The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Archive for the category “life”

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.


Starting the new year with a jig saw puzzle

Getting close to done while Katy wonders why we're still awake.

Getting close to done while Katy wonders why we’re still awake.

At our ages (which are none of your business) we no longer race out on New Year’s Eve and drink until the cows come home, go home with the wrong partners from the neighborhood bar, or stand around in Times Square. On the other hand, we didn’t go to bed before midnight.

In fact, we went to bed a little later than usual because we were finishing up the 1000-word jigsaw puzzle my wife bought me for Christmas. We haven’t done one of these for years. Surprisingly, we still have the patience for it. As you can see, it features a collage of bestselling books.

Thomas-Jacob Publishing

historyofmybodyMy small Florida publisher continues to grow.  As most of you already know, my new book for 2016 was Eulalie and Washerwoman, the sequel to the award-winning Conjure Woman’s Cat. Author Sharon Heath has joined our group with her wonderful novel  The History of my Body.  Look for a sequel coming this year.

Meanwhile, we have three new audiobooks: My own Eulalie and Washerwoman, and Smoky Zeidel’s The Storyteller’s Bracelet and The Cabin, as well as a new paperback and e-book release from Melinda Clayton, A Woman Misunderstood.

While my wife looks for some new jigsaw puzzles, I’ve been getting some review copies of Eulalie and Washerwoman packaged up and ready to mail. I’ve also been working on Mountain Song, a Kindle novel which I hope will be ready by March. Some readers want another story in the Florida Folk Magic Series and some want another story in the Mountain Journeys Series. It’s hard to decide which way to go.

Getting the word out about small press books often feels like a jigsaw puzzle. If you enjoy reading them, we hope you’ll stop by Amazon and leave a reader review saying what you thought. If your local bookstore wants to order them, tell them the books are available through their Ingram catalog.

Now, just to prove we finished the puzzle, here it is:



Click on my name to visit my website.

Goodbye, 2016, it’s been interesting

If you’ve come here expecting hope or wisdom, I have nothing for you.

According to some arcane and insidious federal law, writers are suppose to make pronouncements at the end of the year. Lots of writers have already gotten their Goodbye 2016 articles, memos and posts out of the way. In a few cases, their pronouncements looked like they’d been recycled, especially when they said “We won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore” and “We expected a return to normalcy but didn’t get it.”

A few thoughts come to mind:

  • happynewyear20162016 was so bad we’re never going to make up lies to tell about it while getting drunk
  • 2016 was so bad, the government’s planning to erase it from the calendar and ban any discussions about it in high school and college history classes
  • 2016 was so bad, people born this year will be allowed to fudge their birth dates on all important papers.
  • 2016 was so bad, people are calling it “The Year the Karma Train Came Back.”
  • 2016 was so bad, the numbers 2, 0, 1, and 6 will be retired in the same manner that the names of horrible hurricanes are retired.
  • 2016 was so bad, anything good that happened during the year will probably have unintended consequences.
  • 2016 was so bad, people serving time in the joint won’t get credit for the year.
  • 2016 was so bad, alien ships approaching the planet aborted their missions.
  • 2016 was so bad, half the wine made during the year has already turned to vinegar.
  • 2016 was so bad, kids couldn’t even make lemonade out of all the lemons.
  • 2016 was so bad, ministers told those who got upset, “well, at least you have eternal life.”
  • 2016 was so bad, CNN stopped covering the news because reporters, anchors and commentators were too busy covering their asses.
  • 2016 was so bad, the deluge of fake news was more palatable to 98.6% of the people rather than the real news.
  • 2016 was so bad, people were too depressed to make any resolutions for 2017.
  • 2016 was so bad, Santa didn’t even have a “nice” list.
  • 2016 was so bad, drivel became the new normal.
  • 2016 was so bad, even Russia got hacked off.
  • 2016 was so bad, celebrities start dying “too soon” on purpose.
  • 2016 was so bad, the news contained more gallows humor than death row.
  • 2016 was so bad, more people than usual started talking to the trees.
  • 2016 was so bad, no angels got their wings.

So there it is.



It’s hard to say goodbye to Princes Leia

“Over the years, Fisher struggled with mental illness and substance abuse – topics upon which she spoke and wrote with candor, wisdom, and humor. She was an original spirit in an industry and town that can be hostile to true idiosyncrasy. We have seen many artistic lights taken from us in 2016 and now there is sadly one more in that pantheon in the heavens.” 

Dan Rather

I’m not unique for a 1970s movie-goer mesmerized by the original “Star Wars” trilogy. I particularly liked the idea of “the force” and the influence of Joseph Campbell on the movie’s story structure. And yes, I noticed Princes Leia. Everybody did. How could we not? It was nice seeing her again, along with Harrison Ford, in last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Word was, we would see more of Fisher in the upcoming “New Hope” addition to the saga.

Wikipedia photo

Wikipedia photo

I’m also not unique in my respect for her 1987 book Postcards from the Edge. A novel, sure. But it also turned out to mirror what she knew a lot about as Dan Rather notes: mental illness and substance abuse. I respected Fisher’s writing about mental illness for the same reason I respected William Styron’s 1992 memoir Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. Going back to reporter Nelly Bly’s 1887 expose Ten Days in a Mad-House, writers have written about the abuses in mental hospitals and facilities for the developmentally disabled by showing us what they saw and/or what they experienced.

Speaking out against the abuse, the out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach to those who are suffering, and the public’s constant wont to ignore the problem out of some fear, like their fear of cancer, that if they speak about it, it may come looking for them, these writers were variously daring and courageous.

I once worked in a mental health facility It was one of the best jobs I ever had, and I wish circumstances hadn’t driven me from that potential career into one as a technical writer in the computer industry. Could I have made a difference? In small ways, perhaps. I probably couldn’t have stemmed the tide that has taken advances in “group-home” facilities made 40 years ago into the ineffective “get the disabled out into the community” approach we see today. (Another not-our-problem minimalist approach.)

Do I understand those who are developmentally disabled or who suffer from a wide spectrum of mental health disorders? Slightly, because I have chronic clinical depression. This condition is misunderstood by the general public who think it’s the same thing as the garden-variety depression mostly everyone experiences from time to time. It’s worlds apart. We know insurance companies pretend clinical depression doesn’t exist because they seldom pay for talk therapy and think that both group and individual sessions are no more than paying others for conversation. Some say clinical depression stems from a chemical imbalance, but as far as I can tell, that really hasn’t been definitively proven. Psychiatrists tend to prescribe medications on that basis, though.

When my wife and I moved to a new town two years ago, that meant finding new doctors. The first GP I saw, told me that if he became my doctor, he would get me off my depression medications immediately. In his view, those meds are more dangerous than the real or imagined condition. “You’re dead wrong,” I told him. He couldn’t believe I said that. “And furthermore, if you know anything about those medications at all, you know that going off them cold turkey his more dangerous than any drug contraindications you can tell me about.”

He didn’t work out.

The second GP I saw looked at my list of meds and said he couldn’t prescribe those I was taking for depression. He also told me I couldn’t keep taking them because they were excessive and would lead to increased drug dependence. When I pointed out I had been taking the same dosage for years rather than adding more and more stronger pills every year as the psychiatric meds naysayers believe will happen, he said I was unique. I doubted that. And then he looked me in the eye, and said, “What’s wrong? Aren’t you happy?”

I said that happiness had nothing to do with it. What I didn’t say was that he was not only discounting my personal experience but the professions of psychology and psychiatry along with thousands of other dedicated mental health professionals working in a hostile public perception environment.

I am still taking the medications and probably always will be unless somebody finds the exact chemical imbalance that causes the problem–along with a cure. Meanwhile, the naysayers might want to note that for the walking wounded, the medications have gotten better and that most of us are taking non-narcotic remedies as opposed to the Valium, Librium and Haldol of an earlier age.

When I read Carrie Fisher’s writing, and heard her talks and interviews, I saw a brave person I could understand perhaps 1% better than the average guy on the street. So, I’ll miss her and I’ll miss her words and when I think of her, I’ll think that she left us too soon even though that’s probably a selfish thought that conflicts with her need to leave us when she was ready.


I touched on my mental health worker experience in the Kindle short story “Moonlight and Ghosts.”

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