Sunday, June 24, 2012

Hope I Don't Die Before I Get Old

My grandmother, who is 86 years old, recently moved into an assisted-living complex for the elderly.  Prior to this move, my only real exposure to what the older set are up to for fun these days was her hobbies and interests.  She likes to watch sitcoms and westerns on TV, to read old dime-store novels, to tend her plants and flowers, and to go out to eat with friends and family, to name a few.  Now that she lives in a building with about a dozen other people in her age bracket, I am getting the bigger picture, and I am not quite sure what to make of it.

Gram and me, circa the Nixon administration. Please note my excellent shoes.

Take Saturday evenings, for example.  The big thing on the activity menu set up by the people in charge is The Lawrence Welk Show, broadcast on public television in the common room at 5:00.  No one shows up.  At least not voluntarily.  If my math is correct, a lot of these people were young adults around the time that Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and Bill Haley & the Comets hit the scene.  I know that my own grandmother would rather be listening to Kenny Loggins or Elton John, given a choice.  She’s always been a little ahead of her peers when it comes to music and entertainment .  After all, this is a woman whose all-time favorite album is the soundtrack to Footloose.

Saturday dinner is served in the same room when Welk and his ilk are playing around 5:30, so the residents can either show up for pasta and polkas, or prepare something for themselves in their own apartments.  Since my grandmother and most of the others are pretty social animals, they suck it up and show up for the meal, doing their best to ignore the vapid grins and accordion music blaring from the television.  I’ve seen my grandmother and some of her friends grimace and shake their heads when something especially cheesy turns up on the Welk show as they are trying to enjoy their seafood bisque.  Something tells me Lawrence Welk and his grinning gang of singers and dancers are going to be phased entirely out of the program at senior centers over the next few years if this is an indication of a larger trend.  Further proof, to me at least, that there is indeed a God.

Of course there are lots of other activities offered at the apartment complex that get a better reception.  I’m told that biweekly bingo gets a good turnout, probably thanks to the extra-large chocolate bars that are given out as prizes.  It’s probably not a coincidence that the exercise classes offered are also well-attended.  The folks have to work off all that chocolate they win at bingo, I guess.  When community groups come in to perform plays, skits or musical numbers, almost everyone shows up.  My grandmother tells me that it is not always for the performances themselves that so many show up as much as it is to try to recognize the children, grandchildren, etc. of people they have known. Movies, religious meetings, arts & crafts and things like that also get a decent crowd each week.

What fascinates me most is that one of the most popular activities in this elderly housing complex playing video games in the common room.


They have a Nintendo Wii hooked up to the big-screen TV in the common room, and it is very popular.  They have set times when groups gather to play, but the console is available to the residents at any time.  And it seems to get plenty of use.

Now mind you, these seniors are not blowing up aliens or rescuing princesses from castles at the end of a level.  For the most part, they are playing virtual sports that would otherwise be too much for their bodies to handle at their age. Bowling seems to be the game of choice, though I’ve seen tennis and golf on the screen as I’ve passed by the common room too.

One cool thing about the Nintendo Wii is that you can create an avatar to represent you that looks like you or anyone you wish.  Of course there are pre-made ones you can use as well, and that’s what many of the seniors seems to go with.  Often, they seem to choose the most outrageous looking ones available when they play.  The other day I saw a woman who must be close to 90 years old bowling on the Wii, and I couldn’t help but smile at the fact that she had chosen an avatar that resembled a tattooed biker guy with a shaggy beard and leather clothing.  And this is not unusual.  I’m told it is common for them to choose to wackiest avatars they can find.

An enduring image for me is something I stumbled upon about two weeks ago.  I was stopping by to check on my grandmother after work and was passing by the common room.  On the other side of the window, playing video games together, was one of the more elderly residents of the complex along with a teenage boy, the son of one of the facility’s nurses who was about to finish her shift.  He was the whole picture: black hip-hop t-shirt, baggy shorts, sideways ballcap.  If you Googled “stereotypical teenage boy”, this kid’s picture would come up.  The lady, on the other hand, was wearing a flowered print dress and a light blue sweater, and you would probably have her picture come up if you Googled “stereotypical little old lady”.  On the screen, her avatar looked like Lamont from the 1970s sitcom Sanford and Son, while the kid’s bore a strong resemblance to Tom Cruise’s LeStat character in Interview with the Vampire.  They were bowling on the Wii, and laughing loudly and often, along with several other residents sitting nearby watching as they waited for the evening meal to be served.  My grandmother was among them.

I realized two things at that moment: getting old isn’t all bad, and the next generation coming up isn’t either.

With Welk seemingly on the way out and video games on the way in with the older set, I’ve tried to fast-forward thirty-five or so years in my mind to picture what will be going on for fun when Generation X-ers like me are old enough to be living in such a place. Will we be gathering for re-broadcasts of the MTV Top 20 Video Countdown in the common room then?  Or will we be climbing into virtual reality machines to go hoverboarding before dinner?  I suspect a lot will depend on the influence of the baby boomer generation, which is on the verge of entering facilities such as these in large numbers.  God help us.  After all, they are the generation that made mood rings, pet rocks, and disco popular.

Oh, and there is something else I’ve realized more fully.  And that’s how lucky I am to have my grandmother still with me and in control of her facilities as I move into my mid-40s.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Traditional First Year Anniversary Gift Is Paper, So Send Checks

This blog, Wicked Awesomology, has hit the one year mark, so I’m going to do what so many other media entities do on a significant anniversary: toss out a retrospective episode.  It’s either that or put together something entirely new, and frankly, that sounds like work to me.

Wicked Awesomology started as nothing more than a personal creative outlet for me.  I had no real long-range plan for it beyond its merely being a place for me to flex my dubious writing muscles and do some frivolous stuff while working on longer, more serious pieces offline for publishing purposes.  To use a music metaphor, posting to this blog for me was to be like a rock band doing nightclub performances between recording sessions on their new album.  (For you younger readers, you may have to Google the terms “rock band” and “album”.  I’ll be over here weeping copiously for the future while you do so.)

As fate would have it, I started taking my Twitter account (@countofbluecars) seriously at about the very same time I started Wicked Awesomology, and my blog posts became frequent fodder for Tweets.  And it all took off from there.  My readership started to grow, and after a time it got to the point where people would contact me with questions  if I went too long between posts.  After a while, I ran out of good excuses.  One can only use “the cat threw up on my keyboard” so many times before skeptics call you on it, I’ve found.  So I more or less committed to a weekly posting schedule, and things have continued to grow.

What follows are some behind-the-scenes tidbits about Wicked Awesomology.

Where the name came from:
“Wicked awesome” is an expression that has been used by kids in Maine since I was very young, and probably even before that.  I’ve heard that it has spread to use by some people beyond the borders of the state in recent years, but it remains a statement of the superlative here as it always has.  Along with “cool” and “gross”, it is probably my longest-used slang term, and seemed well-suited for the name of a blog that aspires to be “wicked awesome”.

Most popular post:
To go by the statistics, the most popular post is The Accidental Coffee, written last winter.  Because I post on Blogger, which is a subsidiary of Google, the contents of blogs often turn up in Google searches. “Coffee” and “funny” are wildly popular search terms, and somehow my blog post got caught up in the slipstream of those terms and piled up a bunch of hits.  Things subsided when I took down the photos I posted to accompany it, which apparently were driving a lot of the traffic.  I’d love to think that all those people were looking to read the post, but, come on. Who would I be kidding?

Favorite post:
Quite a few of the posts on Wicked Awesomology rate especially high with me.  Adrian and the Cannibal’s Internet Connection is special because it was the first piece of fiction I’ve thrown out there on the blog, and fiction writing is my thing.  Heartbeat City Here We Come is one of my more introspective pieces and taps a side of me that I don’t let out in my writing often enough.  And Eye Cooties was fun because it allowed me to make a mountain out of molehill in a way that many readers found entertaining. One Tweet I got in response to it said “I can’t believe you got an entire blog post out of catching conjunctivitis, and that it was one I actually enjoyed reading!”.

But my personal favorite is Out Home at Christmas with Bing.  The post was one of those that just dropped into my head while driving one winter afternoon, and it practically wrote itself when I set my fingers to the keyboard.  It’s essentially a collection of sentimental (in my own way) recollections of childhood Christmases as they related to my paternal grandparents.  I was very close to them growing up, and the times I spent at their place in the country are among my fondest recollections of being a kid.  My grandmother died in 1995 and my grandfather in 2000, so writing about them and putting it out there for the world to read about keeps their memories alive in a way.  I’ve written about them since (see: Gone Fiddleheadin’), and based on the enjoyment I get from doing so and the positive feedback I get from my posts featuring them, I likely will again.

Least favorite post:
Easy one! I Don’t Know If I Want You To Read This Yet, which went live on the blog just a couple of weeks ago.  It’s another short story featuring Adrian McAllister, a character I was “getting to know” through writing some short pieces.  Adrian is the protagonist of a mystery novel I am working on, and I thought I could learn more about him by putting him in situations that are not necessarily part of the novel in progress.  My first attempt, the aforementioned Adrian and the Cannibal’s Internet Connection turned out quite nicely, I thought, and ranks as one of the most popular posts on Wicked Awesomology.  The second one, simply entitled Confession, where Adrian goes to confession at a Catholic church and is given learning how to surf as a penance still sounds like a great premise to me, but I don’t feel like I pulled it off successfully in the short story format.  The supporting characters I included needed more development than that format would allow.  I gritted my teeth, polished it up, and put it up on the blog not so long ago mainly to get it out of my hair. It’s not terrible.  I wouldn’t have posted it if it was.  But it’s not an example of my best by a long shot.

Strangest post:
The Accidental Coffee  was an odd post inspired by an odd problem I had one night.  I accidentally made a pot of coffee, and didn’t have the heart to just dump it out.  On the other hand, I couldn’t drink it, or I’d be up all night.  When I mentioned the problem to a friend, he said, and I quote, “That’s the kind of problem only YOU would have!  You ought to blog about it.”  You’ll have to read the post for the details, but it turned out quite well, I think.  It was one of those great times for a writer when the words were coming to me faster than I could type them.  Other than a cursory check for grammar and spelling issues, I didn’t even tweak it after I was done.  I just put it together as fast as I could and got it out to the world.  It’s gotten more hits than any other posting on Wicked Awesomology to this point, though I do think some funny business with search terms on Google artificially inflated the numbers.

Post that spurred the most feedback:
Give It Up, a post from April about giving things up for Lent.  Most of the feedback I get on Wicked Awesomology does not come in the comments section, but rather through Tweets and e-mails.  Because this post touched on a religion-related topic, it stirred some things amongst my readers.  To everyone’s credit, all the feedback I got was respectful and polite.  Nonetheless, it reminded me that posts on religion, politics, and sometimes even sports, can be polarizing.  I have plenty of forums available to me for airing my own opinions on those topics, but I do not choose to have Wicked Awesomology be one of those.  If I post on any topic that can be polarizing, I do so in a lighthearted way that is not meant to alienate anyone.  This blog is not my soapbox.  It’s more of an observation deck.

Other backstage stuff:
I try to post something new at least once a week, if possible.  It’s taken a while to get to that routine, but it seems to be one that works well for both me and my readers.  I really don’t know how some bloggers can post daily.  I just don’t have that much to say that is worth reading!  Unfortunately, neither do some of them, but they haven’t figured that out yet.

If I post a book review, it usually means that the great god of writing inspiration has taken the week off and is down the street drinking Lowenbrau in a seedy bar, trying to forget that I exist.  At this point though, I feel a commitment to providing fresh, quality content on a regular basis to my readers, and posting a past book review of something I’ve read and previously posted on Amazon or is a good way to do that when the spirit doesn’t move me.  I’d much rather take that route than post garbage.  The book reviews I post are for books I’ve really, really liked though.

My offline writing projects sometimes take up a lot of my time and creative juices.  I have been working on a collaborative novel with a very talented author (whose identity I am presently keeping secret to protect the innocent) for about nine months now.  I also have a “solo project” underway featuring Adrian McAllister, as I previously mentioned.  These are a very different type of writing than blog posts, requiring a lot more planning and infinitely more revision and editing.  A blog post typically takes me a couple of hours, whereas a single chapter in either project can take several days just to attain finished first draft status.  When those projects are bearing down hard on me, you are likely to see a book review post too.

Wicked Awesomology is a balancing act for me as a writer.  It’s a forum for me to toss my writing experiments into, but it has also become a place with a reliable core of readers who have come to have certain expectations.  Your comments, questions and suggestions on blog posts (content or style) are very valuable for me.  Unless you want to tell me I suck.  The little red devil on my shoulder tells me that on a regular basis. Don’t hesitate to leave a comment on the post itself, or via Tweet or e-mail.

At this point, I’ve got just over 8000 page views on Wicked Awesomology in the past year.  It’s not huge, but much more than I would have expected.  The graph thingamabob in my statistic section shows strong, consistent growth over time.   It’s very gratifying.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and stay tuned.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ye Olde Braaaaains!

Book review time again!  I just finished a horror e-novel by Ken Davis, a relative newcomer to the writing scene, that thoroughly impressed me.  It was so good that I felt compelled to share it here, as well as leaving my customary reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.  All authors, but especially indies or those just out of the gate, benefit enormously from posted reviews of their work.  Please remember to say at least a few words on some of the major review sites after finishing someone's book.

It seems that I either love or hate horror novels these days.  Buckets of blood and gore getting splashed around do not entertain or scare me.  That's just gross.  And don't even get me started on sparkly vampires.  However, when I am drawn into an interesting setting with characters to whom I can relate facing dire peril, then well-written horror can grab me like few other things.  This novel did just that.

Where the Dead Talk by Ken Davis is a gripping tale of the undead which takes place in a rural part of the Massachusetts colony on the very eve of the American Revolution.

As a mix of horror and historical fiction, well-researched and skillfully written with an intriguing plot, this novel would have likely earned five stars from me anyway. However, the character of Major William Pomeroy, "one of the finest officers of the King's Own Regiment" (in his own words), pushed Where the Dead Talk over the top for me. Sarcastic and smarmy, arrogant, at times cowardly and at other times brave, Major Pomeroy is ultimately endearing to both the reader and other characters in the story. He absolutely steals every scene in which he appears.

While Pomeroy is the best in my opinion, he is only one of several intriguing characters in Where the Dead Talk who kept me reading chapter after chapter long past my bedtime. There is the black tavernkeep who struggles against racism and vicious rumors, the desperately unhappy preacher's wife looking for a way out, the young deaf boy from a family thought to be cursed who feels he is not much good for anything, and the very reluctant Indian shaman who holds the key to stopping the horror that has descended upon the countryside surrounding the tiny colonial village of West Bradhill, Massachusetts.

I don't consider myself a real horror aficionado, and my Kindle is littered with horror titles I have started and soon abandoned. However, when the story is driven by compelling characters you really do not want to have munched up by the undead, it's not hard to love a book like this. Where the Dead Talk is definitely worth your attention. I am keeping my fingers crossed that Davis will consider another novel with some of these characters, especially Major Pomeroy.

By the way, you can follow Ken Davis on Twitter at , and you can also follow a zombie on Twitter at @zombie.  Just so you know.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Memo from Cat Management

***You can imagine my surprise when I stumbled across this file on my hard drive.  Evidently, the cats are making use of my computer when my back is turned.***

To: Dexter, the new cat (hereafter referred to as “the newbie”)

From: Lefty and Shadow, the established cats (hereafter referred to as “management”)

Re: Integration into the Organization

Date: June, 2012

A week has passed since you were brought into this household, hereafter referred to in this memo as “the organization”, and without the prior approval of management it should be noted.  At this point, management would like to address some issues related to your current integration status.

Manager #1

Eating arrangements: The wait staff (humans who misguidedly refer to themselves as “the owners”) serve a portion of gushy wet food to each cat every morning and every evening, in addition to maintaining a bowl of crunchy food for all organization cats to dine upon at our leisure.  Be notified that it is considered extremely poor etiquette to eat one’s own portion, whatever management-assigned portions not yet consumed, and the whole bowl of crunchies, all within a five minute span.  The newbie is expected to eat his own portion of the gushy food, and nibble on small amounts of the crunchies throughout the day and night.  Under no circumstances is the newbie to consume, sniff, or even look at the gushy portions served to management.  A hiss, a growl, or possibly even a swipe of the claws will be administered to the newbie by management if this behavior does not change at once.

Restroom privileges: It has come to the attention of management that your use of the organization litterbox, hereafter referred to as “the restroom”, has been excessive and inappropriate.  Some of the bombs that the newbie has dropped in there and subsequently neglected to bury have been enough to curl the whiskers of both management and the wait staff.  It is advised that the newbie might consider laying off eating so much of the management’s food, and also consider adding some additional fiber to the diet in order to alleviate this problem.  Additionally, the newbie is hereby notified that burying one’s restroom output is not optional but mandatory, and must be done both consistently and well.  The wait staff has notified management that it cannot keep up with litterbox maintenance at the current rate, and it is running out of cans of spring rain-scented air freshener, which also makes a horrible hissing sound that management dislikes very much.

On a related note, wait staff has requested that management remind the newbie stay out of their assigned restroom when it is being used by them, as it bugs the hell out of them to have any organization cats in there at that particular time.

Manager #2

Leisure areas: There are a number of comfortable locations in this organization in which to spend one’s leisure.  Let the newbie be aware that management has first refusal on all laps, sunbeams, bedspreads, furniture, and windowsills.  Before the newbie may procure one of these locations for his own use, management must be notified in writing, in triplicate, via messenger pigeon, at least 90 days in advance.  Even upon approval, management reserves the right to remove the newbie’s sorry butt from said location without prior notification.  The soft brown fleece at the foot of the biggest bed is totally off limits to the newbie and is reserved exclusively for management at all times.

Recreational activities: This organization provides numerous options for recreation, such as toys, a scratching post, errant paper clips and writing utensils, dangling hands, trash cans, houseflies, and the occasional bird or squirrel outside the window.  Use of these recreational options is reserved for established members of the organization only, and is considered off-limits to the newbie, despite what the misguided wait staff may say at times.  Recreational options available to the newbie include dust bunnies and any ants that may occasionally find their way into the organization, as well as good old-fashioned imagination. Enjoy!

Managing Wait Staff: While the newbie is not considered “management”, he is still expected to assist the members of management in the direction of the wait staff, as they can be somewhat dim.  Immediately upon the breaking of dawn, all cats are expected to scratch and yowl outside the wait staff’s bedroom door without stopping until said wait staff rises and serves appropriate food.  Wait staff is then to be ignored until the newspaper is opened, during which time it is expected that at least one organization cat jump in the lap or sit on the paper itself in a demand for attention that is rightfully due.  Wait staff can then be ignored again until late afternoon, at which time all organization cats are to remain directly underfoot until another round of appropriate food is served.  At random times, it is expected that all organization cats will sleep on computer keyboards, scratch sofas, get tangled in electronics wiring, and vomit on bedspreads, as these gestures contribute endlessly to wait staff morale.  Let it be known, however, that rolling over onto one’s back for a “belly rub” is strictly forbidden in this organization.  Reports have been made to management that the newbie has engaged in this behavior often.

Guests: After much negotiation, wait staff has been allowed to have guests in the organization from time to time.  Upon arrival of these guests, all organization cats are expected to hide under a bed upstairs, with only the shed hair left behind on the furniture as an indication of their presence.  Management has been made aware that the newbie has been seen rubbing against the legs of guests and even sitting on laps.  This is unacceptable, and will be dealt with most swiftly and severely if it continues.

The Newbie

At this juncture, the newbie is put on notice that he is on 90-day double secret probation, during which time he may be punished or banned entirely from the organization by management without notice. In the unlikely event of successful completion by the newbie of the 90-day double secret probation, he will attain the new rank of “junior undersecretary to the minister of napping”, and will be afforded five minutes of leisure time daily on management’s soft brown fleece at the foot of the biggest bed. 

Any questions or concerns should only be addressed to the management via a note delivered by the organization’s messenger pigeon.   *BURP*