Pseudonyms and Pap

 

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I’m amazed at how many times, when someone learns I’m a published writer, I’m asked if I use a pseudonym. The exchange usually goes like this:

“No, I use my real name. Why?”

A lot of people use pseudonyms. I’d think you wouldn’t want people to know you use your real name.”

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe you’d write something a reader wouldn’t like.”

The exchange usually ends there, with some vague notion that the safer bet would be to use a name other than your real one. To tell the truth, I’m still perplexed over this issue, particularly since most of my writing is fiction, with the usual disclaimer on a front page stating that any resemblance to real life situations or characters is purely coincidental.

The supposed person in the exchange above may be partly right: I do provoke occasionally with what I write, and that may upset a reader. I don’t try to excise controversy in what I write; I just write what the story and characters give me. There is occasional editorializing, true, but once again, it’s all in the greater context of what’s being written.

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Take for instance my collection of stories to be published this week: Collateral Damage and Stories.This collection trifles in ways that can upset readers subjects such as murder, ritual suicide, physical deformation, fatal disease, and insanity. These stories came to me in random ways (I like to say my muse sits on my shoulder whispering ideas and storylines), and none were written with this particular collection in mind. It’s perhaps a string of decisions made in my personal connection to the collective unconscious that created this collection.

But w hy such distasteful subjects? It’s probably an effort to bring aspects of human darkness to the surface where they can live and die in the bright light of story. Whatever the source, whatever the reason for the writing, asa writer, I have to be true, even to these senses of darkness. Otherwise I’d be writing pap, and that wouldn’t be fulfilling my obligation to my readers.

 

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

It Can Happen to Anyone, At Anytime

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Darkness Visible – A Memoir of Madness, by William Styron

My father was subject to depression. How deep it went and what caused it was clouded by the post-traumatic stress he suffered from his participation in WWII. There were dark pages to his life that I never knew about until his death neared, and had I never known about them, the damage had already been done to me.

Styron talks in this very brief book about the evidence for a genetic passing of depression to children (His father suffered from the condition). What’s so compelling about this autobiographical book lies in Styron’s ability to draw a reader subtly into experiencing his coping with depression. At times his depictions become so intense as to induce claustrophobia – or for readers who are borderline depressive, an episode that may not end with closing the book.

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Styron entered a hospital for treatment and this is where his story’s elegance turns to dark humor. One episode had an art therapist “work” with Styron and others, asking Styron to draw a home as a way to begin releasing his depression’s source. Imagine, if you will, a man of Styron’s stature being given a handful of crayons and told to draw a house. Of course, he could barely envision it himself. And while the depression began to ease during his hospital stay, he’s vague to a fault regarding how that moody clue began to live, what medicines were in play, etc.

Still, don’t let me dissuade you from reading this valuable book. For Darkness Visible is a book all depressives, borderline or full tilt, should read. It will give you a valuable perspective on the condition and, to a degree at least, it just might help you manage your own depressive state.

My rating 17 of 20 stars

 

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

A Weekend With Tessa

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This weekend I’m dog-sitting for a friend. My charge is a rescue dog, a female named Tessa, about seven years old, and part boxer, part terrier – we think. Like all rescue dogs I’ve seen, she’s wary of other people and animals. She does, however, defend her home turf valiantly, barking fiercely when some unknown entity darkens her door.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot by observing wild animals, and I can tell you without a shred of doubt that ducks, fish, squirrels, even snakes have defined personalities. And Tessa has personality aplenty, although whatever damage done to her prior to her rescue left her a bit addled – a dog version of autistic. She puzzles about things that come to her out of the blue. She’s most at home, like an autistic human, with a schedule that varies little, habits that mimic those from the previous day and days.

She’s affectionate in her own way, but her displays of affection have to be initiated by her. Get down on all fours, and she’ll let me touch nose to nose. She’ll curl up on the divan beside me, rump touching mine, in what I’m told is a dog version of hugging. These usually occur late at night when I’m ready for bed. Her days when she’s chillaxin’ tend to make her something of a night owl.

Her habits are unvarying unless she’s upset. She eats her morning meal at precisely 12 noon, although it’s usually been sitting out awhile. She takes a morning walk as soon as I’m up, then another around five pm, followed by her second (and last) meal of the day. Another final walk at 10 pm seems to wake her to friskiness and night owl status.

Like any victim of autism, she can suddenly turn stubborn, as she did yesterday, standing in the middle of the street and holding up cars.

Still, she’s a charmer and a damned fine companion, and I love her to pieces.

Not Every Story Paints a Picture

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She Loves Me Not – New and Selected Stories, by Ron Hansen

I’m old school, I admit it. I do tinker with structure when I’m writing, but not enough to take away from the major tenets of the short story or novel: character development, moving story forward in the Aristotlean manner of rising action, climax, denouement. These, while leaving participatory room for the reader.
I know other forms of tinkering occur in writing classes of various sorts, and one may forgive many things, but not robbing the reader of being properly entertained and/or informed.

Lest I be accused of curmudgeonly ways, I have to give Hansen his props: he’s not afraid to experiment. But in experimental mode, a writer can’t expect every test tube to turn lead to gold, an adage that the She Loves Me Not collection proves true. The author experiments here with a journalistic form of fiction in “Wilde in Oklahoma.” He writes “Nebraska” trying to see if narrative alone can carry the story. He toys with flash fiction in “The Sleepwalker.” And in “The Theft,” he tries to resolve character and storyline in a final sentence or two, a piece perhaps too short to carry out his designs. In the title story, an otherwise engaging tale, his narrator’s voice seems counter to his characters and storyline.

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The popularity of story collections doesn’t wane; such collections are a repository for the odd scribbles of writers both learning the craft and of those wishing to toy with the tried and true. However, I’ve always found them unsatisfying for these reasons – the best foot is rarely put forward in collections.

Still, Hansen imprints his stories with enough wit and talent to make the read worthwhile. But I would get his one at the local library, not buy it.
My Rating: 14 of 20 stars

 

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

 

A Personal Note

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On April 18th, I had to pay the piper. Actually the heart surgeon. My problems were few, but I’d had my heart’s mitral valve damaged many years ago by a high fever, and it finally came home to roost a year ago. Because of the faulty valve, I’d developed atrial fibrillation, or Afib, and that necessitated repairing the valve. Or replacing it.

As it turned out, the surgeon did repair the valve and performed a procedure on the atrium to make the Afib go away. Both  were a success, but the Afib will disappear slowly. Now I’m back home, but with a weak heart, and so there’s three months of physical therapy before me to strengthen the heart.

All this to say that the PT will cut into me reading time for the next three months in considerable fashion, so my reports here may be brief and infrequent.

Please bear with me as I get through this. Feel free to read older posts, ones you may have missed.

 

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Life, Consciousness, and Hallucinations

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The Cosmic Serpent – DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, by Jeremy Narby
Despite being some 17 years removed from an engineering career, I still find myself caught up occasionally in the delightful mental snares of reason, science, and technology. One of the issues that keeps cropping up when I rhapsodize with reason is the enigma of DNA. We know all life is constructed from DNA, that it’s prolific, intelligent, and indestructible. But something in the pit of my stomach kept telling me that DNA is something else again, something so special as to be set apart from the creations it’s able to make of itself. One night, surfing the subject on my iPhone turned up part of a paper on the subject by Jeremy Narby, an anthropologist. There was enough there to cause a text exchange between a friend and me, and the friend quickly presented the paper to me in book form. The Cosmic Serpent, etc.

What had jarred Narby’s tree loose, as it had mine while reading this book, is the experience of Amazonian shamans who are able to – and here I skip ahead – actually perceive life down to the level of DNA. This experience allows them to select plants and processes that can heal, can discriminate between specific uses, with no trial and error experimentation. How? The so-called hallucinations these shamans experience talk to them, teach them things. Incredulous? Darby certainly thought so in the beginning.

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And so the book is a chronology of Narby’s attempts to piece together shamanic experiences with what science knows and is in the process of discovering about the sub-molecular world of life itself. I’m going quickly here, but Narby’s extrapolations are downright fascinating. In the end he was able to make connections between consciousness and DNA and the phenomenon of life.

Is his story complete? No. Darby has his theories, which do border on the incredulous, but he’s able to make tentative connections between DNA and knowledge. Has he been able to define and identify consciousness? No. Has he been able to identify the true spark of life? Not yet. But this work has taken him tantalizingly close to all these ultimate answers.
My rating: 17 of 20 stars