August 7

The Appeal of Silence

One of the interesting parts of my upbringing is that I spent an almost equal amount of time in both urban and rural settings. Because of this, I feel like I’ve always been torn between the two worlds. With an urban setting I have access to so much, like a wide variety of restaurants, movie theaters, plays, concerts, and nothing is very far away. However, with a rural setting I have the ability to commune with nature, to enjoy birdsong uninterrupted by car stereos and loud exhaust pipes. There’s also  less light pollution, so in the countryside I can see the stars in all their glory. I find it both inspiring and calming.

As I’ve gotten older (and arguably wiser), I feel like my preference is leaning more towards rural living, mostly because I find I enjoy the silence. Not necessarily absolute quiet. I don’t want to live in a sensory-deprivation tank. But the lack of noise pollution – the aforementioned car stereos, neighborhood parties, fireworks, lawnmowers, and airplanes – makes me feel more at ease. It’s also good for my creativity.

For example, when my partner goes out – running errands or visiting her parents – I like to enjoy the silence of the house. Not that she’s loud or makes a lot of noise (wink), but when she’s gone I turn off the television, no music, just the soft hum of the aquarium filters and the panting of my dogs. It’s sort of serene.

Unfortunately, opening the windows breaks the atmosphere. Too many cars, lawnmowers, low-flying aircraft (I’m apparently on a flight path).

But in the (mostly) silent house I can sit on the couch and watch the fish swimming in my tanks, read without distraction, or work on a short story in a completely immersive state of mind.

I’ve been tempted to take a retreat to a Buddhist monastery. I had a professor back in college who did that once a year. Spent a week or two in a monastery in Georgia (the state, not the country). He’d live on their schedule and help with chores, but then have a lot of free time to read and write. He said he’d get more accomplished in that week or two than he’d would throughout the rest of the year. I think it’d be an interesting experience. And productive.

One of the main things I miss from childhood is the long walks I’d take by myself in the woods on my uncle’s dairy farm. Four-hundred or so acres of corn fields, hay fields, and virgin forest. I’d wander the rolling hills, climb trees, and let my imagination lead me. The silence was amazing. Mostly birdsong, but occasionally I’d encounter something larger, like those massive Wisconsin deer.

Those days of wandering in silence were where my creativity was molding, tested, experimented with. I’d search for pirate treasure (in Wisconsin?), hide from enemy soldiers, seek ancient ruins, and look for alien landing sites. At night, I’d lay in the back bedroom and listen to the whippoorwills in the apple orchid outside my window, or maybe hear something large (possible a bear) stomping on the leaves and dried twigs on the ground. Plus, we were far enough to the north that I’d occasionally get a glimpse of the northern lights.

I miss those days, but I try to recreate the environment when I can. It’s not quite the same, but I’ll take what I can get.

If you get the opportunity, try to provide yourself with a silent environment for a few hours, a day if you can swing it. No television, no music, no phone. Just you and your thoughts. It’s a unique experience.



August 5

Book Recommendations – Indie and Small Press

I’ve been working my way through my constantly evolving to-be-read pile and thought I should pass along some recommendations for the books I’ve enjoyed. I try to keep things interesting by switching between traditionally published books (big publishing houses) and the indie and small-press runs. Not only does it give me more variety, but it also spreads the love – and the money – a little further. However, my recommendations will focus on books from indie and small presses.

My tastes are all over the place when it comes to genres and subject matter, so I’ve included either a blurb from the book or a personal comment to give you an idea of what the book is about. Of course, just because I like a book – or don’t like one – doesn’t mean you’ll have the same experience. Regardless, if you’re looking for something new to read, check out a few of these titles (listed in no particular order).

The Moon Hunters by Anya Pavelle. A post-apocalyptic adventure novel that takes place after a world-wide pandemic. The narrative follows a young woman who is trying to escape a closed community where ideologies and politics clash. A fun, exciting, and though-provoking read.

Where Demons Dance by Emma Briedis. Historic fiction that was inspired by an actual event. This story follows several different characters in the Mormon community who are trying to solve mysteries in their own lives and which end up over-lapping into a satisfying conclusion. There’s mystery, intrigue, and drama all set in the late 1800s.

Tiny Righteous Acts by Parker Bauman. This was such a fun read. Basically, an immigration lawyer in New Orleans decides to mete out justice on those who have done her clients wrong. It’s funny, heartwarming, dramatic, and left me wanting more. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel and any spin offs.

A Quiet Rebellion: Guilt by MH Thaung. A fantastic story that blends fantasy with a bit of horror and political intrigue. While the story is well-written, I really liked the characters. They were all broken in some way, which made them very real to me. The story itself is also excellent. I read a fair-share of fantasy, but this was an original storyline, and the world-building is spot on. This novel is the first in a trilogy and I’m currently reading the second book.

Lost Inside My Mind by Dawn Olmo. This is the first poetry collection I’ve read in a long time, and it was a nice reintroduction to the art form. Ms. Olmo writes personal poetry, the topics center on herself and her life experiences, as well as her family. While this may seem to limit the relatability of the verse, it actually makes it much more intriguing. Love, loss, humor, and pain are explored honestly and passionately.

I hope you take the time to check out these titles for yourself and pick up a few copies. There’s a lot of fantastic work being done by writers who often fly under the mainstream radar. As I discover more, I’ll share them here.


August 3

Review – The Martian

Okay, okay, I know I’m late to the party with this one. The book came out in 2011 and the movie in 2015. But I have a good excuse. I have way too many books in to “to be read” pile.

And a quick note here before I discuss the book – I watched the movie, first. It’s not necessarily a controversial opinion, but I always prefer the book version of a story to the movie. Books are more descriptive, more immersive. Movie versions are often good (Harry Potter, The Shining, etc), but they still don’t give the same experience as words on a page…and having it play out in my imagination is far more fun than sitting in a theater.

At this point, I assume almost everyone has seen the movie or read the novel, or is at least familiar with the story. Basically, a group of astronauts are on Mars, there’s a sandstorm, they flee to the escape module, but one of them is hit by debris, considered dead, and left behind. Unfortunately, he’s only injured and is now stuck on the planet by himself with limited food and water and no way to get back to or contact the Earth.

Since the story is already out there, I want to instead focus on the writing, the narrative, and the way the story is structured. Basically, looking at it as a writer instead of a reader.

Andy Weir, the author, definitely did his homework with this. It’s science fiction with real science, which I adore. I mean, I love speculative and futuristic sci-fi where the writers come up with all sorts of amazing ideas for technology in the future or in alien civilizations. But when it’s real science, it makes the story more grounded for me. But Weir doesn’t overwhelm the reader with science and math. It wasn’t like reading A Brief History of Time (boy, was THAT a challenging read!). I’d describe it as conversational science and math. Like having Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson explaining it to me.

The other thing I really loved about this book was the narrative. Weir has the protagonist, Watney, tell the story as journal entries, beginning immediately after he regains consciousness and realizes his situation. The majority of the book is written this way. It has a conversational tone, uncensored. Watney is telling his story as if writing a letter to a friend. He’s self-deprecating, cusses like…well, like an astronaut, and admits his mistakes and failings. It made his character all the more real. I could feel his frustration, his fear, and his longing.

The story switches back to NASA and follows a handful of characters there in a conventional, third-person POV. I think it was a good choice by Weir. It breaks up the narrative, changes the pacing and makes it more interesting for the reader. At least, it did for me.

The other interesting thing he did was, at several points in the second half of the book, switch to a third narrative voice. It was the omnipotent narrator describing something happening to Watney that neither he could tell us or the characters back on Earth could see or explain. These passages were brief and, again, I think were a good decision by Weir.

Of course, I’m always impressed when an author goes out of their way to research their topic. Luckily, Weir is already a nerd. He’s a programmer by trade, but has a love of physics and science. The background was already there and he used his knowledge to keep everything in the story grounded in reality. As I mentioned above, the science and math are real. Yes, it is possible to create hydrogen using chemistry and ingenuity. It’s also possible to grow potatoes in a hostile environment with just a handful of useful bacteria and a shitload of botany experience. And, well, a shitload of shit.

This was probably one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had. The story is incredibly fast paced, easy to read, and simply a fun adventure. Plus, astronauts. I’m a huge fan of the space programs, all of them, but especially NASA. Astronauts have always been heroes of mine, and I’ll admit that I teared up a few times when reference was made to their bravery and ingenuity. There’s one part where two NASA administrators are talking about a potential way to rescue Watney, but it’s extremely dangerous to the other astronauts. When one of them asks what the rescuers would think about the danger, the other admin replies, “Well, their astronauts”, insinuating that they don’t care. It’s all about the mission. To hell with the danger.

Yeah, this book could double as a NASA recruiting tool. Sign me up!

If you’ve only seen the movie, please, pick up a copy of the book. It’s so much better than the movie (not that the movie wasn’t great). I promise, you’ll enjoy the ride.