I have a very bad feeling about this

I start this blog by titling it with my favorite Star Wars quote (apart from “a more wretched hive of scum and villainy” which I use to aptly describe my home country) because I really have a very bad, bad baaaad feeling about The Force Awakens.

It’s okay if you don’t want to believe me, but I had the same sensation when I went to watch the first prequel. The Phantom Menace, and we all know how “great” that particular mess went, don’t we all? Hmmm?

I still recall the hype and the manner in which most Fanboys were making the Internet hum with excitement the last couple of weeks before the first screening ever… “Ohhhh, a new chapter in the SAGA!!! Squeeek!!!” and all that…. but I particulary recall the way how they blasted Lucas’ latest offering afterwards back at the time… “Childish!” “It sucked ass!” “The pod race is padding!” (though I may be remembering it wrong… perhaps the gut who wrote that was saying the “pod race was pudding” but that doesn’t actually make much sense, does it?)

The thing is that I read the whole bunch of reviews back then and I decided to watch The Phantom Menace in spite of all, midochlorians and all… Yeah, well, it had some Star Wars innit…. The lore… Jedi stuff… lightsabers… laser blasts…. two key main characters in their prime… A younger Yoda…. How the trade dispute with Naboo trigger the events of the original trilogy… But it didn’t actually feel like Star Wars, you know what I mean?

Ok, to wrap it up… I liked it (mainly as a writer, but not as a Star Wars fan) because it filled many gaps in the Skywalker’s Family Saga (just don’t ask me what my thoughts of Jar-Jar Binks are, please) but once more, I couldn’t call actually put my fingers on what or where did George Lucas screw up the whole works.

Now, after seeing all the Fanboy Buzzing that The Force Awakens is generating now, I’m having that very bad feeling about it, reliving it, so I may decide to skip seeing it on the big silver screen this time, thank you. I’m especially uncomfortable with the idea of seeing how the heroes of my childhood have grayed and grown fat, wrinkled or gone balding (Chewbacca must have a great hair transplant doctor or buys Grecian Formula by the wholesale to look that way, almost 40 years later!) as it kinda rattles the feelings I have about my own mortality of late, you know…

I guess I’ll satisfy myself with reading the bad IMDB reviews this time..

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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The Great Paper Chase (Part I)

In exactly six days (and 8 hours) I’ll have to wake up at 2 AM in the morning, as I’ll have to board a bus headed for Caracas so I can go to my Embassy interview and fulfill the last step of the road Kathryn and I started nearly a year ago: my K-1 Fiancé Visa.

Yeah, I know it sounds like a great milestone… but what did it entail?

Well, my inner Accountant has kept track of every detail. It took:

16 failed trips to the local bus station from Jan through May, 2015… mostly done through bad roads and bad weather (I nearly caught a cold a couple of times). And when I mean failed I really mean it. I walked the distance between my house and the bus depot only to find out I wouldn’t really make it: if my bus didn’t get out of the station by 4:30 AM, well, just forget it (I recall mentioning somewhere that if I didn’t arrive to the San José Registry before sunrise to start queue-ing, to pick up one of the only 20 numbers those SOBs distributed to citizens who require a Birth or Death Certificate, it would be completely useless trip). @10 miles each trip, you can add up 160 miles walked.

4 succesful trips to the bus station, when I was able to board a bus at 4AM and it departed Caucagua at 4:15 or less…. But which doesn’t mean that I was able to reach the Registry on time… @10 miles each, equals 40 miles walked, plus 100 miles aboard a bus per trip, it represents 200 miles walked + 400 miles on board a bus, equaling 600 miles of travel.

1 successful trip (May 11th) in which I managed to catch one of those measly 20 spots in queue for my Birth Certificate… YAY!!!   @10 miles walked +100 miles by bus, which brings it all up to 710 miles traveled just for a piece of paper.

Wait! It doesn’t stop there! I also had to request a Police Background Check (30 miles by foot to find a cybercafé to print a letter) + 10 more miles walked + 100 miles by bus just to pickup the actual document, totaling 850 miles (250 walked + 600 by bus).

Luckily, I had most of the other documentation at hand in my house: I had taken care of the boarding passes early on, by making some preventive Xerox copies (though one faded a bit because it was printed on thermal paper), plus my High School diploma to prove they weren’t going to bring a completely uneducated moron into America the Beautiful, plus my grades plus plus plus whatever piece of paper that I could think about…. However, what was missing were my vaccination records, for which I can really thank my dad (the SOB actually destroyed them). Finding a decent place in Caucagua to copy all these paper took me another 5 trips to town, adding 50 miles walked to my total score…

Grand total so far: 300 miles walked + 600 miles by bus = 900 miles.

Well, that sort of covers it for this blog post.

Stay tuned to discover how much mileage I did rack up in the end of this oddysey!

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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A Great Writing Tool

It’s customary about writers to share writing tips with each other; I guess it’s my turn now.

However, what I’ll share here isn’t a new piece of software that will turn the output of what your sorry thousand-monkeys-persona writes everyday into Shakespeare, nor a Grammar-Nazi website that will automatically fix your penchant to confuse ‘they’re’ with ‘there’. Also, it won’t allow you to sell a gazillion books overnight.

However, if you truly are a writer, this is a potential tool that might interest you as it is a YouTube channel that could help you fine-tune your plot development skills, as it deals with the horrible way movie screenplayers write by pinpointing every single plot hole, cliché and false logics of all your favorite films. The channel is aptly named CinemaSins.

I can almost taste what you are now thinking: “Waitaminute… Why should I check this YouTube channel? What I wanna is advice to write better books!

Well, if you are following me so far, you should be realizing now how important plot is for a movie, which is just a visual narrative and an alternate way of storytelling. And, please, don’t tell me now that you were never jarred out of a movie by a glaring plot hole or by unnecessarily killing some character over which you grew fond as the show progressed.

Oh, boy! Are these guys merciless! They will grab your favorite film and tear it a new one, calling out every stupid decision, plot hole and structure flaws that the screenwriter/director may have perpetrated there (you better not watch it if you’re a fanboy or something), liberally granting cinema sins at a rate of at least ten per minute… and you certaily know the movie being dissected is at top shape when its final sin count barely goes up to seven or eight of these for each minute elapsed.

I try to watch Sinema Cins… errr.. CinemaSins every time that my craptacular jungle connection manages to cooperate with me, and this YouTube channel is certainly helping me to develop finer, tighter plots for my own books. You should give them a try.

And, oh Heavens… Am I so glad that these two dudes don’t review books… 😉

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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On The Street Where I Live…

Please take note of the following link:

https://www.google.co.ve/maps/@10.300921,-66.3592356,189m/data=!3m1!1e3

If you click on this link, it will take you to a satellite image of the area where I live. Of course, the picture you will see will be only a plain and bare representation of what it actually means. For that, you can examine the pictures below, which are the same as the abovementioned one, but with a few annotations.

For starters, somewhere below this thick canopy of trees lies my house:

Cholomdronaerial

(Of course, if you zoom out and switch to Google’s Map mode, you’ll notice that this place has even failed to make it into the maps).

This next picture shows the land I own down here with a yellow outline (something along the size 38500 square feet!!) … The land outlined in black represent the plots whose neighbors hire me to trim down with just a machete.

cholonland

The next shot shows the entire extent of the failed housing development where I live… yeah, I know it looks rather civilized at this scale but it’s almost completely void of inhabitants. The green outline marks the virgin rainforest where (according to some detractors) I “claim” to live next to. Again, this is another case of “you must be there to really understand” (and believe!!!)

Choloarea

And the last one shows the walking distance I must travel almost everyday for groceries.

Cholocanminata

Please notice the highway that would have made me a moderately rich man (it passes just a mile away from where I bought land!)… if only my country political situation hadn’t gone down the drain, that’s it.

I hope these pictures have provided you additional insights of the reasons behind all the rants I publish on this blog.

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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Jungle Medicine

For the past month or so I’ve had to deal with a very nasty tick bite on my left ankle. It tended to scab up and then the scabs regularly fell off every five days or so, without healing properly and restarting the cycle.

I know, I know… tick bites heal the hard way, but this one was way beyond insidious, so there was the possibility there was still something noxious lurking within. So last week I scrapped the scab with the sharp edge of a blade and then proceeded to burrow deep into the wound and probe with the tip of the tool to make sure. I found nothing, but the reopened lesion began to suppurate a clear substance instead of bleeding, which isn’t a good sign. So I began to squeeze the edges of the injury until the nearby skin began to bruise and blood finally surfaced. Now, six days later, the wound finally scabbed and presently shows signs of healing correctly. It still itches like hell, but it’s well on its way to proper recovery.

Am I mad? Why subject myself to this gruesome treatment? Shouldn’t I go to a hospital and have a doctor have a look at the bite, and then prescribe some sort of antibiotics?

Well, the answers are quite simple: 1) I’m on the edge of a jungle and 2) this is the only available medical procedure I can allow myself to have since A) the good doctors have already fled the country (leaving only a bunch of quacks to consult) and B) antibiotics?!? Ha! Don’t start me on discussing those! (Absolutely scarce nowadays, if you need to know).

It’s not the first time since I moved to the jungle that I had to perform a quick fix up or impromptu surgery on myself.

There was the time I scratched my arm badly with rusty barb wire, so I had to intramuscularly give myself a tetanus shot. And there was the occasion when a lemon thorn went so deep within my thumb that it got infected and then I had to carve an X with a shaving blade across the wound’s lips. And I mean digging really deep, like one-third of an inch to reach the infected spot and help the injury weep.

 

Of late, I had to hunt down for the Hepatitis-B and Trivalent immunization shots for a week before I was able to get a hold of them (requisite for the plans that Kathryn and I have been arranging for the past ten months or so. BTW, the nurse who gave me the shots had a heavy-handed approach with the syringe when she jabbed my arms with the needle; she even made me bleed from her clumsy stabbings). Do you think is fair that I have to hunt down the last eight remaining shots in the entire country, when you just walk into your doctor’s office and ask for them, anywhere else in the world?

And I’m supposed to be the mad one… *chuckles*

Okay… rant’s over.

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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A very bad week…

Last weekend started ominously; I scalded myself with hot water while brewing coffee (I presently sport a niceeee blister in the space between the index and middle finger of my left hand)… next, I spotted a tick trying to creep up on me and attach itself to the one of my calves…

What next, I rhetorically asked as we all know that misery loves company and bad things usually come in threes, don’t we?

Well, at 3:45 AM last Saturday, the answer came loud and clear: the last remaining power transformer of my block blew up, leaving me without electric power for the past 6 days, 10 hours as I write this blog for later posting.

When I bought property in this area, the street had three nice power transformers online, but they were slowly decreasing in number like nice little Indians in a deranged cowboy movie… The first one was killed about 12 years ago during a major storm, when a large tree was uprooted by powerful buffeting wings and the damn thing tore down the power lines and causing a large electrical explosion (I had to hack the branches all by myself while high voltage lines were buzzing all around me, since no one in the power company wanted to come here and shut down the system).

The second power transformer lasted about 5 years before it exploded… Its lid flew 40 yards before landing in dry kindling and starting a brush fire. Back on those days I was without electric power for almost 5 days. Luckily I was then between grocery restocking cycles and was savvy enough to have 4 one-litter bottles of water in the freezer side of my fridge to act as ice blocks to prevent spoilage.

Now, after seven years of praying for the last transformer wouldn’t let its ghost go…. sigh… well, that didn’t work well, I guess. I’m a bit depressed, as this has brought tons of crazy and dire consequences.

First of all, I lost about $200 in groceries that were supposed to last until the end of November. If things were rather bad and lean till now, well, now they look desperate. I have no clue of will I manage to overcome this small economic disaster.

But worse is my current emotional state, as I haven’t been able to chat with Kathryn for almost a week now, being only able to leave brief messages on Facebook as the charge of my battery slowly runs down. I’m trying to save as much power as possible, since I’ve yet to find a suitable way to recharge my PC’s battery.

Gosh… I really do miss her…

Edwin Stark
Signing Off
(Battery currently at 20%)

 

 

 

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Normalcy Bias

The last installment of this blog has generated lots of help offers from friends and total strangers to help me by sending money or a care package. Well, I must admit that I’m overwhelmed by all this kindness and I feel grateful for it, but I regret to tell you there’s not much you guys can do to mitigate my current situation.

I even wrote a great blog post concerning the issues behind helping me, particularly explaining why these two options wouldn’t work and I edited the text till I reached the point where it clearly exposed the terrible imbalance between real world prices and the local ones (without risking having to face a firing squad) and proving that it would be useless to wire me money… and that if you sent me a care package, it was more likely it would be confiscated in customs, or that I’d be forced to pay a ton of postal taxes over an empty box stuffed with local newspapers to replace the pilfered items, the same way it happened to my mom about 45 years ago, when my uncle in Germany decided to send her some chocolates and a few toddler clothes.

However, I decided to scrap that blog post in the end after reading it again and again. Why? Due to Normalcy Bias. This is a sociological term which can be pretty much summed up as follows: when you lead a life where the mail shows up like clockwork at your front step and lights are always on and phone line always work, it becomes harder and harder for a civilized person living under such mental framework to conceive a situation where the exactly opposite conditions exists. It’s this same mental framework that causes you to be ill prepared to deal with a catastrophic scenario like a massive earthquake, flood or whatever major disaster you may want to fancy (believe me, it’s rather disturbing to think, giving my life conditions on the fringe of a rainforest, that I’m better prepared to survive a Zombie Apocalypse than you are).

This same normalcy bias thing is what has slowly caused me to stop updating this blog as regularly than I used to.

I mean… what’s the use?

However, there are times when the message gets through in unintended ways.

I just want to dedicate this blog post to the total stranger who, with all the kindness within his of her heart, just went and bought 5 of my books the day after I published my last one.

I don’t really know who you are, kind sir or lady… but you certainly saved my ass that week. 

Yours Truly

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

 

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Growing stuff in the jungle…

Tomato1

A humble start

Well, things are certainly looking bleak down here…

My home country is falling apart; with a yearly inflation rate that nears 200 % and almost everyone unemployed the economy is in total shambles. This has led to a situation where foodstuff is rather scarce and expensive, in some cases developing a Food Black Market. You want milk and eggs? Be prepared to pay through the nose.

This has become so extreme that you have to stand in line three or four hours just to enter the supermarket,  generating a whole new way of earning a living, where people spend most of the day waiting like buzzards around the foodstores and see what’s available to purchase. If they see an approaching truck ready to bring stock in, they swarm all over it to find what’s inside. The most desirable ítems in this brave, new economy are rice, sugar, coffee, specially prepared corn flour, cooking oil, margerine, laundry soap and disposable diapers.

On a personal level, I’m hurting: I live on a steady diet of tomato, bell peppers and onions, mainly because they’re rather unexpensive. No potatoes, as the price is  prohibitively onerous; I had to replace them with manioc, which I’m able to dig up in one of my neighbors’ lots. No meat or poultry either, as they’re only available at Black Market prices, at least three or four times the state-approved prices. This week, I’ve been able to stretch things a bit with some corn-on-the-cob that I’ve harvested from the same plot, but they’re a bit past their prime as they’re a bit hard and unedible. Occasionaly, I can suplement my boring diet with bananas and twice a year I can enjoy some mangoes, if I’m lucky. But that’s it (I’m about twenty pounds below my ideal weight if you need to know).

As you can see, the name of the game now is survival. In the past I made ends meet with my book sales, specially when it was possible to sell a dozen books or so each months. This gave me an extra $20 to which I could cling to when things were particularly bad, but that’s no longer the case. You see, there’s no market interest in the books that I write, which cover a great variety of genres and are very funny and creepy and earn 4 and 5-star reviews… but no one seems to be willing to part from their $2.99, even if that means that I could eat that month.

Some progress huh?

Some progress huh?

So now, instead of writing, I’m doing experiments in my land and trying to grow things to eat. A few months back, I was able to raise some tomatoes successfully. It was very encouraging when the teensy, weensy frail tomato seedling I had planted a couple months earlier were capable of bearing two healthy and nice looking tomatoes, one weightng about 7 ounces and the other about three. The large one I let ripen until it turned into a bright, fiery red… and I ate it in thin slices on buttered bread with a pinch of salt and ground pepper. The other tomato was delicious when I prepared it as a fried green tomato, with some leftover mozzarella cheese on top.

However, those two were my only two successes. The plant was about ready to bear another three or four tomatoes when it was attacked by affids, grasshoppers and stinkbugs in rapid succession. The fruits were devoured in mid-growth almost overnight, so there was very little that  could be done to sabe them.

This was far from discouraging, though. I managed to build a hanging garden with two discarded wáter gutters that I had filled with some compost soil I made myself and I keep experimenting. Unfortunately, the local soil, even though it’s nitrogen-rich, is very lacking in potassium and magnessium, which certainly affects how well the plants bloom. So far, my bell peppers fail to bear; they just bud and then the potential flower just dries up and falls off. I hope to have better luck with my tomatoes. They look so thin and frail now… will I be able to harvest the result?

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

 

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The point of No Repair

A mouse with dying buttons. A burnt out power supply. A pair of hiking boots unraveling at every conceivable seam, practically bursting apart after nearly walking ten thousand miles in them. What do have all these things have in common? They’re part of everyone’s lives, little details that shouldn’t matter much… but they do weight a lot in my existence, mainly because when I can’t either fix or replace any of these failing things due to my limited resources down here in the jungle.

Last month, my USB thumb drive died. It was only 4 Gigabytes, but they were valuable 4 Gbs of now irreplaceable portable memory that will be sorely missed. And I don’t mean its content, which had been adequately backed up a month earlier. I mean that I’m unable to buy another one; due to the crazy distortions that the Black Market has created on almost every technological gadget in my country, a brand new USB thumb drive would be worth about a month of minimum wage salary… and I don’t have to remind you I earn about one tenth of that sum.

My crappy Microsoft mouse is dying; it’s left button is almost non-reactive to any kind of pressing I might do. It lasted less than a year. There’s a black lagoon of dead pixels the size of two thumbprints sitting at the corner of my laptop’s screen, and it completely obscures the closing and resize buttons of all open windows. Nothing I can do about it.

And this week, after I thought I had fixed my brush trimmer for good, so I could give the machete a rest, the mechanical beast just coughed up a busted ball bearing and stopped working… and it will stay that way. The guy who fixes this sort if things lives about 20 miles away… and besides, I lack the funds to repair it. My calculations tell me I’d have to work a couple of years on my neighbors’ land to recoup the cost, which is financially untenable.

Now tell me again… how much do you envy my charmed life at the edge of a tropical rainforest?

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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Everybody says they want to change the world

Originally, I intended this post’s title to be We Will (We Will) Frack You!, but some obscure reasoning and further thought made me deem it too vulgar (not enough too prevent me from sneaking it somewhere in the text, mind you!), so I decided in the end to change it and now I must apologize to the musical group Tears for Fears instead of Queen.

(*chuckles*)

Now, to the main point. For some time now, I’ve noticed (in both an amused and pissy state) that a few crazy people are constantly posting memes, scientific articles, and all sort of bizarre stuff to against fracking and trying to organize some sort of opposition to this industrial procedure in their FB news feed and Twitter.

I’ve got some baaaaaad news for you, dudes:

You won’t achieve anything.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all against fracking but posting this sort of things in the social media won’t get you anywhere.

You see, there are two main reasons it won’t work.

The first one is that the oil companies behind fracking have already invested too much resources into the whole confounded thing and won’t walk away without at least recouping their monetary outlay. So they will wrestle in politics, bribe like hell, lobby and fight with their nails and teeth to recover their money. It’s the only language they understand.

Want them to stop? Well, you must play ball in the same league… but you gonna need a few trillion dollars to do that. Got some to spare? No? I guessed so.

The second reason is even simpler: No one really wants to change the world. They say so… but they only want to tweak the reality that surrounds them to their personal convenience. “Oh, I don’t want them to do some fracking where I live!” *whine*.

That would involve some serious sacrifice to happen.

And yet, you have the power to turn the world on a dime. But…

Oh, I love this irony! Here I am, completely powerless and unable to change anything in the mess I’m forced to live with, and yet I possess a more clear understanding of the power structure behind it… and you guys have the power (at least a teensy weensy shard of it)… and are completely clueless on how to successfully use it to make things happen.

You see, no one is willing.

I could but can’t. You can… but won’t.

So amusing.

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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