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Monday, August 29, 2011

You Can’t Go Home Again

Since we had to be in North Lake Tahoe on Sunday, my husband and I decided to go backpacking in the Tahoe area this last weekend. We lived in Auburn for many years and spent untold hours in the backcountry around Donner Summit. “It’ll be nostalgic,” I insisted. Bob just rolled his eyes at me. Turns out he was right, as he so often is.

Got a late start on Thursday, mostly because I was working on a short story and also because I had to work at my real job that morning. Yeah, I know I’m supposed to be retired and by next backpacking season I will be, but for now I’m still plugging away a couple of days each week. It was past six when we got to Incline Village. Stopped and had a wretchedly mediocre dinner at a Thai restaurant. If we hadn’t been so hungry, the food would have been inedible.

Moving right along, we got to the Castle Pass road around eight. Fortunately the gate was open. Less fortunately, the meadow where we’d planned on car camping that first night still had a snow slope on its northern aspect and a bumper crop of mosquitoes. To add insult to injury, I’m trying to get the tent set up, batting at bugs and a voice out of the wilderness shouts, “Hello, hello, hellooooo…” Immediately after the voice, a man materializes carrying a lead rope. He’s this wizened old dude and he really likes to talk.
Turns out he’s lost his horse. After listening to him for half an hour—and lending him a flashlight so he could find his headlamp—I, cynical soul that I am, figured the horse was nothing but a delusion and the guy was nuts. I didn’t sleep terribly well because I was wondering if he was a zombie—or worse, an ax murderer. (Hey, writers have vivid imaginations. It’s how we come up with our stories…)

Next morning, we were up with the dawn. I’d planned on backpacking from where we’d parked, but given the new development with the stranger, and all the times my car has been hacked into at trailheads, I told my husband we needed to drive up the road a piece. So we did, but we didn’t escape the campsite without our intrepid sidekick catching up to our moving vehicle, telling us his name and the names of friends in Nevada City. He wanted us to call them, tell them Nikko (the horse) was missing, etc.

Roll the clock forward half an hour. We’re headed up towards Castle Pass having skipped breakfast. It’s still respectably early, say around 7:30. Well, we hadn’t walked for ten minutes when a horse materialized. Bob looked at me and I looked at him and we just laughed, backtracked to the car and loaded up the dogs. The plan was for me to stay with the horse—who’d happily adopted the five of us—while Bob drove down to look for Ed.

Turned out we met Ed walking up the road with his lead rope. So, all’s not only well that ends well, but I looked Ed up on the internet and it turns out that all his fantastic yarns were true. He really is a 75 year old endurance rider who’s completed the PCT on horseback. I gave my cynical self a good, swift kick in the backside and we moved on with our day.

The mosquitoes in the area between Castle Pass and Mount Lola must have taken steroids. I’ve never seen them so thick. We camped on high, waterless ridges to avoid them; and still got bitten. They seemed to thrive on Naturpel. After a day-and-a-half where you couldn’t even stop for a snack without setting up the tent and crawling inside, we gave up and backtracked to the car. Saturday afternoon, we climbed from the Sugar Bowl parking lot to the top of Mount Lincoln. Great view out towards Benson Hut. I would have liked to have had a bit more time since my Benson Hut ghost story will be out soon, but it was closing on dark when we got back to the car as it was.

So, our nostalgic return to Lake Tahoe was really a lesson. Things generally look different ten years down the line and the High Sierra has spoiled me. The mountains are higher and the crowds smaller. I’m humbly grateful to live where I do. And, when you get right down to it, a good working definition of happy is being satisfied with what you have.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Thoughts on the World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention

I admit I am quite the novice in terms of going to "cons". For those of you who might not know (since I sure didn't) "con" is short for convention. There are lots of science fiction and fantasy conventions all around the country. And internationally, too. And, they are quite the extravaganza. There's something for everyone. Fans show up dressed like their favorite characters, or series. There's always a masquerade ball and this con had a Regency ball in addition. Because this is Worldcon, just about every well known SF/F author in creation (at least those who are still alive) are here. They host book signings and coffee klatches where you can sign up to meet with them in small groups and chat. All the major SF/F publishers are here as well. There are workshops on just about every imaginable topic. And there's a Dealer's Room where you can buy anything from a medieval costume to a broad sword.

Now that I've gone to two of these and listened to quite a few authors discuss the future of publishing, I wonder about the current trend of tossing up cheap titles on Amazon or Smashwords. One of the reasons we have publishers (and this includes small presses) is to sort through the slush pile for you, the reader. How many of you are going to keep on buying 99 cent titles, find them unreadable, and reach for another one? Not many, I'll bet. One of the other "problems" with Amazon is that Madame Unknown Author can rustle up a bunch of her friends to write reviews. Of course, they'll all say her prose glows and her characters are scintillating. Except they rarely are.

In traditional publishing, better than 90% of submissions are rejected by publishing houses. And for the best of reasons. The writing is terrible, the characters vapid and the plot either non-existent or so complex you need a notebook to keep track of what's going on. The fact that the traditional "gatekeepers" have been subverted by "do-it-yourselfers" has not helped the state of American literature. At least not in my humble opinion. I still think authors need a publisher standing behind them, be it a small press or a major house, to provide editorial guidance and support.

I do not think that epublishing will ever totally replace books. Currently, if what I heard yesterday is true, one out of three Americans is NOT online. And, the publishing houses I listened to all said that only about 20% of their sales come from ebooks. That actually makes me glad since I love real books. I own a Kindle and I download ebooks, but I still buy real books too. I love how they smell and how they feel in my hands. Plus, an author needs real books to send out review copies to reputable reviewers.

Watching how the next twenty years unfolds should be fascinating. I will be an old woman at the end of that time span. Hopefully still alive, but one never knows. I'm grateful people still love to read, though. So long as they do, there will be a venue for those like me who write because we love to, because the stories roam around in our heads and because we get grumpy if we're away from our word processors for too long.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Personality Dimensions

While hiking this weekend in the High Sierra, my conscience nagged me about this badly neglected blog. Oh, I could blame a whole lot of things; but I won't. The very best thing I can do is get back to it and post something new each week.

Jung stratified personality along four dimensions:
Introvert-Extravert
Intuitive-Sensate
Thinking-Feeling
Perceiving-Judging

Well, actually, Jung only came up with the first three. The fourth dimension was added by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Meyers. Katharine and Isabel began working on what has become the modern Meyers-Briggs instrument during World War II. It's original use was to help women conscripted into both military and civilian support for the war find jobs they'd be comfortable with. Needless to say this personality inventory has changed substantively in the past seventy years. I find it useful in determining how my clients see the world. There aren't any "right" or "wrong" personality profiles. But, the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator contains a wealth of information that can help determine, for example, whether two individuals will be able to work with one another. Thus, it has been widely used in industry.

Taking a quick look at the four dimensions, they are not quite what they appear. For example, introverts gather information about the world from within themselves, while extraverts gather data from the world around them. Intuitives also look within first, while sensates use body-knowledge to guide them. A standing joke in most Jungian Institutes is that there is scarcely anyone with much in the way of sensate ability. What this means is that if something breaks, a handyman from outside the Institute must be called to fix it. Sensates can see how things fit together. They have spatial ability, like most engineers. Intuitives have a hard time caring how mechanical things work. So, you see, one isn't better than the other, they are simply different.

Thinking and feeling are self explanatory. Thinkers lead with their minds, feelers with their hearts. And perceivers are the data gatherers of the world, while judgers prefer to pick a path and see if it will work for them.

There are many permutations and combinations of these four dimensions. In Jungian work, one tries to boost one's non-dominant functions to become more balanced. It is rare to find someone who is at the end of the continuum along any of the dimensions. Using myself for an example, I tend to be an introverted intuitive. What this means is that I'm a dreamer and very happy alone for long hours at a time. Work on myself has included work on my sensate--or physical--side. So, I learned to fly airplanes and climb mountains and spend days in the backcountry with a pack on my back. Of course, my time in the backcountry feeds my "loner" tendencies as well. And, unfortunately, my intuitive bent has meant that it has taken me twice as long as a more sensate soul to develop physically-based skills like mountaineering. Or letting the flight instructor out of the airplane. I think my first solo flight was the most terrifying moment of my life. But, talking to other private pilots, most of them longed to kick the instructor out of that plane. Not me!

We are all different. Reveling in those difference and in what makes us human is a gift! With that in mind, I truly hope I can get this weekly blog back on track!