January 22

Cooking as Art

I believe that any act that involves creative thinking can be considered art, and cooking is no exception.

I’ve always likened cooking to my other bad habit – writing. With writing, I take a plot, a setting, a couple of characters, mix them all together and see what happens. Oftentimes, it’s something good. Occasionally I have to throw it in the trash and move on to the next project.

Cooking is the essentially the same thing. I take a handful of ingredients, toss them in a pot, add heat and seasonings, and hope that it’s edible. Oftentimes, it turns out tasty. Occasionally I have to throw it all in the trash and promise myself I’ll never do that again.

In both cases, it takes creative thinking to get things to turn out the way I want them.

I’m not a professionally-trained chef, although I did work in the kitchen in a couple of restaurants back in the day. I learned to cook through necessity. I was a bachelor for a while, living alone in a one-room efficiency. I had a tiny dorm fridge, a tiny gas range, and a toaster oven. Not much to work with, but living alone and trying to make ends meet on minimum wage meant that I needed to get creative. Besides, eating out three meals a day was far beyond my means.

My first meals weren’t much, but they kept me from starving. My go-to dish was boxed mac and cheese with a can of tuna and half a can of sweet peas. Arguably healthy, definitely filling. I found out that I could double the recipe and eat off it for a couple of days. There was also grilled cheese sandwiches and bowls of tomato soup. The soup was canned, but I’d get creative with the grilled cheese. Sometimes it was American or Cheddar, maybe a Gouda if it was on sale. I also learned that I could melt butter, mix in a few herbs, then chill it and have herbed butter. That was a game changer.

After a while I discovered that the women I dated really appreciated it when I cooked. Like, REALLY appreciated it. I got some recipes from coworkers, my mom, and even broke down and bought my first cook book. It’s been thirty years now, but I still have my dog-eared copy of the Fannie Farmer cookbook. Easy to follow recipes, good info about the basics…it basically was my starter cookbook.

And yes, my ability to cook is what endeared my partner to me. Our first official date was me cooking her Chicken Chablis. I also helped that she can’t cook. At all. And yes, she’ll be the first to admit it. In fact, after her two attempts to return the favor, we both agreed that she’s no longer allowed anywhere near the kitchen unless she acting as a taste tester. It’s really for the best.

As a side note here, I do want to lodge an official complaint against some of the professional chefs out there. There’s a divide between chefs and home cooks. I’m in the latter category, obviously, but I want to state that I take offense when I watch a cooking show and hear the chef say something like, “Oh, that’s something a home cook would do.” As if I’m some moron who has trouble boiling water or something. No, I didn’t go to culinary school and I have’t worked in a Michelin Star restaurant, but I believe I’m damn good in the kitchen. I can pull random items out of the pantry and make a tasty meal out of it.

Sure, I occasionally used canned soup as a base for meals, and I also use a slow cooker a couple of times a month. But I also get compliments from the people I share food with. I get asked to make things for events, like office parties and holiday get-togethers. It seems to me that if people are asking me to cook for them, then I must be doing something right. Right?

At some point in the near future I plan to start uploading some cooking videos to my YouTube channel. Nothing fancy. I plan on sharing recipes that I enjoy making, stuff that’s fun to make and reasonably healthy. I’ll share tips, things I’ve learned, and hopefully inspire others to try their hand. I don’t expect to offer any revolutionary advice or insight…this is going to be like my podcast, a labor of love and a creative outlet.

As I wrote above, anything that makes you think creatively is an act of art. Doesn’t matter if you’re cooking dinner for your family or writing the next Great American Novel, creativity is creativity.

RB

January 21

Write Drunk

“Write drunk, edit sober.” Most people would attribute this to Ernest Hemingway. They’d also be wrong. There’s no evidence the celebrated author ever said this. In fact, it may actually be the creation of author Peter De Vries, who wrote in his 1964 novel “Reuben, Reuben”:

“Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober,” he had said, “and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk.

Regardless of the source, it’s a controversial piece of advice. For one thing, it sounds like it’s advocating for alcoholism. I write every day, usually in the morning. If I followed this advice I’d be drunk by 6:00 am. While it sounds interesting, it’s not maintainable. Or healthy.

Also, “write drunk” insinuates that writers can’t be creative unless they’re sloshed.  While I’ve written while having a few glasses of beer, a couple glasses of wine, or maybe a few shots of tequila, it’s only Friday and Saturday nights. I do have a day job, you know.

But despite this, I still think the advice has some merit. What I mean is, if you don’t take it literally you could interpret it to mean don’t be conservative when you’re writing. Don’t be complacent. Don’t be boring.

I take it to mean, go crazy, push the envelope, do things that are uncomfortable, new and different. Writing drunk, to me, means to let my creativity take the lead and don’t overthink things. I means to have fun, be silly.

In the second part of that bolded text above, it references revising drunk. I get that, too. Like I mentioned a few lines up, don’t be overly conservative when you edit. Yes, you want to correct misspellings and grammatical errors (unless they’re part of the story, like writing a regional dialect), but don’t over correct. Writing is art, painting pictures with words: A blue sky, a green field, the rolling turquoise ocean.

Poetry is a perfect example of this. Poems don’t have to rhyme, or use punctuation, or complete sentences. Poetry is very similar to painting. It’s like dabbing your pen in a puddle of letters and brushing words onto a blank sheet of paper.

So what I’m saying here is don’t overthink when you create. And no, you don’t have to push the envelope every time you write. The main idea here is to be aware of your writing style and know that you have a comfort zone when it comes to fiction. Once you know your boundaries, then every so often you can go exploring into the unknown.

I think that too many writers focus on what they do well and never look beyond that. It’s like a carpenter who only builds bookshelves. Sure, he may build some amazing bookshelves using nothing but oak and his product is in high demand. But at some point he’s going to get bored with that routine and his customers are going to start asking for modifications from his usual blueprint.

But what if he starts building other things, just to see if he can do it? Maybe some kitchen cabinets, or a coffee table, maybe even a hope chest. Maybe he starts using walnut, maple, cherry. He can still build all the bookshelves he wants, but now he knows he can create other objects out of different kinds of wood and his customers are loving it. And maybe he’s loving it, too.

The same thing applies to writing. I can write sci-fi or horror all day, every day. I enjoy it and I get a good response to my stories. But I don’t just write in these genres. I’ve tried my hand at erotica, romance, even mainstream fiction. I don’t know if those stories are as enjoyable as my sci-fi and horror, but I still try. I also write non-fiction. I’ve done grant writing, copywriting, script writing. It’s fun to challenge myself to try something new, something different.

When it comes down to it, we all need to write drunk (or edit drunk) every now and then. It’s keeps our minds fresh and flexible. Besides, you never know…you may find a hidden talent you weren’t aware of, and wouldn’t that be interesting?

RB

January 20

Letter from Birmingham Jail

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr., Day here in the U.S. In honor of his memory, I’m providing a link to one of my favorite essays of his, Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Regardless of your personal politics, religious affiliation, race, gender, or sexual identity, Dr. King’s words in this essay should speak to you.

Please, take some time today to read this. Not only is it incredibly well-written, but the message it carries is as pertinent today as it was in 1963.

If you’d like more context, check out the Wikipedia article about this piece. It’s amazing to know what Dr. King went through. I think we can learn a lot from this.

RB

January 19

Prometheus Project Podcast, Ep 21, is available!

The latest episode of my creativity podcast is now live.

For this episode, I talk about how easy it is for our output to be overlooked like a drop of water in the ocean. But there’s no reason to feel bad about it. There is a bright side if you look at it the right way.

You can listen to is on Spotify, iTunes, GooglePlay, and at Podbean.

Check it out…you may learn something new!

RB

January 18

Reading and Writing

Two things I’ve learned over the years that I feel have made me a better writer are to write every day and to read every day.

It’s like a constant training program. Writers can’t be complacent. We’re like athletes, just a little less sweaty and with fewer steroids.

Kidding aside, it’s not like a writer gets to a certain level of skill and plateaus. No, we have to constantly hone our skills, practice, try new things, experiment. I believe that if we don’t write something every day, we get complacent and lazy. Like exercise, if you don’t do your stretches and push-ups every day, you’re not going to see a change to those muscles.

And I’m not saying you have to write a thousand or two thousand words a day. You don’t even have to write the same amount every day. The point is to write something every day. Fifty words. Five hundred. Five thousand. Whatever you have time for, whatever you can squeeze into your schedule for that day. That’s all it takes. The only caveat is that I suggest you try to write at the same time every day. The brain can be trained so if you get up every morning and write at five a.m., then over time your brain is going to get used to that morning routine and will be prepared for it.

This isn’t to say you can’t write at any time. I always have a spiral notebook with me in my backpack with a pen clipped to the cover…just in case. If need be, I’ll write in an email on my phone and either save it as a draft or send it to myself. Any chance I get, I try to get some words on a page.

The other part of the Writing Training Program is to read every day. There are several reasons for this. First, it’s another form of mental exercise. You’re exposing yourself to new words, new ideas, new ways to describe things. Also, you learn what does and doesn’t work when telling a story. I’m sure you know what I mean. You’ve read a story at some point where you came across a line or a paragraph that was so well written that you had to re-read it a couple of times. You probably thought to yourself, “Damn, I want to write like that.”

On the flip side, you’ve also seen those lines or paragraphs (or entire stories) that were painful to get through. Purple prose, fragmented ideas, bad word choice…things that I like to call speed bumps for readers. It’s like when you’re driving down a nice, smooth piece of road lost in thought and suddenly hit that speed bump (or pot hole) and it knocks you out of the zone and back to harsh reality. Bad writing can be like that. You’re lost in the narrative, following the protagonist on their journey, then you hit a badly written sentence or the character does something ridiculous and you frown, your brows furrow, and the immersion is gone.

Regular reading has been shown to be good for the brain. Keeps you sharp, helps the memory, and helps you to think critically. All good stuff. For a writer, it has the added benefits of acting as a textbook. Not only do you see the good and bad (as mentioned above), but it can help spark new ideas. There have been many occasions when I was reading a book or a short story and read something that triggered an “ah-ha!” moment. Or have you ever read a story and thought that you could do it better? There’s nothing wrong in that. In my view, every story that can be told has been told over the course of human history. We just have to figure out how to tell them in a new way. Boy meets girl has been done millions of times, but yet we still tell that story because we find another way to do it.

Which brings me back to the daily writing. I fluctuate between working on stories, writing in my journal, blogging, and writing scripts for videos I want to record. I don’t necessarily stick with one thing for more than a day or two, then I switch to another project for a couple of days. I find it keeps me from getting bored or burned out on any given thing. But I also like to experiment, and that’s something I’d like you to think about. The next time you’re between projects, or simply taking a break from your usual routine, try some experimental writing. Try free writing, or look up some prompts online. Flip to a random page in a random book in your house, randomly point to a sentence, then write something with that sentence as the prompt.

Taking it further, try to write a non-rhyming poem, or maybe try writing a paragraph without using the word “and”. Challenge yourself to do something weird or unusual in your prose. Do you always write romance? Historical fiction? They write something scary. Always writing sci-fi or fantasy? Then write a romance story. Mix things up and get out of your comfort zone. Why? Because it challenges you and makes your brain think differently for a bit. Also, you may find that you have a talent for a genre you hadn’t considered trying. You might be surprised!

Writers are usually pigeon-holed into the stereotype of sitting in front of a laptop or at a desk all day typing away. If we’re lucky, then sure, but most of us don’t have that luxury. We are the ones that have to get that bit of exercise in every day. We have to keep pushing our creativity, flexing those muscles in our brains, in order to stay viable as writers and to constantly hone our skills. Any writer who says they don’t need to do this are fools. No writer who is worth a damn will ever stop trying to tell a better story. The only way to do that is to read and write every chance we get. Otherwise, what’s the point of being a writer?

RB

January 18

Giving Up on Jude the Obscure

It’s not often that I give up on a book I’m reading. In fact, I think there’s only been four or five over the years that I tossed aside. And no, I don’t remember which ones they were. That’s how unremarkable they were.

Well, except for the one I just gave up on. Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy, didn’t appeal to me. The thing is, I really thought I’d like it. The basic premise is a young man in late nineteenth-century England who dreams of escaping his rural life. He wants to move to the fictional city of Christminster (a fictionalized version of Oxford) where he can study at the university and become a scholar. I thought it sounded interesting. When I was a kid I dreamt of going to a university, of the libraries (my love of book started early), and all the cool stuff I could learn about. My big obsessions were dinosaurs and the space program. So not too unlike most young men.

Of course, I knew the book was published in 1895 (it had been previously serialized) and that the language, attitudes, and narrative would be of that period. No big deal. I’m a fan of classic literature and don’t have any issues with accepting antiquated  tropes or verbosity.

But man, I struggled through the first four chapters. The characters were fine, as were their motivations. I could relate to young Jude and his dreams. But the sticking point was the narrative. It dragged. Waiting for something to happen was like watching molasses pour on a cold morning. There was too much minutia, not enough forward momentum. Last night I finally gave in and closed the book on my e-reader.

The turning point was when I realized I was still flipping pages but my mind was somewhere else. When I stopped and backed up to the last thing I remembered reading it turned out to be seven pages back. Yeah, it wasn’t holding my attention. Well, except for the part where he mentions the “…wicked Jew…”. I know, I know, it’s just a reflection of the time period and I’m generally okay with accepting that. I’m not offended by the stereotypes in old stories, like Tom Sawyer or H.P. Lovecraft’s tales. That’s how people thought at that time and I deal with it…not that I don’t still cringe a bit inside when I read stuff like that.

But back to the book. I always try to read at least one classic novel each year. You know, to keep my mind open, to expose myself to different (if outdated) ideas and themes. I’ve had a copy of Jude on my e-reader for about a year now. I got my copy from Project Gutenberg. I’d heard the title over the years, even seen it on the bookstore shelves, but I didn’t know anything about it until recently. The title, though, intrigued me. Who is this Jude, and why is he obscure? I imagined a starving artist, or maybe a monk who was questioning his faith. When I found out it was about a kid who wanted an education, well, I was a little disappointed, but hey, it still had promise.

Not anymore. I’m done with it. Your mileage may vary, of course. I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from checking it out for themselves. As noted above, you can get a free copy from Project Gutenberg (I think they even have an audio version). Just be forewarned that it’s a very slow moving book and doesn’t have a lot of appeal for someone in the twenty-first century. If you can get through it, or have read it, please let me know your thoughts on the story. Maybe you can convince me to give it another try.

As for me, well, I’ll have to learn to deal with the guilt of abandoning a book. I hate that feeling. It’s like I’m sending an orphan out into the cold without any gruel. I know that’s a bit hyperbolic, but I can’t help it. To me, books are precious commodities. Each story is unique, has something to tell us or teach us. With Jude, well, I guess the lesson is “don’t write like this.”

Lesson learned.

Now on to something more interesting.

RB

January 17

Review – Conservation of Shadows

One of the things that has always irked me about education here is the U.S. is the focus on Western authors. British and American literature dominate, with a little European and Russian lit tossed in as an afterthought. I mean, I appreciate the Western canon of literature as much as the next reader, but what about Asian literature? Asian authors?

I’ve been trying to rectify this over the past few years by broadening my horizons and exploring Asian literature and authors. So far, I haven’t been disappointed. My most recent read, Conservation of Shadows, is a short story collection by Yoon Ha Lee, a Korean-American writer based out of Houston, Texas. The collection contains stories that straddle the line between science-fiction and fantasy with a strong influence of Korean myth.

I picked up the book as part of a Humble Bundle deal a while back. I hadn’t heard of Lee at the time and wasn’t familiar with his work so I went into reading this with a blank slate, no preconceived notions, no idea of what I was getting myself into. Full disclosure here – I’m one of those readers who likes to know a bit about an author before reading a book or short story collection. I’m not looking for spoilers. I find (or seem to think) that knowing a little bit about the person behind the words gives them more meaning. The stories aren’t written by some faceless entity…there’s a human being back there pulling the strings (or typing the keys). Maybe that’s a carry over from when I was taking literature courses in college and the instructors were telling me that knowing who an author is – where they come from, how they grew up, how they lived and loved – provides context. Or maybe I have minor stalking issues.

The point is, I didn’t even read any reviews of the book, no synopsis, nothing. And I’m glad I did.

So on to the stories…and I usual, I’m not going to get into the details so as to avoid spoiling anything. To begin, I read the first two stories thinking the author was a woman. The narrative voice had a feminine feel to it…I don’t know why. Maybe it was the way things were described, the way characters moved or spoke, or the things they noticed. Regardless, I’m not educated on Asian naming conventions, so I simply assumed Lee was a woman. Interestingly enough, I later found out that Lee is a trans man who identifies as queer. So that feminine quality I sensed in the writing wasn’t too far off the mark. And for what it’s worth, I’ve seen Lee referred to as both “he” and “she” in write ups online, but for the purpose of this post I’ll simply use “he”.

Regardless, the writing is excellent. Lee’s narrative voice is so smooth, gently carrying the reader along. It doesn’t matter if it’s a musician sitting quietly in her room or a starship captain in the midst of a battle, the stories never feel rushed. The thing that really got me, though, was the was Lee incorporated Korean mythology and culture into the stories so seamlessly. The first story, “Ghostweight”, opens with the following lines…

“It is not true that the dead cannot be folded. Square becomes kite becomes swan; history becomes rumor becomes song. Even the act of remembrance creases the truth.”

And I was led into a story that combined death and origami. The story is powerful, and despite the oddness of it, I never once questioned the feasibility of it. I should probably clarify this. Years ago I was in the Creative Writing Program at Florida State. One of my writing instructors (who shall remain nameless, but you’ve probably seen him on bookstore shelves) was adamant that fiction had to be feasible. He argued this with me over a short story I had workshopped that he didn’t care for. His reasoning was that the basic premise wasn’t believable. To bolster his point, he told me about a story another student had written years earlier about a guy and his talking snake. He felt that everyone knows that snakes can’t talk, so the basic premise of the story is unbelievable and therefore shouldn’t be used. I countered that it doesn’t matter what the premise might be…if the story is well-written then the reader will suspend their disbelief.

With Lee’s stories, you have to suspend disbelief. The mythology he incorporates into his stories is just that…mythology. No, it’s not realistic that someone can reanimate the bones of a giant in order to storm a castle, but in a well-written story you don’t question it. Lee makes it easy to forget your skepticism and let yourself be carried away by the prose.

There’s a lot to unpack with these stories and they deserve a re-read, which I plan to do in the near future. There’s so much poetry to them, some wonderful twists and turns, and a nice bit of magic realism. I wish I could say I had a favorite story in this collection, but they were all special and unique in their own way. They all has something interesting that kept me interested and wanting more. I think it’s safe to say that they way Lee has written these stories you could easily assume they are in the same reality, but at different points in time. There’s also this ancient feel to some of these stories. It’s strange because even the ones set in space feel old, like there’s a lot of untold history. It makes the stories feel more weighty, more real.

I think that Lee will easily become one of my favorite writers. I wish I could go into more detail about Conservation of Shadows, but it would be too easy to spoil the surprises. And yes, there are some wonderful surprises hidden in there.

Conclusion – This is a fantastic collection of short stories that, to me, are a fine example of Asian-influenced speculative fiction. Highly recommended.

RB

 

January 16

Ripple Effect

I don’t think anyone can argue that the world is a crazy place at the moment. Well, crazier than usual. Political partisanship, terrorism, social media manipulation, threats of war, economic instability, climate change…it’s a lot to process on a daily basis. And it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

So for us in the creative realm, what do we do with all this? How does is affect us and our artistic output? What I mean is that, for example, studies have shown that during times of insecurity (like a bad economy or a war happening) there is an uptick in horror-related books, movies, and television programs. Consider back in the late 1940s and the 1950s. This was the dawn of the nuclear age and people were fearful. The result was a bunch of horror movies, many of which were based around nuclear accidents or the results of nuclear testing (THEM!, Godzilla, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms).

With our current state of affairs, I began to wonder if we’re going to see another uptick. I know that I’ve been thinking of darker stories have been having darker dreams. I think it’s a ripple effect…something happens, say a military action in the Middle East. Of course, the media goes nuts covering it with facts and speculation. I watch the evening news and see all this before I go to bed. That night, I dream about being lost in a dark forest, whispering voices drift from the shadows around me, and later I awake with my heart racing and my body covered in sweat.

In a way, it’s sort of like Chaos Theory – a butterfly flaps its wings over the Indian Ocean and it eventually causes a hurricane to form in the Gulf of Mexico. In my case, a bomb goes off in Iraq and I have nightmares about a spooky forest.

Does it affect all creative people like that? Do we all feel some inspiration from the big events in the world? I know we can be inspired and influenced by our everyday lives. Family drama, encounters with strangers, things we overhear in a restaurant, it’s all fuel for the creative fires. But what about those big events? The World Trade Center falling, the Challenger explosion, the tsunami that hit Indonesia, Hurricane Katrina. Or are they too big? Like, are the big events just too overwhelming for us to process?

And no, I’m not trying to start a political discussion here. I try to avoid politics on this blog. However, I do want to mention the recent assassination in Iraq that had many people talking about World War III starting. It was enough of a scare to the general public that the website for the US Government’s Selective Service (military draft) crashed. As I’ve been laying in bed at night the past week or so, all this has been running through my head. There’s the possibility of another war (currently averted), economic instability, political upheaval, neighbors and families arguing and fighting over who’s in the right…it’s a lot to consider. And as I mentioned above, it’s seeped into my dreams, and what I dream often ends up in my fiction.

I expect to be penning some dark fiction soon, probably much darker than I usually write. I’m not going to shy away from it. These events and situations are already in there processing.

Does this happen with other artists? Is anyone else feeling these dark vibes at the moment? If so, what are you going to do with it? Will it end up in your fiction, your drawings, your music? If not, then I’d like to know why you think that is…why aren’t these things affecting you?

Events will continue to happen, disasters, crimes, wars, terrorism. They’re all symptoms of our screwed up world at the moment. And each one of these things is going to have a ripple effect. Those directly impacted are the ones at the epicenter, the ones who witness the event. Then the ripples begin drifting outwards, concentric circles (like shock waves) will flow over the landscape, over the horizon. At some point one of those rings will reach you. You’ll see it on the news on television, or on hear it on the radio, or read about it online, and it’s going to get into your head, into your unconscious mind and you’re going to have to process it. And then what?

Art is just another way of processing reality. We use it to try and make sense of things, of the craziness, the fear, the anxiety. If we don’t do something with this then we risk having it eat us up inside. There’s no avoiding the ripples, but we can control how it affects us.

RB

January 15

Overwhelmed by Ideas

I know, this seems like one of those “nice problem to have” situations. It’s funny to think that, years ago, I used to struggle to come up with ideas for my fiction. I was under the mistaken impression that I had to wait for inspiration to come, for my muse to knock on the door and hand me something to write about. Eventually, I realized that ideas are everywhere and that I simply needed to open my eyes and my mind to notice them.

But now I’m on the other end of the spectrum. I’m almost overwhelmed by ideas. No, not all of them are gems. Most are like tiny nuggets of gold I’m finding in the stream of my unconscious mind. “Ooo, something shiny!” I see something flash and it catches my attention, so I pause and take a look. Might be something worth salvaging, so I make a note in my journal or I write up a couple of paragraphs and file it in my Potential Story Ideas folder. The folder it now getting a bit crowded and unwieldy.

It’s sort of like my book buying tendencies….I buy them faster than I can read them. Here, I have far more ideas than I could ever fully flesh out and turn into stories. But what can I do about it?

I end up feeling like an idea-hoarder. Stacks and stacks of old ideas in dusty boxes piled up in every corner and along every wall in my mind. Many are partially forgotten, things that occurred to me while I was drifting off to sleep or while stopped at a traffic light. I grab my phone and type out a note so I don’t forget…”…young woman finds unusual contraption in late uncle’s barn. Alien artifact? Weird invention?” then I save it to my idea folder as the car behind me honks because the light turned green two seconds ago.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’d much rather have too many ideas then none at all. It’s just that sometimes I think about them or take a peek in the folder on my hard drive and feel guilty. All these potential stories just sitting there, waiting for me to notice them, to have an “ah-ha!” moment and begin working them into a full draft. I know they aren’t judging me. At least, I hope not. But still, I feel like there’s just not enough time. It’s the same feeling I get when I think about all the books I want to read. I know I’ll never get to them all, so how do I choose which ones to read and which ones to save for later? Which ideas should I try to craft into a story and which ones need to be patient?

I feel confident that most writers are in a similar boat. We all have these ideas and fragments floating around in our heads, like little scraps of paper twisting and turning in the breeze. Over the years the number of scraps increases, more and more of then swirling in the wind and getting harder to keep track of.

I guess there’s nothing to be done about it. The ideas aren’t going to stop. There’s no way to catch up on the back log. Just keep logging them and adding them to the pile. Every once in a while grab a handful and do something with them. Rinse and repeat.

I just wish I didn’t feel the guilt, that I didn’t feel like I was missing out on opportunities, that I didn’t feel like there are good ideas going to waste. But I can’t turn them all into stories. I’d need an army of writers to do that, and hell, they probably have their own overloaded idea folders to content with.

But I’ll soldier on. I’ll write as many stories as I can, use as many of those ideas as possible. And when I die, well, I’ll bequeath them to some needy young writer. It’s the least I can do.

RB

January 14

Review – The Stranger

I’d heard of Albert Camus. I knew he wrote a few books, he won a Nobel Prize, he was a philosopher, and we shared a birthday. That was about it. There wasn’t anything about him that pinged on my radar. I mean, I like to read a wide variety of literature, fiction and non-fiction, but his work never caught my eye.

But while perusing some public domain works I found a copy of The Stranger. The book had good reviews, so I figured I’d give it a go. I’m glad I did.

The thing about The Stranger is that it’s not a fast-moving novel. It’s has a slow, meandering narrative, which actually mirrors the settings. The story takes place in Algiers, North Africa. It’s hot, dry, with a blazing sun in the sky during the day. It’s told from the protagonist’s point of view. Meursault is a young man who works a dead-end job. He lives alone in an apartment that’s much too large for him. His mother had been living with him, but she had health issues and he couldn’t provide for her in a meaningful way, so he got her into a retirement home that he pays for out of pocket.

The story opens with the death of his mother. Meursault attends the funeral in another town. It’s so hot that the funeral procession – mourners on foot following the horse-drawn hearse – feel their shoes sinking into the melting asphalt of the road. The heat and blinding sun are recurring themes in the story.

Despite the death, Meursault isn’t grieving. He seems to simply accept that his mother is gone. This surprises some of the other people he encounters. They expect weeping, crying, mourning. Our protagonist accepts things for what they are. It was interesting to note that, as I read the first few chapters, I wasn’t sure if Meursault had a Zen-like view of life or if there was something more to his attitude.

In fact, it seemed like in almost every situation Meursault encountered he was merely carried along by the currents. For example, in one scene his girlfriend asks him if he’s in love with her. He tells her no. Then she asks if he would marry her. He says yes. When she asks why he would marry her if he didn’t love her, he tells her that it just seems like the thing to do. When pressed if he’d marry another girl if she asked, he also replies yes. In his words, he doesn’t dwell on the past and only looks at today and the near future. Nothing else matters. It’s an interesting perspective.

I don’t want to give away too much of the story. It’s a quick read (I finished in a day when I was in bed nursing the flu). The language is definitely of its time…meaning, it’s somewhat formal, and the characters aren’t terribly fleshed out. But in the end I don’t think those things matter. To me, the point of The Stranger is to show the absurdity of life in general. The protagonist is shown to be someone who simply floats through life without much concern, but because of this other people think there’s something wrong with him, that he’s damaged or broken. He’s not. At least, not in my opinion. I was like that when I was in my twenties. I was self-absorbed to a point, I didn’t have anything tying me down, I floated from job to job. All I cared about was enjoying myself, living for the present. I didn’t think much about past or future. Meursault is the same way. Maybe that’s why I felt as if I understood him as I read the book.

Taking it a few steps further, I also found the story showing the absurdity of other people’s expectations. In the second half of the book, Meursault is treated like a criminal mostly due to his mannerisms, his personality. For example, at his mother’s funeral he doesn’t cry. The other attendees see this as a sign that something is wrong with him. Why? Because in their minds you MUST cry at a funeral. It’s that mindset of, “That’s the way it’s always been done, so we’re going to continue doing it that way, and you have to follow suit or else.”

In other words, you’re expected to play the game even if you don’t want to. Even though The Stranger was published in 1946 (English version), the story is still timely. I know I see this kind of mentality every day. Hell, I grew up with it. “You have to meet our expectations, be who we want you to be.” It’s a shame I didn’t read this book back when I was younger. I think it would have done a lot to help me find myself much sooner than I did.

In the end, it’s a good book. It may not be for everyone since it’s not driven by action or extensive drama. It’s a sleeper…a good book to read on a lazy afternoon.

RB

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