My admiration is great for folks with Information Technology skills. The people who learn (or were born with) computer skills will effectively rule the world in the coming years. But at 61 years of age, I just don’t care to learn much more about it. I bought an Atari PC in 1980 or so, and have owned and used PCs ever since, but as the programming and file management capabilities have gotten more complicated, I sometimes find myself hating what should be the greatest tool known to mankind. It’s supposed to be an easy to use tool, but it’s not.
Forget that operating systems and their menus are forever changing, that even two computers in the same household, purchased at the same time, at the same store, will have different menus located in different places, and forget that endless updates reprogram your computer every week or so (changing nearly everything), but the nasty little beasties have now learned to lie…right to your face.
I’ve been trying to upload my new novel, The Ghostwalker File, to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple for their e-readers in recent days, and I am currently beside myself, staring at myself with the steely gaze of a stone cold killer, and I am on the verge of taking a framing hammer to my computer. I paid dearly to have a specialist convert my manuscript to the appropriate file formats, but after paying two freelance copy editors and proofing the manuscript a dozen times myself, I discovered a word missing in the very first sentence of the prologue…five minutes after successfully uploading the book to Amazon. “I can fix this,” I told myself. “How hard can it be to insert one word into a .epub file?”
I commanded my computer to open the file, but of course it told me that I couldn’t do that…unless. There’s always an “unless” now days. Any opportunity to sell me anything seems to make my computer giddy, and it even made an instantaneous suggestion about what programs would allow me to proceed. Thinking its first suggestion should be the best choice, I paid $30 dollars for “SpeedyPC Pro,” made a second copy of the .epub file, renamed the second .epub file, and tried to open it with my spanky-new program; which, of course, had no idea how to do it. What it did know how to do was convert the .epub file to a .speedypcpro file…which it still couldn’t open…and which Barnes & Noble wanted no part of. Not only that, it converted the original .epub file to a .speedypcpro file, so now I can’t even upload the original file with the missing word.
Even after all of that near criminal cyber-audacity, I was determined to fix the mess. I wrote my I.T. guy and requested that he make the correction for me and resend the .epub file to me, and then I completely uninstalled the dirty, rotten, lying scoundrel SpeedyPC Pro program from my computer and rebooted it. When the corrected .epub file arrived via email, I downloaded it…only to discover that it had been converted to a .speedypcpro file, apparently by a program no longer listed anywhere in my computer’s inventory. Do you understand my seething anger? Can you see how I might have been driven to the edge of I.T. madness? I wrote my expert back this morning, begging for help, but I’m not sure my semi-sane ranting got through to him. Or, if it did, perhaps he’s letting me stew in the mess as some perverted object lesson about leaving it to the pros. I’ve never been a violent man, but today I learned not to cross it off my list of possibilities.
It was my favorite time of every day for most of fifteen years. From before my daughter could understand a word I was saying until years after she could read perfectly well by herself, our bedtime story time was the best. Early on she took longer and longer turns reading books back and forth with me. We started with typical children’s books, but it wasn’t long before we tackled The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, A Wizard of Earthsea, and The Book of Duncow. Now days, thankfully, my daughter reads to my five grandchildren at night.
I’m not particularly counting on a rebirth of the tradition in this day and age, but one can always hope that the practice won’t die away entirely. With that in mind, I created a new children’s series based on my love of the Native American tradition of oral storytelling that included “animal stories” or “lodge fire stories” told by a Chief or an Elder to the children at bedtime. These stories used metaphor as well or better than any writers on earth to teach children how to navigate childhood and become intelligent human beings as adults.
The sheer genius that separates these stories from so many of the Anglo stories I grew up with is their intentional lack of certainly about Life, the Universe, and Everything. There was no ONE truth about who or what “the Creator” or “the Great Spirit” was, exactly. Children heard many versions of creation, of how humans obtained fire, or of how the buzzard got his bumpy red scalp or the rabbit his long ears. While the brilliant and humorous metaphors taught useful truths about living, the children were free to let their minds imagine anything as possible when dealing with the great cosmic mysteries that befuddle even the smartest among us. Today metaphysicians call this the “not know mind,” and the idea that an open mind creates a more apt learner than a closed one has become a universal given.
So my Grandfather and Grandmother Bear Stories are my attempt to emulate this amazing tradition. I also suspect that while most children can read my stories for themselves, the real magic lies in hearing them told by a loving adult. That part of the “growing up” process is evaporating from American society at an alarming rate, and it is my hope that there are still plenty of parents and grandparents around who will join me in looking forward to a renaissance of this time-proven story tradition.
The life of a “retired” writer isn’t at all what I expected. And when my new novel, The Ghostwalker File poured out of nowhere, I found the experience both totally unexpected and amazingly satisfying. I entered it in a “new novel contest” that turned out to be an email-address-generating-sales promotion for a vanity press, and I seemingly wasted several months discovering that, but even that lesson turned out to be a good thing. In the interim I discovered a very talented man who did all the technical homework I’ve been dreading, figured out how and why Amazon and Barnes & Noble e-book sales work, and has now built a business around helping those of us who are too old, too lazy, or too lacking in computer savvy get our writing up online and noticed effectively.
I also went through a reading craze during those “dead” months, pouring through books by Native Americans like Lewis Mehl-Madrona and Robert Lake Thom. In the process, I discovered the best kept secret in American “kiddie lit”: Native American “animal stories” and “lodge fire stories.” Imagine yourself as a Native American child at the turn of the century as Chief War Eagle invited you and the other children of his tribe into his lodge for a bedtime story. Sitting around the fire, listening with rapt attention, the smoky firelight flickering delightedly as if it were listening too, you would hear stories passed down through the generations, told by the most important person in your village. War Eagle never talked down to you, so you would hear and learn the true language of your tribe and feel more grown up than you really were. You would learn about Wolf and Beaver, and how Buzzard got his bumpy red head. You would hear stories about creation and how the human people were given fire thanks to the cleverness of Grandmother Spider and the practical good sense of Father Bear. You would be introduced to the Four Directions, the Creator’s gift to the animal and the human people so they would never be lost. Yes, stories of the “animal people” would be your primer about how to grow into a worthy human being, but not without the perennial high jinks of “tricksters” like Rabbit and Coyote! The animal people would teach you honesty, generosity, good manners, respect for your elders, a host of great examples of problem solving and “thinking outside the box,” and best of all, an abiding reverence for Mother Earth.
I was enthralled. And before I knew it, I was attempting to emulate the wisdom and the soul of that oral tradition and capture it in a series of stories deliberately intended to be read aloud to juveniles. I know, nobody much reads to kids anymore, but reading to my daughter at her bedtime was always my favorite part of every day, and as soon as she was able, we read back and forth to each other. By that time we had read through The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Earthsea Trilogy, The Deed of Paksenarrion, and we dove into The Book of Duncow and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Today, my daughter and her husband read to my five amazing grandchildren, so even if no one else keeps the tradition alive but them, I created The Grandfather and Grandmother Bear Stories, currently up to four completed titles, all on their way to Amazon and B&N e-readers within the next month or two.
So, I’m not so retired after all, I guess, and if I needed further proof, my new daily morning ritual is a spiritual/writing practice I call Daily Doses. I begin most days by giving myself “a good talking to” in 250-275 words. I was inspired by Jacob Glass’ “Daily Pages,” a slightly more left-brained routine wherein he starts each day by writing lists like: where he got it right the day before, and all the things for which he is genuinely grateful. The purpose is to get one’s mind in a more positive place, and to generate positive intentions for the day ahead. I just needed more “story,” because as Lewis Mehl-Madrona points out in Coyote Wisdom, some of us learn more efficiently through narrative. Today’s Daily Dose was number 124, so it must be doing something for me…besides building another book!
Maybe I’ll retire next year….