Snapshots from Eldredge

The life and writings of TJ Alexian


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Distractify

Last night I finished Amy Poehler’s book “Yes Please,” and I was especially amused by the final chapter in the book, entitled “The Robots will kill us all,” where she basically concludes that “this internet thing has been a disaster.”

I know exactly what she’s talking about.

Her point was that she used to be the sort of person who swore she would never have a cell phone, but now it’s by her side constantly and a perpetual distraction. She discussed how she couldn’t get through even writing the first paragraph of the chapter without being distracted by 5,000 different things.

I think everyone can relate, and I’m not sure it’s made the world a better place. Just writing those three paragraphs I had the exact same experience. I have one guy on a social app that keeps pinging me every five seconds. My Facebook is popping up with this or that. I have 11 unread emails in my personal account (most of that probably crap) and while it used to be that I would keep my in-box properly maintained, I have stuff I haven’t read that I probably should have that stretches back months. There’s just too much content. Too much. I don’t care any more.

And in addition to being distracting, I’m here to tell you, the user interface experience is just awful. I literally hate my iPhone. I wish I could have anything…anything! besides it. A few weeks ago I made the purchase of my song in 1776 so I could sing it in the shower. Although iTunes says it was downloaded, it’s nowhere to be found in my Music folder. If I try playing the song on YouTube, it usually stops playing one minute into the song and I have to turn the shower off and try to get it going again. Which it will do, for twenty more seconds. I only wanted to play one song in my shower. A CD would have been way more dependable.

Last night, Corb and Theo and I wanted to watch an episode of Once Upon a Time. We have Chromecast. Corb purchased the show through Amazon. We tried to play it (we’ve done it successfully in the past). One hour later, owing to a variety of glitches, we were still unable to view it. Connection problems. Must upgrade to Amazon Prime. Must download new app. Looks like Chromecast isn’t interfacing with Amazon well. Or maybe it’s Comcast? A DVD would have been far easier.

And God forbid you need service! Having to deal with places like AT&T or Apple is absolute torture. Either you stay on the phone for hours at a time, go online for iffy service, or travel out of your way to a store, where they are by design understaffed and constantly trying to upsell you stuff. So you wait for hours. All they care about is selling. The service is incidental.

For the past few weeks my son has been having trouble with his iPhone. He’s having trouble getting it to charge. I kind of put off dealing with it, because I knew it was going to be torture having it taken care of, but finally I took him to AT&T at the local mall to take a look at it. It’s apparently the regional headquarters. There were two guys in the store equipped to handle everyone who came in. Just two! Fortunately, we only had to wait for about fifteen minutes to be looked. The guy was nice enough, and looked at the phone, and said, “Yep, there’s a problem with the way this is charging. You definitely need to get this fixed. You’ve had it for less than a year so Apple should replace it. All you need to do is go to your Apple store and they should replace it.”

Only go? The closest Apple store (no I won’t buy your stinking AppleWatch) is in Providence. Never mind that I pay AT&T $400 a month and they are pushing me off to someone else without a warm transfer or anything. And fortunately, I had the sense to call to see if I could get in that night. When I called, rather than they trying to talk to me, they tried to push me to a web site for an appointment. Okay, fine. I let them push a link to my phone. But of course, what I was calling about was not an option, because rather than simply give me the option to make an appointment, they tried to figure out why I wanted an appointment in the first place. The closest I could get to identifying the problem was “hardware problem.” But when I selected that option, they tried to run a diagnostic rather than letting me schedule a simple appointment.

Frustrated, I called back. Just kept hitting zero this time. Totally bypassed the frustrating computer voice. Finally, I got a human. The minute she found out what I wanted (after trying to upsell me an Apple watch) she had no real interest in helping out. It didn’t involve a sale, you see. “Well, you can come tonight, but we probably won’t be able to help you out between store hours.” It was six o’clock.

“When can I schedule an appointment?” I asked.

“Friday night?” It was a Tuesday. “Or, you could just come in during the day, and wait. Not at night, though.” Oh, so I have to take time out of work for this. How helpful.

Theo couldn’t do Friday night. I scheduled an appointment for Monday. I am sure it will be absolute torture. There is no way in hell I will be buying an Apple Watch, no matter how much they try to push it on me. I am so dreading this.

My point being, I’m just not sure we’re in a better place than we were even ten years ago. Social technology has not made life better, it’s made life more distracted, less convenient, more isolated, and keeps people from really focusing on living life.

Corb and I keep saying we are going to just set aside our phones for a set period of time. Try to live distraction free. Try not to respond to the beeps and the whirrs and the alerts. Will it help restore our sanity? We’ve only tried it for a few hours on a week-end now and then, but I think we are ready to take the big plunge: go phone free for a whole day. Maybe a whole week-end!

It’s time for a change. I am tired of perpetual distraction and having an app for everything. It’s not helping any more. I’m not sure it ever really did. Amy Poehler is right: the Robots will kill us all.


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Planting seeds

Corb and I spent the afternoon working on the yard. So much to do after the long winter…beds to rake through, trees to prune, transformations to undergo. We…or should I say Corb?…have a lot of plans to transform the backyard from “drab to fab”!

On a similar note, the other big thing I did this week-end was to continue edits on Late Night Show. I’m at chapter 21 and have about 120 pages left to go. In a similar way, I think editing this book has been like transforming the yard. Visualizing the world around me, attacking those verb tenses, digging up stale images and planting in their place new, interesting ways to bring the story to life.

Hopefully the book, like the back yard, will go from “drab to fab” by summer. Only in this case, I can’t rely on Corb’s creative brilliance to win the day…this landscape is something that’s entirely of my own creation. And doing it I am! Kami’s sick little world is coming to life before my eyes.


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Aspire.

This morning, as I was getting into my car at Stop & Shop, this rather disheveled looking guy called out to me. As I stopped, car door open, he rode up to my car on his bike. “Would you have any interest in a soft top Eddie Bauer cooler?” he asked, unhooking the item from his bike and trying to hand it over to me.

I have to confess, I hate being approached about things like this. My immediate reaction is to run away. It doesn’t matter what it is, but it seems to be uniquely reserved for people asking for donations or trying to sell me stuff. Especially the latter. I have an especial hatred right now for the sales people they allow to infest Best Buy, trying to get you to change your internet provider to that shitty DirectTV. Sales people should be there to assist you, not try to upsell you anything. Every time I get approached I start to go off, so much that Corb has to literally push me away before I say anything too obnoxious. I know, they are only doing their job. I am not angry at them, I am angry at Best Buy for allowing them to do it. Which is why, incidentally, I am currently boycotting Best Buy.

Anyway, I digress. The minute he asked this, I did what I always do. I moved away. “No, thank you,” I said, quietly and politely, but still, in a way that was firm, with my head lowered. I immediately started to close my car door.

“You sure?” he asked, moving his soft top Eddie Bauer cooler back to behind his bike.

“No thank you” I repeated in the same tone and closed the door.

He left. I drove off. But still, this image lingered in my head. Him, on his bike. I think it was the way he said “soft top Eddie Bauer cooler” that bothered me. It had been so precise, so rehearsed.

Why was he approaching me about this? Was it perfectly innocent? Was he indeed just looking to give me, out of the kindness of his heart, a soft top Eddie Bauer cooler? Why would he be doing something like that? Was it some kind of homeless thing, like the people who stand outside of malls with increasing frequency these days, looking for a donation? (I am positive that is staged, by the way, and that’s not without precedent. Back in the 1800s, the poor and indigent were put to work shoveling horse crap off the streets, until they protested the demeaning work. Look it up, it’s true.) What was his story?

And what is it about me that shut down the way I did? Slam. Walls come down. Why am I like that? Would it kill me to keep a five or something in my wallet, for situations like that, instead of my George Castanza-like wallet spilling to the brim with receipts and plastic and nothing else? Isn’t there something I can do to be better than I am?

Anyway, I just made a donation of $20 to my favorite homeless shelter, Crossroads of Rhode Island. It surely will not make me a better person or help me on the path to the countless hours of therapy that I so clearly need. But, maybe it will help someone in some small way. And maybe, it’s a reminder to stop and think..and aspire higher.


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Gurgle.

Gurgle. Gurgle. Gurgle.

Funny noise. It’s the Sunday after we returned home from Salem, and I’ve been hearing it all day long. What could it be, I wondered? Occasionally.

Although I honestly didn’t think to much about it that often. It was a beautiful day and the sun was out and the weather FINALLY starting to heat up. St. Frankie was actually able to be seen and I was actually thinking about taking some of the trash bags that had been hidden in our basement for a few weeks. Ever since our last big party, I’m embarrassed to say. I was also thinking about maybe finally cleaning out the disgusting kitty litter boxes that have been festering in the cellar for god knows how long.

After I finished cleaning the kitchen, I headed to the cellar stairs to take care of my next chores for the day. Happily whistling a little tune, I turned the corner, turned on the lights downstairs, and that’s when I encountered THIS:

Oh shit. So that’s what that gurgling noise was.

“CORB!!!!”

###

Actually, that photo was taken hours later. The water was four times that height when I discovered the flooding. The kitty litter boxes were floating in the water like little gondolas and most of the boxes were sitting on the ground. Soaking.

Frantically, Corb and I waded through the water, trying to figure out where the water leak was coming from. When we reached the far end of the basement, we finally discovered the source: the sump pump was spewing out water at an alarming rate. Thinking fast, Corb unplugged the pump. The spewing stopped.

We raced to the local hardware department and purchased a back-up sump pump. Hooked it up and started draining the moat right away. Later that night, the basement was finally dry-ish again and we were able to tromp through the basement. The floor was digusting. A bag of kitty litter had ripped open and half of the floor was covered in a sticky, muddy film.

Still, we had no idea why the sump pump had mis-fired the way it had. All we knew was that every time we turned it on, water started pouring out from a pipe about three feet above the hole. So, we decided to keep the back-up running and call a plumber in the morning.

That night, I woke up around four. Something felt wrong to me. I had been thinking about the sump pump all night long.

I went downstairs and listened.

I didn’t hear anything. That wasn’t good. I ran to the cellar. Sure enough, the hose to the back-up sump pump had disconnected during the night. The cellar was a swamp again. Quickly, I reconnected the hose and tried to go back to sleep. But first, I called Roto Rooter and made an appointment for the morning.

Corb didn’t even know what had happened.

Around noon, the plumber came by. Turns out, it appears that the PVC piping connected to the sump pump had frozen, causing a back-up. As a result, a cap had burst. All the guy had to do was seal and replace the cap, an item that only cost about ten dollars. We could have done it ourselves, if we had known what the hell we were doing.

A simply solution to a big pain-in-the-ass problem. The only problem now: cleaning up the mess that had been left behind.


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Spring UP!

Today is the official first day of spring. Of course, here in New England, we are still digging out from the worst winter of snowstorms…ummm, EVER.

But there are signs of life. Take, for example, my dear friend St. Franky, who lives under a tree in our front yard. Here’s what Franky looks like now:

In contrast, here’s what he looked like two weeks ago:

So, PROGRESS! We’ve been joking that Frankie wasn’t actually under that pile of snow all winter. Our theory is he ran away to Florida with a saucy lawn gnome. But even if he did, it’s good to see the big guy back.

Now, if we could only see the rest of him! I am so sick of this horrible boring white stuff! REAL spring cannot come fast enough, in my opinion. I want St. Franky surounded by a field of verdant foliage and STAT! Come the true spring, he’ll have no need to run away with saucy lawn gnomes. They’ll want to come visit him!

Happy first day of spring, you all.


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Available free today (and for four days after that!)

CellarStairs_v4b

Just in time for the season, I wanted to let everyone know that my YA thriller, Pictures of You, is available as a free Kindle download for the next five days. Here’s what Star Book Reviews had to say about the novel a few days ago:

“Read the blurb and Pictures of You appears to be a typical supernatural young adult suspense, but you don’t have to dig for long to discover a real heart and soul that helps carry this work high above many of its contemporaries. This novel – presented in diary format – is written with a kind of brevity and care that you’ll go a long way to find again.

Despite its dark overtones – and at times I was genuinely surprised at the themes this book explored – every time I returned to reading, I felt as though I was receiving a nice warm hug, in spite of the wrath the story threw at me.

Author T.J. Alexian says that the novel is about learning to accept the ghosts of our past, and for Ashes, our 16-year-old main character, she’ll be forced to face an onslaught before this story is through. Her older brother Daniel passed away some years before this story begins, and both Ashes and her mother are going through the motions of life. How can you ever recover from the loss of a young life?

But her world is rocked when videos filmed on Daniel’s camcorder some years before suddenly begin surfacing on YouTube. The footage is filmed by her brother, but Ashes has never seen these videos before. As the videos increase in number, the mystery deepens. Who is behind this? And, more importantly, why?

In any suspense novel, there is that dreaded line between entertaining your reader, and allowing them room to uncover the mystery for themselves. Pictures of You perfectly balances supernatural and suspense elements, never letting the reader become too passive. While the well paced plot serves to bolster the mystery, the absence of any conceited romance story or typical teenage tropes linked to this genre, are a credit to the novel, providing room to further explore what should be paramount to Ashes: answers.”

For the rest of the review, go here. Or, just download it yourself and fine out what it’s all about!


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Enter…Ping the Merciless

Ping

This was not my idea, I swear.

I blame Corb’s mom. She was at home one day and saw a man sneaking behind her house. When she went to see what he was up to, she discovered a two-week old kitten underneath a bush. She immediately thought of us.

Corb immediately named her Ping.

My brother Tommy added “The Merciless.” And that kind of is what she is like. She is a terror! Part of that is because Corb’s mom had her for a few weeks before we picked her up (had to make sure she weighed enough and didn't have feline AIDS) and her live-in significant other liked to “roughhouse” with the kitten. “Maybe I played with her a little rough,” the old coot chuckled as dropped her off. “I had to start wearing gloves!” Gee, thanks for that.

Now the entire zoo is scared of her. Our dog Kyra has a nasty scratch on her snout from Ping. Hayley is constantly being tormented by her. I think Ping thinks of Hayley as a mother figure. Only, a mother whose tail you like to pounce upon and bite. That’s real love, there.

And as for the humans? Well, Theo loves her, although even he can find her a little distracting when he is trying to play video games. And as for me and Corb? Last night I was in bed trying to map out the rehearsal schedule for Superstar. Do you think I was able to get even a line written down on paper? Nope! Every time I tried she would jump onto the bed and wrap her mouth around my fingers. Start nibbling, ferociously. Then she’d get more aggressive. Corb was trying to sleep during this and she scampered across his face at least three times.

She just entered my study. After using my chair as a scratching post, she climbed up the side of it and is sitting her, perched like a buzzard, waiting to pounce. Hope she doesn't claw at my jugular or something.

She is awfully cute, though. I like her perpetually outraged look and her tuxedo bib. Hmm, let me just hold up from the typing a little bit to give her a little pat. Here you, go, Ping. Yes, that’s a good girl…wait…no, stop clawing…NO, NOT THE NECK! NOT THE JUGULAR! SHI–

(End transmission.)


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From drab to fab (Part One)

 

One of the things we had committed to this summer (and especially, during our week-long vacation coming in July) was to refurbish certain sections of Green Victoria that needed a little bit of care and attention. I’ve mentioned on many occasions that the guys who owned the place before us did an amazing job of making this place really special, but of course, there are still sections that need a little bit of fixing up.

The back yard needs the most improvement. Corb, who is the master builder, has a lot of ideas for what he wants to do–and some of it is going to take a few years. For one thing, he wants to grade the entire area so that it slopes downward (and doesn’t become a swamp during the start of spring). He also wants to extend the back deck so that we can install a swimming pool and fire pit. And around the swing area, we need to remove an old dead tree that is what is popularly known as a “widow maker.” It has a huge dead branch that extends over the swing set. If that ever feel while Kaeden was playing on it…

But, first for the easier stuff, and that’s why, this week-end, we started on the patio area. It was clearly once really nice–in fact, at one point, the guys had installed a jacuzzi, but while the house was up for sale, the area had fallen into disuse. The stones were covered in moss, and the garden beds had become overgrown with weeds. This week-end, Corb fixed up a power washer that his brother had that was broken (Corb is a handy one, no?) and Sunday morning, bright and early, we got to work.

I did my fair share, but again, I have to give Corb credit for the grunt work. He spent six hours power washing all the stones. It was like watching an archaeological dig, as he used the washer to line by line remove moss and dirt from each stone individually. The whole project (which isn’t completely done yet) went quite smoothly, except for one little rough patch, as we were weeding the flower beds and came across one bit of suspicious wickedness. Hence the following exchange:

CORB: Is it poison ivy?
ME (Still weeding): I don’t know…
CORB: It looks like poison ivy. Three leaves…
ME: Then we should get rid of it.
CORB: So get rid of it.
ME: I don’t want to get rid of it. You get rid of it.
CORB: Does it look shiny? Poison ivy is shiny. Is that shiny?
ME: Deep sigh…

Anyway, turns out it was climbing hydrangea. It is now dead climbing hydrangea. We didn’t figure that out until we had removed it with a steel rake.

Other than that, I am pleased with our progress. We still have some planting to do and have to pick out patio furniture, but I think part one of the “Drab to Fab” project turned out pretty nice!