When A Comment’s Better Than The Original Post

“Without love, a decent world does not exist.”

Well, amen.  Doesn’t that just say it all?

This gem came out of a comment left on a recent post and I’ll tell you what…a good commenter is worth their weight in gold.  Comments in general are great and deeply appreciated but, still, every once in a while something comes along that really grabs my heart and wrings it.  A couple more recent examples:

From Alice in the Cities:

“Oh, and he did speak just before he died. He saw his brother in the doorway twice and said happily that he was waiting for him.”

From Cindy’s Cancers:

 “I was very afraid of dying but after being inpatient at hospice I saw that they can and will make sure that I don’t suffer. Now I can continue to enjoy what time I have left.”

And lastly, here’s one more from the same guy mentioned above, Robert Brownbridge*:

“Immortality is optimally reached if and when we have loved fully and well.”

(*Robert Brownbridge is a poet and the author of a memoir about the Korean war called Into War With An Empty Gun.)

There have been more along the way.  Comments that were beautiful or honest or simple or insightful or thought provoking or surprising or just plain fun.  Maybe from now on I’ll try and throw them up like this whenever they come along.  Or maybe put up a page specifically for them called Comments Better Than The Post.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

My Writing: Sometimes I Hate It, Sometimes I Love It

I try not to read my writing at night because I discovered years ago that if I do, I’ll hate it.  Always.  When I’m tired, every word I’ve ever written sounds like shit, and if I make the mistake of reading it too late, I’ll go to sleep feeling like a fraud.

At the other end of the spectrum, in the morning I usually like what I’ve written.  And if I’m drinking coffee, I love it. Caffeine does for my writing what pot used to do for my philosophical discussions in adolescence–it lifts it to a level of brilliant insight (which, sadly, rarely survives the chemical letdown afterwards.)

This daily vacillation, while painful, is at least familiar.  I know it, I deal with it.  I’ve learned how to milk the creative juices that come in the morning and sidestep the mental desert of night.

But I experienced a different kind of downswing this week that caught me unprepared. The Idaho Writer’s Guild here in town sponsored a talk by Lori Wasulchek, an award winning, documentary photographer who just published a moving, exquisite book about the hospice program in Angola State Penitentiary, Louisiana, called Grace Before Dying.  (I won’t review it here because the self-critic in my head has informed me I’m not good enough.  Just use the link.  Pete Brook does it justice.)

She was inspiring.  Dedicated.  Brilliant and unbelievably hard working.  She walked through fire to bring her book to print because she believes in the value of Angola’s hospice program and what it’s doing for the countless men who are living and dying in there.  She not only created an uplifting work of art that reaffirmed everything best in us, she touched a lot of lives and helped a lot of people along the way.  I left the meeting with her book cradled in my arms, my faith in humanity renewed.  I was high as a kite, energized.  Hopeful for a better future for us all.

And then, about three hours later (as evening rolled around) my trusty, fragile, writer’s ego collapsed and I crashed.  Hard.  The inevitable comparisons began and I spent the next twelve, sleepless hours questioning every word I’ve ever written, everything I’ve ever done, and (while I was at it) my entire reason for being.  I took the earlier post I’d written about Grace Before Dying down off the blog before anyone besides the spammers who never read anything anyway could find it, and then seriously questioned about whether to just take the whole blog down, too.

God.  What a horrible night.  My emotions were painfully, ridiculously extreme.  The good news is they were so extreme I knew I should wait until morning before doing anything I might regret.

Sure enough, dawn eventually came and, with the help of a little sunlight and caffeine, I regained a more moderate perspective.  (Although even coffee couldn’t completely dispel the angst.)  After a rational look at my reaction I learned a couple of important things about myself that I need to keep in mind going forward:

1)  I’ve secretly wanted to single handedly save the world from its fear of dying.

2)  I need to come up with a more realistic goal.  (And admit it to myself this time.)

3)  I’m not a journalist and it’s counter-productive to compare myself to one, especially one that’s award-winning.  I’m a creative writer, and I need to embrace that aptitude and craft my ideas accordingly.

4)  I need to stop being such a hermit and spend more time around other writers for the inspiration, insights, and ego-workout I so clearly need.

I think the last one is probably the most important.  Writers have to spend so much time alone anyway, and when you couple that with my natural tendency to hole up and hide from the world, I can wind up being pretty isolated.  It’s not good for me and it’s certainly not good for my writing.  One of the hardest things for me to do…every single time…is accept a good critique and apply its lessons, even though doing so has always done more to improve the quality of my work than anything but the simple discipline of writing every day.

Spending more time with writers (especially those writing on my topic) would also provide excellent practice for dealing with the I Love It/I Hate It pendulum swings created by comparing my work to that of others.  I really don’t want to be taken off guard again the way I was this week.  I can’t afford it.  It’s painful, it’s hazardous to the work I’ve already written, and in all honesty it’s just not the kind of person I want to be.  The number of talented, hard working, dedicated writers out there is huge, and I’d really rather learn to harness their achievements as a source of inspiration than seeing them as a reason to quit.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

A Blogging Topic That Repels Spammers

In the eternal, unwanted, ebb and flow reality that is spamming-on-the-blog, I’ve noticed something intriguing.  Posts on my main topic of interest…Dying…repel spammers.  (These posts also, unfortunately, repel readers, but let us leave that topic for a brighter day.  Sigh.)

It is oh-so curious, no?

The pattern has just recently become clear to me.  Roughly eighty-five percent of my posts involve something I’ve learned from the dying and the longer I stay on topic, the likelier the flow of spam will trickle off and die. (No pun intended.)  But when I drift off-topic and broach subjects like Arab spring, or annoying Google advertising, or Stihl gas powered pole tree pruners, the velocity of spam immediately increases at a spanking pace.

Spanking, I tell you.

Then I return to my main focus and voila!  All I have to do is write three or more dying-related posts in a row and it crushes the burgeoning torrent of spam as efficiently as Raid on roaches.  Seriously.  It’s just that good.

Even I never dreamed the taboo on speaking about dying was this powerful; that spammers respond to it (in a second hand, traffic sniffing kind of way.)  Who would have thought anything was that strong?  A fascinating and, for once, entirely happy consequence of breaking said taboo.

(Image from Wikipedia)

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Awards Season

Here’s a tag-you’re-it kind of award that’s a lot of fun.  Bloggers nominate other bloggers, and then anyone who receives the honor has to write a list of seven (eight? ten? it’s all over the map) things about themself that they haven’t disclosed before.

Well, yesterday I was nominated by the ever-so-stylish, great poultry protector, John Gray of Going Gently fame.  So in the spirit of the game, here are ten things about me you probably didn’t know:

1)  Back in the old days, my grandfather was the accountant  for, among a number of other local businesses, three of the brothels in the small, western town where my mother grew up.  One day while he was working on the books at one of these establishments, my grandmother realized she needed him to run an errand for her.  So she called over to the house and, when a woman answered the phone, asked if Gus was there.  The woman said No without missing a beat.  My grandmother got flustered and replied, But…Gus is my husband.  He told me he’d be there. After which the woman on the other end of the line repeated Nope.  Sorry.  No Gus here. It was only then my grandmother realized her mistake and started laughing.  Oh no, she informed the woman, Gus isn’t a customer, he’s your accountant.  He’s working on the books today and I need him to pick up a loaf of bread on the way home. The other woman relaxed and started laughing, too, after which she told my grandmother she’d be happy to deliver the message.

c. 1890

2)  I once went barefoot for four years and could put out cigarettes with the soles of my feet.

3)  I gave birth to both my kids at home.

4)  My mother went to an ashram in India to study with a saint when I was twelve.  Afterwards, she was rumored to be enlightened.  My father was career military and went into special ops after he retired.  He was rumored to be part of a hit squad.

5)  I’ve been to all fifty U.S. states, Canada, and deep into Mexico.  I love this continent and it’s people with all my heart.

6)  I won awards for my sculpting in papier mache and displayed in galleries.  Never sold much though.

7)  I taught trampoline.

8)  I adore the hubster.

9)  I used to type faster than the wind and was always in demand as a secretary.

IBM Selectric

10)  Andy Kaufman once did a private comedy show for me, but it was out of context and I didn’t really get it.  It wasn’t until years later, after Man On The Moon, that I finally realized just how funny he was.  I still think he had the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen.

image from Wikipedia

And now, passing the baton, I’d like to nominate Janet over at her cracking blog My Brother Andrew, where she’s raising money for research into Motor Neuron Disease (MND), and Linda at What Comes Next? who fearlessly and fluently tackles whatever topic comes her way.  Your turn girls.  Good luck!

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

There and Back Again

Hi!  We’re back from our Thanksgiving adventure up in the Sawtooth Mountain range and I wanted to do a quick pictorial tour of our journey there and back again.  John of Going Gently once did a post with a pictorial tour of his village in Northern Wales, and it was such a great idea it inspired other bloggers to explore their towns, take photographs, and set up virtual tours of their own.  It was fascinating to me, exploring different geographical regions with their histories, through the eyes of the people who live there and love them.  While the town that I live in is as rich and worthy of exploration as any, I’m afraid my deepest affection is reserved for the natural world.  So I thought I’d put together a little photo tour of our journey up to the family cabin and back instead.

Here are some winter photos of the Sawtooth Mountains, Highway 21, the Lowman to Banks highway, and Highway 55 down into Boise, Idaho.

A succession of winter storms passing down the mountain range the day after we arrived.

A shot through the window during the cold snap (-25 degrees Fahrenheit)

The first blush of dawn on the morning we were leaving.

…the blush deepening…

First rays of sunlight hitting the peaks.

And finally, morning has broken.

This is where I really wish I was a better photographer…as the rising sun hit the landscape, it’s reflection off the snow caused a brilliant, sparkling effect.  Everything looked like it was embedded with diamonds.  It was magical and breathtaking.  This photo falls sadly flat by comparison but at least it gives you an opportunity to exercise your imagination.

This is the beginning of the three hour drive home on winding mountain roads with patchy snow and ice.  We came home a day early to try and beat the next winter storm (which would have closed this pass completely.)  Here are some lovely winter scenes along the way.

The creek which flows along the highway and eventually feeds into the Payette River.

A waterfall which flash froze during the cold snap.

Most of the highways through the mountains around here were built over the original dirt logging roads.  Here’s a spot where, years ago, the road builders blasted away a huge part of the rock during construction.  It’s always amazing to me how nature takes these wounds and, over time, creates a new beauty.

There’s a significant amount of geothermal activity throughout the northern tier of mountain states and Kirkham Hot Springs, here, is just one of many, many hot springs to be found.  The heated water bubbles up out of the ground through springs on the mountainside above the river, then forms into small streams that eventually cascade down in numerous waterfalls here.  It’s a popular spot all year round.  If you look very closely you can see a couple of tiny, half-naked people in the far right of the photo.

The mountainside in the background was devastated by a major fire about seventeen years ago and the pine trees are just starting to grow back now.  The story of the fire is an interesting one.  We get a LOT of  big motor homes lumbering around on the two lane roads through the mountains and they’re generally pretty slow.  They’re supposed to pull over and let others pass if they get five or more vehicles following but sometimes the drivers can be stubborn.  In this case it was a retired man (with wife) from out of state who refused to pull over.  The line of cars behind him had gotten really long which inspired some honking and general annoyance but he steadfastly ignored them all.  Then, one of the double back tires blew on the fifth-wheel rig he was towing and the metal rim of the wheel started a stream of sparking as it rolled along the asphalt.  The driver however was somehow unaware of the problem.  (Perhaps he was so busy infuriating the people behind him he didn’t notice his rig was pulling heavily to the right.)  It was the height of summer and the sparks flew off into the dry brush along the roadway and started fires everywhere they fell.  The traffic behind him  went nuts, honking and yelling and trying to pass him on dangerous turns to get in front of him, but he just wouldn’t stop.  In the end he went for something like eight miles before they finally managed to pull him over.  The fires he set off were catastrophic and devastated hundreds of miles of forest.

I wanted to get a picture of the deep, river gorge that runs parallel to the road here but this is as close to the edge I dared get.  Right past the snow at the bottom of the photo is a cliff with a thousand foot tumble down into never-never land so I opted for caution over a fabulous photo op.

Coming up on the left is the Dragon’s Spine, a series of  rock formations coming down the mountainside that look like plates on the back of a gigantic stegosaurus.


…and closer…

…and here’s the top of the Dragon’s head.

The cliff at the right is where the Dragon’s head comes down to meet the Payette River and you can see how the water has frozen over where the bend slows the flow.  (Not the greatest camera so not the greatest photos but it’s the best I could do.  Sorry!)

And lastly, here’s the Thunder Mountain train.  It’s running on tracks that are part of the old railway system the timber companies built through the mountains to export the felled trees.  There used to be accidents where trains would go off the rails and dump their loads into the river, creating massive log jams.  The only trains that run here anymore though belong to the Thunder Mountain Line, a tourist affair serving either dinner, or wine and cheese, depending on the time of day.

That’s it for today.  I hope you’re all having a fabulous weekend!

copyright Dia Osborn 2010

My posting schedule:

Now that I’ve finally crawled out from under my log and let some of you know I have a blog, I realize I should also warn you up front not to expect a cornucopia of material.  I’m not prolific.  On the contrary,  I usually only post on Fridays because I’m slow and tortured and, in my world, no post is worth publishing unless every sentence has been worried and reworked for a minimum of an hour and a half, and every word has been tried, changed, rearranged and then put back to the original at least four times.

Predictably, this leads to a lot of garbled text.

I’m therefore forced to do a panic rewrite every Friday morning after which I finally hit the publish button in much the same spirit that I depress a toilet handle.  (I’m a little repulsed by the final product, but relieved that it’s done and blessed with a new burst of energy.)  I then redouble my efforts and spend the rest of the day re-re-editing and updating the published text.

Whenever I doubt my sanity I think of E.B. White who was also obsessive.  It was his habit, after finally working up the nerve to place a finished manuscript in the mailbox, to then panic, go to the postmaster, and beg him to fish it out and give it back.  (I understand it never worked.)  Remembering this always makes me grateful that I live in an age with the option of an update button.  Less humiliation.

Viva le blogging.

(UPDATE:  I know, I’m posting on a Tuesday to announce that I post on Fridays.  Life is full of little ironies.  This is just my contribution.)