Monday, August 03, 2015

PTM: The Burden of Free Will

Preaching to myself: You can't save everyone, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. There will always those who choose to drown, who seek sorrow even as they say they're only seeking happiness. Yes, it's a tragedy, but it's the burden of free will. Some people will choose evil. You can do nothing for those people other than make sure that they know there is another way. You cannot choose for them, and no matter how much you love them, you can't save them unless they want to be saved.

Sometimes you have to walk away. Not without regrets. Not without the accumulated sorrows that come from any failure, but you still put one foot in front of another and walk away.

If you truly tried, then you have done your part. You have used your free will in the best possible way. That is all that is required of you. Sometimes people walk beside you toward the dawning light. Sometimes they don't. That doesn't change the light.

John 16:22 (KJV)  "And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you." 

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Rebirth

Was discussing religion and life with a good friend, and he asked, "What makes Christianity so attractive? Why has it lasted?"

Lots of answers to that, I suspect, but for me, it's the rebirth. Not after we're dead, but the new life now. It's the only religion that I know of that says you can be reborn in this life, that you can change by becoming a new person right now. For all the terrible things we've done in its name, it's still offering change, still offering a chance for us to do better, to be better.

It's a reminder that every day is new. Yeah, I guess it sounds naive ... childish ... simple ... but it beats the sad sophistication and empty cynicism that we humans have elevated to an art form.

I make mistakes. I make plenty of them. It's comforting to know that my past mistakes do not define my future, that I am forgiven, that each day I am renewed. And one day we will rise to see the dawning light over the horizon.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

The Joys Of Getting Older & Other Lies

I celebrated my 54th birthday in July. Well, not really celebrated. Mourned might be the better word. Not that I minded getting older. In fact, other than cold sweats, weeping, wailing, sudden fits, and gnashing of teeth, I was quite calm about it.

Just think: the world has endured -- enjoyed 54 years of me. This does explain a few things, doesn’t it? Global warming, environmental degradation, those CD cases that are impossible to get into without a cutting torch -- I had nothing to do with any of those so why are you blaming me?

What really annoys me about getting older is how my body is wearing out. You’d figure after all this work I’ve done in avoiding work in any fashion, I’d be in better shape. I mean, why would my body be wearing out? It hasn’t had to do anything in years!

But my eyes are going bad, my back wants to fold up like a Republican’s conscience, my waist is expanding faster than a Democrat’s budget, my hair is departing my scalp and moving into my ears, and my brain is forgetting things I didn’t even know I knew.

Speaking of my brain, the other day someone asked me some question and I was trying to remember something when someone else came by and maybe asked the same question and I told another someone about how that first someone was always asking something about something, if you know what I mean.

I’m not saying I’m over the hill, but the view is awesome from where I’m at. I can see for miles and miles and miles, or I could if I could find my glasses. Oh, they’re on top of my head. Who put them there? Someone’s been sneaking in and moving things around my house. Probably those pesky Methodists again.

I blame my siblings for my advancing age: my older sister gets older and she pulls my older brother along, and he pulls me along, and my younger sister pushes me from behind! It’s no wonder I’m not as young as I used to be! If my older sister would just stop, this senseless aging would be over. I’m sure my other siblings wouldn't mind. But she has up a head of steam, and if I know my older sister -- and I do, despite her claims that she’s never heard of me -- she’s not going to stop until we all reach our 90s. Or older.

Well, there are worse things than being only 34. Shut up. No one needs your math.

(Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. From the forthcoming book Floozy Comes Back.)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Buy "Blackbirds Second Flight" now!

Enjoy these dark fantasies:
A writer challenges her murderous muse.
Dragons and riders stage a daring rescue.
Gangsters face off over the world's fate.
Warriors duel to their deaths in the sky.
A dad battles ghosts to save his daughter.
The sidhe never forget nor forgive.
It's Malone's way, or the fur will fly.
A shaman invades Tulsa on a killing hunt.
And much more!

Kindle version!
Print versions!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Taking The Day Off

I am taking the day off. Carry on. Talk among yourselves.

Your regularly scheduled program(s) will return tomorrow.

See you then.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

True power of the smilies

I never truly understood the true power of smilies until recently. If you’re not familiar with smilies, they’re little typographical symbols used in online communications to give an indication of the tone of the message. Like if you tell a joke or think something’s funny, you type :-) or :) which looks like a smiling face if you look at them sideways. You can even wink by typing ;-). The period after ;-) is not part of the smilie, but you probably knew that, and if not, the rest of this is not going to make much sense. Just know that it’s terribly funny. And wise. :-)

When smilies are turned into little pictures, then they are called emoticons, which really should be related to the Decepticons, but aren't as far as I know.

I use smilies, of course, but recently I learned their amazing ability to negate the most terrible things ever written. Here’s an example: Your opinions stink. Your politics stink. Your parents stink. Your children stink. Your spouse stinks. You are the most stinky person of all the stinky persons to ever walk this earth. In other words, you stink. :-) Sounds insulting, doesn’t it? But apparently that smilie at the end negates all the power of the insult. It’s a gentle jest between close friends. Ha ha!And that’s a good thing, because I’ve seen online exchanges that would have led to undying hatred and multi-generational feuds in years past.

Of course, people behave badly on the Net. They say things to other people that they would never dare say to their face. The anonymity and the distance make people much braver than good sense should allow them to be. That’s one of the reasons I don’t have Facebook friends that I don’t know personally. I want to be able to drive to their house and say to their frightened and pale faces, “Now, what were you saying about my parentage?”

Psychologists say smilies are another example of “passive-aggressive” behavior in today’s society, i.e. nice to your face, mean when your back is turned. A dog that engages in passive-aggressive behavior is known as a fear-biter. (The next time your neighbor’s rat dog attacks your ankle, you can tell it, “Little dog, you’re being passive aggressive,” just before you kick its yapping behind over the fence.) A passive-aggressive human known as a Congressman or lawyer.

Southern folk use something like smilies in regular conversation. They use the phrase “bless her/his heart” as their negating clause. For instance, Aunt Lydia Jo will say, “I wish Bessy Dawn wouldn’t wear yellow. She looks like she was pushed in the ugly river and downright drowned twice, bless her heart.”

And her friend Hester will reply, “Oh, I know, but her husband is no better. Why, his face looks like five miles of country road after a flood followed by a herd of diarrheic cattle, bless his heart.”

A variation of this -- "pray for him/her" -- allows Aunt Lydia Jo to negate the harmful effects of gossip. “I heard Mattie Mary’s niece on her husband’s side is running around town with the mailman’s second cousin’s son again, pray for her.” 

“Oh, I know,” Hester says. “That girl’s no better than she is, that’s for sure. Why, she wears less clothes than one of my Jacob’s hounds and has no more morals than a Senator at a money trough, pray for her.”

I’ve often wondered if the preacher’s call for unspoken prayer requests was to avoid scurrilous gossip masquerading as spiritual concern. Maybe he doesn’t understand the true power of those smilies. :-)

(From the forthcoming book Floozy Comes Back. Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Day To Be Thankful

It's a day when I need to remind myself to be thankful.

I'm thankful that I'm still here. That despite all the endless health problems, I'm still kicking. Maybe not as vigorously as I once did, but there's still a two-step or even a -- if I'm lucky -- pas de deux left in me.

I'm thankful that my problem is over-eating and not starvation. The grim fact is most of the world doesn't have enough food. I suffer from a lack of willpower and not a lack of substance.

I'm thankful that the good guys still outnumber the bad guys in the world, despite all the press coverage given to the villains. Each day millions of us get up and go to work and love each other and do the best we can. We keep the world working. We are the true heroes.

I'm thankful that Americans are the most generous people in the world. Yes, we're wealthy and certainly spoiled, but we give more money to the less fortunate than any other country in the world. We fight poverty, starvation, ignorance, and disease, and we pray and hope people find better lives and sometimes we stumble in our eagerness, but we try.

I'm thankful that books have always been a part of my life. I have spent most of my live in worlds that don't exist and living lives that could have never been mine. I'm thankful for all the wonderful authors who have touched my life: J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, Stephen R. Donaldson, Mary Stewart, Holly Lisle, Glen Cook, Susanna Gregory, Jim Butcher, Jack McDevitt, James Rollins, Clive Cussler, Rita Mae Brown, C.S. Lewis, Neal Stephenson, Caroyln Hart, Tony Hillerman, Mary Brown, David Brin, Robert Jordan, Robert Asprin, Lindsey Davis, Arthur C. Clarke ... The list goes on and on.

I'm thankful that we can remember to laugh even when we don't feel like it. Humor is an uniquely human quality. I'm thankful for humorists, such as: Bob Hope, Dave Barry, Jean Kerr, Patrick McManus, Mark Twain, Ellen Degeneres, Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Don Knotts, Tim Conway, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Dawn French, and many others.

I'm thankful for my readers, those of this page and my books. Their feedback and support makes the writing flow easier. Many times I'm discouraged and think I should give up, but then I'll get an email or comment or someone buys a book, and I keep putting those words on paper.

I'm thankful for science. Admittedly, it has made horrible mistakes, but it has given us amazing things and opened the universe to us. It's humbling to look at all the things I don't know and exciting to think of all the things I can learn. We can use technology to make our lives and environment better. All things are possible, and science helps make those possibilities into realities.

I'm thankful for my family and friends. Without their love, I don't know what I'd be or where I'd be, but I suspect I wouldn't like it. They enrich, exasperate, excite, and exalt my life. I wouldn't have it any other way even if I could.

I'm thankful for my faith, my many blessings, and my connection with God. Life is good, despite its problems or maybe because of them. Life's ironies and surprises keep my interest as nothing else can. I hope I live a long time. I hope you live a long time, too. Let's grow old together, and be thankful for our long years.

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!"
-- Robert Browning

Monday, July 27, 2015

1234

In the old days when computers were still confined to a desk and cell phones had antennas and flipped open, you could use your mother’s maiden name as a password for America OnLine®, and it would be secure. But now your password needs to contain 20 characters, including numbers, special characters, at least one upper case letter, at least one lower case letter, a Greek symbol, your star sign, the secret coordinates of Alderaan (Princess Leia knows), and the feathers of a rare golden eagle. Even then, it will only take a computer hacker five minutes to break into your Facebook account and sell all your FarmVille animals as he charges several luxury cars to your Visa®.

Not that the average person makes it hard for hackers. Every year, various groups compile a list of the most common passwords. And when I say ‘most common,’ I mean millions of people use them even now. If your password is on this list, hang your head in shame—and go change your password immediately.

10 Most Common Passwords of 2014
List compiled by SplashData
 1. 123456 (Okay, this is just lazy.)
 2. password (You thought it was cute, eh? You and 40 million other people agree.)
 3. 12345 (Even lazier than #1.)
 4. 12345678 (Sigh. You’re not even trying. Why don’t you write us a check?)
 5. qwerty (Another sigh.)
 6. 123456789 (Yeah, adding the nine really made #4 secure.)
 7. 1234 (You deserve to be hacked.)
 8. letmein (Tryharderidiot.)
 9. abc123 (Seriously?)
10. 111111 (I want to slap you. Hard.)

According to security expects, hackers can get into more than half of the sites in the world just by using the top twenty passwords. You can find other lists on the Internet and generally gather the proof that humanity is doomed due to terminal stupidity if Congress hasn’t already convinced you.

The bad news is that you can’t secure your sites with even with a hard password. They have computer programs that will eventually brute force their way into your account if they’re really motivated. All you can do is make it harder for the hackers so that maybe they will move onto another victim. This is similar to out-running your companions when being chased by a bear or throwing A1 sauce onto the other missionaries when confronted by hungry cannibals. (There are few things more dangerous than a thin cannibal, and almost all of them are in Hollywood or Congress.)

Some websites have moved to a two-step authentication process where you use a password and answer a question or they text a code to your cell phone. Other sites are even using fingerprint scanners for the second step. This sounds complicated, but not to worry. Most people do not enable two-step authentication because they think it takes too much time, it’s too hard, they’re lazy, they want to lose all their money, or they fell out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down.

Of course, if we lived in a better world, hackers wouldn’t be so common and our accounts and websites would be safe. I’d also like a dragon steed, a magic sword, and a castle on a beautiful island. All are equally likely.

You can use password managers, such as LastPass or RoboForm Desktop, to alleviate some of your security concerns. Those are programs that will supply you with long, long, long passwords that you can never remember and hopefully discourage hackers who like easier targets. The password manager keeps track of those hideously long passwords for you, and all you have to do is remember the  password for your manager. Have you tried 1234?

(Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. From the forthcoming book Floozy Returns.)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

"How Great Thou Art"

After "Amazing Grace," my next favorite hymn is "How Great Thou Art." I like it simple, just a singer and quiet music celebrating the grandeur of God's many creations and infinite mercies. What's your favorite hymn?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Few Peeves to Pet

I am beginning to think that English should be taught to the American people as a second language. We’re not doing well with it being taught as our first. I know many foreign people who can speak English better than your average high school senior. For that matter, I’ve heard of a couple of trained apes and an African Gray Parrot that can, too. My point is that grammar and spelling are not language arts these days; they’re lost arts.

After making the above statement, I realize I open myself up to critics who will gleefully catch every grammar and spelling mistake I make and who will call and write to point the mistakes out. To them I can only say with the utmost sincerity, “Get a life.”

Don’t think I’m a ruler-on-the-knuckles strict grammarian, either. In fact, I am baffled constantly by commas (what Elena has just slipped into on All My Children), colons (long, squishy things in our bodies), and semi-colons (long, squishy things in the bodies of truckers), and I spell only with the aid of several dictionaries and any nearby person who I can ask when I’m unable to look the word up because I can’t even begin to spell it. I am not an English maven. So if the average person is writing and speaking worse than me, then it’s easy to see our language has deteriorated.

One of my biggest peeves is people writing “it’s” for the possessive of “it.” The possessive of “it” is “its”; “it’s” is the contraction for “it is.” In other words, it’s “its” for when “it” is possessive, and it’s “it’s” for “it is.” Got it?

And while we’re correcting things, “their” is the possessive of “they.” “They’re” is the contraction for “they are.” When people confuse them, I think they’re losing their minds.

People who freely interchange “ideal” and “idea” also bother me. “Ideal” is a perfect condition; “idea” is a thought, a notion. I think it would be an ideal world if people would get the idea to watch their usage of “ideal” and “idea.” (I’m told that, in Boston, it’s pronounced “idear.” Why?)

You know, another peeve I have is with people who, you know, say, “You know” all the time. If I already know it, why tell me again? Of course, I don’t find “you know” half as annoying as people who pepper their speech with “like” an inordinate amount of times. Some horrible day I’m going to meet a person who will say, “Like, the trip, you know, it was, like, really cool, you know.” And I will kill him on the spot.

I’m also tired of the amount of obscenity in movies lately. I don’t know if it’s because screenwriters lack a large vocabulary or they think we do. I do have a theory, though. I think they’re getting paid by the word. For example, I recently watched a movie in which the following was an actual speech: “If you obscenity1 obscenity2 think I’m obscenity1 going to obscenity2 give that obscenity3 obscenity4 obscenity5 Franklin the obscenity1 obscenity2 book, you’re obscenity1 crazy, you obscenity3 obscenity5!” If you cut the obscenities, you only have 13 words; with the obscenities, you have 25. The math is obvious.

Of course, there are people in the world who do use a lot of obscenities. I worked in a brick-yard one summer between college semesters and discovered a variety of new words and ways to use to them. I thought my education in foul language was over, but then I became involved in the theater and discovered a new level of language. And when I thought I couldn’t learn any more, I became involved in politics and discovered true obscenity. However, unless a movie is about brick-yards, theater folk, or politicians, the screenwriters should be able to leave out most of the foul language and still be fairly true to life.

Another benefit of cutting back on the obscenities would be they could be saved for situations that truly call for them. In the above movie, the main character got out of bed, stubbed his toe, and said, “Obscenity1 it to obscenity2 obscenity6.” Later in the movie, he learned his wife and children had been killed by mobsters who had blown up his house, the CIA wanted him dead, he had a heart condition that could cause him to drop dead at any moment, and his dog had died. He said, “Obscenity1 it to obscenity2 obscenity6.” I immediately wondered what he had hit his foot on.

Another problem I currently have really isn’t a sign of sliding language; it’s a sign of changing times. Basically, I remain confused about Miss, Mrs., and Ms. I often write to editors that I don’t know well. About half of them are women. What is their proper address? (And their phone numbers; I’m lonely.) For men, the sign of respect is to use Mr., which works even with the editors who have owed me money for a couple of years (Dear Mr. Scumbag). And it used to be that you could use Miss with any woman and let her correct you if she wished. Ms. came along, and everything’s changed.

A lot of women feel that Miss and Mrs. is a method by which men keep them as second-class citizen, denoting that their marriage status is more important than them as people. They prefer Ms. Another group of women feel that Ms. is used only by strident feminists who wish to destroy the American family; they prefer Miss or Mrs. What I think is that women should get together and vote: Ms. or Miss and Mrs.

At present, I have only two options: call the editor’s secretary and ask if the editor prefers Mrs. or Miss or Ms. (which I don’t like doing ever since I called one secretary who frostily told me that her boss was happily married and didn’t need me hitting on her) or use her full name as in Dear Jane Smith (which is what I do even though it bothers me because I feel I’m not showing proper respect to a person who could buy my book and make me rich and famous if I am properly subservient and fawn a lot).

I could go on and on, but I think I’ve proved my point. Remember my point? You weren’t paying attention, were you? Daydreaming again? How would you like a ruler across your knuckles? Answer me! And you there, raise your hand when you want to ask a question!

(Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. From the book Floozy and Other Stories, available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, BooksAMillion, and other online retailers.)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Vitamin C?

Apparently -- and this will probably shock you as much as it did me -- coffee is not the C in Vitamin C. In fact, coffee isn't even a vitamin. Does that seem right?

Sometimes the world just doesn't make any sense.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Post Person, Look and See ...

So I have a cell phone, a home phone with four cordless receivers, a digital answering machine with four mailboxes, email with several different accounts, four blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and a shoe phone. Okay, that’s not true. I only have three blogs. My point is that I’m connected to a ridiculous degree. The CIA isn’t as well connected as I am.

And I’m not sure I want to be that connected. There’s a lot to be said for being disconnected. I was thinking about that while on vacation a few years back because my office called and emailed me several times a day. If the only way they could reach me was by regular mail, they might have attempted to solve those little problems themselves instead of whining to me. Like I can do anything about the building being on fire. Or would want to after having paid the arsonist all that money.

I’ve always liked letters. They seem more special than email or a phone call. You know the sender put some effort into a letter. And money, too. If USPS keeps raising the cost of stamps, they will eventually price themselves out of the market. You’d think this would cut down on the amount of junk mail we receive, but fortunately USPS has special rates for bulk mailers so we will continue to receive those amazing 2-for-1 offers from our local mortuaries.

Despite all the thousands of offers I’ve received in the mail over the years, I’ve never bought a thing. I confess I do like reading about the amazing things that Vitamin E enriched cactus pulp cream can do for the unsightly blemishes on my skin, but I’ve never sent off for any of their incredible products. You can tell they know that, too, by the increasing frantic tone of their mailings: “This product will change your life. It will make you into a more successful person. WAIT! It will also grow back your hair and make you RICH! Don’t throw this away! Rich, rich, RICH! Are you listening to what we’re saying?! No, no, no! Please, let us help you get the women of your dreams! Would we lie to you?”

Overseas, sending a letter already costs $2 or more in our currency. Some countries charge as much as $10 a letter. A Christmas card IS the gift over there. But fortunately their postal services also offer a bulk rate for junk mailers so that their citizens can receive amazing 2-for-1 offers from their local yak retailers. Let me tell you, if my office had to pay $10 per email or cell call, they would leave me alone.

Supposedly email is putting regular mail out of business here in the United States. Why find an envelope, pen, paper, and stamp when you can type a few words about your dramatic life and email them to everyone who has the misfortune of being in your address book?

Junk mailers naturally understand the savings that email provides and spam the public vigorously. Today, for instance, I received four emails about enhancing my male … ahem … equipment, five about investment opportunities in Nigeria, two about Amazing Medical Breakthroughs (acne and PMS), and a simply heartrending one about this little girl who is dying from a horrible nameless disease and only needs to receive 1,000,000 emails and then Microsoft will give her the money she needs to pay for her last wish: a date with One Direction. If I don’t respond to that one, apparently Jesus won’t love me anymore, which is odd since I didn’t even know He was into teen pop music. Live and learn, I always say, although several people have told me that’s annoying, particularly at funerals.

Of course, you might suggest that I ditch the cell phone, unplug the answering machine, cancel the Internet accounts, and buy a new pair of shoes. But what if some beautiful movie star – such as Nicole Kidman – needs me to rewrite her script? She would be heartbroken, simply devastated, when she couldn’t reach me. For Nicole, I’ll stay connected.

(Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. From the book Floozy and Other Stories available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BooksAMillion, and other online retailers.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Unsent letter

Dear Internet,
Sorry. I'm out of outrage today. Check back tomorrow. Or next week. I'm dealing with real problems right now, and I just can't spare the emotional energy. Now, don't think I'm not impressed by all the drama -- really, you outdo yourself at times, particularly with hand-wringing and wild suppositions, and no one broad-jumps to conclusions like you do -- but don't you ever get tired of it? Think of all things you could get done if you didn't go around hyperventilating all the time. You could finally find that cure for ringworm that civilization so desperately needs. It's something to consider, don't you think?
Sincerely,
Me

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Laser Razor

Through no fault of my own, I finally purchased a three-blade razor. For years I had used a two-blade razor, and I had been perfectly satisfied with its performance. It cut my beard, left my face smooth, and spent the rest of its time quietly in the bathroom drawer. What more could I want or need from a razor?

But recently, after twenty years of daily use, my two-blade razor handle broke, and not a single store in town had one. Instead they had triple-blade and even four-blade razors. Shaving technology had taken a huge jump and left me behind. The modern razors use “monofiber handles” and “laser polished steel” and even “titanium structured bases.” NASA has nothing up on razor companies.

According to the box in which it came, my new triple-blade razor will “deliver a shave as smooth as a baby’s bottom.” Not being around babies that much, I didn’t even know their bottoms needed shaving. It does explain why they cry so much.

The new multi-bladed razors promise “a super smooth face that women will love to touch.” Apparently they will wander up on the street and stroke your face. That seem sort of forward. I mean, shouldn't we exchange names first?

And the cost was amazing. And by "amazing," I mean unbelievably expensive. For that cost, a beautiful woman should show up and shave you. And clean your bathroom. Maybe make you dinner before telling you that you're not communicating and she wants a mink coat.

I examined a four-bladed razor during my shopping. They had four blades stacked on top of each in a configuration that reminded me of pictures of World War I biplanes. It also weighed a ton. It might be a way to combine exercise and shaving, but it seemed dangerous to me.

In a four-blade razor, the first blade pulls the whisker up and cuts it off, then the second blade cuts the whisker at a lower point before the hair can pull back, and then the third blade cuts the whisker off at the root while the fourth blade digs deep into the bone and threatens your face if it EVER even thinks about growing whiskers again in your lifetime.

You’d think that the shaving companies would be content with this, but right now, they’re working on a five-blade razor in their laboratories. It will split the atoms of your whiskers to give you a closer shave.

On the drawing board are plans for a six-blade and even a seven-blade razor. They will be so sharp that you will have to be licensed with the FBI, CIA, NRA, and the Red Cross to own one. They will be capable of cutting a hole in the space-time continuum!

You think I’m kidding about that, but a group of scientists have actually modified a laser to give shaves. It delivers a close shave (to the six-thousandth of an inch) and only costs a little over a million dollars. But with mass production, the price will surely drop to a couple of hundred thousand. I can’t wait. A word of caution: You definitely don’t want to cough while you’re using it or you’ll make an ash of yourself.

This leads us – well, me – to consider those laboring scientists. They went to college for at least eight years to get that Ph.D. in engineering or physics or thermodynamics. They probably figured they would be investigating the secrets of the universe, but instead they’re working in a secret shaving laboratory. They must be wondering what that college degree is really worth.

A friend of mine says we’re spoiled these days. He’s old enough to recall shaving with a long-handled straight razor. He said it delivered a close, clean shave, but you lost a lot of time making out your will each morning and then receiving the necessary blood transfusions afterwards. He says his face looks like a road map, and that’s why he has a beard.

Anyway, I now have a triple-blade razor. When you women see me and have the overwhelming desire to rub your hands on my face, please wash your hands first. Particularly during flu season.

(Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. From the book Floozy and Other Stories available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers.)

Monday, July 20, 2015

Mormons AKA LDS

(Sometimes I'm just in a mood to offend everyone...)

Mormons are a cult. That's what all the major Protestant denominations say. Same goes for the Catholics. No one likes the Mormons. Not in our neighborhood, people said when the Mormons wanted to build a temple in Oklahoma City a few years back. The Mormons did, and so far riots haven't happened. They still could, though. Stay alert.

Mormons are a cult. Say the word with me. "Cult." Conjures up images of dark rituals and bloody knives, mass suicides, and vicious murders. (Although to be fair, "Congress" does that to me, too.) You just know that Tabernacle choir is up to something as they give those sinister Christmas concerts.

Mormons are a cult. But they're a peculiar cult. They support having a strong families fanatically. They preach the Ten Commandments. They care for their members and keep them off of welfare. They practice a conservative approach to finances and tell their members to keep a year's supply of food and water for emergencies. In case of a zombie attack, find your Mormons. They got food.

Mormons are a cult. My fellow Baptists say so. You'd think the Mormons would preach against all the other faiths considering what the other faiths say about them. And the Mormons -- like all other faiths -- believe they have a lock on heaven, but they're very vocal in supporting the rights of people to worship in any faith. The Mormons have been attacked so much that they have a live and let live attitude toward other religions. Except during that pesky Mormon Militia era. And sometimes they use bribery and blackmail to make you vote for things that would make Satan blush ... no, wait, that's Congress again.

Mormons are a cult. A rich cult, some say. The church is very conservative in its spending. It invests its tithes in various corporations and then takes those earnings and invests them back in their programs. It also helps that they don't pay salaries to their leaders. That's right. It doesn't pay its preachers or those missionaries who you see on bikes or going door to door. That's one of the reasons I don't turn on my water sprinkler when I see them. Anymore.

Mormons are a cult. Knowledgeable people say so because the Mormons accept other books as being inspired by God, not just the Bible. The main one is the Book of Mormon, which is the account of Jesus ministering to the people of the Americas, supposedly interpreted by Joseph Smith from plates of gold. That always interests people, except the plates were lost so don't go digging up Utah. Unless you just like to dig. Whatever makes you happy.

Mormons are a cult. Actually they prefer to be called Latter-Day Saints now. The whole title of their church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It's easier just to say LDS. They would actually like to be called Christians, but let's not get crazy.

Mormons are a cult. They used to have multiple wives, but they did away with that in 1890. Oh, there are still some who practice it and call themselves Mormons just as there are people who bury their neighbors in the backyard and call themselves Methodists.

Mormons are a cult. But they're a large cult. They have 6.2 million members in America and 14.7 million worldwide. According to the National Council of Churches, they are the second fastest growing church in the U.S. Naturally you're going to find some jerks in a church that size. Maybe even some evil people. Don't send me your stories about Mormons attacking you, although I will accept stories about alien abductions unless they involve probing. Don't want to hear about probing, okay?

Mormons are a cult. They pay taxes, raise families (not always large despite the stereotype), help their neighbors, pray a lot, work a lot, laugh a lot, and generally behave like decent people should.

Mormons are a cult, aren't they?

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Shopping channels

People wonder why I watch shopping channels sometimes. Easy answer: They are filled with enthusiastic and upbeat people ALL THE TIME.

Think about it. Your Facebook and Twitter feeds probably have many bad things on it -- death, political fighting, diet suggestions that make a death march look like fun, recipes with enough fat to lubricate a diesel engine, etc. But none of that show up on a shopping channel.

In fact, if those people mention a problem -- like not enough storage space for your shopping bags or your hair is so unruly that it's actually causing riots in the streets -- they only do so to tell you the solution.

A solution they will offer you.

Sometimes with Easy Payments and Easy Credit Terms.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Unsent Letter

Dear Medical Team,

So ... you gave me the first medicine to treat a problem, a second medicine to treat the side effects of the first medicine, and now a third medicine to treat the side effects of the second medicine... I'm beginning to sense a disturbing trend here.

Did you ever hear the legend of Ouroboros? No, it's not in the Affordable Health Care Act. Never mind.

Concerned,

Me

Friday, July 17, 2015

Great Quote

"It is not the critic who counts ... not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy course; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of great achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."
-Theodore Roosevelt

Thursday, July 16, 2015

PTM: Contentment

Preaching To Myself: Never ever in the Bible does God claim that you have to be successful before He loves you. We've bought into a lie sold to us by our materialistic, advertiser controlled society that if we have a new car, a new TV, a new computer, a new purse, a new dress, a new suit, new designer shoes ... if we have the best the world has to offer ... that those things will make us happy. God cares nothing for those things. He cares about us. This is not an excuse to be lazy, but rather a reason for being content with what we have.

1 Timothy 6:6-11 ESV: "Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs."

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Places I'd Rather Be

Places I'd Rather Be 

On a beach --
No, on a beach with white sand --
Wait, on a beach with white sand and the only sound the ocean --
Hey, on a beach with white sand and the only sound the ocean and a tall cold fruity drink in my hand --
Yes, on a beach with white sand and the only sound the ocean and a tall cold fruity drink in my hand as I lounge in the shade beneath palm trees and you walk toward me, smiling, the sun glistening on your wet skin as you rise out of the waves ...

In your arms.

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

This and That

This and That 

I've been thinking of friends
and how they come and go
and how I enjoy knowing
you

I've been thinking of games
and how we all play them
and how no one ever
wins

I've been thinking of love
and how it's a bastard
and how it's what we live
for

I've been thinking of the future
and how it keeps coming
and how we try to hold it
off

I've been thinking of joy
and how it likes to surprise
and how all the old cliches are
true

But mostly I've been thinking
how life isn't perfect but good
and how I love it and love
you

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley

Monday, July 13, 2015

No Such Thing

A friend visited my house today to check on me. Looking around, he said, "Stephen, you have too many books." When he woke up with a terrible headache, I helped him to his car. He was stumbling and confused, but I'm sure that will pass in time. ‪#‎nosuchthingastoomanybooks‬

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Depressing

Sometimes humanity just depresses the living daylights out of me. A friend of mine is gay. Her daughter is seven. Recently, she found out that her daughter wasn't being invited to a birthday party because her lifestyle. She called the woman who at least was embarrassed but still said that she didn't want children exposed to my friend. My friend offered to just drop her daughter off, but no go. So ... there you go.

Now before you rail against Christians, the woman giving the party doesn't attend any church nor claim any particular religion. She just doesn't like gay people. More than that, she fears that somehow a child of seven would influence her children to ... do what? Become gay? Be more friendly to gay people? I don't understand.

So ... yeah ... some people just make me despair of us ever growing up as a species.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Walking Among The Dead

One day, a few weeks ago, I walked among the dead.

Not my dead.

Strangers in an old cemetery a few miles from my house.

Thought I might take photos...that the setting sun might illuminate a particular stone or give a halo to an old weathered angel.

Instead I just carried my camera and walked among the rows of graves. Stopping to read a date or name. My feet crunched old brown leaves. The few trees were leafing out. A row of bedraggled evergreens stood guard along one side of the cemetery.

And I thought about life and how it goes so fast. How we can't hold our dead no matter how much we try, no matter how much we cry, they slip away when we're not looking.

I thought about those who have left us and how I miss them. My grandparents, my parents, aunts and uncles, cousins ... my baby brother ... My mother was so sharp, so smart, she would see right through your soul, and my father loved to laugh and loved to make me laugh. All those losses. Is that why we're ready to go at the end of our lives? Do the losses pile on until our spirit is ready to fly, to escape the burdens of sorrow? Or maybe we're ready to meet them again. Maybe we're tired of not being with them. Maybe we're tired of this earth.

I sat down in an old concrete bench beside a budding tree.

Across the rows, I heard a mockingbird and saw a robin. I watched a lonely cloud make its way across the pale blue sky. And I felt the stillness settle into me, the quiet calm that I call peace for the lack of a better word. I stopped thinking for a while, stopping imagining, stopped remembering.

For a few moments, the horizon held me. That beckoning sky. The endless heavens beyond.

Then I took a deep breath of the cool wind. I smiled for no particular reason other than it felt better than not smiling. I stood, walked back to my car, and drove back to my life.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Unsent Letter

Dear Driver in the Black Truck,
Riding my bumper in traffic in no way makes me go faster. I couldn't even if I wanted to go over the speed limit because there were three cars in front of me. It does occur to me that perhaps your truck was making advances on my car; if so, inform the nasty brute that my car is a respectable church-going Baptist and isn't that type of car.
Sincerely,
Me

Thursday, July 09, 2015

The Thrill Is Gone

A few days back, a friend took me to task for my distaste for coarse language in books, plays, TV shows and movies. He said, "That's how people talk now." His point being that authors were simply being realistic.

Maybe so. My point was that coarse language bores me. That's right. Not offends as much as simply bores. Even his discussion with me about it made me secretly sigh because I've heard that "It's realistic" ad nauseam.

I've been involved in journalism and theater most of my life. Both are filled with salty people that never found a swear word that they didn't make their lifelong friend. I can remember being shocked and maybe even impressed by the vulgarity. That was 30 years ago. I've heard it, read it, seen it on stage and on the movie screen.

Remember Die Hard? Good action movie. Great story, good acting, appropriate language for the people portrayed. It was a big hit. Remember Die Hard 2? Not so good a movie. And much more bad language. The screenwriters knew the writing was weak, the plot plain stupid. They tried to punch it up. What they forgot is that a word can only shock you so many times. I got bored in DH2 and started to count the number of times they used the Fword. I lost track around 50. By that time, the word had lost its meaning. It didn't convey intensity or pain. By overuse, they had diluted its power.

When I see coarse language used extensively, I think the writer was lazy. The writer didn't stretch, didn't attempt to find new ways of expressing his/her thoughts. Oh, there are exceptions to that. I've read several short stories, poems, and novels and seen a few movies and plays where the dramatic content called for it, and it worked. Most of the time it doesn't. (Another tired and over-used character in movies: the foul-mouthed kid. Stopped being funny after the first 100 times we saw it. Give it a rest.)

I think about coarse language that way I think about fart jokes. At 13 they're funny, but you're supposed to grow out of it.

I get accused of being old fashioned about this. But really I'm not. I'm just jaded. I look for writing that uses language in new and exciting ways. Where the writer has put out some effort.
Playwright and author Jean Kerr said in Penny Candy: "I do not like to hear the most explicit four-letter words spoken from the stage because I number among my acquaintance persons of such candor and quick temper that, for me, the thrill is gone."

I'm with her. The thrill is gone.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Darkness

Darkness

Do you know that I once held your life in my hands?
For a sweet moment, I thought about closing my fingers
I thought about my hand curling into a fist
I thought about you

You now think you were in control
You think you had the power to decide
I gave you that sop to your tattered pride
I thought about you

Now you tell your friends about your escape
You congratulate yourself. They pat your back
And my hand on its own makes that fist
when I think about you

And my teeth ache, my pulse pounds,
I want to tear my chest gaping open
And let all the burning darkness out
if you trouble my thoughts

Because I know the truth, the lies you told
the story of your life, the rot beneath the smile
The whispered pleadings in the night
you thought no one knew

You will never understand why I walked away
You think you still hold my heart, not realizing
that mercy is not the same as indifference
I thought about you then, but never again.

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

PTM: Going On

Preaching To Myself: You cannot undo your past. You cannot change what hurt you. You can only go on from where you are. No, it's not easy. It's terribly hard, but if you want to be happy, if you want to live a fulfilled and meaningful life, you cannot squat in your past, reliving each hurt and using them as an excuse for never going forward. The world will leave you behind. This life is not a dress rehearsal; there are no do-overs.

Take a deep breath. Take another one. And then take the first step forward. It will be hard, but it will get easier. God will be there right beside you. Sometimes pushing you, sometimes dragging you (as my friend Jolene said), but He will be there.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Sideways

    Sometimes to go forward, you have to step sideways. That's a bit of wisdom that has served me well throughout the years. Over the past few days, I've been trying to figure out how to apply to my life right now. How to deflect the current problems so that I can attack them from a different direction. To use a cliche, to think outside the box. So far I've not really come up with anything, but I think a solution is lurking out there. I can almost feel it, catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of my mind.
      I'm trying to not force the solution out of hiding. My experience has been that the more I push, the more something will stubbornly elude me. It's better, for me, to approach a problem almost like play or a game. To turn it around in my mind, see all the angles, and then attempt to find one more. Most times it works. I hope it does this time.
      How do you approach problem solving? Do you take a straight ahead path or do you wander around a bit but finally arrive at where you were going? Let me know how you do it. I'm always willing to learn something new.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Empty

Why it happens, I don't know. How some people end up empty. What causes that huge hole in their souls. When need is all they've learned. And they need all the time.

When they look at me with that hunger in their eyes, I just want to pound the earth. How many times am I expected to give, to bite my tongue, to bury my anger, to suffer quietly and pat their shoulders? Where is the point that I finally break and start dealing out what I've been dealt? Why do I have to be the good guy all the time?

I know this entry doesn't make any sense, particularly since it doesn't apply to anyone who reads this blog. Tomorrow I will make sense. Promise. I'm just frustrated tonight and overloaded. Tonight I dined on bitterness and regret, and the meal isn't sitting easy. Ignore me. I'm a whiney hiney. A good night's sleep, and I will be ready to jump back into the fray. I'm the original bump-n-go boy, remember?

And let me answer my own question before I go: I try to be the good guy because I choose to try. Because darkness is too easy. Because I want to stand for something more however outdated and dumb that is. Because it's a losing battle, but someone has to fight it. It might as well be me. But my lord sometimes ... sometimes I'd like to walk away and disappear over a far hill.

I don't think I'd look back.