Writing life 2

 “Jesus Christ! Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You’re thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes—and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he’s had his first one.” — Ernest Hemingway when asked if he drank when he wrote.


June 14, 2018
That's a picture of me with Tom Walker and his daughter Mary Anne. He made all the photos in our Wild Critters books.  Mary Anne came from Outside for a visit before starting a new job and we met for a lunch in Talkeetna. Our conversation rambled all over the place as you might imagine among three people who hadn't seen each other for years. I had brought along a bunch of books for Tom to sign, so when I give them to people they will have both signatures. Mary Anne mentioned she only had one signed book left. She said with her friends getting married and having babies she is always giving Wild Critters as gifts. This is something I have thought about and I mumbled something I hoped they wouldn't hear, which was, nobody in my family has ever done that. It is one of the things that has stuck in my mind for years and it is an abrasion between me and my family. I have a son and a daughter and two nieces and two nephews. Not one of them has ever asked me to sign a book for them to give to someone as a gift. Sometimes when I run a conversation with my kids through my mind I bring it up, like, you must have friends who are having babies. Has it ever crossed you mind to give them a Wild Critters book as a gift. Maybe you have, but for sure you have never asked me to sign one, so I am assuming you never did. Is that too much to ask from family? Frankly it bothers me that it bothers me, but so it goes as one of the least fun parts of the writing life. Over the years I have signed several books for friends who gave them to their friends who have had children. Not one of them was in any way related to me. I just realized the irony of thinking of this and posting it the day before Father's Day. One more holiday I have to ignore.

Isn't it ironic?

May 28, 2018

Being a copy editor can be even worse than a teacher when it comes to correcting other people's grammar and spelling. Having been one on and off for fifty years, the compulsion might be stronger in me than in most, but over the years I've learned even the best of friends  don't appreciate your efforts to improve their use of the language. After a while I've even been able to read facebook posts without editing, except once in a while being outraged at what someone says it's easy to flash on some flagrant misuse of the language just to add to the ridicule such people so richly deserve.
Along with spelling and grammar and just as important is the over use of words and phrases including clichés. Often such usage will insinuate its way into a whole  country of writers especially since the advent of the Internet. One day at a newspaper where I worked a reporter used the word "roughly" when referring to an inexact measure, as in "the car weighed roughly 1,200 pounds." Within weeks every reporter at the paper was using "roughly." A couple that are particularly bothersome are "meet up" and "back in," both of which add an unnecessary word, as in " they had planned to meet up back in 1998.  First of all the verb is "meet,” not "meet up." Secondly "back in" is superfluous and redundant: "in 1998" means the same thing without sounding like a hillbilly; But all that is background,
A week or so ago I went to a memorial for a friend of mine who also was a copy editor for most of his adult life. He had quite an effect on my life because he was the fellow who would hire me back at the newspaper when I came in off the water or out of the woods so broke I had no idea where I would live or how I would eat. He did that four times.
I hadn't intended to speak at the memorial; I had never done it before and I am quite uncomfortable talking with two people at once, let alone a roomful. But an idea had been floating around in my head and when the microphone was passed close to me I took a deep breath and grabbed it. I opened with something like this: "As I look around this room, I see several people Jim hired over the years. Well, I hold the record; he hired me four times." There is a fine line between lightening the atmosphere in a mostly serious situation  and bad taste but when people laughed comfortably, it felt like I was on solid ground. I went through a brief recollection of my interactions with him, emphasizing all that he had done for me over the years. Then I asked how many people in the room were writers; and how many were editors. A few hands raised to each. I pointed out that each of us had probably lost someone over the years and that memories of those people tended to pop into mind at odd times. 
Then I said something like this. I am going to give you something to remember Jim by. From now on, every time you go to write or encounter in something you are editing, the word "iconic," stop and reflect for a moment and ask yourself "what would Jim do?" Then leave it out.
Again it got a comfortable laugh and his wife even smiled at me, so I assumed I hadn't stepped over that line and sat down.
Since then two people who were there brought up "iconic" when we were talking, and I am guessing most of them will feel a twinge when they see the word and maybe in memorializing my friend I have managed in a small way to begin the process to take an overused and misused word out of the national syntax.
And, what's the irony? That  isn't a typo in the headline. Perhaps in making my friend a reminder to people every time they see the word "iconic," I may have established an iconic relationship between Jim and the word.


Influence, a double-edged sword

September 17, 2017
This came up as a conversation on facebook today. A peek into the past. Seems like half the influences in life are the ones you have to overcome rather than ones that help you along.
Originally published by The Adult Side of Tumbler

Tim Jones In both my junior and senior years I was told I could not join the creative writing class.

Jan Williams Simone Don't you wish you could go back in time and bring one of your books to class? Or articles? Or your blog? Or your newspaper work? Etc.

Tim Jones As far as I know I am the only one from that class who has had anything published, except for one fellow who may have published some music.

Lara Simone Bhasin The American public school system is not a monolith. It is quite diverse and will function better if it is allowed to stay that way, rather than being overly controlled by the federal government.

Jan Williams Simone I agree but this is about BAD TEACHERS. Not sure what the solution is...

Lara Simone Bhasin Okay well I was responding to the last line of the post

Tim Jones My complaint is more with guidance counselors. I showed something I had written to the teacher of that creative writing class and he said I should be in there. No one ever did anything about it, though.

Jan Williams Simone You saw what I wrote about my brother after he skipped a grade? That was a problem with the teacher. The only solution I can think of is for parents to intervene on their kids' behalf.

Tim Jones The problem there was bigger than one writing class and neither I nor my parents realized what was wrong until almost graduation. I had changed schools between freshman and sophomore years and never got very high grades. As a result I was put into a put into a program one level short of vocational. Late in my senior year when the national test scores started coming in, the guidance counselor called me into his office and essentially blamed me for not telling him I was intelligent.

Tim Jones Part of the problem in the 50s was when the Russians put up Sputnik it scared the hell out of people and all the emphasis was put on science and math for a few years.
Jan Williams Simone Just because science and math were being emphasized doesn't explain why YOU could not be in creative writing. Seems like pure incompetence to me.

Tim Jones Overall the humanities were discouraged

Jan Williams Simone That reversed when I was in high school. In fact, I was in my high school's first humanities class, which was for only a select group of us, chosen by the teaching team (English and social studies).

Tim Jones That was the era of the only student revolution in American history and you had them scared lol.

Jan Williams Simone The previous class fought for it but they didn't get to participate. Other people always did the fighting for me, LOL. Including my brother....

Tim Jones I can only hope his experience with me taught that guidance counselor a lesson and took more time with other kids who came along.

Jan Williams Simone That is a sad story.

Tim Jones Well, you can't let the past rule your life and I am sure I'm not the only one who faced discouragement for seeking an artistic life. I was able to overcome it for the most part.


This whole exchange may seem a little self-serving, like oh poor me, but I guess all experience leads you where you eventually arrive or at least pass through. I can't blame my lack of production on this for sure, except in this sense. This kind of discouraging influence from several directions, including the school, my family and almost everyone else in my life, stalled me for a while and I never really got going writing until several years later, losing what for many writers are the most productive years, if not for actual publications, for learning the craft and, too, experiencing what you want to write about. I finally got to the experiencing and eventually writing but I always thought I came to it late. So it goes.

More about the writing life


OK, I lied

Pelicans? Really?

When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth. Kurt Vonnegut

Thoughts on Mother’s Day, I’m just sayin’


May 14, 2010
 All right. It is or should be the goal of every artist to be original. How many actually succeed? The word derivative probably wouldn't exist, at least in that context, if many did. For a writer to be original, well if you think you are, don't read Shakespeare, because just about everything written about since, was written by him first.

My father once told me there were only 39 basic plots. A few years later I figured that one out: That's how many shows there were in a television season at the time. Does that mean now there are only 20 plots? If it is indeed finite, I would say it is the number of plays Shakespeare wrote, whatever that number is. But, of course it is infinite, not challenged much these days, but infinite nonetheless. I recall once saying something original. We had had a volcano eruption. I was staying with friend and for a reason I cannot recall at the moment I had my huge Weber barbecue grill with me. I looked out the window and said to my friend, " Maybe I had better go out there and clear the volcano ash off my grill." Thinking about it, I doubt anybody else in the world had ever said that. Original, I believe.

With that in mind, now I am wondering if this is original. In many, many sitcoms, the main guy has a sidekick who is a little off, maybe a slob, maybe stupid, maybe conniving. Think Maynard G. Krebs, think Joey, there are many. So in the slob sort of sidekick format, tonight I was talking with my niece on line about my daughter's wedding plans and having some frozen fried chicken that I managed to overcook so the breading was crispy. It was the Banquet variety which my son and I call mystery chicken because many of the pieces don't look like they came from any chicken we have ever seen.

So here I am alone in my little bachelor house, chatting online, nibbling on mystery chicken and watching a "Bones" rerun on TV. What I wasn't watching was where all the little crispy crumbs of chicken were falling. Now most people would probably use a napkin to clean them up, right? I DID have a napkin in my lap but it didn't do much good. What does the slobby sidekick do? Not sure. What I did was reach for my Dyson industrial grade hand vacuum cleaner. End of problem, though I probably could have used a different accessory that wouldn't have sucked my shirt in several times. This might be original. I am pretty sure Shakespeare didn't write about it, although I will bet that some king or Roman in his writing did something unusual to rid himself of food residue. It does seem an effective way to deal with the problem though I am pretty sure I will not be taking the Dyson to my daughter's wedding dinner. (Although the slob sidekick in the sitcom might... it would be the kicker at the end at the main guy's wedding, the last thing you see before the fadeout is him pulling out his trusty Dyson to pick up a spill on the floor, or table favors, or the groom's tie, or picking the wallet out of a rich uncle's pocket, or...)

So, for now, at the very least I am claiming originality. Now the work begins to expand it into an entirely new plot. Believe me, this is not a breath-holding situation.

Addendum: This is embarrassing. For fun I looked it up. Shakespeare wrote 38 plays that survive. Could my father have been right? Just one number off? I am sticking with the number of shows in a TV season. Or, and this might be intriguing, is there one plot out there Shakespeare didn't write? Like maybe that thirtieth song of Robert Johnson's?

Conversations with Patricia: Part Deux

October 8, 2010
Settling back down to write. Trip was good until the weather turned dreadful and I caught a cold. Expensive way to watch TV: pay for a hotel in another country. But drugs are good...xx PM
That's good to know there are good drugs in Ireland, I will keep that in mind.--tj
The drugs came with us. Codeine. Stops the coughing, and most thought. Also makes everything glitter prettily.
I could use a glitter view of life... the view was tempered some when the lady of my dreams started wearing meat.
Yes, the meat dress was...interesting. It looked better than I expected it to, though, I must confess. I'm struggling to get back into writing after weeks away. You know, writing is hard....
Hard, really? I heard you artists lived on inspiration and literature just flows from your fingers when the mood strikes
Hahahahahahahaha It takes me days to get into writing when I've been away. I feel all squirrelly. Have been reading PalinGates for inspiration. Have changed a few words here and there but feel like I don't remember how to write. Y'know??
OH btw speaking of struggling with writing, I have been invited into a writing project and I am having a crisis of confidence wondering if I can actually do it. Some Iditarod people want to do a coffee table book of the first 10 years. One nice thing about it is that two of the musher from that era demanded that I be included and several others agreed. Honestly I just don't know if I have it any more to write for publication. (AND, honest, that was not a cheap hint for you to tell me how great I am) I really am very insecure about it.
I won't take up your cheap hint....I'll answer seriously. Writing really is hard, and self-exposing even when we don't seem to be writing about ourselves. That's what people don't really realize, the level of skinlessness it takes to write about anything at all. Once upon a time, I thought it got easier. Now I think it gets harder. I have taken to saying that I don't like writing, I like having written. And I do like having written. But man, the writing part is so darned painful...The only thing worse than writing is not writing, though. You'll feel bad either way, so I'd say, write the book and feel bad that way, rather than feeling bad about NOT writing it., Pretty morbid, huh.
For comments about not remembering how to write, see previous message. Over years of writing, I recall maybe an hour of pure inspiration. I also remember a morning where I took seven showers rather than let my mind get cluttered with life stuff and interfere with what I was unable to write
Seven showers. Now that is some record. I, for one, prefer cleaning house as a way of avoiding writing. I have even painted walls rather than writing. My house is always very clean when I am avoiding writing. Is there something about cleanliness and writing-avoidance here?????
Ha ha I don't think it is cleanliness as much as mindlessness. Remember Mary Tyler Moore always rearranged her cupboards when she was upset? So in the area of avoidance your have a clean house, I have a clean white raisin of a body.
You know what, Patricia, that is some of the best advice about writing I think I have ever seen anyone give. Although I am not totally enamored with what I have written. I have always felt I never cracked through my own mental barrier to that lucid insightful masterpiece I feel is lurking in there somewhere. It is like that blog comment some time ago about when did I start to "used to be a writer." And, I do recall moments of inspiration that were absolutely wonderful. I can think of only one other experience when I felt more alive and fulfilled. The self exposing got to me recently and I turned off my blog. When it got to 1,000 hits (I am sure you have more than that on your web page), I suddenly felt overexposed. I had just started that blog as an outlet for what little writing I have been doing lately, never intending for it to be widely read. I never even told many people about it. Mostly it was just for me. But, my view of the world isn't everybody's and when people started making judgments about me based on some spouting off on the blog I kind of panicked. The final thing was about the meat dress when my sister posted on facebook "I thought he just bought a new suit." Oh dear. I don't want some people reading what I think., On your words I will give the Iditarod book a try.
I'm glad I can help a bit. Only another writer friend can understand. I have SO MUCH trouble with the blog stuff and the FB stuff and all. Having the secret FB page helped; I feel I can be a bit honest there, not thinking about the writer-persona. (Personna? Perssona? How the @#$#$ do you spell that?) 

I don't have a counter on my web page at all...I don't want to know. I have occasionally googled myself, looking for something I know is out there--and found weird reviews of my work and gotten freaked out beyond words. (Did I ever tell you there was a brief right-wing campaign against me for working at a Catholic school but writing about goddesses?) 

I am sure one reason I hate Sarah Palin so much is that she WANTS exposure, and I hate it.
Some days I think I need a serious psychiatrist. But I have never gone because I think the psychoses are what I draw from to write.
Who was it who said he didn't want to see a therapist because, if his demons went away, his angels might go to? Was that Rilke? For me, I someday hope to be OUT of therapy....xx PM

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Interesting quotations

· " “Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” — Ernest Hemingway

When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth. Kurt Vonnegut

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” Stephen King

The thing about ignornance is, you don't have to remain ignorant. — me again"

Never debate with someone who gets ink by the barrel" — George Hayes, former Alaska Attorney General who died recently

My dear Mr. Frost: two roads never diverge in a yellow wood. Three roads meet there. — @Shakespeareon Twitter

"The mark of a great shiphandler is never getting into situations that require great shiphandling," Adm. Ernest King, USN

Me: Does the restaurant have cute waitresses?

My friend Gail: All waitresses are cute when you're hungry.

I'm not a writer, but sometimes I push around words to see what happens. – Scott Berry

“The rivers of Alaska are strewn with the bones of men who made but one mistake” - Fred McGarry, a Nushagak Trapper

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stared at walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. – Meg Chittenden

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. – Franz Kafka

We are all immortal until the one day we are not. – me again

If the muse is late, start without her – Peter S. Beagle

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

If you are looking for an experience that will temper your vanity, this is it. There's no one to impress when you're alone on the trap line. – Michael Carey quoting his father's journal

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums of money to get rid of. – Shirley Hazzard

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence -- Bertrand Russell

You know that I always just wanted to have a small ship to take stuff from a place that had a lot of that stuff to a place that did not have a lot of that stuff and so prosper.—Jackie Faber, “The Wake of the Lorelei Lee”

If you attack the arguer instead of the argument, you lose both

If an insurance company won’t pay for damages caused by an “act of God,” shouldn’t it then have to prove the existence of God? – I said that

I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial. – Eugene O’Neill

German General to Swiss General: “You have only 500,000 men in your army; what would you do if I invaded with 1 million men?”

Swiss General: “Well, I suppose every one of my soldiers would need to fire twice.”

Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.—Gloria Steinem

Exceed your bandwidth—sign on the wall of the maintenance shop at the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

One thing I do know, if you keep at it, you usually wind up getting something done.—Patricia Monaghan

Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world.—Brett Arends

It is a very simple mind that only knows how to spell a word one way.—Andrew Jackson

3:30 is too late or too early to do anything—Rene Descartes

Everything is okay when it’s 50-below as long as everything is okay. – an Alaskan in Tom Walker’s “The Seventymile Kid”

You can have your own opinion but you can’t have your own science.—commenter arguing on a story about polar bears and global warming

He looks at three ex wives as a good start—TV police drama

Talkeetna: A friendly little drinking town with a climbing problem.—a handmade bumper sticker

“You’re either into the wall or into the show”—Marco Andretti on giving it all to qualify last at the 2011 Indy 500

Makeup is not for the faint of heart—the makeup guerrilla

“I’m going to relax in a very adult manner.”—Danica Patrick after sweating it out and qualifying half an hour before Andretti

“Asking Congress to come back is like asking a mugger to come back because he forgot your wallet.”—a roundtable participant on Fox of all places

As Republicans go further back in the conception process to define when life actually begins, I am beginning to think the eventual definition will be life begins in the beer I was drinking when I met her.—me again

Hunting is a “critical element for the long-term conservation of wood bison.”—a state department of Fish and Game official explaining why the state would not go along with a federal plan to reintroduce wood bison in Alaska because the agreement did not specifically allow hunting

Each day do something that won’t compute – anon

I can’t belive I still have to protest this shit – a sign carriend by an elderly woman at an Occupy demonstration

Life should be a little nuts or else it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together—Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in “Rumor has it”

You’re just a wanker whipping up fear —Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio announcer

Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are—Michelle Obama

Things sports announcers say

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

"He's got to have the lead if he's going to win this race."

"Kansas has always had the ability to score with the basketball."

"NFL to put computer chips in balls." Oh, that's gotta hurt.

"Now that you're in the finals you have to run the race that's going to get you on the podium."

"It's very important for both sides that they stay on their feet."

This is why you get to hate sportscasters. Kansas beats Texas for the first time since 1938. So the pundits open their segment with the question "let's talk about what went wrong." Wrong? Kansas WON a football game! That's what went RIGHT!

"I brought out the thermostat to show you how cold it is here." Points to a thermometer reading zero in Minneapolis.

"It's tough to win on the road when you turn the ball over." Oh, really? Like you can do all right if you turn the ball over playing at home?

Cliches so imbedded in sportscasters' minds they can't help themselves: "Minnesota fell from the ranks of the undefeated today." What ranks? They were the only undefeated team left.

A good one: A 5'10" player went up and caught a pass off a defensive back over six feet tall. The quote? "He's got some hops."

Best homonym of the day so far: "It's all tied. Alabama 34, Kentucky 3." Oh, Tide.

"Steve Hooker commentates on his Olympic pole vault gold medal." When "comments" just won't do.

"He's certainly capable of the top ten, maybe even higher than that."

"Atlanta is capable of doing what they're doing."

"Biyombo, one of seven kids from the Republic of Congo." In the NBA? In America? In his whole country?

"You can't come out and be aggressive but you can't come out and be unaggressive."

"They're gonna be in every game they play!"

"First you have to get two strikes on the hitter before you get the strikeout."

"The game ended in the final seconds." You have to wonder when the others ended or are they still going on?

How is a team down by one touchdown before the half "totally demoralized?"

"If they score runs they will win."

"I think the matchup is what it is"

After a play a Houston defender was on his knees, his head on the ground and his hand underneath him appeared to clutch a very sensitive part of the male anatomy. He rolled onto his back and quickly removed his hand. (Remember the old Cosby routine "you cannot touch certain parts of your body?") Finally they helped the guy to the sideline and then the replay was shown. In it the guy clearly took a hard knee between his thighs. As this was being shown, one of the announcers says, "It looks like he hurt his shoulder." The other agrees and then they both talk about how serious a shoulder injury can be. Were we watching the same game?

"Somebody is going to be the quarterback or we're going to see a new quarterback."

"If you're gonna play running back in the SEC you're gonna take hits."

"That was a playmaker making a play."

Best headlines ever

Sister hits moose on way to visit sister who hit moose.

Man loses his testicles after attempting to smoke weed through a SCUBA tank

Church Mutual Insurance won't cover Church's flood damage because it's 'an act of God'

Homicide victims rarely talk to police

Meerkat Expert Attacked Monkey Handler Over Love Affair With Llama Keeper

GOP congressman opposes gun control because gay marriage leads to bestiality

Owner of killer bear chokes to death on sex toy

Support for legalizing pot hits all-time high

Give me all your money or my penguin will explode

How zombie worms have sex in whale bones

Crocodile steals zoo worker's lawn mower

Woman shot by oven while trying to cook waffles

Nude beach blowjob jet ski fight leads to wife's death

Woman stabs husband with squirrel for not buying beer Christmas Eve