Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Cowboy Hero

"My heroes have always been cowboys..."

Waylon Jennings sang it and I can feel it - as long as you take an elastic view of what constitutes a cowboy.

I think I've read all of Louis L'Amour's westerns except the the Hoppalong Cassidy series. I fell in love with his laconic heroes who proved their worth through deeds, not words. Slow of speech and fast of reflexes, the female characters could usually run verbal circles around them... until silenced with a kiss.

Before I started reading L'Amour, I was reading Georgette Heyer. The settings were worlds away from the old west but her most appealing male characters shared similar traits to the cowboy. The Quiet Gentleman - a description on her heroes as well as the title of one of my favourite books. Men who were best known by their deeds. As with the westerns, fast talking men generally turned out to be villainous or weak.

All my male leads owe something to the qualities that Louis L'Amour and Georgette Heyer helped me appreciate in my formative years. As I write this, I realize that there is also a bit of my father in those characters. Compared to my mother, he was a quiet man who showed his affection with deeds more than words. He had an odd-ball sense of humour too, so that when he did comment on something, you weren't always sure he was serious. I often give those quips and barbs to my male characters - letting them drop with little regard to whether their targets pick them up or not.

More than any other character I have created, Jase Strachan, in El Paso Trail is influenced by the romantic heroes of my youth.When it suits him, he can fall into the drawl he grew up and seem like the slow-witted hick. Or he can pick his words with precision and wield them with the same accuracy and economy that he used when shooting targets.  He's the cowboy and quiet gentleman I'd let silence me with a kiss.

El Paso Trail is a FINALIST in the Text Novel competition.

The Cowboy illustration by John MacLeod, 1991

My heroes have always been cowboys.
And they still are, it seems.
Sadly, in search of, but one step in back of,
Themselves and their slow-movin' dreams.

Waylon Jennings

Sunday, September 19, 2010

So Quote Me

"I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself."  ~Marlene Dietrich

Some people collect stamps. Others collect coins or comic books. I collect quotes.*

I have two editions of Oxford Quotations, one of Bartlett’s, plus a half dozen more specialized books of quotations including my favourite which is falling apart. Then there are my notebooks and files.
My collection started when I was in my teens. I started a scrapbook of quotes, comic strips and scraps of poetry – some of which was my own. The first passage in the book is:

This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

That line from Hamlet imprinted itself upon me years before I actually saw the play (unless you count the musical version on Gilligan’s Island). When I finally saw Hamlet on the stage, I already knew most of the dialogue from quotations and excerpts. (I also found myself want to hum along to the key speeches.)

There are several quotes from Robert Heinlein's Notebooks of Lazarus Long in my collection. I discovered SF in my teens thanks to my science lab partner. He gave me Podkayne of Mars for Christmas. In the way that teens often go off the deep end about something, I practically became a disciple of RAH. Fortunately he didn't lead my naive soul astray. Only one quote bit me in the ass.

"The more you love, the more you can love — and the more intensely you love. Nor is there any limit on how many you can love. If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just."

It took me years to understand that this did not mean that your boyfriend could ignore you in favour of your female friends. On the flip side, Heinlein had the perfect line to get me through the angst of that later ex-boyfriend making out with my best friend, then my younger sister's best friend.

"When the fox gnaws, smile."

You can't beat the classics: William Shakespeare, Robert Heinlein, Mark Twain...

"Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest."

The above is one of the life lessons I try to teach my children, along with being who you are, keeping a positive attitude and letting them know that it is possible for me to love both of them with all my heart. I'm a firm believer in doing what is right for its own sake, but I'm not above wanting to confound others as I do it.

Mark Twain is also the source of another passage that I always try to keep in mind, though rarely quote because it's too long and my memory isn't what it used to be...

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

Or as they said in Rome, Carpe Diem!

*Washington is attributed with say "I cannot tell a lie..." Well, I can tell a lie, but what's the point? I don't just collect quotes. I also collect coins and stamps in a haphazard fashion and I have about ten thousand comic books - bagged, boarded and filed - in my basement.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Stress Busters

Life's a beach and then you fry.

Ever have one of those days? Of course you have.

Ever had one of those nights? You know, the night when you can't get to sleep because your mind is spinning in tight circles. Maybe it's the bills that you have to juggle or the deadline you have to make. Maybe you just had a fight with a friend, family member, or the guy next door that pushes all your buttons.

So, what do you do to unravel the mental knots and get a much needed good night's sleep? There isn't any point in worrying. Five will get you ten, you can't solve your problems in the middle of the night unless it involves a significant other who's in bed with you. What do you do when you really can't do anything?

My kids help. Even if they are tucked up and asleep, I know they love me. If it isn't the middle of the night, and I'm on the edge of the precipice of despair or exhaustion earlier in the evening, they give me hugs and fetch me tea. Sometimes they're the cause of the stress, yet they can still be the cure.

Chocolate helps.

Chocolate boosts our endorphin levels. Chocolate is happy food. I always try to keep a stash for emergencies.

Pets are wonderful. Dogs especially are great sources of unconditional love and acceptance. Cats are so cool under pressure they can't help be a good example. Companion animals are taken into hospitals and nursing homes because of their therapeutic effect. It's been proven that petting a dog or cat can reduce your blood pressure.

Unfortunately, I'm allergic to cats and dogs. I can't have my own faithful four-legged friend so I have to visit my friends' pets.

Pictured on the right is Finnigan, my cousin's dog. How could you be miserable looking at that happy face? He's dripping with joi de vive laced with dog slobber.

Bodies of water have a calming effect on me. So when life's a "beach", I go to one.  If I was into meditation, I would probably visualize a tropical beach with curling waves gently drumming the shore while ohm-med my way to inner peace. Instead, I picture a tropical beach with a cute cabana boy bringing me drinks bought by a tall, dark and rich stranger who wants to get to know me better.

Distraction is good, but if all else fails (and getting back to the beach theme), there is one more thing. Philosophy.

Most of our troubles are like sandcastles. We can build them up or knock them down, but ultimately, they will disappear with the next incoming tide.