Thursday, December 13, 2018


     Over the past few years, some Gentle Readers have lodged an unusual request: that I should occasionally say something about myself. My initial reaction to that was “Oh, surely not!” That’s like forcing your dinner guests to watch your home movies. Besides, if you’ve read my Amazon profile, you already know more about me than you should want to know. Some of the details in that squib should keep you awake at night, agonizing over the possibility that I might someday move to your neighborhood.

     But it’s policy here at Liberty’s Torch to honor readers’ requests as far as possible under the constraints of the law, Christian ethics, and good taste. And I really don’t have any public-policy or political crap to vent about this morning, so...

     I like to cook, as does the C.S.O. However, we have different attitudes toward measurement. I, the scientist, engineer, and man of precision in all things, measure all ingredients carefully. The C.S.O. does not; she seems to feel that meticulous measurement is the mark of the amateur. (“How could I ever be invited on Chopped if I were to insist on measuring everything?” she once said.) When she does give a measurement, it’s always in the Yiddish vernacular.

     So I thought she might like these:

     Let’s just say the idea didn’t go over big. But she did mention the names of a few people we know who ought to receive them.

     While we’re on the subject of food, do you like yogurt? I do. I even said so through the mouth of a protagonist:

     Her lord smiled impishly at her as she cleared the last serving. “Finally full, dear?”
     “I am, my lord.”
     “Good.” He took her plate and utensils, deposited them in the sink, joined her at the table and took her hands. “You had me pretty worried.”
     “If I have exerted too great a strain on your finances—”
     He laughed. “Not about that. I’d have bought you your own supermarket if that’s what it took to see you healthy and smiling again.”
     “What is a—”
     He held up a hand. “It’s a big store filled with all kinds of food. Delicious food. Meats, fruits, vegetables, breads, cakes, pies, pastries, nuts, cheeses, milk, puddings, yogurt! You’ve never had yogurt, have you?”
     “I do not know that word, my lord.”
     “Easily fixed. I’ll take you grocery shopping some time soon and we can get all kinds of things you’ve never had. I love food.”

     As do I, yogurt most definitely included. But of late, my historically preferred yogurt provider, Dannon, has been committing the contemporary sin of reducing portion sizes to avert a need to increase prices. What was once an 8 ounce cup was first reduced to 6 ounces. Now it’s down to 5.3 ounces, and We the Hungry have been given no assurance that it will cease to shrink. So I decided that it was time for a change.

     I’ve taken to buying “big” yogurt: the two-pound containers one can find in the very same portion of the refrigerated section at the supermarket. I usually get the Stonyfield vanilla. I also make sure to have several flavors of preserves on hand. Now, each morning when I hanker for a cup of yogurt, I fill a coffee cup with it and stir in a fat teaspoon of preserves or honey. And it is good.

     What with the cost of the preserves I can’t claim it saves money...but at least this way I get enough yogurt that I can pour four or five cups of coffee into me without destroying my stomach.

     Speaking still further of food, I was recently moved to count up the number of scenes in Experiences that involve food. I got a big number. A really big number. If it were the sort of book that Barnes & Noble would carry in its brick and mortar stores, the staff might mistakenly put it among the cookbooks.

     Fear not; there’s a lot of wine in there, too.

     And so we segue from food to fiction. There are certain informal “rules” about how one structures a novel. One of the most widely trumpeted is about the novel’s opening scene:

  • It should “rev the engines,” to engage the reader with the story;
  • It should feature one or more of the novel’s protagonists;
  • It should give a glimpse of the major conflict.

     I’ve broken that rule more often than I’ve adhered to it. A prologue almost automatically breaks the rule, and I’ve indulged several times in prologues, which (I’m told) publishers’ editors have come to despise. But even in novels that lack prologues, I’ve tended to start with an “out of the way” occurrence that doesn’t involve a protagonist.

     Opinions, anyone? It would help if you’ve read any of my novels, of course. (Hint! Hint!)

     Now and then I’m moved to praise the inventor, whether or not I know his name, of some convenience or assistance to good living that today tends to be taken for granted. For a long time it was the fellow who invented hot indoor running water. Most recently it was the inventor of caller ID, which makes it possible for me to sneer at a ringing phone with complete confidence in the justice thereof. But recently it occurred to me how swiftly we of Twenty-First Century America start to take some notable development for granted. This morning’s case in point: the “smart” cell phone.

     I don’t own a smartphone. (The C.S.O. does, and many are the times I’ve had to suppress the urge to rip the devilish thing from her ever-clutching hand and stamp on it.) But these days it seems everyone — yeah, yeah, everyone else — has a smartphone. Moreover, the majority of smartphone owners seem to rely on them for nearly everything digital (plus a few things that previously weren’t).

     Today, the smartphone is either taken completely for granted or very close to it. The “dumb” cell phone, which can only take and make calls, is an endangered species. But how long have smartphones been around? Less than twenty years.

     When some “customer service representative” tells me that I’ll “receive a text” to inform me that the service tech will shortly be at my abode, I must tell the poor gal that I can’t “receive a text” – indeed, that I don’t own a smartphone. In the wake of that disclosure always comes a brief silence that positively rings with disbelief and disapproval. What sort of atavism is he? she thinks loudly enough to be audible over the wires. And I can only smile. What need, after all, does one who sits before a hot computer all the live-long day have for a smartphone?

     A dear friend who, like me, has completely rejected the cell phone (and all its works, and all its empty promises) referred to it scathingly as “my electronic birth-control device.” I knew exactly what she meant. Oh, how well I knew!

     And thus, my Gentle Readers’ request for some personal stuff is deemed satisfied, at least for now. Perhaps I’ll be back later with something more...important. Until then, be well.


Linda Fox said...

For years, my sister took pride in not having one; she finally got a mobile phone, but not Smart-enabled.

She referred to it as her Dumb Phone.

I had also owned one, but it finally died, and replacements weren't easily available. I'm now Smart (kind of), but have deleted all of the "fun" apps - games, Facebook, etc. I need the Smart app, as that's how we book sub teacher jobs. You CAN do it on a computer, but - do to the slowness of the interface, you generally lose out on the desirable jobs.

I prefer my iPad for travel purposes - it has nearly the functionality of a Smartphone, with the added advantage of a near-full size keyboard.

The only reason I don't forego the MacBook is Scrivener. If it were available for Linux, I'd sell it and walk away.


I had a "flip phone" and it was only when I was being hired by a "high tech" company that I took the plunge.

It's useful; what I've found though is the sheer dependency of so many, including my children (one of whom asked, literally as they walked through the door, "Can I watch your phone?" yesterday) on the electronic drug - it's not good.

There are definitely days when I think having the electric grid go down for 3-4 weeks would do wonders. We'd survive (assuming no bands of roving predators got out to us).

Tracy Coyle said...

I've been at the forefront of technology for 40 years, the difference is that I've always only considered them tools....for working. I spend most of my time in front of a desktop and only went with smart phones to deal with the amount of email I get daily.

I always follow recipes meticulously. 3 eggs, 1 1/4 cup water, 1 cup oil, add mix, beat well, pour into greased pan. Ergo, the only recipes I have are the ones on the box.

I don't care how a story matter what we are stepping into lives in mid-stream, into events already stories have always done just longer stuff seldom gets to the heart of the matter right away. It took me 4 episodes to get into Sense8 so I am willing to slog my way through things...

I always assume I get to know an author much better by what they write than what they offer about themselves elsewhere.


CGHill said...

My little Samsung flipsy can actually text in either direction. It can even tweet, after a fashion.

Ragin' Dave said...

I had to get a smart phone for work - I lasted until 2017, but in the end my trusty flip phone couldn't do what work required. I did enjoy walking into the Verizon store and handing them my flip phone, saying "This is five years old. Can you get me a model that will last that long?"

Turns out they have ruggedized smart phones. Who knew? It doesn't do all the fancy stuff an iPhone does, but I'll be damned if I let my phone control my life.

The Mrs. and I deliberately do not have a TV. We have the necessary computers, but I think the modern tendency to inundate ones self with thirty-second cat videos will end up being Man's demise.