Writer’s Confessional Part Five

It’s said that if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you’re gifted with eloquence. Or, if I tell it like most people have heard it, the gift of gab. Well, I didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone. Too many lips on the same surface for my taste. But, what I won’t bullshit you about is as soon as I saw the green of Ireland I fell in love. I already felt a pull toward the land of Skellig Island off Portmagee, which is southwest of Dublin, also the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren’s. Setting foot on the earth where God granted a little more green than other places, the magic of the island was captivating. Larger modern cities like Dublin, Cork, or Killarney, they have their own mystique, their own magic in music, the people, the pastel-painted architecture, the history, the beer. Take away those larger cities and I’m left with nature so beautiful it’s overwhelming. So much history, blood, and struggle poured out into the land I can’t possibly fathom what life was like a thousand years ago or beyond. It was inspiring, as an artist, a writer, as a person with Irish blood.

I took my sketchbook with me but didn’t pull it out, surprising myself, since everything there is a sketch study. I took as many photos as I could though, a lot of the flavor of Ireland waiting to be written or drawn.
One thing that caught my writer’s mind was the concept of the fairy myth and folklore. I didn’t see it marketed anywhere. As an American you can go to any craft store and find ceramic garden fairy’s, fairy doors, mushrooms to go with the fairy’s, etc. I found it odd, but satisfying that they didn’t market the fairy myths or the idea of leprechauns for the touristy crowd throughout most of the country. There was a particular store, but it was done in a commercial way rather than done by craftsmen or artisans.
But what are your thoughts on Irish myths and folklore? Conjure your concept of a leprechaun in your mind. Some might consider a character from a movie wearing green pants and coat with scary bright orange hair, a sinister angry face, or maybe something from a children’s book a little softer, more inviting with a rainbow and a pot of gold. In my mind, it’s a bit of both. I did see something that caused me to think of just those kind of stories, though.

We landed on Irish soil during the sunniest week Ireland will ever see this year (I actually got a sunburn). As we enjoyed the shade in Cork’s shopping district I noticed a man that looked a little separate from everyone else, like he was floating through the brick and mortar landscape of shops and the modern world. He was about my height, five feet nine inches tall, squarer in the shoulders, dramatically so. The man’s hair was not the stark orange-red that most people think of when they think Irish heritage, but it was a deep rusty red, a windswept mess. His clothes were bland in color, plaid shirt, and twill pants, hanging off him like they didn’t belong. As we passed him a shiver danced across my skin because his stare in his craggily and pitted face was blank almost as if he was looking off somewhere that no one could see. I asked myself if he was seeing something other than the fast-bustling pedestrians needing to get their tourist trap purchases back to their hotel rooms before they went off to the next pub to have a pint or if he was so displaced in time lost to all the people around him. It scared me a bit, his blank stare, his ghostly demeanor. But I brushed it off and continued to wander through Cork with my hubby. But I couldn’t get the man out of mind so when I saw another person that was so similar in features, a smaller frame, feminine this time, I started to pay more attention and this new set of characters came to life in my head. It was exciting.

There were other instances where this happened too. A dilapidated house in the middle of a flourishing neighborhood outside of Dublin, the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, with its jewelry made by Vikings, or the sheep and cows littering the landscape disappearing into the rocky green hills, or the castles that would pop up just around the bend on the narrow road. It was a compelling and fantastical place.
So, as a writer what am I trying to tell myself? What did I learn while I was on the green island? I would say that I need to go outside more, wander a bit, even if it’s to a city or park I’ve been to several times. Pay attention to what surrounds me and stop being so apathetic to my city, towns and parks nearby. Do a little digging into the history of the places and I might just find a story somewhere left in the cracks of time.

Video Games I Really Don’t Like

I am selective when it comes to games I play as I’ve stated in a previous blogpost. That doesn’t stop me from giving a certain title a chance. For the most part, I thoroughly enjoy whatever game I decide to delve into. But there is the occasional title that doesn’t hold my interest and is permanently shelved after so long.

Below is my list of ten video games that didn’t make the grade.

1) SimCity 2013 – I have long been a fan of simulation games made by Maxis and have gotten hours of enjoyment from such titles as Sim Theme Park, SimTower, and The Sims. I went into 2013’s SimCity with high expectations, only to be sorely disappointed within a few days. My main dislike is that the game cannot be played solo – at least not easily. SimCity 2013 is an online multiplayer game that forces you to rely on other players around the globe for aid. Any attempt to build all the necessary structures to get your city thriving, such as housing, businesses, and power plants, is a lot more difficult on your own. I may have been able to accomplish this as a single player, but the game didn’t intrigue me enough to want to find out if I could.

2) Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City – I am a huge fan of the Resident Evil game series. But as with all franchises that have multiple titles to their name, there is certain to be one or two bad apples in the bunch. For me, that was Operation Raccoon City – and not just because it explored a what-if scenario that took place in the early days of the series and gave you the option to kill series veterans Leon and Claire before their stories even really got started. Like SimCity 2013, Operation Raccoon City is a game that isn’t meant to be played solo. For each mission, you can select one of six characters with a unique skillset. In the event that you don’t have any buddies playing as one of the other characters accompanying you on this mission, your teammates are instead controlled by an A.I. that isn’t the least bit helpful when it counts. What I hate most about Operation Raccoon City is that the toughest monsters will only focus on a player-controlled character. If you’re playing solo, you will inevitably get rushed by a powerful creature you have very little chance of surviving against at the end of some missions.

3) Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – The Transformers live action film series isn’t exactly stellar. Even more so when it comes to the video games. Revenge of the Fallen is one game title that I wish I hadn’t wasted my money on. Aside from running in circles on most levels to complete your objective, the controls are needlessly complicated when it comes to combat. The first Transformers game allowed you to switch from robot to vehicle and back with the push of a button. Revenge of the Fallen made you hold down one button to stay in vehicle mode, hold down another to drive or fly, use the mouse to steer, use a third button to lock onto a target, and press a fourth one to fire. This necessity really got annoying very quickly.

4) Battle CatsBattle Cats is a title that I inadvertently got into when I purchased an Android device specifically for a chance to play Plants vs. Zombies 2. Even if the device hadn’t broken down in less than a year with the loss of all my game data, I still would have come to see Battle Cats as a piece of garbage. It has a simple enough premise where you select cats with varying abilities and strengths to combat an army comprised of a variety of creatures and take out their base. Battle Cats is free to download, but I believe you have to throw a lot of money at it if you want to have the best units at your disposal. Otherwise, you have no hope of beating the later levels.

Note: I last played Battle Cats three to four years ago, and current YouTube videos I’ve watched show that some improvements have made the game less of a cash grab.

5) EverQuestEverQuest is an online multiplayer game I only started playing because a guy I was dating was very much into it. I was given a copy of the base game and all its expansions to install on my computer, but I never found it that engaging. After the breakup, my interest waned to the point that I just uninstalled the games and never looked back. You would think that a fantasy role-playing game with hundreds of monsters to fight would be right up my alley, but EverQuest was simply too boring for me.

6) Command & Conquer – I’ve stated in a previous blogpost that I am a huge fan of the Command & Conquer franchise. My love of the series got me to buy a collector’s edition that included every title in the franchise. When it comes to the very first game, I have to say it’s not that great. The maps are too small and you don’t get very many units to work with for each mission. On some levels, I kept losing all of my soldiers and was unable to complete the objective. On others, I would explore the entire map without finding the means to advance. I don’t know if I was missing something obvious or if the game was just bugged, but after a while, I permanently shelved the first Command & Conquer.

7) Fallout 1 & 2 – The Fallout franchise is something I got into after seeing gameplay footage of the third game. It is also a series where the first two games are a radical departure from their role-playing, 3-D open world successors. I tried giving Fallout 1 & 2 a shot, but there was something about the 2D turn-based gameplay that I didn’t find engaging enough to stick with.

8) Title I can’t remember – In general, I have a very good memory, but there is one poorly-made video game I’ve played whose title I can’t remember. What I do recall is that it was a single player game influenced by Norse mythology and which alternated between village building and combat. This particular title kicked off with the lead character having a vision of battling a fearsome-looking dragon alongside three other combatants. What irritated me the most about the game was the combat missions. Of the four fighters you have at your disposal, three are good at close combat while the fourth – an archer – can only attack from a distance. Every single time the archer got rushed by the creatures I was fighting, she would refuse to back up so she could keep dealing damage.

9) Lost Planet 3 – The Lost Planet series is one I’ve never played but had always been interested in checking out. I have no clue how the third game compares to the rest of the series. But Lost Planet 3’s story wasn’t engaging enough to make me want to play the game all the way through to the end. I don’t know what I expected, but it felt like the plot was taking too long to get going. After almost thirty minutes of very little happening, I abandoned the game in favor of something more exciting. Maybe someday, I’ll actually dive back into it, but it’s earned a spot on the shelf for now.

10) Ahriman’s ProphecyAhriman’s Prophecy is a prequel to a fantasy adventure series called Aveyond that I’ve become a huge fan of. The prequel is also a title that differs from its successors. Instead of featuring turn-based gameplay like every other game in the series, Ahriman’s Prophecy features real-time combat. You really have to act quickly to take out the enemy units before they kill you. I wasn’t always successful at winning a fight. Eventually, I just gave up trying.

One of the things I like about the video game market is that there is no shortage of titles to pick from. Unfortunately, this means that there will be games that may look or sound good but ultimately fall flat for the player.

I hope you all enjoyed this list of video games I dislike. If you would like to tell of games you personally didn’t enjoy or simply comment on one of the titles listed here, please leave feedback below.

More Summer Recipes

As the oppressive heat and humidity continue, I remember the Boston Cooler I served my Brownie troop years ago.

 

The Boston Cooler originated in Detroit. To make this refreshing drink, put two or three scoops of vanilla ice cream in a tall glass. Add Vernors Ginger Ale®. To add a spicy kick, stir with a peppermint stick. The more you stir, the more flavorful the cooler becomes. Yum, yum.

 

Another refreshing summertime drink is fruit infused lemonade. Put the juice of three fresh squeezed lemons in a tall glass, add cold water and ice. Stir the lemonade with a frozen strawberry Outshine Fruit Bar® until it dissolves. Optional: Add sugar to taste or stir in a second fruit bar. More flavors are available. Perfect.

 

For a tasty smoothie, put cut fruit in a blender with crushed ice and add Pom® Pomegranate Juice. Fruit suggestions include oranges, unpeeled honey crisp apples, seedless grapes, peeled kiwi, fresh or canned peaches, and pineapple. Blend the mixture to make a healthy smoothie. If you wish to add a banana, consume immediately. Otherwise, the drink looks unappetizing. Delicious.

 

Craving relief in this scorching heat? Think ice cream and fresh fruit. Do you have any suggestions for a cool, summer drink?

Key West

Late in the afternoon, toward the end of March, the Azamara Quest pulled out of Miami Harbor heading for Key West, Florida, and then on to Cuba. The air was hot and humid. My husband and I went out on our balcony to watch the land pull slowly away as we sailed out of the harbor. We could hear the music playing from the upper deck.

 

Key West is located on the southern tip of Florida. It divides the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Mexico. It is known for many things but the one I found most interesting is that Ernest Hemingway lived there for almost eight years from 1931 until 1939. But he kept the house until he died. I often wonder if he was sorry he didn’t stay or expected and hoped to go back some day?

 

The time that Ernest spent in Key West was one of his most prolific periods for writing. During that eight year period, he worked on Death in the Afternoon, Green Hills of Africa, To Have and Have Not, For Whom the Bell Tolls and some of his short stories. The Snows of Kilimanjaro was written during this time.

 

Why am I talking so much about Ernest Hemingway? Because that was why I was looking forward so much to our one day stop in Key West. I’d arranged for us to take a tour in the morning after breakfast and then we’d spend time walking around on our own.

 

Once the tour was over, the first place we headed for was 907 Whitehead Street and this is what we found: Ernest Hemingway’s home.

Memorial Day 2018

By William Garvey, Guest Author

Memorial Day 2018

I rise early, dress, eat, brew a coffee and drive alone to the cemetery. This year, unlike most, I am prepared. The flowers are bought, the shepard’s hook already pounded into the ground. A plastic bucket with hand shovel and grass clippers is in the back of the Escape, as are the tiny American flags, and the one Canadian, along with several old towels from the garage, the cigars I use to toast my grandfather, and Pat’s garden kneeler, a reluctant  concession to old age.

The cemetery is two miles away, in the heart of the once outer-ring suburb of Detroit we have called home for 30-odd years. The house my parents had built for them in 1959 is likewise two miles away, but in a different direction. I drive by the house now and then.  Occasionally the new owners are on the front porch. I wonder if they wonder who it is that drives that car back and forth so slowly.

The cemetery has some nicely treed acreage. But my parents and grandparents were laid in a treeless spot near the ring road, which misses by several dozen yards the shade of the ancient oaks, and turns to desert brown every July. In recompense, there is a water spigot pounded into the ground several hundred feet away, with a big ‘Do Not Drink’ sign. I take that advice. There should be another sign that says ‘Raise Handle Slowly Or You Will Drench Every Piece Of Clothing Beneath Your Knees’, but there is not. I think that is a joke the staff plays on visitors.

Our usual flowers are geraniums, which do fine in May, but crumple and die in late June. I try to tend to the cemetery plots every summer day, but usually fail. This year Pat bought moss roses for the shepard’s hook. They are reputed to be drought tolerant. Reputed, not guaranteed. I assume they could use some water. Since I need water for my grandfather’s flowers (more on this later), I traipse over to the spigot, carefully raise the handle, and dowse my jeans and shoes.  It is now part of the tradition, so I don’t mind.

My father and mother share a plot and a grave marker. Mom has been gone almost 13 years, Dad nearly seven. They were high-school sweethearts – separated like so many by World War Two. Dad joined the Navy. He spent two years on a cargo ship in the Pacific. I have a set of his winter blues in a box in the back of my closet, along with an old cardboard box of letters and photos.

My maternal grandfather was Canadian, and fought with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in World War I. I have his medals in a steel box in the basement. My grandmother was a small town Pennsylvania girl he met on a wild swing through the US after the war. The story was that he and some friends went to New York, ran out of money (who could believe that?) and went west to find work. ‘West’ ended up being southwest Pennsylvania, where grandma worked in a coal mining company’s store. They married and had a family just in time for the Great Depression. Their wedding present, a fake Tiffany lamp, sits on our living room desk. Apparently these were quite the rage back in the early ‘20’s. The glass shade has a few chips, but still looks elegant. My wife, Pat, tells me it is a reverse hand-painted lampshade. I doubt I will have another opportunity to write ‘reverse hand-painted lampshade’ in an essay or story, so I have included it here, twice.

Grampa merits his own flowers. His metal grave marker has a vase you can pop out of the ground. I see those only on older graves, apparently the vases interfere with grass cutting. For the past several years I’ve made an arrangement for him. This year it is red and white flowers for Canada, with a bit of blue for accent. Grampa smoked cigars. I place two in the vase, along with the flowers and a small Canadian flag. I brought two cigars to smoke graveside. Unfortunately, these are big, strongly flavored cigars bought at a tobacco shop from a young man dressed in black. He invited me to sit in a special glassed-off section of the store and savor a cigar, but my time was short and Pat hates tobacco smoke, so I just bought the cigars and left. I manage to smoke about an inch of one cigar, but it burnt my throat. I douse it in the spigot – drenching my shoes – before throwing it away.

I walk around the cemetery, introducing myself again to the inhabitants. The Crowes, husband and wife, lie to the right of my family’s graves. Someone had given them potted geraniums on shepard’s hooks. I hope they last. Helen Kern lies alone and apparently forgotten in the grave to the left. She died in 1957, her grave marker is a weathered gray. I have never seen a flower or hook. I get the sheers and cut the long grass around her marker. I am certain she was a respectable lady who kept a clean and straightened house.

As I prepare to leave, a large SUV pulls in behind the Escape. An old man – noticeably older than me – sits at the wheel. I am annoyed, it is barely nine o’clock and there are only ten, maybe eleven cars in a cemetery that can hold hundreds. The old man stays inside, engine running. I pull away, the SUV follows. The hell? I turn left, into a small loop road that goes up to the mausoleum. The old man follows, right on my tail.  I speed up. The SUV heads back to my old spot, and parks facing the opposite direction, its two left wheels up on the grass. I stop and look back. The old man remains in the seat, still belted. He opens the window. There is a grave marker a few feet from the driver’s door.  He stares down at it, takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. I put the Escape in gear and leave the old man to his memories.