Work 2013

logo_aphis_ppqIf it isn’t obvious (because I have actually begun writing stuff and making posts here on old Wak’s Blog again), my seasonal summer employment has ended. And, no, not because the Griefstriking Obfuscating Perverts enacted their wish and shut down the U.S. federal government (even though, as a seasonal employee of the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Plant Protection and Quarantine, the feds are my employer) — because I was already (or almost) on hiatus status before the Grumbling Obvious Prevaricators pulled their stunt pointlessly (but politically) amending the continuing budget resolution with unrealistic but base-fiddling amendments that in no way were or are seeking “compromise” of any kind.

In fact, I removed my last trap during the morning of Tuesday, September 3, then cleaned and restocked the GOV and stopped earning salary — except for the year-end return of vehicles, supplies and equipment on Monday, September 23. (So if I were really industrious, I should have been able to present many posts by this time. I didn’t, however, do so.) There was a special drive to let the office acquire my actual vehicle (so it could be sold, evidently) in exchange for an empty Jeep that I finally returned later. And we all had one last packet of training to complete as well. But, excepting a few hours and just a few pence, work for 2013, for me, ended with the start of September.

Gypsy Moth (image Wikipe

Gypsy Moth (image Wikipedia)

This past summer, as I noted in advance, I had a much vaster emerald ash borer region to trap. But with only 95 traps, even spread over nearly twenty counties, most of my work with the EAB program was driving, and I could accomplish the whole circuit in just about eight days. What kept me busy was a, more or less, new program (for me), trapping for Gypsy moths. (I had assisted with GM both summers I had already worked, but all that assisting only added up to about eight days altogether.) And although I only had two and a quarter counties to cover, my GM traps totaled more than 300. So my job shifted hard in the direction of Gypsy moths. (I even caught one. Yes, just one.)

The summer was exciting for me, though. And the excitement lay with the EAB, which is now definitely spreading into Iowa. (It had already done so, into one county, Allamakee, the summer I was hired, and two more beetles were found there in 2012.) I do not get the credit for spotting the new outbreaks because I didn’t find them. The bigwigs of my own organization and the state pest control had already determined that trees in Burlington and Fairfield were infested, but I was ordered to drive down there (three times in the end) to check the purple traps those important folks had set. I found my first catches of emerald ash borers from both trees, in each city!

I realize I shouldn’t be excited about such bad news (including my one-and-only Gypsy moth, discovered on my penultimate trapping day of the entire summer), but it did stir my blood to find what we are looking for (but hoping not to see).

Otherwise, the big news from work was Sequestration furlough: we each had to take two weeks off without pay (thanks once again to the Glory-sucking Officious Politicians). This season was also shorter than the past two, thus diminishing my earnings in the first place (four months rather than nearly six).

So The Lovely One may (in reality, genuiney does) have visions of me finding a job for the colder months ahead…

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Going Modern (Maybe)

I’m trying something new here. Once again I am dictating; however, I’m not talking into a microphone on my computer.

Normally (and previously) when I created blog post, I’ve been working on my iMac. And I’ve either been typing directly into WordPress online, using a browser, or I’ve tried various programs from which the text is sent to WordPress online. Using Scrivener, I had to export as HTML, open in a text editor, copy from there, and paste the HTML code into the online WordPress nonvisual text window. It worked pretty well – mostly because I like Scrivener a lot. But the process was klunky and required many steps. Then I got the program MacJournal in a bundle, and when Chronories became defunct with Lion and Mountain Lion systems, I started trying to keep a little journal in the new program. And one day, fairly early on, playing around with the menus I noticed its blog publication and tried it. It worked! From thereon at least the beginning steps of my blog publication always commenced with MacJournal.

Of course I have not been regular in the past couple years putting anything on the blog, but I have at least been playing with it.

With my bug trapping job returning this summer, and me being on the road overnight for even more days than last year, I began to feel really cut off in hotel rooms in the evening. Although My Beloved had expressed a definitely alternative, negative opinion about my solution, I knew what I should do for myself. I wanted a tablet, an iPad.

And with money coming in, even with thousands spent already for our vacation this fall, I decided I could do what I wanted. So I did.

Our Kindles have been such a pleasure for us (a little more on that, maybe, to come, as there have been some issues with The Lovely One’s Paperwhite) that I thought a tablet and the ability to get online when away from home would be a wonderful thing in my life. Our lives.

Last fall, when we were in Santa Fe for vacation, we used the “experimental browser” on the Kindles to check out restaurants and other possibilities while we were in our casita. The browser, definitely experimental for us, worked better on her Paperwhite than on my basic Kindle. I realized then that a tablet — for me, meaning an iPad — would probably be a good idea. Both at home and on vacation (or on the road alone, working, as I originally indicated).

And Apple is probably getting ready to release an improved (Retina-screened) iPad mini right now.* So prices have been dropping. Somewhat.

Somewhat temptingly…

the Mini shooting itself

the Mini shooting itself

Yeah, we all guessed it: I bought an iPad mini. (Don’t tell Her-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed! Okay? She doesn’t yet realize it, even though I used the mini to find a late-night restaurant and check weather, repeatedly on that latter activity, when we were in Des Moines for brother Paul’s ordination into full eldership among the United Methodist clergy. — I suppose she thought it was just the ole Kindle’s old experimental actually working…)

And for the past five or six weeks I’ve been adding apps and getting used to the little thing and what it can do. It has been fun and useful to check email and Facebook on those nights away from home, and I’ve even found a few fascinating little applications that enhance my life and inform and entertain me.**

However, the point of my post today is not the device but its latest app — the WordPress app.*** I’m talking to that app as I write, and it will be the system I use to get this post up (at least we hope so). So far it’s working pretty well (note an issue or two in footnotes below). And it’s been kind of fun, wandering about the house, anywhere I want (untethered by cords or Bluetooth range), talking out my erratic thoughts.

So now let’s see if I can add a picture and my usual formatting and get this thing up. I hope you are reading soon!

(Yep. So I clicked something and published a little ahead of schedule while getting the photo. Itʼs edited now, ten minutes later.)

* With my eyes, I bet I’ll never see the difference (what I’ve got looks pretty clear to me; and I seriously somehow doubt/know that video and gaming will [not] increase in my life in the next decade — the typical Wakdjunkaga lifespan for devices, based on admittedly limited prior experience).

** Perhaps there are some blog posts on iOS apps that could come. Maybe…

*** Surprising, and annoying that the app doesn’t seem to recognize its own name when I say it. I had to correct two words, “word press,” into the name of the site and the program WordPress. (And yet again.)

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Old Times

In my last post, I suggested that my string of stays in hotels (for work) had prompted me to thoughtfulness, or at least reflectiveness. Hereʼs one such reflection (just about literally that) from May 15, written, while dining alone, during that long lull between ordering and receiving your meal… Even a glass of wine doesnʼt relieve that self-conscious, solitary tension.

hotel-key-courtyard_328_detailI am so old that I still feel I should turn in my room key(s) at the front desk before departing. Nowadays, with time-stamped digital pass cards, that step for checkout is unnecessary, even silly. But I remember well temporary possession of a real solid (often too large) physical key, the return of which (capable of opening the room in perpetua, or at least until the locks were changed) was of paramount importance, and so checking myself out without returning my means of ingress seems… incomplete, perhaps even unsatisfying.

I can recall vividly my first pass card — which we received in Hawaii, on Oahu, in downtown Honolulu (at some beachfront high-rising tower of a hotel that I am sure that Janet, were that she were with me, would yet remember by name — they had a Tiki restaurant in those distant days before Tiki bars again became kitschy cool; we ate there one night and brunch on the rooftop Sunday). I think our Hawaiian trip was in 1988.*

Upon arrival, somehow the only available room was in the antiquated, low-rise (low-rent, undesirable ghetto) side-portion of the hotel. However, if we accepted that musty accomodation for our first night, we could enjoy a beach-view, balconied, expansive chamber for the remainder of our stay. Exhausted, at late afternoon (I believe), it was an irresistible offer, particularly considering the minuscule rate my (lovely) travel-agent traveling companion had wangled (for rooming on the city-view side — of no comparison to our [eventual] Waikiki-viewing suite of [until then, at least for me] unparalleled elegance). The first night we acquired a familiar blocky brass key, but our subsequent 21st-storey aerie required a keycard. Which I had no idea how to use.

Previously, even in paradise (Fiji, that prior time**, where we blissfully enjoyed the islandsʼ [then] utter lack of television — but another story there altogether***) I got into my room with a practical, physical (analog?) key. What was this credit card theyʼd given us?

Fortunately, my bride, so worldly and so much better traveled than I, had the idea of this lodging novelty item pat (which makes strange her more recent behavior with keycards — never inserted quite the right way). She gained us admittance to our boudoir in the sky in skillfully masterful fashion. With practice (and patience) I got it right, too.

In those days (with my first pair of prescription sunglasses just for that trip) that electronic pass card seemed like the (sci-fi) future astonishingly realized in my mundane present reality: I had stepped straight into a John Brunner novel and expected the crime-solving immortal Karmesin to be in the lobby (a refraction of my actual experience colored, if not shaped, by my digital rereading of his excellent, classic The Squares of the City, which was originally a brain-boggling, mind-expanding barely pubescent reading experience from my sisterʼs mature [non-Hardy] library****). I felt expansively expensive and privileged for our whole stay.

Now, of course, the keycard is just another shoddy annoyance — the electronic validation always going bad about twenty hours before checkout time arrives.

So it goes. So it goes.

hotel key* Although The Lovely One and I tried to make a list of our trips year-by-year a few years back (five or ten) that I have extended and updated, I couldnʼt find the document just now — fat lot of good Spotlightʼs endless usurping of my computer does me.

** 1985, perhaps?

*** for that ever-promised, seldom (if ever) delivered future post… perhaps

**** and yet another possible topic for another possible blog… yet to come… perhaps…

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Does Dictation Work?

And wow. It has been a while since I last posted™. I even have another post I began that day on the poetical-composition process which led to that (presumably final) version of the poem, “Aubade in Retrospect” — itʼs mostly complete™ but never appeared. (Mostly complete in that it records the evolving versions but doesnʼt get into why I felt I needed to make the changes I made. Maybe someday — probably, as long-suffering Gentle Readers™ will realize, not soon… )

So what happened? (Other than my usual intermittency of posts™.)

Work happened. My seasonal job, trapping bugs for the Department of Agriculture, started almost right after that post* with the now-usual trip to Des Moines for orientation, testing, acquisition of supplies and re-familiarization with my GOV (thatʼs “Government-Owned Vehicle” for those who need a review from the last two summers). The Lovely One™ and I went out early (she must go along because I bring home my GOV, therefore requiring transportation out there) since she prefers not to drive both out and back in one day. So we had a little one-day minivacation in Des Moines (if any stay in our Fair State Capital™ can be considered a “vacation” at all — Bob Weir having captured the essence of the city in his song “Salt Lake City,” which “really makes Des Moines seem second rate”), enjoying a delicious and different Russian meal and then tasty pub grub before she left me on my own for Sunday evening in a hotel. It was a long, lonely evening™ (even with my multi-thousand-book Kindle library) inspiring some life changes about which you will all have to wait to learn™.

Our Emerald Ash Borer training was May sixth and seventh, and we started to work immediately. As of today, I am almost done putting up the traps.

My first year, I only had a three-county area, right around my home. Last year my region expanded to ten counties and took me out past Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, requiring several nights away from home in two different locations twice a month. This year I add seven more counties (although with fewer traps, just lots of driving), and I have already spent five nights (out of ten workdays) away from home — Mt. Pleasant, Muscatine, Tama, Coralville and Cedar Rapids — getting to know a variety of hotel rooms in several chains: their luxuries, limitations and idiot-advertising required to access the (falsely) “free” wireless Internet™.

As you will learn, when I (eventually™) upload the information from my smartpen and permit the computer (using MyScript for Livescribe™) to OCR My Horrible Penmanship™, my renewed relationship with hotel rooms has made me thoughtful (at least periodically and not very profoundly) or, minimally, reflective.

And I have been busy™.

You are supposed to notice the earclipped microphone...

Youʼre supposed to notice the earclipped microphone… (this photo itself is a Whole ʼNother Story™ and an enthusiastically  novel experience at that, regardless of self-consciously stern expression)

Those ten-hour days™ really can get long, making me appreciate my Fridays to myself™. I appreciate the time so much that Iʼve fallen-behind-on-correspondence™ (again — my apologies, Aunt Alaire and brother Stephen™) and made no effort — until now, that is — to keep up with the blog™. However, several technological influences (more on those perhaps to come™) rekindled my interest in using Dragon Dictate™ for composition. So I unhooked my little Bluetooth™ microphone from the power and slipped it around my ear, remating it (necessarily after its long rest, unused) with its receiver, and have attempted — successfully, it seems, so far — to dictate words directly into MacJournal™. Without mystery crashes™, strange word insertions™, random cursor malfunctions™ or other typical behaviors of Dictate™ when dictating not into its own text window.

Thus Todayʼs Title™.

However, for now, having proven that my technology works (thanks, Nuance™), I should mow the lawn. Then write some (long-delayed™) letters.

* I had felt that poem and its (so far only private) reflection on its creation was a kind of farewell to winter dormancy™, stirrings of spring™ and a last gasp toward writing before Work™ (and earnings) began.

And No Rewards™ for those Perceptive Few™** who glommed onto Todayʼs Fun Theme™.

** (even publication days, like this, here on Wakdjunkagaʼs Blog™ only garner fewer than fifty hits nowadays)

Alternative Title™ = “Option-2”

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

from an auroral episode

I wrote a poem this morning — renovative experience, nearly novel for this old man.

Writing poetry interests me…  I composed words in my thoughts striding southwestward (some of which still occur more or less in what I merely recall later with uncertainty), seeking colors and description for what I halfwittedly observed.

Pity now that I had no camera to coldly record what my warm eyes saw, because then I could have a decent photo to include here. This (pretty) photo I found has too few clouds but has some of the effects correct (far too orange for my experience, however, as readers will perceive for yourselves).

But the words come first.

I wonder if this is the real last draft…

Aubade in retrospect


rags of cloud,
dark
bluegray and crumpled
like fat ash frozen,
empurple the western sky,
a vault of frayed slate
violet
shredding to ultramarine overhead

eastern cloudfringes,
puffy
refraction-fronted
blush,
pinked and bright
crumpled rosewhite beachheads

That moment was
already past
then, now astray —
the pink prows
of those tattered cloudsails
neon white

and the rest
to the west
declined to gunmetal, grim.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Failed Again

Even the title for this piece failed again (the effing computer having tke over from th keyboard nput — as you can see here — so I had to go back and add the “in” at the end of “Again;” and Iʼll just leave the stinking errors in this parenthetical addendum as evidence of what Appleʼs miserable excuse for technological advancement forces me to endure daily/hourly/every minute and second that the effing computer is on — not that anything Windows-based would do any better, I perceive*).

Our new faucet. Notice, please, the lovely brushed nickel matching the sink (a novelty here at Wakdjunkagaʼs Abode).

Our new faucet. Notice, please, the lovely brushed nickel matching the sink (a novelty here at Wakdjunkagaʼs Abode).

I began this rant on the tenth, intending to mention I had failed (one piece of the total set of failures to which the title refers) to fix our kitchen sink (replacing the faucet) because the original supply lines were too short for the new faucet. I needed 21 and 23 inches of line respectively (cold and hot water), and places in town only sold 20-inch lines. However, real life and time in general have intervened, and thanks to a trip out of town (intentionally for brunch with My Belovedʼs sister and her husband and his sister and her significant other) I got what I needed, which I could have acquired in town it turned out — extension lines. I installed them successfully (so far) with only one hiccup when the cold water leaked the first time around. Wow.

My plumbing job isnʼt pretty, but it works.

My plumbing job isnʼt pretty, but it works.

My first plumbing job! (Although willing to do just about anything with electricity, thanks to my long noncareer with theatrical lighting and special effects, I have avoided accidentally flooding either our house or any theatrical venue by my plumbing incompetence.) My aged retirement continues to provide new adventures and experiences.

See the moisture (and the meter)?

See the moisture (and the meter)?

Now the only failure involved with that endeavor is that our main valve on the water entering our blessed abode has developed a bit of a leak. Just a little constant moisture down the copper line and wetness all the way to the drain in the basement floor.** But thatʼs before our water meter so… well, allʼs well that costs us nothing, for the time being.

The real failure, to which my nearly week-old title referred, is that my most recent attempt toward publication had just received rejection. Again. (And again and again and again, even though I donʼt keep resubmitting and searching out new market possibilities as I should. Nor even writing all that much either.) I had churned out and polished a brief 5000 words extending my Sepharad story (stories/series) with an adventure for Søren in Córdoba, encountering Lovecraftian horror (and his own weaknesses) as he attempted to earn some cash abetting two quarrelsome students of nigromancy. “Scholarsʼ Folly” (which may give away or, preferably, retrospectively suggest the nature of Sørenʼs climactic slip-up) being crafted for a Mythos market, hasn’t many innate qualities to make it attractive outside the specific anthology for which I wrote it. Sadly.

My own little cover for a short story (that didn't sell)

My own little cover for a short story (that didn’t sell)

Failure again.

Too bad they couldntʼ have rejected me more delicately (or even personally):

Hi,

Thanks for taking the time to sub to OUR LOVECRAFTIAN ANTHOLOGY and for your patience. We are going to pass on this.

Cheers,

THE EDITORS***

At least — good news — I do get to work again trapping bugs for USDA APHIS PPQ this summer. Take that, Sequestration!

And now, maybe to work on some fiction writing…

or else dinner.

* This (forthcoming) thought is not original with me (I believe I read something like this somewhere a long time ago, probably on the internet somewhere/when), however, it remains so utterly valid, I must type it out: Would we tolerate automobiles (or even cell phones, and I don’t mean “smart” ones) that operate as poorly as personal computers do? Admittedly mine (2009 iMac, bought as my last educational purchase at retirement) is now four years old, come June, but my truck is thirteen this year (a decade in my possession).

** I at first wrote “cellar floor,” an inaccurate description of our finished basement.But that slip reminded me that when I was small I read that supposedly (I think according to Robert Frost) the loveliest phrase in English was “cellar door.” Thoughts? Results of your research? Both welcome.

Deliberately so — one side is completely finished, while the other has no ceiling (for property-taxation reduction reasons).

But according to my New York Times link, the loveliness of “cellar door” was evidently H.L. Menckenʼs notion (no bet that we would not have heard about him in elementary school in the Sixties).

*** Detailed information (such as the editorsʼ names and the anthology title) have been altered/omitted to protect the unenthusiastic (and foolish?).

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Trying to Dictate (a little bit of a finished story)

This is not much of a post, but I was actually almost hard at work earlier, attempting to defy the continual and continuing issues created by Mountain Lion and the app that forced me last October to “upgrade” my system, Dragon Dictate (version 3). After I experienced one crash/forced hard restart mid-morning, I tried some dictation about 11:00 AM…

advertising image

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Test. I started to dictate “Taking the Plunge” about a half an hour ago. I got the first two or three sentences done, but when I proceeded to orate into the Dictate window the remainder of the first paragraph, suddenly we were in spinning beach ball territory! Endlessly. I finally forced the computer to shut down and restarted.

Naturally, this time Spotlight began to run even before everything in the Menubar had loaded. (I just checked, and it is still grinding away. As always. Endlessly.) QuicKeys at first would not finish not loading so I force-quit it, and on the second try the (essential, for me) program did eventually load. So I moved on to try Dictate.

At first, as it did before the computer restart, Nuanceʼs program jumped straight to the Dictate text window (I am not sure if I feel altogether happy that it did retain the sentences I had uttered before the beach ball and forced quit), but this time it also tried to open the Load Profile window (which is supposed to be the first step when the program launches), and when I clicked on the JRB profile, we just got beach ball. Again? However, this time around, I was able to get Force Quit to force quit Dictate (the previous problem had been that intervention did not work, and so I had to physically forcibly shutdown the computer). I tried again. And after some stalling and closing the still-remembered Dictate window from before the crash, here we are with me successfully dictating (directly into MacJournal). Hurrah!

“Taking the Plunge” is a Tourist story, the second one completed. The first (and a segment from that story is one of the oldest posts on the blog) was set in London. “Plunge” takes place in San Francisco, written in the fall of 2009 in the first flush of freedom and getting “Underground” completed and typed (and unsuccessfully off for publication). Hereʼs how it starts:

Taking the Plunge

from Wikipedia — I could only find sunny days (but that fits the narratorʼs fourth day on the bay)

from Wikipedia — I could only find sunny days (but that fits the narratorʼs fourth day on the bay)

San Francisco sunlight, a surreal gift of certain bliss after days of fog and rain. The sun came out my fourth day in the city, my vacation having reinvigorated the old Mark Twain observation, “The coldest winter I ever endured was one summer in San Francisco.” My early experience this trip had been wet, cold and dismal.

The worst day had been Sunday, my second, when I had determined to take a ferry across to Sausalito, an excursion Marsha Kay and I had only contemplated when we were on the bay many years ago. Weʼd gone on a local tour (Dolphin Tours) to the wine country and Muir Woods, and the van in which we and five other couples were loaded had dumped us all on the highway through Sausalito to fend for ourselves for lunch. That had been one sunsparkled, bay-brilliant day — so thoroughly unlike my chillingly dismal return — and we both had discussed the pure California loveliness over lunch in a fish house on the water whose name fled from me in the hectic years since.

But I treasured the sensual bliss of my memories — yellowbright, windscoured and catarchingly warm — through the too-many midwestern winters we shared and then I suffered in weary lonesomeness since. Shoveling through eight inches of heartbreaking snow for myself alone in bitter predawn dark just to be able to get a car to struggle, swerve and skate over icy, scarcely cleared roads to work — among others only those fragments of solarkissed bliss on a July afternoon in Sausalito.

But the bleak reality of this return chilled me more thoroughly than any black midwestern morning, that well layered for the subzero darkness, I had endured in patient expectation of renewing the California sun. So I had suffered disillusionment those first days — dark, cold, drizzling — unimaginably worse weather than back at home, until that fourth morning frothed with solar effervescence in my uncurtained hotel windows, alluring me before 7:00 to awakened alertness, anticipating at last the day to come.

Showering I relived the bay crossing less than forty-eight hours previous. Icy drizzle from the moment I awoke — not quite so early on Sunday, not as early as I had intended, either — about 9:30. The boats I had explored started running at 8:45, and I had intended to cross the bay as early as possible and really explore Sausalito for most of the day. But the grey rain had soothed my mind, evidently, and the touch of frost in the air made me unconsciously snuggle deeper into bed as this most unsummerly summer day had dawned.

Noises in the hall, a family departing for the day, whining brats complaining loudly about the dank weather, stirred my consciousness again well after 9:00. I felt groggy — aware I was late to my schedule, but too dull to care much. And what did it matter? I only had myself to amuse.

So I lazily showered, shaving, dressed and prepared to leave the room for the maidʼs casual attentions in my absence, closing the door about 10:20 and heading off uphill to cross down to the ferry building, at least a twenty-minute hike. I figured Iʼd be in Sausalito for lunch by 12:30.

The ferries didn’t keep to my schedule, however. And the sea-spray, rainy crossing — me on deck, almost alone, drenched and shivering (at least, after the icy hike to the waterfront, Iʼd decided to purchase a fleece at one of the businesses in the ferry building — overpriced but warm enough, though by the time we docked it was much more than damp), brought us across the bay about 1:30. In my misery, I had even missed Alcatraz in the dreary damp. Late for the lunch I had come for, I elected with rare wisdom to forgo the nostalgic waterside deck and eat indoors, too utterly iced through already for more freezing drizzle so soon.

I got busy with other stuff after that. But apparently dictating works again (although with at least a dozen quite strange errors I had to catch while posting), and I have plenty of digitzing talking ahead of me when I donʼt choose to really write (fresh material).

Come on, computer, keep with it: do your job, finally.

What do you know? No footnotes. Almost a first in the past year or more.

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Cromwellʼs Descent

Sitting at my chiclet keyboard on a gloriously sunny, clear-blue-skies afternoon,* with Eric Claptonʼs exhilarating Derek & The Dominos-era guitar ringing from the iTunes-inspired Bose computer speakers, I realize that my previous perfervid post wasnʼt much of a literary review. I really just raved about how excellent was Hilary Mantelʼs Wolf Hall (and I really did like the book, a lot). Letʼs rectify that slackness just a little.

This portrait (of Thomas Cromwell) and Holbein painting it receive much attention in the novel.

This portrait (of Thomas Cromwell) and Holbein painting it receive much attention in the novel. Mantel successfully brings this hardfisted, aggressive fellow to sympathetic life (and her character even sees himself reflected somehow truly in Holbeinʼs image).

Wolf Hall is the story of as-yet-to-become English Lord Chamberlain Thomas Cromwell, whose reality had until this novel been thoroughly colored, for me, by Leo McKernʼs indelible and ruthless characterization in the film version of Robert Boltʼs A Man for All Seasons.** The (21st century) book covers most of Cromwellʼs life, from childhood (it begins with a shatteringly evocative, harrowing sequence of young Cromwell being beaten by his father — the provocation for the youth to leave England and commence his wayward career toward politics, via trade, mercenary soldiering and finance) through the execution of Sir Thomas More. Some of the bookʼs pleasure, for me, arose from clever (and appropriate) resituating and revisioning of Moreʼs memorable bon mots as recorded in Boltʼs play and film. The published (and also Man Booker prizewinning) Bring Up the Bodies covers the years through the execution of Anne Boleyn, and the third volume will take us through Cromwellʼs own extralegal but state-sponsored demise.

Mantel turns Boltʼs seriously cold, cruelly calculating villain into her protagonist (perhaps tragic hero) by placing the novel firmly within his point of view (that vivid opening set piece establishes the perspective while promptly and efficiently promoting our sympathetic identification). Seeing the world from his mindframe keeps him very human (uxorious, family-loving, generous in spirit, cultured) even as his actions gradually turn vengeful and (not noted to himself in Mantelʼs prose) scheming. Cromwell reappears, grown to middle age, as Cardinal Wolseyʼs utterly competent jack-of-all-trades*** just as the crimson-robed butcherʼs son is about to fall (failing to acquire Henry VIIIʼs desperately sought divorce from first wife Catherine of Aragon). Wolsey, perceived through Cromwell, of course is also a mostly positive figure, whose humiliation, defeat and death earn our sympathy (and Cromwellʼs, naturally — very importantly stimulating motivation for the blacksmithʼs sonʼs subsequent political career in this novel: those behind and present for Wolseyʼs destruction almost all “get theirs” by the end of Wolf Hall****).

Once Wolseyʼs died, Cromwell moves into the orbit of Anne Boleyn, unwillingly (she caused the cardinalʼs fall, after all) and over the years (and the pages) while suffering his own losses and successes arranges the necessary divorce, then the royal (not legally a “re-“) marriage and crowning for Queen Anne, meanwhile putting various enemies (unstated, until toward the final pages) and friends in their places (negative and positive places) as he rises and grows close to the king. What Cromwell and Anne share is then-modern religious feeling and theology, both being firm to-be Protestants supporting vernacular translation of the Bible and corresponding faith and doctrines.

Thomas More — also by Hans Holbein (one of the fun moments during the book was figuring out who “Hans” might be… )

Thomas More — also by Hans Holbein (one of the fun moments during the book was figuring out who “Hans” might be… )

Stubborn, fanatical zealot Thomas Moreʼs descent from power and doomed course toward execution — all capably managed by our sympathetic Cromwell (he really does sympathize with the thoughtful Catholic philosopher but not with his heretic-burning, self-flagellating, regressive and reactionary creed). As More participated in Wolseyʼs ruination (not to mention multiple burnings at the stake for personal friends and religious compatriots of Cromwellʼs), his destruction brings our protagonistʼs rise from the ashes of his becrimsoned mentorʼs defeat to a vengefully victorious climax. Also, tellingly (although the book ends with Cromwellʼs scrupulous care for Moreʼs bereft, scholarly daughter being able to acquire her traitor fatherʼs head for burial) we witness in the final stretch Cromwellʼs satisfactions here and there as various enemies are managed (capably, competently, effectively) and revenge (for Wolsey and others) accomplished. Clearly, the abused boy (grown to calm, proficient maturity) has coarsened his character, steeled his soul, descended morally — he is quietly but definitely headed toward his own fall, barely six years in his future.

It is a lovely book, engrossing, colorful, detailed, marvelously told and brilliantly written. It brings both the people and the era to vibrant and fascinating imaginative life.***** Mantel richly deserves her many accolades and awards for this wonderful book.

Now to relax a bit. Claptonʼs still playing (the computer has offered almost no blockages to my work, even with iTunes in action), and the day is yet lovely. Later, gentil readers.

* (it snowed, heavily — huge flakes obliterating any view whatsoever for hours midday — yesterday, piling up at least two and a half inches of snow here in Our Town, more to the north)

** Andrew students had to suffer (or possibly enjoy) that movie to introduce Renaissance England (and ultimately Shakespeare and Hamlet) in Advanced English for, I believe, decades. (I at least enjoyed the ritualistic annual indulgence in great storytelling… ) Just as McKern made Cromwell in my perception (from my mid-teens onward), so did Orson Welles embody Wolsey and of course Paul Scofield for Thomas More.

wolf-hall*** His capable and smooth omnicompetence (at just about everything, so literally so) is the manʼs major characteristic in the book. We witness the multitudes that he knows and understands within himself and how others (at least say they) perceive him; the king in particular comes to value Cromwellʼs ability to get done whatever needs to be accomplished.

**** And much as we may come to identify with and care for Thomas Cromwell (invariably in the book just “he,” often confusingly — but deliberately so), his hardening heart and vindictive progress are revealed… quietly.

***** Thus we come to the big topic — historical fiction. But I have said so much on just this book that I had better reserve my thoughts on books about (and from) the past for some other post.

Images from Wikipedia

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

A Really Good Book

So. I missed “yesterday,” as stated in my previous post. And I missed yesterday, as in relation to this post (I hope) as well — meaning that I also missed posting on Pi Day (preferably known as Einsteinʼs Birthday), as well. In both cases we must blame the computer (and somewhat my own sloth — but mostly the computer: bless you Apple with all sanctimonious and cynical sarcasm). Even today, with a new update for Mountain Lion, I have spent most of the day with the iMac frozen and (seemingly) forever restarting (fortunately, The Lovely One asked me to clean the house in preparation for some guests, who called last night to indicate illness all week was undoubtedly going to prevent their visit; so I could at least go away from the detestable device and do something worthwhile today — as yesterday I determined to not just sit and fume at spinning gear images and what not but read instead).*

Clearly I should keep this brief before the computer interferes with working successfully yet again.

KindlleHere it is: I love my Kindle (not so fond of the Kindle app for Mac, however, as it now takes a full five minutes to start and run, when not in “safe” mode when it loads perfectly fine and fast, and also apparently caused the most recent system freeze and forced hard restarts). It is really cool to be able to carry a full library around with me in one little, thin device. And I do mean a full library. Although the Kindle Reader only counts 437 books downloaded and included, a huge number of those are the cheap and usable “complete” collection available from various packagers of royalty-free material, meaning that about 50 of the “books” include from twenty to fifty books each!

However, the best thing about the amazon.com device is that I really get into reading things on it — new, old, reread for the umpteenth time and utterly fresh. I have always been a lover of the actual, old-fashioned book — the scent, the feel, the comfort of real pages in a real binding (paper or otherwise). But on the Kindle, reading works just as well, and I get perhaps even more lost in the stories. In my contemporary state of increasing joint pains (sometimes desperately excruciating), holding the Kindle beats trying to keep a hardbacked book open in my lap (not to mention the utter delight for My Beloved to be able to make the font just as large as necessary for her post-surgical eyeballs to perceive readily).

wolf-hallAnd one of the best things that I actually read (new and complete) thanks to the electronic reading machine has been Hilary Mantelʼs Wolf Hall, a brilliant book that thoroughly captured me and kept me up late, late (intolerably so when it came to arising sometimes less than four hours later to get out and work out), unwilling to pause at any story break and go to sleep.

I had first encountered her text in portions published in various literary magazines before the book was actually published (at least here in the U.S.) — in the TLS for certain and I also think in the New York Review of Books and possibly The London Review of Books** as well. Although I read the material each time (and also the subsequent glowing reviews), I wasnʼt entirely whelmed at the third-person present-tense imprisonment in the protagonistʼs perspective.

I did eventually buy the hardback at a Borders going-out-of-business 80%-off price a couple of years ago, but I never got further than the first fifty pages. Maybe, for an old man weened on the hagiography of A Man for All Seasons, it was too hard to imagine a Thomas Cromwell not utterly wicked and venal (although one can clearly perceive his hardening character in Mantelʼs telling, once I did read the book).

In October or November (I donʼt now remember just when I bought the e-book version), with the next volume in the trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies, well reviewed and winning Mantel her second-in-a-row Man Booker Prize, I sprang the nine bucks for a Kindle version. And have been devouring it since (spaced judiciously for other reads, particularly various research items for Sepharad and other books I whimsically have afforded to create the massive library that fits into my pocket).

Wolf Hall. Wonderful stuff. Incredibly well written and easy to read voraciously.

Now I am postponing the start of Bring Up the Bodies (also on the Kindle for some time now) in order to enjoy other things — The Moonstone for the fifth time and for  second time Anthony Burgessʼs Earthly Powers, which became available in January. And triter trifles, too (like Jack Vanceʼs Demon Princes series again and a pleasant discovery from a dead favorite — a mystery by Roger Zelazny, The Dead Manʼs Brother, already completed and archived). And more to come.

* And even now Spotlightʼs incessant cataloguing keeps taken over from my typing and leaving me with not a cursor but an Apple-effing spinning beachball.

** That periodical did publish the text of the speech the author gave recently about the royals which got her into trouble for (not really) disrespecting the expectant mother of the heir-to-become.

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Nothing to Say?

So, itʼs two months and a week since my last post. What else isnʼt new?

Well, jaw-droopingly enough, The Lovely One  has actually asked me to try posting regularly. (I know — tradition holds she hates any time I spend at the computer, even writing, and she has always thought my pathetic posts here on Wakdjunkagaʼs Blog were, uh, pathetic.) So at her behest more or less, letʼs  conclude the ten-week hiatus:

ClocksI have been doing nothing much with those 69 days. nearly nothing at all. (I did finish and revise a short story to submit for possible publication — the result still suspended in the atmosphere somewhere/somewhen. “Scholarsʼ Folly” takes Søren, sans Judah, from northeastern Iberia to Córdoba for a really bad day with supernatural intrusions, his subsequent ethical self-flagellations being reserved for what will become the following chapter in the final novel. However, that effort filled less than a week, really, the original composition having been part of my NaNoWriMo 2012 enterprises. The revised product was e-mailed for editorial consideration way back in mid-January.)

Today, having actually gotten a break from nearly daily snowfall (no lie — culminating in three days of flood-inducing rain), punctuated by regular weekly blizzards (both requiring me to shovel rather than head out to exercise first thing in the darkness before dawn), I did my time on the elliptical and came home feeling genuinely determined to do something (for once) today.* So here I am pecking away…

Unfortunately with nothing to say.

You see, that (lack of postable content) has been the major problem (other than lazily and worthlessly diddling all my time away each day) preventing the blog from acquiring updates. Nothing to say…

(And when I consider all that I found myself able to blather in 2010 when I did the post-a-day thing so glibly and logorrhea-cally, perhaps the current chastity of content seems less pitiful and more prudent. Perhaps.)

The same lackluster life (mine) has also prevented me from keeping my letter-writing particularly current (and I do need to write both to my long-suffering aunt and communication-deprived bother later today or no later than tomorrow). I havenʼt even added more than a few thousand words to my creative endeavors. Plenty of mental composition but nearly nary a word even smartpenned to paper for eventual upload into the (contemptibly frustrating) digital presumed-reality.**

However, even with this despicable deficiency of (for equally miserable want of better terminology) subject matter, I felt as though I must post something. So this drivel is it.

Enjoy!

* Of course, my eff-viscerating, worthless computer has had other ideas: those first few sentences have taken some seventy minutes to get on the screen, as multitudes of pointlessly intrusive background processes have taken over the computerʼs processor cycles ahead of my considerably-less-than-feeble keyboard smashing (but regardless how fiercely I punch a key, for some reason Spotlight uselessly updating its database or the virus-protection programʼs mercilessly intrusive “Behavioral Injection” activities take precedence regardless). Yep, nothing has changed; and the computerʼs incompetence frustrates me and drives me away from the infernal screen/mouse/keyboard to do something that might seem potentially productive (or at least less emotionally traumatic) — like reading the Kindle instead (but more on that tomorrow). Appleʼs demonic apparatus and its meddlesome softwares even contrived to get me to delete somehow the original final sentences of the parenthetical conclusion of the paragraph above the one to which this footnote appends.

** And now, suddenly there is no ceaseless drive-grinding (blessed silence on that front for my tinnitus to fill with ethereal cacophony of unreal audio-effervesence instead), and the menu meter indicates merely four percent of the memory and processor active — thus my letters and words actually transfer from brain-and-fingers through the keyboard to the machine and thus the screen (and eventually, we hope, onto you). Astonishing.

Facebook Timewaste

Once again, I do have reports on reading (and recommendations thereby/fore), not to mention some travel and maybe even other items, for future posts — assuming as inevitably ever, the damned device permits.

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.