Monday, August 31, 2009

In The Beginning: Page Three

I was twelve years old when Ms. McGee came to our grade school to teach. I loved her from the first day, and it was a joy just to sit in her classroom and breathe the air.

And that year, for some strange and convoluted reason, the school administration decided that all of the seventh grade boys needed to have a creative writing class. Not just writing, mind you, but creative writing. And not the girls, mind you, but just the boys. And Ms. McGee was to be our teacher.

She changed my life.

Now, I don't remember all that I wrote for that class, but I do remember wanting to go to school, and sit next to Ms. McGee, and write beautiful stories for her. And I did. I wrote before I went to school. I wrote during my other classes (by hiding notebook paper inside my books). I wrote after school, and on weekends, and late, late, late into the night some evenings. That writing class lit a deep fire in me that has never been extinguished, a fire that no one has been able to quench, a fire that . . . oh, hell, I just like to write . . . .

And me? By golly, I received an A on every paper. Ms. McGee would hand me those papers smelling of sweet perfume, flashing me a smile . . . and I adored her. And yes, somewhere deep down in that never-before-spoken place in my life, I do believe she loved me, too. I could have married her. I could have had her. She could have been mine . . . . Well, but I digress.

Suffice it to say--that little writing class changed my life.

NOTE: I didn't know how this story ended until about seven years ago. I was talking to my mother about Ms. McGee, wondering where my old teacher was, secretly wondering if we might even hook up again on eHarmony, and my mother told me that she recalled receiving a phone call from Ms. McGee one evening when I was in the seventh grade. Ms. McGee evidently had called to tell my mother, "Your son has a gift for words, Mrs. Outcalt. He seems like he enjoys writing. If I were you, I'd encourage him to do something with it. And by the way, keep him away from me. That tall skinny geek gives me the creeps!"

Saturday, August 29, 2009

In the Beginning: Page Two

It could have been the winter of 1971 (if memory serves) that CBS aired a made-for-TV-movie called "The Homecoming". This was the pilot movie that later became the TV series, "The Waltons". But the movie version actually aired a few weeks before Christmas (as it was a Christmas movie about a West Virginia family during the Depression).

I think the only actor who returned to take a role in the TV version was Richard Thomas, who played "John Boy".

But what does any of this have to do with me and writing? Well, you may recall that in the movie, the father brings home Christmas gifts to give to all of his deprived children. The final gift to be opened was John Boy's, and he discovered that his father had given him a large supply of Big Chief writing tablets. The father says, "I wonder how news traveled all the way to the north pole that you wanted to be a writer?!"

Our family was huddled around the TV watching that show when I was eleven years old, and I turned to my dad soon after that and said, "And I want to be a writer, too."

My dad looked at me as if I had just informed him that aliens had implanted a homing device inside my skull. "It's just a movie," he said. "Nobody writes around here. Just concentrate on detasseling corn or chucking coal over your shoulder . . . you'll be doing that a long time."

Like John Boy, I fell into a deep depression after that . . . but for a writer, depression is often good, and I began writing some of my best stuff: dark stories about hippies getting their heads cut off in motorcycle accidents, or teenagers who fall headlong into detasseling machines, or stories about whole families who are wiped out by a strange fungus that comes from outer space and grows in the grass and they get buried under tons of coal.

About six months later the school principal called to ask my dad to check my brain for that alien homing chip.

Friday, August 28, 2009

In the Beginning: Page One

The first writers lived in caves and told stories around the fire. They wrote on walls with charcoal, and used pictures instead of words. They were men, like me, telling hopeful stories about naked women dancing around the fire as they watched from a reclining position on a mammoth-skin rug and sucked marrow out of the tusks. Well, that's what I get from these early stories, anyway.

But my story as a writer isn't quite that cushy. It's also a heck-of-a-lot more fun.

I actually wrote my first "story" when I was three and half (according to my mom). I drew a picture of the tuna on a Starkist can and regaled her with tales of the sea.

In school, I was something of a loner early on. I sat by myself in the back of the class (still do) and wrote and drew pictures while the teacher tried to keep my attention selling charts and graphs on the blackboard. I bought none of it. (Still don't.) And even from the age of ten, all I wanted to do was read and write. These proclivities, however, were not the product of a great mind. In fact, my intelligence ain't too high. I don't think great thoughts. But I can write about them.

And then, once, in third grade, the teacher asked all of us the question: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Jimmy said he wanted to be an astronut. Susie said she wanted to be the dictator of Lithuania. I said, "I want to be a writer." Everyone in the class laughed, including the teacher, who took me aside after the class and explained: "You'll never find an agent kid, and your packets of stories, poems and novels will be rejected outright and used to light the publisher's pipe. I suggest you focus on planting lima beans. You seem to have a gift for stuffing things up your nose. But writing . . . don't give it a second thought, bozo."

I was nine years old at the time and knew I was off to a great start.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Series of Unfortunate Events

Tomorrow I plan to begin a blog series about my writing past: where did it all begin? When did I get my first typewriter? What was I writing when I was ten, fifteen, twenty-five?

Some of this stuff, as I think about it now, is just too funny to pass up. So I've got to pass it out.

That, and I'm hoping to use some of it in a book some day . . . since I'm still writing back to the future. But that's another movie!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Folgers & Me

Increasingly I find myself writing very early in the morning. I have discovered that I am frequently wiped out by midnight and just don't have the energy or stamina to write on into the night. So mornings have become my new writing venue.

Writing before the sun comes up, however, has its challenges. First, a plan must be in place: what will I accomplish in a few hours before the sun rises? Where are my notes? How quickly can I write? Will I be relaxed, or must I write at a furious pace to meet a deadline?

And then there is the coffee to consider. Now, I don't know about you . . . but Folgers just doesn't cut it. Sure, it's cheap. But that's why it's no good. I need a coffee that will curl my chest hairs, yank them out, even . . . or turn the gray hairs black again. I need a coffee that will tan my hide.

Becky and I purchased a half dozen coffees in Puerto Rico, and most of them have been of this variety.

So, if you see me later in the morning and I look like I have been working for five hours or so, or haven't shaved, or showered, or even changed clothing from the day before . . . it's probably because I have already put in a full day's work, and indeed, I haven't showered, shaved or changed clothing.

But I did drink coffee.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On the Air

A couple of weeks ago I did a small run of radio interviews as part of a promo for Your Beautiful Wedding on Any Budget. None of these were "in studio", thank God, but in two instances I had to get up very early to do a drive-time morning show on the east coast.

One of these was a Christian talk-show hosted by an "ex-pastor" who, at one point, got on his soap box. "You know," he said, "when I was pastoring, I always found it amazing that people would have a ten-thousand dollar wedding, but wouldn't pay the pastor anything for the counsel, the planning, and the officiating of the ceremony. That ever happen to you?"

"Yeah," I said. "Happens all the time."

"I had a philosophy that the couple should pay the pastor at least what they paid for their cake. We're worth cake ain't we? I mean, they buy a two thousand dollar cake, they should write us a two thousand dollar check."

"Sounds good to me," I said. "But I don't see that happening today."

"Well, brother, you write good books and articles for brides, but I think you need a new title telling pastors how they can create a living by making wedding cakes. That's where the money is, brother."

"Amen," I said. "Cake sounds better, cause I know it ain't in writing books, either."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Updike Poems

I've had a great time the past month reading The Collected Poems of John Updike. I have many "favorite" writers, but if I had to choose a writer who has, through the years, astounded me with the depth of breadth of his work, I would choose Updike. I have read no less than twenty of his books, including his four Rabbit Angstrom novels which have garnered him two Pulitzer's and a National Book Award.

And he's not a bad poet either . . . especially a poet of light verse. Updike's verse is more than funny. It is lilting and, at times, provocative in insight and opinion. I miss Updike already. And he hasn't been dead a year.

Still, I've been carrying this book with me for the past month (car, briefcase, armpit) and have taken it with me to restaurants, into the backyard, and to football practices and games. The cover is now showing signs of wear . . . BBQ stains, a half-moon-shaped coffee mug ring, and my own disgustingly filthy fingerprints.

But I love a book this way. It's making me work.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Waiting Game

Right now I'm in something of a holding pattern. I'm waiting. Waiting for editors to call. Waiting to hear back from about a dozen writers who have promised to contribute to a book I am helping to edit. Waiting for paperwork. Waiting on inspiration to strike. Waiting, in fact, while I am also working, working, working . . . .

The problem is, I don't like waiting. I like doing. I like accomplishing. I like results.

So that is why, whenever I'm waiting, I'm also reading and writing in those cracks and crevices, those tiny openings between one project or another. I'm reading as fast as my eyes will flow over the page. I'm writing as fast as my fingers can keep up with my mind. Sermons, essays, chapters, proposals . . . whatever strikes my fancy early of a morning, or late at night.

In the meantime, while I'm waiting . . . I'm rocking. Now, if only Becky would sit on my lap!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Envelope, Please . . .

Bringing in the mail each day always gives me a thrill. Sure, there are the usual bills and the copious assortment of junk, but every day I always reach into the mailbox expecting the envelope to be there. It's the envelope I've been waiting for my entire life, and I don't know what it will look like nor when it will arrive.

And I'm not exactly certain what the envelope will contain. It could be a small handwritten note from an editor at The New Yorker, informing me that, after thirty years of submissions to the magazine, I will at long-last grace the pages. Or it could be a sheaf of papers written by some legal-eagle informing me that Mr. Publisher is finally giving me a contract to write a massive book about the dead U.S. Presidents, or a novel, or even a screenplay for Miramax pictures. Or the envelope could contain a check, preferably a large one containing at least six figures, along with an invitation to write more books because "they just gotta have 'em."

I'm still waiting on this envelope, of course. So far, all of the envelopes I've received have been empty, or they contain messages like, "Get lost", "You suck", or "You've got a lot of nerve, brother." And other envelopes have arrived bearing checks so small that the publisher could hardly justify sending these checks inside an envelope posted with a forty-four cent stamp.

Yes, I'm still waiting for the envelope. Thirty-six years now, and counting, since I first began the journey of submission and hope, and reaching into the mailbox every day to embrace my future.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Writing for Free

I think I'm more of a workhorse than a thoroughbred when it comes to writing. I'll write most anything for most anyone who asks . . . even if there is no pay. This, however, has not been my experience with most other writers.

Recently I began working as an editor for an upcoming book to be published in 2010, and helping to produce a book on this other end of the spectrum has been most illuminating. I've learned, for example, that most writers simply will not write for small amounts of money. Most want top billing or nothing. And hardly anyone will write for free. Many other writers have told me, "I don't have time to write

In the past month I've been asked to contribute ideas to two publishing web sites, to contribute to an upcoming periodical, and to write copy for a mailing that another publisher wants to send as a mass mailing . . . all for free. I never hesitate a single moment, but agreed to do all of these for nothing. Maybe I'm a chump, but my experience is that these gifts always lead to other opportunities, and I often work well into the night if I have to give an editor these gifts.

Like John Updike, who, even until his death earlier this year contributed book reviews and frequently wrote for little or no pay, I'm in that camp of the workhorse writer, the Great Depression writer, the I'll-d0-it-for-free-cause-its-what-I-do camp.

I guess I can't figure out the writers who decline opportunities because they are too busy or can't work for peanuts.

And so, if there are other editors out there who need a workhorse instead of thoroughbred . . . I'm already locked and loaded in the starting gate.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Book

Yesterday evening, while rummaging around in the garage, I happened to notice a large shipping box propped in the corner. I have no idea how long it had been there, or who put it there (but our mail carrier has a habit of stuffing my mail in odd places). But when I opened it, the box contained my author copies of my latest book, $5 Youth Ministry.

Last night, while we were eating Chinese food at home and "celebrating" a 25th wedding anniversary as a whole family, I gave copies to everyone. The copies quickly got chucked, and I had to point out that I'd written something nice about every member of the family in the acknowledgments but I could easily rescend any favorable comments. But, since this was my 20th book, who cared? But I really thought my acknowledgments in this one was thematically clever. Some day, maybe my kids will read what I wrote about them.

The back cover of the book also contains a photo of me (taken by Andrew Attwood . . . thanks!) and a simple but elegant statement of what I like about teenagers. But the publisher missed a few things.

For example, around our house, I also enjoy taking all of the toilet tissue out of my son's bathroom. I enjoy giving orders like, "Mow the yard today . . . or I'll ground your sorry butt for two weeks and take away your cell phone!" I enjoy telling my daughter that I am writing a very large check to cover her Ball State tuition so she will feel enormously guilty and strive to make good grades. I enjoy making teenagers do laundry. I enjoy saying things like, "It's time to go to bed. Your mother and I want to make out on the couch." I enjoy ordering teenagers to bring me another diet Coke from the fridge. I enjoy . . . really enjoy, teenagers.

And that's why I wrote this one!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Great Poems

At long last I began reading The Collected Poems of W.H. Auden a few weeks ago. But a book of poetry of this size and magnitude simply can't be read like a novel. One goes back to it over a period of weeks, shelves the book, and takes it up again during commercial breaks of Seinfeld. Auden is one of those luminaries whose poetic breadth and length is astounding, and he writes a fair amount on love. I read a little Auden this week while trying to prepare an anniversary poem for Becky (our actual anniversary is today, August 18, and I can't wait to eat Chinese with the kids tonight, then home for an evening of bill paying and postage stamp sticking). But as far as great poetry, I'm not sure that even Auden can help a guy like me.

I will have to look back through my own collected poems to find something old and rare. Kind of like Becky herself.

Monday, August 17, 2009


The past month has been brutal. I've had three different book proposals rejected, along with a couple of essays, a few stories, and a poem. In short, no one wants to read, much less publish, what I write. So all I have is this lousy blog. Well, but I'm not complaining. It's something.

What makes a rejection difficult to take, however, is when it comes from those who have previously published your writing. In essence, the rejection then feels like a jilt, as if the woman you love has left you standing at the altar holding a ream of paper. "Hey," you scream, "aren't you going to read this?"

She just walks away while, perhaps, giving you the finger. That's what it feels like.

But I'm not defeated. I won't be. No . . . tonight I'm sitting down at 9 p.m. and beginning a brand new proposal. I'll crank out another one. Proposals are like buses and taxis. There's always another one out there. You just have to know where to look.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Edge of the Universe

It's been about a month now since I blogged about anything of substance in regard to my reading and writing, but much has happened at both ends of this spectrum in the past four weeks. First, a couple of weeks ago I finished reading Richard Preston's incredibly fascinating book on astronomers and the search for the edge of the universe. Title: First Light.

I've always appreciated Preston's gift of taking arcane subjects and making them interesting. I first became acquainted with Preston a few years ago when his book, The Hot Zone, became a bestseller, and a few years ago I enjoyed reading his other book, The Tall Trees.

First Light is the best science book I've read this year, and I learned much about the Hale Telescope in California, the search for quasars and comets, and the quirky scientists who spend their nights searching the heavens for new lights and new insights into the beginning of the universe.

And, for those who have ever wondered . . . how in the world does a telescope work, anyway? . . . you can't go wrong with this book. And if you really want to get into the book, try reading it at night under a full dome of stars.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Love Boat: Final Frontier

(Did I marry a beauty, or what?!)

Well . . . our love boat cruise is over. We are now back to the old grind: preparing to take the oldest back to Ball State (she can't wait) and to get the youngest back to high school (he wants to vomit). We all have so much to do in September that our heads are spinning and our calendars are exploding.

Closing out this Love Boat blog, I just want to say, thanks for reading and enjoying (and for your willingness to take a sneak peak into my dementia).

And, in case my wife finds time to read this blog: I love you. Thanks for keeping my ten page love letter (you can sell it on eBay). And I'll have more poems on the way!

As for the photo . . . Becky had just turned back the sheets in our stateroom, the boat was rockin', and I really don't recall what happened after I took this photo!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Love Boat: Poem Three

I can't share 'em all, but enjoy . . . .

Even After Twenty-Five Years

Some fellers are smellers
And some are Old Yellers
And others drink too many beers.
But sweetie I hooked,
I’m arrested and booked,
Even after twenty-five years.

And other old chaps
Take too many naps
And their marriage is sad in arrears,
But darlin’ I’ll foller
Whenever you holler
Even after twenty-five years.

And what of the dips
Who speak too many quips
And just try to tickle the ears?
Well, honey, enough!
This is serious stuff!
Even after twenty-five years.

And others I know
Drive forth with the flow
But they just slip’n slide in their gears.
But my engine revs nasty
When you touch my chassis
Even after twenty-five years.

And finally I see
That some fellas find glee
When they smother their woman in fears.
But, honey, I’m shakin’
From the orders you’re makin’
Even after twenty-five years.

Yes, there’s more to our marriage
Than a crib and a carriage
And a house and two odd careers.
There’s something inside
That I can’t quite describe
Even after twenty-five years.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Love Boat: San Juan

(In Old San Juan. Me, the Sea, and O. Henry)

Our final day in old San Juan was very relaxing. Sunday morning we sat in the park and drank Puerto Rican coffee. We watched the children playing in the fountain. We watched the pigeons. We walked hand-in-hand through the old town, stopping at the occasional store or food stand.

I spent much of my reading time perusing a paperback copy of The Collected Stories of O. Henry. This was a book I discovered on my shelf before I departed on the cruise, and I noted that it had been printed in 1906 (old for a paperback!) and I'd spend forty-five cents for the used book. A bargain. Great stories. One of my favorite turn-o-the-century writers.

All I had to do on the last day was get Becky back to the hotel room for the last installment of my ten page love letter. But O. Henry didn't write very much about love.

Love Boat: Lessons

(Some waterfall on St. Lucia where people were going ga-ga and stripping down to their skivies for a dip. We didn't.)
By the end of the cruise I had learned so much. A few lessons . . .

On the first day of the cruise I visited the gym for a workout. Half of the passengers were there. There were lines three deep to sit on a weight bench or walk on a treadmill. I stayed and produced a top-notch workout despite the crowd. The second day I returned to the gym. I was the only person there. The only one out of three thousand people! Never saw another person in the gym all week! I also lost five pounds by the end of the cruise. Lesson: I am either a loser, or I deserve a big break on my health insurance premium. They should have renamed the ship's gym after me.

Throughout the cruise, I carried a book for reading. One day, up on deck by the pools, I walked around the entire deck, counting the number of readers. Only four people out of a thousand had a book. Becky and I were two. Lesson: Either we are both losers or people simple don't read books on cruises.

I also did some writing on board. If I had brought my laptop I could have actually written some great stuff as it happened. I only noted one other person on the entire cruise, land or sea, who was writing anything. Lesson: I'm a loser who writes what no one else wants to read.

Finally, I did have to say that I encountered God everywhere. In sunrises, in sunsets, in sea, and wind, and tide, in mountain, and conversation and everything in between. Beauty is everywhere. God is at work in everyone I met. Lesson: God even inspires a loser with a John Grisham book and a notepad who shells out ten bucks to see a crummy waterfall.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Love Boat: Day Five

(Our dinner companions each night: Radames & Kenneth.)

After five days at sea we were feeling a little bloated. Food. Drinks. Food. It was all very dizzying. Still, unlike some people we noted, we did not spend our entire day sitting in the buffet room with five full plates. We usually skipped lunch, and we always ate breakfast in our stateroom each morning. (And by the end of the cruise, Becky had gained five pounds, while I had lost five.)

As we ported into St. Croix on the last day, I went European and walked out onto private stateroom balcony/deck in the buff to watch the sunrise. Becky: "What are you trying to do, give those fishermen down there a show?"

I stood up and waved to the flotilla and one or two of the fishermen waved back. "See," I said. "They've seen it all before or they think I'm just a French nut case."

She didn't comment.

Still, there's no way I could run naked through the streets like some of the prophets did, and in our culture today, what would be the point? But I was glad for the cruise. Not so glad, however, for John Grisham. On day five I finished reading The Appeal, and I was depressed. His book about corrupt lawyers, corrupt politicians, and a cancer case was all too real and wasn't the type of read I was looking for. I nearly chucked the book over the balcony into the sea, but thought better of it. No, I could sell the volume at Half Priced books back home and get a nickel. That's something. And I could buy myself a piece of bubble gum.

Funny thing though about standing on a private balcony in the buff with your wife . . . after twenty-five years and five days of cruising she doesn't even notice.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Love Boat: Day Four

(In St. Maarten. Awesome water)

It happened the morning of day four. I encountered celebrity.

That morning I informed Becky that I would run up to the top deck (14th deck) and grab two beach towels for our port trip into St. Maarten. She would finish organizing our passports, etc. and we would meet in the middle.

On the way out of our stateroom I grabbed my copy of John Grisham's The Appeal, by now sandy and brown with faded sunscreen fingerprints, and I ran the seven floors to the top deck. As I exited the doors onto the pool deck, there he was. By golly, it was Jerry Stiller, the actor who played George Costanza's father on Seinfeld. I couldn't believe it.

I approached cautiously, slowly, wondering if I should ask for an autograph. Eventually, I found myself standing directly in front of Jerry with a silly grin on my face. He looked up at me and then I realized . . . this isn't Jerry Stiller. This is a woman. She gave me the once over, noting that my beach shirt was flapping open in the breeze and that I had, just that morning, moused and braided my chest hair for the trip. I excused myself, grabbed two beach towels, and scrambled down ten flights of stairs to meet Becky.

"Guess who I just met?" I told her.
"Jerry Stiller. George Costanza's father."
"You're kidding."
"Only thing was, it wasn't Stiller. It was a woman who looked like Stiller."
"Did you ask for her autograph?"
"I was about to. But then, what could I say? Hey, lady, better lose the moustache! I mean, I've already shaved mine off. Who am I to judge?"
"Did she see you with your shirt hanging open like that?"
"Yeah," I said, "but don't worry. My chest looks great. I waxed everything this morning."
"Bring your book?"
"Let's get out of here," she said.
And we did.

I never returned to the 14th deck.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Love Boat: Second Poem

(Our stateroom friend, with pouch envy.)
It's a well-known fact that Shakespeare wrote sonnets. The sonnet is an old English poetic form most commonly used to express love. I write sonnets, too. Lots of them. And as we approached day four at sea, I slipped this baby into the mix.

This Lovely Sonnet

The purpose of this lovely poem, dear
Is meant to prove that I can still write sonnets
And choose a word that I can make stand on its
Head. Kind of odd, though not all-together queer

To use a word like “queer” when I’m not gay,
Though I can lift a pinkie and a glass
And maybe even kiss your lips and pass
My love along, though really who’s to say

That guys like me need to recite poetry
When all they really need to do is tell
A woman how she really makes him feel?
But anyway . . . that’s not you, it’s me!

But will your love for me continue to explode
Since I wrote this sonnet from a Seinfeld episode?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Love Boat: Day Three

(Me & The Hot Momma)

I'll go out on a limb here and say that Becky and I enjoyed our third day on the islands the best. We found ourselves in a taxi, driving across the island of Antigua to an incredibly beautiful, yet somewhat secluded, beach. We rented shaded deck chairs for the day, slumped into our laid back positions, and roasted.

I brought along my second John Grisham book, The Appeal, and probably read half of that book in a single sitting. But the water was alluring, too. Warm like bath water, and an aqua blue hue to boot.

I also used my day on Antigua to begin drawing up outlines of some books I hope to write later this year. But every time I looked out on the water, I couldn't concentrate. So . . . I got no writing accomplished on Antigua.

Still, there was my love letter installment waiting back in the stateroom on the cruise ship. And the night was young.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Love Boat: Day Two

(Becky touching the hot lava/mineral water)

Our stop at St. Lucia was fascinating. We jumped into a cab and headed across the island to walk down into an active volcano. This was Becky's idea and she thought she could take some photos and get some new science ideas and information.

Of course, I brought along a book to read. I take a book everywhere I go. Even inside volcanoes.

"Why don't you leave your book on the ship," says Becky.
"Because I might find a lull here or there and be able to read a chapter of John Grisham," says I.
"But you need to help me write up some of this information about volcanoes," says Becky.
"Don't worry," says I. "They don't sacrifice virgins to the fire anymore. So you got nothing to worry about."

Still, the science teacher in her wanted to get awfully close to the fire.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Love Boat: For Men Only

This blog entry is for men . . . particularly guys who might be considering writing a love letter to their wives. Do it! You see, women think that men are, generally speaking, emotional and intellectual gnats. They don't think we have the capacity to truly express how we feel, especially when it comes to love. But, hey, let's not forget Shakespeare, Woodsworth, and Auden. These guys could write love with the best of 'em. And so can you!

Now, here's how you do it. When you set out to write a love letter to your wife, don't use phrases like: "I really love you, honey." Any moron can write this. You can find this expression in a Hallmark card. But if that's the best you got, then go ahead and shell out your $5.95 and feed the coffers of Hallmark. But you can do better.

Before I set sail, I worked for six weeks on my ten page love letter. Key word here: "worked"! Yes, writing is work. And when it comes to writing a love letter, you'd better give your best, brother, or you're in deep do-do!

That's why I leaned heavily on my thesaurus. Instead of using trite and overused words like "love", "honey", and "sex", I found far more expressive options, like "passionate", "beautiful", and "hootchie-cootchie". My wife really appreciated my effort, and as I doled out another portion of my ten pages each day at sea, I could tell that she was moved.

Now, what are you going to do about your love, brother? Are you gonna tell your sweet momma how you really feel about her, or are you gonna let another day go by watching reruns of Two and a Half Men?

Better get crackin' at the old typewriter. Maybe insert some clip art. And if you can draw what you are feeling, better make an illustration. Women like that sort of thing.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Love Boat: First Poem

Before our cruise, I had also hacked out an ample supply of love poems for Becky . . . the kind of poems she has come to expect from me over the years. Poems filled with passion and longing. Such as this one:

“I DO”

Sometimes it seems like yesterday,
And sometimes years a few
When we walked down the aisle, my dear,
And I said my first “I do”.

And since that day I’ve said “I do”
More times than I can count.
In fact, I say it my sleep,
And have lost track of the amount.

I say, “I do” each time you ask,
“Have you got a hundred dollars?”
And I say it when you ask if I
Have rings around my collars.

I say it when you ask if I
Have cooked the evening meal,
And I say it when you ask at night
If I want to cop a feel.

I say “I do” each morning
When you scream my blessed name
And I say “I do” each time you ask
If I am the one to blame.

I say “I do” each time you ask,
“Do you want to please your lady?”
And I said “I do” both times you asked
“Do you want to make a baby?”

Yes, dear, I’ve said “I do” to you
More times than I can add,
And sweetheart I’ll say “I do” again
Cause it hasn’t been that bad.

No I’ll never tire of saying it
Through the groaning and the tears
Cause darlin’ it’s just a habit now
After lo these many years.

So you just keep on askin’
And I’ll keep loving you.
Each time you yell for me to jump,
And I’ll just holler back “I do!”

Monday, August 3, 2009

Love Boat: First Day At Sea

Our ship (Adventure of the Seas)
Dressed for Dinner
I'm a good kisser, as you can see . . .
Our first day at sea was a thirty-six hour trek from Puerto Rico to Barbados. Quite a distance. We also had plenty of time on our hands and we spent the first day getting acquainted with the ship (which was a floating city, a real whopper). Restaurants, spa, gym, swimming pools, shopping mall, casino, poop deck . . . this boat had everything. It even had a library. I pointed this out to Becky. "I guess I can sit in the library and read all day," I told her.

"Don't even think it," she said. (Later in the cruise, however, Becky actually joined me for an evening reading session in the library. We were the only losers doing this, of course.)

Once out at sea, our first order of business was participating in a "Muster" drill. I kept calling it the Mustard drill, but that's not the correct word. At the sound of the alarm, everyone on board had to get a life jacket, run down to the fourth deck, and prepare to board life boats. This is mandatory at sea, and images of Titanic and The Perfect Storm floated around my mind. I thought Becky looked very cute in her life vest and I kept wondering what she would look like after she took it off.
Later that evening, I gave Becky my first installment of my ten page love letter . . . I'd been working on it for a month prior to launch. I absolutely cannot disclose all that I wrote in this heartfelt letter to my wife (what I appreciate about her, what she means to me, memories of twenty-five + years, etc.) but I do know that she was very appreciative and she looked forward each night to future installments.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Love Boat: Day One

Todd atop the old fortress in San Juan (wearing the same shirt from the day before and the same shirt he would wear the following day.)
Becky, standing beside a big 'ol pile of balls
My first book of the trip (The Last Juror, by John Grisham)
In preparation for our 7 day Caribbean cruise, I scoured my home library for books that I had not read, but which would fit snugly inside a carry-on suitcase. I settled on three books, two written by John Grisham, and a third: The Collected Stories of O Henry. I read over half of my first John Grisham book, The Last Juror, while en route to San Juan, though I was so tired from our 3 a.m. alarm time that I could hardly keep my eyes open.

Still, this was a love cruise, and I didn't want to miss out on any of the festivities with Becky, so I stayed alert and interested. When we arrived in San Juan, we checked into our hotel and then headed out for an excursion into the old city. Our first stop was the ancient citadel of Cristobal Colon, named after, of course, Christopher Columbus.

At one point I even plucked a red flower from a beautiful tree, placed it in Becky's hair, and gave her a long and passionate kiss when we reached the top of the fortress overlooking the Atlantic. Can you get any more romantic than that?

We then took out our cell phone and called home. We wanted to assure the kids that we were safe, but they seemed more interesting in watching a Sponge Bob rerun, so I told my son that I had just kissed his mother and told her she was the most beautiful thing I'd ever laid my eyes on. He quickly sent back a text message: "Gross."

Okay . . . so two old people in old San Juan isn't that exciting to teenagers, but it sure was to me. We were getting ready for a love cruise, and I hadn't even opened up my ten page love letter yet. I was saving that little beauty for the cruise, for those low moments when Becky might decide the she had, indeed, married an imbecile and a loser. But I just wanted to impress her with my literary skills, which might lead to showing her a few other skills and a couple of tricks that I think I possess. But that's another chapter . . . isn't it?