The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Archive for the category “life”

Relaxed, Inspired and Ready to Write Again After a Vacation

In an earlier post, I confessed that a writer friend and I are both burnt out from the slings and arrows of book promotion in a world weighted heavily toward mainstream authors and their books.

Lesa and I experiencing the ambiance.

A one-week trip to Highlands, NC made me feel a lot better. For one thing, we had a wonderful rental cabin. For another thing it was filled with six other family members, my brother and his wife from Orlando, and my daughter, her husband and two granddaughters from Rockville, MD.

It’s difficult to list all the wonders of the trip. One was showing my daughter’s family some of our favorite places, including Tallulah Gorge in northern Georgia, Asheville’s Biltmore House, a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and some great waterfalls, including the widely known Sliding Rock north of Brevard, NC.

There was, of course, the eclipse, viewed from the deck of our cabin. We experienced totality, but didn’t see it due to cloud cover. But moments after the darkness went away, the sun appeared through breaks in the clouds and we got to see it as a crescent through our NASA-approved glasses.

We built in a lot of relaxation time around the cabin. I think my granddaughters had more fun blowing bubbles on the deck than anything else. Gosh, we had that same sort of bubble-making soap when we were kids.

There was a nice dinner out at Wolfgang’s at Highlands (highly recommended) and a tasty lunch down at Goats on the Roof where–after we ate–granddaughters Freya and Beatrice tried out the Old Goat Mining sluice, looking for “gem stones” in sacks of dirt. My brothers and I did this when we were kids at one of the Smoky Mountain area’s Ruby Mining places where we thought we’d become rich. hahahah

It was nice to get away, visit with family, and spend time with vistas and waterfalls and quiet moments away from writing, computers, and work. I think my muse approves.




A week’s vacation from writing with a good excuse

Let’s get the excuse out of the way first: The eclipse.


I know, the eclipse isn’t lasting a week, but we’re several hours away from the house in a mountain cabin in Highlands, North Carolina.

My wife and I got here Friday. So did my brother and his wife from Florida. Though there were eclipse information signs on the highways saying “expect delays” and “don’t block roadway,” traffic was light. It was still light today when we sent out to the grocery store to stock up on food.

My daughter, her husband, and my two granddaughters from Maryland will arrive tonight. They’re behind schedule, though I’m not clear whether it’s because of eclipse traffic or an interstate back up caused by a wreck.

The good news is that we can see the total eclipse from the cabin’s deck. Otherwise, it will be fun getting together with family in a spacious cabin that we reserved in March to make sure we could get something for this weekend.

Depending on traffic, we have a few sightseeing ideas in mind. My wife and I have been to this area a lot, though never in Highlands itself. We brought my daughter to the Smoky mountains when she was little, and she hopes to show her daughters where she was in those old photographs.

Here’s hoping for clear skies in Highlands and wherever you are as well.


Nightbeat: How to live long, if not prosper

Rome, Georgia, August 12, 2017, Star-Gazer News Service–At my age, several things are happening, especially on my birthday. First, my newspaper is trying to force me into retirement because I refuse to write opinionated news like to many of today’s modern “journalists.” Second, people keep saying, “Jock, you look so young.” And finally, folks want to know how to live a long life.

It’s tempting to just toss off my dear old daddy’s prescription and then get the hell away from everyone asking that silly question. He always said, “Drink a pint of moonshine everyday while smoking three packs of Marlboro cigarettes. “ He said this before Marlboro started marketing pot cigarettes in green boxes.

Actually, when my wife isn’t listening, I say the true solution is booze, books and blondes. If she hears me, she ruins the ambiance of the moment by saying, “Didn’t I tell you to lay off those blondes?” She’s a brunette whom I met at work when we both really looked good enough to meet people at work. She also tells me to cut back on “the sauce,” which leads to further trouble when I say a half a bottle of single malt Scotch either makes brunettes look like blondes or makes it not matter.

So, that leaves me with the books. Studies have shown (I’m not making this up) that books lead to a longer life. Of course, you gotta start early. It’s not like asking God for forgiveness on your death bed after a life of sin.

Books won’t save you if you wait until your at death’s door before you pick up, say, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and expect it to work like the fountain of youth. Books save you slowly over the long haul and–except for Finnegans Wake–are less dangerous than blondes for men or women with a brunette spouse.

A psychologist–and we know how “sane” they are–suggested on Facebook that it takes 65 days to create a habit. Let’s say she’s right. If you had read your English teacher’s book report assignments in middle school and high school, you’d be all set by now no matter hold old you are unless you’re in the 5th grade. Booze and blondes don’t take 65 days to become a habit, but in most school systems, they’re not assigned as middle school or high school homework–and if they were, woe be unto the kid whose dear old mama finds either one in his/her room after the lights are out.

One thing to avoid when you reach AARP age is trying to play one-upmanship with other AARP friends about your illnesses. After 65 days of that, you’re en route to an early grave. Plus, young people hate sitting on a front porch while granny says something like, “You think alcoholism is bad, I’ve got hemorrhoids.” If granny had just read a book, that wouldn’t have happened. Too late now, though.

Mark Twain once told a joke about an old lady who went to the doctor with some illness or other. The doc told her to give up smoking, and she said she didn’t smoke. When he suggested giving up chewing tobacco, she said she didn’t partake. He listed a long string of other real of imagined vices to which she said she didn’t do any of that stuff. Twain’s comment to the audience was, “So there it was. She was like a sinking ship with no extra freight to throw overboard.”

I heard this joke when I was a kid and it made a strong impression on me. I picked up as many vices as I could and as I got older, I’ve have plenty of dead weight to jettison in order to stay healthy. True, my wife might force me to throw the blondes overboard along with most of the booze. But, like Paris, I’ll always have my books.

Editorial Column by Jock Stewart, Special Investigative Reporter 

Eleven Great Bike Riding Roads

From leisurely rides to challenging climbs, national parks offer riding opportunities for cyclists of all abilities. Check out top recommendations and advice from NPCA enthusiasts on where to go and what to see.

via Staff Picks: 11 Spectacular Roads for Riding Your Bike · National Parks Conservation Association

Truth be told, I no longer own a bike. I wish I did, assuming I remember how they work. More and more people seem to be discovering bike riding as an alternative to car commuting, and better yet, to enjoying scenery.

These roads are temping me to go down to the bike store and say, “So y’all still Schwinns?”

If I had the money, I’d buy a great bike and head for Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road–and that’s number two on the NPCA’s list. I’m not surprised.


Remembering ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’

Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 World War I novel All Quiet on the Western Front, a high school reading assignment, was my first exposure to a graphically told war novel. Men died. The nameless battles didn’t matter. The day-to-day stasis was filled with the terror of an unexpected enemy charge or artillery attack. And, there not only was no victory but no respite after the war when the men came home and discovered they weren’t capable of returning to civilian life.

As Remarque, who was a veteran of the war, said in the introduction,  “This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped (its) shells, were destroyed by the war.”

Current Amazon Description: Paul Baumer enlisted with his classmates in the German army of World War I. Youthful, enthusiastic, they become soldiers. But despite what they have learned, they break into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches. And as horrible war plods on year after year, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principles of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against each other–if only he can come out of the war alive. “The world has a great writer in Erich Maria Remarque. He is a craftsman of unquestionably first rank, a man who can bend language to his will. Whether he writes of men or of inanimate nature, his touch is sensitive, firm, and sure.” – The New York Times Book Review

From the Book: “He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front. He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.”

I believe such books as Hiroshima, Johnny Got His Gun, and All Quiet on the Western Front should be required reading in high school and college literature classes. Students should be assigned the feature film Saving Private Ryan to understand the absurdity of war and especially the “Pickett’s Charge” style assault of the allies at the Battle of Normandy that was (in spite of the casualties) considered a success.

I suspect few students read and discuss such books now. That leads to more people ignorant of war’s realities and, on this day, more deaths to remember. But, we have sanitized our classrooms, removing anything that might offend, scare, sicken, or bother our young people. All Quiet on the Western Front sickened me, brought nightmares, and made me a life-long pacifist. At the time, I hated the son of a bitch who assigned it to my class. Most people couldn’t finish it, glimpsing its plot through Cliff’s Notes, Monarch Notes, and stolen copies of exams. Now I think that son of a bitch did me a favor. I’m stronger for having a war story shoved in my face.

As the years go by, the military/civilian disconnect, as some have described the reason few people understand or celebrate Memorial Day properly, has grown because a smaller and smaller percentage of the population experiences military service. So, we have little or no association with the horrors of war, with losing friends and loved ones, or–if we serve and see battle–returning to civilian life less broken than the characters in Remarque’s novel.

I cannot claim this is all bad, but I think that those who serve our country in the military deserve more assistance and respect when they return–and a holiday more associated with honor and reverence and remembrance than as a day for shopping, barbecues, and cavorting at the beach.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the anti-war novel At Sea.


Does writing bring catharsis?

I was influenced years ago by Richard M. Eastman’s Writing as a Discovery of Outlook. Eastman believed that writers don’t know precisely how they feel about a subject until they’ve written about it. This idea came to mind as I read “Maggie Nelson: ‘There is no catharsis… the stories we tell ourselves don’t heal us’” in The Observer.

Nelson (“The Argonauts” and “The Red Parts) wrote about the trial and conviction of Gary Earl Leiterman for the 1969 murder of her aunt, Jane Mixer. In The Observer article, she said of The Red Parts,  “I felt horrible after I finished it, and it was difficult to read from [publicly]. The book is really a long critique of catharsis. But the irony is that my catharsis was writing down that there is no catharsis. The stories we tell ourselves don’t heal us, but I also think that if I hadn’t written it, I wouldn’t have processed the experience: writers tend to be people who process things by writing. The problems of the book don’t weigh on me so heavily now.”

Writers and others are often encourage to create journals, essays, articles and even fiction as a way of “freeing themselves” from the angst of personal tragedy. I’ve never found these solutions to be successful. But as Eastman and Nelson suggest, I understand the situations much better after having written about them. No, there wasn’t a monumental epiphany or catharsis even though I felt after writing that I understood myself and the situations better.

Perhaps writing serves as a more complete therapy for others. I’ve heard that it does, though I’ve yet to meet another writer who was, so to speak, “going nuts,” wrote about the causes of his or her discord, and ended up cured. Perhaps that’s too flip. Maybe we simply get a little better–and that’s good enough.

What about you? Do you keep a diary and does it help you over the rough spots? Or, perhaps you found that fiction works better or, perhaps, becoming involved in a nonprofit dedicated to a problem you faced or encountered that includes your writing essays and grant applications.

As for me, the writing helps even though it hasn’t been a cure.


I keep looking for a writing prompt in our on-going cow saga

Several days ago, I posted this status update on Facebook:

Here’s what we learned Monday night between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. Black cows are hard to see in the dark. Lesa went out back to get the hummingbird feeder at 1 a.m. and heard stuff munching; turned out she was surrounded by maybe 30 cows.

The cows drifted both ways up and down the road, down to Lesa’s folks’ old house, across the road, lots of places at once. Just large sections of darkness moving around. The mooing and crunching did help us figure out where they were before we walked into many of them. The farmer and his wife weren’t happy, so the neighborly thing to do seemed to be to help them round them all up.

I went outside this morning rather tentatively, hoping they hadn’t busted out of the pasture again. So far, so good.

One of my writer friends wanted to re-write the first graph to say:

Here’s what we learned Monday night between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. Black cows are hard to see in the dark. Lesa went out back to get the hummingbird feeder at 1 a.m. and heard stuff munching; turned out she was surrounded by maybe 30 cows. Then the murders began.

I told him we weren’t going there. Another writer friend said my update sounded like the beginning of a Dean Koontz novel. I may have read one of those, but that’s not my genre when it comes to writing.

Sure, they look cute in this Wikipedia photo, but in real life, they tear up stuff.

The cows have gotten out several times in the last week, and the farmer who owns the property adjacent than ours hasn’t yet found where/how they keep doing it. They were in the yard again last night, but it was another rainy night in Georgia and so we stayed inside while several guys worked for three hours to round up the cattle and put them back in the pasture.

Fences are always in need of repair. Goodness knows, when my wife’s folks owned the property the farmer now owns, cows got out from time to time, and more than once, we got pressed into service to get them back in the pasture. One stretch of bad fence was repaired a year ago. But there’s probably more work that needs to be done. Well, duh, has people often say.

We fenced in the area of our property where the septic tank’s feeder lines run just because we couldn’t trust all those miles of fences to stay sound. The cows were all around our fenced in feeder lines. Had they gotten in there, their weight in the wet soil from several torrential rains would have caused a lot of damage.

Maybe a short story called “The Black Cow Murders” is the way to go. The thing is, I’m superstitious and worry that if I write about a herd of cattle in our yard, I’ll create the events in my short story–kind of of like self-fulfilling prophecy. So, I’m holding back on a fictionalize version of the cow thing.

It’s possible I can solve the problem by writing a story where the herd of cattle runs off and is never seen again. Hmm.



Goodbye to the old car

After a light January snow storm.

After a light January snow storm.

I think the last car we bought new was our 1997 Saturn. Only cost about 12 grand. It ran well for a long time, but then started giving us a lot of trouble during the last few years. That meant it sat idle more than it ran. Meanwhile, keeping the insurance and the license plate up to date was like burning money.

So, we finally sold it today to a guy who knows a lot more about car engines than I do. I hope he can keep it running and get some good out of it.

Goodbye to the stick shift car (a five speed) which I still prefer to automatic transmission. Probably because I learned to drive on a stick shift.

After they drove it away, I had a swig of moonshine to help say goodbye.



Climate Change: Food Web Disruptions

from the EPA:

Food Web Disruptions

“The impact of climate change on a particular species can ripple through a food web and affect a wide range of other organisms. For example, the figure below shows the complex nature of the food web for polar bears. Not only is the decline of sea ice impairing polar bear populations by reducing the extent of their primary habitat, it is also negatively impacting them via food web effects. Declines in the duration and extent of sea ice in the Arctic leads to declines in the abundance of ice algae, which thrive in nutrient-rich pockets in the ice. These algae are eaten by zooplankton, which are in turn eaten by Arctic cod, an important food source for many marine mammals, including seals. Seals are eaten by polar bears. Hence, declines in ice algae can contribute to declines in polar bear populations.


This information can currently be found on the EPA website here.


As a long-time member of such organizations as the National Parks and Conservation Association and the Nature Conservancy, I can’t help but write novels that support conservation the value of the environment.


Traveling to North Georgia for the snow

Online and TV weather sites worried over a winter storm that swept through Georgia Friday and Saturday. Roads weren’t very good, especially in Atlanta where the problem was a lot of black ice. But here in northwest Georgia, we got snow for several hours but nothing too frightening:


And a little snow on the car:


Current temperature at 1:45 p.m. is 27 degrees, so it’s not melting off very fast, though the roads are dry and clear around here due mostly to the day’s traffic.


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