Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Took a walk at Red Rock today, just west of Las Vegas, only ten miles from where I live.

Below: looking north to iron stained hills at dusk

Below: looking south to a limestone outcropping with Yucca

Below: desert wash

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DHL, Serial Disorder and T.S. Eliot

DHL

I am using DHL to ship for the first time and getting odd results. They charge a premium price but the service isn’t premium.

To hurry up a mineral identification I had my local shipping store send a tiny package to Canada using DHL. Or, at least I thought it was sent to Canada. At 5:05 PM I got a call from an unidentified number which I didn’t pick up. They did leave a voice mail, though, so I did listen to that.

It was Las Vegas DHL hub, saying that they had opened the package to inspect for customs and discovered a ten dollar bill. “We don’t handle cash so please call us back to let us know how we should proceed.” Darn. I often send small amounts of American money through the US Postal Service without any problem.

I immediately called back, only to get a recording that said the office was closed and to call back during regular business hours. Which turned out to be 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. What? An international shipping company that closes at five? There weren’t any online or phone resources to help me since the package hadn’t fully entered their system.

Delaying my trip for today, I called this morning and was told the package could proceed but that I would need to fill out a commercial shipping form. DHL marks everything that isn’t a document as commercial, even if the value of a package is worth nothing. Like my crystal samples. My postal store hadn’t told me anything about such a form.

The hub said I needed to come downtown to fill out the right form but then later agreed to e-mail me one I could fill out. Instead of a clickable .pdf, they sent an Excel file that dated back to 1997. Whatever. If you don’t have Excel, Google Sheets can be used to read Excel spreadsheets and save them in that .xls format.

With that filled out and e-mailed back, my package is now supposed to be on the move, fully 22 hours after I first dropped it off. I will now send a check through the USPS to Canada, hoping the mineral dealer will understand the delay.

Serial Disorder

During my conversation with the DHL rep, I constantly tripped over the waybill number. I had carefully written it down after listening to the voicemail, but the rep couldn’t get find it in their system. I thought it might be that my serial disorder acting up [internal link] but I hate to blame my own carelessness on my condition. Besides, how could I know if it was acting up at this moment? Maybe, in recalling this number, I was just being stupid. Like all my math teachers thought.

The rep finally looked up my account with my street address as a key. He then said I had been telling him the right numbers but they were mixed up. I hid a depressed sigh and said I understood. After getting off the phone, I sent a text to my brother who also lives in Las Vegas. I needed to pick up the air compressor he had borrowed. I said I couldn’t remember, was his apartment number 1146? The reply, 1164. It never leaves!

As I said in my previous post on high school, a terrible problem with math and this condition is that you can never safely double check your work. Even in being careful, there is no guarantee that your numbers will ever match up. A pox on all those self-righteous self-help advocates [internal link]  who say you can overcome anything with hard work and dedication. No, some things don’t bend neatly to the system that you are selling. Peddle something else other than guilt and blame.

T.S. Eliot

I was trying to remember a quote by Eliot and found out I was instead quoting myself. The line was, “By that virtue that leads you to the top of the stairs, think of me in my time of pain.” It describes the plea of a wretch condemned to the pit who sees Dante moving through Hell, finally alighting on a staircase, seemingly able to leave.

But I couldn’t track down the quote. Where was it? With Eliot, as with the writing of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, “The peroration was magnificent, though difficult to remember.” Turns out the quote derives from the epigraph in ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. But not the published epigraph, a draft. I’m sure I read this draft in hardcopy a long time ago but the best explanation is now here:

“The draft version of the epigraph for ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ comes from Dante’s Purgatorio, Canto XXVI, lines 147-148:

‘sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor’.
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina.

More fully (lines 142-148):

‘Ieu sui Arnaut, que plor e vau cantan;
consiros vei la passada folor,
e vei jausen lo jorn qu’esper, denan.
Ara vos prec, per aquella valor
que vos guida al som de l’escalina,
sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor!’.
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina.

In his essay “Dante” (1929) [87] Eliot provided this translation (emphasis added):

‘I am Arnold, who weeps and goes singing. I see in thought all the past folly. And I see with joy the day for which I hope, before me. And so I pray you, by that Virtue which leads you to the topmost stair–be mindful in due time of my pain’. Then dived he back into that fire which refines them.

http://world.std.com/~raparker/exploring/thewasteland/exjean.html

I may have reduced Eliot’s quote to what I was comfortable with, “By that virtue that leads you to the top of the stairs, think of me in my time of pain.” I can’t find that exact quote on the net. Thinking about it now, though, that distillation isn’t bad. Not bad at all.

Finally, Dante’s Inferno is well worth reading, just find the translation that works for you. Too often a classic book in a foreign language is intimidating because it is poorly translated. Too many students give up on great literature because a teacher assigned them a difficult to read version. Usually, like Eliot, the greatest writers and poets make the greatest interpreters.

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Writing for Free

I recently corresponded with a friend who is an authority in the rock, gem and mineral trade. He laments that he has never been paid for his writing, even for a newspaper that he contributes to. His writing mainly sits at a nonprofit website, and his dozens of articles receive tens of thousands of hits. He doesn’t expect the website to pay, it’s an all volunteer organization, but he’s still troubled by that newspaper experience and a magazine that publishes his work without compensating him.

When I lived in the Sacramento Delta I wrote five or six free gardening articles for a weekly newspaper in the Sacramento Delta in the late 1990’s. I wanted to be a part of that paper because I liked the editor. He had graduated Cambridge, spent five years living with the Bedouins, and had even met the Beatles. Really. (Another story). No money, nothing financial came out of it. But I made a friend and got my art out.

You see, there were things I had learned as a green trade professional that I wanted to express. As a writer, you feel a compulsion to explain or describe things. Like  a painter who sees an image in his head and can’t relax until he brings it to life on canvas. When I am seized with an idea I sometimes go half-mad until I get it down in words. And then, like this article, I will come back over the coming weeks to edit and revise it and get it closer  to what I wanted it to say in the first place.

I tell people wanting to write for publication to spend their time seeking paid work, rather than writing free articles. Get paid something, no matter how little. “People pay me for my writing” is a tremendous confidence booster. It gets you to thinking of yourself as a professional writer. You don’t have to make your living from writing to be a professional. It’s more about attitude and discipline.

Writing on assignment or for publication is a different outlook and demand than writing for yourself or for free. Get an assignment, work with an editor, meet word count, beat deadline. That’s what being a professional is really about, not the amount of money. Beat deadline. Every damned time. I don’t want to hear that you are in a hospital or that the wife ran off or the kids have been taken by the police. Beat deadline. Every damned time.

Free articles, though, once a number of them have been written, can be thought of as resume building. That’s not a bad thing. My five articles for Rock&Gem, although they paid little, most assuredly helped me get my book contract. Those articles took a great deal of time and research and money to produce, all of which contributed to what I know now. They made me a better writer, as have all of my magazine articles.

Although I am a professional writer and get paid for all of my assignments and continuing work, I do not make a living from it. Not even close. I have always had to have other work, regular day jobs, to keep my desire to write alive.

The book project I just completed is a good example. I knew little money would come from it because I ran the numbers well ahead of time. At most, over a period of two to three years, perhaps $3,000 to $5,000 would come back. Well, my last magazine article for Outdoor California paid over $2,000. And that article only took two months to write and just two trips to the desert. I would have been better off those 14 months writing articles but I wanted to write a book. That seemed like the ultimate goal for a writer and I wanted to dedicate the book to my parents. That’s the one thing I miss about cancelling my contract. But my Mother wrote freelance articles from time to time and she would have understood walking away from an unprofessional publisher.

Because I was obsessed with completing the book on time and under word count I spent a tremendous amount of money to get it done. Like buying my $1,2000 microscope, my rock collection, my camera gear, and all of the travel expenses of the road. At least five grand. Maybe seven. My money is long gone. I  think of it now as a bad business deal like the kind everyone has in life. What’s more regrettable is that I had to give up some of my decent paying work from my Vancouver employer to get the book done. Fortunately, they have put me back on regular hours.

Let’s get back to Rock&Gem if you are in the mineral trade or hobby. They are a good starting point. They pay little but they do pay. They accept articles on spec (internal link) so there is no guarantee of publication. Best approach is to query them first with a one paragraph proposal. See if they have covered your topic before or if they are interested. If they are not, you could respond by asking, “What would you like written about?”  You never know what an editor needs at the time.

My articles for Rock&Gem were from a desire to write and to document trips that I was taking anyway. Nowadays, I feel empty if I don’t describe and share my rockhounding or road trips. When you write for publication you also have to do tremendous research on your subject and from that you will learn a great deal. I learn something on every trip to the desert or mountains. I’m learning so much about what I found on my last collecting trp that it will take two weeks to get the text and video together to describe it all.

Money. When I ran privateline.com as an educational website, no ads, I think I got two donations in five years. It had over 400 pages and two million hits one year in the early 2000’s. The Library of Congress sent people to me. The History Channel sought me out and put me on TV for an episode. No money, though. My self-published telephone magazine attracted much more attention, a few hundred subscribers paying about $27 a year. People were far more willing to pay for something in hardcopy than they were to pick up that information online. Go figure.

To wrap up, I’d suggest that anytime spent penning articles for free should instead be put into getting paying work. It may not be for publication but find something paying. For the last five years I’ve been editing and producing content for law firms through my Vancouver  employer. I love the outdoors and rocks and minerals but editing a lengthy article on elder home abuse is actually what provides some income. Most of us are just like aspiring actors working in a Hollywood coffee shop, waiting for that big break.

I hope that break comes your way but if you _have_ to write then you’ll eventually find a path that satisfies. In the end, it is the art first, then the money. A bird has to sing. You may have a website with few hits, no donations, but you will have the opportunity to present you work in the way you want to. Express yourself, even if time and logic and financial planning all say otherwise. You’re a writer. Write!

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Rhyming, Rilke, and Doggerel

Does rhyme move a poem along on its own accord? Is there a power that rhyme has that unrhymed poetry does not possess? It seems rhymed poetry can deliver a message in a way that communicates, if not in the most artful way possible. A person may tolerate a rhymed poem about a sheep, but will give up on unstructured sheep musings.

In a previous post on Rilke (internal link) I compared different translations of “I Live My Life in Ever Widening Circles” from his work The Book of Hours. See below.

The first translator rhymes his piece, forcing on him a more limited word palette than the others. This seems a more disciplined approach than free verse, in which nothing has to rhyme, just one thought after another.

Of course, poets like T.S. Eliot aren’t that concerned with rhyming. These people have mastered their craft and then go beyond what constrains the average writer. Like a musician who can hear any song and then instantly play it. For the rest of us, we’re still trying to find middle “C” on the piano.

Many, many years ago I wrote an ode to my fat cat Montel. It’s doggerel, but it is rhymed doggerel. Without the motive power of rhyme, I doubt anyone would finish the poem. Not if I lapsed into completely unstructured verse. Or, is it that a humorous poem always demands rhyme? Don’t know. Hmm.

Below my poem are several translations of Rilke’s poem.

Montel

“Montel’s a lug!”, I’ve heard it’s said, the neighbors say it’s true
But a lug is something heavy, something slow and clumsy, too
Montel is somewhat overweight but goodness aren’t we all?
Instead he’s quick and pretty slick, a cat that just won’t stall

He’s fast as summer lightning when the food dish hits the floor
Jumps right back like Fred Astaire, to miss the icebox door
Call him Beezelbub or Wysiwyg or even Hüsker do
But not a lug, on no, dear friend, a lug will just not do

A rapscallion pure and simple, he’s equipped with all the tools:
A tooth filled jaw and awesome claws; a mouth that barely drools
He’s the essence of a gato, although he lacks a tail
But where he lost it no one knows, although some think in jail

So keep that lug for lug nuts, or for lugs of pears and peach
But don’t tack it on to Montel for politeness you will breach
Lift your voice in song and praise for a cat that’s oh so true

A tough old mug, a kindly thug, but not a lug to you!

 

I Live My Life in Ever Widening Circles

by Rainer Maria Rilke

I live my life in circles that grow wide
And endlessly unroll,

I may not reach the last, but on I glide
Strong pinioned toward my goal.

About the old tower, dark against the sky,
The beat of my wings hums,

I circle about God, sweep far and high
On through milleniums.

Am I a bird that skims the clouds along,
Or am I a wild storm, or a great song?

Tr. Jessie Lamont

I live my life in ever widening circles, each superseding all the previous ones.
Perhaps I never shall succeed in reaching the final circle, but attempt I will.

I circle around God, the ancient tower, and have been circling for a thousand years,
and still I do not know: am I a falcon, a storm, or a continuing great song?

Tr. Albert Ernest Flemming

I live my life in widening circles that drift out over the things.
I may not achieve the very last, but it will be my aim.

I circle around God, around the age-old tower; I’ve been circling for millennia
and still I don’t know: am I a falcon, a storm, or a sovereign song?

Tr. Edward Snow

I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower. I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song?

Tr. Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

I live my life in ever-widening circles
that stretch themselves out over all the things.
I won’t, perhaps, complete the last one,
but I intend on trying.

I circle around God, around the ancient tower,
and I circle for thousands of years;
and I don’t know, yet: am I a falcon, a storm,
or a mighty song.

Tr. fulicasenia http://lyricstranslate.com/en/translator/fulicasenia (external link)

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Notes to Other Writers Using Word and Acrobat DC

This discussion is what Americans call inside baseball. Every non-writer can safely tune out.

I’m using the latest version of Microsoft Office for the Mac, as well as the expensive Adobe Acrobat DC for creating .pdf files. After much experimenting I have found a way to preserve internal hyperlinks or bookmarks in a Word doc when converting that document to .pdf. Adobe doesn’t let you do that on its own.

Many people want my seventy five page Places to Visit or Collect in the Southwest file to have a table of contents. Fine. My preference for an electronic document is to hyperlink it, to make the TOC interactive. Click on a link in the TOC that says “Arizona” and “Whoosh”, you are taken immediately to the right page. I could make a TOC with every rock shop clickable and instantly locatable. I once did a forty page book proposal in this manner and it was actually fun to zoom around the document in this way. However.

I have distributed previous versions of this file as a .pdf to facilitate universal use. So, I started creating a hyperlinked TOC in the Word doc in which I create it. I’d later convert it to .pdf. After a half hour I converted a test document to make sure the links would all work. They didn’t. I then used the Mac’s native .pdf maker to convert the Word doc. That also failed.

After reading unhappy information on the web, I had an online chat with an Adobe rep who admitted that their top of the line program couldn’t keep Word’s hyperlinks when converting a document. He suggested that I create all the bookmarks in Acrobat, because Acrobat also has the ability to produce bookmarks. What nonsense.

No one creates a complicated, footnoted, hyperlinked doc in Acrobat, that’s the strength of Word. Adobe’s strength is supposed to be in creating .pdfs from other sources. For Adobe to say they can’t do a file conversion is like NASA saying they can’t track a satellite. I realized then that this problem was probably due to some squabble between Microsoft and Adobe. The disputes over the .pdf format began soon after Adobe created that file type, usually because a company didn’t want to pay Adobe royalties for using it.

I then turned to Google Docs, often my savior when it comes to converting files. I uploaded my test Word doc with its hyperlinks and then had Google convert it to .pdf. All links retained, all good. I then had Acrobat DC open the new .pdf and it recognized every internal link as well.  Saved it with Acrobat DC under a new name and that conversion also held. I’m now able to compose in Word like I want and then eventually have Acrobat put it into what is the original and most recognizable .pdf format.

What a waste of time. I hope this post gets out to the net to tell other writers that conversion is possible. I’ll try to write something more interesting in my next post. Anything would be an improvement. Would you like to read about the different qualities of sand?

Southwest_Places_To_Visit_Or_Collect_03

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From My Book: Places to Visit and Collect in The Southwest

Here’s a chapter from my now dead book called “Places to Visit and Collect in the Southwest.” Even if you are not a rockhound or prospector, you might enjoy this niche kind of travelogue.

SW_Places_To_Visit_Or_Collect_05_

 

 

 

 

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