With my hand on the wheel and my brain in neutral . . .

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The Straits of Liquidity

The other night, summertime, just after dark, in a light rain, I lazily rowed my dinghy out of the marina and toward my sailboat moored out about 50 yards.   The water dripping from my oar blades blended with the sleepy raindrops on the water, and as I stealthily passed the marina owner’s 102-foot motor yacht, from inside I could hear the old man’s voice and the chit-chat of his guests, including the recognizable hearty laughter of the barrel-chested bartender, a friend of mine. Gliding past the tall, steep, white hull of the yacht, I was reminded of the opening scene of the famous classic The Oddyoullsee, the epic voyage of Miklysses.

In case you don’t immediately recall the opening scene from reading the book in its entirety in high school, I’ll summarize it here for you. I’m sure my rendition will not be nearly as poetic as the original, but here goes:

The great voyage began with Miklysses rowing a tiny boat away from a small seafaring village and in to the sun setting on the sea. On shore, all the women waved farewell, wept, and wailed; all the men – the husbands, the boyfriends, the lonely but hopeful single men – gestured disgustingly, threw curses and rocks and insults, and then shouted with joy, clapped each other soundly around the shoulders, drank heroically, and celebrated better days to come. None of this fazed Miklysses: over the years, he had become quite accustomed to this sort of farewell. At each of his departures, the satisfied women and moon-eyed girls and the frustrated men, all behaved this same way, here, there, this year, last year . . . ad nauseum – ya, I think that’s the phrase.

Anyways, Miklysses rowed away into the falling night, less concerned with the inconsolable women and the relieved men on shore than the immediate dangers of the darkening water. Near the village, still relatively close to shore, there were the Water Snakes of Death, monstrous things that could tip a boat and swallow a man whole. Only their very young, still the size of finger-thick ropes just a foot or two long, would be seen during the day; the big ones hunted exclusively at night. Some brave but foolish men would use wine to lure them in to their vision, but that usually did not end well: it was best to keep your distance (from the Water Snakes of Death, not the wine.) A little farther out, there were the dreaded, massive, menacing Ducks of Death (in other surviving texts from ancient times, these are commonly referred to as Duhhhhhcks ovvvvvvv Deaeaeath.) He couldn’t see them, but he could hear, he could feel in his vibrating bones, the low grumbling roar of their of thunderous QUAAAACK.   By sound alone he judged their changing positions, adjusting his course this way and that, undetected and undeterred, snaking and sneaking his way through the frightful flock. Then, a bit further, were the Straits of Liquidity.

The Straits of Liquidity were not dangerous waters per se, but on the south side, cutting cleanly into the water, there was a sheer white cliff that towered high overhead, and there, high above the water, was the haunt of a giant.   The problem was that if he saw you passing the cliffs, he would invite you to visit. He would reach down from above to lift you up, and then he would give you copious amounts of exquisite honeymeade to slake your thirst. All of this was not particularly perilous in itself.   The giant – tall, strong, white-haired, and clear-eyed – was not very dangerous, that is, unless someone attempted to trick him or take advantage of him. Otherwise he was considered by all to be rather jovial and generous. The real problem was that he tended to take in a variety of orphaned goblins that hung about underfoot, eating his food and drinking his prime wine, mead, and ale. Some of those smiling goblins would refill your bull’s horn or mug until you were unaware that they were magically sucking the life force from your soul, literally taking time from the span of your life, one heartbeat at a time, to add to theirs. Horrid, horrid little beasts!

In the preceding years many times Miklysses had visited the dear old giant, and he considered him a friend. In what little ways he could, he repaid, or at least attempted to repay, the old giant’s benevolence. This night, though, he did not stop, could not stop to visit. He worked his rowboat through the Straits of Liquidity and out onto Decker Flats. Not stopping, though, on this particular night, might have been a mistake.

The Straits had been calm, nary even a wavelet, only ripples echoing from the now far-away mighty Ducks of Death. The Flats, though, out in the open, with tremendous fetch to form waves, waves made steep and tall by the shallow bottom, were, this night, much more than just a bit treacherous. Miklysses’s ocean-going boat Kala Nag was heavily anchored safe on the edge of the flats. The problem? It was far, far away on the other side of the flats!

Other, more fearful sailors would have waited for less threatening conditions, but Miklysses didn’t hesitate to point the bow of his tiny rowboat toward Kala Nag, his voyaging vessel, his home. Up one side of a random wave and down the other, the tiny boat heaving and yawing every which way the waves and wind could imagine, but with his oars cycling rhythmically despite the chaos, Miklysses held his course arrow straight. He had to aim upwind to allow for leeway, of course, but when he reached the stern of his stout voyaging vessel, he had to make only a single correcting stroke. And he accomplished this in the near blackness of the night!

Sensing the surge of a wave under his rowboat, he leaped into the near blackness, timing his jump as the rowboat rose while his already famous sailboat Kala Nug plummeted down into the wave’s trough nearby. In midair he flicked his wrist and snapped the tender’s painter into a solid cleat hitch on Kala Nag’s stern, securing the rowboat before he landed on deck. With a twist and a turn he vaulted himself – he did NOT trip and fall – through the split backstay, over the coaming, around the tiller, and into the cockpit. The boat was bouncing like a ball being batted around by anthropomorphic waves, but, I’m telling you, he did NOT trip and fall. He did not. He braced himself in a three-point ready stance, the position to be made famous many centuries later by Spiderman and other incredibly athletic superheroes. He did NOT trip and fall into the cockpit like a loose bag of broken sticks. He did NOT.

Once aboard the admirable sailing vessel Kala Nag, he looked about, checking her lines and state of readiness, surveying his realm. He did not weigh anchor and slip away, though: no, because he was a sailor’s sailor, because he was Miklysses, salty, seasoned, and prudent, he went below, took a nip of whiskey to ward off any evil spirits lurking nearby, then promptly fell asleep, wisely waiting until “first light” to begin his voyage and continue his adventure.

So, there you have it, a humble re-telling of the opening of The Oddyoullsee, a mere glimpse into the life of Miklysses. Not until two millennia had passed, not until the likes of Sir Walter Mitty and Commander McBragg, would the world see the likes of such a man.

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Helen Spring and the IBB

The Indie Book Boosters Club has a number of pretty good writers, but my favorite among them so far is Helen Spring.   I don’t believe she’ll take exception if I say that although her writing is not absolutely perfect or awe-inspiringly beautiful, it is certainly impressive!   When you read her books, you will wonder why she isn’t already more famous. You will think of other, more widely-known authors you’ve picked up and put down, and you will wonder why aren’t her books already overflowing out of airport kiosks?

From my review of her Strands of Gold:

I found myself reading it way past my bedtime and then going right back to it with my morning coffee.   Pretty quickly I realized that the author is a true storyteller: she pulls you in and makes you want to discover what happens next. It is apparent that she spent a lot of time imagining the characters and details of the story, impressive in its thoroughness, exactly enough to make it all feel quite real.

Repeatedly I thought of how, as a young reader many years ago, I would be absorbed into a novel and transported to a new world. On the surface this story is about a proper English woman in Singapore and Australia circa 1900, but the undercurrent is about timeless, universal ideas of integrity, loyalty, perspectives of truth, and more.   There’s a love story in here, too, and it’s more than just a popcorn romance tale: I’m recommending this book to my niece for the examples of strong-hearted women and what really matters in love.

It is apparent that the author is comfortable with her craft and her self-image as a novelist: the writing is not at all self-conscious or clumsy. Her use of dialogue is better than average, her plot and sub-plots are well-executed, and her characters are portrayed with all the complexities of real people. To top it off, because her heroes are such likeable people, she – the author who created them – is quite likeable, too.

Strands of Gold by Helen Spring

From my review of her The Chainmakers:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Helen Spring is a true storyteller!

99 percent of this book flows through your eyes and into your mind as easily and comfortably as the thoughts of a daydream. The author writes with enough skill that 99 percent of the time you read and believe the fiction as fact, like you’re the proverbial fly on the wall absorbing it all.

Her characters are distinct, complex, and layered with maturity as the story progresses. She has villains with redeeming graces and heroes with faults, and she portrays both in wholly believable fashion. She made me care about what happened to the characters not simply out of curiosity but because I LIKED them as if they were real people, my friends or acquaintances in real life. That’s a neat trick, and it is books like this one that fuel a reader’s desire to search out another good book. This is why I’ve been telling friends who like to read to give this author a try whether or not her books are in their favorite genre.

The Chainmakers by Helen Spring

So why am I posting this on my blog? Because that’s what we in the Indie Book Boosters Club do: we help other indie authors we respect and admire. Why?   Because as Sophocles said, “If we always helped one another, no one would need luck.”

Note: If you like her books, and especially if you agree that she deserves big success as an author, please go to Amazon (or Amazon.co.uk, or whichever branch you use) to post a review for her. Thank you!

PS – If you like a good read, or if you have friends who like a good read, please tell them about Helen Spring.  If you’re a fellow blogger here on WordPress, please repost this!  If you like the indie spirit, or if you’re an indie writer yourself, please repost this!  Woo-hoo!

How a Little Self-Interest Can Blossom into Something for the Greater Good

Selfishness and self-centeredness will result in losing friends on a regular basis, but self-interest is necessary for every human’s life. It’s simply taking care of yourself, and yes, you can raise yourself without putting others down. Sometimes, you act to promote your interests, and some magic happens, and your work furthers someone else’s interests. That, my friends, is fun!

Here’s a recent example: Sail Away Girl Nightwatch Blend Coffee.

Nightwatchblendcoffee300

When cookbook writer Elizabeth Aristeguieta (a.k.a. Sail Away Girl) collaborated with Nashville Roast, she had Julie Kukreja of Pen and Mouse Design House create a graphic for the coffee line. The coffee is good, but the graphic itself is good in its own right. It is so good that several people asked her to put the design on a T-shirt. So, here we have (a) the coffee roasting business, (b) Sail Away Girl’s business, and (c) the graphic artist’s business, and all of them – beside any of their other personal motivations – were focused on earning a little money. And then the magic happened.

Someone asked to raise money for a charity through the popularity of the graphic-emblazoned T-shirt. Next thing you know, AlmostHomeKids is benefiting through TeeSpring.com!

Night Watch coffee T shirt

I heartily doubt that any of the people receiving help from AlmostHomeKids ever spent even one moment thinking, “Right now, in the midst of the emotional turmoil surrounding my family crisis, how can I help my family by . . . oh, I don’t know, say, connecting a cookbook writer, a coffee roaster, a graphic artist, and T-shirt maker? Oh, and maybe a blogger to pass the word . . . ”

That’s the magic: you create what you can, and sometimes it comes together in ways you couldn’t have possibly forseen.

So, all you readers, go out and do something in your self-interest (like buying one of these T-shirts!) and help other people in the process!

Tears from a Rock

The Rock

The Rock

I recently saw a Yahoo article that was originally published in the June 27th issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine: “The Drive (and Despair) of The Rock: Dwayne Johnson on His Depression . . .

From the article: “Johnson has the ease and confidence to go with it. He projects a comfort level with success that makes you think things always have been this way and always will be. . . . Which makes it all the more surprising to learn this is the same guy who endured massive upheaval as a child; got into frequent trouble with the law as a teenager; was kicked out of his home at 14; and faced the end of everything he had dreamed about . . . sending him into a crippling tailspin of despair.”

About his depression (of which he has had 3 substantial episodes) The Rock said, “I didn’t want to do a thing . . . I didn’t want to go anywhere. I was crying constantly. Eventually you reach a point where you are all cried out.

I’ve always liked The Rock, but now I admire him.  Most Hollywood stars try to sweep their personal demons behind the curtains, and most men won’t let other people – even their close friends, much less the public – know that their emotions have laid them so low that they’ve cried and cried until they were “all cried out.”  So now, all the many boys and young men and all the women, too, who admire The Rock for his manly-man muscles can know that even iconic strong men can be waylaid by their feelings, and that serious depression can drop like an anvil on anyone, and there’s not a damned thing unmanly about it.

I dare you to go find Dwayne Johnson in some place where there aren’t any cameras and tell him that depression isn’t real and is “all in his head” and he’s a sissy-boy punk for crying and talking about his feelings.  I believe he’s a nice guy and would simply educate you, not hurt you, but go ahead, I dare you, go get in his face and tell him he’s a sissy-boy punk for being depressed, that it’s just a ploy for attention.  Go ahead.

 

You can read the full article at: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/drive-despair-rock-dwayne-johnson-712689?utm_expid=19303748-58.yUhA-zuPQGqZ-

Go Rob a Bank

Many times I’ve told my young adult niece and nephews to go rob a bank, and I sure hope they take me seriously.  Yes, seriously.  But not literally.

My previous post (My Tolerance for Drunks) slowly made me remember my exhortation to my family’s next generation.  I’ve told them to look at the mistakes I’ve made in my life, the mistakes their mother and father have made, the mistakes other people in their lives have made, and then to go out and make new mistakes.

I’ve urged them to understand that mistakes truly are “learning experiences”, that they’re an unavoidable part of actually living a life, and that they’re not to be ashamed of them as long as their intent was good and not merely careless.   But, if you look at the lives of our family and some friends, you can see that except for the characters and the settings and the details, some of the stories are pretty much the same.   So why relive those stories when there are so many other “stupid”, fun, and colorful things to do? Go out and make new mistakes! Go out and break new ground, go out and make grand follies, go out and make a whopper, a doozie, a humdinger, a ripsnorter of a mistake! Give your grandkids something to talk about! Go out and rob a bank – no one we know has done that yet!

I say it as a joke, and they know that.  If I lectured them they wouldn’t listen or wouldn’t remember; if I told them to read volumes on life management skills, they probably wouldn’t get around to it until their 30’s.  So when we talk about college and careers and relationships and paths through life, somewhere in there I remind them to go rob a bank.  Hopefully the phrase will become shorthand for them: I like to imagine them someday thinking about risking a business startup or moving to Thailand or risking a business startup in Thailand or whatever, and telling their spouses, “Honey, I think it’s time we go out and rob a bank!”

  

2014, Mik Hetu, author of Napism.Info (for people who take their naps “religiously”)

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