Music and Muses

I enjoy good music on some good headphones while I write. Especially when I write in a public space, like at one of our Peninsula Writers weekend retreats. Earbuds just aren’t sufficient to dissuade interruptions by fellow writers who are more sociable than I am. One of my recent discoveries is an American band with an international flavor, Pink Martini. Smooth and delightful. I’m building up a suite of their albums. Or CDs. Or downloads, as the case may be. I was recently thrilled to find I could tune in a Pink Martini channel on my phone with Google Music– even more thrilled to find I can stream it on my 1.5mbs “high speed” wifi.

But my pick for theme music for Tales of Life in Deathe would be Joe Satriani’s The Forgotten, Parts 1 and 2:

Especially fitting for A Cold Winter’s Deathe. Actually, I hear it running over the closing credits for the movie adaptation, but don’t hold your breath for that. On the other hand, I know Big Authors with things like promotional budgets and fans create video promos for their books. As if. But if ever, my vision would require a drone. Imagine zooming over a vast U.P. forest, such as the Porcupine Mountains, following a narrow two-lane that winds through the trees, until we finally spot an old piece of classic American iron flying along down the road… maybe an AMC Eagle wagon, or an International Travelall, or even a rusty, battered old Bronco II with bent wheels. The archaic proto-SUV finally comes to a tiny village, on the edge of a lake, surrounded but a ring of ridges. As we rise into the sky and veer away, Lake Superior can be seen in the hazy distance. Storm clouds smudge the horizon…

Where was I?

In my alleged spare time, when I should be writing or doing other more mundane and productive work– or maybe attending to personal hygiene– I’m trying to teach my new guitar some music. (I might have that backwards.) This is hard for me, because I don’t actually play guitar and I don’t know any music. I have no musical background, no natural ability, no skill, no sense of rhythm. I can’t read music or carry a tune. What I do have is a tin ear and sore fingertips– from trying. (You might have thought I would say What I do have is optimism and determination. Or maybe a good work ethic. All that remains to be seen.) As hard as it is to say it… God bless the Internet and YouTube. I would be as lost without them as I was the last time I picked up a guitar some 45 years ago.

fprA couple years ago we were passing through southern Ohio on our way to North Carolina, and as luck would have it the route took me through Meigs County and within spitting distance of Jorma Kaukonen‘s guitar camp, the Fur Peace Ranch. I made arrangements to stop in for a visit and missed Jorma by maybe fifteen minutes, but the staff, including and especially his wife, Vanessa Lillian, was so warm and accommodating that we came away feeling like long-lost family. Only Disney World could be better. When Vanessa asked if I played, I admitted it had been decades ago. I stopped short of bragging that Back in the Day I knew at least three or four chords by heart! And I thought I could still not only name them, but play them! I was right. But I guess I’m just a modest guy. And it turns out there’s a lot more to playing a guitar than that. I know now there are at least half a dozen important chords.

But with persistence and the Internet, I’m stretching my reach, strengthening my fingers, getting blisters, even developing a little hand/eye/finger coordination to boot. Sometimes I can even tune the strings in less than an hour without breaking any. I’m no Jorma Kaukonen, but I can sometimes get almost all the way through Those Gambler’s Blues (AKA St. James Infirmary Blues) without messing it up too badly.

No personal recordings are currently planned.


Ghosties in the Night

Every biennial year or so I go on a private, personal writing retreat to Wayne’s World, my cousins’ camp on Lake Arfelin roughly 10 rough, brutal miles north of Champion. The seclusion is delightful. On a good year I can spend a week without any human interaction at all, just the occasional revelers out on the lake or partying out of sight somewhere beyond the trees.

I’m not a Nervous Nellie, more of a Cautious Kelly. I guess. But the nights are very dark and very quiet, and I’m all alone at the end of the trail in a three-bedroom ranch. Despite the quiet, I prefer to wear earplugs when I sleep. Otherwise the least little noise would pop me awake—whether small animals rustling in the leaves, or bears tearing into the trash can. So far nothing and no one has bothered me.

There was one interesting late night incident, however.

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They Call Me MISTER Boomer!

This is a reprint from a post on my more obscure web blog, from November 1, 2008, in memory of Boomer (1992 – July 5, 2009)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy cat Mr. Boomer has been with us for nearly 16 years now. He came to us in November of 1992 as a stray: starved, insecure, needy, stinking, and full of worms. We took him to our vet, Dr. P–, of the P– Veterinary Clinic, and got him checked out and patched up. He’d already been declawed and fixed. I named him and he moved in and took over us and the house, even though my wife would have gladly had him put to sleep. He was loud, annoying, always hungry, constantly under foot, and every couple of days he’d have a poop like a St. Bernard that would fill the litter box and peel the paint off the walls.

Even so, he was my Mr. Boomer, my Big Guy, my Mr. Cat, my Mr. Boom Boom Guy, a real guy’s cat, a cat who met me at the door when I came home and coaxed me to the living room floor every day to roughhouse and play-fight with me. As Calvin said of Hobbes, “It’s hard to stay mad at someone who misses you when you’re asleep.”

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A Little Shameless Self Promotion


I’ll just post these covers while I’ll taking a break from blogging to do other things far more boring and stupid. I’ll just mention that I was presented with two electrical problems this week, and it took me most of the morning to fix the third one. Huh? Obviously, somebody can’t count. Or do I sense a conspiracy of some sort? Click on the title tabs at the top of the page to learn more about Life in Deathe.


Call Me Wish Male

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to the U.P. as soon as I can.

With apologies to Herman Melville


(Coincidentally, I bought up the rear of the shortest funeral procession I’ve ever seen this week. A minivan hearse, a six-door Cadillac XTS limo, and a four-door DTS limo. And me. But I wasn’t invited. And I didn’t care, when they pulled into a rather shabby suburban neighborhood. Who knows, maybe this a new high school prom thing?)

Slow Carb Diet

I was reminiscing about all the cars (and three pickups) I’ve owned and ruined over the years. I didn’t ruin any of them intentionally. I’m a victim of the Law of Unintended Consequences. (That’s the same law that says if you raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour it will lift many low wage workers out of poverty, but the consequence is that now a donut at the local convenience store is going to cost $5 nobody will buy a $5 donut so the store closes and the national economy eventually plunges into recession.)

We could talk about the ’66 Mustang that suffered low oil pressure and blew head gaskets after I rebuilt the engine. (I blame this on the torque wrench I bought that I thought made me a master mechanic, able to fix anything. Never buy a torque wrench. That’s a prescription for disaster.) Or the ’75 Trans Am that… well, I don’t want to talk about it.

The last brand new vehicle I’ve ever bought was a 1980 Dodge pickup. Heavy half ton, slant six, four speed overdrive manual. Dodge trucks of the day: they’d rattle from the day you bought them, but they’d run forever. This one got 16-18mpg all day every day—city, highway, uphill, downhill, even carrying a camper—very slowly, and usually in 3rd gear. Couldn’t pull a setting hen off her nest, though. Also a bit slow. The acceleration of an ocean liner. It had what we call “same day throttle response.”

After several years I’d decided I should and could rebuild the carburetor. So I bought a kit, and after several false starts I pulled off the carb and started loosening the screws that held it together. With the last screw it exploded like a grenade in my hands. No flames or anything, just springs and parts scattering all over like shrapnel, particularly across the gravel driveway. I spent an hour sifting gravel and stones until I found everything… almost.

The kit instructions were not helpful in putting together all the parts the kit didn’t include, but I did what I could, but lacked any semblance of confidence, so I consulted with a friend who was up on this sort of thing. My final problem came down a small check valve. This was apparently a steel ball that was supposed to sit in the bottom of a deep cylindrical hole. I ended up pulling a BB from the old Daisy BB gun I’d had since I was about 8 years old, dropping it in, and hoping for the best. The pickup started. It ran. I ran exactly as it always had—painfully slow, reasonably economical, but still weak as a kitten.

I drove it that way for several more years. One night its right side got crushed in when a pop-up camper blew up (propane leak and faulty heater) four feet away from it. I punched the dents out of the door so the window would roll up and down and drove it for a few more years. I think I owned it for more than ten years before selling it to a friend, with the BB still doing yeoman work in the carburetor.  Remarkably he’s still a friend—I believe in full disclosure. He drove it for a few years and sold it to someone else. No idea after that. But I have every confidence it’s still plying the roads out there somewhere. Assuming it hasn’t rusted away to dust. Dodge trucks can be remarkably resilient. BBs, too.