Time--2017 A to Z Theme

My theme for the 2017 Blogging from A to Z April Challenge is "Time". The posts will be more philosophical, contemplative, and even autobiographical than instructional. No time management tips planned, but you never know with A to Z.

Always a work in progress--welcome to my blog...

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Friday, May 30, 2014

The Greatest Short Story Ever Written?

Everything That Rises Must Converge
Everything That Rises Must Converge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
           

            My next few posts are partially intended for information gathering for an upcoming series on the topic of why we have certain preferences.   Questions will be asked with which I hope you will assist me by providing your answers.    I will also be making some statements that to me are true to some extent, but some of you may find so outlandish and provocative that my opinions may annoy or even anger you.  On the other hand some of you might agree with my claims.   Please keep this caveat in mind and be willing to offer your own opinions.

"All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal."—Flannery O'Connor
The Set-up

          Recently I accompanied my wife to the doctor and for once I brought along a book to read since I had a feeling we'd be there for a while.  Flannery O'Connor's short story Revelation had been on my mind in recent days prior to going with my wife so I figured that would be the ideal opportunity to go back and reread this story by one of my favorite authors.

          If you've been reading Tossing It Out for any length of time you might recall my mentioning Flannery O'Connor since she is one of my favorite writers.  In fact you can find two complete posts here and here.
Revelation is available at a number of places on the internet if you'd like to read it.   One particularly easy to read version can be found here.

          After rereading the story Revelation, I am convinced that this is the best short story ever written based on the short stories I have read.   A general consensus of readers and critics might suggest that O'Connor's story A Good Man Is Hard to Find is her greatest story.    That story is certainly among the greatest ever written, but I maintain the Revelation edges out Good Man ever so slightly.

The Story

          The short story Revelation comes from Flannery O'Connor's collection Everything That Rises Must Converge.   O'Connor was a Catholic author from Georgia who wrote in the often dark tradition of Southern Literature.   Her stories typically have to do with characters who are facing a spiritual crisis but are often not aware of the nature of that crisis.  Flannery O'Connor died at age 39 leaving behind a relatively small, but substantially powerful and influential body of work.

         There are basically two scenes to Revelation.   The first takes place in a doctor's office waiting room and the second is after the main character goes home to reflect on the events that transpired in the waiting room and the revelation that comes to her as she thinks on those events.  The main character of this story is introduced in the story's opening line:
The Doctor’s waiting room, which was very small, was almost full when the Turpins entered and Mrs. Turpin, who was very large, made it look even smaller by her presence.
       To me this is one of the best opening lines ever written for a short story.   The scene is immediately set as we meet this woman who is who is not merely physically imposing, but who has a "presence" that will become more apparent as the story goes on.

        In the first few pages we become intimate with a cast of characters who are vastly different from each other yet mundane examples of the typical types of people one might meet in the town where the doctor's office is located.   A combination of simple but keen observations of the characters' appearances and mannerisms along with realistic clever dialogue puts the reader right there in the waiting room.

        An example is the following exchange which comes after Mrs.Turpin and another lady discuss their admiration of a clock in the waiting room:
The woman with the snuff-stained lips turned around in her chair and looked up at the clock. Then she turned back and appeared to look a little to the side of Mrs. Turpin. There was a cast in one of her eyes.
"You want to know where you can get you one of them there clocks?" she asked in a loud voice.
"No , I already have a nice clock," Mrs. Turpin said. Once somebody like her got a leg in the conversation, she would be all over it.
"You can get you one with green stamps," the woman said. "That's most likely where he got his'n. Save you up enough, you can get you most anythang. I got me some joo’ry.”
Ought to have got you a wash rag and some soap, Mrs. Turpin thought.

        This passage had me laughing out loud in the doctor's waiting room I was in while I read the story.  It was one of many passages that had me laughing.   It's a funny story in places, but it's also sad and even disturbing.   The characters show racism, bigotry, and self-centeredness and yet they are just regular people who mostly mean well and believe that they are right in thinking the way they do.   The story illustrates the conflicts and misunderstandings between classes and cultures.  Mrs. Turpin's "revelation" at the end of the story might be life-changing for her or only a momentary enlightenment.  For me her vision and realization was moving and memorable.  

        I think that a short story need not have much in the way of action--in fact too much action in a short story is cluttered and confusing.   The short story should focus on one very special idea and, through the characters and the plotline, convey this idea to the reader.   A good short story should have a "moral" (though not necessarily stated as in a fable), teach a lesson, or clarify some specific idea.   By necessity due to its length, the story should be limited in scope from the standpoint of time depicted, geographical range, and number of characters who are specifically introduced.

         The best short stories deal with common events illuminated by an uncommon light then processed back into the reader's mind leaving a lasting impression due to emotion or a thought that lingers long after the story has been read.   A short story of value must engage and entertain for the duration of the reading while at the same time giving the reader something to take away to ponder in interim after reading and have the indelible stamp of the story lodged firmly in the memory.

          Revelation effectively fills all of these criteria.   The writing is basic, simple, and accessible to even readers of relatively low reading skills, and yet the images and ideas are presented with an elementary elegance that spurs imagination.   There is no stumbling over complicated wording or pedantic phrasing.  This is modern writing for readers who have little patience for reading with a dictionary by their sides or stalling to grasp what the author is saying.  O'Connor says what she is going to say with forthrightness.  She delivers complexity with simplicity.  This is truly breathtaking writing.

         I cannot think of any other stories other than others by O'Connor that approach the greatness of Revelation.   Certainly I have a very limited reading experience when put up against all of the stories ever written, but I'll go out on a limb to say that Revelation is the greatest short story ever written.  It's certainly one of my favorites.

My Questions For You

1)    If you have read this story, do you think it is the best short story ever written?
2)    What do think is the best short story ever written?   Why?
3)    What is your favorite short story?   Why?
4)    For you what is it that makes a short story good?   What makes for a great story?

If you happen to read Revelation for the first time as a result of my essay, please let me know your reactions to it.


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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Mysterious Letter in My Mailbox




        An old old friend from far far away wanted me to share a bit of news with my readers.  You may even know this mystery fellow who for here and now prefers to be known by his pseudonym.   Read on through the attached letter and then visit his blog to find out more about the fanciful happenings from Far Far Away...
       
       

Greetings,

My name is Far Far Away and I write to you today from Arlee's tavern. While Tossing It Out may not sound a particularly friendly watering hole, Arlee has always made me feel very welcome and I am delighted to be able to write to so many of his patrons at the same time.

Before I get onto the point of my visit, please allow me to explain a little bit about myself. A few months ago I was involved in a conversation with two gentlemen who claimed they had visited a circular world. They alleged they were able to travel all the way around in a matter of hours... by flying of all methods! I heartily laughed along with them before slowly inching my way to the safety of the door.

Regardless, their imaginations made me realise that there is plenty of entertainment to be gained from real life. From that moment, I vowed to see what stories could be published by simply retelling the lives of those in my world.

I wrote literally thousands of letters, asking my countryfolk to send me stories of their daily lives and destroying my tongue to stamp-licking in the process. Many of them wrote back and, after many months of compiling the letters into chronological order, I have finally been able to form several short stories.

I will be releasing these letters every Monday and Friday over at my newly-built tavern, starting on June 2, 2014. I would be eternally grateful if you could join me on release day to celebrate the release of these stories, the first of which I recently announced was entitled The Apple Princess and the Septet of Tiny People.

I hope to see you there and, once again, my utmost respects to Arlee for being such a gracious landlord.

Yours,

Far Far Away.


       


             Tales from Far Far Away is a parody of popular fairy tales written from the perspective of the main characters and taking the form of many letters all written in some truly dreadful handwriting. Your fond childhood memories of popular folklore will be erased when you enter a world of poisoned apples, hapless heroes and drunken horses, with the occasional nod towards pop culture. The first letter is due for release on 2 June, 2014 and a new letter will be released every Monday and Friday thereafter. Visit the blog at Tales from Far Far Away.




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Monday, May 26, 2014

A Matter of Preference

A young patriot salutes heroes at the 2009 Nat...
A young patriot salutes heroes at the 2009 National Memorial Day Concert on the West Lawn of the United States Capitol. See more at Army.mil (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Happy Memorial Day!

       In a way it seems odd to have a Memorial Day greeting such as my opening, but truth be told I would imagine the majority of those who have this holiday off are happy to be not working and just enjoying themselves.   A good many probably don't even give the meaning of this day much thought--the fact that it's a holiday is the main thing.

      For those who work in retail and entertainment, Memorial Day might be a big day for business with special sales or people looking to do something fun on their day off.  Then there are those like my wife and I who will just be at home laying back and avoiding the traffic and the crowds.

       What do you like to do on holidays such as Memorial Day?    Visit family?   Have a picnic?   Go to the beach?  Frolic at an amusement park?   Attend a special event?   Or would you prefer to stay at home to catch up on work around the house, watch television, or just rest?

        Each of us does our own thing for our own reason.    That reason may even boil down to finances or health.  In those cases we may not be doing things as a matter of preference, but rather circumstance.   But when circumstance is not the prevailing issue, preference rules our lives.  In communal decisions the preference might not always be our own.    How much we enjoy the decision of the group may be influenced by our personal preferences.

An Upcoming Series:  Can You Please Help?

        Starting on Friday May 30th I am going to have a series of posts related to preferences.  The first few posts will be intended for information gathering, then depending on how much information I gather from you readers, I will present an additional 2 to 3 posts to interpret my findings.   The exploratory posts will include my next Battle of the Bands post which will be a special Sunday post on June 1st.  You will have a few days to visit that Battle post before the results appear on Friday June 6th.

          My next Battle of the Bands post might seem peculiar to some, but I hope you will indulge me with your participation.  The more information I get from you, the better I will be able to come up with some preliminary answers to my "research".

          On Wednesday May 28th I will be visited by a mystery guest--an established blogger who has started a new blog under a hidden identity and wishes that identity be concealed for now.   Please be sure to stop by to check out that post.

         And then on Friday May 30th I will be making what some may take to be a highly outrageous and presumptuous claim.   Be ready to defend your preferences or concede to mine.

           What did you do for Memorial Day?   What is your favorite holiday activity?   Are you one of those who has to work on most holidays?  

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Why I Love Wordpress Bloggers



A Blog Blitz Thank You!

           Firstly I want to thank D.L. Hammons for the Blog Blitz surprise this week.   And thanks to all of you who left your comments--especially to all who left more than just Blitz greetings.   The Blitz came on an ideal day since the main thrust of my post on that day was to promote the survey being conducted by M.J. Joachim on her blog M.J. Joachim's Writing Tips.   She's gotten a wonderful response so far thanks to the Blitz.   If any of you have not yet answered this very short five question survey, I encourage you to head on over and check it out in order to help us to make some improvements in the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge.   You can find the survey here.

I Thought You Said...

          Even before the early arrival Blitzers started showing up Tuesday night, my Monday post Why Should I Bother Commenting on Wordpress Blogs? had passed the 60 comment mark.   The topic certainly pushed some buttons.   And when visitors started arriving for the Blog Blitz, some of them even weighed in on the topic.  And the comments about that post have been continuing to come it.

         Now I'm saying I love Wordpress bloggers!   Well, what's up with that?  First I say one thing and then I say another.   What am I really saying?

         To begin with, I was tossing out a general aspersion on the Wordpress community of bloggers to get the Blogger bloggers to chime in with their own complaints and just check to see if any Wordpress bloggers were actually paying attention to what I was saying in my posts.

        Well guess what.   The Blogger bloggers had plenty to say.  After all some of my finger pointing did have some validity.   But then again I was making a blanket statement that did not necessarily cover all Wordpress bloggers.  The ones in our community came through to let us know my challenge had been heard and accepted.   My Wordpress post as of Thursday afternoon had received nearly 100 comments, 26 being from Wordpress bloggers.  If you remove my replies and a couple of other extraneous comments, the Wordpress bloggers made up nearly 1/3 of my comments on that post.  Let's hear a round of cheers for those fine bloggers!

         I make blanket statements on this blog sometimes because I find it stirs the pot better.   There are still a number of Wordpress bloggers who fit the description of arrogant, pompous, and self-centered, but there are also Blogger bloggers who are the same way.    My call is for all bloggers to be sure to show the love to the bloggers who leave comments.   I'll do that right now for all of you who left Blitz comments.  I'm going to try to make it to visit everybody, but if I don't then let it be known that I thanked you here and I love you all.  Even bloggers on Wordpress.

           If you were offended by my Monday Wordpress post, why were you offended?   Do you think it's bad to make blanket statements?    Why do you think that blog comments increase when the blog post is about blogging?

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ask Arlee & BOTB Winner

question
question (Photo credit: cristinacosta)


Ask Arlee:  Asking  You

          Lots of asking in this post.   Today I'm asking you to answer some questions.

           A to Z Team Co-host M.J. Joachim has asked that I share the link to a recent post on her blog M.J.Joachim's Writing Tips.  In her post M.J. is asking her visitors to answer a brief survey composed of five questions plus one bonus question.  It's very brief and you can have fun with it.  And it will help us to improve the 2015 Challenge.

           Please help us out by visiting M.J.'s Totally Random A - Z Challenge Survey #1 and take a minute to answer the questions and then if you can, please go that extra step of sharing the post with others.  The more input we get on this, the better we can understand what you want most in A to Z.   We need your opinions!

            Oh, and if you're wondering about the #1 on this survey, M.J. is planning on a few more of these.  Watch out for them and be sure to answer each survey when they come up on her blog.   We thank you ahead of time.




 Best Version of "High Flyin' Bird"

           In last week's BOTB post I offered up three different versions of the oft recorded song "High Flyin' Bird".   Not too surprisingly the majority of you were not familiar with the song since, though recorded by many artists, the song never became a hit on the music charts.  It's a good song that musicians and singers liked to perform years ago, but it apparently wasn't good enough to resonate with the listening public.

           The versions of "High Flyin' Bird" that I matched against each other were by the Au Go Go Singers, Jefferson Airplane, and H.P. Lovecraft.    They are all very good in my opinion--I don't have a problem with any of them.   And actually if I had used the version by Rejoice I would have gone with that as my favorite--I love the riffing guitar in the back-up and the jazzy vocals.

           However, of my contestants, the version that I am most accustomed to hearing is the one by H.P. Lovecraft.  This is a style of music that I immensely enjoy--spacey psychedelia that you can mind drift along with.   Lovecraft put out far too few albums, but the legacy they left behind is a strong one.

            My favorite of the three choices is the one by H.P. Lovecraft, but even my vote doesn't get them near the top.   They end up with four votes.   The Au Go Go Singers makes out a little better with six votes.  The big winner as might have been expected is Jefferson Airplane with twelve votes.  They are worthy in my opinion.

Final Tally:     Jefferson Airplane wins with 12 votes
                         Au Go Go Singers    6 votes
                         H.P. Lovecraft          4 votes

Next Battle of the Bands will be Sunday June 1st  (What!  June already?)

            Will you answer M.J.'s survey if you haven't done so already?    Do you enjoy answering survey questions?   Do you think marketing surveys provide useful information?

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Why Should I Bother Commenting On Wordpress Blogs?

English: Gorilla is sticking out her tongue in...
Gorilla is sticking out her tongue in SF ZOO (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


       There are a number of Wordpress blogs that I follow and comment on with regularity.   These blogs have content that interests me.  However if I no longer saw this content, my world would not change significantly.  Actually I would not even notice that much.  There are more blogs that are not on Wordpress than I can possibly read everyday.

        I try to be fair in my blog reading and read some from Blogger and Wordpress, as well as a few other blogging platforms.   And guess what--I almost always comment on every post that I read no matter what blogging platform they're on.   I must be some kind of blogging genius to have figured out how to comment on all of these different platforms!

       Not really.  I'm pretty dumb when it comes to computer stuff.   I'm just persistent.  I figure out how to comment, sometimes making several tries until I've figured it out, and then I start leaving comments.  Most Wordpress bloggers that I've encountered either aren't as smart as dumb ol' me or not as persistent.  Or maybe they're just snobbish about their Wordpress community.

         Those bloggers certainly see my comments because they usually respond to them.  They're nice about that.  They seem to want me in their community just fine.   But when it comes to crossing over the tracks into the trashy neighborhood of Bloggerland, noooo! they're too good to read our blogs and comment on our blogs.

          Oh, there are a handful of Wordpress bloggers who do comment on my site on occasion, but it almost feels like a charitable gesture meant to appease me after so many visits I've made to their blogs.  Most of the Wordpress bloggers I visit most likely have never seen any of my blogs and probably not many other Blogger blogs.

          So screw you Wordpress bloggers!   And if you do see this post, I dare you to leave a comment.  Are you gutsy enough to leave a comment on this post?  Or can you even figure out how to do it like I figure out how to leave comments on your site?   Or maybe you're just too good for me.  Or think you're smarter than me.

           I not only dare you to leave a comment on this post, but better yet tell all your wimpie Wordpress weenies to come and prove that they can figure out how to comment here.

           You Wordpress bloggers think you're so hot.  Well, I think you're scared of me and all my friends on Blogger.  So there!  Nanny nanny pooh pooh!

           Do you ever like to just say things to get a rise out of people?    Why do so many people take things so seriously?    If something makes you upset or annoys you, can it be called humor?


     
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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Battle of the Bands: High Flyin' Bird


         Once again I am posting on a Thursday because it's time for another edition of the twice monthly feature The Battle of the Bands.   First conceived by Faraway Eyes at Far Away Series and joined by Stephen T. McCarthy at Ferret-Faced Fascist Friends, I've been also joining in the Battles on the 1st and 15th of each month to add my own twists on the musical mix.   Others join in now and then--you will find some of those blogs at the end of this post--and you are welcome to stage your own Battle as well--just let us know in the comments so we'll come visit your contest.

          Here's how it works:  You listen to the song versions we offer on our sites and for each battle you vote for your favorite version in the comments and let us know why you picked that version.  Winners of each Battle will be announced on each site sometime next week.  I'll announce mine on Wednesday May 21st. Fun, easy, and even a bit educational.   There's also a contest where you can win prizes by leaving comments at the Far Away Series and Ferret-Faced Fascist Friends sites.  So let's get started:   

High Flyin' Bird

         My song pick today is a "Bird" song and I'm a fan of "Bird" songs as I suppose I should be.   Many readers might not be familiar with this song since it's not often played any more, but back in the 60's the song was ubiquitous.   It would probably be easier to list the artists who didn't record the song it was such a standard part of any artist's repertoire.

          The song is about poverty and the struggle of the Appalachian coal miners who feel trapped by their circumstances.   It's a social issue song which is why it resonated so well in the 60's era.   Many of us can possibly relate to the sentiments of this song.  The "High Flyin' Bird" represents freedom from the daily grind of life and all the responsibilities that tie us down to that life.  If you feel trapped by circumstances of your life then you might want to take the song as your own theme song.

         This song was written by Billy Edd Wheeler in 1963 (the link leads to an updated remake the composer recorded in 1967).    "High Flyin' Bird" has been covered by many artists, including The Jefferson Airplane, Judy Henske, Isaac Guillory, Gram Parsons, Richie Havens, Carolyn Hester, The Wizards from Kansas, We Five (featuring Beverly Bivens) , and The Au Go-Go Singers (featuring Stephen Stills).

           I try to avoid using more than two song versions in my Battles, but since there were so many good choices I decided to pick three that were relatively short.  Pick your favorite of these three:

Au Go-Go Singers   "High Flyin' Bird" (1964)

           Legendary sixties group Buffalo Springfield has it beginnings in the folk inspired Au Go-Go Singers.  The group featured Stephen Stills, whose distinctive vocals can be heard singing the lead in this song, and Richie Furay.  While on tour in Canada they met Neil Young who played on the same bill of one of their shows.  The rest is history.  Here are the Au Go-Go Singers with an early version of "High Flyin' Bird".





Jefferson Airplane  "High Flyin' Bird"

        Before Grace Slick Jefferson Airplane had Signe Toly Anderson on vocals.  In the early days the Airplane was a folk rock group until they started tripping on LSD and the music turned psychedelic.  Here they do the folk song "High Flyin' Bird" with a more rock touch to it.




H.P. Lovecraft   "High Flyin' Bird"

         The trippy band H.P. Lovecraft slow things down a la Vanilla Fudge with their jazz tinged ethereal sound.  




          Perhaps the most well-known version of "High Flyin' Bird" is the one by Richie Havens.   His performance at the Woodstock Music Festival included this song and brought him into the music limelight.  Click on the link if you're curious about his version.

          One of my favorite versions of "High Flyin' Bird" is by a husband and wife duo who recorded under the name Rejoice! on a somewhat legendary album that I used to have on 8-track cassette.  This is a quite good album.


          Neil Young and Crazy Horse did a version of "High Flyin' Bird" in their recent Americana album.  It's a good one if you're a fan of the group like I am.  Since this recording clocks in at over five minutes I decided not to include it in the Battle.  If you like the song and want to hear Young's rendition then click on the link and check it out.

         Actually there are so many versions of "High Flyin' Bird" on YouTube that it would probably take a few hours to listen to them all.  Most of them are very good.

Now Vote!

        Which version do you prefer?   Tell us in the comments and let us know why you prefer this version.  Then visit the other Battle of the Band participants.

Here are some other bloggers who may or may not be participating in the Battle of the Bands:

         Faraway Series
         Ferret-Faced Fascist Friends
         Your Daily Dose
         DiscConnected

            Donna Hole


        Are you familiar with this song?   Is there a version not pitted in my Battle that you would consider your favorite?     Do you like folk rock music?

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Maintaining Standards



         When the promotion starts working well, you and your product may begin to receive more scrutiny.  Expectations from the audience you've targeted are apt to increase.  Now is the true test.  Can you maintain the high standards that you've suggested might be found in your work?

        When the curtain opens and the spotlight shines center stage, some people easily assume the professional role in which they've been cast.  Others may freeze up in fear or flounder about due to lack of preparation or lack of confidence.   How you perform becomes part of your résumé and your reputation.   Repairing damage can be a difficult job and one that is best avoided.

          When it's your time to perform, do you maintain your standards of professionalism?   When you are inadequately prepared are you able to ad lib enough to successfully pull off what you are expected to do?  What is the biggest obstacle for you in maintaining high standards?

Tomorrow!! (Thursday May 15th)  Special Battle of the Bands Edition!





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