Saturday, January 30, 2016

Three Amazing Women and One Old Redneck

Christina Carson

Christina Carson doesn't have a Wikipedia Page, yet. One day she will, when the right person reads Accidents of Birth Book One, or Book Two, or Dying to Know or Suffer The Little Children, or her current work in progress.

That's all fine and good, but as far as I'm concerned I will never need a Wikipedia Page or a one sentence mention on an obscure blog site, like this one, to find her.  I know where she is right now, and if you ask me tomorrow, or the next day, or the one after that, I'll still know.  Christina is my wife and I waited too long to find her not to know where she is at any given moment of my life.

Long before she became my wife, Christina gave up her position in a doctoral program in neurophysiology at UCLA and left the United States to protest the country's involvement in the War in Vietnam.  Twenty-eight years later, I found her in Canada and persuaded her to marry me and move back to the States.  We are a unlikely couple - redneck and scholar, Vietnam Veteran and Vietnam War Protester, American by birth and Canadian by choice... the list goes on but matters not.  What matters is the alliance works and it works very well.

Alice LaPlante
When we decided to write, we began collecting books on the subject of writing.  Through the
years, we've accumulated quite a collection of them.  We have Stephen King's book on writing and Ray Bradbury's and Al Zuckerman's and Jack Woodford's, to name a few.  Finally Christina found the best book on the subject, The Making of a Story by Alice LaPlante.  She told me about her find but it took a couple of years for me to get curious enough to pick up her copy and read the first chapter.  That's all it took.  Now I have my own copy thanks to Christina's introduction.

Sharon Olds
If you are a writer or aspire to be one, don't miss The Making of a Story.  You won't need another book on the subject and you'll quickly find a priceless bonus as you study with Alice.  She will introduce you to some of the most amazing writers and poets ever collected in one place.  From James Baldwin (first in the permissions section) to C.D. Wright (last in the permissions section).  In between Baldwin and Wright you'll find Larry McMurtry and Anne Lamott and the amazing poet, Sharon Olds.

I vaguely knew Larry and Anne but had never heard of Sharon until I read Forty-One, Alone, No Gerbil, in the second chapter of The Making of a Story.  So here I am, a 73- year-old redneck, hammering away at computer, something that didn't exist when I was born, assembling a story about a woman who protested a war I fought in, married me, then introduced me to a woman who introduced me to another woman who, in 2005, told Laura Bush, when the First Lady invited her to The White House, what I hope I would have told Lady Bird Johnson if she had invited me to The White House.  If you are curious about what she said, here it is:

"So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it".

That's my story for this cold winter night, the story of three amazing women and one old redneck who is a better man for knowing them.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Bridges Across Space And Time

Memories are a major player in who we are and how we act and react.  Actually, memories, and our subsequent interpretation of them, is the player I'm talking about.

What I mean is simply this, everything that has happened to you is a factor in your behavior.  If that sounds overwhelming, it's only half the story.  In addition to the things that happened, the things you've only imagined are also factors.

Real or imagined, the effect of our memories are present in all our actions.  That's not necessarily a "bad" thing, or a "good" thing, it is just a thing, a factor in what makes us tick.  Memories can be relived, and they can altered.  There is a secret to doing that, and I'm going to tell you what it is, because you just might find it useful one day.

I'm going to ask the Hercules Air Crew pictured above to help illustrate my point.  By the way, they are the real deal.  The photo was taken in 2005, after they flew the first Hercules combat mission flown by an all woman crew.  Let me introduce them.  They are, from left to right, Staff Sergeant Josie E. Harshe flight engineer, Captain Anita T. Mack, navigator, First Lieutenant Siobhan Couturier, pilot, Captain Carol J. Mitchell, aircraft commander, Technical Sergeant Sigrid M. Carrero-Perez, loadmaster, Senior Airman Ci Ci Alonzo, loadmaster.

I found them when I was working on the first of draft of Southern Investigation - Tucson. The book is a novel, but I decided to use their real names without changing them.  I'm in the final edit process of the book and before I publish it, I'll get their permission.  Until then, the only changes for them are reassignment to the West Virginia Air National Guard and conversion of their Hercules, a cargo hauler, to a tanker equipped to carry fire retardant chemicals. Instead of working in Afghanistan, they are training in southern Arizona, after the plane's conversion.  There they meet the crew from my book Southern Investigation - Tucson.

When I write, my characters come to life for me.  I couldn't stop that process if I wanted to.  So, when the crew pictured above met the characters of the book, they came to life together and they still live in my memories.  This is the part I love more than words could ever explain - all I have to do is re-read a passage, and the book bridges both time and space placing me "on location" once again. Here's a living example:

The guys of Southern Investigation have had a closer encounter with the bad guys, a Mexican drug cartel, and they are making a run for the border.  The backup they had counted on in case things went bad, is too far away to help.

Here's what happens next:

...when I'd confirmed that no one had been injured in our forced landing, I began searching my mind for something amusing in the situation.  Something that would take away the fear that was growing by the second.  That's just how my mind works.  I didn't have to wait long.
     My handheld radio crackled to life and a female voice said, "Southern Investigation, this is Hillbilly.  It sounds like you guys could use some help."
    I didn't think, YES, help is on the way.  Instead, I instantly thought, "It is Tinker Bell.  Sid was right.  She is coming to save us." 
    I clicked the mike, "Hillbilly, Southern Investigation, what do you have in mind?"
    Major Carol Mitchell, call sign Hillbilly, responded, "Southern Investigation, go to your secure frequency."
    I changed radio frequencies, realizing as I did that Shirley or Faith Ann had given Carol the frequency.  With the radio reset I keyed the mike and said, "Southern Investigation secure."
    Southern Investigation, we just happen to have 3,000 gallons of fire retardant on board and we are looking for a place for a test drop it. Do you have a suggestion?"
    Before I answered, I glanced at Sid and David who were monitoring the conversation, and I whispered to them, "It's Tinker Bell.  She's here to save Peter Pan."
    "That will be me," Sid said, grinning like the lead boy from Never-land.

Here's the point:  I can explain the set up, to you as objectively as I can read tomorrow's Huntsville, Alabama weather forecast to you.  But when I read the actual passage, something magical happens.  I'm there, in the desert.  I feel the desperation of the moment and the joy when the radio springs to life.

Use a bridge to find and relive the passion in your memories.  It doesn't matter if the bridge is a song, a photo, or book.  They are all equally effective. Put the life back into your memories.  It's like adding water to your favorite instant drink.  Just stir and enjoy.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Philosophy of Travis McGee #6

Last Published Work 

This is a bonus Philosophy of Travis McGee blog.  I say that because the comments of McGee that I'm going to share aren't taken from one of the 21 Travis McGee novels.  In fact, they aren't from a MacDonald novel at all.  I cut them all from an essay he wrote at the invitation of Jean Trebbi, then Executive Director of The Florida Center for the Book.

The essay wasn't an easy piece for John to write.  When he completed it, he sent it to John Cole, then Director of The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress with this explanation for the delay.

"...the mountain has labored and brought forth a small, mangy, bad-tempered mouse of 7200 words... I could not make the essay work, and I could not imagine why.  I must have done two hundred pages of junk.  Then Jean Trebbi wrote asking why didn't I use the device of a conversation between McGee and Meyer.  Why indeed?... I am very sorry for taking so damn long."

In his Afterword, John Cole said, "MacDonald's dialogue between his fictional characters McGee and Meyer about reading was unlike anything I had read.  It is somewhat bad-tempered, but it also is thought-provoking.  Those who read it or hear it (or perhaps someday see it enacted) will remember it."

Reading for Survival is the last published work of John D. MacDonald.  The little bound essay is long out of print.  I found a few used copies listed on AbeBooks and Amazon.  I don't recommend them because they are both overpriced and in poor condition.Though they may be advertised as like new, the binding was cheaply done, and I promise you, it will fall to pieces. However, do not despair, click on the link at the beginning of this paragraph and in an electronic instant a digital copy in Word format will  reside on your computer.

Here are excerpts from the work to convince you the click will be worth the effort:

(Meyer) “Let us try to imagine a day in the life of Homo erectus one and half million years agoPicture him as a member of a hunting party, advancing through scrub land. He will be tense, using every sense. Aware of any change in the direction of the breeze. He will be listening, watching, scenting, with hundreds of dangers in his memory banks, thousands of experiences of the hunt in mind. He will have to have learned how to make weapons, learned a crude pharmacology, learned about fire, learned the vulnerability and the danger of many creatures, learned his place in his social order, learned how to fight other men, how to instruct children, how to build shelters. Perhaps, most important of all, he has learned that he will have to keep on learning and remembering or he might die in a very sudden and bloody manner, just as he has seen individuals of his tribe die when they forgot some essential crumb of knowledge.
            This is a demanding life. It is full of stress. And the key to survival is memory! That’s what takes up most of the room in our skulls. Out of memory comes the learning of relationships, and out of that comes creative change, improvements, reductions of risk. And there is a constantOWhhh selectivity at work. The inattentive child is eaten by wild dogs. The forgetful man is killed by the snake he should have seen. Those dull of wit are overwhelmed by the need to remember so many things, and so they perish and the species is improved thereby."

(Meyer) “Inevitably, Travis, man acquired so many artifacts he had to devise some way of keeping track of them. He had gone beyond the capacity of memory. The first writings we know of, other than the famous Code of Hammurabi in 1800 B.C., are records of shipments of goods in the Middle East. Pots and grain and tools. Writing and reading were elitist skills for fifteen hundred years and more, and then along came Johann Gutenberg in the fifteenth century with the invention of movable type. And that is when they began to fill the libraries of the world with the record of mankind, his tools, his history, his wars, famines, voyages, metallurgy, romances, superstitions, inventions…”
            Then Meyer did an odd thing. He reached across the table and clamped a thick hand around my forearm just above the wrist. I could feel the pressure of it. His gaze was very intense. “What we did to ourselves, Travis, within the past four hundred years, has been to make memory, as a key to the survival of the individual obsolete.” And now memory is not all that critical. I mean you can survive without having to remember much. Like remember to stop at red lights, take your pills, lock your doors. We don’t have to stalk anything in the jungle, or remember the shapes of leaves. So that takes away a big problem, doesn’t it?”
            “Does it create a bigger one?”
It is always irritating when he prods me, and sits back with his blue eyes alert and bright, waiting for me to pick up on the clues.
            “I’ll give it a shot. Okay. It must mean that a lot of the capacity of the brain is going unused. Are you saying it is going to atrophy?”
            “No. What should people be doing with that capacity?”
            “Give me a clue.”
            “There’s a clue for you in something Mark Twain said. ‘The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.’”

“How do we relate to reality? How do we begin to comprehend it? By using that same marvelous brain our ancestor used. By the exercise of memory. How do we stock the stores of memory? By reading, Travis. Reading! Complex ideas and complex relationships are not transmitted by body language, by brainstorming sessions, by the boob tube or the boom box. You cannot turn back the pages of a television show and review a part you did not quite understand.

“I would not demand that a man read ponderous tomes, or try to read everything—any more than I would expect our ancestor to examine every single leaf on a plant he remembers as being poisonous. I would expect that in his reading—which should be wide ranging, fiction, history, poetry, political science—he would acquire the equivalent of a liberal arts education and acquire also what I think of as the educated climate of mind, a climate characterized by skepticism, irony, doubt, hope, and a passion to learn more and remember more.”
            “How many of those do we have these days?”
            “A pitifully small percentage of the race, and growing smaller every year. Sixty million Americans, one out of every three adults—according to an article I read recently in Psychology Today—cannot read well enough to understand a help-wanted ad, or the warning label on household cleaners, or an electric bill, or the instructions on a package of medicine. They are disenfranchised, completely cut off from any knowledge of history, literature, and science. And because they can’t read they become negative role models for their children, who, in their turn, will become a new generation of illiterates, of victims.”

“Beautifully said,” I told him.
On the way back I told him that he had made me feel guilty about my frivolous reading fare of late, and what might I read that would patch up my comprehension and my conscience at the same time.
            Meyer thought about it until we had our drinks. He took a sip, sighed and said, “I’ll lend you my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror.”
            I am halfway through it. And the world has a different look, a slightly altered reality. That fourteenth century was the pits!

Note - I added the link to A Distant Mirror - and though I'm not yet half-way through it, as McGee was when he had the conversation with Meyer, I also recommend it.

Sunday, January 24, 2016 Old Fashioned, Personal Service, On The Web

I'm a vegetarian and I avoid added sugar like it was the black plague.  There are fewer shopping opportunities for non-sugar consuming vegetarians than you might think.  So, when I find one, a good one, a really, really good one, I want to make sure they stay around.

That means, if you were thinking that I am writing this to help you get great buys, rapid service, and old fashioned personal attention, you should wipe that idea out of your mind.

I'm writing this so I can continue to get all of those things.  If you get them in the process, well, just chalk up a freebie for the home team.

Now I'm going to tell you how I found and about my experience with them.  I'll keep it brief because I know you're getting ready to go out, in the cold, get in your car, drive around town, stop at a few places to look for old-fashioned, personal service, at a great price, in spite of knowing that probably won't happen, and I don't want to keep you from that fun task.

A couple of months ago I began searching for a sugar free, meal replacement shake,and I found one.  Best of all, it tastes great, and if you want to know what it is, email or leave a comment, and I'll tell you about that.  However, that's not what I want to tell you right now.  A couple of weeks ago I realized it might be healthier to make my shake with something besides milk, so I Googled Rice Dream, a drink I enjoyed years ago, before I shook the sugar habit.  I was excited to find they now offer an unsweetened version.  I was sad when I found not a single store in Huntsville, Alabama carries it.

So I, you guessed it, Googled again and found unsweetened Rice Dream at  I ordered two cartons, got free shipping because it was my first order, and I saved on each carton, and I had my unsweetened Rice Dream in two days.  A couple of days later I ordered ten cartons (free shipping on all orders over $35.00) and had the order in two days.

You would have never heard what happened next had one of the cartons not been damaged in shipping.  It wasn't a big deal, and I only lost about a half cup of Rice Dream. This morning I reordered and mentioned the damage on the previous order. Seconds later, I had email from pop into my in-basket.  I thought it was an automatic confirmation of my order, and I was wrong.  It was an email from Jessica at telling me she had just issued a credit for my damaged carton.  I emailed and told her the refund wasn't necessary since I had saved most of the product.

Ed responded to that email, also in seconds, and told me not to worry. wanted me to be happy, and they were pleased to make sure that happened.  That's when I realized I want Jessica and Ed and whoever put together to always be there when I need one or more of the zillion things they sell, and to make sure that happens, maybe it would be a good idea to tell you about them.  However, I thought, maybe I should offer you a bit of entertainment to go with my flagrant attempt to help myself, so I did a bit of searching on's web site and found this very funny video.  Whether you help me out or not, have a good laugh with Kumail Nanjiani - he is a funny guy:

Have a great hear?

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Philosophy of Travis McGee #5

John D. MacDonald

I'm a writer.  Before I became a writer, I was a reader.  Through the years, I've read a lot of books, thousands, maybe even tens of thousands.  My nonfiction genre of choice is esoteric (if that is a genre) from The Bible to Lao Tzu and all points in between.

In fiction, I like drama with heavy emphasis on detective series.  In late 2013 and early 2014, I wrote four blog posts that I called The Philosophy of Travis McGee #1, #2, #3, and #4 (Here's a link to all four).

Recently a few people, well, two to be exact, discovered those posts and enjoyed them enough to leave comments.  Things like, "Keep them coming.." That was all the prompt that I needed to take another look at Travis.  The first thing that slapped me in the face when I read #1, posted in December 2013, was this promise -

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

Few people showed any interest, and, using that as the reason, I only wrote 4 blogs before discontinuing the series.  Frankly, I was shocked when I read that.  I'm a lot of things but quitter isn't one of them.  I was mulling over that contradiction and wondering what to do about it about when I got an idea - just finish the series.  Start now.  Write "The Philosophy of Travis McGee #5" right now and go from there.  My next idea was start with a philosophic quote from the 5th book, A Deadly Shade of Gold.  So I reloaded the book on my Kindle and began rereading book number 5 and quickly came to my first highlight (page 8).

"A McGee never gives up."

If I still needed a sign (and I didn't) there it was.  So here we go again. 

 Before I go any further, let me tell you what I think about Lee Child or Dean Koontz, or anyone else for that matter, writing an introduction to a John D. MacDonald Book.  In fact, I've already said what I think about it in Blog #3 which I wrote in two years ago.  This is what I said then:

When I go to to get the link to the book I notice, as I do every time I go for one of the McGee books, I note that following the title of the book is this statement:  John D. MacDonald Author - Lee Child Introduction.

I'm really tickled that the publisher decided to re-release the books, and in most cases, add the whispersync for voice option, but, to have Lee Child introduce them is akin to having Jimmy Swaggart introduce Jesus of Nazareth.  Come on Random House, give us a break. 

For the stand alone John D. MacDonald novels, Random House employed Dean Koontz for the introduction.  Of the two, Koontz or Childs, my preference is Koontz, however, the previous analogy applies equally to Koontz or Childs when they are used to introduce a MacDonald book.

However, I will add, if that's what it takes to get the Travis McGee series back in circulation, so be it - hell, I can skip the introduction.

It took Travis McGee a long time to show up for John D., who published his first novel, The Brass Cupcake, in 1950.  In 1964, he published The Deep Blue Goodbye, the first of 21 Travis McGee novels that were published over a twenty year period.  

After Caleb Pirtle suggested I read the series, I dove in and never looked back.  Here's why:

John D. was one of the greatest novelists of our time - His stories are impeccably crafted, and they are chock full of priceless Travis McGee philosophical observations, like this one:

"We are doing something wrong.  We haven't found out what it is yet.  But somehow we have turned all these big glossy universities into places which the thinking young ones, the mavericks, the ones we need the most, cannot endure.  So all the campuses are in the hands of the unaware, the incurably, unconsciously second class kids with second class minds and that ineffably second class goal of reasonable competence, reasonable security, reasonable happiness.  Perhaps this is the proper end product to populate a second class world.  All mavericks ever do, anyway, is make the sane, normal, industrious people feel uncomfortable.  They ask the wrong questions.  Such as - What is the meaning of all of this?  So weed them out.  They are cultural mistakes.  Leave the world to the heroes and the semi-heroes, and their rumpy little soft-eyed girls, racing like lemmings toward the warm sea of the Totally Adjusted Community."

That's #5 in The Philosophy of Travis McGee Series - there are at least 16 more coming and each will have at least one timely observation from Travis himself.  Your comments are both welcome and appreciated.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

When And How To Audible

Calling an audible
Plans are important.  They tend to take luck out of the equation, or at least minimize its importance.  Without plans, we seldom reach our objectives or, if we do, we aren't aware of our arrival.

On the other hand, when plans are carved in stone, they can do far more harm than good.   I suspect more goals are not realized because of inflexibility than complacence.

In football, the pointy ball version, there is a solution to the problem of "plan attachment."  The solution is called an "audible."

An audible occurs when the quarterback, with a play in mind, reaches the line of scrimmage, surveys the opposing team, and realizes the play he intends to run will, in all likelihood, not work because of the defensive alignment. He has seconds to make a decision.  Change the play; do not change the play.  If he decides to change the play, he must alert the other ten players of his revised intention.

For an audible to be effective, a number of things must occur.  First and foremost, the quarterback's judgement of the situation must be correct.  Second, his revised plan must be appropriate.  And third, he must get the message to his fellow players all of whom are still focused on the play they believe they are about to run.

So, how does that football strategy apply to us?  The answer is simpler than reading a defense.  Whether we have a team assisting us with the execution or not, when it becomes necessary to change our plan, call an audible.

For example, let's say that today you plan to write a new chapter of your novel, which you've aptly named, Changing Things.  It is the story of a person who is fed up with failure and chooses to have the life of their dream.   This book isn't a whim.  You've already written 30,000 words, and it's going very well.

Today you have a writing plan.  To make it work you have rescheduled two appointments to give yourself the private time you'll need.  You've done the research necessary to write the chapter. You've installed all the computer and application updates.  You're ready.

You sit down to write, and, at that moment, there is a peace shattering explosion outside. The lights go out and along with them your computer screen.  You look outside and see wisps of smoke curling out of a power transformer, the one dangling from the pole in your back yard.  It's decision time.  There is no possibility of writing the way you had in mind. Your original plan simply will not work. You must call an audible.

I'm sure you get the idea.  The point is, there is always a way.  It may not be the way you had in mind, but there is a way, and it has the same chance of success as your original play, if, and this matters, your transition is done in a timely and positive manner - in other words, if you audible effectively you will win.

Bert Carson     

Monday, January 18, 2016

Preconceived Notions

Richard Adams

A number of years ago, after reading Richard Adam's Traveller, I decided to write and tell him how much I'd enjoyed the marvelous book.  No amount of Googling produced his address, so I settled and sent my letter to him in care of his publisher.

I was pleasantly surprised when, in short order, I received a handwritten letter from Richard.  It turned out to be one of many we exchanged over the next year or so, until his pressing schedule brought our corresponding to an end.

General Robert E. Lee & Traveller

Traveller went out of print shortly afterwards but that didn't take it off my favorites list.  The book, written in 1988, is an account of the Civil War as told by Traveller, Robert E. Lee's horse, to Tom the barn cat.  Both R.E. Lee and Traveller are real historic figures.  The dialog between Traveller and Tom may or may not have happened.  You can judge that for yourself if you're interested, since the book is now available in Kindle format (link above).

And, if you are wondering what that could possibly have to do with preconceived notions, the title of this post, here's the explanation.  As Traveller tells Tom of his adventures with General Lee, he spends a lot of time telling the cat how excited all the young men were at the prospect of going to war.

From that observation, Traveller got the idea that war would be fun.  The adventures that Traveller shares with Tom are anything but fun - they are stories of one of the bloodiest wars ever waged, as told by one who was at the heart of the conflict.  This is the haunting passage that comes to my mind more often than you can possibly imagine:

"What I couldn't really make a guess at was whether it would be far to the War - a short road or a long 'un.  I still don't know the answer to that Tom, cause o' course, as I'm gonna tell you ,we never got there.  We never did."

Our preconceived notions do not serve us, however, they can, and often do mislead and ultimately keep us from knowing the truth.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Burden of The Profession

I owe this post to my friend, David Atkinson.  What I actually mean is, I stole this Agatha Christie quote from David, who posted it in his blog of 14 Jan 2016.  

On that topic, David's blog today (Saturday 1/16/16) about Alan Rickman is also a gold mine, and I'm sure I'll snitch one or two of the quotes from it just as soon as I post this one.

Now, here's what Agatha said that caught my attention:   

There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional.  I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you're writing, and aren't writing particularly well.  Agatha Christie

I've had many professions, and each came with its own burdens and, though Agatha didn't mention rewards, they each came with their rewards.  Writing has many rewards.  Usually the first ones that come to the mind of an amateur writer are the rewards of writing a blockbuster, number-one, chart-topping, best seller - a home run!

Even though I haven't swung a bat or even touched a baseball in years, and in spite of the fact that I'm 73 years old, I know I still have the strength to hit a home run.  What I don't have is experience.  The last time I hit a home run, of the baseball variety, I was twelve years old.  Though its ancient history, I remember it well.  I crushed the ball and just like Babe Ruth, I felt it give, and I knew it was going to leave the park.

A Babe Ruth home run traveled over 200' further than my Little League effort, so, do I really think I can do that?

Yep, I know I can do it, if I assume the burden of a professional baseball player.  Understand, I'm not talking about a run-of -the-mill baseball player.  I'm talking about a slugger, a player that everyone knows can blast one over the wall with a mighty swing of that 30 ounce slab of wood he carries to the plate with the confidence of King Arthur carrying Excalibur.

I'm not talking about a player who lucks out and hits one, maybe two, home runs every other season.  I'm talking about the player that everyone knows has the ability to crush any pitch, no matter whether it is high or low, in or out of the strike zone, or traveling at 78 or 107 miles an hour.  And everyone also knows when he makes contact the way he can, the ball is history.  It is over the wall and out of the park before the outfielder can even turn to watch it leave.

What is the burden of the profession I will have to assume to become a fearsome home run hitter?  That's easy.  All I have to do is bat when I don't want to, when I don't much like what I'm doing, and when I'm not doing it particularly well.

Damn!  That sounds familiar.

It should.  It's what Agatha Christie said she did to become a professional writer. The truth is, Agatha's three steps can, with a little cutting and pasting, be applied to any profession - no exceptions.

So, if you want to be a professional, at anything, the requirements are the simple:

Do it when you don't want to.

Do when you don't much like what you're doing.

Do it when you aren't doing it particularly well.

Do those three things and you will be transformed from amateur to professional -

Thursday, January 14, 2016

"Hey Kid. Catch.

The Number One Superbowl Advertisement will not be seen on this year's Super Bowl because it aired thirty-six years ago.  It is the Coca-Cola - Mean Joe Greene and The Kid Commercial.

If you haven't seen it, take a look.  In 60 seconds you'll see why it outclasses all of today's competitors - like Skinny Legs Peyton Manning and Flo the Insurance Girl.

The reason it's still number one has nothing to do with Joe Greene or Peyton Manning or Flo.  It's simply old fashioned values vs tacky cheap shots.  And, lest you think my assessment of old fashioned values is the difference in the two commercials, let's take a look at what's happening in music.

Adele's latest album, 25, has sold over a million copies every week since its release four weeks ago.  No album has come close to that in over five years.  So what's the connection to a 36 year old soft drink commercial?  Adele's sound is "old fashioned" and her lyrics aren't about sex, drugs, murder, and mayhem.

Obviously there is an audience for old fashioned.  And, before you jump to the conclusion that her album sales are a fluke, consider this, to date, more than ten million of us have attempted to buy a ticket for Adele's upcoming U.S. tour.

Who knows?  Maybe 2016 is going to be a throwback to another time.  A time when we cared more.  When we listened more.  When we loved more.  Stranger things have happened.

Humor - The Path With Heart

My Buddy, Chuck Adams sent this video.  Take a minute and laugh yourself silly as Donald Trump always says, or maybe it was someone else who said that.

Note, Marty talks fast so you might want to follow along by reading the captions, then you might want to listen to it again to make sure you heard what you think you heard.

Her name is Marty Cobb.  In the first week after the video was posted it got over ten million views.  She appeared on The Ellen Show and currently the video has received more than twenty million views.  I wanted to more about her so I poked around a little at YouTube and found the video below - I guarantee you'll enjoy it as much as the Safety Presentation, or "you can step outside..."

And finally, before we land, a link to Marty's Web Site

I Remember When She said, "Find a poem and..."

Mary Louise Thomas
She made me memorize long passages of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  My hang-up wasn't the poem or even memorizing it.  I knew when I walked into Mrs. Thomas' English Class that I'd have to memorize some poetry.

What bothered me was there was only one way to prove I'd memorized the poem.  Eventually I would have to stand up in class and recite it.  It was my fear of the recitation that scared the hell out of me.

I would go to any lengths to avoid  it.  Now, after five years as a Toastmaster, eleven years as a professional speaker, and three years as co-minister of a church, I still remember the fear that gripped my heart, made my legs shake and my voice tremble the moment Mrs. Thomas called my name.

I also remember lying in a rice paddy, on the first day of Tet, 1968.  I was within earshot of the fighting in Saigon when I remembered Mr. Jones, one of my high school teachers, saying, "Bert, one day you'll wish you were back here."  As the battle for Saigon ebbed and flowed, and I figured I was about as close to dying as I had ever been, I still had no desire to be back in high school.

I laughed out loud when I realized the reason I'd rather be in that rice paddy than back in my old high school. It had nothing to do with death and everything to do with recitation.  Lying in that thick, smelly, water I could easily think of a number of things that not only might happen to me that day, but were becoming more likely by the minute.  However, one of them wasn't standing up and reciting anything, and for that I was not only grateful, I had reason to believe I had a decent chance of surviving the day.

That war ended, and I fought others.  It seemed that would be my forever pattern, and it was until 1982, when I stood up in the middle of whatever rice paddy I was lying in at the time and shouted, "That's it!  Call on me.  I'll recite! If it kills me, fine, at least I'll die standing up trying."

Actually I wasn't in a rice paddy in 1982.  I was in Memphis, Tennessee, when the desire to speak in public, which I'd harbored for forty years, called out the fear of speaking in public, which I'd also carried since the age of five.  The battle between the two desires raged for a while, and it wasn't clear which would prevail.

The fight was waged in five Toastmaster Clubs I joined.  Each one met on a different day, at a different place, so it was a rare day when I didn't have the opportunity to "recite."  That war lasted for more than a year. Then, one day it just ended.  The fear of speaking simply gave up and walked away.  I looked down and saw my knees were't shaking.  I listened and there was no quaver in my voice.  I released my grip on the podium and didn't fall. and I heard...

At length we did cross an Albatross,
Through the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name.

Sometime later I remembered something else Mrs. Thomas had told us, "Find a poem you like, memorize it and be ready to share it with the class Monday."

That pretty much put the weekend down the drain, but I feared what would happen if I wasn't prepared more than what might happen if I was, so I found a short poem and I memorized it. I wasn't called on that Monday, or the next, or the next.  But, I was ready to recite, and I still am.  

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said - "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains.  Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

In my second year with Mrs. Thomas, she gave me an "A" for my essay, On the Devil, and a "B-" for The History of the Ku Klux Klan.  I don't remember a single line from either of those essays.  I remember the poetry, and when I think of Mary Louse Thomas I remember:

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Mrs Thomas, you made me face my worst fear and without me realizing you'd done it, you gave me the inspiration to whip it.  I'll be forever grateful for that.  This one's for you:

The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine?-

See the mountains kiss high heaven
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this sweet work worth 
If thou kiss not me? 

And a special thank you to my friend, David Atkinson for Poetry Thursday.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Southern Investigation - Tucson

Southern Investigation - Tucson is the sequel to Southern Investigation.  I "finished" Tucson almost two years ago.  That is, I thought I had finished it.  I paid an editor, put it all together, got within a button push of  publishing it on Amazon and something stopped me.  So I went back for one more read and decided that I could do better... the problem was, I didn't know how, so I parked it and it's been parked until now.

Between parking it and now something happened.  Not something instantaneous, but rather something that happened over a long period of time.

That something is, I finished reading all the books in the Joe Pike - Elvis Cole series, written by Robert Crais and then I went back and began reading them again.  I thought I was reading them for entertainment until I began the third reread of Free Fall and got to the line where Joe tells Elvis, "Try to stay alive until I can get there," and I got it - I'm rereading these books to learn how to write this way.

I don't know if I'll ever be as good as Robert Crais, and it doesn't really matter.  What matters is, I've found a teacher, and I'm willing to learn.  So, here's my brand new, two-year-old, re-written first chapter.  If you have minute, I'd appreciate it if you'd read it and let me know what you think.

Chapter One

David Green, known simply as the Lieutenant to the few who still knew him, didn't bother to look at the map when he climbed out of his Jeep, in the deserted parking  lot, on the eastern border of the Coronado National Forest, the largest national forest in the southwest. He didn’t have to look at the map because he had committed the section that mattered to memory, and he knew exactly where he was heading. 

Moving purposefully through late afternoon shadows, he followed a faint trail through the scrub for more than five miles, then at a spot he’d mentally noted the night before, he swerved off the trail and was quickly lost in an isolated stand of hardwoods. He went directly to two tall blackjack oaks growing ten feet apart, at the top of a barely noticeable rise in the landscape.  With the trees between him and the trail, the lieutenant paused and slowly turned three hundred and sixty degrees while listening and watching. When nothing unusual caught his attention, he slid down between the twin trees.  There, thanks to the slight rise in the elevation, he had a clear view of the trail, yet was almost invisible from  more than thirty feet away.

A half hour later the remains of the daylight disappeared and the landscape disappeared in inky blackness.  Still the lieutenant watched and listened, remaining absolutely motionless for twelve hours, as he had been taught to do at the U.S. Army Ranger Training Center in Fort Benning, Georgia and later practiced in The Republic of South Vietnam, now a non-existent country, whose passing is hardly more than a footnote in history. 

He listened as the small creatures of the high desert foraged, hunted, and were hunted around him.  Then he watched the light of the new day slowly reclaim the land and finally, sure there were no other humans in the immediate area, he moved. Standing slowly, painfully, he braced himself with his right hand on the trunk of the larger of the two trees he had laid beside and thought, I'm getting way too old for this, way too old.

Convinced that he had wasted another night searching for the elusive coyotes, the human variety, he took two jerky steps toward the trail. At that moment, two men, moving at double-time, rounded the turn in the trail a quarter mile south of his position. He froze but he knew they had seen him. Shit, not again. NOT AGAIN! He thought.

That thought, followed immediately by a mental flashback, a familiar one he had relived countless times.  It was a vivid scene in his mind.  The moment he and his long range recon team were captured by a company of North Vietnamese Regulars.  The flashback almost caused him to run, to break into a wild scramble for safety. But his old training kicked in and he methodically evaluated his situation, thinking: I'm alone and unarmed. They are well-armed, moving toward me. I'm standing still, stove up after twelve hours of not moving. I have to bluff my way through this.

The next few minutes were chaos.  The lieutenant, stood absolutely still after placing his hands on his head. It was a familiar position, one he once required suspected Viet Cong to assume.

The two men were immediately joined by another who David assumed from his demeanor to be their leader.  The third man, tall, and sharped faced, sported a scraggly beard, and was dressed in faded jungle fatigues like his two companions.  David thought the fatigues had probably served a tour in Vietnam but not on the three who danced around him, brandishing AK-47’s, the drug cartel weapon of choice.  While they screamed at him in Spanish, most of which he understood but pretended he didn't, he kept what he hoped was an innocent, naive look on his face, while shaking his head in time with their shouts. 

His training and experience was dated, however David knew how to handle hostage situations, though he would have preferred being the captor. As the first two men presented a case for killing him and hiding his body somewhere off the trail, the lieutenant stood impassively, pretending not to understand what they were saying. The leader paused and listened to their arguments but it was clear he wasn't moved by them – at least David hoped he wasn't moved.

The discussion ended when three more coyotes, followed by a disorganized group of men and women who the lieutenant knew were Mexican peasants whose dream of creating a new life in America had led them to this place in time.  The leader barked a command at the newly arrived trio of coyotes and everyone shut up, including the two point men.  
In the silence that followed, the leader shouted, “Carlos!” 

A tall, unarmed man, younger than the coyotes, detached himself from the group, which was now standing uneasily on the trail.  He quickly moved to the side of the leader.  
The lieutenant took a long look at Carlos and felt he was probably looking at a fellow captive.

Still speaking Spanish, the leader said to Carlos, "We've been discovered by this nosy gringo hiker. I do not want to leave his body here but I want him dead. Have two of your men stay with him and when you come back through, take him with you. Kill him in the desert, far away from this place. Do you understand?"

Carlos started to protest, but seeing a look cross the leader’s face, thought better of it, and said softly, "Si, I will do as you say."

The leader growled, "You had better. Your life and the lives of your family depend on it."
The leader spoke to two of the coyotes and they moved the lieutenant deeper into the trees and forced him to the ground.  While one pointed an AK at him the other tied his hands behind his back with sash cord, then used duct tape to secure his feet. Carlos shouted toward the group of peasants and two men separated from the group and came toward him.  He instructed them to stay with the lieutenant adding that he would return in an hour.

Then, minutes after being discovered and captured, the lieutenant and his two guards were alone. 

Seconds later, the sounds of the still new day returned as though nothing happened.

Monday, January 11, 2016

This is Major Tom To Ground Control...

David Bowie
I don't always listen to music when I run.  However, when I do, I listen to the same old playlists over and over.  I know there are other songs I would like just as well as the old ones I listen to, but I don't have a need to find them... the old ones are working very well thank you... and for that matter, so am I.

It's my habit to check my email every morning before I journal and begin looking for what's next.  I had
Ralph Miller
three messages that have worked themselves together in my mind over the past two hours.  The first was a link from my friend Ralph Miller that took me to a 2002 interview with David Bowie.  The title of the lead in was "Life is a finite thing."  As I neared the end of the interview another link on the page caught my attention.  It said DAVID BOWIE DEAD AT 69.  

Without guidance, my next thought was, David Bowie can't be dead.  He was with me last night.  And he was.  As I ran through a sleeping Huntsville, Alabama, David and I moved easily through the twenty-eight degree chill.  I listened as he journeyed across space, in Space Oddity, then gave me a history lesson in Young Americans and finally as told me about stages of life in Changes...

Major Tom and I have crossed over 100,000 mile and we are feeling very still...

That's not my line.  It's his... David Bowie's.  The exact line, from Space Oddity is, "Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles I'm feeling very still."

my 2nd favorite Jackie photo
David and I ended our run last night, and as we thawed, I glanced at my Sunday evening email and saw one from my great high-school-to-today friend, Jackie Penn-Carey.  I opened it and saw that it was link to a video and I read Jackie's line... "Hard to watch..." and decided to save it until this morning.  It was the second email I opened this morning and yes, it was hard to watch.  It was a link to various videos of the 2004 Tsunami that took more than 250,000 lives.

Two Hundred and fifty thousand lives that I did not touch first hand while they played on this playground.  As I watched the wall of water lift them and take them away I realized the I might have missed them here, but I haven't missed them.  Not if we're all connected, and I know that we are.

In fact, I know we are more than just connected, we are related.  We have the same father.  The One Creator, who longer ago than we can remember, sent us all out to play.  All of us includes, David Bowie, Ralph Miller, Jackie Penn-Carey, me, you, and everyone else who has ever or will ever play here.
Caleb Pirtle

It even includes my good buddy, Caleb Pirtle who was the author of the third email that I received this morning.  Caleb, alluding to the fact that I was blogging again after a long absence, said simply, as is his fashion...

Welcome back to the world of illusions... followed by a link to my recent blog post which I called "Without A Home But Not Without A Star" which he had just re-posted on his web site.

So, Major Tom, may not be on this playground today, but he is on a playground, and we all know where it is... even though we've forgotten the way to it.  A day will come when we'll all meet there again.

Thanks for the messages yall, and Lavella, though I didn't get yours until I was poised over the publish button, it too was much appreciated.

See you all later.  Have a magnificent voyage Major Tom... we know you will.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

On Changing My Profile

I just finished editing my blog profile.  The change I made wasn't a big one.  I changed the number 72 to 73.  See "About Me" in the right column.  I've been meaning to make that change since September 9th, my birthday, but for a number of unimportant reasons, I'm just getting around to it.

The biggest obstacle to making the change was remembering how to do it.  I'm not an IT guy, and by that I mean I don't do enough of it to remember the procedure from one application of it to the next.  My IT weakness is further complicated by the rapidly changing field of computer technology.

Not only can I remember when there were no computers, I remember when there were no televisions.  The version of me on the left had an operating inkwell built into his desk when he was in the first grade - which, by the way, is when that picture was made.

So what does the change of one year mean, besides a change in my Google Profile.  Not much as far as I can see, which is a very long way from this 73 year tall vantage point.  What I'm getting at is, I've come to believe that a birthday isn't a defining event.  You see, I still think like that six year old in the picture, and people who know me will confirm that more often than not I act like a six year old.

So what is a defining event?  You won't find this definition in the dictionary since I just made it up.  I believe a defining event is one whose effects on the person being defined cannot be undone.  I'm not talking about breaking up with your first sweetheart, or failing high school algebra, or remembering where you were when you heard that ___________ (you fill in the blank), I'm talking traumatic events like the death of your most beloved relative, your marriage (the first one), your divorce (also the first one), or participating in a war (any war, any level of participation).

Since I've done all of those things, I've come to the conclusion that for everyone there is a principle defining event.  That is, there is one event that overshadows all of the rest.  That event cannot be changed by participation in a support group, an infinite number of sessions with a psychologist or psychiatrist, or by consuming countless gallons of alcohol or some other drug of choice.  The effects of that event overshadow all others and become the heart of your profile.  After you experience that event, you have no idea who or what you would have been had that event not occurred.  It cannot be changed - period.

However, no matter what physical changes the years bring.  No matter what personality
changes, the defining event is responsible for, the six year old inside you is still alive and well.  My buddy, M.D. Brown, who was an infantryman with the 25th Infantry Division told me and everyone present at a meeting of Vietnam Veterans, "Going to Vietnam didn't change me and it didn't change you.  It just amplified who we already were."  I've thought about that a lot since he said it, almost twenty years ago, and I've come to believe he hit that nail right on the head.

Remember this, you aren't your defining event.  You are who you always have been.  Celebrate that.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Merry Christmas Marine...

It was two weeks before Christmas, and I was three days away from finishing fall/Christmas, the busiest season for our little portrait business. As well, I was dragging a bit.  I'd just finished a photo sale, and I was eighty miles away from home and thinking that eight miles would have been too many.

I stopped at a convenience store for a bottle of water and a rest room break.  When I parked, I noticed a man sitting on the curb about fifty feet away.  His head was down so I couldn't see his face, still something about him was familiar.  A few minutes later, I walked out of the store, five pounds lighter, with a bottle of smart water in my hand, but I didn't feel particularly smart. I was just tired and ready to be home.

The man was still there, still looking down, still radiating a sense of familiarity.  I paused at the front bumper of my vehicle, and he looked up and swung his head toward me.  I had never seen him before, but he was familiar, like the old guy who stares out of the mirror at me every morning.  Not someone I know but still familiar.

Our eyes met, and he asked without much hope, "Are you going through Rainsville?"

"I am," I said.

"Could you give me a lift?" he asked with even less hope in his voice.

"Sure," I said.

Faster than I suspect he had moved in a long time, he jumped to his feet, "Really?" he almost shouted.

"Yep, really.  Just give me a minute to clear your side of the vehicle."

A minute or so later he was settled in, and I was pulling onto Alabama Highway 35.  I opened my mouth to speak, but before I could get a word out he gushed, "You need to know I won't ever lie to you.  I'm a Vietnam Veteran.  I've spent the whole afternoon in jail..." He paused, sighed, then added, "And I don't smell good..."

He didn't have to add that last sentence.

"When were you there?" I asked.

"68 and 69," he said, without hesitation.  Before I could respond he continued, more to himself than to me. "I asked at least ten people if they were going to Rainsville.  They all said no, but when they left, they each turned toward toward Rainsville."

His head dropped and he stared straight ahead.  Without thinking I said, "They were afraid of you."

Without raising his head and so softly I could barely hear, he asked, "Why aren't you afraid?"

I was focused on traffic and staring straight ahead, but I sensed him raise his head and look at me as he waited for my answer.  I considered the question and finally said, "Because I was there in '67 and '68."

He thought about that a few seconds then asked, "What do you think scared them?  My long hair?"

"Nope, it wasn't your hair, or smell, or anything else they could see.  It was Vietnam, which they couldn't see but they could sense."

I glanced at him, and he grinned and said, "You scare them too, don't you?"

"Yep, I do and there's nothing either of us can do about that.  Now, tell me where  you live?"

He actually lived about ten miles east of Rainsville, and it was my good pleasure to give him a ride to his house.  As we rode he told me all about his girlfriend who got mad because he was drunk, so she called the cops, and they hauled him to jail where he had been for the past six hours.  Then we talked about Vietnam and the Marines and the Army and how we couldn't believe how fast the last fifty-three years had passed. We agreed that we'd left something in Vietnam, something we'd probably never have again.

Then he said, "Turn left here. It's the second drive on the left.  Just let me off at the mailbox because the drive is too muddy for you to go all the way to house."

I protested but he insisted, saying, "You've done way more than enough Sarge, way more than enough."

He got out, closed the door gently and pulled himself up tall and straight the way he had stood fifty-three years ago, and he saluted.

I returned the salute as smartly as I could from my position behind the steering wheel and said, "Merry Christmas, Marine.  Tell your buddies you got a ride with an Army guy from the 214th Combat Aviation Battalion, the Cougars."

As I slipped the vehicle into first and engaged the clutch he called out, "I'll do that Sarge and Merry Christmas to you too...