Today’s Advice Column

As you probably know, I write fiction set in the late 20th century and – soon to come, hopefully – the late 18th century. I think I can do so in part because I feel I’ve gleaned a few basic insights over the years about people and relationships. We all do learn more as we mature further simply because we have usually come to experience more over time.

Social media also allows us, of course, to share our own unpleasant life moments – such as this one I saw on Instagram last night:

Screen capture of Instagram.
Screen capture of Instagram.

And social media also makes it possible for us to offer a little advice and even some (hopefully) reassuring words. Which is what I am about to try to do. Here is some insider information from an “old” married guy, which may prove useful for you as a woman.

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Rural England

England is a compact country of cities, towns, villages, and rural areas that often come up right against each other – little “middle ground” between them. While driving, one minute you may find you’re in a town, and suddenly you are through it and in countryside. The change between urban and rural (and vice-versa) is sometimes startlingly abrupt.

“Endless” suburban subdivisions as one sees in parts of the U.S. are virtually non-existent here. Very few homes have American-sized backyards. People live much closer together, which is probably why they prize their boundary hedges, fences, and generally try to respect each other’s privacy.

One also tends to forget England can be hilly, and with that height sometimes you get a broad view you don’t expect. It sometimes could almost be a painting. For example, here’s our Hertfordshire village from a mile or so away, spread out below:

Our Hertfordshire village, seen from a distance back in August. [Photo by me, 2016.]
Our Hertfordshire village, seen from a distance back in August. [Photo by me, 2016.]

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Living With A Legacy

Emma has returned from a summer in Charleston, South Carolina. She has written various posts detailing how she’d had a wonderful time. We’ve been there, too; Charleston is definitely a gorgeous city.

A street, Charleston, South Carolina. [Photo by me, 2014.]
A street, Charleston, South Carolina. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Now, she tackles THAT question:

I think this is one of the things I’ve heard the most when I was in the U.S. : French people don’t like Americans. Well, let me tell you something. THIS IS NOT TRUE. I’m French, I’ve spent all of my 21 years of life in France, and I have never heard more than two or three persons maybe saying that they didn’t like Americans…

This issue is always hovering around out there. It has been a source for a great deal of literature as well as for uncounted plots in movies and television episodes. As an American who has spent a lot of time in France since, uh, the 1980s (yes, good grief, I’m now THAT old!), and read tons of Franco-American history, I’d like to take a crack at this one briefly.🙂

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That Wide Ocean

America’s top official in France from 1785-1789, forty-something Thomas Jefferson, came to believe U.S. diplomats should not be overseas more than about eight years at a stretch. He felt if they (and they were then only men) were, they would lose touch with events and opinions at home. As a result, they would eventually be incapable of representing America properly.

He grew concerned also about young men “without attachment” becoming “involved” with European women, and felt their being overseas too long made such “intimacy” almost inevitable. The young women they encountered in diplomatic and social circles (and who, in France and elsewhere on the continent, could speak English) were overwhelmingly aristocrats. He believed “relationships” with those women could damage those “impressionable” young men’s “republican” sentiments and alienate them from the outlooks of most of their fellow Americans at home.

A few years before, a 16 year old future U.S. president became rather “enthralled” by young women he met while visiting Sweden. Yes, it’s a shocker: An American teenage boy loose in Scandinavia notices girls. Yet in that he demonstrated Jefferson’s concerns were perhaps not groundless.

Then lacking the television, internet, etc., that we take for granted, one could see Jefferson’s point about being too far removed from home as well. It took three months minimum for a letter to travel from Europe and to receive a reply from America; and that was usually during the summer months. Far fewer ships risked crossing the Atlantic between December and March – and even navies weren’t keen on it if they could possibly put it off until spring.

Sunset, Soulac-sur-mer, France, over the Bay of Biscay, which eventually becomes the Atlantic Ocean. [Photo by me, 2016.]
Sunset, Soulac-sur-mer, France, over the Bay of Biscay, which eventually becomes the Atlantic Ocean. [Photo by me, 2016.]

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Home And Hearth Centuries On

I like to joke occasionally that I consider the eighteenth century the beginning of everything. That’s an exaggeration, I know. But by that I mean the second half of that century sees the beginnings of “ourselves” in a myriad of ways that we today would easily recognize.

We have moved well-beyond what nearly all of those people living then would have imagined the future to be. While, for instance, Thomas Jefferson, who owned enslaved persons, held that African men in that degraded position still possessed an innate human equality with white men, he also wrote (privately) that he could not abide the idea of any woman in government. (A “woman’s trade” was to produce children and maintain “domestic felicity.”) It was still widely accepted that a man should own a goodly amount of property (usually land) in order to vote (because owning property meant you had a true stake in the society). The likes of LGBT equality would have simply been unfathomable to them.

Yet Jefferson’s noting he believed women were unsuited to government also meant that he had at least thought about it. It was by then among the many other no longer “unthinkables.” He, and so many others of that time, helped get “a process” started.

French dog, taking himself for a walk on a hot day, attempting to figure out how to jump into the Gironde River (leading to Bordeaux) from an elevated promenade. [Photo by me, 2016.]
French dog, taking himself for a walk on a hot day, attempting to figure out how to jump into the Gironde River (leading to Bordeaux) from an elevated promenade. [Photo by me, 2016.]

With France’s defeat by Britain in America in 1763, we see the beginnings of the “modern” Great Britain, France and United States that we all live in today.

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High Street Mornings

I wouldn’t have trouble making “that 9:30 lecture” this morning. I woke up at 4:30. I’m typing this now with a first coffee at just after 6 AM.

We know it isn’t just university students who’ve returned to school. We live on our Hertfordshire village’s high street, which is a busy stretch of road in the morning and late afternoon “rushes” (and it’s officially 30 MPH, and if some few idiots insist on speeding – as they do – they’ll be a speed camera here eventually because that’s how this country is). The rest of the day, it’s an unpredictable flow.

Our village high street, Hertfordshire, England, seen from my office about 6:30AM today. Still quiet. [Photo by me, 2016.]
Our village high street, Hertfordshire, England, seen from my office, about 6:30AM today. Still quiet. [Photo by me, 2016.]

There’s also a bus stop right in front of our house. Mostly it’s only lightly used, with the exception of weekday mornings when a few dozen teens in the same school uniforms appear from every direction and congregate on the sidewalk (“pavement” in English) to wait for a bus that passes around 8 AM. They don’t generally have “yellow” school buses here in England; kids use the public buses. (At that, some American parents clutch their chests; but it is safe.)

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That 9:30 Lecture

The other day I mentioned that my niece – who’s 18 – has started university this week in Belfast. (She’s at Queen’s.) It’s her first extended time away from home without her parents around. I believe her previous “separation” record was when she was 15: she had flown with us – uncle and aunt – for two weeks in New York and in Florida, just us three.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a pencil and back to class text.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a pencil and back to class text.

If you are just starting out, university will seem unfamiliar and maybe at times intimidating. You are thrown back largely on yourself for perhaps the first time. Within days, though, trust me, it will all start to make sense.

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From Across The Irish Sea

Only minutes after I published yesterday’s post, my shaken mother-in-law phoned us with sad family news.

Excerpt from "Distances." Click to expand.
Excerpt from “Distances.” Click to expand.

My wife’s uncle-in-law, who was an inspiration for a gregarious, friendly Irish tourist in Rome in Distances, died at home in London early Sunday morning.

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In The Shadow Of Windsor

Friday night we went to an, uh, fiftieth birthday party at a hotel two minutes’ walk around from Windsor Castle:

The Queen Victoria statue in front of Windsor Castle. [Photo by me, 2016.]
The Queen Victoria statue in front of Windsor Castle. [Photo by me, 2016.]

The castle is along the edge of Windsor. I’d never been to Windsor or so close to the castle before.

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Your Mark On Forever

I just got a text from my 18 year old niece. Her flight landed a little while ago in Belfast. She starts at university there on Monday.

How can she possibly be 18? Because that’s life for all of us. It’s the inevitable passage of time.

Thinking this morning about what I’ve worked on in recent days (examples are here and here) while the wife was away in Lisbon, and also in total over the last few months, I’m pleased for the moment at least.

Among what I listen to while writing. When the wife arrived home, she had, uh, caught me...listening to Sara Bareilles in the house. [Screen capture of my iPhone yesterday.]
Among what I listen to while writing. When the wife arrived home, she had, uh, caught me…listening to Sara Bareilles in the house. [Screen capture of my iPhone yesterday.]

Having finished another chapter, as I skimmed and re-read other more complete parts of that Conventions manuscript yesterday, briefly I’d disjointedly thought something along these lines:

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