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My Heart Diminished

I got word yesterday from my sister that Mom is in the hospital again. She went to the hospital emergency room in the middle of the night Friday night. There they found concerning enzymes in her bloodwork.

Today I got another call. She was transferred to the cardiology unit in Mason City in the middle of the night last night.

They are going to go in with a camera and look around her heart for whatever blockages are causing the troubles and putting in stints wherever they are needed.

A year ago my father fell ill. He had a stroke caused by Parkinson’s Disease last July. He died in November on my birthday.

I know what to expect. She will not pass away at this time. But she is 86. She lost the man she was married to for over 60 years. I have other relatives who died shortly after losing their spouse, their one true love. I have to be prepared.

And, of course, a little bit of me will die too. We are not immortal. But our lives were good lives, full of love, and we will have lost nothing by reaching the end. It is not the destination. It is the journey that is all-important.

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Other Folks’ Artwork

There are many, many things I appreciate about other people’s artwork. It is not all a matter of envy or a desire to copy what they’ve done, stealing their techniques and insights for myself, though there is some of that. Look at the patterns Hergé uses to portray fish and undersea plants. I have shamelessly copied both. But it is more than just pen-and-ink burglary.

I like to be dazzled. I look for things other artists have done that pluck out sweet-sad melodies on the heartstrings of my of my artistically saturated soul. I look for things like the color blue in the art of Maxfield Parrish.

I love the mesmerizing surrealism of Salvador Dali.

I am fascinated by William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s ability to create photo-realistic and creamy-perfect nudes.

Basil Wolverton’s comic grotesqueries leave me stunned but laughing.

The dramatic lighting effects employed by Greg Hildebrandt slay me with beauty. (Though not literally. I am not bleeding and dying from looking at this picture, merely metaphorically cut to the heart.)

I even study closely movie-poster portraits like Bogart and Bergman in this Casablanca classic poster.

I could show you so many more art pieces that I dearly love to look at. But I will end with a very special artist.

This is the work of my daughter, Mina “the Princess” Beyer. Remember that name. She’s better than I am.

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Norman Rockwell

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When I was a boy in the 1960’s I looked forward to Grandma Aldrich’s Saturday Evening Post arriving at the end of her farm lane in the mailbox.  We were at Grandpa and Grandma’s farm north of town almost every day.  I often went to get the mail.  This one magazine was supremely important to me, not because I liked to read the articles, that was too much like school, but because of the wonderful pictures on the cover.  Norman Rockwell had established himself by that time as THE cover artist.  He wasn’t on every single issue, but he was on most.  And the world inside his paintings was filled with the kind of gentle humor, beautiful color, and wisdom tempered by love that I wanted to imitate.  I wanted to paint just like that… and if I couldn’t, then I would find a way to tell stories in words the same way I saw them in his oils.  I could gush more about the humble painter from New England, but I think it would serve my love of his work more just to show you what I mean;

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That Silly Old Writer, Me!

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I was invited to take part in the “My Writing Process” blog tour by a fellow young adult fiction writer, Stuart West.  (https://stuartrwest.blogspot.com)  Stuart is the author of the Tex, the Witch Boy series of paranormal YA thrillers.  He is something of a mentor to me, and easily the best published author I am personally acquainted with.  Before you take me seriously, you should definitely check out his blog.

For this little exercise, I have to answer four questions, then invite three other authors to do the same.  I’m a little slow on getting others to agree to this plan, but I am shameless when it comes to opportunities to talk about my own writing.  I will post the three authors later this week, after I am done begging and bribing.  

Step 1: Acknowledge the person and the blog site that invited you to take part.

As you can see, I’ve done that above, but here is the second mention; Stuart R. West .  (https://stuartrwest.blogspot.com

Step 2: Answer four questions about your writing process.
1)      What am I working on?
2)       How does my work differ from others of its genre?
3)       Why do I write what I do?
4)       How does your writing process work?

  1. What I am working on now is a story that is sequel-requel-prequel to my novel Catch a Falling Star.  That means that it uses characters from that novel, a bunch of new ones, and some from other stories of mine as well to tell what happened before that novel, during that novel, and after that novel.  Silly plan!  Believe me, I realize that while sweating over re-quel details (a phrase that here means a retelling of parts of that novel – I do also realize I stole this particular conceit from Lemony Snicket).  The book will be called The Bicycle Wheel Genius about a scientist who is a super-genius inventor trying to live incognito in a little Iowa farm town after leaving government service.  He is trying to live down a family tragedy while at the same time befriending the boy next door, avoiding government agents and assassin robots, dealing with an alien invasion by invisible alien frog people,  juggling time travelers, creating rabbit-men, and engineering old-fashioned high-wheel bicycles. 
  2. How does my work differ?  You have to ask?  Unlike all the careful plotters, step-by-step writing crafters, and picky editor types out there, I put words and ideas in a blender, mix on the “Are you insane?” setting, and then let it all come pouring out into pages and scenes and chapters (although I call them cantos for some bizarre reason).  I also have to admit that I base a lot of my characters on real people that I either grew up with in Iowa, or met over my thirty plus years as a mostly middle school teacher.  And these stories have percolated in my head for twenty to thirty years.  Did I mention already that I am not a person who thinks in straight lines?  You can tell by the shifts, reverses, and loopty-loops in this paragraph that much of what I call humor comes from my purple paisley prose (a phrase which here means overly ornate, wordy, and down-right convoluted sentences and paragraphs).  (Thanks again, Lemony).
  3. Why do I write it?  Let me think.  Could it be because teaching middle school students for too long leads to insanity, and if the insane are going to be useful in society, they have to do something at least mildly interesting for people who live in the real world?  I mean, if I just sit in a room all day drooling and counting and re-counting my Pez dispenser collection, that wouldn’t be entirely helpful.   Writing honors all the people I have known, alive and now departed, who touched my life and made a difference to my heart.  It also helps me make sense of things that have happened to me over time and shaped me as person… hopefully a person you might like to get to know.  And you can know a person through their writing long after they are personally worm food.  How could I live without Mark Twain or Charles Dickens in my life, and both were dead long before I was born?  And I know you’re going to ask yourself what makes me think that other people couldn’t live their lives better without knowing me?  But don’t ask.  I have developed a certain amount of wisdom over the course of my life, and I know I really don’t want an answer to that question.
  4. How does my writing process work?  I have taught the writing process in the classroom so many times, that the only answer I am still sane enough to give is that everyone’s process is entirely different.  I can, however, drop an insight or two on you.  First of all, everything I have ever written is still a part of what I call Prewriting… with a capital P.  Everything ever written can be rewritten and improved.  Secondly, it is important to re-read what you write.  I hate typos and mistakes in what is supposed to be “finished” writing.  It is the reason I hate the entire experience of my first published novel, Aeroquest.    That writing will never be okay until I have a chance to re-write it and re-tell it and re-everything it.  Dang it.  Thirdly, you must carefully consider who to allow to have input on your rough draft and re-worked copies.  Even some professional editors don’t bother to try to see things in a way that reflects the fact that they care about what you have written.  You need someone on your side to share it, and love it, and cherish it the way you do.  Only that person will give you input that is worth listening to.  Fourthly, if you reach fourthly your list is too dang long.  And finally, publish it.  Share it.  Don’t put it away in a drawer for the mice and spiders to read when you are long gone. 

So, Stuart, how did I do?  I hope at least it proves what you have known all along.  That Mickey guy writes like his hair is on fire and his pants are unraveling… in front of girls.

(Three writers to be named later will take up this same blog tour… I hope.)

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Synesthesia (Part Two; The Color of Music)

Okay, so on the synesthesia tests I didn’t score as a synesthete on the music/color test.  But I was extremely synesthetic on the tests for color/months/days of the week.  I was a little over the mark on letter/number/colors synesthesia too, but it was more a problem with manipulating the color-selector device when I don’t have a mouse to use on my laptop.  The test for music did not test the way I see colors with music.  They wanted me to respond to what color each individual note seemed to be, and that isn’t even close to the way I experience it.  For me, the perfect description of how synesthesia works for me is Bach’s Tocata and Fugue in D minor as it is depicted in Fantasia.

I was shocked when I first saw it.  The colors are wrong for this piece, but the visual experience is almost exactly how I experience music, especially wordless instrumental music.  The only problem with this piece is that the overall color schemes are wrong.  But this comes about because every synesthete sees the colors differently.  And I have no doubt that at least one of the artists who created this had synesthesia.  If there were more reds, yellows, and magenta in the opening and more indigo contrasted with silver later, this interpretation would be perfect.

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Music synesthetically works in two directions for me.  The picture above, called The Wings of Imagination, makes me think of La Mer by Claude Debussy.

If you listen to the piece, don’t look at the YouTube illustration, look at my picture if you want to see the music the way I do.  The following song, Don’t Worry, Be Happy, is a multicolored song that I can best express with the colors in the picture I call Rainbow Peacock.

Rainbow peacock

The full range of primary colors together in one picture, or one song, always means completeness, fullness, and happiness to me.  If there is absence of one or more of the basic colors from the color wheel, the mood and emotion present in the song or picture is altered to something other than happiness.  The Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky goes from the indigo and navy blue of fear and confusion to instances of angry red and feverish orange.  It would look something like this in the theater of my imagination;

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And one of my favorite instrumental pieces of all times, Prelude to the Afternoon of the Faun by Claude Debussy, is full of melancholy and sexual tension, deeply felt vibrations in the depths of my stomach, and would look like my picture Sleeping Beauty with its teal and blue melancholia juxtaposed with candle-lit yellows and wood brown mixed feelings of joy and anxiety.

Beauty

Now, if you have waded through all of this goofy color-and-music analysis from a source whose sanity is questionable at best, you probably have no earthly idea what any of it has to do with anything.  But if you have that aha!-moment and see it all clearly too, then I suspect you probably are a synesthete too.  Poor you.  It is not a treatable condition.  But it is also not a burden.  Learn to enjoy it.  It resonates in your very soul.

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Synesthesia (Part One; French Blue Monday)

This link will help you understand Synesthesia

Francois spotlight

Yes, Mondays are blue.  Specifically French blue.  Every day of the week has its own color.  Sunday is golden yellow, Tuesday is a yellow-ochre,  Wednesday is indigo blue and sometimes changes to blue violet, Thursday is burnt orange, and Friday is solid wood brown, and of course Saturday is rich pure red while Mondays are not just any blue… they are French blue.  I learned the names of these colors from being a painter and using oil paints.  I experience these colors every week and they help me maintain the calendar in my stupid old head.  I began to realize when I first heard about the colors of the wind in the Disney movie Pocahontas that there was something to this everyday thing, something different in the way I see the world.  I have in the last few years learned that this condition has a name.  It is called synesthesia.

 

 

It has been suggested to me by more than a few people that I don’t really perceive the world the same way “normal people do”.  When I was growing up, and going to school, I never had trouble remembering to capitalize the first word in a sentence.  I did however, have a great deal of difficulty with capital letters on nouns.  Looking back on that difficulty now, I can say without a doubt that I was having trouble not because I didn’t know the difference between proper nouns and common nouns.  It was because things like the word “dog” or “chair” had to begin with the right color.  Dogs are blue when you are talking about the color of the letters in the word.  But small “d” is blue-green, not true blue.  It doesn’t fit as well as the dark blue capital “D”.  And chairs are orange-red when you write them down, while the small “c” appears light green by itself.

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Sundays are Sun-days, and that’s why they are golden yellow.

I am told that most synesthetes are taken by surprise when they learn that they are seeing things differently than other people do.  I certainly was.  I always got funny looks whenever I described Thursdays as orange, or the month of November as sky blue.  My classmates in 4th grade thought I was nuts… of course, it wasn’t just for the orange Thursdays thing.  I was not a normal kid in any real sense of the word.  I always suspected that if I could look at the world through other people’s eyes, I would probably see the color green as what I called red, or that glowing halo that surrounded things when organ music played in the Methodist church would no longer be there.  But once I learned how synesthesia works I knew it was true.   The visual part of the brain can be scanned to show activity, and lights up on the scanner as if the brain is seeing bright colors when Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is being played while the subject of the scan is actually blindfolded.  I am told that synesthesia is more common in left-handed girls.  My daughter, the Princess, tells me that she also sees color on printed numbers and letters.  She is left handed and also gifted at drawing.  I suspect she inherited the synesthesia from me.

Creativity

Synesthesia probably explains what this nonsense is all about.

Now, I acknowledge the fact that my synesthesia is self-diagnosed and not proven by any of the methods the articles I have read about the condition talked about.  But my personal experiences always seem to fall in line with descriptions of letter/number/color combinations and music/color combinations that I have read about.  And if I do have it, it is not the same as any of my six incurable diseases.  It is not a bad condition to have.  In an artistic sense, it might actually be a good thing.  I could use some good for a change.  Good doesn’t usually come from weirdness… not my weirdness, anyway.  (Oh, and capital “G” is lime green… as is the word Goodness).

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Mother’s Box of Photos

Having returned to my mother’s house for a week, I got the added benefit of being able to see and copy old photos from the late 50’s and 60’s

This first one is a picture of my sister, two years younger than me.

This is my Grandfather, Ray Aldrich, holding Jiggs. the Boston terrier.
And this is a picture of Nancy and Me with Great Grandpa Milo Raymond.

I copied more than 40 pictures that I can make into posts when I have time.

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Comic-Book Variety

One of the benefits of being home in Iowa is that, here, I am not the only comic-book and fantasy-story lover in the family, Here other family members care about Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and the Marvel Universe. Here the sister I didn’t get to see bought the Black Widow movie and lets anybody at Mom’s house access her Disney+ account.

I got to watch Black Widow, the last episode of Loki, and the next episode of Star Wars: Bad Batch in spite of tornadoes in Iowa, loss of internet connection, and Mom’s trips to the Emergency Room.

I have now seen all the Marvel Movies and all the Marvel TV series that have been produced by now, including WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki.

But this is not any sort of movie or TV review. I wouldn’t want to risk spoiling anything.

No, I want to talk about the importance of variety to good story-telling.

You see, I think that is the key to the MCU being so superior to all other superhero movies. And I want to show how that can apply to my own storytelling.

WandaVision was unique because it was a magical mystery story embedded in a series of old TV sitcoms. It used elements of the Dick Van Dyke Show, the Brady Bunch, Bewitched, Malcolm in the Middle, and Modern Family. A grieving witch gifted with chaos magic is living in a world she recreated from her childhood obsession with sitcom DVDs.

Black Widow is an action/adventure spy movie that mimics classic James Bond films. It has artfully been fitted in between Captain America; Civil War and Avengers; Infinity War.

And Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a classic buddy-cop movie where both the detectives, the military police, and the villains have super-soldier-serum-derived super-powers.

And, of course, Loki is like a Doctor Who adventure that travels back and forth through time and space.. altering reality as it goes.

So, the MCU is using a format of interconnecting stories with varied formats, themes, and strategies. This I am trying to do with my own novels. For instance, the central metaphor of Snow Babies is a quilt where each canto is a mini-story quilt block, and all of them are stitched together to make a warm blanket of a tale about a blizzard. The Baby Werewolf is a comedy-horror story told by three first-person narrators. Sing Sad Songs is also a story told by three narrators, but some of the narrative occurs while characters are dreaming. And shared dreamscapes and dream-stories help determine the outcome of the tale. All of my stories share characters, settings, and events.

So, I firmly believe the story-telling experience is greatly enhanced by interconnected variety in the stories themselves.

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The Magic Window

This is the portal through which every adventure begins. The front porch window at Grandma’s house.

As a boy, it was a doorway. A window for seeing daydreams. Looking at longings. And future plans. I left through the porch for college. And the journey to Texas. What my life would become.

Now it is the portal that welcomes my return. Welcome back to family, to sanctuary, and rest.

I am tired at 64.

Retired.

But also satisfied.

And finally home again.

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Quick and Easy

What works best when the internet is constantly losing the signal is to make the post as simple as possible. So here’s a picture I love to show off.

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