Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Moving On from North Country Musing

Kind readers, I appreciate the support I have received from you in the past two years. I had a hard time keeping up in 2013, but 2014 has brought on new challenges and new goals. With that comes the announcement that North Country Musing will discontinue.

I have started my own website where the stories will progress. While continuing to tell tales, I will also explore a bit of what makes a story good, what makes a character compelling, and why stories are so important to human history and development. I will also occasionally give hints and updates on the book I am working on.

I hope you have enjoyed the journey, and I hope you will join me on the next one.

Please visit again at www.benjaminbrede.com

Warm regards,

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Carol of the Bell's Palsy

I have two of the sweetest grandmas in the world. Maybe that's a characteristic that automatically comes to all grandmothers, but mine take the cake.

When I was in kindergarten, my mom's mom was sick. We went to visit her. My mom was trying to tell me that Grandma doesn't look like she normally does, but don't be scared. She's still Grandma and she still loves me. I wasn't really paying attention. I got a new coloring book for the 45 minute ride.

My Grandma had Bell's Palsy. For those who do not know what this is, please refer to the diagram below.

Half of Grandma's face was broken. For a five-year-old to see his loving Grandma only half-smile at him, things start happening in his head. But Brave Little Benji wasn't scared of Grandma C. Nope! 

I gave her my biggest hug and whispered in her ear, "My teacher says if you cross your eyes and stick your tongue out, your face will stick like that. Didn't anyone tell you?"

Monday, March 3, 2014

Falling Slowly - To Sleep

Until recently I was a phone salesperson. I spent 40 hours per week calling people and selling them things. Some of the things I sold actually existed. The other things that I sold were fictitious in nature.  I sold one guy a hat that had fans on the inside to keep him cool during summer. I told him it works with all hair colors and styles as long as he's bald. And thankfully he was.

The moments leading up to a great sale can be the real killer in phone sales, though. That's because I've just talked to a receptionist (I did business-to-business sales) and now I'm waiting for the decision maker to come on the phone. Cue hold music.

Hold music was invented by Satan with the aim of keeping someone calm while waiting for his/her call to be answered. In reality it is aggravating and disturbing. It puts on a ruse of being sweet and soft. On the surface, it slows down the mind of the listener to enhance patience; kind of like the music in a department store. It's always slow music jazzed up enough to be interesting, but not fast enough to make the customers race out of the store. But if you're calling people for a living, it just makes the day drag on and on. There's no productivity while on hold. I have heard some wonderful hold music, though.

Actually no, that was a lie. I have never heard good hold music, and I doubt you have either.

Sometimes the hold music is a radio station. Ok, that has potential of being interesting as long as they pick the right station, which never happens. I did hear the news while on hold once, but just before they released the names of the victims, the guy answered.

"AH! What are you doing?! I was just about to find out who got hacked to pieces!"
"I'm sorry? Who is this?"

But since that's not technically music, I can't really complain about it. And just so you know, that was not the phone call in which I sold the fan hat.

Another time, the hold music was the song "Falling Slowly" from the Once soundtrack. Beautiful song, right? Gotta love Glen and Marketa. But hark! what's this? Neither the Irishman or the Czech girl were singing sweetly in my ear, but two country stars twanging their way through the song like an elephant stampeding through a quiet meadow. It made my skin crawl. I was nearly in tears by the end. I listened to the entire song mostly because I was following up on a hot lead. I thought, "The gods couldn't possibly let me miss the sale now. Look at my patience! Look at my resilience! They will reward me with great treasures by the time I hang up!"

But no. The song ended and the decision maker got on the phone with a quick, "Yeah, we're not interested." I may have screamed a little bit.

Then there's the smooth jazz. I'm not really sure what to say about smooth jazz other than it's confusing. If we're going to listen to Jazz, I want a swing beat or a ballad. Instead I get an awkward mix that leaves me feeling uncomfortable like I ate warm mayo. The person picks up the phone and says, "Hi?"
"Yeah," I respond. "Maybe that's what's wrong."

There is also the infomercial hold music. There's a little song and dance, and then someone starts talking about the interesting facts on the business I'm calling. I've learned quite a bit of fun facts on some nursing homes this way. There was one home that had treated more colostomy patients than any other nursing home in the nation.

Fun facts are rarely fun.

If you do need to call a business and they put you on hold, try to remember this: You have the power to hang up. Unless you're calling to sell them a fake hat.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bagging Forgiveness

Writing is hard. I have learned this the easy way, if that's possible. It's easy to work on a novel only to realize that it takes hard work, diligence and constancy. I am working on a book that will revolutionize the fantacy genre. Ok, maybe not, but it is pretty good.

Today is not my day, though. I read through my manuscript and I want to build up my characters, but I'd rather just sit at home and watch Dr. Who. Dana kicked me out of the house, though, and said that if nothing happens in an hour, I'm allowed to come home. I just have to try.

So instead of writing my book, I'm going to tell you, my patient readers, about my embarrassing experience at the grocery store earlier today. At least I'm writing something today, right?

Grocery shopping is my least favorite thing in the world next to wet socks and genocide. Today we needed a few things, though, and I promised my sweet wife that I would help her navigate the slushy roads. While we were at the store, there was a girl who saw me and asked how I was. Not in a friendly, "Your cart is in my way, please move," kind of way, but in a "Hey! I haven't seen you in ages! How are you?!" kind of way.

Ever Friendly Benjamin took his cue and responded in a socially appropriate way, but she could tell that I had no idea who she was. I wracked my brains for the remaining time we were at the store trying to figure out how she knew me and if we had been friends at one time. Unfortunately I could not recognize her from any of my files in my mind palace.

I resolved to let the girl know the next time I encountered her that I couldn't remember her. I was going to tell her that I had had a terrible accident where I couldn't remember my address half the time, and I had begun to refer to Dana as "Mrs. Amundson" because her name is ever so tricky.

But the chance never came. She completely disappeared. I will never find out who this mysterious woman is who knows me from another life. Dana said she disappeared because she realized I am not who she thought I was and was embarrassed about saying hi to me. I think it's because she realized that I didn't think our friendship was a deep as she thought it was, and is now cursing my existence because I'm such a jerk.

Friend, if you read this, please forgive my lapse of memory. I'll come up with a better excuse next time I see you in Trader Joe's.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mangroves and Water Chops - Initial thoughts on Indonesia

Going from Batam to the local island we were were visiting in Indonesia was an eye-opening experience. The tiny motor boat was quite different than I was expecting, but not unlike my father-in-law's boat in which we fish at White Face.

The pilot did not take the direct route from Batam to the island, though I cannot confirm this observation. It seemed to me that he was taking the route that had the best views of Indo. He showed us the largest ships, the mountainous islands, the most intricate net structures of fishermen, the delicately detailed roots of the mangroves that kept their trees from touching the ocean. It was a fascinating ride.

I noticed the many islands springing out of the water like thousands of moles on an otherwise perfect complexion. Moles that were hairy with trees or so grotesquely misshaped that one should really consult one's doctor about the high probability of skin cancer.

The second thing I noticed was the boater's seamless ability to navigate the waters. In the hour and a half I rode with him, I was splashed once. Maybe twice. He knew just how to ride the choppy waves to make them work for him. He used them to propel us at breakneck speeds down the channels formed by cancer-ridden moles. 

He also drove in tandem with other boaters. Stoney faced, and barely a glance, he would twitch his wrist just enough to avoid catastrophic collisions. The others seemed to hardly notice him, too. It reminded me of a dance. So fluid were the movements - so innately known - that the artists needed no leader. They saw, calculated, adjusted the rudder, and continued the dance. No toe stamping on this dance floor. 

The trees I saw looked like a 17th century lady lifting her skirt and screaming to avoid a mouse running up her dress. The canopy of the tree searched the water wide-eyed, hoping beyond hope that the mouse wouldn't return. There were sometimes clusters of these trees which only enhanced the perception of dainty ladies screeching from fear of nasty little rodents. When they were alone, like the one below, I felt sorry that she didn't have a man to come kill the spider for her, or chase away the rats of the night. I later learned that the mangrove is home to hundreds of species of creepy-crawlies, so my initial assessment was completely erroneous. 

Soon we arrived at the village in question. Our sore backs and jet-lagged eyes could not prepare for the fun that was about to begin. 

Friday, December 6, 2013


After a conversation with my colleague, Adam, my thoughts turned to sounds.
Dogs have super sonic hearing. They can respond to frequencies that are too high pitched for the human ear. What kinds of sounds do they experience?
Perhaps, if we could rein in that hearing energy, magnify it, and convert it into a listenable format for the average human, we would have a brand new territory to explore. A new "last frontier." We could hear plants growing, insects gasping, or water thinking.
Water has been described as the life-giving element. The sustainer which keeps all living organisms afloat. I have heard people say it is patient, strong - almost like it has a mind of its own.
If this is the case, does it have similar insecurities as humans? Do poisoned water holes have a bad conscience? Do rain clouds ask each other if they look fat? Could we hear H2O scream in terror (or perhaps exhilaration) as it careens off the side of a waterfall? Niagra would be the worst vacation destination ever.
What would we hear if we could listen to the life-blood of Earth?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rabid Rabbits

When I was in high school, I was put on a medication to help with stomach issues I was dealing with. The medicine did nothing for my health, but what it did do was to always give me night terrors involving rabbits. These nightmares began in pastels with beautiful scenery where the Easter Bunny would come up and offer me chocolates. When I would refuse them, the dreams would turn very dark and bad things would happen to me at the hands of the bunny. Very gory. Very unpleasant.

This began a terrible relationship I hold to this day with rabbits in general. I have an incurable fear of rabbits, and many of my friends know this about me.

I had a roommate once. Many of you will recognize him as the frontman of Laulu, Everett Laulunen. Everett had the bright idea one morning to wake me up from my slumber by taking a 4 foot tall cardboard cutout of an Easter Bunny, crouching beside my bed and saying in a creepy voice, "Benjamin! Wake up! I want to play with you today!"

I slowly opened my eyes, took one glance at the cardboard rabbit, and punched it square between the eyes. I was not a happy person that morning.

More recently, my wife and I took a late night walk near our apartment building. As we were walking along, a sliver of light from a nearby streetlamp fell on a furry lump on the edge of the sidewalk. Not seeing it for what it was, I came within inches of stepping on a dead rabbit with nothing more than sandals on my feet to protect me from whatever hell the dead animal would release upon me. I am unashamed to say that I screamed like a little girl having her tangled hair brushed fiercely with a fine-toothed comb. Our walk lasted less than a block from our front door before I retreated to the safety of my apartment.

As of late, the evils I have known for many years to exist within these seemingly harmless creatures has been noticed by another, much more powerful entity than myself. It is none other than Hollywood. As far back at 1975, with the release of Monte Python and the Holy Grail, we have been made privy to killer rabbits, but I have seen more and more movies being released with the same premise of rabbits.

Soon after I nearly marred my leg by stepping on the dead rabbit, Dana and I watched the new Lone Ranger movie with her mom. There is a scene with rabbits in it. I will try not to require a spoiler alert for this post, but by the end of the scene, my dear mother-in-law was beside herself with laughter because of the uncanny resemblance of my description of rabbits and the rabbits in said scene.

A similar experience happened when we watched Despicable Me 2 for Dana's birthday.

Soon, valued readers, you too will become wise to the true nature of these pesky demons who roam our streets, thinly veiling their attempts of destroying the human race behind fuzzy whiskers and twitchy noses. I just hope that by the time you do, it's not too late.