Smart Technology: Friend or Frankenstein?

Recently, a news commentator voiced some concerns about smart technology. He stated that the phones, pads, books, GPS, and other devices can easily be tracked, pretty much anywhere in the world. The good news is that the possessor of such devices can never get completely lost. But the down side is that, as long as the item is in one’s possession, one can never be truly alone.

There are dozens of aps available for the innumerable devices out there, the continuing technological advances of which render them obsolete before they even hit the store shelves. Consider this: retinal scans, voice and facial recognition, eavesdropping devices (how do you think television ratings are tabulated?), all have been in use for years. They’re way outdated. Want to guess what fun tricks the technology is up to at this minute? Neither do I.

Want to call your mom? You no longer have to put your index finger into the hole of a rotary dial; just speak her name into your phone, and voila, it’s Mom time.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it when my children or grandchildren call. I cannot get enough of hearing their voices, any time or any place. But I do not appreciate getting calls from telemarketers when I’m trying to hammer out my daily page quota. And I don’t like the feeling that BIG BROTHER is listening to me, waiting for me to say or write any of the trigger words that would cause them to train their Cyclops eye on my life, or the lives of my friends and family. A friend with a security clearance tells me even this blog will be mechanically scrutinized.

So, here’s a message to anyone reading this: I’m not subversive. I’m just a Wife, Mom, Stepmom, Grandma, Great-grandma, Retired Educator, and Church Musician who wonders where all this is taking us.

My Personal Writer’s Code of Ethics

How will my writing affect my readers? And how much should I care? Those concerns ginned up such fear of the potentially disastrous side effects of my stories, I nearly gave up writing. The basic question is: What do I want my readers to take away from my writing?

Scenes of violence come easily to me. But like prunes, how much is too much? Is graphic realism necessary to the story? In order to appease my internal Censor, I have had to identify what level of realism I owe my readers, and find ways to harmonize that realism with the freedom of expression I owe my writer self.

Some writer friends have told me not to fight the darkness, to embrace it, give myself over to it, and then write about it. One well-meaning friend even suggested I watch a couple of Slasher films and allow myself to identify with the hollow-souled perpetrator. While that approach might produce something more marketable than my own, it’s not for me. It’s simply not where I want to spend any of my life-time.

So, I will indeed continue to write about the dark side of human nature. But I will do it in keeping with my Code. If my internal Censor tones down the graphics a bit, and my writing ends up smacking of Agatha Christie, so be it. In the words of my deceased father, I don’t have to tell everything I know.


I just turned sixty-two, and have been ruminating about what direction my life path has taken so far. A recent health scare has acted as a catalyst for the introspection – that and the fact that my forty-fifth high school reunion is coming up this summer. Forty-five years since graduation, and so much water under the bridge. Would I do things differently, if offered the chance? Some, but surprisingly, not a lot.

Things I would change? I would appreciate my parents more openly (Mom was my greatest fan, and personified absolute, unconditional love, and Pop wanted me to have a good life.); I would be a more conscientious student (never had to study much, so just floated along); I would take better care of my body – the vehicle that’s brought me thus far; I’d worry less about the future (said with the realization that hind-sight is better, etc.); and I would make some different choices in raising my three sweet sons.

But there are some things I would not change for any amount of money, fame, or anything else this life has to offer. I would not change who my parents were – they did the best they could do to teach me the Faith, and to see to it that I got a college education; I’d not change the timing of anything in my life – the timing has been perfect to get me to who I am in the present; and I’d not change anything about my strong, intelligent, loving, generous, and hard-working sons. Of course, I’d not change one thing about my incredible daughters-in-law, the mothers of my astounding grandchildren, two of whom have made me a great grandmother. And finally, I’d not trade my wonderful, loving, supportive husband, and the children and grandchildren he has added to fill out the gestalt of our shared life – the children who have welcomed me with such generosity of spirit and kind acceptance.

In general, I’m thankful for who and where I am. I don’t know if there is such a phenomenon as “Fate,” but if so, hats off. Whatever the future holds, I’m grateful to have made it this far. And I’m exceedingly grateful for today.

Anyone Seen My Writer’s Voice?

Finding one’s voice as a writer is not as easy as it sounds. But, since most of the books I’ve purchased on writing include a chapter on this topic, I’ve embarked on the process of discovering my authorial voice.

I’ve done most of the things suggested: dressed up like one of my characters, flooded my senses with potpourri and Manheim Steamroller, interviewed myself, and meditated on the meaning of life while staring at my navel. But still, my training as an educator of some twenty-five years inhibits the free-flowing prose I dream of achieving. My explain-everything-so-the-kids-can-understand-and-pass-the-test inner teacher doesn’t seem to want to let go of the controls.

However, this past week I stumbled onto something that just might prove worthy of note. I’ve taken up pretending to be a five year-old. I play solo hide-and-seek in my back yard, I sing nursery rhymes at the top of my lungs on my back porch, and I complain when my husband breathes on my food. The upside of this is that it has engendered a new level of fun into my writing experience. The downside is that it has made some of my more nosey neighbors look at me oddly.

When I do discover my Voice, I’m sure I’ll revel in it. But until then, I’ll keep on exploring possibilities. Tonight, I think I’ll try to channel Bugs Bunny. Now there’s a voice I might enjoy getting into.

A Barr-ahge of Verbi-ahge

At what reading level should one strive to write? As an educator, I was trained to keep everything at about sixth to eighth grade level. Otherwise, too many people will be unable to read with the desired level of comprehension. So does that mean I need to dumb down what I write? How do I feel about having to do that in order to attract a broad readership?

I love the English language. I love the sound of it, the feel of it on my tongue, the visual of individual letters as well as completed words as they pop onto the monitor of my PC. I love the cerebral rush when the language is spoken with authority. If I must restrict my writing to primarily words of two syllables or less, I feel like I’ve moved into the strata I call “The Ho-Hum of Blah Blah.”

But if I allow myself the joy of hammering away on all the bars of my English language glockenspiel, I might not only enjoy a healthy readership, but I might actually have fun writing. And if I can’t enjoy it, why bother?

A Generation of Paparazzi?

I continue to be amazed at the exponentially growing advances in communications technology. A product of the dark ages, I’m unable to keep abreast of the newest and latest electronic gizmos, all of which my sons inform me are obsolete before they hit the market. But even allowing for my stunted learning curve, I’m stymied as to why anyone other than an aerospace engineer or rocket scientist actually needs most of these devices. The focus of today’s rant: the camera phone.

As with most gadgets, the camera phone is an example of what can happen when a good idea goes south. Taking photos of children and grandchildren, of lovely countryside, and of cute animals – that’s all good. But the down side is that anyone anywhere may become the subject of some wannabe paparazzo’s attention.

A paramedic friend recently told me about a horrific car crash to which he was a first responder. The wreck involved four vehicles. One was a van in which people had been sleeping, most not wearing seatbelts. A couple of people had been thrown from the van as it rolled over, and body parts and bleeding people were strewn across the highway. That’s bad enough, but the worst part was that the ambulance had trouble getting to the scene because of the crowd taking pictures with their phones.

The driver of one vehicle, a middle-aged woman, was not quite dead. She was still seated behind the steering wheel, bleeding from several head wounds. She was moving a little, and several people crowded around the car, trying to catch the light just right as they shot their mini-videos of this woman’s death throes.
My friend shouted at them, “What if this was your mother needing help? Show some respect.” He said a couple of people retreated a few feet, but most of them stayed where they were, pointing and clicking away, until the police arrived and ordered them back.

Like a too-spicy lunch, my friend’s question to the crowd keeps coming up, intruding on my thoughts. How is it that we have become so inured to another human being’s suffering that uppermost in our minds is how we can capitalize on it to make ourselves look cool? Whatever happened to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? Welcome to the twenty-first century.

Pick a Genre – Any Genre

After much trial and error, I finally found the genre that defines what I write. At least, I think I have.

It used to be fairly easy to characterize a work. Just a few main categories from which to choose. Not so now days. The old standard genres have metamorphosed into a tangle of seemingly unlimited bifurcated bifurcations.

In my zeal to find where my first novel fits, I Googled “list of literary genres.” The result was fairly traumatic. Wickipedia presents an exhaustive list of genres, sub-genres, and sub-sub-genres, most of which I never even knew existed.

For example, the genre identified as “Punk” is followed by three sub-genres, which are in turn followed by several sub-sub-genres. But “Splatterpunk,” a category one would assume to be a “Punk” sub-genre, is not listed under “Punk” at all. It is a sub-genre of Horror.

The take-away from that enlightening effort was clear: If I don’t find a genre that seems to fit my writing, I’m allowed to not only make one up, but to add it to the Wickipedia site. I’m not kidding. Wickipedia has requested its users expand its list by adding heretofore undiscovered genres.

In that vein, I’ve decided my second novel should most certainly have a genre of its own. I’ll name the genre “Machete,” sub-genre “Murder by Machete,” sub-sub-genre “Dull Machete,” (this is as opposed to “Sharp Machete” and “Broken Machete.”) That will do until I think of something catchier. Apparently, the sky’s the limit.

How Bad Do You Want It?

How much am I willing to suffer for the sake of my writing? How much am I willing to sacrifice? To borrow lyrics from a golden oldie, am I willing to crawl on my lips through broken glass just to get published?

After giving that some thought, I’ve determined that life is too short to lose priceless time with family just to put my thoughts on paper. And it seems the epitome of arrogance to think my meanderings are so important to mankind that all else is expendable.

Perhaps it’s a matter of ambition. It’s possible that my gene that harbors the drive to get published is just too damned recessive. It’s possible. But it primarily seems a matter of priorities.

Recently, I learned that the Nobel Prize laureate Thomas Mann refused to interrupt his daily writing schedule even to attend the funeral of his son who, incidentally, killed himself. I don’t know the whole story, but that seems downright messed up. No doubt, Mr. Mann’s musings have provided grist for our rumination mill. But at the cost of his family?

End analysis: I love to write; I will continue to write; I will write daily, as I am able. But I will remember a basic tenet for living successfully – balance.

And now, I’m off to re-fill my bird feeder. It’s winter, and the little guys are counting on me.

Why Fiction?

“Why waste your time writing fiction? Why don’t you expend all that creative energy writing something worthwhile – something that will actually help people?” Since the day I made known my desire to write for public consumption, I have been asked this question too many times to count. In all charity, those who ask it most likely mean well. But at the root of that question is an unspoken variation of the age-old rhetorical admonition: Get a real job and stop all this writing nonsense.

For a long time, as often happens with comments that rankle, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I might be missing something – that I might be squandering, or worse, bastardizing a gift from the Creator. I thought about why I do what I do, with what I believe to be honest introspection. I thought about it for, oh I don’t know, all of four or five minutes.

The results of that spelunking trek into the depths of my psyche brought forth a simple answer: I love to tell stories. I was a great liar as a child, a trait my sister insisted was important in a good story teller. F.Y.I. – I’m convinced the average non-fiction writer is probably a horrible liar, but that’s just a guess.

I’m not throwing mud at those who choose to write non-fiction. In fact, I enjoy reading thoughtful discourse, as well as biographical and historical works. I just don’t have the patience, or the research-oriented personality to produce that kind of thing.

Never one to burn bridges, however, I will say that future events might precipitate a change of mind. I might undertake a non-fiction project. After all, my life to date has been filled with hair-pin curves and switch-backs. I might decide to write a memoir.

Until then, I’ll keep on doing what I love to do. I’ll tell great whopping stories and keep writing fiction in hopes that it will offer someone somewhere a temporary escape from reality.