The Log 2

The officer standing in front of the log swiveled his body towards the van, his flashlight’s beam cutting an arc into the darkness then landing on the windshield. Jimmy lifted his left arm, frowned as light flooded the cabin. The beam lowered, found the license plate, then raised back up and approached the driver’s side of the van like a walking lighthouse.

Jimmy lowered his side window, a blast of frigid air invading the cabin. “Looks like we got a problem.”

“Fell about twenty minutes ago.” A communications device on the officer’s chest squawked a question, and the officer stopped, lowered his flashlight, spoke into his device, his face covered in darkness.

Rex pointed off to the left of the road. “We can try going around.”

“Pretty wet over there.” Rex nodded in response. “Summer time, I’d think about it. But winter, and with all the rain and snow we’ve been having.” Jimmy reached forward with his right hand, slapped the dashboard twice like it was the back of an old friend. “This here’s my livelyhood, son. I lose this van, can’t make no deliveries. I ain’t taking no chances.”

Rex pointed with his thumb behind him. “We could go back, take the county road.”

“Naaah.” Jimmy’s voice was contemptuous. “Way these crazy roads work in this town, that’d take an extra half hour. We about five minutes from your folks where we are — let’s find out from John Law when they’re fixing to move this damn tree.”

The sound of gravel crunching under shoes was immediately followed by the blinding re-appearance of the flashlight’s beam in the cabin. The beam focused a moment on Rex, who covered his eyes with his hands, then moved over to Jimmy. The officer’s footsteps stopped abruptly. 

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The Log

[Been a while since the last extended scene for the novel. This will take place during the February chapter.]

Broad beams of oscilliating light illuminated the dark wet sky above the hill, and as the delivery van for Squisito Catering approached its occupants finally saw its distinctive blue hue.

“Looks like trouble.” Jimmy Saunders, owner of Squisito and a recent volunteer of the Bark Bay High School coaching team, punctuated his observation by clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth, tok. Sitting in the passenger seat at the front of the van, Rex Ankiel, a junior and three-year member of the team, glanced at the dashboard’s clock. Eighteen minutes past six, over an hour later than when he’d told his family would be home.

The van crested the hill, and the source of the flashing lights was visible through the frigid rain. A squad car for the Bark Bay Police Department sat stationary on the side of the road, left wheels on the cracked pavement and right wheels digging into the graveled mud of the shoulder. Blue lights on top of car flashed noiselessly. In the middle of the road stood an officer, the back of his leather coat reflecting the van’s headlights. The officer held a long flashlight in his right hand at shoulder height, like he was about to thrust it like a spear into the dark road in front of him.

“What’s he standing there for?” Rex’s distant vision, never reliable even when he wore his glasses as he did now, was being further troubled by the fog permeating the windshield and the wall of cold rain.

“There, in front of him.” Jimmy seemed to be pointing at the officer. “Along the road.” Rex squinted, and finally saw — a tree, its trunk at least a foot in diameter, lay across the width of the road. Remnants of bark and leafless branches lay on the pavement in front of the officer. Thin fingers of branches extended up into the dark wet night, as if the tree were captured in a pose of surrender.

Lessons

Learned some valuable lessons from the Blogging 101 course that just completed:

  • With blogging, you reap what you sow. In other words, the satisfaction you get from blogging is a direct result of the effort you put into it. If all you want to do is post whatever strikes your fancy, whenever the spirit moves you — sure you’ll have a blog, but it will after a while seem little more to you than an online diary, and probably attract as much attention. These past few weeks, as I’ve focused less on content and worked more on my blog’s links, appearance, and motivations, I’ve seen this blog evolve into something I would have barely recognized when I started. When you plant a seed, you pretty much know what’s coming out of the ground — but if you nurture that seed properly, the harvest you enjoy can exceed your expectations.

 

  • I’m not doing my job as a blogger if I’m not reading and commenting on other blogs. During the past few weeks I’ve discovered a number of fascinating writers and poets, and commenting on their fine work has given me insights into my own writing. To be effective, a blog must be more than just a one-way medium of communication, a soapbox for the blogger’s agenda; by offering advice and support to other bloggers, and by cultivating feedback on their own work, bloggers discover more about their world as well as themselves. Living this lesson will be a difficult task for me — solipsism is one of my bad habits. But communicating with other bloggers is an absolute requirement for developing my own blog.

 

  • Blogging is hard work. One of the first tasks of Blogging 101 was to consider my blog’s title and tagline, which lead me to change both. The Diligent Dilettante expresses what I’m trying to accomplish in this blog — yes I’m having fun, but I’m trying to accomplish something other than simply amusing myself. I want my blog to be a place where people can find satisfaction and inspiration. Getting my blog to perform those tasks won’t be easy, and it’s not going to happen unless I take the task of blogging more seriously than I have to date. But I know I’m going to enjoy all the hard work that comes with this dedication.

In conclusion, I’d like to thank the good folks at The Daily Post for putting together a great curriculum for Blogging 101. They have provided an invaluable service to the blogging community, and if any of my readers is considering the course, I encourage you not to hesitate.

With Protection

This is the initial entry for the new 2wenty-thr3 feature of my blog, in which I choose, using the number 23 as my sole selection criterion, two words from a text, and then use that pair in a blog post. Today’s source text is inspired by an upcoming holiday in my home country; counting 23 words from the top and 23 from the bottom (signatures don’t count!), I have a title. Now for the hard part.

“I’m not sending you out there alone.” The captain waved his arm in the direction of the company, the nearly dozen men and women huddled around the trash can fire. “Need to keep Kelsey here, have her work on the radio. Simonson, he’d be OK, or Crawford . . . I could send you with Tad — ”

“How about sending me with protection this time?” Lieutenant Michaelson pointed to the hulking figure of Geoff, standing by himself in the shadows around the fire’s perimeter.

 

2wenty-th3

The final Blogging 101 task is to create a recurring feature on my blog. Inspiration arrived before I had finished reading the assignment, and my only regret is that it hadn’t come a few days earlier.

I’m calling my feature 2wenty-thr3, and it will appear on my blog the twenty-third day of each month. The primary inspiration is an apocryphal (OK, it’s false) legend regarding William Shakespeare and the King James Bible. The legend was inspired by the observation that in translation’s version of Psalms 46, the forty-sixth word from the top is shake, and the forty-sixth from the bottom is speare. (Oh go ahead — you know I’m right, but you just have to see for yourself, don’t you? Start counting!) For the record, Shakespeare was employed by the court at the time, there is no authoritative list of translators, the edition was finished around Shakespeare’s 46th birthday . . . and though spoil-sport scholars have pretty much busted this myth, the coincidence is too serendipitous to not be inspiring.

To celebrate the spirit of this legend, for 2wenty-thr3 I will select a text (guided by whatever random motivation strikes me), and use the number 23 in some fashion to choose two words. I could go top-down and bottom-up, as in the legend; maybe I’ll use the first word in a novel’s 23rd chapter, or the last word in a poem’s 23rd line; perhaps I’ll think of some other way to incorporate the number into the selection process. The result will always be two words, and I’ll use both (perhaps combined into a new word — oh the neoligistic possibilities are endless!) in a short, self-contained post on my blog.

My plan is for 2wenty-thr3 to be a celebration of life’s random orderliness, about discovering patterns that lead to inspiration. And while I’m three days too late for this month’s entry, I’ll still make my initial contribution for this new feature tomorrow.

UPDATE: Little too eager to hit the Publish button. I’m using 23 instead of 46 as the “magic number” because it leads to a convenient schedule for the feature, and acknowledges that the inspirational legend is half-true, at best. Besides, 23’s a cool number, and also happens to be the day Shakespeare was most likely born in April 1564. 

Blavatar

Today’s Blogging 101 assignment is to extend my blog’s “brand” (wouldn’t be the term I’d use — image, perhaps) by employing one of several different suggested techniques. My choice was to create a blavatar; you’ll soon see this image in my address bar and elsewhere on my blog:

mask

Pestiferous

[For the Day Thireen Blogging 101 assignment, I am participating in KittyKat’s Word for Wednesday blogging event. As with other 101 assignments, the task I’m performing is similar to one I already do from time to time on my blog — use an interesting word I come across in my reading, and incorporate that word into a short scene of the novel I’m drafting.]

“Halt.” Coach Dan’s command was more pointed than usual as he turned his attention away from the bout he was officiating. His bearded chin pointed in the direction of the equipment sacks that sat, along with three members of the Bark Bay High School fencing team, at the far end of the large cafeteria floor.

“Can I ask what you’re doing over there, my friends?” In response to his coach’s question, Rune raised his head, greasy hair reflecting off the overhead lights.

“Just having some fun.” Sitting across from Rune, Butch and OK kept their heads down and giggled, their attention focused on the papers lying in front of them on the tiled floor. “Nothing to see here.”

“But there is over here.” Butch and OK raised their heads. “We’re here to fence, folks, not play games.”

Rune pointed at Rex, then Annie, as the two waited for their bout to resume. “They’re the only ones fencing now.”

And you should be watching them.” The voice of the English teacher and volunteer fencing coach boomed, seeming to amplify off the bare walls and floor. “You’re not going to learn anything about fencing over there, playing that pestiferous game! This is practice, folks — so let’s act like we’re practicing.”

He turned quickly, cheeks reddening under his black beard. And as he heard the three teens rising behind him, he waved Annie and Rex back to their en garde positions. “Now then — ” he spread his arms, palms down, toward the teens — “fencers ready?” 

Better Responses

Today’s Blogging 101 assignment is to read six or more other responses to yesterday’s Daily Post prompt, Toy Story, and comment on at least two of them. I’ll say it again — I like this type of assignment, because it urges me to develop a habit I have been all but ignoring.

[A short aside before continuing: several of the prompt responses posted by The Daily Post were dated 9/12/2013. Recycling prompts and inflating your response numbers? Tsk tsk.]

The assignment has turned my attention towards two interesting blogs that I am now following:

  • Sam Tayag, author of Art and Adventures of a Backpacking Plein Air Painter,  who “writes about the intersection of the wilderness, painting, and illness with honesty and her (sometimes irreverent) sense of humor.” If this were a contest I’d give the award to her response, which focused not on the objects of her childhood, but rather her experiences, such as her trip to Yosemite with her mother:

We drove those winding, mountain roads in the middle of the night, just because we could, just because we were curious, just because the moon was bright and the world around us was breathtaking and we weren’t done exploring yet.

  •  The best verse response came from Unbolt, a Russian Ukranian poet with the “impudence to write in English.” Her poem, a Doll, has some subtle yet powerful imagery:

The stars shimmer like transparent glaze.
The red sun sinks in the sea.
The blue moon changes a regular phase.
Life’s carousel spins… not with me.

UPDATE: I erred in reporting Unbolt’s nationality, and have made the necessary correction. I see a Cyrllic font, and make a hasty assumption — thanks for the correction and for being cool about it, Unbolt!

Old swords

[Today’s assignment for Blogging 101 is to post a response to a prompt, yet still is written in a manner “that fits right in with everything you normally blog about.” Fortunately for me, this is something I do routinely — use a prompt to explore a character, scene, or location for the novel I’m drafting, or to start a new short story. And the subject for today’s prompt from The Daily Post is childhood toys — this scene would go near the start of the second chapter, October.]

“So, my friend — ” Coach Dan spread his arms wide and leaned back, as if he were spreading a map across his broad chest — “tell me about this fencing experience you say you have.”

“Oh!” The follow-up question seemed almost to strike Butch physically. The teen glanced over at Rune (sitting with Annie next to the team’s equipment bags), then back at this man, this teacher, who had just asked to address him as coach during practice. “Me and Huey — ”

Rune.” The greasy-haired teen’s voice had shot across the cafeteria floor like a missile seeking to destroy its target.

“Oh! Yeah. Well, I was saying, me and Rune, when we was kids, we’d go out back of his place — we’d always go to his place, ‘cuz of my parents, one time they seen me and H — Rune, we was wrestling out back of my house, this was back in oh I don’t know, must have been third grade — ”

“My friend!” Coach Dan had walked over to the portly teen, the teacher placing his hands on the top of the student’s shoulders. “As much as it pleases me to hear the details of your friendship with that fine young man, may I remind you — ” his smile avuncular, his eyes less so — “that I was asking about your fencing experience.”

“We had these fake swords.” Still sitting across from Annie, Rune had shifted his body a quarter-turn in the direction of his coach and friend. “They were curved, like scimitars. We made them out of cardboard, for Cub Scouts.”

“They were silver, with red handles. We were pirates!” For the first time that afternoon, Butch seemed comfortable, animated. “Our den mother, she wanted to be sure they held up through rehearsals, so she gave us good materials to work with. After the play was done, she let us take them home — Rune and I would use them to have sword fights.”

“I see.” Coach Dan scratched the short black curls of his bearded chin. “You still have those swords?”

“Oh! They weren’t real swords, they — ”

A quick wave from his coach’s hand stopped Butch as if a spell had been cast on him. “The swords you made, in Cub Scouts.” The seven-year English teach at Bark Bay High School shifted his attention to where Rune was sitting. “Do you still have those?”

Rune shrugged. “Beats me. Ain’t seen that old thing in years. Threw out a bunch of junk from my closet over the summer, might have gotten tossed with that.”

Annie sneezed, the end of her brown ponytail lifting and nearly touching her head. Coach Dan turned back towards Butch, widened her eyes. A moment later, the tow-headed teen startled, as if waking from a nap.

“Oh! I, uh — yeah, I still got it, in the basement. Father says it’s silly, but I told him I really liked it, wanted to keep it, so he said I could so long as I didn’t use it on my sisters. That’s what he tells us boys, don’t you pick on your sisters or younger brothers. But he didn’t say that to me.”

“Why not?” Coach dan cursed himself silently as soon as he asked the question.

“‘Cuz I’m the youngest.”

Gravatar

One of the more perplexing aspects of my blogging experience has been the management of my Gravatar. I’d chosen a photo several years ago which seemed harmless (small file size, unprovocative image), and didn’t receive any warning when adding it about potential problems.

Problem was, I never saw the Gravatar I’d chosen. My WordPress Dashboard still showed the generic gray and white silhouette, and the image that appeared next to my comments was a purple and white blob. Thinking there was some problem with the photo I’d chosen, I uploaded different photos, but the result was the same — I only saw my Gravatar on my profile page.

Thankfully, Blogging 101 once again provided the answer (and if you’re thinking of enrolling in the next class, I cannot recommend it with more enthusiasm). Turns out I hadn’t been paying full attention when managing my profile — each Gravatar has a rating, similar to those issued by the MPAA for movies, and my Gravatar had a PG rating, which must have been the default when I’d created it. Changed the rating to G, and now I see my Gravatar image where it should be.

One mystery solved. Now’s the time to figure out why the Get Shortlink button doesn’t work in Windows 8 . . .