Short Stories – F. Scott Fitzgerald

This post is part of a year-long series about short stories.  Read about my “Year of the Short Story” HERE.

Flappers and Philosophers by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920) – The first book of short stories from the great American author.  This collection has eight stories:

  • Keep Calm and Focus on the Short Stories“The Offshore Pirate”
  • “The Ice Palace”
  • “Head and Shoulders”
  • “The Cut-Glass Bowl”
  • “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”
  • “Benediction”
  • “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong”
  • “The Four Fists”

I can not explain how my exposure to Fitzgerald’s writing has been as minimal as it is.  To be perfectly transparent, until a year ago I don’t believe I’d ever read anything of his.  Not even “The Great Gatsby” (still haven’t read it).  About a year ago, I received a short story collection which included his “A Diamond As Big As The Ritz”.  While I love Jimmy Buffett’s song of that name, I hated this short story.  It felt like Fitzgerald was trying for some kind of “fantastic” literature and came up very short.  Just an utter flop from my point of view, even when I made adjustments for almost a century’s worth of social change.

So I entered into this collection with very low expectations.

I emerged at the other end of the book with a completely different attitude about the author.

The first thing that leapt out at me was the sheer beauty of his writing.  Let me put it to you this way: it’s the kind of writing that made me stop my family and say “Listen to this…”, and then read them a phrase, a sentence or paragraph.  This is the art of writing.  The ability to weave words no only to tell the story, but to create something beautiful in and of itself.  That’s rare in my experience and rare beyond measure to find a book that has example after example.

Fitzgerald explores several of the themes that would become his trademark in the years that followed.  The desire of the young to find their own identity, and to rebel against the norms of the day.  The interplay of social class is featured as well.

My favorites here are:

  • “The Cut Glass Bowl” – Fitzgerald plays along the edges of science fiction and horror here.  Terrible things happen to the Pipers and it all seems connected a wedding gift.
  • “The Four Fists” – the story of a man who learns four profound life lessons after being punched in the face.
  • “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” – In the 1920s “bobbing” a woman’s hair (i.e. cutting it short) was a radical thing to do.  Certainly not something a “lady” would consider.  Here, in an attempt for social acceptance, Bernice is conned into doing just that.  It remains an excellent object lesson on not giving into peer pressure.’

The rest of the stories each have their own strengths as well.

This is a great way to start this series!  An iconic American author, and some wonderful writing as well.

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Time To Change – Moving Towards A Little Less

I  am making some changes.  Again.

At the end of last year, things did not go the way I had hoped or planned.  Having been working on my health and diet for several years, that didn’t really surprise me.  There are just more balls in the air at the moment.

For the folks who have followed the posts regularly, you will have noticed that they disappeared.  There were two reasons for that.  First, I lost my motivation once the fall rolled around.  More on that in a moment.  Second, I was depressing myself with weekly updates and I was pretty sure that it wasn’t pleasant reading for you.

So change number one is that these posts will go to a once a month schedule.  That way I know I will something to say other than “Another week when nothing much happened”.  I will also try to add something of interest to the updates of weight and exercise.  As with most subjects, I have some opinions on a lot of what goes on around weight loss, diet, exercise and diabetes.

As to the first point, the fall of 2016 was not a moment in my life of warm memories and fond remembrances.  I was diagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic, after years of lurking in the “pre-diabetic” category.  Plus in November, I lost my job.  I hadn’t lost the weight I’d wanted to lose, and I hadn’t found (still haven’t) a new full-time job.  I was feeling depressed and not really into sharing that.

But things need to change.  So we’re back.  There is some backsliding that needs to be fixed.  Then it’s forward to my goal.  Period.  Not open for discussion.

I’m back over 190 again, my A1C bumped up by 0.2 to 6.4.  Not a terrible increase but the wrong direction.  It will be checked again in June, so I have till then to turn things around.

Exercise is a challenge because it’s not cycling weather, by my standards.  So I need to walk.  30 minutes a day of active minutes.  I will be at the local mall during cold, snowy, windy or rainy weather.  I will walk in my neighborhood, at the local park or anywhere I can when the weather is good.  My doctor says that he sees the best results from the folks who walk regularly.  Works for me.

On the diet front, I remain convinced that the fancy diets, the ones that require you give up some kind of food, or eat certain exotic foods are garbage science and nutrition.  As a T2 there are things I need to control.  But there’s nothing I have to give up entirely.  Smaller portions of smarter choices and the weight will fall.  And the numbers will go with it.  Later this year, I will go into my thoughts on packaged diet plans.

I have one really great inspiration for losing weight.  One of my other projects this year involves videos.  Just did the test shoot last week.  And did not like what I saw from certain angles.  Talk about not having a place to hide!  I’m really excited about the project and vain enough to want to look good.  I’ll take whatever push I can get.

Onward.

My resolution remains:

 

want to am going to be The Guy again.  The Guy weighed 175 pounds and looked good and felt good.  And his blood pressure was good and his blood tests were good.

 

 

Active Minutes – Goal is 150/week

Steps – Goal is 10,000/day

Watch my activity on my Fitbit page

Biking Mileage – Winter Break

I track my mileage with MapMyRide

The next milestone is getting back below 185.  I will get there and go on.

Official Weigh-In Weight

193 pounds

Weight Change this week: -0.0 pounds

Total Weight Loss To Date: – Goal is 17  pounds

Goal Weight and Total to Lose – 175/35

Photo – Playing With Toys

Photography remains one of my favorite outlets for creativity.  When I started back in the dark ages, the creativity came in two phases.  Through the lens and in the darkroom.  I understood the darkroom concepts but never used them.  I trained myself to get the image in the viewfinder.  Not being able to afford the level of film expenditures that the pros used helped that way too.

While that’s great training, and one I recommend to every beginning photographer, it does still leave some options off the table.  Which is why the digital age has been such a boon!  Now darkroom options are available to everyone.  It doesn’t require a dedicated room, just a few pieces of software on your computer.

There’s still a learning curve.  And I’m enjoying puttering along the way.

Here’s a photo I took with my camera phone (an LG K20 PLUS, which I really like).  The brilliance of the leaf on the reflective surface caught my eye.

But it’s not perfect.  The tip of the leaf is out of focus and the interior of the car is too visible.  It’s distracting.

So I jumped into an app I picked up, Photo Painter (0.99 at Google Play), to see if I could improve the image.  The interface is easy to use and offers several options.  I chose the edit function which then lets me play with various styles (Impressionism, Realism, Expressionism, etc).  After fiddling with it a bit, I chose Expressionism.  And it gave me this:

This solves a lot of my issues.  The interior of the car is reduced, the sense of reflection is maintained and the edges of the leaf are much sharper!  Now, I suddenly notice the clear, non-reflective section at the bottom left.  It hadn’t bothered me before but does now.  That’s easy to fix!  Using my favorite photo viewer and editor, Irfanview (Free), I can quickly crop the offending section out.  The added value here is that it takes the leaf out of the center of the frame.  I think that’s a much better presentation.

So here’s the final version:

Is it lying in a puddle, or a pond, or on the windshield of a car?  It can be anything you want.  When I look at this one, I am very happy.  I took a grab shot and turned into something that makes me happy and proud.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.

 

All images are the property of J.D. Phillippi.  All rights reserved.

Copyright 2018

Writing – I Did It!

I have no idea how I forgot to post this one!  For the second time in five or six attempts, I completed the NaNoWriMo challenge!  NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and takes place each November.  The goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days.  That sounds like an enormous challenge and it is.  The reality is that you need write about 1,660 words a day.  That’s a goal that’s both easy and hard.  The most important thing you can gain from doing this is to simply keep writing.  NaNoWriMo is supposed to be a month of writing, not editing.  It creates a discipline and frees you from constant second-guessing.  I heartily endorse it!

This year’s project is being edited now.  The title is “Catching Fire and Flying Through the Air”.  It’s a story of a man who loses a job and needs to generate some income short-term.  So he becomes a substitute teacher!  The idea is inspired by Bel Kaufman’s 1964 New York Times bestseller “Up the Down Staircase”.  I was inspired by the concept, and also by the storytelling technique.  It is told entirely through overheard conversations, interdepartmental memos and notes between the main character and her friends and family.  Updating to the 21st century, this story is told with the addition of texts and e-mails.

I’m very excited by the concept, and the teachers I’ve shared the idea with have been very supportive.  I hope to have it ready to go by November of 2018.  Watch this space for details!

I did it, so can you!

 

From the Old Year to the New

This past year did not proceed as I anticipated.  Or hoped. Or wanted.

It did its own thing.  As with any year, I had little choice but to go with what’s given me.

Last year at this time I set out my objectives for the New Year:

No resolutions this year, just simple definable goals.

Health Goals:

Lose the last 20 pounds (be The Guy)
Keep my blood glucose within ADA ranges and work toward the lower ranges
Maintain a minimum of 150 active minutes a week

I managed to drop about half the weight, did OK with the blood levels until late in the year, and probably averaged the active minutes overall, but backslid there at the end of the year as well  Grade – C

Creativity Goals:

Add six more songs to my guitar competence list
Finish a writing project
Create a minimum of one good photo a month

The guitar goal never got off the ground.  I began the year with a shoulder issue that wouldn’t allow me to comfortably hold the neck and it went downhill from there.  I started another major project but nothing got finished.  And the photography was also a non-starter.  So a tough category overall.  Grade – D

Activity Goals:

Bike the Cap2Cap from Richmond to Williamsburg
Explore the parks nearby
Log a minimum of 1000 miles on the bike

I pulled the first off twice this year!  And I logged just over 600 miles.  That’s a personal best.  I got a little bit of park exploration in.  So I’d give myself a B- grade here.

Fun Goals

Visit five more historical sites
Go to the beach at least twice
Visit 20 wineries

Visited one historical site, got to the beach once and I don’t remember visiting any wineries this year.  Sigh.  Grade – F

Real Life Goals:

Find a new job
Find a new church home
Get involved with community group(s)

Thought I’d found a job.  Took a risk on something outside my comfort zone and discovered there was a reason it was outside my comfort zone.  A great company (Aflac) with some great products and people.  I’m just not cut out for that kind of sales work.  We did find a wonderful new church home, which has been an enormous blessing.  Community involvement is tough, did stay involved with the NaNoWriMo local group.  Grade – C

So what do I plan for 2018?  I’m going to take another shot at the same list.  It’s big and challenging.  There’s a LOT on it.  I put in italics the single goal for each category that I really want to cover.  I want to lose the final 10 (actually now 15 pounds), I want to do a roundtrip ride on the Capitol Trail.  Down and back, 100+ miles.  At the least, I want to ride it three times this year.  There are plenty of historical sites nearby, and a good number are free or inexpensive. And last, but absolutely NOT least, is getting full-time employment.  If I pull those off it will be a good year.  Anything beyond that will be gravy.

Writing – The Intimacy of Driving

I’m all set. The car is clean, seat adjusted, my window sign carefully affixed.

The first call arrives just as I leave the highway and enter the city proper. A young woman on her way to the gym. She’s forgiving when I’m a couple minutes late. The app and I are still getting to know one another.

Young women are an interesting balancing act. They are climbing into the car of a middle-aged man they do not know. I want them to feel comfortable and safe. Should I talk? Should I remain silent? Is the guy who never speaks to them on the trip reassuring or creepy? I usually say a few things right at the beginning, then wait to see if they pick up the thread. If not, I will offer a companionable silence. Most of the trips are quick so it never grows uncomfortable. The younger riders tend to spend the time on their phone, a soundtrack of quiet beeps and sound effects.

Five rides in quick succession. To the gym, a coffeehouse, home from work or to the airport. The airport trip is a man a little younger than me. We compare notes on our airport experiences.

I pick up a young woman at a local college. We’re headed out of town. When we arrive I ask where she wants to be let out. She’s never been here before, so we search a little. It’s a woman’s health clinic. There’s a clinic at the college.  There are doctors closer than this office.

I wish her well and say a little prayer.

The very drunk young woman who asks my name three times in a row.  Each one is a new and novel experience for her.

The young couple.  She is trying to make her desire for him clear.  He’s had one drink too many to be clear on any subject.  Her language becomes more and more graphic, all in a muted whisper that she believes I can not hear.

It’s none of my business.

Then I turn the wheel for home.

The Year of the Short Story

I love short stories.  That’s where I began as a writer.  While I have several novel-length projects underway, what always gets my creative juices flowing is the idea for a new short story.

Keep Calm and Focus on the Short StoriesIt was just over a year ago that I published my first book, a collection of short fiction titled “Shorts”.  I thought I was being clever, only to discover it had been done before.  But the stories are original, and they’re mine.

What I discovered along the way is that the short story doesn’t get much love these days.  Once upon a time, it was the proving ground for writers.  The short story is a challenging format, requiring top quality storytelling with just a few thousand words to work all the pieces in.

Today, I come across a great many readers who turn their noses up at the very concept of short fiction.  Which is really sad.  There are so many wonderful stories out there to enjoy.  Not all of them need to be told in seven massive volumes.

So I am going to push back.  I want the short story to be given its due, even if it never rises to the heights it once held.  Each month of 2018 I will offer up a collection of short stories for your consideration.  I have some wonderful authors lined up for your consideration, Fitzgerald, Twain, Conan Doyle.  My goal is to entice you to try at least a couple of them.  I hope you will find something to pique your interest this year.

Here are two from last year, to whet your appetite:

Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

One More Thing by B.J. Novak

I want to link again to a wonderful blog post, “Writing Short Stories”  by Clare over at “50 A Year“.

This is part of the larger transformation of this blog in the New Year.  It will become what it was always meant to be, my writing and creative blog.  Over the last couple years, I’ve also developed a loyal following for my blogs on diet/diabetes and exercise.  So those topics will continue on a monthly basis.  My hope is that I can retire my job search posts in the near rather than far future as well.  But my hope is to offer lots of interesting topics as we go.

“Shorts- A Collection of Short Fiction” by J.D. Phillippi is available in e-book and paperback versions.  An audiobook version will be added early this year.  You can find it at:

Amazon            Barnes and Noble

Kobo          Scribd

And you can check out my writer’s page “Stories Are My Life” at JDPhillippi.com