Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Only One

Number 28 in the Norman Rockwell inspired blog series

This Norman Rockwell painted cover appeared on the April 6, 1961 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.  As I looked at it, I realized that I should start this post with a summary of the number of wars being fought on that date vs the number being fought today.

Guess what, no one knows either number.  What I thought would be a definitive statement is, in fact, too large a number to be accurately calculated, either then or today.

The New Thought movement, since its inception, has turned many truths into cliches.  One of the most profound of those is, "There is only one of us here."

I believe that all life is sacred, and at some level, every man, woman, and child on the planet believes the same thing.  If that weren't true, why we would fight so hard to save ours or that of a loved one.  And, what's the difference between one of us and another, in the eyes of God, or Allah, or The Absolute.  Obviously, there is no difference.

Judgement is all that stands between us and universal peace and prosperity.

When we get rid of judgement, all wars will end and peace and prosperity will reign.

No politician, no government, no institution can make that happen.  It starts with us, not outside us.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

No Difference

Number 27 in the Norman Rockwell inspired blog series.

The word magnitude, in mathematics, means, "the relative size of an object."  

In everyday language, magnitude means "the importance, quality, or caliber of something."  

Jesus told a parable of a King who told a group of his followers what they did to the least of the kingdom, they did to him, and what they failed to do for the least of the kingdom, they failed to do for him.

Jesus understood that there is no magnitude, regardless of appearances.  The cobbler in Rockwell's painting is struggling with the concept, as most of us do, and for the same reasons.  First, he's too close to the subject, and second, he's comparing one size shoe to another size shoe.

When we back away and remove the standard of measurement, magnitude becomes a meaningless word.  Imagine for a moment what life would be like if you weren't dealing with the issue of magnitude.   Why, you could do the best at everything you do, without concern about the magnitude of the task.  That means writing a blog is as important as writing a novel, a three mile run is the same as a marathon, and talking to your neighbor across the hedge is no different than addressing a group of your coworkers at the annual sales meeting.

Wow.  That means everything does matter - and it does.

The Sages - Episode 13

A serialization of The Sages: Book One of the Mystic Trilogy
The Mystic Trilogy Series is three volumes, recorded by Joseph Sanders, a native of Oklahoma, who chose to commit his life to learning and living universal truth. The books are neither fiction nor non-fiction. The Mystic Trilogy is what you would have it be.

Episode Thirteen
I finished my walk-around of the ship, which included every deck, and the wharf, and extended to the office of Zhen Zheng, the Harbor Master, an old friend. As soon as I entered the office, he greeted me with great enthusiasm, as he did every time we arrived at Phu Quoc.
Zhen Zheng, a Chinese National, who had moved to Vietnam with his new bride thirty years ago, suspected there was more to the Celestial Navigator than just another tramp freighter sailing the world. In fact, he knew there was more, he just couldn’t figure out what it was, and he was too polite to ask.
The Celestial Navigator has docked at Pho Quoc, at least once, and sometimes two times per year, for seventy-five years. For almost forty of those years, Zhen Zheng had been working in the Harbor Master’s office and for the past ten he had been the Harbor Master. Not only has he seen the ship at least thirty times, he had met with ten different Masters of the Celestial Navigator. The turn over in commanding officers had to have brought up questions in his mind, though he had never asked a single one.
We talked for a while, just general conversation, then he glanced at his watch, and I knew general conversation was over. I made a move to stand, and he said, “One more moment, Captain Sanders.”  continue

Monday, January 14, 2013

Let me tell you a story

Number 26 in the Norman Rockwell inspired blog series.

Before I tell you the story, there are a couple of "set up" things I'd like to share.

First, if you've been following my Norman Rockwell inspired blog series, you know that this post wasn't scheduled to be number 26.  Don't be concerned.  I will get back on track, and you will get the originally scheduled number 26, which by the way, will be titled, No Difference.

Second, I was tempted to call this blog Me and Musberger, but decided against it, because using the name Musberger might keep some potential readers from reading the post.

Here's the story.  In case you missed it, last Monday (Jan 7, 2013) Alabama played Notre Dame for the college football championship.   And if you missed it, you obviously don't care who won, or if you're like my friends David Atkinson and Emma Calin, you're still wondering why there are points on our footballs.  So I'm not going to talk about the game, though I must admit it is tempting. 

Instead, I'm going to talk about comments that were made by Brent Musberger, the game's primary commentator, and the discussions, apologies, and truth-avoidance that have unfolded since he made them.  

Rather than spend three thousand words telling you what Brent said - here's a clip.  You can see and hear it for yourself.  

I don't often watch or listen to the news.  This morning, on the way to Starbucks to get a latte for my lovely wife, I happened to hear a segment from a popular NPR news talk show.  I couldn't believe that Brent's remarks about Katherine Webb were still headline news a week after the event.  That's why I listened to everything that was being said.  Since then, I've done a half hour's worth of research, and here's what I've discovered.

  • Brent's remarks are being labeled "sexist."
  • When Brent's name is mentioned his age is always noted - "73 year-old Brent Musberger," or more creatively, "Brent Musberger, 73."
  • ESPN, one of Musberger's employers apologized for the commentator.
  • Brent didn't apologize.
  • Katherine Web said she didn't expect an apology because what he said wasn't offensive.
Now, let me tell you a story, the one that isn't being told.  Musberger's remarks weren't sexist, though they could cost him his job, and if that happens, sexist remarks will be the reason given.  Those who are upset over the remarks aren't upset for the reason they are giving.  They are upset because Brent Musberger violated a rule that each of us has been inoculated with since we were kids.  He failed to "act his age." 

Age is a basic standard in our judgement system.  Until you're five years old, everything you say is "cute."  After five, everything you say is judged first by your age.  For example, when you are sixteen you can talk about sex like you are an expert, and everyone over twenty-five knows that you are making it up as you go, and that's to be expected "at your age".  I will also note that sexual remarks made between the ages of 25 and 40 are usually made gender to gender: men will lie to men about their sexual exploits, and both the teller and the hearer know that lies are being told.  Women tell women about their sexual experiences, and I'm never privy to those conversations.  

Now we have come full circle and we're back to Musberger and my contention that the entire issue is about age, not sexism.  Note, if a forty year old jock had made the same comments about Katherine Webb, no one of have blinked, much less gotten upset over it.  Also worth noting is, I suspect that more than one woman looked at A.J. McCarron, Alabama's quarterback and Katherine Webb's boyfriend and said, aloud and or to herself, "My, he is a lovely." 

We have an unreasonable expectation that one day, if we "act grown up" long enough, we will wake up and be grown up.  This is Norman Rockwell's painting of himself and a Boy Scout.  Rockwell called the painting Scouting.  Obviously Rockwell depicted himself in the painting at about the same age as "73 year-old Brent Musberger," and he would like for you to think of him as a man who has "grown up" and become the personification of the Boy Scout Pledge:

On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

I love Norman Rockwell.  However, I also know, based on 70 years of waiting for the day that I would be "grown up," that the two figures he has depicted in the painting, Scouting, are the same age.  Obviously I'm not talking about their calendar age.  I'm taking about their ego age.  

Each of us is the product of a collection of beliefs that we accumulated from age two or three through the ages of ten to twelve.  We have taken those beliefs, moved them around, lined them up, personified, and organized them, until they formed our picture of who we are, and who we expect everyone else to be.  In effect, we are all ten to twelve years old, acting like we believe a (insert your calendar age here) should act.  And, and this is where Brent comes back into the conversation, he failed to act like we believe a 73 year-old should act.  Which, by the way, looks something like this:

Isn't that lovely?  Exactly what we've been taught to expect an old man to be.  
And now, 72 year old Norman Rockwell painting 25 year old Ann Margret in 1966.

Once again, a picture is worth a thousand words, or as in this case, three pictures are worth three thousand words - Thanks, Norman.  Thanks Brent, for not apologizing and Katherine, thanks for knowing that there was nothing to be apologized for.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Number 25 in the Norman Rockwell inspired blog series.

When I found this Norman Rockwell painting, I downloaded it to my Rockwell Blog Series, into a folder I named, "Trains."  My original intention was to call the post Trains.  Last night, I wrote the blog, in longhand, with a fountain pen, in my journal.  Finished, I read and tweaked it a bit, and then I changed the title to Jessie.  Here's what I wrote.  Read it and you'll know why I did that.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my mother's father, Basil Carlton King, who I called Daddy King.  Now I'll tell you about another equally amazing man in my life, Paw Paw, my other grandfather, you can call him Jessie.  Paw Paw, wasn't my biological grandfather.  He was, I suppose, my step-grandfather, if there is such a thing.   

My biological grandfather, on my father's side of the family, was Bert Carson (the first one), I am the third, and my son is the fourth.  Bert Carson, the first, died at age 50 in an industrial accident.  I'll tell you more about him in a blog I'll probably call "The Fighters."

Paw Paw, a widower, with two sons, James and Ed, met and married Lily Carson, known to me as "My Mama."  Lily was a  widow, and, like Jessie, she had two sons, my father (the second Bert Carson) and Carl.  Together they produced a daughter, Gwen.  The seven of them became a hell of a family, living through the depression like it was an everyday event and, I suppose, in an important way it was.  That way was, they were never broke or dispossessed.  

The children were a full-time job for my grandmother, and judging from the results, I'm confident when I say that she did her job well.  Jessie's job was providing an income and housing for the family.  He did his job as well as My Mama did hers.  He started working for Southern Railroad, delivering telegrams, when he was fourteen years old.  From the first until his last day on the job, almost sixty years later, he never missed a day of work due to sickness.  At the time he died, he was the oldest operating engineer with the railroad.

Thanks to his seniority, Paw Paw, and his four man crew, weren't "on the road."  They picked up and delivered freight in the Birmingham area.  That made it easy for him to take his grandsons, of which I was number three of seven, to work with him.  

I rode with him a number of times.  On those occasions  Mother or Daddy delivered me to my grandparent's house where I had breakfast with My Mama and Paw Paw.  I have no recollection of those meals.  I was way too focused on the upcoming day.   I stayed with him and his crew until late morning, when we reached the crossing at 1st Avenue.   There, Paw Paw would put me on the bus that took me home.

Paw Paw and Me
It's pretty awesome for a little kid when his grandfather stops his train at a crossing, waits for the right bus, then swings out of the cab and flags it over to the side of the street.  

That's not all he did.  He walked back to the engine, lowered me to the ground, walked beside me to the bus, and then swung me up beside the bus driver.  At that point, he always said the same thing to the  bus driver,  "This is my grandson, Bert Carson, he is a special young man.  Here's his address."  The he paused, reached into the bib pocket of his overalls and pull out a slip of paper, glanced at it to confirm it was the right one, then handed it to the driver, as he continued, "His house is on your route.  I'd appreciate it if you'd stop there and let him off.  His mother will be waiting for you."

The drivers always looked up from the paper at that point, took the fare he handed them, and with utmost respect, simply said, "Yes, Sir.  I'll take care of it," often adding, "It will be a pleasure," or you can count on it."  For years I thought that happened because he was the train engineer.  Now I know better.

Those train rides happened more than sixty years ago, yet they remain vivid memories.  Here's why.  What I remember most isn't the operation of train, blowing the whistle, leaning out the window, or even having the bus flagged down on my account.

The memories that override all of those are the memories of witnessing the power in the presence of Jessie Powers.  On the job, he wasn't Paw Paw, he was Jessie Powers, the senior operating engineer of Southern Railroad.  From the time we entered the building which marked the beginning of our trip, we were greeted and trailed by a chorus of greetings; "How are you, Jessie, " "Good morning, Jessie," and "Who is your friend, Jessie?"  He acknowledged each person, like a benevolent king moving through a throng of his people, and he stopped often to introduce me.  

Later, with me, and his crew, he reviewed the work they were scheduled to accomplish that day, and at each task he gave the plan they would execute to complete the task.  That accomplished, the engine was started, and with the fireman, the three of us performed an exacting walk around inspection of the engine.  When he was sure that everything was alright, he lifted me up to the cab, and climbed up behind me.  In the tight confines of "his office," he lifted me onto his seat, where I watched while he and the fireman, performed a meticulous in-cab inspection.

From my perch, I could see other train crews outside, performing the same routine, but even at my age, I knew it wasn't the same.  Something was missing.  It was years before I figured out what it was.  I'm not a slow study.  The delay was probably a result of having the good fortune, in my early years,  to be with some awesome men - men who were larger than life.  Men who molded and shaped life to fit them rather than conforming to circumstance.  

Jessie Powers was a force in his world.  He was a positive force for all that was good, and true, and right.  Everyone who worked with him felt it and came away a better person thanks to the time they had spent together.   Today, I don't have a problem understanding the force that Paw Paw was in the world even though today it is a rare, seldom seen force.

We could use a whole lot more like Jessie Powers today.

He was the personification of this thought from Albert Einstein:

  "We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life.
All that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about."

                    Watch for No Difference, Number 26 in the Norman Rockwell inspired blog series


Friday, January 11, 2013

Fountain Pens

I am a fountain pen addict.  I know it, and I've known it for a long time.  As I look back, I can trace my addiction to the day, in Vietnam, when I saw that Sheaffer fountain pen under the glass of the display case, way in the back of the PX.

Fountain pens were still common in those days, though their time of popularity was rapidly drawing to a close.

I've never wanted anything as bad as I wanted that pen, which I did not get, and the pen was no exception.  Before the PX closed that night, it was mine.  The Sheaffer wasn't a trophy.  I don't do trophies.  I became a letter writing machine, thanks to the pen.

I couldn't always count on the PX for paper and ink.  While most guys wrote home asking for cookies, I asked for paper and ink.  I wore that pen out and bought another one.

At the end of my time in Vietnam,  I packed it away.  I saw it a couple of times in the years after the war, and then I didn't see it again.  I suspect that my first ex-wife sold it, along with anything else of value I left, in an attempt to salvage something for the fourteen years she had invested in the marriage.

Of course, besides the the pen, and a couple of cameras, she did get two great kids, who beget four equally great kids, who even now are siring great kids of their own.   I love them all, though we seldom even pass in the night, running on different courses, in different seas, as we are.  Still, I'm proud of them all, and every day take a moment to wish them well.

Still, I miss that Sheaffer pen.

This was the twenty-third blog that was inspired by and illustrated with a Norman Rockwell painting.  I will call the next in the series either Jessie or Trains, in either case it will illustrated with this Rockwell painting:


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Highway Memorials

When I was a kid, the Alabama Highway Department marked intersections where motorists had died, with a small white cross about eight inches high.  From the fourth through the eighth grade, I lived in Childersburg, Alabama, a town, on Highway 280, a little less than fifty miles south of Birmingham.  Five miles north of Childersburg is an even smaller town, Harpersville.

Harpersville is located at the junction of Highway 231 and Highway 280.  There were so many accidents and subsequent fatalities there that the Highway Department's miniature crosses grew to be a miniature cemetery.  I didn't think much about that until one foggy Saturday night, more than fifty years ago, two women that I knew and liked a lot, were killed there.  Two more crosses were added to the miniature cemetery, and I thought of my friends every time we passed that way going to my grandparent's houses.

The crosses are long gone, but I still think of my friends every time I pass the intersection.  When homemade memorials began popping up on highways all across the country, they brought back those memories.  Every time I passed a memorial, I tried to imagine the person or persons they represented. 

Then I began taking pictures of them, something I've done all across the U.S.  Earlier this evening, I set up a blog site called Highway Memorials.  The whole story is there.  I'd appreciate it if you'd take a minute and visit it, and if you so inclined, please leave a comment.


The Sages - Episode 12

A serialization of The Sages: Book One of the Mystic Trilogy
Episode Twelve

The Mystic Trilogy Series is three volumes, recorded by Joseph Sanders, a native of Oklahoma, who chose to commit his life to learning and living universal truth. The books are neither fiction nor non-fiction. The Mystic Trilogy is what you would have it be.

 The history of the White Taoist Clan has been recorded in the chronicles of the clan, since its inception, over 2,000 years ago. The chronicles have never been disturbed, vandalized, or altered. As far as I know, the Chronicles of The White Taoist Clan are the only such records in existence in the world.
There are two enclaves of the White Taoist Clan. The first, and the oldest, is housed in the monastery, on the tallest peak of the Sparkling Mountains. Before I continue, you should know that in the days of the Yellow Emperor, the Sparkling Mountains, though in a remote corner of the empire, were clearly marked on every map and chart. Today, you’ll not find the Sparkling Mountains on any map. The reason isn’t easily explained, but I will attempt to make it clear. The mountains still exist where they have always been and they haven’t been renamed. However, today they are only accessible to those who know of them and they need no maps to find them.
The home of the other enclave of the White Taoist Clan is the Celestial Navigator. The current Celestial Navigator, the ship that has been my home for the past sixteen years, is the twelfth Celestial Navigator in the lineage of the ships that bear the name of the enclave. The first of which sailed from Rangoon, 1,500 years ago, in the year 452, to be exact.
Like the chronicle of the clan maintained on Sparkling Mountain, the Celestial Navigator also has a complete chronicle, recorded by its Captain’s since the day the first ship of the lineage, crewed by Masters of the White Taoist Clan, sailed into the Gulf of Siam. I’ll tell the whole story of the Celestial Navigator in the second volume of the Mystic Trilogy entitled, The Voyages of the Celestial Navigator.
Now, with permission from Ning Song, the Master of the Mountain Enclave, I’ll share my translation of Bao Zhi’s account of the day that Master Quan Cho and his party finally arrived at the summit of the Sparkling Mountains, in the year 27 BC.
Recorded by, Joseph Sands, Master of the Celestial Navigator
The trail to the top of the Sparkling Mountains became fainter and fainter as we climbed. The last few miles it was nonexistent. At the summit, we stepped onto a large plain that appeared to have been carved out of the bedrock of the mountain. The area of the plain was at least 300 hectares, completed encircled by sheer rock walls.  Read More

Paying Attention & Writing

Pull up a chair and let me tell you a story, a dog story, a story about Charlie, and his "dad," William Gilchrist.  Before I tell you the story there are a couple of things I should point out.  First,that isn't Charlie in the picture, but it's a relative, another King Charles Spaniel, and he is a dead-ringer for Charlie or maybe it's the other way around.  I first met Charlie a year and half, maybe two years ago.  Last Thursday was the first time I'd seen him in almost a year.  And now, the story.  

Last Thursday, January 3rd, was a cold day in Huntsville, Alabama.  At 9 PM when I started my run, the temperature had dropped to 32 degrees and the wind was gusting to thirty miles per hour.  I chose what I call the Park Route, which is a 6.6 mile loop that includes a lot of downtown Huntsville.  It even includes a turn through Big Springs Park and tinsel trail, a quarter mile stretch of walkway lined with decorated Christmas Trees.  Adjacent to Tinsel Trail is a temporary ice skating rink, which was totally empty, I suppose because of the wind and the temperature.

When I left the park, and moved back onto the street, I realized that the wind had picked up, and with the humidity near 100%, it was cutting.  I decided that the best course of action was to stay on tree-lined streets as much as possible, to break the wind.  I hadn't planned to run on Green Street, but thanks to the wind, I swung onto the heavily tree-lined half block and turned on my flashlight, since the trees block most of the light from the street lights.  I love that short stretch of Green and the one block long lane, Cruise Alley.

With Cruise Alley coming up, the thought of Charlie flashed into my mind.  He lives at #6, just fifty feet or so north of the intersection of Green and Cruise.  In that moment, I heard a jingling sound and knew that Charlie was close.

Huntsville is strict about enforcement of its leash law, but there is almost no traffic, vehicular or pedestrian, on either Cruise or Green after 9 PM, so William Gilchrist, Charlies "dad" lets the spaniel loose about that time, every night, while he keeps a close watch from his driveway.

I turned my light toward the jingle and there was Charlie headed toward me, squirming with delight.  Charlie is the only King Edward Spaniel that I know, so I can't compare him to others in his bloodline, but I can tell you about him.  He is small, maybe twelve inches from the ground to the top of his head, and he is lean, healthy lean, to the point that he looks like a puppy, though he's six years old.

I bent down in the street, all thoughts of wind and cold gone, and held out my hand.  Charlie approached cautiously, never quite touching my hand but getting close enough to confirm that I was an old acquaintance.  I said, "Charlie, where is your dad?"

He took a couple of steps toward his house and stopped, waiting for me to follow.  Thinking he'd somehow slipped out of the house without William, and not wanting to leave him unattended, I started up the driveway.  I had only taken a few steps when William, who was seated on his back porch steps, stood, and called out, "Here I am."  Then he added, "I think Charlie is glad to see you."

As he talked, he walked slowly toward me.  In the dim light cast through a window from a lamp in his house, I could now see William clearly.  He reminds me of a cross between Abraham Lincoln and Atticus Finch, tall, slender, and ramrod straight.  William is a presense, a comfortable reassuring presence.  He wears Atticus', brown plastic-framed, glasses, which I find reassuring for some reason, and he moves slowly but with purpose.  He was dressed in old jeans and a long brown overcoat, and appeared much warmer than I felt.

We talked a few minutes about exercise, Charlie, our high school class reunions, which confirmed we are within a year of the same age - I'm 70, he is 69.....


OK, enough of the story, because I only shared it to make the point of the importance of paying attention and writing.  Whether we write fiction or nonfiction, we have to be able to recall events in order to record them.  There is a way to do that perfectly, and it's not that well known.

We can recall every event of our life, that's right, every event.  That includes the ones we say that we've forgotten.   Every event we've been part of is, to use digital terminology, is "in the cloud."  In order to get to the memory, we have to know the "password," which is simply, knowing and rejoining the state of mind we were in when the event occurred.   The reason we can't find our glasses, or the car keys, or remember the person's name is, we cannot recall and rejoin the moment we put our glasses or keys down, or heard the person's name.

Often we stumble on lost memories by willing them forth.  That's OK, but it takes time to do it that way.  Instant recall occurs when there is no delay in noting that we need the information and actually calling it up.  How can we do that?  Live in the moment - or to put it another way - pay attention.  If the event I want to reference happened while I was in the moment with it, all I have to do to recall it is to get in the moment and call it up.

Here's the fun part and if you think about it you'll see the humor init.  There is only one moment.  This moment includes every moment that has ever been, and, yes, it includes future moments, but there are some variables to that aspect of the moment that will be the subject of future blogs.  

Being in the moment is critical to human happiness, so make staying there your number one priority.  If you're a writer, who lives in the moment, you'll never be short of stories or ideas, even little ditties like a chance encounter with a dog and his master.

Have a wonderful, in the moment experience, and I'll meet you back here  soon.  Thanks for your time.  I appreciate it and you.   

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Writing To A Standard

Last night, I ended the blog post, Konrath-Michener-Lulu with this note - "Tomorrows post is called To A standard, and I’ll use this Rockwell painting to illustrate it. – yep it will be about football and it will also be about writing."  And then I showed a Rockwell Painting of a football player.

Once again my plan shifted as I began writing.  The first clue to the direction of the shift is the title of this post.  Instead of To A Standard, I've called it Writing To A Standard.  The second clue to the content shift is the illustration - that's a boy writing, not a football player.  The third clue is not quite as obvious.  I'm going to illustrate my comments with a story about Alabama's football coach, Nick Saban and add a film clip that graphically illustrates "the standard" in action.  Stay with me, I'll get to the point, writing, quickly.

Saban, 61, has one game left in his seventh season as Alabama's Head Football Coach.  That game will be played Monday night (Jan 7, 2013), against Notre Dame, for the National Championship of Division I-A College Football.  Alabama will win the game if they utilize the one thing they have that Notre Dame doesn't have.  That one thing is The Standard.  

The Standard, applied to writers and writing, is what this post is about.

First, let me tell you about The Standard.  Nick Saban has been coaching football for forty years.  Before that he was a player.  I believe that somewhere along his path he came up with the idea of creating a standard that could be applied, first to each coach, then to each player, and finally to the team.

When I first heard him tell an interviewer that Alabama played to a standard, I dismissed it as hype.  Then I began to pay attention when he mentioned it again, and again...  

At halftime, no matter what the score is, when asked what he thinks of the game so far, he says something to effect, "We play to a standard.  We need to work on .... and ... in the second half."  

Then I heard him say, "We aren't playing (he named the day's opponent).  We don't play teams.  We play to a standard."  Then, over the course of the first eight weeks of the season, I heard interviews with a number of Alabama players.  They all mentioned "the standard," and noted that it changed everything for them and for the team.

In preparation for a game, all coaches and players watch countless hours of films of their opponents.  At practice, they simulate the way they've seen their opponent play.  They lift weights, run, stretch, meditate, etc. knowing that their opponent is doing the same thing.  

At that point, Alabama's game preparation takes a turn.  The Standard is applied.  

The Standard is a performance possibility measurement (my terminology) - a compilation of factors, such as, size, speed, flexibility, and history.  Defining the standard for each coach, player, and subsequently the team is the big job.  I'm convinced that Nick Saban, alone, of all college and professional football coaches has perfected "The Standard."  

His record proves that he is doing something different.  The fact that he is the most sought after coach for both professional and college teams is further evidence.  If you need more convincing, Saban's assistants are almost as heavily recruited as he is.

I can't elaborate further about exactly how The Standard is administered at Alabama, because only the coaches and players know that.  However, I will  show you how it can be applied for us as writers.  Before I do that, watch "The Standard," in action.

This film clip is 41 seconds long.  Watch it whether you are a football fan or not.  Watch it with or without the voice of Eli Gold, the "voice of Alabama football.  Before you watch it, here are some things to notice:

There are twenty-two men on the field.  Eleven for Alabama. Eleven for LSU.
T.J. Yeldon scores what proves to be the winning touchdown.

Only three LSU players have a real chance to tackle Yeldon.  In order of appearance they are:  (1) #46 Kevin Mentor, who wasn’t blocked, I believe intentionally, but he turned out to be much faster than anyone anticipated so he manages to get a hand on Yeldon. (2) I've watched the clip a dozen times and believe the second man who had a chance to stop Yeldon was #5 Jarrett Fobbs.  I cannot tell how he got into position for the tackle attempt but I can see that he over ran the play and missed the tackle.  (3)The third man who had a chance to stop Yeldon was #49 Barkevious Mingo.  Mingo was there because # 61 Alabaman’s offensive lineman, Anthony Steen was where he should have been, but he was looking the wrong way, and Mingo ran around him.

If all things had been equal, and every Alabama player had played to the top of his standard, there would have only been one player with a chance to tackle Yeldon (probably Jarrett Fobbs).  However, that is seldom going to be the case, so an infinite number of variables come into play.  However, the fact remains, that The Standard, is the difference.  

Watch it work:

Using The Standard in your writing.  

The most important step in using The Standard in your writing is defining it accurately.  

First list the things you expect to do in your writing.  Keep it simple and limit your first list to two items.

For example: My characters are believable.  My descriptions create an accurate picture.

Then note your ability to create each result.

For example: My characters all seem the same.  I don't have enough description.  

Beside each item on the list that you aren't currently capably of producing at the level you desire, add comments on what you need to do to acquire the necessary skill. For example: I must practice diversity in character creation, and read author's who are masters of that skill.  When I proof my work, I will pay particular attention to detail.

Establish a benchmark for each item (I prefer percentage).  They are your desired results, and if you're serious, nothing less than 100% will be acceptable.

Finish your work and evaluate it according to your scale.   Don't beat yourself up.  Note and evaluate your progress.  If you write a three thousand word episode for your serialized novel, and you are evaluating the characters you created, give them a rating - say 85% and then note whether that rating is an improvement and why (or why not, and why).  Then add a note about what the piece needs, to score 100% in character creation.  

Rewrite it, this time with a clear idea of what you must do.  Evaluate and score the results.  Repeat if necessary.

Remember, you aren't writing against Konrath or Michener or King or any other writer.  You are writing to a standard.  Your standard.

Finally, tune in to ESPN Monday night at 7 PM (eastern) to see how The Standard works for The Crimson Tide.

Tomorrow I intend to blog about why a writer must pay attention.  I'll probably illustrate it with a picture of Charlie Gilchrist, or one of his cousins - maybe this one.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Konrath - Michener - Lulu

I ended yesterday’s blog, Wichita Lineman, with a note that today I would post a blog about James Michener, the legendary author of more than forty books, published over a fifty year period, beginning in 1947 with the publication of Tales of the South Pacific.  That book was also the basis for South Pacific, the Broadway musical and South Pacific the movie.  That’s a nice way to start a writing career.

In a way, this is the Michener blog I promised, it’s just not about what I thought I would write about.  On the way to writing about a couple of Michener’s writing techniques, I was waylaid by my wife, author Christina Carson, and another author, JA Konrath.  To be honest, J.A. doesn’t know anything about this.  The waylaid part came when Christina said; “You need to read JA’s latest blog.”

With no thought about the Michener blog, I began reading Konrath’s December 23rd post.  If you haven’t read it yet, don’t miss it.  When I got to this passage:

I've lived long enough to see my advice become obsolete, and that gives me hope for the future.
Back when I began, this business was all about finding an agent, finding a publisher, then doing whatever you could to promote yourself.
This blog spoke at length about social media, and book tours, and partnering with your publisher.
Things have changed.
I have 10,000 followers on Twitter, but I only use it occasionally  Facebook? Haven't been on there in eight months. I witnessed the rise and fall of MySpace. I've opted out of Google+ because I saw no benefits. LinkedIn? I can't even remember my password.
I'll never do another book tour. I doubt I'll ever do another official booksigning. I've stopped speaking in public, stopped attending events. Once it was important to meet fans and network with peers. Now I can do that just fine via email.

I  realized that it dovetailed with something I read last night.  Michener said in a 1994 letter to his friend, Lawrence Grobel, author of Conversations with Michener, “Publishing has galloped off in directions I cannot follow.  I am satisfied to be eighty-eight rather than fifty-eight.”

Later in the letter he elaborated with this statement, “The specific changes that concern the writer are the wild, almost cyclonic rearrangements of publishing houses, the selling out to conglomerates, the fusions of once independent companies and, especially, the torrent of changes in the editorial staffs of the surviving companies.  That’s where the bite comes, that’s where the beginning writer faces his greatest danger.”

Michener typed his books on a manual typewriter.  He didn’t even suspect eBooks were in our future, though they've been a promise of technology for many years.  However, he saw the turmoil in the publishing business and accurately predicted the effect it would have on writers.

In 2007, eBooks exploded into our lives with the introduction of the first Kindle.
Legacy publishers, thanks to their own shortsightedness  and self-focus, were an easy target for the new technology.  They will always be with us, but they will never occupy the position they held in Michener’s heyday.
History is full of people who read the handwriting on the wall.  Now, five years after Amazon sold the first Kindle, there are thousands of people saying, “I knew that was going to happen.”  JA Konrath did more than talk.  He sailed with the first tide, though he had no guarantee that he would survive the voyage.

As it happened, he sailed at the perfect moment.  He isn't the only one, but to know my knowledge, he is the only one who has made a point of sharing everything he has encountered that he believes will make every writer’s voyage easier, more profitable, and a lot more fun.

So, my intention in this blog has shifted from sharing Michener’s techniques to commending him for his magnificent body of work, noting his accurate prediction of the condition of the publishing industry, and subsequently predicting the effect of that condition on every author, and then I’d like to thank JA Konrath for helping every writer who needs a hand. 

I think Lulu’s, 1967 number one song, To Sir With Love, is a fitting tribute for Michener and Konrath.

Tomorrows post is called To A standard, and I’ll use this Rockwell painting to illustrate it. – yep it will be about football and it will also be about writing:

Friday, January 4, 2013

Wichita Lineman

This blog is brought to you by Norman Rockwell, my friend Stephen Woodfin, Robin Young, of NPR's Here and Now show, and by Jimmy Webb and Billy Joel.  

Every time I look at Norman Rockwell's work, I find another painting, or two or three, that I have to add to the "future Norman Rockwell blog" file.

Somehow I missed this one on my first and second passes through, and then I found it.  I took one look at it and flashed back to my friend, Stephen Woodfin talking and blogging, about Jimmie Webb, who wrote Wichita Lineman.

Last week, I heard an old interview, with Jimmy, on Robin Young's show, Here and Now - (click here to listen).

Then I learned how to embed a video in a Blogger blog post so the next step was to find a video of Jimmie Webb and Billy Joel singing Wichita Lineman.  A few minutes later I had it.  It took a few minutes to embed it, because I had to listen to it twice.  See what you think:


After MacArthur Park, this is my favorite Jimmy Webb song, and though I love the Glen Campbell version, this one with Jimmy and Billy Joel has become my favorite.

That's it - that's today's post.  You don't need me to interpret the song or describe the painting, or add anything to Jimmy's interview.  Enjoy.

My next post will be the first in almost a month that I don't use a Norman Rockwell painting to illustrate.  Instead, I'm going write a few lines about James Michener and his writing/editing methods.  I'll and use this photo to illustrate it.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Facts of Life

In the thirty years I spent with my Daddy, I saw him embarrassed only three times.  

The first was when he delivered a Wednesday evening Bible lesson at church.  He  didn't find public speaking any easier than I did.  But we both learned.  

The second time I saw him embarrassed was at skating rink.  He, mother, and two other couples were chaperoning a group of kids.  As the night grew older, Daddy rediscovered his old skating skills.  According to family stories, he had worked, as a kid instructor, in a huge skating rink in Birmingham.  

Most of the group was sitting, watching the few skaters still on the floor.  One of them, an eight year old, blonde haired girl, was chugging around the outside edge of the rink like The Little Engine that could.  The rest of the skaters were on an tighter track, moving at a faster pace, but not anything out of the ordinary.    

Suddenly a scream, followed immediately by the sickening sound of a young butt slapping the wooden floor, silenced the onlookers.  The little blonde was down.  Daddy had just rounded a curve and only the empty straightaway was between him and the downed damsel.  I saw his eyes flash, and he was instantly transformed into a Bay Area Bomber.  He literally leaped forward five feet landing in a ground eating low crouch.  In less time than it takes to tell it, he was at the accident scene, moving fast.  He bent even lower, scooping up the little girl, and without slowing, set her on her skates, pointing the way she had been moving before she fell.  

However, Daddy didn't account for her cap, which she had lost in the crash.  Just as he released the little girl, his right skate ran over the cap, and instantly he was on his backside, sliding toward the railing.  

Obviously, it wasn't his first high speed crash.  As he slid under the railing he grabbed it, pulled himself up, and with little loss of speed, he was upright and skating.  Seconds later, he was skating slowly beside the little blonde who looked up at him like he was the reincarnation of Sir Lancelot - if the legendary knight blushed.  It was at least thirty minutes before the bright red left Daddy's cheeks - the applause from those watching didn't help, but he kept skating until he forgot the incident.

And then there was the third time.  I must have been ten, maybe eleven, when, one morning after breakfast, he told me it was time for us to have "the talk."  Then he told me that would happen that very evening after supper.  I spent a good part of the day thinking of all of the things that he might be planning to talk to me about.  Finally I gave up, having learned years before it is never smart to give up a position until I knew I had been discovered.  The truth is, I could have examined every possibility I knew and never guessed that the conversation was going to be about girls, and sex, and "staying pure" for my wife - hell, I was ten years old, eleven tops.

At the appointed time, Daddy told me to meet him in the living room, which by the way, was never used, except when company came.   I sat in the empty room for a few minutes, taking a last minute mental inventory of various events I knew could be the reason for this summit meeting.  Finally the door opened, and Daddy entered with a plain wrapped package under his arm and the same red countenance I'd seen on his face at the skating rink a few months earlier.  He sat beside me on the sofa, took a deep breath, and began removing the brown paper from what turned out to be a book.  I glanced at the cover,  and picked up three words; "reproduction, sex education, and Christian,” though probably not in that order.  

The slot machine in my head clattered and the dials began spinning.  One by one they stopped, a bell in my head rang, and I got it.  This was the sex talk.  I glanced at daddy, who didn't make eye contact, but rather focused on the book as he began explaining it to me.

I couldn't believe this was my Daddy.  He'd been overcome by a book.  He managed to stutter and stammer his way through a half-hour presentation, closed the book, and managed to spit out his last comment, "And, Son, that's why you can't do "the thing" with a girl until you're married.  Now, go finish you're homework."

I was glad "the talk" was over, but not nearly as glad as Daddy was.  I never told him that I didn't understand a word that he read from that book, and he never mentioned sex again.  School started a few weeks later, and I came into possession of a small, black and white comic book called "Maggie and Diggs."  I had to fight to retain possession of it, but that was a small price to pay to  learn the "real story" about sex.

Facts of life.  I'm not sure we handle it any better these days, regardless of the information that is in our faces every day.  I'm sure Maggie and Diggs, or the equivalent, still furnishes the basic information to today's youth.  In a poorly thought out strategy to make up for my "talk" with Daddy, I gave my son a beautifully, illustrated copy of the Kama Sutra, and what I considered a beautiful, presentation on the subject.  That turned out to be far more information than he needed or wanted.  

Tomorrow I'll post the twenty-second in the Norman Rockwell inspired blog series.  I call it Wichita Lineman and this is the painting that I'll use to illustrate it.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Great Women

On December 14th, I wrote a blog post titled Great Men.  It began this way:
"This isn't a post about global great men.  It is a post about a few of the men who have been instrumental in my life (And, yes, there will be a comparable Great Women post in the Norman Rockwell series).
This is the Great Women blog I promised.

First, a disclaimer and then an explanation of the order of appearance of the women in my life.

The disclaimer is I believe the most misunderstood and least explored area of human life is gender difference.  I could write volumes on the subject and still not come to any noteworthy conclusion beyond this: a man should never, ever, under any circumstances, tell a woman, "I know how you feel."  We don't know.  Now, if you are a woman, and that makes you feel a bit smug and maybe a little bit superior, forget it.  You don't know how a man feels any more than he knows how you feel.

So, here's a suggestion.  The place to begin exploring the great gender unknown is not with "I know how you feel," but rather in the land of "Tell me how you feel."  For most, that's a foreign land, one that can be successfully explored only by listening, seldom, if ever, by talking.

The explanation is I'm going to arrange my Great Women in the order they have appeared in my life, with one exception.  The first woman, Christina Carson, appeared later than most on the list.  She has stayed longer than everyone on the list, and she will be with me until the end.  

That said, here they are, the most influential women in my life.

Christina Carson was dragged, by her boss, to a Friday evening workshop I co-facilitated in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.   After the workshop a number of participants went to a nearby coffee shop.  Christina and I sat across from each other, at the end of a long table.  We drank coffee, talked, and gently explored the land of "how do you feel," that I mentioned earlier.

I had told a few Vietnam stories during the workshop so that became the door to "how do you feel land."  I wasn't surprised to discover that she had been in Canada over twenty years, moving there in protest to Vietnam.  It wasn't a simple move, or one embarked on impulsively.  She gave up her family, her doctoral program at Berkeley, and for the years she spent with her husband, Fred,  a thousand miles north of the U.S./Canada border, she damn sure gave up warm weather.

As I listened to her, I realized that she had more conviction about the war in Vietnam than most of the men I served with there.  One of the last things I told her that evening was, "You were right, you know."  Later she told me that no one had ever told her that before.  The following day, she attended another workshop.  From that unplanned beginning, we became pen pals, ultimately filling seven large journals with our correspondence.  In the process we each came to an understanding regarding how we felt.
When my marriage experienced its final explosion, I asked her if she'd like to move to Alabama and marry a Redneck.  She didn't hesitate in agreeing to the proposition.  Once again, she gave up everything to cross the border.  This time, though, it wasn't in protest but rather in love.

Right now, as I write this, she is also writing.  I'm not sure what her project is today: it could be another great novel, an inspirational blog post, an insightful reply to an email or blog comment.  Whatever she is writing, I want you to know how magnificent it makes me feel to have her writing it here, with me.  No one has ever been there for me the way that she has, and, best of all, I know she always will be.

Zelda Carson, of all the women in my immediate family, which includes my mother, two grandmothers, and six aunts, is the only one who I will mention in this blog.  Aunt Zelda showed me what love looked like.  We didn't spend more than four hours in one-on-one conversation, but I can still recall every word she said to me.  I can remember her putting her hand on my cheek and saying, "Pete, you are a wonderful boy and I love you."  I can remember the tears that ran down her face when she saw me a few days after I returned from Vietnam, and I remember thinking, she's the only one who cried, and I remember her words in that moment, "Pete, tell me how you feel."  And I remember her holding my hands as she looked in my eyes and hung on every word.  Aunt Zelda had seven children, yet she made me feel like I was her only child.

Miss Tillman - My beloved first grade teacher, brought me through a difficult transition - school.  I wrote about her in this blog series, December 20th.  If you'd like to read that post, click here

Mary Louise Thomas - Mrs. Thomas was my high school English teacher.  She made me memorize about 10,000 lines of The Ancient Mariner, and she introduced me to Percy Bysshe Shelley, and she inspired me to research and write two long essays - the first about the Ku Klux Klan and the second about Satan, two topics that I thought about a lot.  And then, wonder of wonders, in private conferences, she told me how great both of them were.  How effective is sincere praise?  Well, over fifty years later I'm still basking in her words.  Mary Louise Thomas loved teaching and she loved her pupils.  I'm pleased that I was one of them.

Black Women -Unconditional Love - On August 15, 2011, I posted this blog.  In it, I mention seven amazing women.   They all have a place in this post, so I've linked that post to this one.

Claudia Moody - In the early seventies I worked for Ryder Truck Rental, in Jacksonville, Florida.  I wore a lot of hats in those days.  I was the Rental Manager, the One Way Dealer Manager, an Account Manager, and for almost two years I was the Safety Manager.  As Safety Manager, I tested every tractor-trailer driver.  That's where I met Claudia.  She was the first woman truck driver we had in the entire district.  When I tested her, I knew before we traveled two blocks that she was one of the best drivers I'd ever tested.  In spite of that, I had her drive the full ten mile route.  Not because I questioned her driving skills.  I wanted to know more about the battles she had fought to become an over the road truck driver.  Claudia gave me my first insight into how difficult men have made women's lives.  She was also funny.  I once told her that I supposed she had developed the sense of humor to get her though the rough road she had traveled.  She laughed and replied, "That's part of it, I guess.  Of course, the fact that I'd rather have a Harley between my legs than any man I've ever met, is what really keeps me going."
Claudia, I know you're still out there, going up and down the road.  Wherever you are, I want you to know I'll always treasure our long, late night conversations, as you opened my eyes.

Lacy J. Dalton -  A year or so after I organized Vietnam Veterans Southern Command, I was watching the Johnny Carson Show.   I like country music, but I'm not a rabid fan, so until Johnny introduced Lacy J. Dalton, I'd never heard of her.  She sang two songs that night.  I don't remember the first one, and I'll never forget the second one -

Little Boy Blue 


a ballad she wrote for her son.  I bought a copy and played it at the next meeting of the group.  If you've never seen a group of men crying you won't understand what happened next.  We all sobbed, and I decided to write Lacy J. and tell her how we felt about her song.  She answered by return mail and told me that her son was grown now so he no longer needed the song so she was giving it to Southern Command.  She enclosed three dozen signed photos, each with a personal message regarding her gratitude for us.   That's why Lacy J. is on my list of Great Women.

Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer -  The Colonel and I have a couple of things in common; we were both born in 1942, and we both served in Vietnam.  She befriended me when I contacted her to let her know that Vietnam Veterans Southern Command supported her and her friends in their quest to construct the Vietnam Women's Memorial.  It was our pleasure to be present for the dedication of the memorial.  The night before the dedication, she invited my friend, George Jackson, a veteran of three Vietnam tours to join her at a meeting of the organizers of the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project.  Former Corporal Jackson never tired of telling us about his meeting with the Colonel, and the time they spent together, and we never tired of hearing it.  In fact, that meeting inspired the last scene of my book, Maddog and Miss Kitty.   Colonel Cammermeyer is an awesome presence in the world, and I'd like to use this post to congratulate her - read this excerpt from her blog and you'll know why:

"9 December 2012: Married in Washington State. Finally we are a legal family after the legislature, governor and citizens voted for an approved marriage equality. We were like young kids sitting in our sports chairs outside the government offices until the office opened. We were the first in line in Island County to receive the license and then married in a wonderful setting on the first possible day 9 December 2012 in home."

AdrienneWall, our friend and partner.  In eleven years of speaking and almost four more years as a minister, I had a lot of people tell me they'd do anything to change their life, to know the truth, to move to a place of peace and joy.  Adrienne never said any of those things, she just did it, and it's been my good fortune to watch it happen.  And in spite of the fact that on more than one occasion she has told someone that I was her great-great-grandfather, I enjoy her company and rejoice in her life.

My first thought, as I planned this blog, was how will I come up with enough women to complete it.  Now, as I wrap it up, I realize that women have influenced my life far more than men.  Every woman who has ever shared her feelings with me left her mark, and I'm a lot better for it.  The truth is I can't imagine life without a single woman who has been part of it.

Now take a minute or two and leave a comment about your Great Woman (or Women).

Tomorrow I'll post the twenty-first blog in my Norman Rockwell inspired blog series.  I call it Facts of Life and I'll illustrate it with this Rockwell painting.