Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Holding onto our lives

We hold onto our lives as hard as we can. Isn't it strange how we say we seek adventure, travel, and new experiences, but will do everything we can to preserve the status quo? Weird creatures we are, as Yoda would put it.

Sometimes our world gets shaken. Sometimes we are forced to confront the unknown. I'd like to think I'd face such a change with my eyes wide open, my body straining against the new wind. But too many times, I've tried to retreat. Tried to preserve what couldn't be preserved. Done it too many times with too many relationships and life situations. I know me too well.

When I was younger and quicker and harsher with my judgments, I used to think it was cowardly to not embrace change. But now that I'm older with too many sins of my own to presume to judge the sins of others and now that I've seen so many changes that definitely weren't for the better, I know that both ways take unflinching courage, dogged stubbornness, and unflagging hope.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Just so you know

Just because I don't argue with you doesn't mean I agree with you. Because I don't fill my timeline with hate, ignorance, and prejudice disguised as political memes or stances, I have found that some people mistakenly think I agree with their particular poison. But I don't.
 
Oh, you have the right to say whatever you want, but I also have the right to research what you say and then discard the parts not based on healthy thought. And if you ask me, I will tell what science, what faith, what the Bible, what compassion, what wisdom says.
 
If you can produce evidence not based on repeating what the hollow news shows say, what Twitter says, what biased internet sites say, what you "just feel in your gut" to be true, then I will adjust my worldview accordingly. But getting louder, getting meaner, getting hateful, just makes my position stronger and harder.
 
Just so you know.
 
And if you think this applies to you, then it does. And I am not sorry. If your friendships and your loves are based on people parroting what you think--and all of us are wrong in some things--then you are a tiny person. You should try to grow. Or not. If you decided to settle down in your journey, at least try to find a place where your mind can roam freely and see the horizon and maybe a bit of what is over it.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Made for More

It always comes down to this: Every second we live is a second closer to death. Most of us prefer to not think about it since it doesn’t seem healthy to dwell on our approaching demise. A few rare (thankfully) individuals focus on death, sometimes to the extreme of choosing to commit murder or suicide or both. But most of us live our lives in the now. No one knows when they’re going to die, which allows us to make some terrible choices since we think we’re going to survive the consequences of our foolishness. Youth makes us immortal, we think.

All religions focus on death, or really the afterlife. It seems inconceivable to us that we won’t survive in some fashion, be it Heaven, Nirvana, or merging with the Cosmic Flow. To think of the earth as a staging area or a practice arena for what comes next helps many of us to find meaning in our lives. Other people choose to hedonistically live for pleasure now. “You only get one life; live it to the fullest.” A slogan that seems to be particularly popular for selling beer and sports cars.

Time overwhelms us. If you think about all those nameless people who went before us and all those who will follow us, you can feel lost in the multitudes. Few of us will achieve the fame to be remembered 100 years from now--not that such remembrance could factor into our lives now because we won’t know if we will be remembered or what we will be remembered for. The vast majority of us will not be remembered here.

You have to shy away from such knowledge, you know. You can’t live your life with eternity peering over your shoulder. The responsibility of living for the future can drain your joy now. There is a balance we should seek between now and eternity, between pleasure and responsibility, and between us and other people. “Moderation in all things,” to quote a very wise man.

Balance. There’s the rub. How to gain it. How to keep it. How to be an adult in a world that celebrates bad behavior. We’re not a society that appreciates good behavior. Bad behavior will get you on a so-called reality show. Bad behavior will get your name in the tabloids. People will know you if you have more money than sense, cheat on your lover, steal money from friends, cuss to shame a sailor, and perform other egregious actions. If you kill yourself later on, well, that’s sad, but you might even get songs written about you and at least one made-for-TV movie on one of the thousands of cable channels.

But we’re made for so much more. We can be a light to our friends. We can be kind to our enemies. We can leave the world a better place than we found it. We can be adult and reasonable and sane and right. Not because there will be a reward for it--because there won’t be--but because it’s the right thing to do. When we humans finally do the right thing because it’s right and not because we’re rewarded for such, then we will have finally at long last grown up.

I hope it’s soon. Don't you?

Monday, May 09, 2022

When the words won't come

So here I am, staring into a blank screen while my muse stares back. He’s in a bad mood. Been in a bad mood for a while now—thirty years or so. Some of my writing friends might be surprised to hear that I have a muse because I don’t talk about him much. I don’t say, “My muse is lazy today.” Or “my muse is not moving me.” I have always said that I can’t have writer’s block because the electric company doesn’t have billing block.

But...and it’s a big but; I cannot lie...sometimes I have nothing to write. Okay, that’s not true. What I have are scraps. Sentences without context. Funny dialogue with no mouths to speak it. Fragments of poems flittering across the room. When this happens, I have an image of a muse—a sullen, cigar-smoking, carb-gobbling, butt-scratching muse—who would favor me with a smirk except he’s too busy watching horse racing on Channel 1007 because he has a Benjamin riding on Blue Whirlaway in the Fifth.

It’s annoying, but I do have ways around him. Maybe you also have a reluctant, annoying, smirking muse. Maybe some of the things I do might help you. In no particular order, they are:

1. Chores. I have discovered one of the quickest ways to jolt my muse into action is housework. It has to be a mindless chore, though. Vacuuming works. Dusting. My body can do the chore with muscle memory while my mind is free to wander places.

2. Music. Fast instrumentals for the most part. No slow, beautiful pieces unless I want to sit down. And nap. I try to make the music match what I’m writing. Upbeat for humor, flowing for nonfiction, mysterious for mysteries, of course. Right now, I’m listening to Bach. I want a nap.

3. Taking a walk. Being away from the computer can often energize me, particularly since I detest walking almost as much as I detest turnips. Walking is good for my health and I have a step goal, but really, I’d rather be carried everywhere by a robot litter.

4. Indulging in fictional slaughter. I kill everyone in my work-in-progress. Raging dinosaurs falling through a rift of time, monstrous comets littering the atmosphere with hungry microorganisms, murderous volcanoes with a grudge against humanity—we know what we did. Or the gentle, sweet grandmother in my story will load her famous Christmas cookies with strychnine to let her family know how she really feels about being stuck in assisted living. Something about the slaughter wakes the characters up as they realize I’m nuts and they had better perform if they want to make it to the last page.

5. Reading craft books. I keep several near my desk so I can grab them when I need to. If I’m not going to write, by Shakespeare’s blue bonnie, I’m going to learn about writing. I also use them to research a particular problem I’m having. Someone else has had the same problem and solved it.

6. Drinking caffeine. Coffee. Tea. And Diet Dr Pepper. Don’t want to be dependent on anything, thank you very much, but sometimes a nice kick in the brain is needed.

7. Changing projects. I typically have two or three projects going on, a couple of nonfiction—have to pay the bills—and a fiction one. A poem or two. I find I can write myself into a hole on one, change to another and write that one into a dark alley, and surprise, surprise, my subconscious has found a rope to throw down to the first one.

8. Talking to fellow writers about writing. Not their lives, which are absolutely engrossing, mind you, but writing. How to handle dialogue tags. The cliché that haunts their work. Which-hunting and well-seekers. Best paragraph they’ve read lately or written. Book that showed them how to solve a plot problem. Struggles they’re having in their writing. How they roped and branded their muse, yee-haw! 

9. Imagining the book is done and I’m being interviewed about the book or article on PBS. Really, this one works for me. I can’t explain it.

10. Acting out the dialogue and the action as much as I can. I stand with my pages and pace around my room. I shout, I plead, I cry, I laugh. Treating my work as a play (movie!) seems to catch the muse’s attention if only because he’s never seen anyone behave that way before.

And sometimes, I write about writing and my struggles to get a few words on the unforgiving screen. Like now. I have three projects waiting, and while two remain stalled, I see a way forward on the third one. So I must go but want to know: What do you do when the words won’t come?

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Mother's Day

I warn you. This is a harsh post for Mother's Day. Feel free to skip it.

Even though this is Mother's Day, I've been reminded during a phone call with a friend that some mothers are bad to their children. I was blessed with my mother who made her children a priority in her life. My prayers and thoughts are with those children who are not and were not as fortunate as I was. If you're a mother who loves her children more than herself, then may God bless you and reward you richly. He is proud of you. If you're not, then I promise you that there will be a harvest of sadness and sorrow that you will reap. If you mistreat your children when they are young, you will not be their friend or even loved when they are adults. Why would you expect them to act otherwise? 

Everyone seems familiar with "honor thy father and mother," but are you as familiar with Ephesians 6:4? It starts: "And, ye fathers." This is directly addressed to parents and then gives two duties that parents must do for their children. 

First duty: "Provoke not your children to wrath." Passionate and unreasonable rebukes, intemperate language, broken promises, neglect, or cruel usage will cause resentment on the part of your children. The Bible doesn't say that you can justify such behaviors. In fact, it's quite plain: You have a duty as a parent to "provoke not your children to wrath." No ifs, ands, or buts about it. If you mistreat your child, God will not bless you. This doesn't mean there shouldn't be correction, but that you are to remember that your children are precious and to cherish them.

Second duty: "But bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." The Revised Version reads: "Nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord." Training and restraining as well as admonition are implied. I see many parents who don't bring their children up in church and don't provide any other moral instruction, and then they are seemingly amazed when their children take drugs or steal. Yes, children have free agency, but they will do as you have trained them to do. If you cuss, cheat on your taxes, lie, behave badly, take drugs, or drink to excess, then your children will do as you do and not as you say.

It seems that some parents base their love on conditions. I love you if "you make good grades," "you clean your room," "you excel in sports," and so on. Some parents try to make children into their slaves or their clones. Those parents are breaking their children's hearts. And they are committing sin. They should remember God's example: although He expects and requires certain behaviors from us, He always loves us. There are no limits on His forgiveness.

I've been talking with a friend whose parents were alcoholics and drug users when he was young. There were many times when he and his brother didn't know if they would get breakfast or supper, but thank God for a federal program that saw to it that they would get lunch. Now his mother—who doesn't drink or take drugs anymore but still has a terrible temper—thinks he should allow her to live with them. But he won't do it. He remembers those early days, and he doesn't want her around his children. He's seeing to it that she's being taken care of properly, but his first duty is to his children. She sowed a crop of neglect and cruelty—she never spoke to him without a scream when he was young—and now she is reaping the harvest.

This is a harsh post for Mother's Day, but my loving mother never minced words. She called out evil when she saw it, and I think she would like this post. Children are precious and they grow up. Cherish them while you can. Love them while you can. Because if you wait, it will turn out to be too late.

Monday, May 02, 2022

10,000 hour rule?

A few days back I talked about the “10,000 Hour Rule.” It says that to be an expert in anything, you have to put 10,000 hours into it. For those math-minded among you, that works out to 20 hours a week for 50 weeks for 10 years. Yikes. I started wondering about that so-called rule and what science was actually behind it.

The rule was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success. He based this ubiquitous rule of thumb on a 1993 study conducted by Anders Ericsson, Ralf Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Römer. That study looked at students at a music academy in Berlin and found that the most accomplished students had put in approximately 10,000 hours practicing by the time they were 20 years old. Gladwell took that idea further by estimating the Beatles had put in 10,000 hours of practice before hitting it big and that Bill Gates did 10,000 hours of programming before he founded Microsoft. Gladwell’s point was that you could do 10,000 hours of practice and become an expert in a given field.

Well, not exactly. Gladwell’s point was that people who wanted to excel needed to practice a lot, but the 10,000 Hour Rule was catchy and easy to understand. And he referred to it often in his book. Other authors picked up the hour rule and applied it to all sorts of activities.

However, Anders Ericsson, one of the authors of the study in an interview with the website Six Seconds, says that Gladwell misinterpreted the study and that the 10,000 hours was an estimate at best. Some music students achieved mastery with fewer hours while others needed more. In fact, nearly half of the higher achieving students had not put in 10,000 hours.

The other thing that Ericsson says Gladwell didn’t pay attention to was that the students who received direction from a talented teacher did better and achieved mastery faster than those who did not.

My curiosity was itching so I looked up the study, which carries the exciting title of “The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance.” I could see why Gladwell thought what he did about the study when I saw this statement from the abstract: “Many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years.” However, the study did make a point that “deliberate practice” was required to optimize improvement.

In the Six Seconds interview, Ericsson said, “This distinction between deliberate practice aimed at a particular goal and generic practice is crucial because not every type of practice leads to improved ability. You don’t get benefits from mechanical repetition, but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal.” In other words, practice by itself won't lead to improvement. If you practice a poor habit, you'll only get better at being bad. You need to work at mastering your craft with each word you write.

Ericsson says natural talent, environmental factors, and good teaching also play a huge role in determining success in a field. While the first one is not under a person’s control, the other two can be. Seek out environments conducive to your purpose, and seek out teachers who can direct you.

For writers, this means we need to learn from experienced successful writers. We have many to choose from. For instance, best-selling author Holly Lisle runs an online writing school as does Writer’s Digest. We can also attend writing conferences and retreats. Oklahoma’s own best-selling author William Bernhardt has several writing events each year, and he has a whole series of writing craft books that are short and pithy and should be in your library. Staci Mauney has a series of videos on YouTube covering various aspects of writing. We can seek out expert writing instructors and books with little effort. Perhaps you have writing instructors and books you can recommend in the comments. I would love to see them.

And, of course, we need to write, write, write, all with the purpose of improving our skills with words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books. It might not take us 10,000 hours, but it will take effort and commitment. Fortunately, we’re overflowing with both of those, aren’t we? Yes, we are.

Monday, April 25, 2022

10,000 writing hours

It’s always a problem to start writing. I don’t know why. Supposedly, I’ve always thought of myself as a writer, but I do precious little writing compared to my other activities. I spend more time cleaning my house and doing chores than writing. You would think—if I truly think of myself as a writer—that I would write more. You don’t see professional swimmers saying they are swimmers without actually swimming.

It’s like I have a version of what people tell me when I say I write books: They say, “Oh, I’m going to write a book when I have time.” The implication being that anyone can write a book if they only make the time to do so. And I know that’s not true.

Despite a lot of the trash published—both traditional and independent—the majority of writers are working at their craft. They’re learning about grammar and structure, plot and scenes, dialogue and action. They’re writing their hearts out, and if we lived in a more just world, they would receive the success that their effort truly deserves. It’s said that to master anything, you have to put in 10,000 hours; they’re putting in their time.

Am I putting in my time? Have I served my sentence? I would think—after all the writing I’ve done over the years working for various newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and blogs—I have passed 10,000 hours a long time ago. Of course, that time wasn’t spent in fiction. I have spent most of my life making money off service articles and humor; I don’t know how many hours have been spent on fiction.

A writing friend of mine with a more structured approach to life said that she is dividing up her 10,000 hours, spending so many hours on plot, dialogue, voice, characters, etc. I think she has worked out that she needs to spend 1,000 hours on each of what she considers to be the most important components of fiction. To keep herself from getting bored, she does one hour a week on each. She says that, while the first 200 or so hours were rough, she is now producing short stories and book chapters that feel professional. I admire her tenacity. I’ve known her since she started her apprenticeship, and her skill is growing. I’m not sure if she needs the whole 10,000 hours before her work is published. She could publish right now as an independent and be better than the majority of material out there.

But she wants more. She wants to master her craft. She pointed out, however, that the more she learns about writing, the more there is to learn. That’s a wise statement. The truly great are always learning, always experimenting, always aware of how much more there is to learn in any craft. It’s the pursuit of perfection, a perfection that no one can reach, but the tension between that lofty goal and the reality of the struggle informs and elevates great art.

 To close, I will say this: She has inspired me to be more systematic in my approach to my craft. More books, more writing courses, more writing itself. I hope to share my journey with you as I explore the many facets of our craft. And I hope you, too, keep progressing in your creative apprenticeship.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Worthy

Preaching to Myself—and to You: There are always going to be people who are mean to you, who don't respect you, who try to put you in your place. But listen, you are not what they say. The universe doesn't care about their words. Their self-righteous mouthing is nothing but background noise, lost in the static between the stars.
Remember my personal motto: "You can put me in my place, but I won't stay there."
Pick yourself up, take a long drink of defiance, nourish yourself with the Words of the One who loves you best, and face your life with joyous determination.
You are worthy.
You are worthy.
You are worthy.
Shout “Amen!”

Friday, March 11, 2022

Inflation?

Little Johnny listens to his grandmother as she complains about the high cost of living. 

“When I was young,” she says, “you could go to the store with just a dollar and come home with enough food to feed your family for a week!” 

“Well, Grandma,” Little Johnny says, "that's called inflation. We learned about it in school.” 

“Inflation nothing!” Grandma snaps. “It’s all these dang security cameras they’ve got today!” 

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Oughta

I should be doing a couple of more things--I have been productive the last couple of days--but I want to play World of Warcraft or watch more of Death in Paradise or read a book. I hope my productivity isn't waning. Or perhaps I'm too far away from my morning coffee.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Plants and politicians

I've been having to bring my plants in at night because they don't like cold weather. It's a pain in the pot.

You know, there's a lot to be said for silk plants. They don't shed, and when you get tired of them, you can throw them away and not feel like you're killing anything. In that way, they're a lot like politicians.

Monday, December 27, 2021

How ya doin'?

 So...how ya doin'? You enjoyed/survived/tolerated/rejoiced in/bah humbugged/delighted in Christmas. And you're still here. Good for you. Be proud of you.

If you know anything about me, you know I love Christmas. Yet, like many of you, my Christmases carry loss and sorrow as we mourn those who aren't here with us. I miss my parents so much that it hurts. Not all the time, of course, but sometimes the pain takes my breath away, still so sharp and clear after all these years. And other precious family members and dear friends, all lost now...I remember them, too. Even so, I still rejoice in Christmas. Not because of the gifts or the food or the shopping or the TV specials on PBS, although they are all enjoyable--except the shopping which is the price we pay for wanting to give to those we care about. 

No, I rejoice in Christmas not for any of those things, but for the hope. The idea that the birth of a small child would cause a ripple in history. A child who would grow up and go forth and preach a message of love and acceptance. He would suffer terribly and he would be killed for his words. 

A huge story started then, a story that would change the world and set in motion great times and small things, terrible events, and glorious actions. That's the story of Easter: tragedy and terror, loss and sorrow, murder and miracle, redemption and glory. 

But on Christmas, we remember the beginning, the trembling fear and overwhelming joy every parent feels when they hold their newborn, the expectation of things to come, that moment when it seems the world pauses in expectation, the first lusty breath, and then a baby's first cry rings out in a silent night.

I rejoice in Christmas because it is a reminder of those things. A reminder of hope and how things can change. It's a new beginning. That's what Christmas is for me. I hope it is that for you, too. Whatever you believe, that's what I pray for you.


And now a new year is approaching. There will be new joys and new sorrows, new victories and new defeats, new challenges and more of the same. I'm looking forward to whatever is to come, and I'm glad you're with me on this journey. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Ordinary Wisdom

There truly are no new sins. It's just the old ones with a bit of paint and better publicity.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Still Believin'

 I still believe in the power of love.

Yeah, I know. I'm a bit backward and loopy, but I still do.

Many people think a relationship with God is basically punishment, guilt, shame, and not getting to have any fun. They're wrong, but it might not be their fault. Plenty of churches have taught the doctrine of crushing, blind obedience, and that you can only get into Heaven by the tips of your desperate fingernails--if that.

I don't know how God has become so mean in our modern times. I read the four Gospels, and all I can see is love, forgiveness, and mercy, but instead of the Bible being a comfort, it has become a club. Stop using it that way! That's not what Jesus wanted. It's not what He commanded. He wanted us to love each other, to feed the poor, to care for the sick, and to comfort other people when they sorrow. He wanted us to be better. To do better.

So let's do that. What do you say?

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Ordinary Wisdom #7

Ordinary Wisdom:
It may be impossible for us to love everyone--we're not God--and it may be impossible to like everyone--we're not Oprah--but surely we can at least be kind to each other. Kindness to everyone would go a long way to making this world a decent place to live in. Except for that black truck that ran the stoplight and nearly hit me; it would be hard to be kind to the driver who was probably drinking as he sent naughty messages on his cellphone and ate a double cheeseburger with fries, but I would try.

I would.

Maybe.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Question to you

 So...does Facebook ever suggest a friend to you that maybe broke your heart in college, I mean stomped that sucker flat, and you're so over that person in ways that made Webster's put your picture beside their definition of "moved on," but you find yourself curious upon seeing that suggestion and you wonder how they turned out and if they found happiness or maybe just maybe got body parts eaten off by rabid weasels, and wouldn't that be cool? Sad, of course, but cool.

Does that ever happen to you?

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Prosateurs Books: Mysteries!

Friend or Foe 
by Debbie Anderson
Janie is your average college-aged girl with her future ahead of her. Her quirky personality includes her love of old music and movies, she talks to herself, and she often finds herself in unusual situations. She loves her job and has lots of good friends. Life is great! Then she accidentally hits a policeman with a bagel! Romance blossoms. A black truck with tinted windows is following her. She doesn't know who it is, but it continues to stalk her. How can she get her life back? Who is in the truck? Is it Friend or Foe?
Buy on Amazon!


Murder by the Acre 
by Stephen B. Bagley
The librarian and the reporter are back! This time Bernard and Lisa stumble on the body of a local jeweler and ladies' man in an underground house. As the couple and Chief Donaldson investigate, they find themselves drawn into a confusing mystery of lies and alibis that involves the upper crust of Ryton, Oklahoma. Questions abound: Who killed him and how? Why doesn't the widow care that her husband is dead? Why doesn't his mistress? What does the mysterious Aventura Corporation have to do with the murder? What is the corporation hiding? Soon events spiral out of control as the killer strikes again and again. As the three dig for the truth, they upset powerful, vengeful people. The chief might lose his job, but Bernard and Lisa could lose their lives in this suspenseful sequel to Murder by Dewey Decimal.


Murder by Dewey Decimal 
by Stephen B. Bagley
When Assistant Librarian Bernard M. Worthington finds the body of the dreaded Agatha Ryton-Storer, he has no way of knowing her death will begin a series of murders that will stun his small town and reveal secrets hidden for thirty years. He, roving reporter Lisa Trent, and Police Chief Chuck Donaldson must outwit a ruthless, determined murderer. What was stolen from the library safe? What happened to the missing janitor? Why is Lisa a target? Who stole the Ryton jewels? Why did old Eliah Ryton will his hideous mansion to the city? What secrets does it hold and who is killing to hide them? Appealing characters, sly wit, clever plot, and chilling suspense mark this first novel in the Measurements of Murder™ series.
Buy on Amazon!

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Guffaw all you want!

Humor

Floozy and Other Stories 
by Stephen B. Bagley
Got two nuns and a goat? Do you enjoy Sabbath Night Fever? Or own a flying robot monkey army serving our Alien Masters? If you do - and even if you don't - this is the book for you! Enjoy humorist Stephen B. Bagley's views of our world in more than 80 hilarious tales from his decidedly different life.





Floozy Comes Back
by Stephen B. Bagley
Humorist Stephen B. Bagley returns with a new collection of wild and wacky tales from his decidedly different life. Enjoy these stories: Spice Boy, A Tale of Two Goldfish, Tanning My Hide, Kindle the Barbarian, The Fine Art of Sighing, Pumpkin Pinterest, Mr. Manners Speaks, Much Ado About Carbs, Congress & Other Monstrous Things, Work in Your Underwear, The Terrible Truth About Women, and many, many more!
Buy on Amazon!

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Visit Different worlds!

🌕 Fantasy 🌙  

Bone Sliver 
by Debra Chandler
The World is Changing.... Maxwell Edison, agent of The Office of Human Protection is given an assignment. Sent to Tulsa, Oklahoma, he's staking out a spreading rash of anomalous activity unprecedented in the world so far. With agents and civilians dying all around him, it’s up to him to find a way to stop the oncoming paranormal cataclysm that has been engineered by a mysterious shadow organization. In the face of unstoppable magic, can he hold on to his humanity?
Buy on Amazon!


Dawn Before the Dark

by Wendy Blanton

An ancient curse keeps men in fear of dragons, so only women can ride them in Slan—while only men can perform magic. As a necromancer from beyond the edge of the known world threatens invasion, Briant appears—a young man who loves dragons. Wybren Tanwen must decide: Is Briant the dragonborn, the answer to prophecy? Will he save Slan?
Buy on Amazon!




Nova Wave 
by Debra Chandler
The Office of Human Protection has come to small-town Oklahoma, but the situation is anything but stable. When agents go missing, Maxwell Edison must investigate. When Max goes missing and a coup is staged from within, everything depends on a woman waking up in a changed world. A woman who has suffered a grievous injury, A woman with no training. Can she possibly save him?
Buy on Amazon!



Rogue Pawn 
by Wendy Blanton AKA Elizabeth Joy
Forced from her home, Sieger faced a long road paved with lies and manipulation. Desperate, she did the only thing she could: She turned the tables on her enemies and forged her own fate.
Buy on Amazon!






Sword & Scabbard 
by Wendy Blanton
When Nyakas killed his father to protect his wife and son, he wasn't thinking about the consequences. Because Malitor was a Divine Steward, Nyakas had two choices: take Malitor's seat, or defend himself against those who wanted it. Reluctantly, he and Robyn have moved to Mhovan Rosk. He knows that the other Divine Stewards have their own agendas, but it is not until he arrives that he realizes how corrupt the council is. When his advisors discover a hidden prophecy, the solution to the corruption becomes clear, but it may come at a price none of them are able to pay.
Buy on Amazon!


The Dragon's Lady 
by Wendy Blanton AKA Elizabeth Joy
A young army officer, heading a team in search of missing CIA agents, is captured by intergalactic slave traders. Her team is sold to a man who is much more than he seems.
Buy on Amazon!






WEATHERED 
by Debra Chandler
A shift in the wind. A change in the air. Weather has the power to affect everything around and inside us. What will the next season bring? Will the wind of change bring joy—sadness—or something darker? The pages of this book contain poems and tales that will leave even the most stalwart souls—WEATHERED.
Buy on Amazon!

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Different flavors for different palates!

Anthologies

Blackbirds First Flight
By Various Authors

⇨ An unhappy wife can't decide what to do about her boorish husband until an uneaten meal gives her a dark idea...
⇨ Something is raising zombies in Tulsa, and Justina Grave is the only one who can stop it...
⇨ When a fat farm promises to make Edyth thin again, her dream comes true. She will never be fat again—or safe...
⇨ Hopping a freight train can be a cheap way to travel. Unless you pick the wrong boxcar...
⇨ One kiss gives Francois immortality, but at a cost he doesn't see coming...
⇨ A woman warrior must choose her fate as the Romans ravage her land...
⇨ Stalked by terrible creatures seeking vengeance, a band of robbers runs for their lives in medieval France...
This anthology will lead you into dark, twisted places filled with mystery and delight. Enjoy thrilling stories and chilling poems by authors Stephen B. Bagley, Kent Bass, Wendy Blanton, Gail Henderson, Tamara Siler Jones, and Jean Schara.
Buy on Amazon


Blackbirds Second Flight
by Various Authors
Enjoy new dark and twisted stories and poems from Stephen B. Bagley, Wendy Blanton, Gail Henderson, Ken Lewis, Jean Schara, and Heath Stallcup
Buy on Amazon







Blackbirds Third Flight
by Various Authors
Enjoy these dark fantasies:
✥ A dead girl asks one final question.
✥ A young man rides a forbidden dragon.
✥ With claw and fang, Malone will fight.
✥ Justina Grave battles a dangerous witch.
✥ A father faces his family's terrible secret.
✥ The end of the world begins in a backyard.
✥ A predator prowls on Halloween night.
✥ Thunder Mountain will kill the careless.
✥ Learn the final truth of the Tooth Fairy.
✥ A wolf reveals the face of the true beast.
And much more in this anthology of thrilling tales and poetry from Kathy Akins, Stephen B. Bagley, Wendy Blanton, Michael Canton, D.E. Chandler, Erin Cochran, Gail Henderson, Mariana Llanos, Jean Schara, and Heath Stallcup.
Buy on Amazon


Prosateurs: Tales & Truth 
by the Prosateurs
Enjoy articles, essays, memoirs, poems, recipes, short stories, and more from members of the Prosateurs writing group, including
➼ 13 Ways to be More Creative in your life.
How NOT to curse like a sailor.
➼ A daughter endures her mother melting away.
What's alive in that garage can?
➼ How to bake a Fruit Cocktail Cake.
Relish a sonnet for Autumn.
➼ Learn the amazing secret of the Thanksgiving Tree.
How do you deal with doubt?
➼ An Air Force wife confronts her future.
Special Bonus: Prosateurs share Writing Tips.
And much more!
Buy on Amazon!


Yule Tidings

by the Prosateurs

The Prosateurs celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's with articles, devotionals, essays, memoirs, poems, recipes, short stories, including:
Be the Hostess with the Mostest!
Enjoy Tasty Christmas Sausage Balls
Awake Prayer and Thanksgiving!
Marvel at the Ancient Yutetide Origins!

Listen to the Christmas Bells Sing!
Survive the Holidays with Ease!
When Does One Plus One Equal Eleven?
The Other Serving Girl Tells her Tale!
The Turducken Hits the Fan!
Realize You're Not Poor at All!

And much more!
Buy on Amazon!
Buy on Lulu!
Buy on Barnes & Noble!
Buy on BooksAMillion!




Saturday, January 02, 2021

Still

Here it isSaturday, January 2, 2021and I've not taken the time to write what I wanted to say to everyone on January 1. I intended to, but things got busy, and I had to complete a few things all of a sudden, and now it's the second day of the year which you've faced bravely and gracefully without reading what I wanted to tell you.

And I'm still in the middle of a project and I can't take the time to truly express what's on my mind, but if I could have, I would have told you this:

Yes, last year was rough on many of us. We got sick. We watched loved ones suffer. We endured losing precious people. We carry wounds of deep sorrow. But still...

We made our grim way through an election that lingers on like sewer gas. Our financial world remains strained. And many lost their jobs through no fault of their own. But still...

Our faith in humanity has been shaken. We fought in ongoing mask debates. We battled in voting wars. We distanced too much or got too close. We watched the experts attack each other. But still...

We've been torn, bent, spindled, and mutilated. But still...

We're here. 

Still. 

Despite all that has been thrown at us, we remain.

We still go to our jobs if we're lucky enough to have them.

We still go to our churches to acknowledge that we are small creatures in a vast universe and aid is always appreciated.

We still go to school or send our children to school or help them in our dining rooms as we remember how much we hated new or old math.

We still donate to food pantries and meal kitchens. We still give to charities, always remembering that there—but for the grace of God—we go.

We still care, still help when able, and still love as best as we can.

Look, if I had time, I would have told you that that is what hope looks like. We're loaded with the stuff. We're filled with determination. We're still the ape reaching for the angel.

That's what I would have said, and then I would ended with my favorite lines from the poem Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

"Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

That's what I would have said if I had been able to find the time to write it properly. I think you would have enjoyed it. 

And maybe you did.

Happy New Year, my friends. God bless and keep you safe.

(Illustration copyright Depositphotos.com)

Friday, January 01, 2021

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you and yours! May the new year be filled with love, laughter, health, prosperity, peace, and all good things!

Prayer for the New Year

Dear Creator,
Grant us the courage to start again.
Let us find the strength to overcome the problems facing us.
Help us understand that healing ourselves and rebuilding our spirits takes time which only makes such efforts even more precious and vital.
Remind us to be kind to those who have fallen so that they can also heal and grow.
Give peace and comfort to those who have experienced loss and sorrow in the past year and let them experience joy in the days to come.
As the future becomes our present and the present becomes our past, let us be in the here now and savor the blessings small and large of this life.
And let us always remember to be grateful for what we love and for what loves us. In the end, only love matters.
Sincerely,
Us

 

Friday, September 25, 2020

Darker still...

Blackbirds Second Flight
By Various Authors

     Enjoy new dark and twisted stories and poems from Stephen B. Bagley, Wendy Blanton, Gail Henderson, Ken Lewis, Jean Schara, and Heath Stallcup, including:
A writer challenges her murderous muse.
☀ Dragons and riders stage a daring rescue.
☀ Gangsters face off over the world's fate.z
☀ Warriors duel to their deaths in the sky.
☀ A father 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!
Buy on Amazon!
Buy on Barnes & Noble!
Buy on BooksAMillion!
Buy on Lulu!
Buy on Powell's Books!

Monday, September 21, 2020

Something darker...

Blackbirds First Flight
By Various Authors
    Enjoy these dark fantasies:
★ An unhappy wife can't decide what to do about her boorish husband until an uneaten meal gives her a dark idea...
Something is raising zombies in Tulsa, and Justina Grave is the only one who can stop it...
★ When a fat farm promises to make Edyth thin again, her dream comes true. She will never be fat again—or safe...
Hopping a freight train can be a cheap way to travel. Unless you pick the wrong boxcar...
★ One kiss gives Francois immortality, but at a cost he doesn't see coming...
A warrior must choose her fate as the Romans ravage her land...
★ Stalked by terrible creatures seeking vengeance, a band of robbers runs for their lives in medieval France...
    This anthology will lead you into dark, twisted places filled with mystery and delight. Enjoy thrilling stories and chilling poems by authors Stephen B. Bagley, Kent Bass, Wendy Blanton, Gail Henderson, Tamara Siler Jones, and Jean Schara.
Buy on Amazon!
Buy on Barnes & Noble!
Buy on Better World Books!
Buy on BooksAMillion!
Buy on Lulu!
Buy on Powell's!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Query

Ever feel like your warranty has expired and you're going along dropping parts and duct-taping repairs as you can?

Hm?

No?

Well, just thought I would ask.

No reason.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Still believin'

I still believe in the power of love.

Yeah, I know. I'm a bit backward and loopy, but I still do.

Many people think a relationship with God is basically punishment, guilt, shame, and not getting to have any fun. They're wrong, but it might not be their fault. Plenty of churches have taught the doctrine of crushing, blind obedience, and that you can only get into Heaven by the tips of your desperate fingernails--if that.

I don't know how God has become so mean in our modern times. I read the four Gospels, and all I can see is love, forgiveness, and mercy, but instead of the Bible being a comfort, it has become a club. Stop using it that way! That's not what Jesus wanted. It's not what He commanded. He wanted us to love each other, to feed the poor, to care for the sick, and to comfort other people when they sorrow. He wanted us to be better. To do better.

So let's do that. What do you say?

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Learning while journeying

Do you dread Monday? From Sunday noon on, I feel like the week is rushing to Monday. When I was employed, I loved the weekend when I had time to write and play on my computer and call friends and all the things that gave me joy. It's a shame that debt keeps so many of us working so hard that we can enjoy life only in small doses. Or maybe it makes us appreciate those times even more. Would our time be as precious if we had all we wanted? We might waste it instead of treasuring it. We humans are like that; give us what we want and we find it wasn't what we wanted and so we misuse what was precious to us. Wisdom is, I think, learning to cherish what needs to be cherished. Or as a writer I admire put it: choosing clear, cold water and a sword.

Someone once said that the true test of your character is what you do when no one is looking. I've been thinking about that lately, about the choices I've made and the other paths I could have walked. I was told recently that I'm unyielding. It wasn't meant as a compliment, but I think I will take it as such. I know what's right and I know what's wrong. I know how to choose between the two. And mostly I think I chose the former, but I know of times when I chose the latter. I'm not perfect, not by a long shot, but unyielding, yeah, I'm that. When something is wrong, then we have to speak out against it. We have to oppose it. To not do so means that we simply don't care or we're too lazy to care.

I must admit sometimes I get tired of caring. People who don't care seem to have better lives than mine. They have all things by which this world measures success: money, lovers, toys, travel, etc. I guess it makes me small-minded to say I'd like a few of those cherries on my plate. Well, who doesn't? It's getting those cherries without sacrificing our morals and ideas--that's the hard thing. I don't know how it's done, but I know people do it. And maybe we will, too. If not, heck, there are worse things in this world than working hard and getting by. Don't you think so?

Learning to take joy in the journey, that's what I'm trying to do. To enjoy time with friends, to embrace the town and state and nation in which I live, to help where I can, and to pray and work without ceasing for the better world around the corner of tomorrow.

Those are my goals. I probably won't achieve them wholly. But the striving for them is what makes life worthwhile. That's my take on things this Sunday on the 19th day of the month of July in the 2020th year of our Lord.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Musical

I recently binge-watched Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist. If you like musicals, it's a good show with a clever concept and a good heart for the most part. If it bothers you that people suddenly break into song backed up by a full orchestra, naturally you won't like it.

My family is musical. We had voice lessons when we were children and sang endlessly at church and school. I have a great appreciation for music and enjoy many musicals. Especially the great ones, like Man of La Mancha, Into the Woods, Oklahoma (naturally), Godspell, Passion, Chorus Line, Cabaret, Camelot, The Garden, Waitress, Sunday in the Park with George, Fiddler on the Roof, Gypsy, ... oh, the list goes on and on.

I've never completely trusted people who can't respond to musicals. I wonder what they lack in their souls. How sad their worldview must be when it can't admit the possibility of music and wonder in their lives. I've known many people who sneer at musicals. I pity them because of all they miss, and worse, because of all they're incapable of understanding. It is the suspension of disbelief that is sadly lacking.

Of course, we don't live in a musical world. We live in a world of indiscriminate viruses, senseless wars, drive-by shootings, murderer martyrs, child molesters, serial killers, and a thousand horrors that we accept as being the real world. We boast of our wisdom and maturity as we despoil the environment and let thousands of children die each day of starvation while we stuff another Big Mac down our gaping maws as the self-righteous smugly give us the moral justification for sitting on our lazy butts. You think I don't understand what this world is because I'm autistic? I understand better than most could ever realize. I watch the parade of broken lives and senseless sorrows, and I rage. I cry.

For a few minutes, an hour or so, I like to pretend that a better world exists somewhere where people sing their dreams and feelings and can express their love in a song with an invisible orchestra that accompanies them on cue. I like to think maybe dreams matter and the good guys win and we are capable of being more than tiny creatures who shame creation.

Sometimes I wonder if we're the fallen angels, cast out of Heaven because of our greed and selfishness, our hatred and pettiness. And that maybe that spark of Heaven in our soul still longs to fly, to throw ourselves into the river of stars, to be in His overwhelming presence again. But we can't so we lift up our voices and our songs spiral up, above the clouds into the black sky and the endless light beyond.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Intervention

Let's go over this again because some of you didn't get the message:

I think it's time we have this out. I've tried to be nice about it, tried to avoid the subject, tried to be a peacemaker, but there comes a point where I have to make a stand: onions should be cooked until they are caramelized. Always. Soups, burgers, you name it.

I know you might feel differently. You might like them raw chopped up in your salad or in thick slices on your cheeseburger. God love you, you're wrong.

Now, this isn't a huge sin; you will still get into Heaven--I think--but it's important you understand how wrong it is. It's a gateway vegetable, and soon you will be mainlining raw turnips if you don't stop right now.

There. I've said it. I'm sorry if it hurts you, but sometimes people who love you--and I mostly tolerate you, which is in the same city as love if not the same neighborhood--have to step in and save you from you.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The trees in the forest

How are you today? I've been busy the past several days finishing a project that's several weeks behind! The process is not necessarily hard, but it's long and somewhat complicated. Well, not really complicated, but lots of steps to do in order. No step is particularly hard, but they have to be done in order, and they all have to be done. Maybe it is complicated.

Things often are when you look at a whole project rather than breaking it into steps. Looking at the forest can keep you from seeing the trees. And vice versa, of course.

Many people claim that seeing the forest is more important than seeing the trees, forgetting that the trees as a group are the forest. You can lose one tree, obviously, and still have a forest, but how many can you lose before the forest is no more? One tree is not a forest. Nor is two or three or even 10. How about 100? 300? 1,000? There's not a true definition of a forest. We simply know one when we see one.

That brings us back to the importance of a single tree. If you lose enough single trees, then you don't have a forest anymore. So every tree has to be important because, without it, the forest is diminished. Always beware of someone who is willing to sacrifice a tree or two for the sake of the forest. They're ignoring what a forest truly is.

And no, I'm not really talking about trees. I'm actually talking about government and how politicians sacrifice individuals--us--to benefit the greater public, even though each of us actually is a part of that "public."

Politicians talk about making the hard decisions, but have you ever noticed their hard decisions never impact them? They hold themselves apart. They're not part of the public. They're the overseers, the rulers--the sacrificers, never the sacrifices.

Make no mistake about this: If you're a Republican or Democrat or any other political party, you're supporting people who will claim--with pride--that they can make the hard decisions for us, that they know better than the individual, that sacrifice is necessary for the greater good.

They're protecting the forest, you see? The forest is more important than a tree, right? And it's only after a forest is clear cut that people realize something vital has been lost. Fortunately, at that point, our overseers will exhort the values of an empty land. We are so lucky.

Aren't we?

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Time Enough?

If you say you haven't had time to do something, then it's because you don't want to do it.

Is that true?

In the short term--say over a few days--no. You can literally have no time due to prior commitments. There is only so much you can get done in one day.

But over longer periods of time--say a month or two--yes. If you can't find time in a month or so, it's because you didn't want to do the request in the first place.

Of course, this depends on the request. We're not talking about building bridges or putting up a house. We're talking about those day-to-day requests that are asked of us by our church, civic clubs, the PTA, etc.

I've always held the belief that you make time for the things that are important to you. And if you don't, then they weren't really that important or they were less important than what you put before them. I've had several friends divorce because the wife felt that the husband put his job before her and their children. Although their husbands would deny it, it was true. We put our time where we want to put our time.

Of course, there are a thousand exceptions to any supposed absolute, but I think there is a disturbing truth here. We make time for what is important to us.

Do you want to disagree? I know I do. I don't like where this line of thought leads me. For instance, I claim to be a Christian, but how much time do I spend in sharing the message of Christianity? I claim that I want to be a full-time writer, but how much time do I invest in writing, in sending out stories and articles, and in attempting to get my writing published? I claim that my family and friends are important to me, but how much time do I spend talking to them, helping them, and being with them? Where, truly, are my priorities?

Our life is the only thing that truly belongs to us. How we live it is where our priority is. We may give lip service to lofty goals and soaring dreams, but what we actually do is the truth.
If someone looked at our lives without being able to hear our explanations for our actions, what would they think were our top priorities?

It's a balancing act, of course. We have families, and families need food, clothing, and shelter so we work our jobs to raise the money to provide those things to our families--even though that means we have to spend a lot of time away from those we love. Churches need our tithes to carry out their ministries, and to have those tithes to give, we need our jobs even though those jobs limit the time we can work in soup kitchens and visit the sick. And so on. When we spend our time in one area, that time is lost to another.

Those are the limitations of this life. We can't do it all so we have to choose and pick what we can do. And we have to try to choose wisely because this is the only life we have down here. It's a sobering thought. But it's also part of what makes life so interesting and so complicated. I don't think I'd have it any other way...unless I could clone me or live several hundred years. Then let's talk.

Monday, July 13, 2020

In praise of doubt

Doubt has a bad name in our world. We expect people to be certain in their opinions and beliefs. We might disagree with their certainty, but we still say things like "We respect your position."

What a bunch of crap. What we don't need in this world is more certainty. We need more doubt.

Certainty that they're going to get 40 virgins helps fuel suicide bombers.

Certainty that the world can survive whatever man does to it keeps companies polluting and keeps gasoline hogging vehicles on the road.

Certainty that we're no different from the animals keeps the abortion clinics full.

Certainty that homosexuality is abhorrent gives people a nice warm, feeling as they beat gays to death.

Certainty that God never intended for the races to mingle and marry keeps us from feeling guilty as we shun them in church and talk privately about "those kind of people."

Certainty that we're right and everyone else is wrong allows us to talk about "godless liberals" and "lying conservatives" on our social media.

Certainty that our denomination is the only path to God allows us to preach against other faiths and even kill their followers if we have to.

Certainty that oil and natural gas will last forever keeps pushing the problem of diminishing resources onto our children and their children.

Certainty that the other guy is out to get us gives us permission to get him first and feel justified.

Certainty that it's better to mind our own business than get involved lets child abusers and spouse beaters continue their destruction of innocence.

Certainty that we deserve more just because of who we are rather than realizing that "there but for the grace of God go we" keeps people homeless, keeps families in poverty, keeps kids starving, keeps people dying.

Certainty that we can't change anything--that one person's effort means nothing in the face of the overwhelming problems--makes our recliners feel especially nice as we numb our brains with sex and violence on TV.

Certainty that old dogs can't learn new tricks means that we stop learning new things, we stop challenging ourselves, and we hang onto society like ticks.

I don't know about you, but I could do with more doubt in the world. We need more humility and searching, more praying and working, more striving to be better people ourselves instead of rushing around trying to remove the motes from other people's eyes while ignoring the beam in ours.

Doubt has had a bad name since the days of Thomas, but it needs to be recognized for what it is and what it's meant to be. It's meant to temper us, to give us pause, to make us wonder, to make us search, to make us strive to be better.

I'm tired of blind, unquestioning faith. I want some sighted, searching faith. I want to shake the hand of a minister, preacher, deacon, rabbi, guru, school administrator, banker, bishop, representative, senator, president, and feel the calluses that only hard work and hard-won faith can bring.

We're probably not going to get any of this, but I'm certain the world needs it.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Mystery of Saint Etienne

Several years back, I worked on a book titled The Mystery of Saint Etienne. I never finished it. It was a book of prosetry; in other words, a book that used the techniques of poetry to tell a story in prose. I was inspired by the works of Calvin Miller, particularly The Song and The Singer, a retelling of Christ's story in an alternative reality. Great books.

Anyway, here's an excerpt from my unfinished book. It seemed fitting for these times.

From The Mystery of Saint Etienne

Between reason and faith, we make our way through a hard world with edges sharp enough to wound the unwary. Oh Lord guide our steps.
Faith is what we hold, a lamp to light our way and to let blind eyes see. Oh Lord let Your light shine on us.
Between what is and what should be, we are stretched, a cord between two black horses. Oh Lord send to us Your mercy.
Heaven is our hope in this world without hope. Oh Lord may we bring hope as You brought hope unto us.
Between the precipice and the fall, we take faltering steps, children lost in the dark woods. Oh Lord give us a lodestone that points to You.
Here we stand unclean in our souls and dark of hearts. Oh Lord send to us Your cleansing rain.
Oh Lord we are fallen but You lift us up.
Oh Lord we are scattered but You gather us.
Oh Lord we are unworthy but You take us.
We raise hands to You, a thousand thousand tongues give unto You praise, and the rocks and hills and dales resound with voices that cry,
Hosanna,
Hosanna,
Hosanna.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Ships

I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday. She's still searching for that one, the man who will know and love her.

"He's out there," she said. "Somewhere. And he's looking for me, too, even if he doesn't know it. I've got to hold on until I meet him. Then it will be...wonderful."

"I hope so," I said, thinking that she was waiting for her life to begin, but that was her choice, and hadn't we had this conversation a thousand times before? I wasn't the one for her. I was just her friend. That's what she wanted from me.

I was talking to a friend of mine in Tulsa last week. He needs to get married, he says. He's so lonely. Somewhere there's a woman for him, he says. He's got to keep searching.

"Good luck," I said, thinking of the many times he had told me of his fruitless search and how he could fill his life with so many things. But I didn't say anything. I'm his friend. I support him even if his quest never ends.

Another person would have matched them up. Would have thought that fate was bringing them together, but I know better. I introduced them at a party a few years back. I thought maybe some sparks would fly. I even questioned them about the meeting later.

"Too old," she said. "Too plump," he said.

"Too out of shape," she said. "Too much make-up," he said.

"Too intellectual," she said. "Too young," he said.

And so they go on, ships that pass deliberately in the night.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Remember

I will not take these for granted:

A cup of coffee. I felt the morning sunshine on my face like a blessing.

My computer. It gives me problems sometimes, but it keeps plugging along, outdated as it is. It helps me write and be creative in ways I couldn't have imagined when I was a kid pounding away on a Smith-Corona.

A roof over my head. It's a modest house, it needs painting inside some repairs, but many people would love to have it. Many people have nothing at all between them and the bitter winds and the burning sun.

Food on my table. Millions of men and women, millions of children struggle with starvation. Truly I live in a land of plenty.

My country. It isn't perfect, but it's the best that humanity has ever been able to produce. I'm not one to throw out the baby with the bathwater. We'll fix the problems. We'll continue to grow and change and get better. That's what we do.

My dear friends. A close second to my family in my affections. I appreciate the laughter and talks about life, politics, and everything else.

My precious family. In the end, they're the people I love the most and who count on me and on whom I depend. We've been together a long time, and God willing, have many more years to go.

My personal salvation. I don't preach to people. I'm not built that way. But it would be a mistake to assume that my silence meant that I didn't take my spiritual life seriously. I hope that people can see by my life and by how I live that there's something more to this life, that we aren't alone by any means, and that even the smallest of us matter in this vast universe. I know I fail in this daily, but the struggle makes life worthwhile.

Every now and then, I have to remind myself to not take these things for granted.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Posting today

This is why I had to post today:

Today I wasn't going to post because I was feeling down. I've been thinking about how easy it is for us to be cruel to each other and wondering why that is so.

Don't think that I'm going to go and on about how worthless humanity is, because I'm not. We're the best and brightest to come along so far, and we do some pretty amazing things. We also do some really stupid things. I've been wondering lately how is that going to balance out. When will we tip the scale toward the light finally and permanently?

A lot of people believe we won't get better. That eventually we will get so bad that the world will have to be destroyed in fire. They back this up with a lot of Biblical scholarship. I think that it would be sad. I find many good things in this world; I'd hate to think of them fading into that long night. But that's me in a nutshell. I'm always hopeful, but I plan for the worst. I do not hunger for apocalypse, and I worry about the people who do.

Anyway, considering how hard this world is, how many burdens we all carry, you'd think we'd try to be kinder to each other, even to those who have opinions and lifestyles of which we disapprove. But we're not. We shout at each other, we post terrible things about each other, we attack beliefs, faiths, lifestyles, politics, their very lives. And we give no quarter and take no prisoners. We smile when the other guys are hurt or humiliated. Because we know we're right, we don't feel pity. Just contempt.

Are we so small? If that is all we are, then bring on the fire. Let it all be swept away. I'll strike the match.

But...

Then I think of other things.

Like my babies, some of whom have grown up and are having babies of their own.

Like my siblings, who have traveled this wild road with me so far.

Like my friends, some of whom have known me for more than 40 years now, and we're still close.

And you, my social media buddies. Those folks whom I've never met in "real" life, but still care about me and are cared about by me.

And all those people out there working to make the world a better place in hospitals, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, schools, homes, churches, small towns, and large cities, all those keeping themselves above water and helping others stay afloat.

And finally, the God I serve, a God of hope, a God of joy, a God who enjoys a good joke and maybe a Dr Pepper every now and then between creating universes. The Big Table God who has a place for everyone. A God that is my friend however unworthy I am.

We are blessed. And it's still a pretty good world. So let's not have that fire just yet.

That's what I wanted to say and why I had to post today.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Courage

When I get discouraged, which happens from time to time, I take comfort from an old poem. It is "Ulysses" by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It was written in 1833 and tells of the elderly hero Ulysses looking back at his life and deciding that he will go forth and see wonders again. It ends like this:

"Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

Much abides in me, in you. This is courage unyielding. The courage we all have. Still.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

The Levelers

How do they become that way? Did life sour them early? Did their parents tear them down? Do they think they were appointed by the universe to the arbiter of mankind? Do they think all the pain they inflict with their criticisms is somehow good for you? Do they really think they’re helping you?

I’ve learned to shelter my ideas and dreams from certain people. Newborn ideas are fragile things, and these people take pleasure in picking them to pieces. Or they have ways to "better" these ideas until the idea is a creaking, belching, lumbering monster that you can’t bear to work on.

I call those people The Levelers. They live tiny, self-satisfied, self-righteous lives. They can’t learn anything beyond what they know, and if you try to teach them, they will ruthlessly tear you down with no guilt. You will be told that you disappoint them, that you embarrass them, and that you are a failure in all the important things. The Levelers will pull you down to their level if you let them. They’ll push you into darkness if they can get away with it. They can’t look at the sky because they're too busy pushing people’s faces in the dirt.

You can run from them, but their words haunt you. The rotten thing is that we want the approval of our parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, and lovers. We want them to cherish us. We want them to think we’re smart, funny, bright, and attractive. We don’t need their careless cruelty, their unthinking remarks, and their unearned superior attitude. Not ever.

Eventually, The Levelers will remake you or destroy you or … or you will find that your dreams and ideas have more strength than their words and actions. You’ll draw strength from being alone and being afraid. You might even hate your vicious critics at first, and anger will propel you on for a time, but then you’ll find the dream is enough. It’s a cold existence at times, but where you’re flying, the air is always cold and pure and you can see the stars and the unknown beyond.

When you set down on earth, resting your wings for a moment, you’ll see The Levelers for tiny creatures they are. You will probably feel contempt, but if your dreams have taken you far enough, you’ll pity them. You’ll pity them for their limited horizon, bounded forever by their spite and ignorance. You’ll pity them for choosing to live in a prison of their making. But pity isn't enough for you to choose the ground, no matter how much they need you.

The horizon will call, and then you will fly away.

I don’t know if you’ll look back. But I doubt it.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Holding on and letting go

We hold onto our lives as hard as we can. Isn't it strange how we say we seek adventure, travel, and new experiences, but will do everything we can to preserve the status quo? Weird creatures we are, as Yoda would put it.

Sometimes our world gets shaken. Sometimes we are forced to confront the unknown. I'd like to think I'd face such a change with my eyes wide open, my body straining against the new wind. But too many times, I've tried to retreat. Tried to preserve what couldn't be preserved. Done it too many times with too many relationships and life situations. I know me too well.

When I was younger and quicker and harsher with my judgments, I used to think it was cowardly to not embrace change. But now that I'm older with too many sins of my own to presume to judge the sins of others and now that I've seen so many changes that definitely weren't for the better, I know that both ways take courage, stubbornness, and hope.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Made for more

It comes down to this: Every second we live is a second closer to death. Most of us prefer to not think about it since it doesn’t seem healthy to dwell on our approaching demise. A few rare (thankfully) individuals focus on death, sometimes to the extreme of choosing to commit murder or suicide or both. But most of us live our lives in the now. No one knows when they’re going to die, which allows us to make some terrible choices since we think we’re going to survive the consequences of our foolishness. Youth makes us immortal, we think.

All religions focus on death, or really the afterlife. It seems inconceivable to us that we won’t survive in some fashion, be it Heaven, Nirvana, or merging with the Cosmic Flow. To think of the earth as a staging area or a practice arena for what comes next helps many of us to find meaning in our lives. Other people choose to hedonistically live for pleasure now. “You only get one life; live it to the fullest.” A slogan that seems to be particularly popular for selling beer and sports cars.

Time overwhelms us. If you think about all those nameless people who went before us and all those who will follow us, you can feel lost in the multitudes. Few of us will achieve the fame to be remembered 100 years from now--not that such remembrance could factor into our lives now because we won’t know if we will be remembered or what we will be remembered for. The vast majority of us will not be remembered here.

You have to shy away from such knowledge, you know. You can’t live your life with eternity peering over your shoulder. The responsibility of living for the future can drain your joy now. There is a balance we should seek between now and eternity, between pleasure and responsibility, and between us and other people. “Moderation in all things,” to quote a very wise man.

Balance. There’s the rub. How to gain it. How to keep it. How to be an adult in a world that celebrates bad behavior. We’re not a society that appreciates good behavior. Bad behavior will get you on a so-called reality show. Bad behavior will get your name in the tabloids. People will know you if you have more money than sense, cheat on your lover, steal money from friends, curse to shame a sailor, and perform other egregious actions.

But we’re made for so much more. We can be a light to our friends. We can be kind to our enemies. We can leave the world a better place than we found it. We can be adult and reasonable and sane and right. Not because there will be a reward for it--because there won’t be--but because it’s the right thing to do. When we humans finally do the right thing because it’s right and not because we’re rewarded for such, then we will have finally at long last grown up.

I hope it’s soon. Don't you?

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Happy July 4th!

Yes, we have problems as a nation--and what nation since the dawn of time has not?--but I'm proud to be an American, blessed to live in this diverse and amazing nation, humbled by the sacrifices of those who have given their lives to keep us free, and excited when looking forward to our future.

The naysayers and political pundits like to highlight our shortcomings, conveniently ignoring our past successes and our continuing accomplishments. We truly have changed the face of the world, and although we have made grievous mistakes, we have also been an unrelenting force in the struggle for freedom, liberty, and equality.

God has blessed us immensely, and may He continue to do so!

Friday, July 03, 2020

Hearts against the darkness

When I get too full of self-pity, I remember Brandon.

Back in December, I ran into him and his parents at Staples. They had adopted Brandon several months before. He's sweet and cute as a button with bright blue eyes and a ready grin. I was playing peek-a-boo with him, and he gurgled with laughter. He was lively as he sat in the stroller. Interested in the world and ready to explore. He also has HIV.

My friends had searched for a baby for a couple of years after they found out that they couldn't have children of their own. They prayed a lot and by chance discovered a website that talked of AIDS babies. About how these babies are born with HIV passed to them by their mothers. Many times they are also born with drug addictions because their mothers used drugs. The mothers abandon them or have them taken by the legal system. The babies are placed in various orphanages and hospitals, and then people wait for them to die.

It broke my friends' hearts to hear of the babies, and they decided one of those babies was meant by God for them. It was a hard, long, and expensive process, but Brandon arrived at the Oklahoma City airport in June to be met by his new nervous parents.

His mother told me, "As soon as I held him, I knew this was my baby. I loved him. He is mine." She nodded firmly. "He is our baby."

Brandon requires a lot of medical care. Fortunately, his new parents have been blessed with financial means. He's getting the best care there is. And he's getting such love that if love can cure, he will live a long and happy life.

This is a hard world where an innocent can suffer like this. And it is a wonderful world where people like my friends throw their hearts against the darkness. How can I think that I have problems, that my grief is overwhelming, that I am pitiful, when children like Brandon struggle to live, to grow up? I would not be worthy of breath if it didn't humble me.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

What we choose

I told a friend of mine once that we all get the life we choose. I've been pondering that ever since I said it. Is it true? Do we get the life we choose? I mean, I'm not living the life I want to. Did I choose this?

The answer is a qualified yes. I did choose this life even if I didn't know I was just as other people made their choices that affected me as mine did theirs. We made the choices that led here. Not gifted with foresight, we made what we thought were good choices at the time.

No one minds dying if they think they're going to be a hero and fondly remembered. Then they get to be noble. That's easy. Instead, we wrestle with the day to day. The nothingness. The endless ritual of baths and laundry and clothes and meals and work and chores and parenting and and and and and ...

Being a hero isn't necessarily hard. Many unexpected people rise to the occasion when it's before them. But it's the everyday life that we struggle with. The endless hours. The meaningless moments that stretch until the days bury hope. The people who face the day after day are brave, too. They might not think they are, but they are.

So this is me lifting my cup to all those who struggle: to K. who hates his job but is afraid to leave; to G. who is struggling with her family and her life and losing a dream; to M. who thinks she isn't worthy and really is; to H. who's been afraid her whole life to live but still keeps trying; to K., S., and J. who are struggling with mid-life; to everyone who rolls out of bed each day and gets their kids to school and goes to work and cares for their fellow man; to the people who bring unexpected doughnuts; to all the unpublished writers who keep putting the words down on paper; to all of you, may God keep and richly bless you in all the ways that you deserve.

And maybe when He's bestowing these graces, He'll send a few my way.