Sunday, November 30, 2008

Out of Business

After Thanksgiving, I happened to be driving through Terre Haute when I noted that another independent bookstore had gone out of business. It was a little shop on the corner that used to enjoy a unique clientele. More and more, only the big chains are left standing.

Conducting a book signing in this little store was always a treat for me. The owners were nice, and they would go out of their way to make an author feel comfortable.

"Can I get you anything?" they might ask.
"No, I'm fine," I'd say.
"Anything at all? Water, maybe?"
"Okay, I'll have some water."
"No, really, the water will do."
"The chair is fine, thanks. Just the water."
"I'll bring you a brownie, too," the owners would say. "A writer needs a brownie!"
"And let us know if we can get you anything else."

Some customers would be nice! I never said it then, but I guess no book store can survive on just goodwill and brownies.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Some time back I wrote a piece about Jell-O, which I sent away to an editor. Lo and behold, today I received word that they are accepting it for publication. Jell-O! Jell-O? Are you kidding me? Jell-O?*

This acceptance confirms my long-held suspicions that I can write about anything. Jell-O?

What's next for me? How about an article about dog poop? How about an article about Thanksgiving day leftovers? I could also write about how to clean out a garbage disposal. Maybe a short piece about leaf raking?

Jell-O? Jell-O?*

* For those of you unfamiliar with the Jim Mora rant (former Colts coach) I'm doing a spin off here! Jell-O? Are you kidding me? Jell-O?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Charming Billy

I rounded out my perusal of Billy Collins's poetry by reading his collected works. One thing is for sure: Billy has guts for placing an author photo inside the dust jacket. If I met Billy on the street, I'd never suspect he was a great poet . . . I'd probably try to buy a used car off of him. But I guess that's why he is respected as a poet of the people.

Reading Billy's poems is like having a conversation with a friend. He writes smoothly, speaks effortlessly, provides insights into the smallest of events.

As a college English major, I used to write a lot of poetry, primarily to girls--which also explains why English majors have more Saturday night dates per capita than any college major. Girls love poetry, and I often moved them with lines like this:

Billy writes poems, and so do I.

He's a laureate, though I am not.

Sometimes his poems make a girl cry.

Mine can't, but it's the best that I've got.

So dear, I'll write a few lines about your eyes,

About that small dot at the nape of your neck,

Where the birds gather in the lonely skies

And I might just kiss you, what the heck!

Now that we are old and gray together

And our influence on the kids past its prime,

I might even knit you a cardigan sweater

Before I run out of time.

On Thanksgiving day, let's eat some fudge,

Some turkey and taters and noodles.

And if I can't say it, I'll give you a nudge,

To let you know I love you oodles.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Howling Good Time

Over the weekend I read Allen Ginsberg's "classic" book of poetry: Howl. The Forword, written by William Carlos Williams (he of the red wheelbarrow glazed with rain) mentions that, when he knew Ginsberg, he was one disturbed human-being. I first read Howl in college, but the place and time were a bit before me (1955) and I'm not sure that "Howl" resonates with me as it would with older Baby Boomers.

Still, though Allen Ginsberg saw the "best minds of his generation destroyed . . . ." I've seen my share of destruction, too. But having emerged during the 1970s instead of the 1950s, my sense of destruction is a bit different:

Todd's Howl

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by Dunkin' Donuts

Old men sitting in truck stops eating day old hash

Women with one tooth grinning over a plate of Sloppy Joes

Teenagers necking in the booth next to the pinball machine
Josey and the Pussycats on TV

And everyone grooving on Friday night football games.

Yes, and Sonny and Cher, too, and let's not forget

Flip Wilson, or Carol Burnett, or Jimmie on Goodtimes.

Shows like this that defined my generation

And warped our minds and made me what I am today

Just another guy who can hum the theme to Gilligan's Island.

America, I'm calling you up on charges of neglect,

Mothers who left their teenage sons, like me,

To rot in front of Sanford and Son, My Three Sons,

And that other show that featured Brian Keith

As a slovenly father who desperately needed a good woman to love.

America, I'm still looking for Mayberry,

For your huddled masses yearing to break free from Wal-Mart

(Which used to be K-Mart before the flashing blue light turned red).

America, I'm putting my middle-aged shoulder to the wheel

And turning on the coffee pot one last time.

Tonight, it's SpongeBob and Three and a Half Men.

Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy. And amen.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Christmas Letter

On Saturday I finished writing our annual Christmas letter to family and friends. We always struggle to get this out, but somehow we manage to send it out before Easter.

As I was pulling together information about our year, I initially thought that I hadn't accomplished much with my writing in 2008 . . . until I actually began to pull out files and make a list of everything I'd done. Then it hit me:

I'll have three new books published in 2009, the most in any single year since 1998 (when I had five books published in a single year). I will also have five audio CDs produced in 2009 (and most of this material is previously unpublished and ranges in subject matter from a collection of my Christmas memoirs, to a CD for cancer support partners, to a CD of commonly-themed sermons for tough times). I have also had a few stories published in various journals, works in an anthology, and one or two articles in magazines. And I'm not going to number sermons, newsletter articles, or other correspondence like emails and blogs in that count . . . I'd just lose track.

In short, I've been busier than a one-armed-paper-hanger (quote by Klinger in a 1983 M*A*S*H episode).

But I did finish the Christmas letter . . . and it's one of my best to date. Insane, irreverent, markedly pessimistic in my usual old fashioned Christmasy style. My mother may send it back.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Writing Break

It's Friday, I've been writing for three hours, and thought I'd break to write a blog about taking a break.

Breaks are, after all, important. That's why I've made more coffee. I haven't yet eaten breakfast or lunch, and don't plan to (Fridays are also diet days, so I can eat more donuts on the weekends). I'm waiting for Chelsey, too, and can't wait for her to walk through the door so we can talk for five minutes before she disappears for twelve hours.

And after this break is over, I'm going back to my office where "old sparky" (my electrically challenged computer) awaits. This could be the day I produce the great American novel . . . or it could be the day "old sparky" blows and singes my fingers off.

Only God knows.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Uncle Billy

Today I finished reading a book of poems by Billy Collins (former U.S. Poet Laureate): Picnic, Lightening. Collins is a great poet. He writes about the stuff of life . . . like having breakfast, listening to the children's song "Three Blind Mice", or gazing at a snowfall. His short poem, "Splitting Wood" inspired me to write my own verse about cutting beaver-chewed wood at my house.

O Billy, My Billy, you write your verse so well.

Your words are tight, your meter flows,

And your bald head's rather swell.

O Billy, My Billy, come split some wood with me.

The rats are back, they've got big teeth,

And they're chewing down my tree.

O some may say I'm weary, and others claim I'm mean,

But these beavers chew more of my wood

Than any rodents I have seen!

They chew a tree at midnight, and more wood as dawn nears,

But if I get my teeth on them

I'll kill the *^#@*&#! (no tears!)

O Billy, My Billy, let's see you write some verse

About a man who strangles rats

And turns their pelts to purse.

O Billy, My Billy, a beaver's blood is red,

And when I get my .22

Those *$#&^*! will be dead! (1)

(1) with apologies to Walt Whitman

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Read, My Son, Read

Last week I cleaned out my office library and shipped a couple of boxes of books off to Half-Priced Books. Naturally, once I had some extra money in my pocket from the sale, I purchased more books.

I was tooling around the bookstore when, suddenly, I turned down an aisle and saw the title big as life: The History of Farting, by Benjamin Bart. Wow, I thought to myself. Perfect reading material for my fifteen year old son. And, of course, I had to read it, too.

I picked up a copy and took it to the checkout aisle. The guy at the cash register cast a suspicious glance my way as if to ask: "You're not doing this now are you?"

I shot him a return look that said, "Even as we speak!"

When I showed my son the book that night, he actually gave me a hug. I was his hero! Now he is reading this book AND the Bible (yes, Logan does read his Bible . . . he's in the gospel of Matthew currently, I think). Holy, Moly . . . what a combination.

Now, on a final note about this title, I really think Bart's book has little to do with history. Much of it focuses upon tricks and techniques, and I know my son can't wait to try some of it out with his friends. He'll be the hit of the party. And who knows, he might even brag a bit on his old man. It's not every boy who has such a loving and thoughful father.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What's a Pastor to Do?

At the Friday night book club meeting (I was invited to discuss my book with this fine group) a question emerged near the end of the meeting: "As a pastor, how do you have time to write anything?" This is a very common question that people ask, and I don't usually give much time answering it. Many people may not consider that pastor's actually write and practice sermons every week (this alone can be very time consuming) or that pastors also write letters, newsletter items, postcards, and tons of emails . . . and some even write blogs!

Nevertheless, the fact that I can write is an amazing thing in itself. Last night I reread The Discipline description of what a pastor is supposed to do, and I was amazed that I have time to breathe, eat a meal, or sleep. I'm also amazed that Becky and I were together long enough (at least twice in the past twenty-five years) to start a family!

Basically--here's what a pastor in the UM church is supposed to do:

Oversee the total ministry of the church by supporting, guiding, training and administering lay leadership; preaching, teaching, and overseeing the worship each week; administering the sacraments, training children and teens in confirmation; encouraging the weak and lonely; seeking the lost; give oversight to the total educational programming of the church; find money to keep the church financially solvent; perform weddings and funerals (all with due counsel); provide counseling for broken marriages, parenting needs, those entering military service; seek out and train those who may want to enter ordained ministry; participate fully in the life of the district and conference ministries; order the church; develop mission, set goals, raise funds to support the broader mission of the church; serve in supervisory responsibilities within the conference; visit from house to house; keep all church records or see that they are accessible; oversee staff; work with staff parish, finance, and councils for the general oversight of the church . . . and anything else you can think of!!!!

Now, the interesting thing about this job description is that this is Boiled Down! The actual job description in The Discipline continues for three, single-spaced pages! Which provokes me to ask this question: Who the heck wrote this stuff??

The worst thing about The Discipline is that it has been written by committee. And I learned a long time ago that I didn't want to be involved in any writing project to be completed by a group. I mean, I've been there . . . and it doesn't work.

Reading The Discipline also reminds me of why I don't read The Discipline. Not even Jesus Christ himself could understand it, and as for me and my house, I'll keep on writing after everyone else in the church has gone to bed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Column

Last Saturday I received my copy of Together magazine . . . our Indiana area publication for the United Methodist Church. The issue contained a column I had written some weeks before.

Now, usually I don't hear much about the column, but for some reason I have already received numerous comments, emails, and phone calls about this one. Okay, so maybe it was a bit funnier than usual. I even had a box of donuts delivered to the office this week in honor of my prowess for pastries.

Well, I'll have to thank Dan Gangler for giving me the opportunity to write the column. Every month, I wonder if I have anything else to write about, and it's difficult for me to believe that I've actually been doing the column for nearly five years now.

And since this last column closed with a reference to new underwear, I'm wondering if I can do something with that. My mom would appreciate it. She bought me new undies for my birthday in October, and Christmas is approaching quickly. I know that, when it comes to the feel of cotton underneath, I'm still a man of the cloth.

And yes, I can make clergy jokes with the best of them!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Book Club

On Friday night Becky and I were invited to attend an in-home book study group. We didn't know these fine people, but for some reason they were studying my book, The Best Things in Life Are Free, and they wanted to meet the author. They served us a nice meal, some very delicious dessert, and afterwards discussed one of the chapters in the book.

Now, it's been ten years since I wrote that book, and I felt rather silly admiting I didn't remember why I wrote what I wrote or that I couldn't remember what was in each chapter. Too many words have flowed under the bridge since then. Still, it was fascinating listening to people talk about what the book means to them, and what they are taking away from it, and how it has helped them. I felt like an actual writer!

Later, they asked me to talk about what I'm currently working on. I told them about the two books that will be published in 2009, but didn't have the heart to tell them about my blog, or about the dog book that I'm working on (which is, without doubt, going to be the zaniest piece of work I've done in years and will be borderline insane), or the half dozen articles I've completed recently for various magazines.

They wondered how I had the time to write at all. And, again, I didn't have the heart to tell them that I write most of my stuff in long, sustained eight to sixteen hour outburts of Friday energy, or that I often have to stay up half the night with a pot of coffee to meet a deadline. In essence, I don't have time to write at all . . . but then, who has time to watch a Colts game, or play a round of golf, or sit in front of the tube three hours a night? Writing is simply a choice one makes over other pursuits.

I'm just glad they wanted to read one of my books before it goes out of print.

And my wife told me on the way home, "I think they liked you!"

I'm not sure about that . . . but I liked them. I'll talk to any book group who serves us a mean slice of sugar creame pie! Just ask me!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Author Bio

This past week I was invited to submit some of my work to a new web site that supposedly pairs work authors with editors. It's a new service that is designed to speed up the process of finding outlets for authors and helps editors find the work they need to fill magazine pages. (Novel concept, but something tells me this won't work.)

Anyway . . . I also had to submit an author bio. I never know what to say about myself. And if I told the truth about who I am (and who most people know me to be) I'm sure no editor would want to give my business a second look. Still, truth-telling is something I like to excell at, so I've tried to write a bio that is both truthful, balanced, fair, and well, maybe a touch boastful.

I haven't submitted this yet, but I'd like to know how many of you would want to read something written by an author like this:

Todd Outcalt is a native Hoosier who has never worn women's clothing. He is a pastor who also writes copious amounts of "stuff" that he enjoys sending along to unsuspecting editors like you. His hobbies include kayaking, yakking with friends, and feeding his pet yak. He's written something like seventeen books and a few hundred articles, which is astounding when you consider he operates on half a brain and creates his words on a 1998 Dell Computer that has more electrical shorts than J. Edgar Hoover. His wife is a dumplin' and he fathered two children during blackouts in the early 1990's. Give him a call, he would love to write for your magazine or speak at your next Bar Mitzvah party. References are available upon request, or you can call Todd's seventy-year-old mom, who will give you the full scoop.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Family Adventures

While in Galena, Illinois two weeks ago, I purchased the book, Through Europe at Four Knots: A Tale of Boating Mayhem and Family Adventure, by Les Horn. It's a memoir account of his family's sailboat adventure from England to the Black Sea, including sailing through many former "Iron Curtain" countries. There were, of course, mishaps along the way, as well as plenty of bribery and taxation, but somehow they managed to sail along to their final destination in Italy.

I read this book because Becky and I have always fancied that we would like to someday purchase a sailboat and make our own adventures on the high seas. But I'm not really a high seas kind of guy. I'm more like a sail-across-the-two-acre-pond kind of guy. Still, I admire anyone who has the chutzpah to travel through Europe without a visa.

Most of my life adventures don't involve boats. They involve cars that break down in the eastern slums of St. Louis (ala Clark Griswold in Family Vacation), or taxi rides from the airport that border on the suicidal, or hiking excursions through State Parks with people who like to smoke from water bongs.

No, my life isn't filled with much adventure. I just like to read about them . . . and dream the dream. Someday, though, I am going to buy myself a rubber duckie for the whirlpool bath.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Getting Well

Another book I finished reading recently was the medical tome, Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts About Alternative Medicine, by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst. This book, written by two very competent physicians and research fellows, tackles some of the biggest alternative medicine boondoggles and ideologies of our time, including chiropractic, acupunture, herbal medicines and cures, and dozens of other alternative therapies (many of which, I noted, are actually covered under my medical insurance plan).

Essentially, these guys offer up piles of evidence showing that most of these alternative medicines and cures are caught in the crosshairs with no supportive medical evidence detailing their effectiveness. Still, millions of people swear by these "cures" (such as acupuncture) when, in fact, there is not a single medical study anywhere that supports their effectiveness.

As a child and teen, I recall being taken to a chiropracter by my mother and grandmother. The chiropracter over the years claimed that he could "cure" not only a chronic back pain, but also (at various times) the inflammation in my knees, hemmeroids (not mine!), and my father's baldness. I can still remember my dad using (what looked like at the time) a Medieval instrument of torture that had been provided by the chiropracter who claimed that, by "scalding" his scalp with an electrical surge, the hair on his head would grow back. My brother and I used to make fun of him by the hour every time we watching him "shocking" his head with these bolts of lightening from the bathroom socket. Of course, Dad still went bald and my knees still hurt, even though we shelled out lots of bucks for these alternative "cures". Not all chiropracter's make such claims, I know, but the history of chiropractic is far less than stellar and is laden with some of the most corrupt practitioners in any line of work.

Reading this book made me think of the old Barnum & Bailey quote: "There's a sucker born every minute."

And when it comes to health and our well-being, people get very passionate about their own "cures". As for me, I just stick to the basics: eat right, excercise, stay clear of power lines. And when I need medical attention, I ask my doctor or get a call from my "health coach" in Dallas. She'll be calling me soon, I know, asking me if I've lost that five pounds I promised. And I'll just tell her I'm still following "The Outcalt Plan" . . . which is slow, methodical, and heavy on the pastries.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Secrets of the Vine

Last week I read Secrets of the Vine, by Bruce Wilkinson, a little book offering reflections on Jesus' teachings about the vine and branches in John. It's not a bad book, and it's a quick read, and Mr. Wilkinson seems to know his stuff as far as vineyards and grapes goes.

Vineyards are also somewhat romantic. Becky and I visited two vineyards on our trip to Galena, Illinois. I even wrote her a couple of poems to express my inexausible love.

Sure as the vine twines round the stump,
You are my darlin' sugar lump.

And this one:

Some grapes are red,
And none are blue,
And that is why,
I want to get you back to the hotel room and turn off the TV and light a candle and whisper in the darkness . . . you!

Well, I owe this last poem to e.e. cummings, I guess. I always loved his little initials.
thanks for reading this blog t.e. outcalt

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Journey to 100 (Books & Wieners)

I've lost count of the number of books I've read thus far in 2008, but believe I'm in the 75+ range. This means I may have to resort to reading poetry books if I'm going to reach my goal of 100 books in a year. Still, I'm on the verge of completing more books this weekend, and I also purchased a couple of humdingers at Barnes & Noble last Friday that I'm anxious to tackle.

Still, not that reading a book of poetry is easy . . . in actuality, poems are tough. Lots of pith there, and some poets are deep. I've got 3-5 books of poetry I plan to read before year end.

I also like to write poetry . . . especially haikus about hot dogs. Here's a triptych of hot dog poems that speak to the large bag of frozen wieners I'm storing in my freezer, and the fact that, this time of the year, at our house, we are still making outdoor fires for wiener roastin'.

Microwave, my son . . .
Set the timer on slow roast.
Who burned the weenie?

Hot dog on a plate,
Wow, that wiener really stinks!
See how it smolders.

Give it to the dog.
He eats food off the tile floor . . .
Just like your daddy!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Friday Fun Day

It's Friday morning . . . and I get to write! In fact, I can write all day if I want. I can write all night. I can write until the wee hours of Saturday morning, and I might just do it.

This past week I've received a plethora of emails from editors requesting various pages from me. My editor at Abingdon has asked me to rewrite one last page for School's Out. I can do that. My editor at Sourcebooks sent me a giant attachment with the entire 260 page pre-set manuscript of my wedding book (and a publication date, May 2009). Am I going to read this book again now that it's done? Heck no, I can hardly stand to look at it and I've got other fish to fry. And finally, I've got invitations to send along two other book proposals, and I've got to get those all slickity-lookin' and professional. So . . . I've got a lot to do in a day.

As a bit of inspiration, last night I was reading a biographical piece about Joyce Carol Oates, probably the most prolific writer in America (bar none). Seems she can write up to ten hours a day (every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year) and she regards eating as a necessary evil. Now, I'm no Joyce Carol Oates (and I ain't Dan Quayle, either) but I regard eating as a necessary good.

Which reminds me . . . what am I going to fix myself for lunch today? Perhaps a little caviar on a cracker, or, well, maybe some Campbell's Soup. Ol' Dad has a few cans of that around, I'm sure. Gotta go now . . . the flickering screen with the electrical short-circuit is calling.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Charge Conference Report

Each year every United Methodist congregation has an annual "charge conference", traditionally held to review the year past, set goals for the next year, and officially set the pastors' salaries and the budget. Our charge conference for Calvary is tonight, but in lieu of filling out the obligatory paperwork and answering the same questions I am always charged to answer, I'm going to be a Maverick (and get all Mavericky with it!) and give my pastor's report via this blog. After all, we are now living in the computer age, and if anyone actually wants to read my little report, they can visit this blog with the click of a button instead of opening up a file cabinet drawer.

As I consider important events and moments in the life of our little congregation here in Brownsburg, a few big ideas come to mind.

First, this is a congregation with great spirit, unity, and mission. In the past year, we gave nearly 12% of our total income to ministry and mission beyond our own needs. We also started two new worship services, including a Saturday night service at 5 p.m. which will obviously meet a need. We are a large church, and we continue to embrace new families and people from all walks of life. Our membership is now over 800, we are approaching an average of 500 in worship. In 2008, we have already had 45+ professions of faith, so we are making new disciples, and we have baptized 31 people. And the year is not over yet. By 2010, we will be a 1000 member congregation, and our consitituency is now well over 1200 people.

I'm also reminded that every vineyard needs workers for the harvest. And here at Calvary we have a great staff. I mean, these people work hard, and some of them even like me! Without a team, ministry is just individual effort, and the fullness of our gifts and service don't blossom and bear fruit. So it does take a great staff to make a great church, and we are blessed at Calvary.

Calvary is also a church that is getting younger, so we are an anomaly when compared to most congregations. We have children, teens, and young adults who are not only attending, but active, serving, and involved in the life and leadership of the congregation at many levels. Of course, these changes challenge Calvary, too, but that's part of the wonderful and spirited conversation and work we are about.

Finally, on a personal note . . . yes, I did fulfill my continuing education for 2008. Heck, I read a bunch of books and I might even read a hundred titles by the end of the year. I'm in a clergy reading group and some of these people seem to like me, too. As for my health and well being, I eat a lot of donuts, drink a lot of coffee, and try to "stay in shape". In fact, I'd say I'm in pretty good shape for the shape I'm in! My wife takes good care of me in every other way ('nuff said) and she seems to like me, too, especially when I bring her flowers. She returns the favor by buying me boxes of glazed donuts.

Having said all of this, I hope to be at Calvary for a long time. I mean, someone's got to write this blog!

At the last, I'd also like to say that this whole faith in Jesus thing is a blast. I really love the Lord (no, really, he's a swell egg) and I love the people of Calvary. Both God and this congregation seem to accept me as I am, with all of my faults, failures, deficiencies, sins, and through all of my nerdy, Andy-Griffithesque ways.

Whew! Another Charge Conference over! The bishop is relieved. The DS is relieved. I''m relieved. Heck, let's all get some donuts!

Monday, November 3, 2008

America's First Humorist

I completed reading The Singular Mark Twain, by Fred Kaplan. It was a giant book, probably the best biography of Twain I've read. In many respects, Twain was America's first humorist. But I have to say, his writing is tough to read today. So many of the jokes are simply lost over time and it's tough to catch his subtle barbs when the reader can't reenter the time.

I like writing humor, too, but I'm afraid I lose most people. And my faint attempts at using humor to diffuse a situation (say, with my wife) don't usually work. And my son won't laugh at my jokes unless they involve potty humor or if I use my finger, say, to pick at some part of my anatomy.

But my hair is becoming grayer with each passing, and it will only be a matter of time before I look like Twain. I'll get big laughs then, especially if I stumble a lot or have to walk with a red-tipped cane.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Posthumous Royalties

One of the places that Becky and I visited in Galena, Illinois was the home of Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was a native of Galena, and after the Civil War, he returned home . . . penniless, destitute, not many prospects for work.

Fortunately for U.S. Grant, there were some old friends in Galena who purchased a home for him and furnished it. Later, after Grant was elected President and served his two terms, he settled in New York (and was later, of course, buried in Grant's Tomb). Near the end of his life, Grant was again destitute (it's amazing to know how many former Presidents, such as Washington, Jefferson and more, actually ended up their lives in utter financial ruin).

But fortunately for Grant, there was Mark Twain, who was then beginning to publish his own works (such as Huck Finn). Twain agreed to pay Grant a 10% royalty for his war memoirs, and Grant went to work on the writing. As Grant lay dying of throat cancer, he managed to finish his memoirs before expiring. Grant didn't see a dime from his work, but his family did receive more than $400,000 in royalties from his war memoirs, an enormous sum at the time (and not too shabby today!). Twain made more from Grant's work than he made from his own work to that point.

I can only hope this will happen to me. Someday, after I am gone, one of my books will catch a sudden wind and actually sell copies. My children and grandchildren will live in luxury. My wife will marry a sailor. I will be buried in a cardboard box behind the Krispy Kreme donut store. My heirs will be the ones driving the Mercedes. If you stop by to visit, drop a donut hole on my grave and say hello.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Reading Maps

Becky and I left for two days of R & R last Wednesday and drove six hours northwest to the little town of Galena, Illinois. What a time we had--beautiful weather, scenery galore, fine meals, and plenty of together-time. We had each stowed a few books away for the trip as well, and I had brought along the trusty atlas so that I could easily navigate our way.

Of course, reading maps can often be more difficult than reading a book, and, since I had left our GPS at home (I got one for Christmas last year but haven't opened it yet, and I'm still writing this blog on dial-up at home and figuring out how Google works) some aspects of our trip were dicey. In many ways I'm still old fashioned . . . as I enjoy pulling into a gas station and asking, "Hey, can you tell me how to get to Galena?"

This always results in twenty minutes of conversation near the gas pump, with some guy wearing bib overalls telling me, "You gotta go back ten miles and take a left at the fourth stop sign where the road veers slightly to the south and then you take that second road through the elm grove to the west, out past the Dollar General store (but don't go right) and then you go through two hollers and a flat space of about two miles and then hang a left at the bridge. You can't miss it!"

This results, or course, in my wife asking, "Why didn't you open up the GPS and learn how to use it?"

Answer, "Because I love you and want to have this incredible experience of getting lost and taking a long walk with you in the sunset so that we might neck for hours under that elm grove and walk the two mile flat space in our bare feet beneath an umbrella of stars . . . and I brought a blanket, too!"

"Just go back," she says. "You've lost more than your way. You've lost your mind."

All of this . . . just because of a map!