died suddenly last year, too. We commiserated about missing our Dads. I told him I feel like Dad sent him by my house that day, and he said he thinks his father sent him. :)  It was sweet. I said they're probably fishing together in Heaven, and he said "yeah, my Dad's a fisherman." They must be getting along swimmingly. <3

Anyway, Tim and his wife will be helping yank out some of my small trees. It's going to be great to get the saplings cleared and get the place tidied up. I felt encouraged, my spirit buoyed. This was unexpected on a day in which I'd already cried a few times. 

My friend is home from hospital, being watched over by his phenomenal wife, and on the mend in tiny steps. We're all praying and watching for his improvement. 

Onwards and upwards.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Missing Dad on Father's Day

 It's been four years, and although it still feels like a knife in my heart that Dad died, I feel he is ever present with me. I'm still very sad, but more than that I am grateful that I was blessed with such a lovely, outstanding father. 

The thing to which my mind has returned hundreds of times in the past four years is something a neighbor of my parents told me when I got to Mom's house that evening. She is a nurse who lives two houses over from my folks, and apparently Dad helped her with some car issues. She told me "your father was such a good, good man." I agreed and said that I am grateful for him, but that it felt impossible to imagine moving forward with life without him here. She said she understood that, but that it's important for me to remember that the world is filled with people who live their entire lives without a single good man in their world. She said many people have cruel and hateful fathers, and some never even know their fathers, that many people live an entire lifetime without a single positive interaction with their fathers.  She spoke of Dad in reverent terms, as the very best of men. She said he was a blessing from God, and I know this is absolutely true. 

He loved to laugh, so mostly these days, I remember him being incredibly tickled, and his megawatt smile that lit up the room. He was a joy to be around. I'm glad I told him I loved him so often, because even though I know he knew, it's important to say and to hear. 

Thank you for being mine, Dad. 

Monday, June 05, 2023

Gardening the Wrong Way.

 I expect tomorrow at the gym I'll be pre-sore from all the weeding I've done today in the garden. That will make squats with 130# less than happy-making. My neighbor wanted some of my wild lettuce, so I just let it go hog wild. WILD. Some of them were about 7 or 8 feet tall. Ugh. My neighbor has an illness and needed the leaves to make a tincture for some sort of relief. I used the opportunity as an excuse to neglect them, and I have lived to regret that choice as the weeds have obscured many of the legit specimens in the garden, and even partly the porch and the front of my house. 

A rumbly thunderstorm woke me about 2AM today, and it went on until I fell to sleep about 5 or so. Something about the rain makes me feel content, and keeps me awake. I realized the few hours of rain this morning would make for ideal moisture in the soil to pull the wild lettuce today. This morning I had a few weed-pulling sessions. I put on thick leather gloves and went out to pull weeds in the hot and humid morning. I would pull for about 10 minutes and then rest and cool off. A few were so thick at the ground that I had to use a spade to pull them. They have coarse, thorny whiskers on the stalk, so the gloves kept my fingers safe from the poky bits. Still, it was quite satisfying when they'd break free from the earth, and I'd shake the excess soil from the root balls. Now the lawn is littered with the stalks. I'd already filled the garbage trolley from cleaning over the weekend. 

The progress on the house is encouraging, but it's such a huge task. Removing the tall weeds at the front of the house reveals how I need to clean the siding on the house itself. Maybe if I ignore the house dirt, I can get it obscured by another wave of wild lettuce soon. I must resist the temptation to neglect it all again. So much to do, but I'm getting there. 

My oak leaf hydrangea is the biggest and most beautiful it's been, so hopefully I'll have a photo of it to share here soon. Now that the weeds are gone, I've got about a million saplings to eradicate from the property.

Baby steps, right?

Friday, June 02, 2023

Two days in a row? Reallly?

 Yes, I'm posting two days in a row. 

The weather has been unusually wet this year. We can thank El NiƱo for this state of affairs. This means that some of my wilder plantings in the yard are thriving more than usual, since I harden my plants to be water-thrifty. Oddly, my Texas Star hibiscus comes back every year and usually puts out a few dozen canes. Last year it only got to about 6' tall because I was too stingy with the water perhaps. I would typically expect the canes to be 5 or 6 inches by June 1, but they are now 3 and 4 feet tall. This year should be a doozy for this specimen. 

My catmint is thriving. It has a mild catnip effect, so feral cats do hang around my porch for some reason. I'm not a cat person, as I'm at least mildly allergic to them, but I love that they are around keeping the rodent situation in check around town. If the weren't here, we would surely have many more rattlesnakes and copperheads in town, so I'll take the cats any day.

I'm thinking of many improvements I'll make to my house, but now I'm also casting ahead on what to do about the outside. My house is a 1931 Sears Kit House in Craftsman style. It's a little bungalow that originally had clapboard exterior over which a taste-impaired individual slapped some vinyl siding probably in the 1980s or so. I'm not sure how much of the original clapboard might be salvageable under there, and I'm sort of thinking about Hardie board siding. I like the idea that it's a durable, stable product that is not plastic, and would not need painting within my lifetime. ;) For now, though, it's fun to think of the possibilities. More on that later. 

Have a great day. 

Thursday, June 01, 2023

What an excellent Summer this will be!

 Just a quick note this evening, and a brief one at that. 

I will do a tremendous amount of writing this Summer. I have so much to do, so the fires are burning and I'm on a mission. I'm working on getting my house in order, including the flowerbeds and other outdoor matters. However, I MUST finish a short story I've been working on for a bit, and I need to compose the next Mabel novel. I'll get there. Much to do.

My house is a huge mess. I don't have piles of pizza boxes and pop bottles everywhere, but I do accumulate things. Since the semester ended, I've been doing intensive cleaning jags every few days, in which I tackle a more deep-cleaning type of task. I have(or at least I had) paper glaciers on every horizontal surface. Sometimes, they calve. The sad element of them is that I can date them by the unopened mail therein, from Spring 2019, when Dad died. So I'm clearing it up, knowing that Dad would want me to not let my little house turn into Satis House from Great Expectations. It's been so easy to be checked out of it, though, as I had school and writing on which to focus. Now I have to face it down and bend it to my will. 

A young friend has said I can hire him to do some odds and ends in the yard, so that will really help me move the ball down the field. I may post photos as I make progress. I plan to transform the place in the next two years, though. 

The funny thing to consider is that I've lived in 25 different places that I can remember in my life. I count 6 that I remember when I was a child with my folks, then I've moved 19 times as an adult. The previous residence, I had a bad situation with a rude landlady and Dad told me if I found a house I wanted to buy, he'd give me the down-payment. He was so sweet. I found an adorable little house that was inexpensive, and now I've lived there since April 26, 2010. I thought I'd be there for a few years until I got my career off the ground in this little county, and then I'd upgrade to a larger house. The fact that Dad helped me with this one is a sentimental point. As for getting a career off the ground here, I quickly learned that this provincial place hires on different criteria than I was accustomed to in a big city. Go figure. So back to school I went. School was absolutely the right choice. 

Since January, I've been looking for another house in the area now that I'm finished as a student (for now) and have a fairly stable professional situation. However, I recently learned that moving at this time is simply Not Going To Happen, so I'm on my own to get this house in better order. I have many plans for it, so I'm going to chip away at the many tasks before me. 

Watch this space. I'll try and post photos now and again. I'm excited about bringing the house to the state I'd always envisioned for it. :) I'm very excited about the stories that I'll be writing over the Summer. I'm grateful to have a safe and secure home with a modest little payment. The fact that Dad helped me to buy it only makes it sweeter. <3 It's going to be so cute. 

Thanks, Dad. You're the best. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Welcome to your life.

 May 13 was the first commencement ceremony I attended as a faculty member. It was so different from the feeling of walking into that arena as a graduate, and in many ways, it was so much better. 

I looked around at all the proud families, and I had a sort of meeting of the minds with a granny on the front row near my seat. I hope I run into that beautiful lady somewhere around town in the future. The rest of her family was occasionally excited, but often seemed bored and tired. She, however, never lost her enthusiasm. She was electrified by it and she became the universal embodiment of a Granny for me. She jumped up and cheered when her grandgirl crossed the stage, and I applauded then, too. :)  I admit I thought of my own grandmothers and how they would have been proud of me* in a similar fashion. 

I also looked around and reveled in a room full of people who were gathered for a purely joyous occasion. There was no mention of politics or sports. The day was simply a celebration, entirely sweet, and as short as they were able to muster. 

Some people spend a lot of time and energy slagging off university education**, but the truth is that it's a necessary system in a modern society. Despite my own frustrations with aspects of university, people DO need to go through a series of tests and trials to prove fitness for work, particularly in professional fields of a highly specialized nature, especially medicine. 

Many people don't understand how singular the American university system is. In other nations at college level, once a student has declared a major, their training becomes exclusively relative to that field, be it law, engineering, medical, etc. However, the American system is a more broad degree, and in other countries, at least until recently AFAIK, American degrees have an added value aspect of being generalist in nature. Prospects for a job who have degrees from American institutions have received education on state, federal, and international government, economics, history, literature, writing, maths and sciences, depending on the degree track of the individual. This should, ideally, produce a more well-rounded individual who can synthesize meaning across a wide variety of data. 

A college degree doesn't make a person intelligent. I know many people with degrees who are book-smart and profoundly unwise. My parents didn't go to college, and they are two of the most brilliant people I've ever met, in addition to being incredibly wise. And they made a wonderful life for our family, and provided a beautiful and safe home for us.  Frankly, I'd take wisdom over book-smart any day of the week. I pray that unwise people figure it out before it's all over, but wisdom is something earned, and often hard-won. It doesn't arrive on any kind of schedule, and sometimes it never comes for some people. 

By no means do I believe that all people to should go to college. There's more than one way to have a great life, and a person can have a glorious and prosperous life without stepping foot onto a college campus. However, I think if a person desires the education, or if they need it for a particular career or certification, it can be the making of the person. 

I'm not going to take a poll, but I hope most professors feel as I do about the privilege of teaching at a university. The commencement ceremony is a tiny thing, but it is profound and wonderful. The 700-odd students who graduated that day represented hundreds of thousands of cumulative hours of study, labor, and anxious hope on the part of the students and their families. It's an incredible achievement for a family, and we live in a most precious and blessed moment that a mere common person like myself can aspire to a college education. It's a big deal. I am honored for my humble role in that journey for so many people. I pray I never become jaded about what an incredible thing that ceremony represents.

*My grandmothers were proud of all their grandkids, and I'm not the first to graduate from college. Also, if they had favorites, I was never aware of it, and I'm not suggesting that they would have valued any of their grand-ducklings as superior to the others. Or at least, if they had favorites, I don't want to know about it!

**On the matter of social engineering and professors who waste precious educational time using the classroom as their personal therapy session or to inculcate impressionable young people to the professor's social/political worldview, I believe there will be a day of accountability for all people, and for those who abuse the privilege of teaching children, there will be Hell to pay. I just do the best I can to prepare them for their own future university and professional careers, because I believe that is why they are paying me. People DO have valid reasons to criticize proselytizing in the classroom, but I pray that type of "teaching" is the exception, rather than the rule. Remember that such professors are merely helped along by the many young folk who have have been lovingly pre-lobotomized by Reddit, Tumblr, TikTok, and the like. It bears repeating: Hell to pay.

Carmina Burana was as wonderful as I expected it to be! Make your own kind of music.

 If you get a chance, go hear Orff's Carmina Burana in person. More importantly, if you have the chance, SING in this. Even if you are nervous auditioning, you can do this, and it's a glorious thing. When your section gets to the stratospheric notes you can't reach, then just move your beak, or sing it down an octave and it'll be fine. Trust me.

That performance at the end of April was a tonic for my soul. It may be simply a harmonic convergence of approaching the end of two full semesters of full-time employment, since I was in school full-time for 9 sometimes difficult/grueling years, but it felt like a cosmic "atta girl" for me. I ran into two of the most esteemed faculty in the lobby before the performance, one of whom is from my department. I asked her at school the following week what she thought of the performance and she said it was the most wonderful symphonic performance she had ever experienced. She confessed to me that she and the other professor had worked in their yards all day and after the concert, they admitted they'd each just wanted to take a shower and get into pajamas, but they both ended up being so happy they came. 

I'm vowing to make it out to more classical music performances. Indeed, I'd like to find a chamber ensemble in which to perform locally, particularly Baroque music, and on period instruments, if possible. I would be keen to sing, but I also could play a flute, recorder, or some other similar wind instrument. I'd prefer not to play a reed instrument, but I could do that in a pinch. Wow. Just realized I'm writing this like an application. Anyway. Yeah, so making music is important. 

I'm ecstatic that an opera has been composed of the glorious "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", which is a book and a French film. I STRONGLY urge you to see the film. Is spectacular, profound, and breathtakingly photographed. Come to that, I need to see it again soon. I also should read the book before the opera. Yes, the world gives us so many opportunities to see performances near and far. 

If you live in a town, find out when the little kids (and big kids!) have their concerts and go see them letting their little lights shine. You'll be best served if you don't indulge the thought of "great music, badly done," but instead see it as a once-in-a-lifetime performance, because every performance is exactly that. No two performances will have the same characteristics, and therein be the magic. <3 See what live music is happening near you. This is the time of year for concerts in the park and such. Make it happen, and I think you'll be richly blessed. 

I just found this marvelous recording of Carmina Burana wherein the chorus, impressively, is entirely off book. Unbelievable. This is a long, complex work, exhausting to sing, and while I know if pressed I could memorize it, but this is an impressive feat. The video says San Francisco symphony chorus, but I don't think that's the group singing here. In any case, this is fantastic. I suspect Seiji Ozawa has a Japanese choir with him. What an excellent performance!