Sunday, June 29, 2008

Christmas in July

On Saturday night I completed three essays for a new Health Communications series that will be published in 2009. All were Christmas related.

Truly, sending the essays out next week, it was like trying to fathom Christmas in July. It's difficult to write about snowflakes and Bethlehem when there is rain and Brownsburg.

But now I'm ready for more chicken soup...send me lots of it. And, of course, a donut wouldn't hurt either. Got to keep up my strength.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Writing Invitation

This past week I received a cursory assignment from an editor at HCI (Health Communications, Inc.) to submit some essays to a number of books that will be published through 2010. Last night I wrote two, about 2000 words, and they ain't bad.

One is about Becky's segwey into teaching, taking on a new career, and those challenges and sacrifices made by the family. I also wrote one about a friend who adopted a little boy some years ago. I hope to write three more essays before Sunday.

Health Communications continues to publish the Chicken Soup for the Soul titles and I always think they will run out . . . but the presses continue to roll.

HCI has been decent to me over the years, so I hope I can contribute something that might make a future book.

In the event that they are looking for more Chicken Soup titles, I've got a few they should try:
Chicken Soup for the Tired Pastor's Soul
Chicken Soup for the Dad with Two Teenagers Soul
Chicken Soup for the Pastor Who Eats Chicken Soup for Lunch Every Day
Chicken Soup for the Pastor Who Would Rather Eat Lobster Bisque
Chicken Soup for the College Parent's Soul
Chicken Soup for the Guy Who Drinks Eight Cups of Coffee After Midnight In Order to Write More Essays Soul

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

When Mama's Gone

This week my sweetheart has been in Dallas for a teacher's convention: one of those hopped-up and over-hyped extravaganzas designed to bore the socks off even the most seasoned of teachers. Kind of like annual conference for pastors. Snoozeville, baby.

Anyway, I never sleep well when mama's away. Sort of an empty slot in the bed. I find myself awake at night, reading, reading, reading . . . trying to find anything that will put me to sleep. And I can't start watching Gomer Pyle reruns. I get hooked, and then before I know it, it's five a.m. and time for revilee.

It's these wee hours when I turn to academia. I go downstairs to my library and find the dryest, most arcane book on a subject that will surely put me to sleep. My favorite: How Brains Think--a science book by William Calvin concerning the firing of brain synapses and the composition of the gray matter.

Mr. Calvin does it every time. In no time flat, my brain don't think. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Blast From the Past

Yesterday I happened to be standing in my writing closet (more on this in later blogs) when I looked up and noticed a curious little stack of periodicals. Digging down under the dust, I pulled out a generous handful of journals that happened to be the source of my first published work.

Here they were . . .literary journals I'd forgotten about. But there was my name in the masthead/table of contents. And there they were, dozens of poems I'd written during my high school years and early college days. Tripe, all of it. But it was honest tripe.

What astounds me even more, however, is the fact that I got paid to write this stuff. Yes, there were editors who wrote to me back then:
Love to see more of your work, Mr. Outcalt!
Send us more jewels like this!
Good God, where have you been all my life?

Oh, to be young again and to be able to write poems. Poems that flowed from the gut. Poems about love and God and broccoli and sour cream and existentialist doubts and crop circles. But poetry is tough stuff, and I admire those who can do it. I gave up poetry for sex when I got married, and believe me, my wife will tell you I made the right decision.

Now I'm old and crabby, and the only letters I get from editors are those that read:
Is this the best you can do?
I'm not paying for this junk any longer!
And you call yourself a writer?

Believe me, the stuff we write when we are seventeen and eighteen (and our lives are uncluttered) may be the most honest words we'll ever put on paper.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Come Be My Light

Finally. . . I've been looking at Mother Teresa's big ol' book o' confessions for weeks now, scraping up the courage to dig into it. It's entitled: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the "Saint of Calcutta". Indeed, I do think the kind mother is worthy of saintly status, but a few dozen pages into the book, I can't help but think how my memoirs would be entitled if anyone had the courage to scrape together excerpts from my journals. Her book is filled with dark confessions of the soul and a lifelong struggle to be a light for Jesus by embracing his sufferings and the hardships of humanity.

By golly, I'm afraid I haven't suffered much . . . or not enough, anyway. Starting next week, I'm giving up donuts all together . . . and man, I just had a good'n at Hilligoss this morning. (Pineapple danish!)

But back to my memoirs . . . I'm afraid anyone would be hard-pressed to come up a spectacular title gleaned from my life experiences. The editors would find plenty of weaknesses and failures in this old boy and absolutely nothing noteworthy to carry a book for 400 pages. But perhaps one of the following titles would suffice as a brief summary of my unremarkable life:

Come Be My Average Joe
Come Be My Forty-Something Suburban Pastor
Come On Get With It, Honey
Come Let Us Have Coffee Together
Come Over to My House
Come to the Office and Fix My Computer
Come Write Another Out-of-Print Book
Come Fix My Lawnmower
Come On, Dad, You're Kidding, Right?
Come Be My Cosmic Joke
Can't You Come Up With Anything Better Than This?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Number Forty

I just finished reading book number 40 for 2008: Beautiful Boy--A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction, by David Sheff. This is a tough book, full of tears and honesty, often raw but always truthful.

Sheff here tells the harrowing story of his son's meth addiction (from which only a single digit percentage actually recover). Meth is tough stuff, and most don't survive. Somehow his son did, for now.

Reading about Sheff's addicted son made me realize how tame a life I have led (I didn't even try pot in high school) and how much I miss Krispy Kreme donuts. When I lived on the southside I often stopped in every week for a box of hot glazed and a gallon of milk, since the KK bakery was two blocks from the house. Man, I'm telling you. Feeling sick never felt so good. I kid you not.

Every now and again I suffer from withdraw. Sunday mornings are the toughest, when I'm looking at the fellowship table loaded with treats. Can't eat donuts like I used to, but I can still chug milk with the best of them (skim only, of course). They should put me in one of those milk ads with the moustache. As gray as I'm getting, I wouldn't even have to drink any milk.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Read It

For two days solid we did nothing but read at Ball State. There were brochures, schedules, contracts, fliers, post cards, notebooks, pamplets, binders, and enough small print to make a person go cross-eyed. This was our daughter's orientation to the world of higher academics. Get used to it, I told her. Once you get here, you're on your own.

The only thing I understand clearly after all my reading is that old dad is going to be shelling out a big wad of dinero. That's about the only thing that was crystal clear: here's how much an education at Ball State is going to cost. Get the picture?

Of course, my daughter is worth every penny. A person can't really put a price tag on knowledge. I read that somewhere in the fine print when I payed the doctor for her delivery eighteen+ years ago.

Oh, and by the way, I found a penny on the sidewalk at Ball State near the bell tower. That should bring me good luck. I'm gonna need it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My Wife, the Celebrity

By now I've received about a dozen copies of the Indianapolis Star feature on my wife. Yes, it was an inspirational profile. I even put a copy under her pillow last night in hopes that it would inspire her.

But there are a few aspects of the feature that were left out, including how my wife really feels about me, her teaching, and her kids. Consider these expunged quotes:

On the Celebrity's husband:
Yeah, I've got a husband. I'm married . . . if you want to call it that. I mean, the guy is helpless. He'd starve to death if I didn't cook for him. You ever try to teach an old dog new tricks? Honey, you've got a lot to learn.

On the Celebrity's teaching:
Middle schoolers? How do I do it? Honey, you ever try to herd weasels? You ever try to teach a ferritt about ultraviolet light (or any mammal from the rodent family for that matter)? Being in the classroom is like trying to perform a labotomy on a headless chicken.

On the Celebrity's hiking experiences:
Yeah, I've hiked the canyon. My deadbeat husband stayed home and ate pork-n-beans straight from #10 cans for five consecutive days. Gained four pouds by the time I got back, mostly in his hips. I have to drag his butt out of bed just to get him to hike down to the mailbox to get the paper. We read the Star, by the way.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dad's Card

Yes, I sent my father a Dad's day card. Early last week. I was on top of it. I even purchased a card for my father-in-law, so hey, that should tell you what kind of son-in-law I am. Only the purest. The best. I know where my inheritance is coming from.

Okay, but it's tough finding just the right card. So many sappy poems for Dad, and none of them really express the essence of my father.

So, this one's for you, Eddie. Have a laugh.

Dad, I'll never forget
that you were the one who taught me
how to use a miter saw and a level.
You also taught me how to fix SPAM,
and how to drink pickle juice straight from the jar.
Tough love. That's you!
But dude, really, you're a great dad.
You gave me all this intelligence,
Taught me about women (remember the talk at camp Foget-a-boutit?)
Amazing, you've put up with mom for all these years!

Dad, I'm saying it now . . .
If you ever get the gout or a goiter the size of a football on your neck,
You can live with me.
I've got a basement.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Late Night Radio

Some years back I had a publisher who insisted I sign on with a Boston-based marketing firm to help promote a book. So, I gave them all my money and waited for them to set me up with a travel and speaking schedule. What ended up happening was late night radio.

Have you ever listened to the kind of stuff that is out there on the waves at 2, 3, 4 a.m.? I was the guest on some rather bizarre shows.

One show, as I recall, required that I get up at 3 a.m. and call into the show (long distance, on my dime). I waited an hour for the DJ to come on the line--a show airing in Honolulu, Hawaii. When the guy finally welcomed me, he asked me to state my name, plugged the book title, and then hung up. The call was a thirty-dollar promotion and I doubt anyone was awake at the time. I didn't even get to sing "Tiny Bubbles" for the dude, and I had practiced all week.

And that was one of the tamer shows. The others, I'm afraid, were just too weird to categorize.

Friday, June 13, 2008

My Editors, My Friends

To top off a zany week of busy-ness I've had numerous emails and phone calls from editors gallore. One wrote confirm delivery of a manuscript some months ago, and two others wrote me emails giving me detailed instructions on how I should deliver a 200 page Word document. Sounds complicated, but I think I'll figure it out Saturday night. What else have I got to do?

Now, if I can only remember how to turn on the computer . . . .

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


My zaniest book dedication is the one that reads:

To Ty: Who has been like a brother to me

It's clever, since Ty actually is my brother. Get it? My most recent book dedication will read (when the book is published in 2010):

To my grandmother: still beautiful after all these years.

I think it's true, but grandma ain't what she used to be . . . let's be honest. At ninety-four, grandma is, well . . . a grandma.

But in case the rest of my family might be feeling left out, I have prepared the following for future publications:

To my dad: who will be genetically passing along his ataxia which will hit me some time in my late sixties.

To my mom: who has given me a world of Jell-O and soups.

To Becky: Still my hoochie-mama

To Logan: Dude!

To Chelsey: who is expected to, as the first born, care for her father in his old age and provide a warm cup for his dentures when he reaches his eighties and is writing, by then, with a palsied hand.

Monday, June 9, 2008

My Best Sentence

This week I thought I might try to locate (in my estimation) the best sentence I've ever written. But then I wondered: what would be the criteria? Would I be looking for a sentence with a lot of fancy words like "antidisestablishanterianism" (which is, incidently, the longest word I can spell)? Would I be looking for a sentence that was so funny it might awaken Milton Burle? What makes a great sentence, anyway?

Well, I'll look.
Maybe I'll discover that there's a sentence of mine already out there worth reading.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Slowing Down

My Quest to read 100 books in a year has slowed considerably of late. I'm stuck, actually. I've read thirty-seven books so far this year, but my pace has fallen off. Call me the Big Brown of reading (for you horse-racing fans).

My goal now is to read seventy for the year, but even that might be a stretch.

On my "To Read" shelf, I've got a few good books yet including:
Beautiful Boy
Come Be My Light
The Autumn of the Middle Ages
The Big Book of Pulps (at a whopping 1139 pages and very small print)

The fact is, I'm usually too tired to begin reading at 10:30 at night and well, I fall asleep quickly these days.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Recyling Reading

The first day of annual conference is over and already I have inherited a sack full of reading material (none of it by choice). I've got conference reports, worship bulletins, commitee reports, advertisements, and announcements of every sort.

Of course, we are well-intentioned. We are going to recycle all of this stuff.

Every year, some brave soul rises to the podium and says, "Bishop, members of the annual conference, friends . . . on behalf of baldies everywhere I would ask us to keep in mind the large recycle bins located at the entrances before we leave annual conference. Let's be kind and recycle all of this paper we are using."

I'm always happy to oblige. I usually dump my supply into the bins before the first day is over. I've discovered I can survive on conversation and listening alone. And as for interesting reading material, I have discovered an ample supply of intersting tidbits on the bathroom walls, men's room, in the IU auditorium, mezzanine level.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Roach Clips

After reading Mary Roach's book, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, I realized that science has been working for a long time to determine if our consciousness survives death. There are a lot of people who believe, of course, that we do. And most people believe in an afterlife. I hope so! There are even those who believe that the dead can come back in other forms. Now, I doubt this very much, but naturally my wife and I have talked about this.

If I die before her (God forbide!) I've decided I'll try to contact her as a twenty-five year old ice curling champion from Denmark. My name will be Swen. She'll meet me at Starbucks and spend the rest of the evening thawing me out. Nature will take its course.

If she dies before me (God forbide!) I hope she will return as a twenty-five year old Swedish dancer who has a penchant for poor pastors. I'll know her when our eyes meet across a crowded room at the seminar entitled Paul Tillich and the Search For Meaning in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She will call me "Charles" in a sultry voice. Nature will take its course.

I hope to send this information along soon to my lawyer, Bob. He's a great guy. Believes he was Rita Hayworth in his former life. But I call him "Flip."

See you on the other side!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


I've decided: I love Mary Roach. Well, I love her books, anyway. Over the past year, I've read her entire corpus. First, Stiff. Then, Bonk. And I just finished reading, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Her books are so quirky, smart, and funny. And she's a great researcher to boot.

Now, after reading Spook, I had to join in Mary Roach's skepticism concerning our prediliction to embrace all kinds of zany ideas about the afterlife. Take mediums, for instance.

I mean, if there are really people who can communicate with our dead relatives, don't you think our relatives would have more interesting things to tell us? Most mediums say things like:

Your loved one is telling me that the letter "R" is important to your family. Someone's name begins with "R"?

Or: I'm picking up an image of a bell. There's a bell in your house? A picture of a bell?

Or: I get the sense that uncle Bob wants you to know that he forgives you. Something in the family was a source of animosity?

Really! If these folks have such close contact with the dead, and the dead speak, then why can't uncle Bob tell his family where he buried the $10,000 he hid in a Ball Mason jar in the back yard? Why is uncle Bob concerned about a bell when he would, we presume, be more concerned about his family in other ways?

Yes, I'm a skeptic. What's really spooky, as Mary Roach points out, is that people will actually pay money to get signals like this from someone who can't even talk to a dead person who knows the winning lottery number or a combinaton to a family safe.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hardy Boys

It's Sunday afternoon, I've just awakened from a nap, and I'm looking for something to read. I've got a wide variety of books to choose from on my "to read" shelf, but there's an old book that catches my eye (way up there near the ceiling, where my wife never dusts).

It's a Hardy Boys mystery. How long have I had that thing?

Wow, does that book bring back memories. I remember getting a new Hardy Boys mystery 4-5 times a year when I was eight or nine years old. My cousin (a girl) was reading the Nancy Drew mysteries at the time, and we used to sit on the porch for hours on Sunday afternoons and see who could read the most chapters.

Funny, I read a lot of those things, but don't recall a single name, plot, or title. Sort of like a lot of things in my life as I get older. Can't remember my own name a lot of days. And, yes, I'll admit it. Sometimes I even confuse the dog with my son. Many mornings, when I put out the food, I mix up the names.

Glad to know you. What's your name, anyway?