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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween: It’s more than just Candy & Demons

These two seem happy enough with the holiday.

As a child, Halloween never seemed like a big deal to me.  Sometimes my parents allowed me to dress up and go trick-or-treating, sometimes not.  Of course, I loved getting all that candy, but then my mother would take it all away, and then parcel it out later as she saw fit.  She claimed she was only concerned about my teeth.  Well, maybe she had a right to be, as every night my father took his teeth out of his mouth and put them in a cup.

This woman, maybe not so much.

In my teens, I remember all this tension between Church and Halloween.  Pastors, Sunday School Teachers, and Youth leaders all seemed to agree: Halloween was a pagan holiday, a celebration of evil spirits.  Churches held their alternatives to trick-or-treating, in an effort to protect the bodies and souls of members’ (and local) children.  One of my youth leaders even broke off a study he was preparing for us on the origins of Halloween.  He began to worry that, by delving so deeply into the subject, he had opened up a door in his psyche, and Satan, or perhaps one of his minions, had accepted the implied invitation.  Who am I to judge?  Maybe he was right.  Perhaps one of Wormwood’s fellow demons, from C. S. Lewis’ novel The Screwtape Letters, really had gotten his claws into my youth leader’s soul.

Maybe parceling out that candy is a good idea.

These days, I see Halloween as a celebration of Fall, and the first in the great American triple-header of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  We decorate our homes, dress up in costumes, and enjoy an evening out with family and friends.  We engage our imaginations, through costume-play (cosplay), carving pumpkins, making crafts and treats, and inventing stories that celebrate the holiday.  Some may dismiss Halloween as an excuse to eat teeth-destroying candy, or spend the day (and night) guarding their soul against demon possession, but I see it all as rather grand.  Halloween may celebrate the gathering-in of harvest, and thereby symbolize goals met and dreams achieved.  It may celebrate the cute, the scary, or the grotesque.  But for all that, it serves as a holiday in which we can renew ourselves and bring joy to others.  So go out and be a blessing to others today.  Well, all right….

Be a scary blessing.

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Journey For The Birds

This guy's grabbed the spotlight.

With our annual pass for the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park, we can visit whenever we want.  We’ve planned several visits in the last two months, but neither time have we made good on our plans.  We particularly wanted to visit the Safari Park.  Even though there’s less to see there, there’s more land for the animals to spread out in.  Also, as we were inspired by my research on The Real Herriot Way, and have vowed to start a walking regimen, we thought it would be nice to walk around there.  But all our plans came to naught.  It seemed as if there was always something more important to do.  Or we were too tired.  Or the weather wasn’t right.  Or….
This guy's a contortionist.

After studying the painting more in Treasures of Ojai: Part 1, when my wife suggested this week that we visit the Safari Park, I immediately agreed.  I loved the artist’s depiction of the birds: where better to compare her depiction of still life to that of real life.  Plus, it would be a chance to really stretch our legs.  So yesterday morning, we got in the car and actually drove there.

It was a bright and clear day, so the lighting wasn’t optimal for photography.  Still, I loved seeing all the birds in their (somewhat) natural surroundings.  And we really enjoyed walking around the park.  We don’t own a pedometer, but as our usual half-hour walk lasts 1.6 miles, and we spent two hours there, I figured three miles would be a good estimate, as we probably spent half the time taking pictures.  It’s a long way off the twelve-to-thirteen miles a day we’d need to manage for one of those walks in England.  Truth be told, given our history and ability, I’m not sure we have it in us to walk that far four or more days in a row, and enjoy it enough to call it a vacation.  But at least it’s a step in the right direction. 
This guy, well,
I'm not sure how to describe him.

I’m glad we visited the Ojai Museum and photographed that painting of the birds.  Whether or not we ever take one of those walks in England, we really enjoyed our walking tour of the San Diego Safari Park.  And to think: it was a painting that got us there!

Dragon Dave

Monday, October 29, 2012

Treasures of Ojai: Part 3

Oops!  Looks like I've captured more than one (great?) artist.

The third exhibit in the Ojai Museum that captured my attention was this selection of ceramic pots.  While I painted ceramics in my youth, I never sat down and actually made them.  The working method of their sculptor, Otto Heino, reminds me of the writing approach of Stephen King.  When Heino puts the clay on his wheel, he lets the evolving shape determine its own course.  Instead of using clay, King approaches each new story with a starting scenario, a What if? idea, and then lets them evolve from there.  I’m trying to learn from King’s example.  Like Otto Heino, he’s proven the validity of his approach: to be less controlling of the process, and celebrate the freedom of creation.

Well, there you have it, the last in my series of three treasures of the Ojai museum that caught my eye.  No one finds inspiration in every type of art, but I hope you found something in these examples, or at least in one of them, to empower your life.  Perhaps, like me, you need to be less worried about structuring your life, and just get on with celebrating it for all that it is.  

Dragon Dave

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Otto Heino’s bio, courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright gallery in Santa Monica, California.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Treasures of Ojai: Part 2

A Treasure from a Bygone Age

I’m not sure where it came from, but one time my grandfather got an old organ from someone.  He moved it inside the dining room, plugged it into the electrical outlet, and my grandmother, who played the organ at church, sat down to play.  But it didn’t work right, so he had to open it up and tinker with it.  Now my grandfather was usually great at tinkering with things, but I don’t think he ever got that organ to work properly.  I recall that he had trouble finding replacement parts, such as fuses and vacuum tubes, for it.  

The above organ comes from a simpler time.  Unlike my grandfather’s organ, I’m guessing it wouldn’t be reliant on parts made for a specific manufacturer.  So it could probably be restored more easily than the one my grandfather acquired.  I love the wood grain, the organ's shape and design, and the scrollwork for the book/sheet music holder.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone play a pump organ like this.  Given its exterior beauty, I wonder how it would sound.

I can’t imagine keeping one's concentration on the music, and playing the keyboard, while working at these pedals.  But a great musician, like a great artist, often does a lot more work than the audience ever sees.  We only see—or, as in this case, hear—the result, and often the resultant performance or finished piece is so simplified and streamlined that we think it was the work of a moment.  I’ve played the piano, and know how many hours of practice it takes to properly prepare for a performance.  I need to keep that in mind, when I tire of all the behind-the-scenes work (the outlining, the revising, the multiple drafts, the submission process) involved in the process of writing fiction. 

Dragon Dave

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Treasures of Ojai: Part 1

Birds of Paradise

When it comes to photography, it seems as though I never get it right.  I either take too many photographs, or too few.  Often, I come home and realize that I have an excessive amount of repetitious shots, but failed to capture a subject I really wanted to.  Such was the case with the Ojai Museum.  Still, a few things caught my eye during our visit, that I found inspiring, and that I actually photographed.  Starting with today, I thought I would share three things in particular with you, in the hope that each will help similarly inspire you.
The woman who welcomed us into the Ojai Museum actually apologized for the one dollar admission fee!  As we were her only customers, she gave us a short, guided tour, pointing out the various displays, and telling us about the museum’s history.  What she seemed to like best was this painting, which was painted by a local artist.  It hung in a health spa for many years, then was restored and placed in the museum.  (It’s actually one of two on display).  I love the gold leaf background, and the way the artist captured all the birds.  I don’t know about you, but I think this artist had a particular gift for capturing birds: not just their shapes, but also their movements.  When I look at the painting, I feel as if I’m visiting the arboretum at the San Diego Zoo.  I've often wished I could paint, and could probably achieve some ability in that area if I devoted the time to the craft.  But right now, I'm working with words to craft pictures that readers will hopefully find as vivid and compelling as this painting.   

Everyone has something that they do well, a gift or ability that is unique to them. What is your special power, and how are you using it to benefit yourself and the lives of others?

Dragon Dave

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Largest Outdoor Bookstore in America

As I wandered the streets of Ojai, I noticed bookcases lining the outside of a house.  As I neared, I realized it wasn’t a house at all, but a fa├žade of painted wooden siding, interspersed with windows, and overhung with corrugated fiberglass panels to mimic a roof.  But the bookcases filled with books: they were real.

I perused the shelves.  Signs offered these books for sale or trade on the honor system.  The bindings of many looked loose.  The covers seemed faded and worn.  It was as if the books themselves, exhausted by poor handling and all who had read them, had grasped one final opportunity for someone to read and love them.  “Look at me,” they cried.  “Please, take me home with you!”

Callously, I ignored their calls and walked “inside” Bart’s Books of Ojai.

I found myself surrounded by alcoves, and hallways formed by bookcases.  All were sheltered directly overhead by corrugated fiberglass panels.  Some areas required electric lights to illuminate the titles.  I wandered through a wide selection of subjects and categories, each identified by hand-drawn cardboard signs.  Several times, a staff member offered to help me find whatever I might be looking for.  A few customers sat beneath umbrella-covered tables, reading or chatting as they enjoyed the drinks and snacks Bart’s also sold.  After finding nothing I wanted in the Fiction area, I headed for the Science Fiction section.

A few years ago, when I subscribed to Writer’s Digest, I remember the magazine proclaiming that something on the order of 200,000 books were published in the English language every year.  That’s 200,000 titles, multiplied by all the copies of each title printed.  Despite the rise of electronic publishing, I suspect the number of books printed each year, whether they be hardcovers or paperbacks, has risen since then.  All those books have to go somewhere, and some will inevitably be thrown out or otherwise destroyed. 

Libraries and bookstores cannot hold copies of all the titles ever printed.  Even when owners and communities care for their books, time, the elements, and disasters still take their toll.  Little survives of Pliny the Younger beyond his letters, and their existence was probably insured because he writes about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and because he speaks of persecuting and executing Christians.  Aristotle’s philosophical works have profoundly shaped how we view and interpret the world, yet only roughly a third of them survive.  SFWA Grandmaster Robert Silverberg has bemoaned that so few of the dramas written by ancient Greek and Roman playwrights are still available.  And me?  I was looking for copies of the four novels Martin Caidin wrote about Steve Austin.  I’ve had trouble finding them in bookstores.  Where better to look than Ojai, Steve and Jaime’s hometown? 

Nope.  Nothing by Martin Caidin, whether Steve Austin-related or otherwise.

In perusing the Science Fiction section, I found a few books that interested me.  When I pulled out the copies, they left a dusty feeling on my hands.  As I’m allergic to dust and dust mites, I reluctantly put them back.  Perhaps I’ll find them elsewhere.

Bart’s Books helps readers of all ages find books and stories that can add value and joy to their lives.  Where I to live in Ojai, I can envision many happy times sitting at those umbrella-covered tables, discovering a new book, sipping my favorite drink, and enjoying the company of my fellow readers.  But I can’t help thinking about those tired and worn books outside, or the ones “inside” that were slowly disintegrating as I held them.  I know that nothing humans create can last forever.  Yet I can’t help thinking that those books, the products of creativity and hard work by thousands of authors throughout the course of human existence, deserve a little more protection against the elements.  Just a little bit more.

What do you think?

Dragon Dave

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