Men, As You Go Out Today, Remember….

Another one worth sharing:

From NEVER NEVER NEVER GIVE UP!!! Non-Profit Organization. Via Facebook.

From NEVER NEVER NEVER GIVE UP!!! Non-Profit Organization. Via Facebook.

Separately, in a similar vein, I recall once seeing this line somewhere:

Behind every successful man is a proud wife…. and a surprised mother-in-law.

Have a good Monday! :-)

Saturday In Bristol

Bristol is one of England’s most attractive cities. It often also has traffic to rival London’s. It certainly did yesterday afternoon.

The M32 crawled. The roads winding through the center crawled. We also discovered Rupert Street was closed.

“Is that a street we drive on [to get to our friends' house]?” my wife, behind the wheel, asked as we were stuck in traffic.

“I have no idea,” I said, scanning street names on the sat-nav on my iPhone.

It wasn’t.

Once you get into the city, it’s more than worth it:

Tiny portion of Clifton Downs, Bristol. Yes, I take photos occasionally of signs.

Tiny portion of Clifton Downs, Bristol. Yes, I take photos occasionally of signs.

Call this an English cheeseboard, laid out by a Danish woman. Which it was.

Call this an English cheeseboard, laid out by a Danish woman. Which it was.

Port.

Port.

We’re in, uh, recovery this morning. I like to call evenings like last night, umm, “research” for a future novel. ;-)

______
UPDATE: Beautiful Sunday morning:

View over Bristol. [Photo by me, 2014]

View over Bristol. [Photo by me, 2014]

Sworn To Secrecy

Not exactly an uplifting Monday post. For that, I apologize in advance. Sorry.

Sunday evening, my wife got an email from a friend whom we, and most everyone else, already know has a serious, long-term illness. She wrote that she has just been told she probably has only months to live. She noted that the only person who knows that is – unsurprisingly – her husband (they have no children).

And now, so does my wife; she’s second. She asked my wife not to tell anyone else; but, naturally, my wife immediately told me. However, I don’t really count as someone else, because I’m essentially a “dead end,” a cul-de-sac: I’m certainly not going to tell anyone.

There I was yesterday morning, thinking, oh, I’ll have a quiet day and try to “de-stress.” In my creative cocoon, I was seeing light at the end of the latest tunnel: the sequel is almost done. Finally, that struggle is nearing its end.

How unimportant the likes of that always seems whenever we are unexpectedly thrust back into unforgiving, actual reality.

View of a section of Trent Park, London, at dusk. [Photo by me, 2014]

View of a section of Trent Park, London, at dusk. [Photo by me, 2014]

Earlier this year, we’d already endured the worst death I have ever experienced. “I wonder if that’s what they told Kam?” was my knee-jerk response when my wife told me about this, more distant, friend. Later, we tried to lose ourselves in the first episode of the newest season of Downton Abbey.

Life is full of harsh moments like this. Yet this is new to me: What does one do with information like this when you are asked to keep it in confidence? The person facing the terminal illness has shared what she has been told of her fate, yet where does that leave those few who are told and then sworn to secrecy?

All I can say is that, having slept on it, possessing such information leaves me with a guilty sense of awful insider knowledge. Even if keeping it “quiet” is based on the best of intentions (to spare feelings, worry, etc.), important people are being left out of the loop; and they shouldn’t be. Ultimately, in my humble opinion, it’s never fair to them.

Under Surveillance

My wife pops by here on occasion. She says she likes to keep an eye on what I’m up to…. here on the internet potentially in the view of the entire world. My sublime, groundbreaking interview with myself last weekend attracted her especial attention:

“You’re losing it, man!”

At least she was laughing – albeit rather demonically – when she told me that. Yet that opinion actually was an excellent appraisal.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a cartoon television screen

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a cartoon television screen

After all, to try to “explain oneself” before our increasingly informationally borderless world, anyone can offer an “About” page. (Which I have.) In a sidebar we may also share a brief list of “important” posts. (Which I’ve also done.) But we uniquely perceptive, great novelists, should indeed offer more – given we inhabit a higher plane of reality compared to the rest of middling humanity.

Uh, see, see! I’m getting there! That above paragraph demonstrates it again! My efforts at mastering a haughty, know-it-all, novelistic pomposity and condescension I had been working on in that “interview” is paying off! ;-)

Have a good Saturday!

Saturday Interview: All About Vampires

Questioner: Thank you for joining us. Welcome to this major, first-time, blog interview I’m conducting with myself, R. J. Nello – novelist, traveler, expatriate deep thinker, intellectual extraordinaire….

R. J. Nello: What the hell are you talking about with that title? Vampires? There are no vampires in my books. Although as my wife loves to barb me, they are full of French girls….

Q: It’s a grabber. A headline that wows ‘em. We want people passing through to read this, don’t we?

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a vampire.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a vampire.

Nello: And I’m an intellectual? Thanks for the pat on the back. But you sure as hell haven’t seen my SAT scores.

Q: We’ve got to get those using WordPress reader to stop and look for two seconds at least. Putting your photo up sure won’t work. You’re not an attractive woman.

Nello: Uh, huh. Okay, dude, here’s another grabber: my uncle is friends with a man who was friends with Gore Vidal. Really. Top that? Okay, Vidal’s dead now. But you probably think I mean Al Gore.

Q: No, I don’t.

Nello: Oh, and Sean Connery – yes, that Sean Connery: Mr Bond, Mr. Scottish Independence – once asked for my uncle’s autograph. How’s that also?

Q: Is that why you write, to try to compete with and better your uncle?

Nello: What are you, a psychiatrist? And I don’t think I need one of those. Well, at least not yet….

Q: Okay, to Passports. What got you started? Where did the basic idea for that novel come from?

Nello: James Blunt.

Q: Excuse me?

Nello: I’d always wanted to write non-fiction. I’ve got bl-ody degrees coming out of my…. well, but who gives a damn about what I have to say about anything. Or you for that matter. Everyone’s got an opinion. Like should Scotland be independent? How the hell should I know?

Q: We all have new things to learn?

Nello: Okay, you really wanna know? One morning, I was listening to that “1973” song of Blunt’s on my iPhone for about the 247th time and I thought, ‘He’s too young to remember that year. Hell, even I don’t!’ Ah, but how about circa “1993?” Bingo! My brain shifted forward into a fictionalized historical memoir type thing….

Q: That’s fantastic!

Nello: Wait, I’m not done. Then I made my wife a cup of tea. I stopped thinking at that point. She’s English. Damn it, I can’t be distracted making tea for her. She tells me off if it’s not good.

Q: Obviously evidence of sheer genius in knowing exactly when and how to focus the mind. F. Scott Fitzgerald couldn’t match it. May I have your autograph?

Nello: Look, take it easy with that suck up stuff. It won’t work. Well, buy a copy of my book at least. A little encouragement always helps. We novelists are a fragile lot.

Q: About the content. It sounds fascinating. You’ve written fact as fiction?

Nello: No, I haven’t! You think I wanna get sued? I base my fiction on general events and on people I knew in another century. Sorta my life – very broadly – at one time way back when. But very SORTA. As many a fiction writer has done. It’s not fact. No one in Passports is a real person. Got that? No one. Not a soul.

Q: Understood. So you don’t want to end up in court. Understandable that. Okay, but I’m sure your wife wants to know, “Who’s Isabelle?”

Nello: I’m certainly not telling you. But she knows this much: I dated a French girl in college long before I knew her, today’s lovely, gorgeous, perfect Mrs. Nello. My mother’s reaction at the time was about what you’d expect after she had met mademoiselle: “Are you nuts? They hate us.” Next question.

Q: You used that very line opening a chapter, when one of James’s workmates disparages his going out with her!

Nello: Hey, you did read Passports pre-interview! That’ll win you brownie points for a question or two. I can be as tough as Gore Vidal was on ignorant interviewers, you know. People expect us novelists to be nasty sorts. Bitter. Angry. I’m working on that. Makes us more interesting, I suppose.

Q: Is that girl how you seem to know Isabelle’s mind so well? And that of her friends? What she told you? What you learned from her? All of them?

Nello: Oh, God, more pop psychology. But you’re on the right track again. That’s two good questions. Makes a refreshing change for this dumb interview.

Q: So that’s who she is? That girl from then? Your readers are dying to know?

Nello: Now you’re annoying me. I told you the answer to that. Back up. Don’t badger me. You aren’t Jon Stewart and I’m not some Republican. I swear I’ll get up and walk off this set.

Q: Sorry, sorry. May I ask, do you ever still hear from her?

Nello: The last time was through a relation of hers years after I’d last seen her. Her sister emailed me days after September 11, 2001, asking if everyone we knew in NY was okay. By then they had both married Frenchmen who weren’t too keen on them having male friends outside marriage. Shocker, ain’t it? Even if those male friends were married to other women? Probably because it’s you know, France, and they’re Frenchmen and they know how they themselves might behave…. [cough, cough, François Hollande] and why the hell am I telling you this?

Q: Because I’m the interviewer! Moving on. The tale’s got culture, travel, and politics, yeh; but also love and mushy stuff. Did you fear it perhaps being labeled, uh, “chick lit?”

Nello: I’m a romantic, okay. I admit it. I’m also an historian. Historians are, by definition, romantics. I will admit one of my proofreaders used that phrase. It made me cringe. I wasn’t aiming for that and that’s not what the books are. I also knew the tale isn’t Rambo Returns, Part XVII. No one would call The Winds of War “chick lit,” or Casablanca a “chick flick.” Or maybe they do? Anyway, I suppose anything touching on relationships in which men are also not invading a small country runs the risk of finding itself labeled “romance.”

Q: So what is your goal in writing? Is it artistic? For the generations? Do you hope to make a statement?

Nello: I hope one day my niece and two nephews will be able to cash massive cheques that their dead uncle’s typing and struggles made possible, and then they can write of what a wonderful man I was and how no one ever appreciated me while I was alive and that’s a shame. That’s the English spelling of “check,” by the way, given we’re doing this interview in London.

Q: But what about now? While you’re living? What do you hope to achieve?

Nello: If I’m totally honest, I hope people who stop and read this will buy my book, love it, and tell 900 of their closest friends on Facebook. And then they’ll also contact major film studios demanding, “Have you optioned this? It’s my favorite book! When’s the film version coming out?”

Q: So you’d like to see a film of it? Heh, heh, ya got any French actresses in mind?

Nello: No one you’d know, I’m sure. Like you know French cinema? Did you vote for that buffoon George W. Bush or something? Sorry, sorry, that’s just more Mr. Vidal popping out of me for a moment. Hey, how’s my being moody and nasty working for you interview-wise? Making this more compelling?

Q: You are telling your blog readers a sequel due for November release is in the works. Sounds great. So where are you going from where you left off in the first book?

Nello: Ahem, well, as Albert Camus once said….

Q: Uh, I’ll have to stop you there, Mr. Nello. It’s been an unadulterated pleasure speaking with you. I’m sorry, but we’ve run out of time. And frankly, I’ve had enough.

Nello: But I didn’t finish sharing my Camus quote? Damn it, I knew I should have held out for Charlie Rose.

_____
UPDATE: The interview continues here. ;-)

The Sheer Terror

As we know, dreams make good fictional plot devices. However, our “real” ones are often stranger and funnier than anything we can concoct, of course. How bizarre our brains can be.

I woke up about 5 this morning all disturbed after a nightmare. Wide awake, I slipped downstairs. I poured a glass of milk and sat for a moment in the kitchen before going back to bed.

I’d thought I’d been quiet. But my getting up had disturbed my wife. As I returned, in the darkness she asked, “Is everything okay?”

“Fine,” I whispered. “Sorry. I had a nightmare, was all dry and just needed a quick drink.”

“About what?”

As I climbed back into bed, I admitted, “It seems ridiculous now, but it was frightening while I was dreaming it. It was about Kam.”

I heard a sharp intake of breath from my wife.

I continued, “No, no. It was weird. I haven’t dreamed of her since she died. We were in a restaurant together and no one would serve us.”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a waitress with an empty tray.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a waitress with an empty tray.

My wife burst out laughing. Kam was an avid restaurant goer. Countless times we had all ventured to places she had chosen. She had excellent taste.

If my wife wasn’t completely wide awake before then, she was now. After regaining control of herself, she asked, “Was anyone else there with you two?”

“No. Just she and I.”

“Well, wherever she is,” she smiled, “she must be trying to tell you something.” :-)

Life: Endless Source Material

I spoke to my parents last night. I thought it was going to be a routine chat. What was I thinking?

“Rob, we had an incident,” my Dad calmly started to explain. “My Zoll defibrillator went nuts.”

I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. “What?”

Zoll Life Vest.

Zoll Life Vest.

He detailed what had happened. “Monday, I took it off to wash. After putting it back on, I walked downstairs. At the bottom of the stairs, the alarm went off. You can’t misunderstand it. What a f-cking noise! Holy s-it!”

He was laughing, so I realized there had been no problem. They had spoken to Zoll, and the woman operator said he probably had not dried himself enough after his shower. Likely a bit of moisture impacted an electrode.

“Your mother was in the kitchen on the phone with your uncle,” my Dad continued.

“Oh, God, not him!” I laughed. The literary giant. “Of all the times.”

“Yep. She comes running out to me, and while the alarm is blaring its electronic voice is also yelling, ‘Don’t touch him! Don’t touch him!’ I pushed the button and silenced it, so it knew I wasn’t unconscious and it didn’t defibrillate me.”

I sat here, 3,000 miles away in London, listening to this semi-farce.

“Your mother dropped the phone at the alarm, so your uncle heard the alarm and all the commotion. After she got back to the phone, he started screaming at her to put me on. ‘Is he okay?! What’s going on? You want me to call someone?!’ Then he starts complaining his breathing is bothering him.”

I held my head. “You’re a comedy, the three of you.”

The Zoll operator asked for an upload of my Dad’s heart data off the device, just to double-check his heart hadn’t “malfunctioned” in any way. He did so promptly. She called back and said his data was fine.

Speaking with her after the “all-clear” had been determined, he said he laughed, “That thing going off like that almost gave me a heart attack!”

As a fiction writer, no way should you ever say you’ve run out of material. If you have, you’ve stopped living. Life is an endless source. ;-)

What Happened To Bobby?

Yesterday afternoon, an episode of Escape to the Country came on the BBC. In the background, we heard one of the househunting couple’s children’s names: “Hatcher.” With that, the fun began:

• Me: “There must be an American in this couple. Boys names in the U.S. have become ridiculous in recent years. Only an American would name a son ‘Hatcher.'”

• Mother-in-law: “It is odd. There’s an American golfer with the Christian name ‘Webb.’ So silly.” (Note: she is of the generation that still says “Christian” name.)

As Escape proceeded, we learned I’d gotten it right. They were an American couple, living in London, seeking to move to Surrey. It’s a well-to-do county that might be compared roughly to, say, Loudoun County, Virginia, or Putnam County, New York.

image

Their home search had a major requirement: a house needed to be near a train station. Why? The husband admitted on camera that he didn’t have a U.K. driving license, so he had to commute by train.

• Me: [Thinking. There's nothing wrong with the train. But, God, aren't you embarrassed admitting that on U.K. national TV? Pass your bl-ody U.K. driving test, and stop embarrassing other Americans living here by giving British viewers the impression we can't manage to drive in their country.]

While I had become distracted by the driving silliness, my mother-in-law was still on the issue of the boy’s name:

• Mother-in-law: “Over in Ireland, they often don’t have traditional names on children either. [She waves an Irish Independent at us.] Look at this? Apple iCloud. What sort of a name is that?”

• Me: [Thinking: Did I just hear her right?]

• My wife: [After a pause followed by a roar of laughter] “Mum, that’s not a name!”

Seems I haven’t yet entirely “escaped” my personal Seinfeld episode either. It continues on this side of the Atlantic too. ;-)

“Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane”

With my Dad doing better than we’d expected, Sunday afternoon I took an opportunity to venture up to the Catskills to check our house, and use Monday to mow the lawn and deal with anything else that may have needed dealing with. I admit I could also have called it my “24 hours of tranquility” away from the rural Pennsylvania Seinfeld episode in which I am currently trapped! ;-)

We have no broadcast TV in the house right now. Quickly I decided on an evening in front of the DVD player. I treated myself to the first few episodes of Mad Men from the very first series/ season.

Okay, trivia question: What are Roger Sterling’s first words ever said on the show?

Answer: “Morning girls.”

When I returned to my parents’ place last night, chatting I happened to tell my mother. She had worked in midtown Manhattan as a secretary herself briefly – pre-marriage – in the early 1960s. She laughed:

It’s true. They were my father’s age. That’s actually what they used to say to us.

Around the same time, she had also actually considered becoming a Pan Am “stewardess” – she who had never (and still has never been) on a plane. We discovered that when she revealed it to us at some point while the Pan Am TV show had been on the air. I still can’t believe it.

But I digress. Although there was no TV in house, I did have mobile internet. I wasn’t totally, uh, “cut off in the Catskills.”

However, pardon me here for maybe seeming a bit out of touch in this way. Recently I’ve been seeing bits on the net here and there about a site called “SoundCloud.” I did again on Sunday night.

I finally decided to click over and have a good look around on it…. and a listen. Noticing what was on the site, how it generally seemed to work, and with time to kill (after having overdosed on Mad Men), I searched for a couple of songs that were running through my head recently courtesy of radio (oldies) play. As a new novelist, I thought maybe I’d find cover versions by “unknowns” who might be worth a listen?

For “The Letter,” I stumbled on this singer. Incredible. Well, I just HAVE to share this:

In Barba Gwen31's stream on Soundcloud.

In Barba Gwen31’s stream on Soundcloud.

Barba Gwen31 has **some** voice. As we know, the web lets us now independent/ self-publish books. (Which, after all, is why I’m on here! ;-) ) Now it also allows singers to be heard globally whom we otherwise probably would have never heard of.

One frustration, though. I’d PAY, iTunes-like (yes, I’d separate myself from some money) to download and own it. However, I can’t figure out how? I don’t see how to do it? Ugh! :-)

Have a good Tuesday! I’m writing this post at my parents’ kitchen table. Near the sink, time to take his pills, they are on at each other…. again. Apparently he’s too inept to take them without her careful oversight:

“I love you, dear,” he told her off as she read the directions to him yet again.

“Read the rest of it!” she barked, handing him one bottle.

“It says, ‘Take one a day,'” he pointed to it.

“Old people get crazy taking medications. Oh, s-it, see what I just did!” she yelled as she took another of the bottles. “I’ll mix them up!”

“You’re an old person!” he shot back.

“Angie Gonzalez [an elderly, now deceased, relation] used to mess up her medication….” my mother droned on. “Oh, no one’s listening to me.”

“Mom, I am. Please stop now.”

A few more days remain in my Seinfeld episode. “Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane….” ;-)

“She didn’t mean to pull a knife on you….”

While proofreading it last year, one of my Passports story “checkers” had noticed the novel’s “friendships” undertone, and told me:

These girls are so close and fond of each other….

It was excellent she caught that, because I framed that deliberately. It applies to men too. Friends as central in our lives is an important theme I wanted to explore in the novel(s).

I aimed to subtly emphasize friendships between those raised as only children, or with much older, or emotionally distant – or difficult – siblings. For them, their closest support may come from friends and not from similar age relatives:

I have two brothers,” Isabelle shared with him. “They are about twenty years older than me. Not a surprise. My parents are much older.”

“I’m an only child. It isn’t easy. When I was little, I always wished for a brother or sister,” James said. “I’d have even taken one twenty years older.”

“My best friend Virginie is an only child,” Isabelle added. “And the way her mother is so young, they are like friends often.” She laughed lightly. “Sometimes I envy her.”

In our real lives, relatives may let us down big time. In comparison, friends – and I don’t mean those 952 Facebook friends, but friends who’d pick you up at the airport in the middle of the night – are often closer than family. They are because you are brought together by common interests, experiences and life outlooks, and not by accident of blood and (often someone else’s) marriage.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration Of Colored Profiles

Free Stock Photo: Illustration Of Colored Profiles

Above all, there is this difference. Friendship can never be taken for granted in the manner of a familial relationship. However, when it comes to relatives, you’re supposed to put up with just about anything.

A decade ago, after years of s-it stirring with us, a relative spoiling for a fight finally led us into a place where we felt we had to draw a line. That has naturally created knock on issues for us. Since then, other family wearyingly insist that everyone should just hug, sing Kumbaya, and all would be happy happy happy.

And why? Because, we are incessantly lectured, we are “family.”

“Oh, how long will this go on?” go the moanings. “I’m sure she didn’t really mean it. We should look forward, not back.”

The excuses for relatives’ appalling behavior are endless. Yet if our line was so “unreasonable,” I do wonder what the line is? If a relation, say, threatens you with a knife, are you allowed, perhaps, maybe to be a tad put out about that?

Would anyone with an ounce of self-respect ever keep around a friend who is a threatening, scheming, pompous ingrate? A nasty individual with whom you have zero in common? Someone who sees you only in terms of what you do for her/ him?

Of course not. But even with relatives like that, it’s still commonly demanded you smile at them over a lunch table. You are supposed to pretend you love them even if you despise them.

That’s absurd. Give me my dear friends over some so-called “family” any day of the week. It’s no contest.

Happy Sunday!

Hmmmmmm. I’ve just realized. This post is aiming to make a wider literary point based partly on my own experience. I hope it doesn’t qualify as a “personal moan!” ;-)