Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Open Letter to the Postmaster of the United States

i was not planning to write this blog, but the local news was upsetting. For several days now there has been talk that the processing plant for the USPS in Missoula may be closed, and its operations taklen over by the plant in Spokaine. This is all part of the Postalk Service's efforts to streamline -- they want to cut processing plants in half, from 500 to 250. In terms iof cost, this may be effective: they estimate that the closure in Missoula will save a million dollars a year. This could mean a quarter billion dollars a year nationally, if each closed plant represents the same savings.

All well and good.

But jobs will be lost, first and foremost. At least six in Missoula, not counting anyone who will be offered a transfer but cannot or will not accept it. It also means more delay in the mail -- instead of the traditional and much bragged about ability to deliver overnight within yoiur own zip code prefix (first three numbers, like 599 in my case), this will mean two- to three-day delivery for first class mail. In other words, service to postal customers will be worse. Meanwhile, the price of postage goes up another penny next year. So once again we get to pay more so we get to have less.

Is this any way to run a competitive business? I don't think so. If the postal service is in direct competition with the internet, where people can shop, transact, bank, track and even write almost instantly, then how can a busiess stay in business by cutting services? Instead, you invest. You create ways to increrase service. You offer more services, better, cheraper, more efficiently. But the way the opost office is structured, innovation is difficulkt to come by, and when it does come, even harder to install in time to be useful before it becomnes obsolete. I see the Post Office as a dying institution that is not willing to live. I know its employees do not feel that way, but it appears that Congress does.

The Post Office remains the only independent business that I know of that is not independent of the whims of Congress. And it looks to me that Congressmen throughout both houses would like to see the service privatized or eliminated altogether. If that happens, packages will get delivered by others, but woe to any American who does not have access to the net.

I know there still are a few out there somewhere.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Last Blog of November

My dear friends and followers,

I anticipate that this will be my last blog for a short while. As the season progresses my time diminishes, and I fear I have too little for blogging, at least for the foreseeable future. So I want to impart some words of wisdom as my Holiday Gift to each and every one of you, for what they're worth.

First, I got quite a nice response to my most recent blogs regarding spending and celebration. My dear friend Joanne put it most succinctly: "If we spend our time loving the life we have, not obsessing about what we don't have, we don't need Black Fridays or day-after-Christmas sales. We just need one another. After all, all we take with us when we leave for the last time is the love we have inside. Me? I want all I can get so I can share it with Jim when I see him again." Jim is Joanne's loving husband who passed away suddenly eight years ago. The point is clear: we have to love one another and hold on tight.

So that is my Christmas Wish: love one another. I didn't say it first. But in a world consumed by material things -- and that's another subject for discussion down the road -- Joanne is so right: those things remain of this world even when we move on. They're nice. I like my stuff. But they all could go away tomorrow, and if I still have the love of my wife Diane and all of you, I will be fine,

Now, as to the ghosts in my head, they have been stirring things up even as I have neglected them on paper. I love that -- the writing is going on at full tilt inside my head, mapping out the course it wants to take me; the characters are writing their own stories THROUGH me now -- and that is as it should be. The great William Goldman, author of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride, once quipped (I'm paraphrasing): "If the writing is going badly it won't matter if you are in the most idyllic, quiet, peaceful setting in the world, and if it;s going well you can write in an elevator."

When it's the latter, life is exhilarating.

The ghosts have added a few things, They've been talking. They say, "It's well and good that you want to write about us, remember us. But what about your own ghosts?"

I was stunned. Of course! All of a sudden the book has unfurled like a family banner and I realize that all these people are connected --= to me. The story has layers that belong together, while I have been trying to figure out ways to keep them apart. It is a revelation. And when I think, in realistic tones, that this may be my last chance at a really good novel, I start to believe that Ghost Music may be the book I was meant to write all my life, whether anyone else reads it or not.

My favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut, once said regarding his best known work, Slaughterhouse Five (and again I am paraphrasing): "Sometimes a writer writes about one thing so he can write about something else altogether." He meant, in his case, writing a SyFy novel based on the idea of a single person unstuck in time so that he could relate his own experiences during the firebombing of Dresden, where he was being held as a POW. Now I think the same thing may be happening to me, and I am excited as hell!

The ghosts are talking. Listen . . .

Finally, it occurs to me that one of the themes of this book needs to be stated somewhere, so here goes. How much guilt does a person lay at his or her own feet for things they could not stop?

Thank you for listening, for caring, for being there. And if I don't see you, hear from you, or blog to you again -- or even if I do -- have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Black Friday

T'is the season. Damn the triptofan and full speed ahead -- to the local mall. Is anyone else bothered by the fact that the Christmas shopping rush has become such an ingrained part of American culture that Black Friday now is set to start after dinner on Thursday? Let us give thanks and then spend, spend, spend.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a Dutchman and I love a good bargain as much as anyone. Proof: I just got a wonderful animated Santa and Snowman on a teeter totter and paid the best price of all -- absolutely free -- because my wife's boss wanted to get rid of it and we happened to be in the right place at the right time. A happy accident. But being at the right place at the right time when the store doors open is not accidental, it is by design. And not OUR design -- we just have become so conditioned to this shopper reality that we accept it without question and actually encourage Black Friday to start sooner and sooner every year.

What is my objection? After all, it is a way for businesses to get a jump start on the Holiday Season, and shoppers too. It has become an event, like the Super Bowl, to be enjoyed and shared with loved ones, battling over the grid iron -- er, the display case. It's as American as apple pie.

For me, Black Friday is symptomatic of a deeper issue. Getting that flat screen TV has become as important as carving out an acre of farmable land. Grabbing that latest toy craze is like buying that first potted plant for your brand new house. In other words, getting and possessing things has become a substitute for owning a piece of the American Dream -- and we are being trained to believe it is THE SAME THING. It is not. In fact, we had the American Dream in our hands, the Baby Boomer generation. We had it, and we've lost it, and no number of cheap sweaters or Blue Ray players or I-Pods can bring it back.

But Corporate America encourages us to replace our dreams with goods. The saddest thing is most of those goods were made overseas. No, the saddest thing is that we are willing to make fools of ourselves, interrupt a holiday built on remembering all the good things and giving thanks, just to join the rush.

Myself, I'm waiting for Cyber Monday. And old books.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

It has that busy busy time of year, my favorite season. As once upon a time I looked a great deal like Santa Claus myself, and often was mistaken for the Jolly Old Elf by children on my postal route or in the local stores, his feast day, or the Day of Saint Nicholas, is a personal favorite of mine. Also, being of Dutch heritage (and birth), Saint Nicholas being the patron saint of the Netherlands, Saint Nick Day is a big deal to me. Diane agrees. This year we decided to do special Saint Nicholas Day presents for all the littler kids in our extended family. It has long been a tradition to give ornaments to our own children, who, even at 30 and up, still expect to get them every December 6. This year we added stuffed stockings to the mix for the kids -- and at Christmas we will be doing a very select gift exchange.

I think this could be a really good idea for the nation, if it ever could take hold: National Gift Exchange Day. It would serve several purposes, first of which is to get the commercial aspect of Christmas away from the day itself. Then, we give it in the name of Nicholas of Myra, that venerable man of the late Third Century whose generosity and love for children earned him a sainthood. Saint Nicholas in Holland became Sinter Klass, and the Dutch brought him over to the New World with them when they settled Niew Amsterdam. His name modified to Santa Claus. Third, we could take the commercial aspect of Christmas and bring it forward by several weeks. It might not affect overall sales, but it would give us all an opportunity to make Christmas a simpler, family oriented event not predicated on "What'd ya get?"

We'd have an app for that.

As for my beloved ghosts, they are gathering for the feast of Thanksgiving, and are being most kind and patient with me as I am distracted by the fun of the season and the pileup of the snow. Today, however, the snow is melting back a bit and I plan an hour or so on the book, so everyone will be happy.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Ghosts Are Waiting

It is almost six pm Mountain time. I spent two hours shoveling snow off my driveway and walkways and porches this afternoon, after spending the morning first at work (4 am to 7 am) and then in Kalispell during a snow storm. My first experience driving in real winter conditions besides back and forth from my house to my or Di's work. The snow scares me -- I am not used to it. And the road to ouyr house goes pretty far up the hill, so I am always worried that I might get stuck climbing it. But the last two days have boosted my confidence greatly -- I can navigate snow covered, icy roads, and I can shovel snow for as long as it takes to get the job done. And I can drive down the hill at four in the morning in snowfall. Wow. I went into this week's work schedule frightened and anxious, and tonight I feel like maybe I can do it after all. Like I said, Wow.

But the ghosts have to wait. My energies have been elsewhere most of the week and will continue to be elsewhere much of the next holiday season. I have to mnake allowances. The first one is less writing for Helium, poems and reviews and such. Any spare time I find will go to my ghosts, and knowing that, they seem to have plenty of patience. Well, they're not going anywhere.

So happy Thanksgiving a few days early, and when you give thanks, remember your own ghosts with a smile.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Striking While The Iron Is Hot

I fully expected not to be writing at all this week. But my grandson got to stay over with his other grandparents yesterday and today, so I got a reprieve. And though the temperature outside dipped to 12 degrees (minus 11 Celsius) and never climbed above freezing all day, the snow has not fallen and the snow shovel is idle for the moment. I am on a learning curve here: winter has come early and I have to toughen up fast. Sometimes I don't think I can, but I have to, I have no choice. I drive into work down the hill tomorrow at four in the morning, and it's supposed to snow lightly. More learning.

We did have twelve inches of snow on Sunday last. Quick study. And they say it was unusual to get that much this early. But unusual seems to be my middle name.

As to the book -- the fictional composite character I mentioned last time took hold of me and I literally exploded with material. It has been a fruitful session that will keep me satisfied throughout the week until I can work some more. He was quite ready to share his story with me, and I hope I recorded it faithfully. As with bathrooms at my age, you should never pass up the opportunity when it presents itself.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Snow Flakes in the Ointment

Time to catch up. Please bear with; there are three bolgs below.

SATURDAY: Counting My Blessings
Today, someone new screamed at me. I don;t know his name, so I am going to give him one. I don't know his history, so I will provide it for him. I do known how his story ends. Funny -- I have always known that.

In my life, I have comfortable sheets and a flushing toilet, propane heat and freedom of speech. I tend to forget that, or take it for granted, which is the same thing. They would say, "That's the whole point. If you forget what you have, someone else will come along and take it away from you, and by the time you notice, it will be too late.

SUNDAY: Writing While Not
Off camera writing, so to speak, is more fun than editing. I feel like a stenographer trying to get everything said to me down before I lose it. I don't want to break the train of thought being hurtled at me by several anxious voices. So many voices that I have had to invent a character or two just to hold them, although most of the people in the upcoming book remain real people with real lives and real deaths.

But now, too, a fly has entered the picture: Xander, my grandson. He knows nothing of ghosts, yyet, and when he learns of them some day down the line, I hope it will be through books like the one I am writing and not in any way from personal experience. I already know that the prospects for his parents to have a better life than I did -- a father's goal for his children -- has been severely compromised. How must they worry for him? All I can offer now is vicarious ghosts. life will be hard enough.

We watch Xander next week while his parents are off for a few days to celebrate their fifth anniversary, and I know the writing will have to cease for three or four days, just when I am getting hot on the project. But this can be, and I will turn it into, an advantage. If the heat is still there after he goes home, then the stuff in my head is probably pretty good. But for now I will have to do my writing off camera. Such a sacrifice!

MONDAY: Snow Flakes in the Ointment
We've had our first real snow. I had the pleasure -- for me, first time -- of shoveling snow off the porch yesterday. Three inches accumulated, and it was pretty easy. But overnight a foot of snow accumulated and it took me twenty minutes to clear a path to, then liberate the snow from, my car. Driving down the hill was not too bad, but coming back up I lost traction and got stuck. AND I HAVE SNOW TIRES! So I just rolled back -- slowly -- until I could get traction and went the long way around to our house where the road is not as steep. But it's a challenge, and if winter is going to be like this maybe my enthusiasm for it will disappear with the sunlight. We will have to see.

Meanwhile, I get anxious about the white stuff -- another distraction. And Saint Nicholas Day is coming quickly. St. Nick is a big tradition in my house, and I have to prepare to play Sinter Klaus on his Feast Day. Another distraction! Yet, that part is fun. So the writing may slow down over the next little bit, and I have to let it. I just hope the ghosts enjoy hibernating over the winter.

Thanks for listening!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Today's Entry

Went shopping!!!

Did not write today. But a ghost I was not expecting began to sing to me and I had to stop and listen. Sometimes you write best without moving the pen.

My blogs are becomming a sort of journal of my progress or lack of it. And even when I don't write at all, I still feel like I am making a bit of headway. Truth be told, Saint Nicholas Day is coming up fast and we have to prepare. It's a big thing in our household, and even after being out of the home for literally years, our kids would be disappointed if we did nothing to makr the Feast Day of Jolly Old Saint Nick. After all, I have a job app at the North Pole for whenever he retires.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Busy Remembering

This one will be brief. I am just about to start a few hours working on my ghosts. And I was thinking about . . .

Our children are not taught to remember. They are taught to forget. Learn enough to take a test, pass it, move up, forget about it. They are told, You always can look it up. But how can anyone look up an answer if they've forgotten the question? No search engine is that good. And will anyone drive down the information highway if the fuel that drives them -- curiosity -- is in low supply and their tanks are empty?

Why is remembering so important? Does it get you a Job, the house, the girl (or boy)? Well, I knew what question to ask and so I looked the reason up. It is contained in George Santayana's famous quote: "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."

Humanity has gone through hell after hell of our own creating. And yet each generation seems more than willing to make the same mistakes, to enter the same bloody ventures, to go for glory not in the library but on the battlefield. Santayana also said, "Only the dead have seen the end of war."

So, lets simplify, shall we? A slogan of sorts, short, not sweet:


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To Task

I just spent the last few hours pouring out ghost music onto the page. I am both exhilarated and exhausted. I did not want to write today -- I DID NOT WANT TO WRITE! I goit comfortablke on my couch and tuned in an NCIS I had not seen before, and was glued. The next one -- it's a marathon out there -- looked equally unfamiliar. But the book was waiting for me. I knew I would feel terrible guilt if I did not at least type in a sentence or two. Which led to three, then a paragraph, then a page, then some fact checking and some more writing and look out, about 4,000 words went in.

sometimes you just gotta tell yourself the ghosts are waiting. they're much more patient, by the way, than I would be.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Oh joy -- the system just dumped my blog. I had promised to write a blog a day and am trying. Today got away from me. It started out with promise. I took Di to work (I'm officially a go-getter: I take my wife to work and I go get her) at 8"30 and then went into Kalispell for some Chistmas shopping and our weekly Costco sojourn. It snowed. It snowed all morning -- big, luscious, heavy wet flakes that attacked the car and my coat but melted on contact. Still, it was our first real snow of the season and kinda fun.

I picked up the mail on the way back home to find a letter from Social Security. I had just applied, so I expected this to be a verification sheet. No! It turns out SS cannot verify that I am a citrizen of the United States! So I got back into my car, drove back to Kalispell to our local SS office, it snowed a litle more of the non-accumulating variety, and I presented my Certificate of Citizenship to the gentleman there. The computer did not recognize the number! The cert was too old!! Luckily, I brought my passport with me; he plugged in that number and the system recognized me. So now I wait to be sure there are no more glitches -- ah, the joy of governmental efficiency! I will say that everyone I talked to or saw at SS was most helpful.

Back home at 3:30, too late to get deeply involved with my ghosts. So here I am, ambling on amicably with all of you! So take care, all. I will attempt to blog again tomorrow, as well as listen to my ghost music.

Until then, tot ziens!

Monday, November 7, 2011

More on the Dutch Girl

Hello, ola, 'allo, bonjour, and all that.

I wanted to mention that Mata Hari is not going to appear in this book I am working on now. It's already crowded, and deals with the next generation of victims. It's just that she is a recent, for me, example of innocent life lost to cover-up and national paranoia. She was held prisoner for months in filthy conditions kust to break her down and yet professed her innosence to the very end. They had only circumstantial proof, most of it based on falsified transmissions in a code both sides in the war knew had been broken, and other debatable sources and materials, and yet still they imprisoned her, interrogated her, tried her, convicted her, and executed her. It is sad, of course, but more than that: it is symbolic of what people with a great deal of power and a significant dose of righteousness can do to anyone they choose, and pretty much get away with it.

Part of the irony is that Mata Hari, born Margaretha Zelle, could not tell you where the troops were entrenched, even during the stagnant battle of Verdun, because she just didn't think about that stuff. And yet she was a spy?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

One of the Ghosts

It occurs to me that when I talk about the voices in my head, it may make me sound a little unbalanced. Crazy, no? Well, sanity is highly overrated.

Please understand that I have encountered many stories in my 61 years of curiosity induced reading, and remember them. (Details -- I have a fine research library for them). I am busy remembering people I believe should not be forgotten ----- those are the voices in my head. I worry that when I am gone (and forgotten) that they will be, too, at last. The urgency of getting some of their stories down on paper grows when I think on that.

Like Mata Hari. I just read a bio on her. She was a woman of loose morals (for her day) convicted of spying on flimsy evidence as a scapegoat for French military failure. Then she was shot.

She was also a Dutch national. A cousin of sorts.

I read her story, the last half of which was about her arrest, incarceration and interrogation, and trial, and I think about how we hold people indefinitely on the suspicion that they are terrorists. I understand the paranoia behind that; I also understand that the government claims to have proof that each one is a dangerous person. But their rights are gone. And if only one of them is innocent, a Mata Hari incarcerated for who they are rather than what they did or did not do, then American justice is a joke for all of us.

History shows us many things. The worst lesson is this: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


I hope I am not repeating myself, but, hey, this is therapy for me as well as a chance to share with you. Writing is much harder work than I ever imagined. Maybe it;s because I am more serious about my craft now, or just that at last I have time to actually work on it. I do know that someone once said (sorry, can't remember who at the top of my bead) that a writer will do just about anything to put off writing -- I understand that now. It;s one thing to jot off a review of a film or book. It's also easy to start an idea and run it through a few paces. But the work comes in trying to make the material sing the right notes, true notes, and see it all the way to its conclusion, which lies down the road a fair stretch,

I have a responsibility to do the best I can by the voices in my head, even if they are all my own voice. Thursday I wrote/rewrote seven pages in three hours and felt drained afterward. But very happy with the results. So now I have set the bar. so, patience, all of you, it will take time. Patience, Me.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


I cannot always be profound. I am often profane, and being over 50 -- significantly over 50 -- I have it on good authority that it's okay to be that way. But profound? That comes in spurts, and even when I think I am being so, I may not be at all.

What I wish I could do, what I dream about doing, is writing a bestseller, I just don't know how. I understand that there is no real formula except being at the right place at the right time with the right editor in the right mood. I also know that if you don't submit, there is no chance at all. And yet, the submissions game is a hard one to play, and harder to come back to again and again. I have never been very good at rejection. I tend to want to pack up my marbles and move onto the next project, instead of persevering. Does this make me a coward? I don't know. But I still dream, of a million bucks in royalties and how to spend it.

Then I get sidetracked. Something grabs me and seems SO important, for a while. I run out of steam, or I begin to doubt that I am the one who should be telling this story, and it all collapses. The project gets put away, waiting for me to rediscover it. Ghost Music is like that -- I wrote it in 1997, then set the Ms aside. At least four other books, in various stages of development, are also tugging at me. If I can only stick to It, I might be able to write them all. Publishing, well, I will find a way.

At least I have job security well into my retirement! So wish me luck. More, wish me warm fingers and a strong will.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Daisy Bell Is Ringing For Me and My Gal

Another blog, another day. Or is it another day, another blog? Either way, I am going to give you all a ghost of a chance to forget about ghosts today and remember an old chestnut instead. My European friends may not get the reference, but here goes.

When I hit college I joined a very impromptu barbershop quartet. First, we were not strict about there being only four of us. Second, we sang whenever and wherever we wanted, often by the Cowell Fountain at the tops of our lungs, just for shits and giggles. One of our favorite songs was "Daisy," also known as "Bicycle Built For Two." Everyone remembers the lyrics:

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do/I'm half crazy all for the love of you/It won't be a stylish marriage/I can;t afford a carriage/but you'd look sweet upon the seat/of a bicycle built for two.

But we feminist liberals at UC Santa Cruz loved the second verse more:

Billy, Billy, here is my answer true/I'm NOT crazy all for the love of you/And if you can't afford a carriage/There won't be any marriage/"Cause I'll be daamned if I'll be crammed/On a bicycle built for two.

Years later Diane and I got into a debate as to whether the second verse was real or not -- it was a friendly disagreement we hit upon from time to time over the years of our marriage (which was stylish, by the way, and no bikes in sight). It turns out that she was -- ug, hate to admit it -- RIGHT. The second verse is one version of several so-called :"answer verses" added on for fun. The other key variety substitues damned.crammed with switched/hitched. Further, it turns out the original verse is merely a chorus throughout a muich more elaborate song, the lyrics for which can be found online at Wikepedia -- type in Daisy Bell. The article is interesting and fun for the curious -- which I always encourage you to be!

And remember: you can't stay serious all the time. Bad for the face.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

More on Ghosts

I ask myself: why do I spend so much time among the dead? The quick and quirky answer is that they don't talk back much and don't eat into my food budget, but that's glib. Truth is, they talk back a lot. Sometimes, they scream. I am busy remembering them. And learning what I can from them.

How do the dead help the living? Two things they have shown me clearly: Beware that love is not enough. And cruel people often succeed in attaining power and LOVE to do anything and everything they deem necessary to keep it.

How we are taught to be goes out the window.