Sunday, December 29, 2013

New Year, New Game, How Will You Play?

by Bert Carson

Maybe you have to be a FreeCell fan to appreciate this illustration and, since this post isn't about FreeCell, but rather life, both in general and in particular, let's refocus.

Now the illustration is to the point - a question and a choice.

Actually, there are three choices you must make before restarting the game.

1. Do you want to play again?

2.  If you choose "yes," you must choose "the same game" or a "new game."

And then comes the choice not written, but understood.

"Will you play the restarted game the same way you played the game you just lost?"

If there is a way to cheat at this old XP version of Freecell, I don't know how to do it.  However, there is a way to clear a game you know you are about to lose without having the loss register in your statistics.  If you haven't discovered the way, it is simply to reboot your computer.

To use a real life analogy, it's the same as severing yourself from an old life and leaving town to start over in a place where no one knows or cares if, or how many times, you've rebooted.

Today, with a fresh new calendar looming dead ahead, let's take a look at the three Freecell questions again.

First a note:  These questions only pop up when you've selected restart.   If you don't desire different results than than you are currently achieving, stop reading here and have a great year.  However, if a restart is in order, here are the choices offered by both Freecell and life.

1.  Do you want to play again?  I don't know about you, but when I've lost or I'm facing a sure loss, I always want to play again.  So I answer "Yes" and move to the next choice.

2.  (Do you want to play) Same Game?  For the same reason, I chose to to play again, I always choose, "same game."  I'm not going to quit on a loss, and I'm not going to give up on a particular game.

And now comes the question that Bill Gates didn't put on the pop up menu; 3.  Do you intend to continue to play the way you have been playing?  There have been many times when I wished that had been a pop up choice, because without thinking, I select "yes," then "same game," and five, or ten, or fifteen moves into it, realized I was in the exact same position as before, and I was going to lose exactly the way I just did.

Life is like Freecell.  As long as there is life in you, you have the option to restart.  However, even if you reboot, you will ultimately lose if you play the way you have been playing (it's the old insanity definition in new clothes—if you do the same thing you will achieve the same results).

So, with 2014 rapidly rising in the east, let's consider the possibilities:

1.  Do I want to play again?
2.  Do I want to play the same game again?
3.  Will I play the same way I played in 2013?

Happy New Year - may it be your best yet.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Wisdom of Travis McGee - #3 - Personal Value

by Bert Carson
John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee has an opinion on everything, and since they pretty much mesh perfectly with mine, I've decided to share them occasionally.  The sharing will be in no particular order or regard for subject matter.

Being a Virgo, I'd normally put them at least in book order, however, thanks to Amazon/Audible and whispersync for voice, I won't be doing that.  You see, I often listen to the Travis McGee stories while driving.  If a tidbit of wisdom comes though my headset while my body is moving down a highway at 70+ miles per hour, the chance of me highlighting the gem are pretty slim.  However, I can, and will, pull my trusty pocket notebook out, prop it on the steering wheel, and make a cryptic note like - Orange Chpt 8 - which means (to me) Bright Orange for the Shroud, Chapter 8, has a noteworthy McGee bit of wisdom.  Then when I'm I'm sitting still (not in the car), I'll open my notebook, find the note, open the referenced book, and find (in this particular case) near the end of Chapter 8:

"People take you at the value you put on yourself.  That makes it easy for them.  All you do is blend in.  Accept the customs of every new tribe. And you try not to say too much because then you sound as if you were selling something.  And you might contradict yourself.  Sweetie, everybody in this wide world is so constantly, continuously concerned with the impact he's making, he just doesn't have the time to wonder too much about the next guy."

That's McGee, explaining to a friend how he could easily insinuate himself into a group of strangers at a country club.  It's also McGee explaining to his millions of readers that the value you place on yourself is the value the world places on you.  That is wisdom, and it isn't the wisdom you expect from a serial pulp hero.  I think of it as the Travis McGee Wisdom Bonus. I find them delightful, and I love to share the delight I find in life.

I hope you find them delightful also.

Friday, December 27, 2013

And That Has Made All The Difference

by Bert Carson
Christina and I came in from our evening run a few hours ago and one of us said something that prompted the other to say, "And that made all the difference."

For a moment, the source of the phrase eluded us both, so I Googled it.  Before the search was complete, I remembered.  I even remembered hearing Robert Frost reciting The Road Not Taken, and I recalled reciting it myself in workshops and seminars.

Now, it's almost 4 AM, and I can't shake the poem—truth is I'm not trying too hard to shake it.  So, I decided to check out images of country roads with forks.  I found quite a few, but stopped when I found the one above.  Actually it jumped out of the pack, selecting itself.  I posted it and immediately realized that I can look at it, throw my eyes out of focus a bit, and recall facing and making that decision some sixty-five years ago.

Actually, as decisions go, it wasn't much of one.  I approached the fork, saw the choices, and barely slowing, took the road to the right.  I didn't take it because it looked the easiest, and it hasn't been.  I didn't take it because I figured I'd have a lot of company along that way, and I've met precious few who shared my choice.  I didn't take it for any reason other than I knew it was the way for me to go, and that has made all the difference.

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay 
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Messenger - The Message - Naught Else Matters

by Bert Carson
Unlike other ecstatic poets, Kabir was not a monk or an ascetic.  He was married, had children, and made his living weaving cloth.

We don't know if Kabir was Muslim, Hindu, or Sufi.  We do know he was, to quote Robert Bly, one of his translators, a powerful spiritual man and poet.

As such, he seems to have a direct connection with the One, as reflected in his work which comes to us over more than 500 years of time; though no one knows for sure when he was born or when he died, all agree his work is timeless.

Kabir, like the man whose birth we've celebrated this day, did not pull punches.  His message is clear, timeless, and inspirational to those who believe there is more to be had from life and are committed to finding it.  On that note, I share his poem with you.

The Time Before Death - Kabir (version by Robert Bly)

Friend, hope for the Guest, while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think... and think... while you are alive.
What you call "salvation" belongs to the time before death.

If you don't break your ropes while you're alive,
do you think
ghosts will do it after?

The idea that the soul will rejoin with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten—
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.

If you make love with the divine now, in the next life
you will have the face of satisfied desire.

So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is,
Believe in the Great Sound!

Kabir says this:  When the Guest is being searched for;
it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that does all the work.

Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.


Merry Christmas - May your face reflect the satisfied desire of your soul as you walk in joy with the Great Sound.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Writing - It's Not Easy - Never Has Been - Never Will Be

by Bert Carson
Today writer's have tools that streamline the work, but we do not have a tool, nor will we ever have a tool, that will make writing easy.

Jack Woodford said, "If you are turning to writing to escape hard work there is utterly no hope for you—it is far harder than any other work of which I have any knowledge."

I concur but hasten to add, all work, done well, requires effort.  The greater the work one does, the greater the effort they must expend to do it and, here's a slight modification of that thought, the effort expended must equal the level of achievement one expects to attain.  That is true of ALL THINGS, writing, painting, speaking, singing, ditch-digging... all things.

So, the level of achievement intended, determines the effort that must be expended.  Or, as we red necks say, a half-assed effort will not get the job done.

If you came to see about becoming a great writer, don't bother.  It will take the same effort as the last endeavor you failed to accomplish.

There is no glory, no success, no great achievement without great effort. Don't let the slick tools available to writer's today blind you to the fact that to write you must first work, work, and work some more.

If you don't accept that, you'll be in an eternal dark and stormy night.

Enjoy the work.


A Message From Santa

by Bert Carson
I was five when that picture was snapped.  The guy with me looked like Santa but I wasn't convinced.  

Three months earlier, I'd started my school career.  The day I walked into the class room, I was sure about Santa.  Within a week, my confidence in him was almost gone.

Daddy, noticing the change in me, asked, "What's the matter son?"

"The older kids say there is no Santa Claus.  They say parents just made up that story and they put the presents under the tree when the kids go to sleep..."

That’s all I could get out before all the emotion I’d been stuffing erupted and I sobbed.  He wrapped his arms around me and held me close, not speaking until I stopped crying.  Then he squeezed me and said, “Son, just because a lot of people don’t believe in Santa doesn’t mean he isn’t real.  That just means that Santa won’t be stopping at their house.  Those are the houses where parents will have buy presents and put them under the tree while  their children sleep.”

I thought about that, sniffled, and said, “But what if a kid isn’t sure about Santa?  Will Santa  stop at their house?”

Daddy didn’t hesitate, “Well, that won’t be a problem for you Son.  When you go to sleep Christmas Eve, I’ll stay up and ask Santa to come to your room for a minute or two.”

He stopped talking and I wiggled loose from his grasp, moved away from him a bit, looked up and refocused on his eyes.  My Daddy had never told me a single thing that hadn’t proved to be true, but this was the most important thing we’d ever talked about and I wanted to be sure.

He knew what I was doing and met my gaze with his.  He stayed like that for a long time; until I was convinced.  Even then I asked, “Are you sure he’ll come?”

He grinned and said, “I am.”

That didn’t stop the talk at school but it stopped my doubt.  I realized none of the older kids who were telling the youngest of us “the truth about Santa,” would ever believe I was going to meet the real Santa, so I didn’t bother to tell them.   No matter what foolishness someone believes, separating them from that belief is about the most difficult task a human can take on.

Finally the day came.  We did all the things my family did on Christmas Eve.  First, dinner with my mother’s parents, her brother and his wife, and then the traditional opening of all the gifts that had been accumulating under the tree for weeks.   I was growing more impatient by the minute.  Daddy, realizing that, gave me more than one furtive gesture, making it clear I should calm down.  Then it was off to my other grandparents’ home for the same ritual, without dinner, but with many more participants.

Then it was done and we were back in the car headed for our house and my rendezvous with Santa Claus.  It must have been near midnight when mother tucked me in.  As she turned to leave my room, I asked, “Would you please tell Daddy I’d like to talk to him.”

A few minutes later Daddy came in my bedroom, put his finger to his lips and whispered, “Don’t worry.  It’s all set.  I've sent a message to the North Pole and I received an answer.  Santa will take a few minutes to talk to you while he drinks the coffee and eats the cake you left out for him.”
I don’t know how long I slept but I do know that I woke instantly when a hand brushed my shoulder.  I sat up, squinted in the faint light, and was immediately crestfallen when saw that it was Daddy.  I thought he was about to tell me some story about how he missed Santa.  

Instead he whispered, “He’s here,” and stepped away from the bed.

Immediately Santa was framed in the doorway.  He had a cup of coffee in his hand and grin on his face.  He walked to my bedside, touched my hand, and said, “Always remember this night and I will be with you every Christmas Eve.”

He turned, stepped toward the door, stopped, turned back to me and said, “Tell your friends.  That’s your job because I just don’t have time to talk to each of them.”  He grinned again and then he was gone.

Daddy and I sat in silence, broken a few moments later by the sound of hoofs on the roof and the faint twinkling of bells.

Never forget to believe.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Writing, Running, Tracking Both

by Bert Carson
For the past few years I've recorded my runs with a Garmin heart rate monitor watch, with built in GPS.  In addition to the cute little map of the run, I get more stats than you can imagine or that I know what to do with.  For example, the watch records average heart rate, peak heart rate, time and duration of the run, weather, elevation gain and loss, average pace, peak pace, etc. etc.  There's also a place for me to put comments, like, "Why do I do this when I could be sitting in one of the cozy little pubs I just ran past."  That's just an illustration - I don't drink or sit in pubs.  What I do note in the comments section is traffic, which is pretty important since I usually run at night, and how I felt; "strong, fast, smooth," or more often,  this year, "fading, slow, couldn't find the pace."

You might be thinking, 'well, Bert, you're 71, you should be fading, and slow, and off the pace, but that isn't true.  This has been a tough running year because I didn't run enough.  Enough for me is six days a week.  Six times 52 means I should have run 312 times this year.

I ran the run in the illustration at the beginning of the post last Friday evening - it was #126 for the year.  I will, run eight more times this year, giving me a total of 134 runs.  That means I failed to run 178 times.  That's why my speed has gone down the tubes and that's why, in 2013, I've used the words slow, tough, and fading far more than the words, fast and strong.

I love my Garmin watches, and seeing a print out of my runs, but if a running log is going to be an incentive to running it must be more than a collection of illustrated, dated, and numbered sheets of paper.  So, in addition to printing out the stats on each run, I'm going to keep a running journal - it will be a journal with space for every day of the year and I'll make a notation beside each day.   The daily entries will not be elaborate - simply a statement of what I intended to do, what I actually did, and my evaluation of my performance.  At the end of each entry I'll write a cumulative total for the year to date.

As I wrote that last paragraph, I realized I could do the same thing with writing - keep a writing diary, make a daily entry that includes my writing objectives, actual accomplishment, and my thoughts regarding both.  Being a fountain pen addict, I wanted a book that was fountain pen friendly, was compact, and had sufficient page space but not more than I needed.  I found all of that in the Rhodia Meeting Book, available at many online stores - here's the link to the book on one of my favorite sites, - Rhodia Meeting Book at JetPens.Com

I began a trial run of my new tracking method last night.  If you're interested, I'll keep you posted on the results.  If you have suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Merry Christmas,

Thursday, December 19, 2013

On Writing - When Casual Sex and One Night Stands Aren't An Option

by Bert Carson
The Philosophy of Travis McGee #2

In the world of serial characters, Sam Spade, Spenscer, Harry Bosch, Elvis Cole, Lucas Davenport, and many, many others, there are numerous points of agreement.  They are Detectives or private detectives.  They are funny or at least witty.  They never bother to look inward - they are much too sure of themselves.

And then along comes McGee.  Travis McGee, the creation, or extension or John D. MacDonald, sometimes its hard to tell which, who doesn't come close to fitting the mold.  He's not a detective, or even a private detective.  Travis is a salvage specialist.  That works this way (from Deep Blue Good Bye):
"Trav, honey?"
"Were you kidding me that time we talked about... about what you do for a living?"
"What did I say?"
"It sounded sort of strange, but I guess I believed you.  You said if X has something valuable and Y comes along and takes it away from him, and there is absolutely no way in the world X can ever get it back, then you come along and make a deal with X to get it back, and keep half.  Then you just... live on that until it starts to run out.  Is that the way it is, really?"

"It's a simplification, Chook, but reasonably accurate."

Travis McGee is not a detective or private detective.  But what he isn't is not the major difference between McGee and the rest of the pack.  It is what he is that makes the difference.  He is a man willing to examine his life, his motives, his fears, yep, fears.  Not something serial heroes are known for.

And then there's the point of this post.  Casual sex.  McGee is not interested in it, turns it down, and in each of the six books I've read so far, he explains why - in this excerpt from Bright Orange For The Shroud, Travis tells how he feels about sex and why -

"I was awake for a little while in the first gray of the false dawn, and heard the lovers.  It was a sound so faint it was not actually a sound, more a rhythm sensed.  It is a bed rhythm, strangely akin to a heartbeat, though softer.  Whum-fa, whum-fa, whum-fa.  As eternal, clinical, inevitable as the slow gallop of the heart itself.  And as basic to the race, reaching from percale back to the pallet of dried grasses in the cave corner.  A sound clean and true, a nastiness only to all those unfortunates who carry through their narrow days their own little hidden pools of nastiness, ready to spill it upon anything so real it frightens them.

Heard even in its most shoddy context, as through the papery walls of a convention motel, this life-beat could be diminished not to evil but to a kind of pathos, because then it was an attempt at affirmation between strangers, a way to try to stop all the clocks, a way to try to say: I live.

The billions upon billions of lives which have come and gone, and that small fraction now walking the world, came of this life-pulse, and to deny it dignity would be to diminish the blood and need and purpose of the race, make us all bawdy clowns, thrusting and bumping away in a ludicrous heat, shared by our own instinct."

McGee's philosophy is true, honest, and pertinent.  MacDonald's writing is the best I've ever read.  That's why I've fallen for Travis McGee, and his creator, John D. MacDonald, and if it's alright with you, I'll continue to share McGee's philosophy from time to time. 


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Philosophy of Travis McGee - Number 1

by Bert Carson
Travis McGee is a character who was created by John D. MacDonald.  Travis appeared in twenty-one novels, copyrighted from 1964 - 1986.  Recently John D's work has been converted into eBooks and is available in that format at all popular eBook sales outlets.  Most are also available in audio book format, and they are all still in print in paperback.

Caleb Pirtle, with a casual comment, introduced me to the works of John D. and within hours of making the recommendation, I was up to my neck in in The Deep Blue Good-By, the first in the Travis McGee series.  Today I'm half way through number five, A Deadly Shade of Gold.

I'm reading the books on my Kindle, and when I'm driving, I listen to the the Audible version.  On the the Kindle, a passage which has been highlighted is noted and annotated with the number of people who have highlighted it.  Early in the first book, I realized that I'd never seen so many highlighted passages in a novel, any novel.  And the passages that are highlighted are, generally, serious observations made by Travis McGee, who tells the stories in the first-person voice.

John D. MacDonald
After noting a number of such passages, a thought budded and grew in my mind - write a series of blogs centered on what I consider to be the
most powerful of McGee's observations.  I don't mean trite McGee observations that MacDonald added for color, like, "Don't sit on the front row at the ballet."

I'm talking about comments of substance.  Things that you can put in the back of your mind and roll in, inhale, breathe deeply of, and more than likely find that you agree with totally.  Things like:

"I am wary of the whole dreary deadening structured mess we have built into such a glittering top-heavy structure that there is nothing left to see but the glitter, and the brute routines of maintaining it," which, here at the beginning of another Christmas season, jumped off the page like it was lit in flashing neon.

So why bother with a series of blogs about the wisdom of a "pulp fiction" writer?  Because, good writers, the best ones, put everything they have into their books.  No matter the genre, or length of story, or even the relevance of the topic, the essence of the storyteller is there, and in the case of John D. MacDonald, speaking as Travis McGee, and I find it worth considering, pondering, expanding, and understanding.

So, that was number one in what will be at least a 21 blog series.  What do you think?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Invisible Baristas and Invisible Writers

by Bert Carson
An hour ago I pulled into the drive thru lane of one of Starbucks 5,500 coffee houses, just as I do three to five times a week.  As always, I crossed my fingers and inched toward the cold, coffee-brown speaker waiting to take my order.

Before I could bring my vehicle to a full stop a wonderful voice boomed out of the box, "Good morning Good Looking..."

I smiled and uncrossed my fingers - it had worked yet again.  "How do you do that?" I asked.

She laughed.  "I'm not magic.  You're on camera, Sweetie."

Her explanation didn't take away a thing from our conversation.  Of the 151,000 Starbucks employees, Rachel is the only one I know by name, the only one who calls me good looking, the only one who doesn't start our morning talks with, "What can I get started for you?"

That brings me to the point.  Rachel isn't invisible.  She has made a point of not being invisible.  If she weren't at Starbucks I'd still drive through and get my whole milk latte, but because she is, the trip is special.  A hot word being kicked around by writers today, is invisibility.  Most agree that it is a good thing.  I do not think it is a good thing nor do I believe those who maintain that it is have thought about it a lot.

Books are far too personal to be written by invisible entities.  All baristas would be boring if I didn't know Rachel, and, thanks to her, believe that there are others like her waiting behind those faceless drive thru sentinels to speak to me.

What we do not need are authors who come across like a scripted barista, "Hi, welcome to Starbucks.  What can I get started for you?"  I call them writing-by-the-numbers authors.  We need more authors who begin their books like Rachel begins her conversations with me.  Authors like John D. MacDonald, who began Darker Than Amber, with this line - "We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody threw the girl off the bridge."  (see Caleb Pirtle's magnificent blog -  I Never Left John D. MacDonald For Long).

Author's have never been invisible.  In fact, author's are just the opposite.  Authors, if they are worth the price of their book, are the elephant in the room that everyone talks about.  An author is each and every character in the story - he or she is every scene and every moment of the book.  A writer, by the very nature of writing, cannot be invisible.  What a writer must be is REAL, TRUE, and CONSISTENT.

That doesn't mean it always happens that way - in fact, with the ease of publication today, more often than not, writers are anything but real, true and consistent.  But, the fact remains, when a writer who is real, true, and consistent, tells a story, people are drawn to their fire, where they sit in rapt attention as they absorb the tale...

"Thanks, Rachel.  Once again you've made my day..."



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Time Management For Writers

by Bert Carson
Nick Saban is not an efficiency expert.  He is the head football coach of the University of Alabama.

Fredi Gonzales isn't a time management
consultant.  He is the manager of a professional baseball team, the Atlanta Braves.

On the surface it appears the two men do not have a lot in common.  Two different sports.  Two levels of play.  One coaches young men who are still attending school.  The other manages men, some young, some not so young, who have left school and are living their dream, or some portion of it.

There is a less-than-obvious connection between the two men - Me.  I'm the connection.  Before I tell you more about that connection, let me tell you of another commonality the men share. They each lead the most talented group of men to ever play their respective sports, and second, neither of them led their teams to championships this year because of something else they have in common - without going into detail I call that common trait, stupidity-under-fire.

Now, back to me, the common connection between the two men.  I was a rabid fan of both teams until the manager/coach of each overwhelmed me with stupidity.  Even a rabid fan can only take so much.  So I resigned my Atlanta Brave and Alabama Football fan commission and walked away from the sports war.  To quote Chief Joseph, a man who never heard of either football or baseball, "I will fight no more forever."

As soon as I made the decision I realized how much time I've spent watching Gonzalez and Saban mismanage the best athletics in their sports, men I could have taken to the World Series and the BCS Championship game, with one hand tied behind my back.  Then I admitted to myself that I would never even meet one of those players, much less coach them, so I took a deep breath and turned away from games I have no control over, redirecting myself to a game I can manage.

Saban and Gonzalez, thanks to their stupidity-under-fire, have combined to give me five to eight hours a week to devote to my game - writing.   Before accepting their gift, I often fought to find even twenty minutes a day to journal, and suddenly two men who aren't even time managers or efficiency experts have combined to give me almost four hundred hours a years to play my game, and I'm going to use it, every second of it.

Look around in the corners of your life.  You might find a time manager lurking in recesses of your day - a person who is grabbing an hour or two of your time without you even realizing you've been robbed.  Someone who is taking away your game.  When you find him or her, take your game back.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Writing On Paper With A Pen

by Bert Carson

You are either reading this post on my website, Venture Galleries Website, or your computer, where it arrived in your email.  No matter where you are reading it, it isn't where I originally wrote it.

I'm sitting at my desk, watching these words flow out of my newest fountain pen, a Pilot Custom 823, onto a lined notebook, manufactured in Japan by Kokuyo Sat Co., Ltd, a firm that specializes in fountain pen friendly paper, notebooks, and journals.

I could be writing this directly on my blog site, or onto a Microsoft Word document, or into a new Scrivener file, and ultimately I will transcribe it from this notebook onto one of those platforms.  Yep, even at age 71, I can still type–45 words a minute last time I checked.  I even understand spell check, auto format, and yes, I know the value of time.  In fact, it's because I have sense of time that doesn't take into account a timepiece that I chose to write this with a fountain pen on paper.

The sense of time that I am referring to isn't about quantity but rather quality at the point where the story leaves my head and goes on paper.

I doubt that I write a third as fast with a pen as I do with a word processor but the creative level of my writing rises noticeably when the words are coming from a fountain pen rather than a keyboard.

I stumbled onto fountain pens a long time ago, forty-six years ago to be exact.  I was in Vietnam, Camp Bearcat, the Post Exchange, first looking at cameras, then stereos, and finally watches.  I glanced at my watch, noted that it was time to head back to my company area and  get ready for my shift as Sergeant-of-the-guard, when it a caught my eye–a dark blue Schaeffer fountain pen in a matching presentation case.

I had the presence of mind not to purchase it then, though it was love at first sight.  I knew if I bought it in that moment, I would carry it to the berm (the outer perimeter of Camp Bearcat) and give it my attention rather than focusing on the jungle, no-man's land between it and us, and the incessant bitching of the men under my command.

The following morning, when our guard shift ended, a driver picked up me  and my men.  Before I climbed in the back of the truck, I walked to the cab, stepped up on the running board, and said to the driver, "Corporal, drop me at the PX."

He glanced at his watch, then looked at me and said, "Sarge, they won't open for almost an hour."

I laughed and said, "I know.  I want to be the first customer."

I was the first customer that long-ago day.  I bought the pen that I'd thought about all night, and over the next year and a half used it to write countless letters.  I brought it home from Vietnam and retired it when I moved back into the make-every-minute-count world.
Fifteen years later, I decided to bring it out of retirement and discovered I had not gotten custody of it in my first divorce.  So I bought a new one.
In the years since, I have purchased and used more fountain pens than I can count.  I've used them for writing letters and journaling and my love for them has grown steadily.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I read a blog post by J. Mark Bertrand, a novelist who writes all his first drafts with his fountain pen.  I thought, what a waste of time, and then I thought, why would I even consider doing that?

I kicked the question around in my head for a few days and got no answer, so I decided to take it to my journal, where I began to write about the advantages and disadvantages of writing on real paper with a real pen.

I wrote a couple of pages of nonsense, which is my normal head clearing process, and then, amazed, I watched the answer flow from the pen onto the paper:

Words written with a pen flow smoothly from my head to my paper.  Words written with a word processor are pounded into existence.

I looked at what I'd written and felt the truth of the words.  I let my eyes go out of focus and saw Steinbeck hunched over his notebook as Grapes of Wrath flowed from his pen.  I shook my head, picked up my pen and wrote - "If it was good for John Steinbeck it will be good for me."

If you'd like to explore the world of fountain pens and fine paper, here are a couple of my favorite links:

Jet Pens:
Inkophile Blog
J. Mark Bertrand's Blog (for writers & Pen nuts:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Good Books - Bad Books - What Are You Looking For?

Donald Hamilton
by Bert Carson

I'm 71 years old.  For 67 of those years, I've been an avid reader.  I've never, in all those years said, "I'm looking for a bad book, can you help me find one?"  However, countless times during those years I've said what you've said more times than you can count, "I'm looking for a good book, can you help me?"

Thanks to advances in digital publishing, there are more authors now than ever before in history, and still I'm searching for a good book to read... or at least I was until two days ago.

That's when I decided to try a Jack Reacher novel for a reason that isn't obvious.  I've become a Kindle/Whispersync for Voice fan.  If you aren't familiar with that, it means that on some Kindle books, I can buy an audible version that will remain synced with the Kindle version - in other words, while I'm driving to my day job, I can listen to a book on my Audible phone app, and when I arrive, close the app, and my progress will be synced to the Kindle version, so that when I open my Kindle, it's at the spot where I stopped listening to the audible version.  Now that's a technological advance I can live with.

In browsing for a Kindle book with whispersync for voice, I stumbled on Jack Reacher, bought book one in Kindle format and added the audible version.  Jack Reacher, like Harry Bosch, Joe Pike, and Elvis Cole, is entertaining, but I have to admit, none of them represent characters from great literature.  As I was thinking that  listening to Reacher, I had a revelation.  Though Lee Child, in nothing I've read about him or his character, Jack Reacher, admits it, there is a striking similarity between Jack Reacher and Matt Helm, the character created by Donald Hamilton in the seventies.

There are twenty-seven novels in the Matt Helms series.  They were published over a period of three decades beginning in 1960.  I began reading them in 1960, the year I graduated from high school, and I haven't stopped.  Now Titian, Hamilton's publisher, is republishing all of them in ebook format, and I'm rereading them because, you guessed it, they are good books.  In fact, they are far more than good books, they are great books, well written, funny, timeless, and addictive.

Some years I don't think think about them, or at least I don't think that I think about them, but now, I know I do.  I know that Matt Helm and Donald Hamilton are always with me and have been since 1960.  In Death of a Citizen, Matt Helm, out of the business and living a new life for fifteen years, said, on being recontacted:

"I'd stopped in the middle of the room.  For a moment, all the cocktail-party sounds had faded completely from my consciousness.  I was looking at Tina.  There was nothing in the world except the two of us, and I was back in a time when our world had been young and savage and alive, instead of being old and civilized and dead.  For a moment it was as if I, myself, had been dead for fifteen years, and somebody had opened the lid of the coffin and let in light and air."

That is fine writing, literature actually, and it's exactly how I felt when I opened the old book on my new Kindle.  I haven't been dead for fifteen years, but, I have been living in the land of marketing books and only on rare occasions visiting the world of good writing, without which there is no need to market one's writing.

There are three things a person must do in order to become a good writer.  In order of importance, they are:

Write - Read - Market

I'm delighted with today's ease of publishing.  I'm appalled that it has spawned a generation of writers who obviously have never read a good book, nor do they know a damn thing about writing one.  All they know is how to create flashy covers, inundate social media web sites with offers, and wait for monthly checks. The swamp of unreadable tripe we've produced will, at the very least, alienate more than a few of our potential readers, but that isn't the biggest issue.  Readers will find good writers, even if they have to wade through thousands and thousands of miles of swamps.

The problem is, we, writers, aren't learning our craft.  We aren't reading and writing - we are marketing.  I know we have to market, but if we aren't practicing our art and reading the work of those who have, what do we have to market?


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Fussy Librarian - For Readers and Writers

By Bert Carson
The Fussy Librarian is a new service for authors promoting their work and for readers searching for a good read.

The Fussy Librarian is like a matchmaking service.  You type in your email, tell them what kind of books you like to read and how you feel about profanity, violence and sex in novels.  Then a daily email comes with your book recommendations.

They are featuring my book, Fourth and Forever, on October 22nd.  They are very supportive of authors like me and I'd appreciate it if you'd support them.

Here's the link:


I Have A Dream

by Bert Carson
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "I have a dream..." and then he lived it.  We all have dreams.  For reasons we feel we cannot overcome, few of us live them.

However, and this is a good thing for all of us, there are some of us who never lose sight of their dreams.  No matter how convincing the reasons are for them to hang up their dreams, they hang onto them instead.  And then one day, they stand up and move away from mediocrity, toward their dream.

David Thoreau expressed that moment in these well known words:  "...if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours..."

To Thoreau's words, I would add:  "And without intending to, he will lift all those around him and give them new power to once again advance toward their dream."

This is what that actually looks like:

Thanks, for sharing your life with me.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Eva Cassidy - "Quite Simply the Most Beautiful Song..."

by Bert Carson
Stephen Woodfin, lawyer, writer, musician, voice-over actor, and good friend, introduced me to Eva Cassidy via email with an attached YouTube video.

Stephen said, "As the leaves change, I always think of her rendition of Autumn Leaves.  It is quite simply the most beautiful song I ever heard anyone perform."

That's high praise from the man who introduced me to the amazing world of Jimmy Webb with little more than, "He's a pretty good songwriter."

I knew when I listened to Eva I wanted to share her and her rendition of  Autumn Leaves with you.  There are a number of versions of the clip on YouTube - I selected this one because of the additional info about Eva, which the creator of the clip added at the end of the song.  Enjoy.

Obviously this post is about Eva Cassidy and Autumn Leaves, but it's about more than that–much more.  This is about the worldwide web and all of the amazing friends it has brought to me.  

I started to list a few of them and immediately found the task overwhelming.  I'm not talking about my 12,000 followers on Twitter.  I'm talking about the group of people I've met on the internet that I now consider close friends.  I'm talking about people who are closer to me than my neighbors and closer than most of my business associates.  A group of friends who, in the U.S., are scattered from Minnesota to Texas, and from California to Vermont.  And then there's the international bunch, from sexy Emma (France and the U.K.), to cosmopolitan Frederick (Switzerland), to Russell the bandito (Mexico), to romantic Ryan (Israel), and, of course, to you.  

There are a lot of things wrong with the cyber world. However, the connection with real people you'd have most likely never met otherwise isn't one of them.

Thanks, for sharing your life with me.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Joy or Satisfaction or Something Else?

by Bert Carson

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright, The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light; And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout, But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out. 
from Casey at the Bat - by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

I've been thinking about this post for more than a week–maybe even two weeks.  I wanted to make sure I got it right so I haven't rushed it.  It's fitting that I opened with the final verse from "Casey at the Bat," since I am blocking this out while watching The Detroit Tigers play the Boston Red Sox in game two of the American League Championship Series.  

At the end of seven innings, Detroit led Boston 5 - 1, and there was almost no no joy in Boston - at least no joy from the game.  And then a grand slam tied the game in the bottom of the eighth inning, and once again there was joy in Boston.  The joy meter jumped even higher in the bottom of the ninth when Boston won the game.  

That happened an hour or so ago, and I'm sure  by now, the emotion that some Bostonian's mistakenly labeled joy, is gone.  Not because the series is tied and will continue Tuesday in Detroit but because joy cannot be derived from winning or getting even or bettering someone.  At best, the emotion we experience when that happens is satisfaction, which is both fleeting and unsatisfying.

Think of it this way: Satisfaction is ego based and by its very nature temporary.  When I searched for images of satisfaction, I found that at least 80%  were statements like this: Satisfaction guaranteed or 100% guaranteed.  If you think about it, you'll realized that is pretty much a meaningless statement.  It might be better to guarantee one would not be dissatisfied.  Satisfaction or dissatisfaction can only be defined by the one who experiences it, and usually by the time it's defined, it's long gone.

Joy, on the other hand, cannot be given, earned or guaranteed.  It's ours when we release our attachment to control, dominate, win, be right, etc.  In that moment of release, joy washes over us and carries us to heights we'd forgotten, in our struggle to hold on to our attachments.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Where's The Playground

by Bert Carson
Last weekend, while driving to Kentucky on a day job mission, I tuned in the Bob Edwards show and was delighted when I heard he was interviewing one of my favorite song writer/musicians–Jimmy Webb.

Bob and Jimmy are old friends and had a delightful hour reminiscing and occasionally promoting Jimmy's newest album, Still Within The Sound of My Voice.  Back home, I went on line and purchased it and my Jimmy Webb delight continued.  As I listened, I realized that the man has written 90% of my all-time favorite songs.

Included on the album is "Where's The Play Ground Susie," one of many Glen Campbell/Jimmy Webb collaborations that became a hit.  I'll include an old video link to an early version of the song at the end of this post.

The lyrics, like all of Jimmy's lyrics, are profound.  Click on the link for the full song.  Here's the verse that grabs me the hardest.

The carousel has stopped us here
It twirled a time or two and then it dropped us here
And still you're not content with something about me
But what merry-go-round can you ride without me
To take your hand?  How would you stand?

I know that it's a lost love song, but what hit me when I heard it was it applies equally well to the human condition.  We are in this life thing together.  We don't have a clue how we arrived here, or where the next stop will be, but that shouldn't keep us from enjoying the trip.  It seems to me that will never happen as long as there are eight to ten armed conflicts being waged on the planet at any given time.

If we dedicate ourselves first to peace, then to the happiness of everyone on the planet, with the same zeal that we fight and kill, we'd not have to ask, "Where's the playground?"  Every place would be a playground.

(Note - you will have to click on the "watch on YouTube link in the video frame because lawyers are, for the moment, running the world we all live in.)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Live Like Horses

by Bert Carson

Live Like Horses is the title of an old Elton John hit.  This morning I was listening to it as I worked, when the lyrics really slammed home, so I decided to share it with you.

To  do that, I went to YouTube to find a video and I discovered more than I expected.  At some point in time, the lyrics must have slammed home with Luciano Pavarotti also and he recorded the song with Elton.  Here's the video clip, with lyrics pasted below.  Enjoy.

I can't control this flesh and blood
That's wrapped around my bones
It moves beneath me like a river
  into the great unknown
I stepped onto the moving stairs
Before I could tie my shoes
Pried a harp out the fingers of a renegade
Who lived and died the blues

We're the victims of the heartbreak
That kept us short of breath
Trapped above these bloodless streets
Without a safety net

I stood in line to join the trial
One more customer of fate
Claimed a spoke in the wheel
  of the wagon train
On the road to t he golden gate

Someday We'll live like horses
Free reign from your old iron fences
There's more ways than one
to regain your senses
Break out the stalls and
we'll live like horses

Monday, September 23, 2013

I'll Do My Best

Bob Montgomery
by Bert Carson
Christina and I are writers, bloggers and runners.  In addition, we are two of the three employees of United Portrait Studios–a three person, child portrait photography company.

Though we each invest 60-80 hours per week in the small business, it needs more: time, expertise, and effort.  That's where Bob Montgomery comes in.  He's our account manager–our "go to man" at Advanced Photographic Solutions, a 90,000 square foot, volume photo processing facility located in Cleveland, Tennessee.

If it weren't for the super-human effort he expends on our behalf on a routine basis, we wouldn't have time to do anything else outside of United Portrait Studios.

Account Managers, once a mainstay in our economy, are a vanishing breed, and I know why.   When financial managers look for places to cut expenses, account managers scream from the P&L statement, "Here, I am.  Take me," and all too often, that's exactly what happens.  Then when the business begins to circle the drain, those who pulled the plug on their account managers, their only direct links to their customers, shrug and said, "I guess it's just the economy."

I know that we are fortunate to have Bob Montgomery assigned to our account, because I know when I explain to Bob what needs to be done and he says, "I'll do my best," that is more than good enough–it is a done deal.

"I'll do my best," isn't an empty phrase with Bob Montgomery.  "I'll do my best," is Bob's commitment to me, Christina, Adrienne, and all of our customers, that the job will be done.

Bob, thanks more than you'll ever know-and HAPPY BIRTHDAY, my friend.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Audible Books - When You Don't Have An Upstairs Closet

by Bert Carson
I don't know if home recording studios are on the verge of becoming the next new thing for indie writers or if it just seems that way because of my new obsession with the subject.
It began when I noticed the growing availability of Whispersync for voice books in the store.  If you aren't familiar with that term, it refers to a Kindle book that in addition to digital format, is also available as an audible book that can be synced, between devices as the book is read.  In my case, that means I can listen to a book on a phone app as I'm driving, and as soon as I reach my destination, close the app, fire up my Kindle, and pick up where I left off.

If you are wondering what the title of this post has to do with that, let me explain.  Stephen Woodfin is a friend (in spite of his being a Texas A&M fan) and a fine author.  He is also owns a home recording studio where he recently finished recording his first Audible Audio Book, The Last One Chosen.  Today he published a blog, The Creation Of An Audio Book From Start To Finish, detailing his building the studio, assembling the gear, and navigating the learning curve.   Early in the post, Stephen mentions building his studio in an upstairs closet, and that's what the title of this post refers to.

A couple of months ago, Christina and I decided to follow Stephen down the path to Audible Books.  He has shared his adventure in our weekly conferences with Caleb Pirtle and him, his partner in Venture Galleries, but we were stymied when he selected a spare closet upstairs as the location for his studio.  We don't have an extra closet and further complicate matters, we don't have an upstairs.

It took a while, but we found an answer that works for us.  At the heart of the solution is the Porta Booth Pro, created by voice over artist Harlan Hogan.  Click the link to see a demonstration video. Though we're behind our Texas friends, and we're on a single-story, no closet, path, we share their objective, and, like Stephen, we will keep you posted on the path to Audible Books.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What Amazes You/

by Bert Carson
Research Notes:
This post was inspired by two things (that I'm conscious of).
1. Seth's book, Tribes
2. Bojangles "Trophy Wife" commercial

I was listening to the audio version of the book, Tribes, while driving yesterday, and I was more than a little surprised when, to illustrate a point, Seth mentioned the Tesla Roadster, a model I'd never heard of, built by a car company I'd also never heard of.  There was a day when I knew every car company. On my 71st birthday, it was a rude reminder to discover there was one I didn't know–and a little voice immediately pointed out there are probably other car companies you don't know about, and that's nothing, imagine how many other things you've let get by you.

That less-than-flattering thought brought to mind the Bojangles commercial, and the classic line, delivered by a great young actor:  "It holds tea!" 

We are so swamped in information, we often miss things we would really like to know, and I don't mean things like a box of chicken that also holds tea. I mean things like, there is a car company in California which builds an electric car that is light years ahead of the competition.

I mean things like, there is a man names Harlan Hogan, who specializes in TV and Radio voice-over acting, who has written books and created products that make it easy to build a home recording studio.  I mention that one because I stumbled on Harlan when I began my building-a-home-recording-studio learning curve (if that interests you, check out Stephen Woodfin's blog at Venture Galleries).

And, my point is: There is no reason to drown in the information swamp when there is specific information readily available on anything you'd like to know. Bottom Line:

Know what amazes you and put your focus there.

Monday, September 9, 2013

How Young Are You?

by Bert Carson
Last night, at about 9:30, I left the house to run.  I had half a plan.  Sunday and Monday are very quiet nights in downtown Huntsville, so I planned to run around Big Springs Park.

Big Spring was once the reservoir for what was soon to become a thriving cotton and timber-based industry  city.  Big Spring is now a well used, beautifully maintained park, that occupies more than four square blocks of downtown Huntsville.

By day it belongs to a multitude of visitors that range from young couples with children who are there to feed the ducks and geese, to older couples who are killing time after visiting the Huntsville Art Museum, or middle-agers waiting for show time at the Von Braun Convention Center.

By night, Big Spring Park belongs to a few homeless people, smitten lovers, and me.  As I approached the back entrance near the main source of the spring, I saw a tall man walking casually toward his car. I was over a block away, so I couldn't be sure, but he moved like a young man, maybe a dancer, or someone whose activities required grace and coordination.

He slid into his car, parked next to the entrance of the park, and I realized only the second half of my appraisal was correct.  He was tall and graceful, but beyond the way he moved and the sparkle in his eyes, he wasn't young.  He had almost as much gray in his hair as I have in mine, and only my psyche remains young.

Our eyes met, we grinned, and nodded, then he said something I couldn't hear.  I stopped, popped the ear-bud out of my right ear and said, "Sorry, with my music cranked up I couldn't hear you."

"I'm just curious," he said.  "How young are you."

"Seventy," I said.  Before he could respond, I added, "I should note that in a couple of hours I'll be seventy-one."

"Well, you're looking good he said." And I knew he meant it.

"Thanks, you too."

He waved, cranked his car, and I jump-stepped back into my jog.  A few minutes later, as I crossed the raised bridge and looked down at the large group of koi lazily holding their usual position on the north side of the bridge, I repeated his question - How young are you - and considered it as I ran.

Physically, there is a definite difference between twenty-one and seventy-one.  The funny part of that is, at twenty-one, I could not have run the six and half mile loop I knocked out last night. However, to be perfectly honest, had I been a runner then, I would have been much faster than I am now, fifty years later.

As I turned toward home, I got the answer to the stranger's question– I'm as young today as I've ever been, and its way too late for that to change.

So, how young are you?


Friday, August 30, 2013

Avoiding Imperial Entanglements

by Bert Carson

You don't have to go far, probably just inside your head is far enough, to find the complaint center for the way things are being handled.  But, it's not just a head trip. eavesdrop on any conversation, and you'll hear the same thing that is going on in your head:

"It's hard for me to believe that we elected these people..."
"Clearly, they have no regard for people..."
"I'm telling you, we are circling the drain and no seems to..."
"What do think it will take to get them to..."
"It's not happening in their neighborhood..."
"Maybe we are chasing the wrong people with those damn drones..."

I overheard those remarks yesterday, while waiting in line at Starbucks.  Like you, and the rest of our friends and neighbors, I'd heard it all before, so I didn't bother to listen for the rest–too focused on a grande, whole milk, latte, I suppose.  Or maybe it's because I've heard it all before.  Or maybe it worse than that.  Maybe I'm just like Obi-Wan, intent on "avoiding any Imperial Entanglements."

Obi-Wan said, "Let's just say we would like to avoid any Imperial Entanglements."
Hans Solo replied, "Well, that's the real trick, isn't it?"

Edmund Burke is best remembered for saying, "All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."  Nothing has changed since he said it over two hundred years ago, and nothing will ever change until "good men" change it.

Maybe it's time to quit complaining at Starbucks (and everywhere else) and take a run at the Empire.