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I need mindless distraction, and this fills the bill… March 25, 2014

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It’s been awhile. I know. Something tells me you’ve managed to survive without my pithy eloquence, but I’m going to post tonight anyway because a distraction from my thoughts would do me good. Might do you good too, depending on what your thoughts have been. Mine have been with some who are close to me going through yet again a difficult time, and while I could blog about that, something tells me they’d appreciate it if I didn’t. So I won’t. There, that was easy.

I’m going to tell you a story instead, about me as a kid. I could be a very distracting kid. One of my bigger distractions was in fifth grade. In fifth grade, at least when I was growing up, “writing” was one of the things you got a grade on. What they really meant was “penmanship,” but I guess that wouldn’t fit on the report card or something. When I was growing up, in elementary school, “penmanship” was “writing.” That other thing involving words, for which you received a separate grade, was “reading.”

Though “reading” and “writing” were graded separately, by fifth grade they were most often assigned concurrently, as by fifth grade, you were expected in at least some pitiful, struggling detail to write about what you read.

By fifth grade, my young mind was starting to see connections between things, one of which was, even though I was understanding the material pretty well–I thought so, anyway–my assignments kept coming back with C’s. Not because I wasn’t understanding the material as well as I thought, sometimes I didn’t, but more often than not I did. They were coming back because my “writing”–by which I mean my “penmanship”–was terrible.

Well, then, my young mind said, what would happen if my “writing”–again, by which I mean, my “penmanship”–weren’t so terrible?  Would I get better grades if people could actually read what I wrote?

Why, yes! Yes, perhaps I might! So, my fifth-grade mind told me, there was one–and only one–rational and logical thing to do: stop writing in cursive. 

So I did. From there on out, all my assignments, I wrote in what today they call “manuscript.” We called it “printing.” Every assignment to write I received, I printed.

Lo and behold, my grades started going up. Almost instantly.

My mother was still horrified.

My mother was shocked–shocked!–that my teacher for the reading and writing segments (by fifth grade, my elementary school started moving kids between classes to get them ready for junior high school) was not only allowing me to be such an undisciplined slacker but apparently encouraging it. Enough so at the next parent-teacher conference, they had a discussion about it.

My teacher won out. “He wants to be understood,” she told my mother. “I will not penalize a student for wanting to be understood.”

I never wrote an assignment in cursive again, ever.  No teacher made the slightest deal out of it. Ever. By my sophomore year I was learning to type and from there on out that would be how I would write any such assignment given to me.

That was before personal computers, then tablets, became commonplace. Not very far before, I’m not that old; but the point I’m making is one of the smartest damned things I ever did was to dump cursive and start writing in manuscript. I didn’t realize until I was older exactly how much writing in poor, sloppy cursive held me back as a kid. I could have slowed down and given myself more time to be neat, I guess, but my brain doesn’t work like that. My brain wants that thought down on paper NOW, while it’s intact, before it gets forgotten or squirreled up.

Supposedly a good cursive aids the speed in which your thoughts hit the paper, because you don’t need to lift the pencil from it nearly as much. Maybe for some. Not for me. I notice keyboarding this blog entry that my fingers lift off the keys way more than if I were writing it in either manuscript or cursive, yet the words sure are coming up more quickly.

Why in the world is this on my mind?  Well, I was out on an errand this evening after work and had the car radio on NPR, and this story was the feature.

Normally I don’t react viscerally to NPR stories, but this one had me talking to the radio more than once. Especially fascinating was one Tennessee legislator’s opinion that not teaching cursive in schools was somehow denying students the opportunity to read the nation’s founding documents.  Think about it–in 1776, and 1783, were there typewriters?  The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are written in cursive, are they not? How dare we, then, not teach our children the very method used to write those documents so sacred to our heritage?

Seriously–this legislator was genuinely scared that because our kids are no longer learning cursive, they will no longer be able to read documents written in cursive.

I like to think our kids are smarter than that. I also like to think that there are at least a couple of versions floating around that came off a printing press instead of from someone’s poor, tired hand, that Gutenberg’s invention didn’t go entirely to waste not making a copy or two of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. You think? 😉

As is, I’ve said all I really can about it, save for this: It’s nice to know I’m not the only one passionate on the subject, and it’s nice to know that paranoia and conspiracy theories aside, the science on the subject seems to back me up.

Edit: Check out the comments section for a few words on this from Kate Gladstone      (http://handwritingrepair.info/). Enlightening, to say the least. 

_____________________

I’m very close to finished editing the old Butterfield Fishing Shows I’ve told you about in earlier entries. Once I get them the way I want them, I’ll send my dad and brothers copies.

If I’m really feeling brave, I might even put them up on my YouTube channel–the one I didn’t even know I had. Turns out if you’ve got a Google sign-in, by default you have a Google+ account, including a YouTube channel to gussy up and program as much as you choose–provided, of course, you don’t violate copyright laws.

There, I might have a problem.

See, the Butterfield Fishing Shows as I produce them, have music in them, in many cases easily recognizable music, and, well, the RIAA doesn’t take too kindly to people using music without paying the people who made the music.

Fortunately there’s also a thing called the Fair Use provision of American copyright law, and for 99% of the music I’m using, I’m well within its bounds.

The trouble is the one or two tunes where I might not be, and YouTube’s nasty habit of muting or dumping videos that use too much copyrighted music.

But if you ever saw one of these shows, you’d not only understand why I’m using the music, you’d probably insist I did. I don’t have to, I guess, but it just adds a certain je nais se quoi that makes the difference between a fun, funny story and just a bunch of dudes fishing.

When did life become so hard, anyway?

Enough rambling. Sleep well, America. Good night.

 

SPEED BLOGGING!! February 15, 2014

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Sorry, I just had an overwhelming need to get your attention… 😉 I’m writing this entry under deadline this morning. The grandson and his parents are on their way up to celebrate Valentine’s Day belated, Dad’s birthday right on schedule, and in Bryce’s case just the pure unbridled joy of life only a fourteen-and-a-half-month-old can experience.

So, before I get too distracted by that, I want to let you know of some new Sheer Arrogance posted on the blog today, called “Something all writers SO need to do.”  In which Your Humble Blogger gives a most valuable writing tip and pays tribute to his first fair crush in honor of Valentine’s Day at the same time. Pretty darn versatile for a old guy, no?  Hey, I even cook up a new word in this one. Enjoy.

Now, back to the grandson report: Young Bryce has been walking for three months now and can go most anywhere he sets his mind to. Grandma has rid the house of ninety percent of cat hair just for him. Once he and his family arrive, we will set out for lunch and partake of some of the finest chain-store buffet Olathe has to offer at Golden Corral.

All I’ve got for now. Maybe a little more to come tomorrow, once my brain recuperates from the gluttony to come.  If you’re looking for something a little more meaty, my entry from last week could stand a few more hits. Until then, be blessed!

Big round numbers colliding in kismet January 15, 2014

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I hate writing about myself. I envy anyone who can do it and not make himself look like a narcissistic ass. I certainly can’t.

Sometimes one has to recognize milestones reached, however, even at the risk of narcissistic assery; and this is one of those times. Two of them, actually. The first is my fiftieth birthday January 19. The second is my hundredth post on this blog–this one.

Fifty years.  One hundred posts. Big round numbers colliding in kismet.  Not often you see a fiftieth paired with a hundredth. Gotta mean something. So I’m going to go with the “personal enlightenment” angle.

When I was a kid I was one of those little dorks who read everything he could get his grubby hands on–cereal boxes, calendar trivia, newspaper clippings, even his mother’s  Reader’s Digests. One year I stumbled on something called “Ten Things I’ve Learned in a Half Century of Living.” I don’t remember who wrote it, and so far the Power of Google reveals nothing.

Coming up to my half-century-hundred-post kismet, I catch myself thinking that would be a good exercise–to come up with ten things I’ve managed to learn, then impart them to you, so you can read them and think “Holy Mother of Creation, what a narcissistic ass.”

So here are mine, written pretty much on the fly with not a whole lot of thought behind a one. Some of them are my own lame observations, others–in quotes–are ones which I think “yep, they got that right.” They’re in no special order.  The first is from that Reader’s Digest article I mentioned above:

1). “A beautiful woman is one who loves me.”  I love you too, Karen. God bless you. Enough said.

2). To kill a dream stone dead, demand it come true just the way you dream it. I could have been a talk radio host–something I’ve always wanted to do–twice.  The first time, I was offered the opportunity by the author of a self-help book I interviewed on the air a couple of times. He was impressed with my skills and said he “knew some people” in Colorado. I turned him down because at the time I barely had enough money to keep the heat on. The second time was my boss offering me my old job back at a station where I’d worked two years before. He’d heard me doing a part-time gig and called to make the offer. Thinking it was the same station I’d left and remembering why I left it, plus wanting to stay close to a major market, I turned him down. I didn’t realize he’d planned to flip it to talk. Had he said that, I may well have gone back, but he didn’t say, and I didn’t ask, did I? I just assumed the worst and acted accordingly.

Two opportunities that will never come again, opportunities that both came when I was responsible for no one else but me, and I let fear of the unknown steal them from me. That’s not how you win, kids. Carpe diem.  I can’t emphasize enough, if you are young and single, and someone offers you an ethical way to achieve your goal in life, TAKE IT.  No matter what.

3). Every decision you make, forever, hinges on one thing. Do you believe in God, or not? That’s it. That’s the question. How you answer it defines everything you think and everything you do. It is the most important question you will ever ask yourself, and only you can answer it. No one has the right to answer it for you. Ask it yourself, answer it yourself, and not just once; do so constantly, do so seriously. The other decisions you make will become much better if you do.

4). Navel gazing is the biggest waste of your time there is. If you really want to know who you are and why you’re here, make yourself available to other people and learn both fast. Easier for some than others, I know, but even introverted people need to do this. People are what reveal your strengths and weaknesses, your joys and sorrows, your skills and failings. You think you know them already? Then you’re delusional. Get out of your head and into the world.

5) “The years have a way of dulling a man.” That’s my favorite line from The Broken Blade, William Durbin’s story of a boy who comes of age with a group of late 18th-century fur traders canoeing the St. Lawrence River in Canada. Boys’ Life serialized an illustrated version of it around 1999 or so when my son was a Cub. Quite an educational tale in that–spoilers!–the “bully” of the group has good reason for being who he is and the “nice guy” who helps our hero learn the necessities of life on the river winds up killed by the river. But the truth of that one line is what stands out most to me. It helps me cope with what I can’t control.

6) “We must be careful about who we pretend to be.” Kurt Vonnegut, God rest his soul, whether he believed he had one or not.  I’m sorely tempted to just use everything in this list to finish mine. Stop and think how right he is with the one line above alone: How many people in your life, who like you and care about you, think you really are what you say you are? Damn near all of them, right? Because who has time living their own lives to pay so close attention to yours that they know the real you? They’d rather believe the illusion. It’s easier. It’s prettier. It’s safer. So you become who you claim to be–and that’s not always a good thing. Scroll down to #15 here to see what I mean.

7). Now is where we live. No quotes around that one, because that’s how I think of it and like to say it. I’ve blogged about it before so I’m not going to beat it to death: The past is done and said. The future is not guaranteed. Now is the only time we can do anything worth a damn.  So do it now.

8). “Start with the upper left-hand brick.” One of Robert M. Pirsig’s most oft-quoted lines from his classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenancea book I like so much I’ve read it nine times. It’s something he said to a student in a freshman comp class who was having trouble with an assignment.  You’ll find oodles of stuff about what great advice this is for overcoming writer’s block, and it is, but that’s like choosing to chug a can of Coke when there’s a glass of champagne on the table. This is more than advice, this is how to live your life. This is real, substantial philosophy summed up in six words! Think it through, you’ll see it. It’s not hard.

9). “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.” Edgar Allan Poe, whose birth date I share.  To me, this means if one is to write at all in an age of attention-deficited instant everything, he should pick the clearest and simplest words to convey his meaning–something not so simple as it sounds. It certainly is not how Poe himself approached his writing, but Poe wrote in a very different time for a very different audience. Today, we must keep it simple for our reader because our reader has much more competition for his time and his mind. The trick is to do it without it being so simple that it inflicts blunt force trauma, and Poe remains a valuable teacher of how to avoid such.

On a personal level, Poe’s words remind me that all the eloquence in the world will not hide lack of personal experience.  “I know how you feel” is an insult if you really don’t. Better to just be there and let people feel  however they need to around you. In the long run it is much more rewarding and appreciated.

10). You don’t need this list. Everything on here, you either have already learned, or will already learn, by yourself. All you’ve gotta do is pay attention.

There you have it. My hundredth post, for my fiftieth birthday. Yay me. Here’s a song to celebrate.

Oh, just one more thing:  Dignity in age is a good thing, a blessed thing, a graceful thing, a sign to all that no matter the circumstance all of life is good and to be lived. Not just the first, for that turns the rest into drudgery.  Not just the middle, for that denies one both learning joy and sorrow in youth and appreciating such learning in age. Not just the last, because it may not be long enough to do all we need.  Live all of it, right now. Every moment. All of it.

Now can we please move on? 🙂

 

The perils of renovating your head January 5, 2014

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Here’s some theme music for this entry.  It’s been in the back of my mind all week, may as well put it at the front of yours.  It’s Dire Straits, at least you know it’s good:

Yes–alert the media, warn the children, spay and neuter the pets, I’m back.  Still working on projects–it takes time to make a quality Butterfield Fishing Show!– but I’ll make the effort to be a more frequent poster.

It takes time to rewrite a novel, too, another one of my projects that I mentioned near the end of last post, and I’m learning the hard way why most writers simply don’t do it.  It’s just like renovating your house, only you’re doing it to your head… and your head doesn’t like it. Not one bit. Not one little bit.  There’s a reason PBS doesn’t have a hit show called This Old Book. 

See, when you do any kind of home renovation, simple as painting or complex as remodeling, you run into… surprises.  Surprises varying from anything just needing to be covered up, to requiring you gut the entire room like a fish. You sigh, you cuss, you redo the budget, you deal.

Here’s the thing about your head–you can’t gut it like a fish.

Or more accurately, you shouldn’t. 

I’m going to scare you now:  A book represents a place where the author’s head was at the time it was written.  This is why you don’t see authors rewrite their older material very much.  If your head is no longer in that place, and you try to bring that book to the place it is now, the book will resist with everything it has. The book will fight your head.

This is the reason once an author is finished with a work, generally, he’s finished with it. My wife called the original work “writing for therapy.” Rewriting it may be writing for exorcism.

Kind of piques your sense of adventure, huh?   Stay tuned. When it’s finished, if Amazon and B&N will let me, it’ll be available for free on Kindle and Nook.  If you have the original version of The Rain Song, I encourage you wholeheartedly once it’s ready to read this version and compare and let me know if it’s better or worse.  Assuming they let me communicate with the outside from my room at the Big Red O… 😉 *

*… as in the state hospital in Osawatomie, Kansas. Google it. ‘Nuff said. 

 

Bricks September 22, 2013

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Fall danced on a soft breeze into northeast Kansas at exactly 3:25 pm CDT, according to one of our local TV weather sages. Its entrance was all lovely and seasonal, sunny and seventies and dry.  Perfect walking weather and after pulling the hammy on my right leg a month ago it needed the exercise, so I walked both to church this morning and to my adoration hour at church this afternoon.  My thoughtful wife picked me up at the end of the hour, so all told my walking today was only eight and a half miles. I don’t say that to brag. My father was a postman before he retired. Eight and a half miles would have been an easy day for him.

Lovely dancing Falls make sentiment easy to come by, so before going in for my hour I stopped to read the bricks.  Ten years ago our pastor at the time was big on community projects to beautify the grounds, one of which was “the gathering area.”  There’s a term for the structure that escapes me, but basically it’s a big wooden roof that splits off into four arches, all held up by a steel frame, with wrought-iron chairs and tables all around, and the surface at ground level underneath is stone and brick.

The labor was all volunteer. The materials were paid for in part by a fund drive selling engraved bricks.  I forget how much they cost.  I do remember there was no specific formula for what went on each brick. Within the bounds of reason, logic, decency and sheer physics, they could say anything you wanted them to say. Had I thought to bring my camera I’d post some pictures of the sweeter ones, or the cuter ones, or the deeper ones. We had some soulful people at our church in those days.  We still do.

But I wasn’t reading the bricks for the first time in years to entertain myself.  I knew several people whose names were on those bricks who had moved on, either in this life or to the next.

And I had one of those odd little thoughts that lovely dancing Falls push up out of the ooze between my ears–that these little bricks, with their few little words, were every bit as much books as those of Chaucer or Burke or Hemingway.

Simple compact testimonies of a life–what could be more of a book than that?

_______________

Years ago I considered journalism as a career, writing at its best a simple compact testimony of the day, though at 19 I had no clue that was what it was about.  I took the 200-level “weed-out” class they offered at the Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. That’s at Indiana University in Bloomington for ye readers not versed in things Hoosier.  I came out of it with a perfectly respectable grade of B and a little more self-knowledge telling me that journalism was a lousy career choice.  No knock on anyone who has chosen journalism as a career choice and especially no knock on the Ernie Pyle School of Journalism–just a realization that in terms of temperament and personality, I was all wrong for the profession.

When I see what the mainstream media in this country is doing with Pope Francis, I am more confident my decision was the correct choice than ever.  Ironically, an opinion column by John L. Allen Jr. posted on CNN online says exactly why better than I ever could:

Despite the mythology of Roman Catholicism as a top-down monolith, the truth is that it’s actually one of the most decentralized institutions on Earth.

There are only about 3,000 personnel in the Vatican directing the affairs of a church that counts 1.2 billion members, which means that Rome doesn’t have the manpower to micromanage anything but exceptional cases.

Probably 90% of the decisions that matter – what pastor will be assigned to which parish, or what tithes will be used for –- are made at the local level.

Popes trying to steer this colossus in a new direction, therefore, need middle managers as well as the rank and file to pull in the same direction, and experience suggests they don’t always fall in line.

Very true of the Roman Catholic Church, yes.  Also very true of many Protestant Christian denominations.

And for that matter very true of Judaism.

And Islam.

And Buddhism.

And the Republican and Democratic Parties of the U.S., and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and the Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and, oh, every large organization of human beings on Earth.

To be a journalist, especially today, one apparently has to take this bit of common knowledge–dare we call it common sense?–and ignore it entirely.

I can’t do that.  I can’t take what one leader thinks and for the sake of a story assume it means all his or her followers will accept it without reservation or question or thought, even when reason and logic and this little thing called life tell me otherwise.

Yet apparently it’s a requirement to write for the mainstream media today, because I’m seeing an awful lot of it.  In the case of Pope Francis, they can’t even get right what he actually wants–here’s the interview as printed in the Jesuit magazine America, see for yourself.

When will they learn we ourselves are not bricks?

Why I’m not a million-selling author, and probably why you aren’t either September 2, 2013

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One of my Facebook buddies is a high school acquaintance who had, and still has, charisma oozing from his pores. These days he tends bar at a hotel in downtown Indianapolis.

He also posts some of the most delightfully wicked, yet occasionally profound, stuff I’ve ever read. The kind of stuff that on average picks up between 27 and 96 “likes,” most from women of assorted ages and appearances, with each time, unfailingly, someone posting “You should write a book!”

To my knowledge–with the full admission I haven’t done any research–he hasn’t done so. With the same caveats, I don’t think he blogs either. And yes, he could do so, and probably get, oh, 400 times the readership of my weak little effort at least.

I mean, come on, who else could refer to his home address as “the corner of Tragically Hip and Crackwhore?”  Not me. Not you. Him and only him. Such originality screams “Notice me, all, and fawn.”

So how come he hasn’t written a book?  Or blogged?  He’s got the skill set, he’s got the audience, he damn sure has the chutzpah, what’s stopping him?

Like I said, I haven’t asked. Irish heredity makes asking such questions dangerous for people like me. They tend to come out blunt and wrong and misinterpretable and bluntly, the older I get the less assholish I wish to appear.  Judgment Day and all that. Besides, having the skill set and the audience and the chutzpah to do so, I imagine he’d prefer to tell people that himself, in his own way.

So I’ll flip it back over to me.  Not that this makes me superior in ANY way, but I have written a book.  Two, in fact.  The older of the two, The Rain Song or Burke’s Siren, actually sold a copy in August.  First sale in, oh, forever. Made 59 cents in royalties. Whoo-hoo! Half a french fry for everyone!

The point is, I have done it, and frankly, in all objectivity, they’re not that bad. One kind soul called Blessed Are the Peace Frogs  “the best self-published novel I’ve yet to read.”  I don’t hear that much about RS/BS since it came out about four years ago, but considering the short time in which it was written–I had a free proof copy code with CreateSpace for winning NaNoWriMo that expired after six months and by golly I was going to use it–and, frankly, the weak sauce of the subject matter, it ain’t half-bad either. The nighttime burial scene especially has received praise.  You can click “Buy J.P.’s Books” above and see for yourself how good they are, of course. 😉

So, while they’re not the 21st Century’s answer to The Great Gatsby or For Whom the Bell Tolls, they are readable, enjoyable works, subjectively and objectively.  They don’t suck. I’m sure if I dug back into either one of them I’d find all kinds of things to improve, but they don’t suck.

So why haven’t they sold a million copies?  Hell, why haven’t they sold a hundred copies?  Combined?  After four years?  If they don’t suck?

Is it because, unlike my friend, I lack the skill set, the audience and the chutzpah? No on the first; I may not be him but I am me and that’s quite enough to get by.  Maybe on the second, though in all honesty it’s not that hard to get a big batch of FB friends.  And definitely no on the third.  Go through this blog on a cold rainy day, you’ll find chutzpah to burn.  Not like his, assuredly, but definitely my own.

What I lack is the hustle. 

See, at heart I’m an old idealistic English major. I write to write, and if it’s good, I should not have to beg, cajole, pressure, plead, schmooze, screw, blow, bribe or kiss ass to get it noticed. It should stand on its own.

In 21st Century America, if you want to actually make money as a writer, that is naive at best in spite of anything Amazon.com will tell you. Inevitably, it invites the rebuke from those who really do write for a living–those who are million-selling authors, or at least get a royalty check every month–that no, you are not an old, idealistic English major; you are simply lazy. Much too lazy.

But I know better than that.  I suspect my Facebook buddy does too. We have lives, and there’s more to living them than burning all our precious time “hustling” the very thing which is supposed to be a reflection of that time.

Having said that, I still wish the guy would write a book.

_____________________________

Speaking of writing books, we are less than two months shy now of NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month.  Learn more about it here.  Better yet, participate.  Get that book in you, out of you.  Good for your head, good for your heart, good for your soul, good for your mind.

When you’ve got nothin’, reminisce (and shamelessly self-promote) June 8, 2013

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Summer’s coming on.  I’ve been feeling it all week, in my sinuses sucking me dry–one part of the aging process I’d happily do without–and finally the forecast is backing me up.  Eastern Kansas weather has one constant.  No matter how cool June is, by July 4 it’ll be humid and 95-100 degrees.  Goodbye monsoon, hello drought!  Builds stamina.  Builds character.  Links you with the Great American Pioneers, in a wimpy 21st Century Schizoid Man way.  (For bonus points, name the band I just tipped my hat to.)

Because my sinuses have been sucking me dry, my brain has gone into survival mode.  Abstract thought is on the backburner.  I’ve forced it to consider just enough for something new on the Sheer Arrogance page–if you’d like to check it out, click the tab at top and check out “A letter from my grandfather” in the submenu on the left (or just click the title, it’s linked). I don’t promise it’s any good; things written in survival mode tend to be simplistic and hackneyed.  But as the entry points out, that’s not always a bad thing.

Here’s the good news of the week: The people at Amazon this week, bless them, decided to help me towards getting my first royalty check by putting the paperback of my latest book Blessed Are the Peace Frogs on sale.  Ten bucks and change, limited time.  Please buy a copy.  It won’t burn your eyes out, I promise.  Worth every penny!

Now the main character in Blessed Are the Peace Frogs is a radio guy, though I assure you the book is about much more than that and his experiences–most of them, anyway–are not my own.  The ones that are my own, I ain’t tellin’. :p  But while daydreaming of thousands of sales and not having to work an eight-to-five job anymore I started to wonder, what happened to all the places I used to work?  All those little towns, all those character-filled mom-and-pop outfits, all those big chains swallowed up by even bigger ones; wassup with them now?

So I summoned The Power of Google, and behold, here’s what I learned about them all, with a little background so you’ll get why I even care:

WILO/WSHW, Frankfort, Indiana, first job in radio as automation babysitter, go-fer, and dude-of-all-work; 1985-1986.   Still exists.  Same family ownership.  In fact, the owner–a fascinating character to work for, and that is all I will say about him–recently was honored on his 90th birthday for his worldwide exploits as a broadcaster.   He gave me the best advice of anyone I ever worked for in that silly business:  It takes at least ten years working in radio to understand how it is done.  Yep. And, had he been a less charitable man, he’d have added “and you will make an ass out of yourself countless times before then.”

WQRA, Warrenton, Virginia, morning drive deejay and later afternoon drive deejay, 1987-1989.  Gone as I knew it:  a fairly-new small-town, small-watt, live-and-local station getting its start in an era where such things had long started to die.  True story: Someone with lots of gumption but no practical experience came to us to interview for a job–on the advice of a competitor in nearby Manassas.  “Go to WQRA,” their program director told him, “they hire a lot of people like you.”  In other words, a rare and fantastic opportunity to hone one’s craft for someone mature and dedicated enough to realize it, because you can get away with a lot of mistakes otherwise not tolerated by “real” radio stations.   As I did, multiple times over.  I also made some of the best friends and friendships of my life there.  These days they’re a repeater frequency for a Christian station licensed out of Culpeper.

KIUL/KWKR, Garden City, Kansas, morning drive deejay on KIUL and later alleged program director, 1989-1991.  Under different ownership, new format.  What a fantastic town with great people GCK is!  Part of me wishes I’d stuck around.  I like to think of this as my “grow-up-fast” gig.  KIUL was a far more professional outfit than WQRA, owned at the time by the same group that owned the local newspaper and in existence since the 1920’s.   It was also my first genuinely live board–some satellite feeds but otherwise no automation at all.  I have never had a more difficult, more soul-searching, more “am I really cut out for this?” mental crisis than my first two months at that radio station.  It didn’t help that the guy I replaced was known for a wild-assed no-holds-barred morning show that was insanely popular, and when I tried to do the same… dear Lord.  Fortunately I had enough on the ball to realize it wasn’t working, adapted the show to my own personality, and ultimately got all that audience I drove away back and then some, but oh ye gods, what a “learning experience.”   Still, by the end of my time there I had a genuinely decent, popular show and the most respect from my audience of anywhere I ever worked, and had the station not gone to a mostly satellite-delivered, career-killing “Music of Your Life” format  I might well still be there–though I doubt it.  Last I checked, KIUL is now owned by a company I would have refused to work for.  I don’t know who has the KWKR frequency these days.

KVOE/KFFX, Emporia, Kansas, 1991-1992, briefly morning then midday deejay on KVOE and midday deejay on KFFX.   Every radio deejay has at least one “and then I #@#$#@ up and went here” station on his resume.  This is mine.  The less I say about my time there, the better.  That’s no knock on the station itself, or Emporia; it was just a bad career move for me.  Though it did get me close enough to Kansas City to get to work at the next stations on this list.  KVOE still exists, KFFX has changed calls; apparently both are under the same ownership as when I was there, along with other local stations that were not at the time.

KCFX, Kansas City, Missouri, 1992-1995; KCIY, Kansas City, Missouri, 1995-1998.  I tell you a little about these gigs on my SAQ page.  These are my major market creds, people.  I was a weekend wonder on “The Fox” and the overnight guy on “The City” for about two and a half years each.  The former still exists, though under different ownership.  The latter went off standard over-the-air radio in 2002, though I understand there’s a variation of it now on an HD radio frequency.  It was my last radio gig ever.  I was replaced by a guy who came in on weekends and recorded voicetracks for the computer system to play–much more economical than paying someone barely over minimum wage plus health insurance.  So be it.

Do I miss it?  Yes and no.  I miss the actual thing of getting on the air and, as much as is allowed, being myself.  I’d have loved to get a shot at doing a talk show at least once.  That’s my sole regret.  I made some good friends and miss many of them to this day.  I don’t miss the politics.  I don’t miss the occasional backstabbers and egomaniacs, which not everyone in radio is–but there are enough of them that they get an awful lot of attention, and some of them are popular and successful, but karma will get them in the end, it always does.

And life goes on.  Cheers!

… and in with the “now” June 1, 2013

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First things first.  Because I really didn’t stick a Mother’s Day entry in this year, and the little dude turns six months old (for real this time! 🙂 in about a week, here’s my grandson paying due homage to his momma (photo credit to his daddy; he’s taken almost all the pictures of him you’ve seen on this blog):

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I’m going to let myself get gooey.  I love this little guy.  I love his parents and how devoted they are to raising him right.

Lots of my Facebook friends have been posting pictures of their graduating children–call it the other end of the spectrum, if you want.  Two in particular whose privacy I’ll respect have posted a daughter and a niece in gown and mortarboard.  I wish I could post their pictures here too.  Their pictures say how well their mothers and fathers raised them.  They are strong, confident young ladies whom you know will do well.

Last year was the 30th anniversary year of my high school graduating class. I didn’t pay much attention to it, at least here, but I did think about it.  It’s natural to use even numbers as an excuse to compare then to now, see how you’ve grown, maybe even pat yourself on the back a little.  Hopefully.  Maybe even give into wonderful narcissistic fantasies like imagining yourself in front of this year’s class, watching them go wide-eyed and nod with recognition and revelation as you impart your indispensable wisdom upon them.

Of course I didn’t do that ;), but if someone asked me to give their kids advice, there’s really only thing I could tell them with any confidence:  “Now is where we live.”

Not the past.  If you’re my age and the best part of your life so far was high school–I’ll clean this up for more sensitive readers–you’re #%#@$#* up.  Period.  Get a life, NOW, while you still can.

Not the future.  No one is guaranteed a future.  This world would kill us as much as keep us.  Good grief, the weather alone takes people out without warning.  You can’t count on tomorrow.

So focus on NOW.  Leave yesterday behind.  Let tomorrow take care of itself.   Live NOW while you’re blessed to do so.

If there’s one thing I love most of all about the little man above, and his parents, its how much they remind me of how important that is.

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Gooey sentiment of this entry aside, how do you like the new digs?  So far all I’ve done is cheap out and use a more modern WordPress template and tweak it here and there as much as I can for free.  I’m debating if it’s worth the thirty bucks they charge to have a little more appearance control.  Your feedback is welcome, of course.

You might have noticed there’s a new tab at the top, too–“SHEER ARROGANCE.”  That’s a quick and easy way of saying “A guy who has no real writing experience other than this blog and two self-published novels thinks he can tell you how to write.”   Yeah, that’s it, and a little more I’ll elaborate on over the months to come, but the gist is I’d like to make that page my feeble little effort to keep alive the concept of writing as everyman art.  I firmly believe that writing in some form or fashion is for all.  Everyone has a story to tell, and modern technology is at once making it easier to do while destroying the way it’s done.  No big surprise there, plenty of studies in the wild indicating stuff like iPads and Twitter and the big bad ol’ Internet is changing the very way we think.

And that brings us right back to writing.  Writing is thinking, expressed as verbiage either electronically or in print.  To write well is to think well.  To think well is to reason well.  To reason well is to make the decisions which benefit both self and all.

In other words, yes, kids, this IS important.

I hope to have an entry under the Sheer Arrogance tab by the end of this weekend.  Until then, you’re welcome to click the link there to the old “Writing Tips for Non-Writers” page.  Many of SA’s entries will elaborate on concepts presented there.

Have a great week.  And please, write something. 😉

Making Dr. Seuss’s head explode, and other brainy fun May 15, 2013

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One of my “other duties as assigned” at my employer is editing and, sometimes, rewriting ISO documentation of our procedures.  It’s one of my favorite things to do.

Saying that gets me some strange looks from people who know what ISO documentation is.  It’s a bit like saying getting disemboweled is one of your favorite things to do.  Just the same, it is one of my favorite things to do, because it makes me a better writer and a better thinker.

Simply put, “ISO” stands for International Organization for Standardization–click the link if you’d like some good sleepy-time reading–and an ISO procedural document is supposed to show a stranger from anywhere in the world how a required task done in your organization meets the standards this organization, and all companies certified by it, adhere to.

To write an ISO document well requires one to be very general and very specific at the same time.  It requires an economy of words that would make Dr. Seuss jealous, with a precision of words that would make Dr. Seuss’s head explode.  It requires one who takes it seriously to think about the meaning of every term and the logical connection of every sentence.  It requires writing and rewriting and rewriting again and again.  It is certainly not for people who hate writing, and many who love writing still find it repulsive.  To them it is sterile and dull and heartless stuff that snuffs creativity for the sake of hobgoblin consistency.

I get why a creative mind might think that.  Yet, I suspect, a highly creative mind may have a different opinion.  I don’t claim to have that, but every time I take one of these babies on, every time I enter their jungle just to plant or chop a tree and instead find myself mowing down the whole damn rain forest, I notice something:  that when I’m done, if I have done it well, the result is beautiful enough one could call it art. 

“Hey,” maybe you’re thinking, “I read about something like that once in a book in school, what was it called?” Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenancemaybe?  Me too–it’s one of my favorites, and yes, it deals with exactly this sort of thing.  How for something to have a high amount of that undefinable ethereal abstract we call “quality,” it must appeal to both the practical as well as the aesthetic.  In real-world terms, for something to be really good, it must not only make sense, it must do so beautifully.

I’m no mathematician.  I suck at numbers.  But there’s one term of mathematics I appreciate especially when editing ISO stuff:  Elegant.   

In mathematics, a solution to a problem is said to be elegant when it is simple, precise and lucid.  In other words, anyone can understand it, even someone not a mathematician.  They may not understand how the heck you got there, but “there” is a comfortably understandable place.  You don’t have to know all about dendrology to enjoy sitting under the shade of a tree.  (Hey, until I Googled it just now I didn’t even know the word “dendrology” existed!)

So there’s the beauty of writing ISO documentation:  It trains one’s mind to develop an eye for the simple, precise and lucid, and as your mind becomes that way, so follows your writing, no matter what you’re writing.  It’s not for everyone, but if you’re not just everyone, you might give it a try.

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I’ve decided to do a little pruning on this blog over the next few weeks. “Reed’s Story” will go into hibernation soon, so if you’d like to give it a read and forward comment to the email address provided at the link above, now’s the time.  Also, arrogant guy that I am, I plan to add a whole page of writing tips soon.  Stick around for details and in the meantime, like and share!

If I could make sense of this, it would make a helluva book May 6, 2013

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The great omniscient “they” who rule the world say for a blog post to garner attention, mere text is not enough, one must provide a provocative insert that illustrates the subject matter.  Me?  Provocative?  Perish the thought. 😉  But I do like this tune, and it fits for what you’re about to read:

Now, how does this “provocative” little tune illustrate my subject matter?  Like this: For many, many years, it’s been the tune that goes through my head during Communion at Mass.

To, I don’t know, 80% of you or so, that means “… and?”  Because to you it’s just a tune.  But to the remaining 20% of you or so, just maybe you’re thinking “Oh, really?  During Mass, during Catholic, Christian Mass, you think of music from one of the most notorious converts to Islam on the planet, someone who once spoke out in support of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa calling for a famous author’s death, who has been forbidden to enter the United States on no-fly lists; who supposedly rejected his entire career and all its trappings as heretical just to suddenly decide a couple decades later maybe it wasn’t?  That’s the kind of thing you think about during Communion at Mass?

Uh, no.  I don’t think of any of that.  I just think of the song.  I like to think the music can be separated from the man who makes it.  Much like an author can be separated from the books he writes.  Lord, I’d certainly hope you not think I’m inseparable from Mac MacCracken or Ben Burke.  (If you have no idea who they are, click the “Buy J.P.’s Books” link above and do it; I could stand the sales.)

So, why do I think of it during Communion at Mass?  It’s not terribly deep:  in my faith, the closest father-son relationship in existence is between, well, the Father and the Son.  With the Holy Spirit, together they pack quite a punch.  They are inseparable.  They are literally one and same, yet different.  How they pull this off, no one knows.

Is this really much different than a father and son relationship among mere human beings?  No.  Yet yes.  Blood or adopted, he’s you, yet he’s not you.  In some ways you’ll always be like him, in other ways you’ll never be like him.  In some ways you can’t be him, in other ways you must be him.  And he must be you.  And he can’t be you.

So, yes, that’s the tune that goes through my head during Communion, pondering He Whom I must be like, yet in many ways am not and in many ways cannot be, yet I must try; otherwise, I do not live.

Am I making your head hurt yet?  Or are you just wondering why I’m writing what would have been a really good Father’s Day entry, the week before Mother’s Day?

I never was much for timing. 🙂

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Now if you want a provocative image for your week, here’s a good one:

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“I don’t always allow myself to be photographed nude.  But when I do, it’s in my Bumbo chair.”

The young man turns five months old this very day.  Come this weekend, we will travel to his abode and celebrate his mother’s very first Mother’s Day–and, as it turns out her fifth anniversary.  Lots of momentous occasions all at once, so I’m hoping you forgive me in advance if the next entry in this blog is a little late.

Cheers!