Sunday, February 27, 2011

Today in My Garden

Highs in the 70s all this week have really cranked things up in the garden. The pace of change has really picked up over the last couple of days. Here's what's happening today in my garden.

The hellebores are in full bloom. Locals may have gone to Hellebore Days at nearby Picadilly Farms this weekend to see thousands of these beautiful winter flowers at the peak of bloom. I have maybe 25 or 30 rather than thousands.

Early magnolias are starting to bloom, too. I'll share a picture of my pink one in a few days. Here's a nice shot of Magnolia stellata blossoms.

With the warm weather we've had the windows open. The six Daphne odoratas I planted across the front of the house haven't reached full bloom yet. These tiny little blossoms pack a powerful punch of a delightful fragrance.

Winter bulbs have taken off, too. Here you can see fragrant hyacinths, daffodils, crocus and a few grape hyacinths starting to bloom. I still have some cleaning up to do--the quick start caught me off guard!

I hear cold weather is still giving people fits elsewhere. For those of you vicariously enjoying spring through my blog, I'll keep the flower pictures coming. Just a little gift from...

The Crotchety Old Man

My Make-Believe Lawn

Our house was new when I moved in a bit more than twelve years ago. My backdoor neighbor caught me in the yard soon after. Among other things, he said the builder had illegally buried a forest full of trees in a giant hole in my yard.

A month or two later the builder came over with a bobcat tractor and re-contoured the yard. The goal was to change the grade so water would drain into a dry stream bed at the bottom of the lot rather than into the street. He evened out all the humps, filled all the dips and otherwise leveled things out.

I threw grass seed across the top but didn't water it enough and for a couple of years, just pretended I had a lawn. Dust from the Georgia clay stuck to my sweat-covered body like a bad spray tan when I mowed and ran off in orange rivers when I showered. I fertilized regularly, sprayed for weeds and mole crickets and otherwise treated my dust bowl like a lawn.

Starting out I didn't know you had to spray for mole crickets. These nasty little bugs devoured my entire lawn by eating the roots. I didn't even know I had a problem until the grass vanished seemingly overnight.

I'm not a fan of pesticides. Having grown up with the pansy pests of Kentucky, before coming south I looked down my nose at anyone who resorted to spraying for bugs. Not any more. One encounter with a colony of pissed off fire ants turned the tide. The mole crickets perished.

The yard started dropping--so gradually I hardly noticed. The first sign of trouble was pooling during a heavy rain. The weight of the standing water caused the ground to fall still more. Then the pace quickened. Here's the before pic:

The nicely leveled yard dropped--by several feet in some spots--making it almost impossible to mow. I quit fertilizing and let the weeds take over. Recalling my neighbor's words about the illegal tree cemetery, I called the builder about the sinkhole last fall. He said he'd fix the problem.

Yesterday he and two buds finally decided the problem was three adjacent sinkholes. The three men spent most the day walking around, gesturing broadly and reaching agreement on a master plan. It was all way over my head. The actual work didn't take long at all. This is essentially the same view as above, today.

Today we raked, limed, fertilized and seeded the newly-graded yard. I've got the sprinkler set up so I can keep it watered. Hopefully the lawn will be established enough by June to withstand our summers. If not, I bet you'll hear about it from...

The Crotchety Old Man

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Two Down...

Now it's been two weeks since I submitted the query, one page synopsis and the first 50 pages of Glass Houses to the literary agent of my dreams. As of this moment, she still hasn't responded. I'm not surprised.

Every day without a rejection e-mail message from her (or her assistant) is good news. I know the number of days neither increases nor decreases the likelihood of rejection or acceptance. I don't care...for now I'll hold on to what I can.

If it's not a rejection message, the e-mail will contain a request for the complete manuscript. Although the likelihood of anything but a rejection with my first attempt is slim to none, I'm ready. I went through the whole manuscript one more time fixing typos, adding commas, and changing a word or two here and there.

I enjoy the read each and every time. Given the subject of the book, my enjoyment probably comes as no surprise. The pleasure comes more from the writing--the way the story is told--than from the actual story. It's definitely my best work.

If you want to read Glass Houses, don't be afraid to ask. I'm happy to share the manuscript (as a PDF). Just send a message to...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dealing with Deer

We have a lot of wildlife in our wooded subdivision. The incredible variety of birds is a plus. Some of the other critters aren't quite as welcome.

In the absence of predators and hunters, over the last 12 years the deer population in our subdivision has substantially increased. Instead of the overnight forays I used to see evidence of now and then, my garden has become a popular eating and recreation spot for an ever expanding herd.

This little shrub is about eight years old. It had leaves until the day we cut the ornamental grasses back that normally keep it hidden from view. Planted any place else and it would be three or four feet tall and at least as wide. Bless its heart.

Perhaps the unusually cold weather this winter reduced the available food supply. Or maybe the population growth is responsible for the excessive hunger. This is the first year the little buggers have gone for my tulips. On the right you can see the deer nibbled them nearly to the ground.

I have no idea what kind of recreational events take place. There are hoof prints and gouge marks all over the yard. Garden statues get knocked over...our local deer are clearly a rowdy bunch.

Given the size of the bucks I've seen, the over-sized prophylactics make sense. Fewer deer would be a good thing. Perhaps I should scatter more condoms throughout the garden of...

The Crotchety Old Man

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Southern for Dummies

I have always identified myself as a southerner. Kentucky was a border state, but as far as I know most of Lexington and nearly all my family lined up on the Confederate side of the Mason-Dixon Line. To imply or suggest otherwise would be heresy to any of my aunts and uncles.

About a month after I moved to Athens someone called me a Yankee. The term sent me from zero to crotchety in about a half a second. I told her she could call me a lot of things but I was not and never would be a Yankee.

I still think being from Kentucky makes me a southerner. However, living in the Deep South for more than a decade has made me more southern than I was when I got here. I'm pretty sure this is a good thing.

A recent out-of-town visitor had dinner with a group of people I know. Afterward, the visitor told me she was impressed with how well the diverse group got along with each other. They might have acted like the best of friends but I happen to know better.

I kept the truth to myself--something I've learned to do here in the south. If you can't say something nice, don't. I struggle with this but with practice, have improved. My partner and most my Facebook friends hear what I really think later.

If you're not from the south you may jump to the wrong conclusions. For example, the fact nobody disagreed with your ten-step program to save the south doesn't necessarily mean everyone is on board with the plan. The silence could also mean everyone thought you were an idiot.

Words have different meanings down here in the south, too. Tell me how far behind your unemployed, meth-abusing ex-husband is with child support and I'll shake my head slowly and say, sorry. Yeah I'm sorry you married his sorry ass, but mostly I'm shaking my head because he's just so damn sorry. It's two different things.

Bless his (or her) heart sounds like an expression of caring concern. Down here we say bless his heart instead of things like idiot, loser, and dumbass. There are many, many occasions when no other phrase will do.

For example, your slutty neighbor tells you her sorry boyfriend is in jail again. It's not his fault because his friend bought the meth--he was only smoking it. Bless his heart.

Nothing else works quite as well. I swear. Just remember you heard it from...

The Crotchety Old Man

Monday, February 21, 2011

Today in My Garden

Downright balmy weather the last week or so has made a big difference in the garden. Every day something else pops out of the ground or breaks dormancy. Here are a couple of the highlights from today's tour.

Last spring (or maybe it was the spring before) I added several camellias. They're still small but a couple have a few buds. One opened this morning. The variety is 'Americana' and I expected more white and less pink.

My Daphne odoratas started blooming today, too. The clusters of tiny white flowers are intensely fragrant. Mine are just starting to bloom--I'll post a picture when they're a bit farther along. Unfortunately, I can't post the lovely fragrance.

The last post featured a photo of a Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis) in bloom. Here's a fuzzy close-up of the bloom from a pink plant. The darker pink is hard to photograph but I'll keep trying for a good shot.

I bought the house new and found this miniature daffodil blooming in the wooded part of my yard. I've since divided the clump several times. Toodles weighs five pounds and stands maybe ten inches tall--just to give you some perspective on the sizes.

Given our 70-degree temperatures, hearing about all the snow way up north is a little surreal. Seems like it should be this nice everywhere. If it's snowing where you are, you'll get nothing but sympathy from...

The Crotchety Old Man

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Just Sex?

Last week I caught part of a local talk show on an Augusta radio station. Two men hosted the show--I didn't catch their names. I gather the purpose was to talk about local news stories.

When I tuned in they were talking about an alleged inappropriate relationship between a 14 year-old student and a staff person at one of the schools. The victim was a boy, the adult a female secretary. I couldn't believe the discussion that followed.

In essence, the two men agreed a boy having sex with an older woman really wasn't that big a deal. Not that they would know--both said they had been grown men when they had their first sexual encounters. They also had children at home--at least one boy and one girl each.

The men agreed they would want to kill any adult who had sex with an under-aged daughter. But with a son, pressing charges would be enough. Killing the kindly older woman wouldn't be necessary. Chuckle Chuckle.

The two men admitted the double standard and talked about possible reasons. Both agreed young girls fell in love and would be emotionally damaged by the relationship. The little darling could be ruined for life.

With little boys, however, it wasn't about being in love. Everyone knows boys don't form emotional attachments. All they want is sex.

I nearly wrecked my car. Adults having sex with children is just wrong. Never mind the gender of either individual. The adult is taking advantage of the child...period.

Over the years several decidedly straight men have shared stories with me about early sexual encounters they had with older women. Once the sex started each and every one quickly fell in love and was devastated when the relationship ended. In retrospect, all see the adult as a sick individual--and rightly so.

I couldn't believe two fathers would see it any other way. That they did makes me so embarrassed for my gender that today I'm closing as...

Just Crotchety and Old.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

One Down...

A week ago I submitted the query, a boring one-page synopsis, and the first fifty pages of Glass Houses to the literary agent of my dreams. The week has flown by. So far I haven't heard from her.

She's a busy lady. I'm sure she has an assistant--or two or three--who do nothing but screen submissions. Hopefully my query was on target enough to get the assistant to open one of the two attached files.

If they start with the synopsis, I'm doomed. It's really boring and for what it is supposed to be, not very well written. If the query gets them to open the file with the first fifty pages, my chances improve dramatically. Anyone who's read Glass Houses tells me they were hooked in the first 20 pages.

No doubt, the very second the assistant finishes reading the first fifty pages, she will forward my package to the agent of my dreams. She'll include a note about ignoring the crummy synopsis and close with a plea to expedite the request for the full manuscript because she can't wait to read the rest.

These things take time. The website specifically says to be patient and guarantees a response to every submission. For now I'm saying that's one week without a "no". I'll take it. Even if it's not what you'd expect from...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Today in My Garden

As expected, the much warmer temperatures have made a difference in the garden. The pansies and violas I planted last fall are starting to bloom again. Bulbs are exploding from the ground. The forecast is calling for highs in the 70s on four of the next seven days so the blooming trend will continue.

I'm not sure what these are. They're supposed to be saffron crocus and as such, should bloom in the fall. Don't let the dainty appearance fool you!

These little dwarf iris weren't even visible this weekend. Now they've popped up and exploded into bloom in several spots around the garden.

Finally, my Helleborus orientalis (aka Lenten Roses) are just starting to bloom. The dusty mauve-colored blooms are harder to photograph. Here's a good view of a white one.

And that's what's happening today in the garden of...

The Crotchety Old Man

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Deja Vu in the 'Boro

Today I went to Statesboro, Georgia in Bulloch County for an 11:00 meeting. Bulloch County has a great Agricultural Center that includes the county extension office and nice meeting rooms. We use the facility often for various functions in the southeast corner of the state.

Devoted fans will recall a previous trip to the same location a while back. I fought with the GPS Navigation app I had on my phone the entire trip. In return the GPS dumped me in a pasture in the middle of nowhere rather than my desired destination.

Since Christmas I've been using a Garmin for road trips. The selected route is sometimes odd. Today I got routed over a gravel road for about three miles. I've learned to trust these little detours since they trim a minute or two off the total travel time. Doesn't sound like much but when you're driving 350 miles round trip, knocking a few minutes off here and there can add up.

I LOVE having my estimated arrival time displayed and constantly updated. As with the detours, experience has taught me to trust these estimates. Knowing I was going to arrive at my destination thirty minutes early made it easier to enjoy the drive today.

When the Garmin is on I really don't pay much attention to where I am or where I'm going. The little lady will get me there. My mind wanders...

At 10:28 I started looking around for the Bulloch County Extension office. The little lady in the Garmin told me my destination was immediately on my right. Where the office should have been (according to the GPS) a small herd of Black Angus cattle grazed. It was the same damn pasture I'd visited before.

I back-tracked about a mile to a gas station for directions. About a half mile past the Angus herd was the road to the office. After making the turn, I had to go another three miles to get to the office.

Fortunately, I arrived in plenty of time for my 11:00 meeting. The Garmin worked fine for the trip home, but took me on a completely different route than the trip down. I guess the selected route depends on the little lady's mood or something.

Even with the glitches, I made it down and back in record time. Normally, missed turns and unplanned detours add an hour or more to my travel time. Getting home on time is the perfect antidote for...

The Crotchety Old Man

Monday, February 14, 2011

Style Snaps for Men

Yesterday I saw a commercial for Style Snaps--a device that enables you to wear the same pair of jeans with both flip flops or five-inch heels. Little plastic snaps attach to the inside of the pants leg and allow you to change the hem length. At the time they struck me as totally worthless devices.

Then I got to thinking. My clothes just don't fit like they did when I was 22. I've added a belly and a decent rack since then and my ass has all but disappeared.

The biggest problem is drift. My t-shirt and shirt refused to stay tucked in. If I have anything at all in my pockets, my pants drift downward. My underwear for some reason tends to climb. I spend half my day yanking and tugging to keep everything where it's supposed to be.

Style Snaps might be the answer. I can attach my t-shirt to my underwear and my shirt to my pants. One well placed snap would prevent my boxers from creeping up into my crotch, too. I could even attach one to my socks and snap them to my pants to keep them from falling down.

Brilliant! I think I'll contact the folks at Style Snap with my suggestions. In the meantime, if you call to order a set, tell them you were referred by...

The Crotchety Old Man

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Better than a Groundhog

Whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not, as we all know, is an extremely important factor in predicting the arrival of spring. There are other factors, too. A better predictor than the groundhog is the arrival of the first blooms of the year.

Growing up in Kentucky, I came to expect spring flowers to bloom in a certain order. First you had your snow crocus, than your giant crocus, followed by fragrant hyacinths, then daffodils and finally, tulips. The order was the same year after year after year.

Here in Athens daffodils almost always bloom before crocus. I suspect it has something to do with the ground temperature. This year it's been unseasonably cold. My daffodils are up but nowhere near blooming.

Winter this year has been an Athens version of those I remember from Kentucky. We've had 14 inches of snow so far. Unlike my pals in Lexington, I can wear shorts and t-shirts outside at least a few days a month which makes the cold spells a lot easier to take.

Apparently I'm not alone in my belief about our winter. The very first flower of the year in my garden is a snow crocus. This little yellow snow crocus was joined by two more blooms a few hours later.

By next weekend I'll have daffodils blooming, too. But for now, the only color in my yard comes from three tiny little snow crocus. They are beyond a doubt the most beautiful blooms I've seen in months!

Starting the season with snow crocus reminds me of Lexington. It will likely be a few weeks before snow crocus bloom in Kentucky. Until then, here's one from...

The Crotchety Old Man

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Day the Music Died

My first music came on 45 RPMs that I listened to on a turntable that when not in use, closed up to look like a little suitcase. Most the discs in my collection were passed down from an older cousin. I remember "Big Girls Don't Cry" was a particular favorite.

Eventually I graduated to LPs, aka 33 1/3 RPM records. Carole King's Tapestry was the first album in a collection that eventually numbered several hundred. By then I had replaced the suitcase with a unit that included an eight-track player/recorder so I could make my own mixed tapes.

Before long eight-tracks gave way to cassette tapes. Having been burned buying now unplayable eight-track tapes, I bought very few cassettes. Nearly all the cassette tapes I ever had were poorly made homemade copies of music I had on albums.

Next thing you know, cassette tapes had been replaced by compact discs. At the time you couldn't make your own. I stuck to buying albums until they became almost impossible to find.

I lost all my albums (it's a long story), got rid of my turntable and started buying CDs. I ended up with thousands (another long story)--most I never listened to or simply didn't like. I picked out the hundred or so I did like and let a student sell the rest online for half the proceeds.

When I got my MP3 player, we burned all the CDs onto the harddrive on my desktop computer. Over the next couple of years the CD players on my living room stereo and in my car quit working. The desktop died, too.

My MP3 player has maybe 60 songs on it, the newest recorded sometime before 2005. For some reason it seems to play the same 20 songs over and over again. I only use it for the FM radio to listen to NPR while I'm working in the yard.

The only new music I listen to now is on the radio, the VH1 top 20 countdown or from a video someone posted on Facebook or a blog. I've still got CDs, but other than my computer, nothing to play them on. Well, that's not entirely true--I did buy the little boom box so I could listen to books on CD in my car when I travel.

Unless I start a new music library with digital music downloaded from the Internet, I'm without music of my own. At about a buck a tune, it will cost a fortune to replace all the songs I'd really like to have. Dirty rotten bastards.

I ain't doing it. I figure about the time I download a good-sized library, the technology will become obsolete and I'll have to start over again. Guess I'll just have to whistle. Whistling is one of the things you do when you're...

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, February 11, 2011

Keeping Secrets

The finished manuscript of Glass Houses is now in the hands of more than fifty people. Every few days I receive a super sweet e-mail from another friend who just finished reading my first book. To say I'm touched would be a huge understatement.

I'm amazed, humbled, and elated all at the same time. Being friends, colleagues and family members, these early readers are a friendly crowd. Still, the positive feedback has been deeply gratifying.

Some have shared bits and pieces about struggles and challenges they faced growing up. Everyone has a story to tell about living with a "great curse". If I wasn't gay it would have been something else. Parents mess their kids up in unintended ways. We all struggle with personal battles. Some battles are more public but we all struggle with something.

In Glass Houses I reveal my struggles, my bad decisions, and my soul. Acquaintances who read the book have become dear friends. Until they write their own memoir, they know me quite a lot better than I know them but I'm working on it.

Life-long friends and family members feel like they abandoned me and tell me they had no idea. Of course they didn't. Until now I didn't want them to know.

Every story is about the resilience of the human spirit. People deal with stuff every day a hundred times worse than anything I ever experienced. They live next door to you, stand in line with you at the grocery story, attend your church, send their children to school with your children and believe they are entirely alone with their struggle.

There's nothing new under the sun. We all struggle. Sharing may not change your circumstances but it will certainly let you know you're not alone. Any fight is easier with a crowd backing you up.

Some people believe in keeping secrets. I'm sure some things are better left deep in the back of the closet. But most the time, shining a bright light in the darkest corners will be more likely to help than hurt. So far it has worked that way for...

The Crotchety Old Man

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Let the Waiting Begin

Today I took off work to focus on writing a one-page synopsis of Glass Houses. Man. Boiling 378 pages of narrative down to one page is no easy feat.

My first attempt ended up being six pages long. I kept cutting and condensing until I got it down to a page and a quarter. Finally I played with the margins and fonts to get it all on one page. It doesn't look squeezed...honest.

With that mean task accomplished I focused on writing the one-pager for my e-mail query to the agent of my dreams. The opening is supposed to be a one-sentence synopsis of the book. Thanks to the comments and feedback I received from many of you, I ended up saying:

Glass Houses is a humorous coming of age tale narrated by an earnest but confused child of the sixties from a large dysfunctional southern family about his struggles to find himself, come to terms with his homosexuality and reconcile his new reality with the Catholic faith of his youth

With that done and a few suggestions from helpful websites to guide me, the rest of the query came together quickly. It's honest, straight-forward and hopefully interesting enough to get her to open one of the attachments.

The first attachment is the dreadfully dull one-page synopsis. The second attachment is the first fifty pages of the book, polished to a high shine. I feel great about those pages because earlier parts of the manuscript are much more polished than later parts.

I went back to the agent's website to make sure I was following directions. I composed a message to the correct e-mail address, used the requested subject line, directed the query to the attention of the agent of my dreams as requested, pasted my query into the body and attached the files with the synopsis and first fifty pages.

I reread both the attachments to make sure there were no typos or grammatical errors. Terri looked over the query and synopsis for me--it's always good to have a second set of eyes and none better than my mentor, cheerleader and biggest fan. I went over the first fifty pages again, tinkering with a word or two now and then but mostly just making sure everything was perfect.

For some reason, I couldn't hit send. When my partner got home I was rocking on the sofa in front of my laptop with my hands clenched to my sides. He understood immediately what was going on and after confirming I was ready, clicked send.

Glass Houses now sits in the in-box of the literary agent of my dreams. The way I keep tearing up and getting emotional about it, you'd think I'd just had a baby or something.

It's more like I just found out I'm pregnant. Now the waiting begins. Few would say patience comes easy for...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

One Drop

I've made no progress toward finding a literary agent or publisher. It ain't for lack of trying. I've spent hours staring at the computer screen trying to come up with the requested pieces with absolutely no luck at all.

Usually this kind of frustration means I'm making something harder than it needs to be. I suspect that's true here, too. Making things harder than necessary is one of my gifts and a possible explanation for the slow learner thing.

Generally speaking, submission requirements differ depending on whether the book is fiction or nonfiction. For nonfiction, you submit a query, a book proposal with a complete table of contents (including descriptions of each chapter), a complete biographical sketch, a marketing plan and a bunch of other stuff. Arrrrrrgggghhhhh!!!

Now I'm rethinking my decision to classify the manuscript as nonfiction. Glass Houses isn't entirely true. I changed some names. I also took liberties here and there with the way things happened. If even one sentence is fiction, doesn't that mean the entire manuscript is fiction?

If it's fiction, all I need to do is submit a one-page synopsis and the first fifty pages of the manuscript. Coming up with a one-page synopsis is no easy feat, but at least it seems more doable than the stuff required for a nonfiction manuscript.

Yeah...Glass Houses is a work of fiction. Just ask Emmy, Tim, Wendy, Calvin or even Mom. I'm sure they'd agree with...

The Crotchety Old Man

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Another Wish Comes True

About five years ago I was having trouble reading some of my favorite comics and any kind of fine print. I went to the eye doctor for a check-up. Having never received the memo about regular check-ups, it was my first eye exam since grade school.

That grade school eye exam was a huge disappointment. I really, really, really wanted glasses and was dismayed to learn I had 20/20 vision. Careful what you wish for.

Anyway, after various tests the optometrist said my deteriorating vision was just a normal function of aging. He encouraged me to pick up some reading glasses from a drugstore. My childhood wish came true...just four decades later. I picked up some reading glasses and was delighted to see close-up again.

My vision steadily deteriorated. Stronger glasses didn't make any difference. I went back to the eye doctor in October and was referred to a retina specialist. After a series of tests the specialist said I had macular degeneration in both eyes. The condition was particularly advanced in my left eye.

Imagine the eye as a coconut. Macular degeneration is a swelling in the meat of the coconut. The swelling blocks the pupil, thereby obscuring vision. The ability to focus on fine details is especially hard hit. Peripheral vision is usually unaffected. Get this...the swelling is caused by a build-up of cholesterol.

The treatment for macular degeneration is to inject Avastin into the eye. Avastin is a colon cancer drug that coincidentally shrinks the swelling. That's right--an eye shot. Just kill me.

Minutes after telling me I needed an eye shot, the specialist gave me that first injection. I'm glad. Having to wait would have allowed me to spend entirely too much time in my head freaking myself out about what was to come.

Since then I've gone back every six weeks and had three more injections. No matter how many times I tell myself the injection is no big deal, I still freak out. It doesn't's just the thought of a needle in the eyeball. It's not like I can close my eyes while it's happening.

Things have gone a little easier since I befriended a plus-size African-American lady who assists during the injections. Now that she knows to hold my shoulders down so I don't jump, the injections aren't quite as bad. I think I love her.

Six weeks rolls around fast. Last Wednesday I went in for my fifth injection. After the examination, the doctor told me I didn't need an injection. I could have kissed him! I nearly did when he said I didn't have to come back for two months.

My vision is now 20/15. I don't know what it was in October. I still have problems with some close-up stuff but can see much better than before.

I go back in April for another check-up. Maybe I'll need another injection. Maybe I won't. I'll worry about that later. For now I'm celebrating the shot I didn't have to have, the extra two weeks between appointments, and all the wonderful friends who care about...

The Crotchety Old Man

Monday, February 7, 2011

Facebook & Karma Unite

Today I want to talk about the dreaded "u" word: Unfriending. For any of you who haven't yet created a Facebook profile, unfriending is what you do after you change your mind about adding someone as a friend. It's ugly business.

In recent months I've been unfriended on Facebook a number of times. A political conversation on my page pissed two people off enough to dump me. I knew why right away. One of them took it a step further and blocked me. Thanks for reinforcing my opinions about tea baggers.

Others dumped me for no apparent reason. Wild asses from my past, old running buds who have since found religion, and a certain type of dumbass redneck apparently disprove of my lifestyle too much to remain friends. We wouldn't have anything to talk about anyway.

I ain't gonna lie. Being removed from someone's friend list, even someone I don't especially like, stings. I blame them but always wonder what I did.

Of course, most of you know I sorta have it coming. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn I'm in the top 100 unfrienders of all time. Last March I clicked "remove" to dump about a third of my Facebook friends.

Saying I didn't know what I was doing would be a lie. I knew. hehehe There was a reason for each and every one.

The mistake was friending certain people in the first place. Being a tad competitive, I thought the goal was to have more friends than anyone else. I happily befriended strangers, acquaintances and people I barely knew like they were long lost pals.

Getting to know some people better doesn't improve the relationship. I don't accept friend requests from coworkers, period. Reconnecting with old party pals can be risky. When you're trashed enough, little things like psychopathic tendencies can slip through the cracks.

I thought last March's massive unfriending episode was behind me. But in the last few days, posts from the previously unfriended have been appearing on my wall. It's creepy--like Facebook is somehow taunting...

The Crotchety Old Man

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Delayed Gratification

Camellias, pansies and a few others usually start blooming in my yard in November or December. Unless the temperature drops below freezing for more than a few hours, they'll keep blooming through April. Having color in the garden in January is one of the great joys of life in the Deep South.

Thanks to a January cold snap that kept the mercury below freezing for several days, the 2011 gardening season is off to a late start. The only color comes from a few scattered pansies. This is the second year in a row cold weather has delayed the start of the blooming season.

Last year the delay upset me. Those first blooms are somehow the most precious flowers of the entire season. January is depressing without color in the garden.

January came and went again this year with nary a bloom in sight. Unlike last year, however, I'm not depressed. In fact, I'm a little excited.

I still patrol barren flower beds in search of signs of spring. And I have to admit, I am just the tiniest little bit disappointed by the absence of color. But I've learned that good things will come if I just wait.

Carefully tended gardens always improve with age. The joy of gardening comes from watching the season unfold. Each comes with its own mysteries and surprises.

Sooner or later, every variety will bloom. In milder winters it's a slow and gradual build-up of color over many weeks. The delayed start this year means everything will come on all at once.

I don't know what the groundhog saw, or what the Farmer's Almanac has to say. I don't care either. It's going to be a spectacular year in the garden, or I'm not...

The Crotchety Old Man

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Wanna Bet?

My search for an agent continues. Yesterday I told you about the query--the first step in my journey to get Glass Houses published. If the query catches the eye of the agent I'm trying to land, she'll take a look at the book proposal.

The book proposal includes a table of contents with complete descriptions for each chapter, the entire first chapter and additional sample chapters. The whole package, including the marketing plan, an interesting bio and a "dynamic" photo is not to exceed fifty pages. Pulling the package together will take longer than it took me to write the book.

I'm starting with the annotated table of contents--a Cliff's Notes version of the book. Boiling each chapter down to the essential elements has been helpful and I've barely even started. More revisions will likely come from this process before I'm done. Tasks that make the book better don't bother me--I want it to be my best work

Coming up with a solid plan for marketing and promotion is more challenging. Success will require getting off my ass and will likely involve a great deal of smiling and hand-shaking. My bowels clench at the very thought.

If my dream agent likes what she sees, she'll ask to see the manuscript. It would be a lot easier if I could just submit the manuscript now. But that's not how it works. As with many things, the process is designed to screen out all but the most determined.

Am I Determined? Yes. Determined enough? We shall see. But, if I was a betting man, I'd put my money on...

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, February 4, 2011

Call Me Unpublished

I thought all I had to do was send Glass Houses to a couple of major publishers and wait for the bidding war to begin. The resulting six-figure advance would enable me to retire from my day job. I'd move to a beach house somewhere in South Carolina, Georgia or northern Florida to write all the time.

That's what I get for thinking. Nobody accepts unsolicited manuscripts. For "the unpublished" (said like you have a mouth full of something unpleasant), writing a great book isn't enough. With or without a proven track record, you need a solid plan to market and promote the book.

"The unpublished" are unknown entities, a writhing mass of author-wannabees all clamoring to join the chosen few. There are lots of different paths to publication. Before I'm done I may try them all. For now I've decided to try to find a literary agent.

The first step is to research literary agents to find a good match. They have niches, too. Submitting my book to an agent who specializes in Christian works of fiction, for example, would be a profound waste of time. Aside from the obvious, a memoir is considered nonfiction.

A variety of tools enabled me to produce a list of agents who like memoirs and either gay authors or subjects. Internet searches turned up additional information, including bios and statements of interest. A literary agent without a web site in 2011 seems fairly useless to me. Striking them cut my list in half. Upon closer inspection many of the rest were easily struck from the list, too. The also-rans seemed like a good enough fit in a bland, generic sort of way.

I felt a connection with two agents--both from the same agency. It's like they were speaking to me. The one I really like said she "is looking for exceptional writing [snip] that touches the heart and makes us feel something." Sounds like Glass Houses to me.

The next step is to write and submit a query to her. The query is a one-page pitch to sell the book, my writing ability and the marketability of the book. If the query fails to stand out from the hundreds she receives every week, it's over (at least with this agent). Talk about pressure. I've written a first draft and have already changed it a thousand times.

I'll keep you posted on my progress. In the meantime, you keep reading. And keep sending those comments to...

The Crotchety Old Man

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My Humble Opinion

A lot of people believe requiring health insurance is a bad idea. Some judges say it's downright unconstitutional. Requiring citizens to carry health insurance, in my humble opinion, is an essential part of health care reform.

Hospitals and other medical professionals can't refuse care to people who lack insurance. Uninsured patients fill emergency rooms around the country. Who do you think pays for their care? We all do.

You can't have it both ways. Either everybody pays (with some kind of assistance or tax credits for low-income individuals) or we continue to subsidize free riders through higher health care costs. I can't understand why conservatives aren't all over this one.

There appears to be confusion about the difference between investing and spending, too. Spending means using money for things you used yesterday or need today that likely won't still be around tomorrow. You spend money in a grocery story.

Investing is a particular kind of saving used to reach long-term goals. The value of the money invested today increases over time. The more time you have, the more you stand to gain. Spending for infrastructure and workforce development is an investment because the pay-off increases over time. China gets it.

Unfortunately, our well-insured, overpaid politicians believe investing is building big campaign war chests for re-election. Spending is what the other party does. It's all smoke and mirrors to conceal the transfer of income from the people to the multinational corporations that line their pockets with bribes campaign contributions.

Don't know the difference between spending and investing? Good luck spending your way to retirement. I recommend lottery tickets. If you win, since it was my idea be sure to send a few bucks to...

The Crotchety Old Man
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