January 15

A Different Perspective

Most of us look at the world from our singular point of view. We have our preconceptions, our opinions, our way of doing things, and all that shapes the way we see and interpret the world around us. This is the sum of who we are, how we were raised, the things we’ve been exposed to (opinions, education, etc.) over the years. 

Obviously, there are both good and bad aspects to having this singular point of view of the world. It often makes us see the world with blinders on so we don’t see the whole picture. It limits us by keeping us in a box. It’s like looking through a cardboard tube. You can see straight ahead, but you can’t see anything on either side. And depending on the circumstance, this can be incredibly dangerous.

As a writer, I feel that a limited perspective can hamper creativity. What I mean is, if I’m only exposing myself to a certain amount of outside input, then I’m not giving myself an opportunity to learn, to grow as an artist.

But it also goes deeper than that. Outside of art, in the real world, forcing oneself to see things from other perspectives is healthy. It challenges us to side other sides of issues, to consider other options and opinions, and it helps us to grow as individuals. Living in a bubble may be comforting, but it’s not realistic. 

Of course, I’m not claiming that every side and every opinion deserves equal consideration. For example, if someone wants to believe the world is flat, that’s their choice and they are welcome to their viewpoint. However, I also know this is bullshit and I won’t waste my time going down that path to explore all their claims. The science is sound and there’s no disputing it, so why give this opinion equal weight? 

I guess there’s a weird gray area when it comes to other viewpoints. What I mean is, we have to use good judgement, reason, and common sense when it comes to exploring other perspectives. And really, even when we consider the facts from all sides, we still have to incorporate our own perspectives and opinions. 

Take exercise. There are facts that support daily, intense cardio for a long and healthy life. But there are other facts that support lower-impact exercise achieving the same goal. In this case, I look at the facts on both sides and determine what’s best for me and my situation. The same applies to economics, politics, even relationships. You may have two people vying for your romantic attention (because you’re a player) so you have to look at both of these suitors, weigh the pros and cons, listen to their arguments as to why each one is the better mate, then make a decision based on your own perspective, feelings, experiences.

Looking at things from different perspectives is healthy, but as I mentioned above, we have to also use common sense and reason. Just because someone has another opinion doesn’t make the right or wrong, they just see things differently than we do. There’s nothing wrong with that, barring they aren’t using their opinion to justify hatred, violence, or being an asshole to other people. 

The point, I think, is to simply keep an open mind and be willing and capable of changing your opinions on occasion. It’ll make you a better person and open you up to all sorts of new ideas. And for creative individuals, this will feed your imagination. 

RB

January 13

Old Photos

Is it weird that I like to look through old photos? Not just family pictures, but also those of strangers. I find it fascinating to look at these moments captured in time, frozen for eternity, and wonder what became of the people.

With family photos, it’s interesting to see the faces, the expressions, and know that I share DNA with these people. Occasionally, I can see how certain facial features or physicality carried on through the generations. The way the eyes are set in a face, or the shape of a nose, maybe a hairline. 

Old photo of two young women.

And with family, I generally know something about the unfamiliar – yet familiar – faces set in black and white or faded color. I know that they had children, where they lived, maybe even when and how they died. There isn’t much mystery there, but it’s still interesting to see them there in my hand and to wonder about their lives. Were they happy? Content? Did they love? Hate? Feel regret? Were they content with their lives or did they long for something more?

Recently, I’ve been helping my partner clean out some clutter at her parent’s house and I’ve stumbled upon several photo albums and boxes filled with old photos. It’s like discovering hidden pirate treasure. Most of the photos are older ones, black and white, sepia-toned, color-tinted. All the faces are strangers to me, people I’ve never met, know nothing about, and I’ve spent far too much time the past few days sifting through these pictures and wondering.

That’s where my weird obsession comes into play. I like to look at these old photos, these strangers, and wonder about their lives. I have no direct relation to these people, no idea what they were like, where they lived, what they might have felt. A few photos may have names, a date, maybe a location scribbled on the back with a pencil, but most are unblemished, leaving me to use my imagination to fill in the blanks.

I  guess it’s the writer in me that enjoys this activity. I get to make up stories about complete strangers, create personalities, wants, needs, desires, fears, hopes, and dreams. That’s an amazing feeling, the creative process. By using the photos as prompts, I also feel like I’m exercising my imagination, giving it a workout, like a light cardio session. I can stare at the faces of strangers and just…well, just make things up. 

For fun, I included a few of the photos in this post so you can have a better idea of what I’m looking at, what I’m actually seeing. Out of curiosity, what is it that you see when you look at these photos? Does your imagination kick into gear and begin to wonder about the possibilities? Do you feel any connection to these strangers from the past? Do you think you may have had anything in common with them? 

I think that old photos are some of the best ways to give my creativity a jump-start. I still have a few hundred photos to browse, but I plan on setting aside some of the more intriguing ones. Maybe there are a few stories hidden in those boxes and photo albums. I’m looking forward to finding them.

RB

January 5

Mile Marker 2021

I used to think of years as compartmentalized and isolated blocks of time. Each year stood alone, separate from the rest like rooms in a house. Each one is unique, set apart, with its own look and feel. I would set goals for myself when the new year began and, in my head, I’d see that I would have 365 days to meet them.

But over the past few years I’ve begun to think of years as mile markers, like the ones you see on the highways here in the US. Traveling down Interstate 10 (which runs through Tallahassee) you see these small green signs every few minutes that noted when you crossed another mile. Just another way to track your pace and how far you’ve gone.

Seeing years like this has been helpful. What I mean is, I no longer look at years as these independent entities. Time flows like a river – or a highway – and it’s useful to have these signposts that remind us how far we’ve come. When I looked at them as stand-alone blocks, I think I was limiting my view of life. When I was imagining years as those aforementioned rooms, it was like I was isolating my time periods. Each year was for a stage of my life, the next one was for another stage, and so on.

In a way, it was like I was sitting in one room for 365 days, then when the calendar flipped I got up and moved into another room. Now, however, I feel like I’m free to move around the house, find a room that fits my mood for the day and settle in. Plus, it’s a good way to assess my progress, both professionally and personally.

The reason I changed my view was because of frustration. This year is a perfect example. For pretty much everyone, 2020 was a shit year. A global pandemic, lock downs, isolation, loneliness, job loss, deaths, and unprecedented politics. We lost family, friends, loved ones. But one thing I kept hearing from people was that they were ready for the year to end, for 2021 to begin, and for a return to some sense of normalcy.

But the thing is, the slate isn’t erased when the calendar flips. There’s no fresh start, no sudden clearing of the air, no get out of jail free card. Everything that we’ve been dealing with in 2020 is simply rolling over into 2021. And personally, I think that’s a detrimental mindset. We get it in our minds that everything will be fine once we see the clock strike midnight on December 31st, but it doesn’t work that way. So when it doesn’t happen, when the crappiness continues, then we get depressed, anxious, annoyed. It’s like thinking that when you hit that next mile marker everything will change, the landscape, the weather, the way you feel. But it won’t. The highway continues into the distance.

I’m finding that the highway and mile marker metaphor eases my mind. I’m not setting myself up for disappointment. I’m being realistic, rational, and accepting that things don’t change just because we made another circuit around the sun. But at the same time, a new year does hold promise, much like traveling on a new, unexplored stretch of highway. There are new possibilities, new options, new challenges. And there’s hope.

Speaking of which, I hope you have a wonderful start to your new year, that your engine runs cool, that your tires maintain their tread, and that the wind is always at your back, helping to push you onward to better days.

RB

December 31

Still Alive!

Yeah, I’m still among the living and finally getting the opportunity to get back to my creative life. Not yet full time, but I’ll now have a little more time to spend on it. 

The past month and a half has been rough. A couple of elderly family members have been declining health-wise and my partner and I are the only ones around to take care of them. That turned out to basically be a full-time job for both of us. We took a couple of weeks off from work in order to have the time and energy to do all the things that needed to be done. And we’re still mentally, physically, and emotionally drained.

But I think we’ve gotten past the worst of it. In the beginning we didn’t know what to do, what decisions to make, where to find answers. We were running in circles, barely getting any sleep, and incredibly frustrated and anxious. In situations like this, there’s no way to prepare and it’s not easy to find answers when you don’t know where to look. 

We got lucky, however, when Big Bend Hospice entered the picture. One of the family members was deemed ready for hospice care, and so they’ve come into the home to help us with medical stuff, bathing this individual, getting us the necessary medical equipment, and most of all, allaying our fears and pointing us in the right direction so we can access the information we need to make decisions. It’s an amazing non-profit organization and I can’t thank them enough.

Additionally, we were able to find a memory-care facility for the other family member. It’s just barely affordable, but we’re working on that. Again, we’ve gotten lucky and found a place that had an available bed, wasn’t ridiculously expensive, and hasn’t had a single instance of COVID since the lockdown began. The staff has been amazing – reassuring, polite, professional, and I’ve been impressed by how well they handle the residents. 

The thing is, both my partner and I still feel on-edge. I think it’s PTSD. For a couple of weeks there we are pushed to our limits. Dealing with someone with dementia isn’t easy, especially when they get themselves worked up about odd things. Like, fixated on taking care of some babies (no babies in the house – haven’t been for decades), looking everywhere for them, and panicking when they can’t find them. It was trying.

If nothing else, this chapter of our lives (my partner and mine) shows that we have a good relationship and a strong bond. Despite all we’ve gone through, we’ve stayed side-by-side, supported one another, tag-teamed responsibilities, and kept each other sane. Mostly. It goes to show that as long as we sincerely care and respect one another, we can accomplish anything. We’re a good team, she and I. I’m proud of that.

So yeah, I’m slipping back into the shallow end of the creative pool, dipping my toes in before I fully immerse myself. I have a lot of creative energy and ideas that have been shelved for far too long. Time to pull them out of storage, dust them off, and have a little bit of fun. 

RB

December 9

Review – The Name of the Rose

Back in the late 1980s, I saw a film titled, The Name of the Rose, and thought it was fantastic. It starred Sean Connery and Christian Slater, and told the story of murder, intrigue, and forbidden books in a medieval monastery. Connery’s character, William of Baskerville, was a sort of a Sherlock Holmes in that he paid attention to little details to discover clues. Slater played his apprentice, Adso, who also narrates the story as an old man looking back on an exciting part of his young life. Sadly, the film didn’t do well at the box office, but it’s always been one of my favorites. The movie, like so many, was based on a novel by the same name and written by first-time novelist Umberto Eco, an Italian medievalist and philosopher.

Now obviously, I was interested in reading the novel, but I hesitated. This was in part due to the fact that the book was daunting. Over five-hundred pages and filled with philosophy, theology, social and political commentary, and peppered with all sorts of references to other sources – books, art, historical events, biblical prophecy – and was apparently a difficult read. In fact, someone who had attempted to read it warned me that in order to truly understand the novel, a reader needed to be well-versed in medieval architecture, monastic life, philosophy, and fluent in Greek, Italian, and Latin. I decided to pass.

But earlier this year I finally found the courage to pick up a copy of the novel and read it. Of course, I had two choices – a physical copy or an e-book. I went with the physical copy, hardbound, because I knew that if I made it through this beast, I wanted to have a trophy for my bookcase. And yes, if I chose the e-version I would have all the translations at my fingertips. But I felt that was cheating. I wanted the full experience as Eco intended.

Was it a difficult read? Yes and no. The story itself is wonderful. William and Adso arrive at the monestary to prepare for an important theological debate between religious orders. But they arrive just as a murder is discovered, and from there the story turns into a murder mystery that rivals anything Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ever wrote. William’s character is definitely inspired by Sherlock Holmes, seeing the minute details of different situations and amazing the other monks with his discoveries.

The mystery – and additional murders – all seem to center on the monastery library, a collection said to rival and possibly surpass the great Library of Alexandria. Books from all over the known world, in all known languages, and many of them forbidden and kept hidden from all but the Abbot and head librarian. William and Adso are told at the very beginning that they are not permitted to enter the library, but they both know that’s where they will find the answers they seek.

The narrative, however, can run into dry spots. Eco was an incredibly intelligent man and the writing shows this. There are pages and pages of theological discussions about the nature of Christ, his poverty, the place of the Church in a changing society. While interesting, it can be a bit of a slog to get through. And no, it’s not necessarily pertinent to the story itself, but it does help to give perspective and background to the many characters. Additionally, with careful reading you can find little clues as to their motivations and possibly the part they may – or may not have – played in the murders.

There is also quite a bit of untranslated Greek and Latin. I did okay with the Latin. Well, I was able to discern small bits. I grew up Catholic, attended mass on a regular basis, and my great-aunt was a nun, so when the Latin was religious text, I was able to make some sense out of it. The Greek was, well, Greek to me and I ended up going online to translate it. There are also a lot of references to ancient texts and religious dogma that I wasn’t familiar with, so I kept my pad nearby for a quick Google search every few pages. I’ll admit, it definitely slowed my reading speed to a crawl, but that was okay. The book – the story – was immersive and having to do this research made the experience interactive. It’s like I was participating in the story to some degree.

I’m glad I finally found the courage to read this novel, and now that I’ve finished it, I plan to re-read it in the near future. The next time, however, I plan to do some research ahead of time to find out what tidbits I missed on my first pass. As I mentioned above, Eco peppered the novel with all sorts of meta-references, so I want to make sure I catch them all. It’s sort of like watching a well-written movie. You watch it the first time for entertainment, but then you go back and rewatch it to catch all the little things you may have missed the first time. To me, that’s good art because it warrants additional viewing, or reading.

If you enjoy murder mysteries, medieval history, philosophy, theology, and a story that blends fact with fiction, then you’ll probably enjoy this novel. But be warned, it’s an undertaking and you may want to go with the e-version to make it easier on yourself. It might also help to watch the movie, first. It’s a fairly faithful adaptation. Plus, Sean Connery is perfect in the role.

RB

December 7

Knuckleball

It’s been said that life occasional throws us a curveball. You know, things go sideways, our plans go awry, and we have to adjust and adapt. However, it’s not just curveballs that life tosses at us. On occasion it’s a knuckleball.

For those unfamiliar with the baseball terminology, a curveball is basically a ‘breaking ball’, meaning, instead of it coming straight at you, the pitcher makes the ball curve (up, down, this way or that way) and that, in turn, makes it difficult to hit. But they tend to fly on a consistent trajectory, an arc. A knuckleball is an entirely different beast of a pitch, and it’s rare that you can find a pitcher who can throw one. The way the ball is held on release causes it to wobble wildly on the way to the catcher (who has to wear an oversized mitt in order to have a chance of catching the ball). A knuckleball is almost impossible to hit.

And that’s where I am at the moment. I’m at the plate watching these knuckleballs coming at me and I’m trying my best not to strike out.

Not to get into too much personal detail, but my partner and I are dealing with ailing family members and it’s extremely difficult, especially with the ongoing pandemic. Assisted living is out because those are hotbeds for the virus. Home health care is a possibility, but it’s also ridiculously expensive. And it’s just the two of us trying to maintain two homes, tend to two elderly people, and at the same time work our jobs and keep our relationship intact.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not looking for help or handouts. At the moment we have things under control. Mostly. But I wanted to write this post to let readers know why I haven’t been as active online as I usually am. My blog posts dried up, my social media accounts are sprouting cobwebs, and my creative output has come to a screeching halt. I’ve been prioritizing family, first, and everything else comes after.

The selfish part of me is frustrated because I love to be creative, to write, record my podcast and cooking videos, to interact with all the amazing people in my social media feeds, but at the moment it all seems so far away, so insignificant when it comes to quality of life and doing the right thing. I miss it dearly and I’m trying to make the time to be creative, even for just a few minutes every day, but in the current situation things seem to change hour by hour: The pharmacy called and meds are ready for pickup; this doctor called to reschedule an appointment; another doctor called because they want bloodwork done; we’re running low on food or other needs; and my dogs need to be fed and exercised; my fish need to be fed; yard work; house work; nine-to-five job…

I think another apt analogy would be comparing our situation to those amazing Chinese acrobats that keep plates spinning on top of those long sticks. Can’t take your eyes off them for a moment or else one will drop and shatter. And if one goes down, others will follow.

Anyway, I’m doing my best to keep things going, to swing at those knuckleballs and avoid getting hit by a wild pitch. I’ll be working on getting back into some sort of creative routine and hopefully you’ll hear more from me soon.

Wish me luck!

RB

November 11

A Rainy Day

Rainy days always make me feel like doing something creative. I mean, it’s not like I can go fiddle about in the yard or play outside with the dogs. If it’s more than a sprinkle, they won’t do much more than stick their heads out the dog door. I can almost hear them say, “Nope!”.

Of course, I can always watch something on television. I subscribe a coupe of streaming services, plus I own a fair amount of movies and shows from back when people actually purchased physical media. In fact, I still have a handful of VHS tapes. One of these days I’ll have to reconnect the VHS player to the TV and see if they’ll still play.

There’s also the option to read. That’s a nice rainy-day pastime. But for me, the problem is having the sound of falling raindrops and the soft rumble of thunder in the distance makes me sleepy. Oftentimes, my rainy-day reading lasts for about thirty minutes or so before my eyelids grow too heavy. Three hours later I’m woken by a cold dog nose alerting me that either the water bowl is empty or it’s time for dinner.

I usually end up writing, which is good. I’m always up for putting words on the page. Rainy days are perfect for sitting in a room lit only by natural light (the dim gray from outside) with the sound of rain acting as my background noise. It’s almost meditative and helps me get into the zone…meaning, the world slips away and it’s just me and my MacBook and the words appearing on the screen.

I like that scenario. It’s transcendental, trance-like. And don’t get me wrong. Most of my writing sessions are good and I can get into that zone – or something akin to it – when I have just the right setting and time to myself. But those rainy-day sessions, well, there’s nothing quite like them.

The thing is, it’s not like I’m more productive or more creative. Stories written when it’s raining aren’t any better or worse than on dry days, or hot days, or cold days. It’s more about how I feel, how it makes me feel. After writing during a good drenching rain, I feel refreshed, rejuvenated, like I’ve been cleansed. It’s almost as if I stood in the rain myself and let the water wash over me.

If you haven’t guessed, today is one of those days. A tropical depression is passing nearby in the Gulf of Mexico and it’s supposed to rain here most of the day. In fact, it’s also going to rain all day tomorrow. Coincidently, I’m also taking leave from work this week, so things are working out quite nicely for me.

And for what it’s worth, it’s raining right now as I write this.

RB

November 9

National Novel Writing Month

Yep, it’s that time of year, the time when writers from all over take part in the madness that is National Novel Writing Month.

NaNoWriMo (as it’s affectionately referred to) has been around for years and I’ve participated a couple of times. The first time I did I ended up with a 75k rough draft – a VERY rough draft – of a science fiction novel. I had the idea spinning in my head for a few months leading up to November 1st, so I had a decent idea of what I wanted to do with the story. But I played by the rules, so I didn’t outline or make any notes. I went into this challenge with a blank page.

It went well for the first two weeks, but then I got stuck. It was just after a big action scene where my protagonist escapes from some government ships that were tracking him near an asteroid belt. My hero was able to kill power and hide inside a crevasse on one of the spinning boulders. The government ships tried to find him, but no luck, so they sailed off. That’s when I sat and stared at the screen on my laptop, my fingers idly tapping on the keyboard, while I wondered what to do next.

After nearly a day of cluelessness, I decided I’d keep writing but instead focus on some backstory and character development, hoping that it would kick start my imagination and get me back on track. Yeah, that didn’t happen. I spent the next two weeks describing some of the planets in my story, along with some of the ships, where my protagonist grew up, and how he ended up with his ship. None of it was that pertinent to the story.

By the end of the month I had hit the word count goal, but the story wasn’t there. Just random ideas and thoughts about the story. So I sort of completed the challenge because I hit the word count, but I never got a complete story out of the process.

I tried again a few years later, but my job at the time had me working some odd and long hours, so I couldn’t spare enough time to really focus on writing a certain amount every day. I ended up tapping out after a week or so.

I haven’t tried again, although it is enticing. I like to be challenged when I write. I set certain goals for myself, some of them normal – like 500 words in a sitting – and some of them odd – like not allowing myself to use “he said” or “she said” when writing dialogue. A full month of marathon writing is appealing. There’s just the matter of time and whether or not I’m willing to set aside other projects so I can focus on just one.

I’m sitting on the sidelines again this year and enjoying the view as a spectator. I have some writing friends who are participating and it’s fun to see how they’re handling it. Of course, I’m being encouraging and trying to keep them motivated as best I can.

But next year, well, I just may have to dive back in again. I think it’ll be fun to see what I can accomplish. Until then, best of luck to all the writers who are participating this year.

RB

November 6

Carnivorous Plant Update

Here in North Florida, the weather if beginning to cool, and with that means my carnivorous plants will be going dormant. It’s sad to see my pitcher plants begin to wither, dry up, turn brown and brittle. My sundews and flytraps will also wither a bit, but they’ll maintain most of their color and simply stop eating and producing new growth. Luckily, most of my carnivorous plants (except for the flytraps) are indigenous to my area, so they’re used to the weather.

But it’s also a good time for some cleanup. Once the plants have dried up, I’ll cut them back some so, come springtime, the new growth will have room to flex. Also, I’ll take some cuttings and get them potted. One of the main things I have to do is replant two of my flytraps. A stupid squirrel got into the pot earlier this summer and decided to dig around like a maniac. I was able to salvage the plants, but the big one needs to be reset and the smaller one needs his (or her) own pot.

Venus flytraps

Here’s another flytrap that’s beginning to get ready for winter. You can see the browning traps. A trap will die off after a meal or two, then new ones will come up. In this case, traps are dying, but no new growth to speak of…just one little trap that’s trying his best (see the very center of the plant).

Venus Flytrap

The colors are still popping on a couple of my pitcher plants. This little guy is still vibrant, and his partner, the sundew, is still producing dewy drops on its leaves.

Pitcher and Sundew

This guy is looking good, too. In the second photo you can see his latest meal. I think it was some sort of wasp. You can also see the fine little hairs that line the mouth of the pitcher. Helps to keep the little critters from crawling back out.

Pitcher Plant  Pitcher Plant with Snack

Like all gardens, they have to cycle with the seasons. I’ll be sure to keep them comfortable, cover them if there’s frost, and make sure they stay wet until spring. I’ll post updates over the next few months as I make cuttings, transplant, and prep them for next year.

Oh, and let me know if you have any questions. As you can probably tell, I adore these little buggers. And yes, gardening is just another way to be creative.

RB

 

November 3

VOTE!

I tend to avoid politics on my blog and social media accounts. Too much derision and toxicity. As I tell my partner, when it comes to politics, there lies madness.

However, today is Election Day in the US. Polls are opening up across the country and people are going to be standing in line for hours just to spend five minutes casting their ballots. I’m proud of each and every one of them for exercising their civic duty, their civic right.

Regardless of your political affiliation, please support the people voting. This isn’t the time for drama or making scenes. We have the right to disagree, to hold differing opinions, but that doesn’t mean that one person’s vote should mean less than another person’s vote.

If you haven’t already, please get to your voting place as early as you can. This year looks like it’s going to have a huge turnout.

Be safe, everyone.

Vote

RB