Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Wit And Wisdom Of Josephine Ristow

When You have a long term relationship with somebody, you are bound to have several special inside jokes that only you and them understand. With my wife, there's always the gay lion "Oh, Rar!" thing we use from time to time -- and it came originally from South Park. There is one thing that has been on my mind the past few days. It's something my mother once said to me when I was like 9 years old and she was teaching me how to ride a bike, when we lived in England.

"You only get one mother! Any other after me will be made out of plastic!"

We have laughed hard, her and I, over that line for more than twenty years. Why we found it so hilarious would be hard to explain. It had something to do with me being lazy and not wanting to learn how to ride a bike. That day, she also threatened to cook me plastic pork chops, and everything else she could put the word "plastic" in front of. It is, of course, a very perceptive statement on many levels, but she said this long before she ever really thought of her own mortality. So, in the wake of her death, I find myself the need to repeat those words again:

"You only get one mother! Any other after me will be made out of plastic!"

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Few Random Thoughts.

--It's hard to write anything after the post about my mother. Then again, she would want me to move on. And, I'm actively trying to do that. Still, in the days ahead, there's the viewing and Catholic funeral service to attend.

--As part of being a better son to my father, I think I'm going to actively start doing something I always wanted to do. Get several days worth of audio out of him, in the form of recorded interviews. It really took me quite awhile to realize that the circumstances of my family and my upbringing are not "normal" as compared to the average American family. Also, it's an excuse to spend more time with my father.

--I plan to save up mTurk earnings to by a slide scanner on Amazon. There are literally hundreds of slide photographs and my parents' house from the Azores and all the other places my family has lived.

--I returned to walmart, and after only a few weeks, they have already promoted me. I will manage a newly created Meat department. Commence with the silly puns, in T-Minus five, four, three....

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Eulogy for My Mother

My mother turned 69 a week or two ago. That means, she was born towards the end of World War Two. She grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, as a third generation Italian American. Her mother's family came from Rome. Her father's family was Sicilian. As she grew up, she came to love to love Elvis Presley -- although she never actually owned any of his records until later in life. She also loved The Beatles, Richard Simmons exercise tapes

Among the many things to do, she loved to dance. This was something I was reminded of on nearly a weekly basis, especially that she had once danced on television's American Bandstand. My father loved to dance too, especially with her. Once they met and started dating, they became high school sweethearts -- even attended prom together. She used to scold my lack of rhythm by pointing at her thighs and proclaiming, "These legs danced on Bandstand! What do you mean you don't know how to dance? It's in your genes, boy! Your genes!"

My mother and father had a courtship that lasted several years. It even persisted across state lines. For a time, my mother lived in South Carolina. Eventually, they married. My father did his Masters degree at the U. of Maryland. He took his first job at a predominately African-American high school in innercity Washington, DC during the racial tensions of the 1960s. He was the only white guy in the whole school There, he was considered a federal employee. After watching my grandfather struggle as a steel worker, through strikes, low pay, and an abysmal pension, he decided he wanted to pursue a career with the federal government. There, he saw stability. He was eventually hired as part of the Department of Defense Dependent Schools.

The first job took my mother and him to the Azores, a Mid-Atlantic island chain that is Portuguese territory. My sister, Catherine, was born there. The time in the Azores didn't last long. Eventually, my mother and father and sister moved to the Philipenes and the now defunct Clark Air Force Base. In 1970, my older brother Paul, was born. Eventually, the family moved back to DC for a year, and eventually, they moved to Germany as my father's career in the federal government progressed. My family moved to several different bases in Germany. I was born at Bittburg Air Force Base. From there, my family moved to United Kingdom.

During this time, my mother patiently put up with the globetrotting, the constant moving, and living in other countries. She was mostly a housewife during this time. She began to perfect her ability to cook, which was an amazing talent of hers. Her travels around the world also allowed her to try things outside of her comfort zone, meaning she moved beyond the Italian American fare she was used to, trying nearly everything. Her ability and prowess behind a stove or oven was well loved by every who knew her.

But, secretly, my mother wanted to be more than just a mom or a master home-cook. She began taking night classes from the University of Maryland on the military bases in Germany. Ultimately, she graduated with Bachelor's in Education and Social Work. This need for self enrichment countinued much later into her life. During the 2000's, she completed a Masters Degree conferred jointly by The University of North Carolina At Wilmington and East Carolina University. But, that's also getting ahead of things a little.

After my family left the United Kingdom, we moved to Bermuda. It was there my mother began her elementary school teaching career. She started with no experience, reasoning "I am a mother--that makes me a natural teacher." And she was that, a natural. And she loved this job throughout the years, as it took her to jobs in Belgium, The Netherlands, North Carolina, and New Brunswick, New Jersey, after my father retired. She was an exceptional teacher of children, both her own and others.

My father retired from the federal government in 1997. His last assignment was London Central High School, near High Wycombe, in England. During the 1980s, it was the same area my family lived in. At the time, my mother and father bought a house there. The plan was to return there, sell it, and move back the United States. At the time, I was at West Virginia University finishing my Bachelors and first masters degree. However, since my father claimed that he had "Dragged this poor woman all over the planet," he deferred the choice of where to go next to her.

My mother took a job in Jacksonville, North Carolina aboard a marine corps base. After a year or two, she turned down a reassignment to Iceland. She stopped working for DODDS and left the federal government, teaching at a semi-rural North Carolinian school. Essentially, my parents were growing old together, and their desire had always been to retire at the Jersey Shore. So, they moved to Ocean Grove, New Jersey. My mother took work in New Brunswick and commuted. My father lived as a working retiree, adjuncting a few classes.

In 2008, my mother developed a persistent cough. Her doctor at the time claimed it was related to asthma. He didn't order any chest X-Rays, and he prescribed an medical inhaler. It didn't work. One day, she became very disoriented at school. It got so bad, that her coworkers had to drive her home. She went into the hospital soon after. The earlier diagnosis of "asthma" was wrong. Deadly wrong.

Tumors were found in her lungs. They had spread to brain and her spine. The diagnosis of "asthma" had lost her valuable treatment time. In terms of cancers, her diagnosis started at "Stage 4." My mother had long given up smoking, and her type of cancer actually had nothing to do with tobacco at all. It is largely thought and alleged that industrial pollution, care of the United States Marine Corps in North Carolina, may have had something to do with it. However, this allegation is hard to prove. Yet, there have been a high instance of cancers related to people who have lived or worked around the land the Marines use in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Her health was a steady decline from there. She took that decline as the fiesty woman I always knew. She hardly ever complained. She never asked for anybody's sympathy or pity. Most of all, she kept up her independent spirit as long as she could. However, to the people who loved her, the effects were very noticeable. It got much, much worse, as time moved on. During the last six months of her life, she became bedridden. Dementia set in. She lost the ability to move. She passed away yesterday, July 28th, 2011, at 3:15 pm. Her breathing became extremely labored to the point where her body gave up.

But, honestly. If she were here, right now, she would ask everybody to not remember that part of her life. If she were in perfect health right now, she would demand that you sit down so that she could cook you something -- whether it was her beloved meatballs and spaghetti or an exotic dessert she had just thrown together "on a whim."

My mother was a vibrant woman. She would not want to be remembered as somebody who suffered. And, she did suffer, although she tried very hard to not show that to other people. Rather, she would want to be remembered as somebody who lived. Most importantly, she would want everybody who loved her to continue living, to love life, and to eat something. Essentially, we can mourn her passing, but I think we must be grateful that she enriched our lives. We were lucky to have known her.

Friday, July 22, 2011


In my perpetual cash strapped times, I'm often stuck wondering how I can make money. Lately, that thought has focused on what skills I have that could possibly earn a buck or two. So, in the regard, I'm actively thinking of posting low-cost, bargain priced graphic design "situations wanted" ads at places like

But let me be clear. I am a graphic design hack. My specialty includes spotting good stock photos or public domain art and putting fonts on it. I don't actively "create" art. I use what I can find, and I "edit" found art. However, this is why I created a different blog called Rich Ristow Designs. It's meant as an online portfolio while I seek design work. Want an ebook cover done for you for only $20? Unique blog headers for $5? I can do that. Why am I so cheap? I can give you something unique while relying on stock photography and public domain work. I draw or paint nothing new.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

More Thoughts on mTurk

Once you get to know how to use certain market place or freelance content agencies, it gradually gets easier to jump from one platform to the next, once work availability slumps. However, I have realized that you just cannot jump headfirst into anything and immediately make a lot of money. Anybody who says otherwise is probably scamming you.

Birthday Blues

So, my aunt bought some lobster, and we had a dinner. Jenny made peach cobblers. Only, my mother is getting to the point where she's having trouble chewing and eating. She couldn't even wake up long enough to get out of bed and into the wheelchair, with assistance. Recently, her speech has been slurred, and it's still managing to get worse. All of us tried not be too depressed. All in all, that was my mother's 69th birthday.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Forecasting the Future: I Will Be Depressed On Sunday

This Sunday is my mother's 69th birthday. Jenny will be making peach cobbler. I work till 4pm at WallyWorld. We'll go over and sing happy birthday to her with my father, sister, and aunt, but this isn't so much a birthday party as one would expect.

Dead Silence -- It Doesn't Suck!

The problem with a lot of American horror films these days is this: a lot of gore, a lot of effects, but not so much emphasis on character, ambiance, or atmosphere. In this regard, I was pleasantly surprised by Dead Silence. To be honest, I only bought this film because it was in the two-dollar bin at Big Lots.

The Good:

The monster is genuinely creepy looking. It's a thin old woman puppeteer, and according to the DVD extras, she's a Broadway veteran. In short: a seasoned actor who knows how to act through facial expression, and she does it rather well.

The movie is thick on atmosphere. Sure, a lot of it is horror cliche that is old and well used: mist, woods, puppets, dark set lighting, lightning, etc. However, even well-worn imagery can be effective in the hands of a talented film maker.

Mark Wahlberg is playing out of stereotype. Wahlberg strikes me, sometimes, as the white Ice Cube -- not in hip hop and rhyming (Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch still make me want to ram an icepick through my ear), but in that Wahlberg seems at home scowling and looking mean. True, that was definately not the case in The Lovely Bones, but that's also a Peter Jackson film and an exception.

The landscape looks a lot like West Virginia, and I have a soft spot for mountains and woodlands.

The ending may be contrived for "shock," but it's one that's decently executed.

The Annoying:

Mark Wahlberg is playing out of stereotype. His character seems annoying, to an extent. It don't mind that he's softer spoken, but there's something about the character, the way its written, that's just milquetoast.

The plot is a little convoluted at points. But, then again, this is a movie about an old woman that will rip your tongue out, if you scream.

The Bottom Line.

Enjoyable. Not the greatest horror movie written, but certainly not the worst. There's enough here to keep a viewer engaged without descending into levels of MEH!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Few Thoughts on mTurk

As a freelancing platform, Amazon's Mechanical Turk is easy to malign. There are countless microtasks there, and many of them only pay $0.01. Of course, some of those tasks are easy, ala "Boobs or no boobs?" image moderation for message boards. In the realm of writing, however, there are a lot of tasks that grossly underpay and undervalue writers. Take, for instance, requests for 1000 word articles that only pay $2 or less.

Of course, mTurk really isn't the culprit, here. It's only the third party marketplace. The people undervaluing work are the people posting jobs there. It's a lot like faulting a newspaper for posting classifieds for services. Those classifieds are paid for, and the newspaper takes no responsibility (to an extent) for the want ads posted there.

However, the true answer for mTurk is this: in order to make it lucrative, you have to know how to find jobs you can do quickly and that pay well (collectively). This includes taking umpteen qualification tests. Even more, it comes down to effective searching too. So much of today's net reality hinges on finding and using the right keywords while searching. In many cases, I've always found that using actionable verbs are usually better for finding work.

Still, I haven't found a way to break even 5$ an hour. So, the platform is more of a hobby than true worksite, for me, at least.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Yes, I'll try it out. After all, I left wordpress to have a blogging platform closer to my gmail.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

David Lynch and Cinematic Poetry

Back when I used to edit poetry often, there was a stock line I often used with writers, as I tried to help whip work into shape: Stop writing like a prose novelist and start speaking through a language of imagery. It's an old truth, basically. If you approach poetry as if you're trying to write a short story, the result will more than likely always be prosaic and wordy. To further illustrate this concept, I would often say something else like Novels are like Martin Scorcese films, and poetry closely resembles the work of David Lynch.

A lot of people do not necessarily understand Lynch, and that's because they are approaching his movies the same way they would a Scorcese or Ron Howard production: expecting a linear narrative to neatly tie things together. One often sees the same with novels, unless you're reading something deliberately post modern or avant garde.

Still, Lynch is fundamentally a poet working in a cinematic medium. Much of contemporary free verse -- even the non-experimental stuff, speaks through a series of images and metaphors. It's the "show, don't tell" aspect on steroids. A contemporary poem stretches down the page on how it lays out it's images within a sequence. Lynch practically does the same in movies. Consider this very short film he did as part of the Lumeire project:

The meaning of the clip is not readily put together the same way Scorcese or Howard would lay something out. Many experience this same sense of confusion through reading poetry, too, especially with work that tends to be more surreal than naturalistic, like, say Garcia Lorca or Pablo Neruda. But then again, Lorca or Neruda are not Hemingway, and nor should the reading experience be expected to be the same, either.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Rammstien versus Choral Music

Thanks to Mike Allen for pointing this out to me. A bit of fun:

Fernando Pessoa Before The Age of Alts

Fernando Pessoa has the rare distinction of being several notable people within a national literature. He wrote in Portuguese, and if you discount Brazil as, well, Brazil and not Portugal, he collectively stands along side Luis de Camões as one of the greatest poets -- or in this case, group of poets -- Portugal has produced

Simply put, Pessoa wrote under a number of assumed names. Each of those names and surrounding body of work has not only a garnered their own reputation, but each "poet" has their own identity in not only subject matter, but in poetic form. The genius of this, though, is that he took pains to even differentiate how each of his aliases used language.

Still, there's one rather mundane way Pessoa was ahead of his time. Each of his created poets also interacted with each other, through "letters" and other public written means. In short, this must have looked like an act of creative schizophrenia when he was alive. Presently, this sort of thing is more common than what one might think. Look at any messageboard with trolls. Sometimes, people have a tendency to create alts for a variety of reasons, but usually to gin up a flame war and controversy, as a way of demanding attention to some sort of book promotion. In my experience, this typically happens at high trafficked places, and in horror, that would be the Shocklines message forum. Then again, I haven't seen it happen in a year or two, but I haven't been hanging around message boards all that often, as of late.

So while Pessoa's poetry wasn't necessarily post modern, the splintering of identity in the poet himself was actually well ahead of its time.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The New Landing

So, I am fond of using a metaphor when talking about my mother's terminal illness: it's like walking down a spiral staircase and coming to series of landings, each of them is a significant point of no return. (There is no treatment to make her better, and this is a matter of hospice).

The new "landing" on that staircase is this. My mother mostly doesn't recognize me or my wife anymore. My brother and his daughter came into town as of late, for July 4th. My mom looked up from her bed, at the both of them and asked, "Who are you people? Why are you standing over me?" That is, at best, a translation for words that cannot really be approximated or understood, totally. This is a case of tumors effecting how her brain functions, which also slurs her speech and makes it hard to really understand, at times.

I normally don't cry at this sort of thing anymore. All I tell myself is: "At least she's not in a lot of pain."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Speaking of eReaders

Mine broke on the second day I went back to Walmart. It was also my cellphone. It makes me realize, however, how much a gadget has grown to shape and guide my reading habits. Incidentally, the amount I have read in the last week and a half as taken a steep drop...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Poetry and eReaders, Part II

Last year, I wrote four long poems that were collected into a chapbook called Four Murders.* At the time, I was very interested in how eReaders and cell phones displayed poetry and constantly mucked up a poet's deliberate lineation. The screens, I posited, were too small and the poet had no control over the way they can be displayed.

Turns out, the lineation problem is an easy fix, if you take tablet computers like the Galaxy, iPad, or Xoom into mind. If the reading screen cannot cannot accommodate the lines as they are written, you can just tilt the tablet into a landscape view -- more often then not, that fixes the problem. So, what I once thought was a terrible problem can actually be fixed easily. This does not hold true, however, for most dedicated eReaders (as in: not a tablet).

*It was once limited availability through KHP Publishing. Now, since KHP has gotten rid of its webstore, Jerrod/SD Hintz/Karen Koehler decided to up it Kindle for 0.99$.

Friday, July 1, 2011

What To Write Next?

Part of me thinks I should really start writing about Bermuda again. This crest alone gives me a few ideas: (it's from the island's flag)

It's My Birthday, And I'll Whine If I Want To!

So, I am now 37 -- which is okay with me, because I already thought I was turning 38 this year. The way I look at it, I just gained a year. So, on my birthday, I

  • Slept in and slept off a hangover.
  • Looked for freelance work and didn't find any.
  • Called Walmart and Asked to be on the schedule this week
  • Whined to myself about missing Convergence this week
  • Went to my parents for pizza and ice cream cake.
  • Felt a little sad, as my mother was out of it
  • Felt a little sad, because perhaps I shouldn't have planned go to Convergence this year anyway. This is likely going to be my last birthday where my mother is alive.