Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pirate Theology

Here's one I wrote many years ago for The Wittenburg Door before the magazine went under. Oh, how I miss that magazine! I miss poking fun at Robert Tilton and Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn and . . . yes, myself. And I do apologize for this one in advance. I'll answer for this one in hell. It's lame, but it's from the Hearrrrrtttt!

Pirate Theology

What did Jesus say we should cut off it it causes us to sin?

How does the Lord's Prayer begin?
Our Father, who ARRRRTTTT in heaven . . . .

What did Pilate ask Jesus?
ARRRRR you the king of the Jews?

What type of boat did Noah build?

What are the basic United Methodist beliefs called?
The ARRRRticles of RRRRReligion.

What type of fish did Peter catch?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Here's Johnny!

Sometimes, while I'm watching the Indianapolis Colts humiliate themselves, I have to read a book (that's most games). And last night I read the entirety of Ed McMahon's memoir of Johnny Carson. Here's Johnny! is a fun, quick read. And at 220 pages, half of which contain photos, it's not difficult to dispense with this sidekick title in a single sitting.

Although I may come off sounding like my uncle Luddite, I do believe that the day of classic television has long passed us by, and they don't make Tonight Shows anymore. Carson was a class act and many of my at-home adolescent memories with my parents centered around watching the monologue of the Tonight Show before bedtime. The routine was always the same: And now Heeeerrrr's Johnny! followed by Doc's signature band number, followed by Ed's finger roll and a quick High-OOOO!

I especially enjoyed some of Carson's characters. Especially Carnac the Magnificent (O Divine Spigot of Wisdom). Here Carnac would give answers to questions sealed in envelopes, and then, upon opening the envelopes, read the questions. Try a few of these memories on for size.

Answer: Chicken Teriaki
Question: What was the name of the last surviving kamikaze pilot?

Answer: Regular and Menthol
Question: Name the two best-selling types of suppositories.

Ed McMahon was never the same after Carson left the air, either. Publisher's Clearing House? Star Search? Give me a break.

When Carson retired, I stopped watching late night TV. I guess that shows my age. That, and I got married. And now I've got other things I'd rather do at night . . . including being rejected so I can write this blog.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How Do You Handle Hauerwas?

Over the weekend I consumed Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, by Stanley Hauerwas. Stanley is a Duke Divinity School professor/theologian who was, a few years ago, honored by Time magazine as the most influential theologian in the world. Well, okay. Or, as Stanley might say, "big ******** deal!"

I say I "consumed" this book because, once I began reading it, I could scarcely put it down. The memoir reads like a novel, but much of the book dealt with years when I was a Div. School student at Duke (although I was oblivious to the "political" and social circles described by Dr. Hauerwas) and not a few of my contemporaries, including some I count as colleagues and friends, are mentioned throughout.

It's an odd thing, really . . . to read a theologian's memoir. But Stanley pulls it off quite well in his down-to-earth approach and his colorful sailor language. In short, he's my kind of guy and cannot be cloned.

To be sure, there are others noted in the history that probably remember the events and details of the Notre Dame and Duke years in quite a different way, but Dr. Hauerwas pulls no punches in his reflections on people, living and dead, and what they have meant to him. His family history offers a peek into his own pain and hardships.

Reading this memoir has helped me to see that I have nothing in my life worth remembering, and that, although I am a Duke Divinity graduate, I am far more boring than interesting. I need to do more theology. I need to use more four-letter words (or study up on George Carlin). I need to write more books . . . a lot more books!

Or, perhaps, I need a better picture of myself standing in front of Duke chapel. (Perhaps on a sunny day with my shirt off?)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving: A History

A few weeks ago I wrote this piece for The New Yorker, but it was rejected. Thought some might like to know the real history behind Thanksgiving . . . from my warped perspective. Enjoy.

The American Thanksgiving hearkens back to this year, when the colonists at the Plymouth Plantation ate a feast with the Wampanoag Indians—who brought yams and diet sodas. Later that afternoon, the first “football” game was played on the lawn, with the Indians pounding the colonists by a final score of 18-0 (this was before the innovation of “extra points”).
By tradition, this first Thanksgiving meal was a whopper, and several of the colonists complained of bloating and gas, including one woman who later died of diarrhea due to eating too much corn on the cob. However, there are many traditions and ideas surrounding this first Thanksgiving that are simply old wives’ tales: including the notion that Governor William Bradford had a thing for Squanto and that turkeys were sacrificed in some sort of bizarre ritual that featured a powder horn and five musket balls.
Historians have ascertained, however, that many of our most sacred traditions are true. There was turkey at this feast and a large green bean casserole shared by all. It is also true that the women made pumpkin pies and later, the men watched the women folk clear the table and did make snide comments about the Indians.
Of course, we really don’t know where this plantation was located, exactly, nor what it looked like, and some of these colonists were no doubt very homely. But we can thank these colonists for giving us the first doggie bags, and it was Myles Standish who later coined the word “leftovers.”

Nearly 250 years later, President Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation that a “National Day of Thanksgiving would be observed.” However, Lincoln picked the wrong day, and set Thanksgiving on October 3, which really screwed up the football schedule. A few teams had not even practiced yet and, what with the war and all, some players never made it to training camp.
Lincoln did have good intentions, and a few people followed his advice and cooked hams. One woman in Boston sent him a cream pie.
Historians have since come to the conclusion that Lincoln was actually giving thanks that he was able to send Ulysses S. Grant to the front and be shed of his rancid cigar smoke. And William H. Seward, the Secretary of State, wrote in his diary that Lincoln had gone “off his nut” and was reducing the country to little more than a nation of “tater-lovers.”
Fortunately for us all, Lincoln stuck to his guns and didn’t listen to his cabinet, which was then staffed with southern sympathizers and several underweight advisers who couldn’t eat a chicken liver without getting sick. Mary Todd also baked a pecan pie for the occasion and word has it that Lincoln himself gained three pounds and ate his weight in cranberry sauce.
Later that night, the first lady had a premonition and pleaded with Lincoln not to have second helpings. Seward noted in his diary, however, that Lincoln frequently disregarded his wife’s visions and ate radishes. But the old lawyer from Illinois had grown up on venison and wanted a good excuse to bring meat into the White House.
Lincoln’s final prayer was that “everyone would enjoy the meal and get a little exercise the following day.”

It’s a little-known fact that the current date for our American Thanksgiving—the fourth Thursday of November—was not fixed until President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued his decree on December 26th, 1941. Roosevelt, an avid football fan, understood the implications and wanted to do something with radio. He considered the fourth Thursday an optimal choice for the whole nation—given that many businesses would close down on Friday, too, thereby creating the first “four day weekend”—but a few of his political adversaries considered his mandate presumptuous and opportunistic.
Roosevelt, of course, loved to eat, and Eleanor was known for her apple pie and hot rolls—which were also the pet names that Roosevelt used in the bedroom. White House staff at the time also make mention of overhearing the terms “hot beans and rice”, “savory goose” and “sweet juicy plumbs” emanating from the walls of the Rose bedroom.
In essence, our modern day Thanksgiving traditions were established at this time, and we have FDR to thank. Without a fixed date on the calendar, Thanksgiving would have become a wild assortment of varying traditions and times, with some Americans observing the day on April 19 and others on October 3 or even December 30, when it would be too cold to cut the pie.
Likewise, our American Thanksgiving traditions might have remained back there in Plymouth, and we would have been stuck eating partridge and swan, which those first Pilgrims likely consumed by the gross. No one would be eating the right foods, and it is likely that the TV remote would never have been invented.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Write Night

After receiving an invitational call from an editor yesterday, I had to make a late night foray into the wild and wacky world of the book proposal. But I had a good run. In two hours I churned out a twenty page book proposal . . . well, at least the first draft. I had to check the time on this to make sure I wasn't hallucinating, but no, twenty pages in two hours it was.

I've become rather adept at these things over the years . . . and when an editor calls to tell me that she is open to considering another hunk of my mind, I know she's probably smoking dope, but hey, it's an open door. "How fast can you write up the proposal?" she wanted to know.

"I'll have it in your hands before Thanksgiving," I promised. "Just don't choke on your turkey."

Of course, the writing of proposals and the acceptance of proposals are two different things (as most of my many dozens of proposals have been rejected and are still papering my walls). Still, I like it when an editor says, "Yes . . . I'd be willing to take a look at your insanity."

And insane it was . . . my hands are still sore, and I haven't even been to the gym yet.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The New Bookstore

Recent statistics on bookstores do not paint a rosy picture of their future survival. With the advent of Kindle, IPads, and the giant Amazon.com gobbling up everything under the sun, many are decrying the survival of the bookstore as a foregone conclusion. It's difficult to imagine, but the day may soon arrive when you won't be able to buy a book while holding it in your hands. You may have to opt for a photo of the cover and some contents, or download the whole shebang onto a portable device that will soon be the size of a shelled peanut.

Still, bookstores are trying. The larger ones have recreated the bookstore into a meeting place for coffee, breakfast, or lunch. Most have music and DVDs, too. (But music and movies are themselves suffering from the same online malaise as publishing. Easy access. Free. No need to purchase it at a store.)

But I want to do my part. Here are three options that might work for saving the bookstore.

1. Turn Port-O-Lets into Port-O-Bookstores. You can peruse a small batch of books while you sit and wait. When you flush, you make your selection and purchase. Selections could be tailor-made for the Port-O-Let crowd, with heavy emphasis on NASCAR coffee table books and State Fair cookbooks. Who wouldn't want to buy a book on deep-fried Twinkies if it were readily available at a sitting? Authors could even be available to sign when the doors open. This could be a 24-7 option, as the doors never close.

2. Why don't we turn doctor's offices and hospital emergency rooms into bookstores? Heck, who wouldn't buy a book if they didn't bring reading material for the four hour wait? Got a cerebral hemorrhage? Plenty of great titles out there that could help, and many books can provide triage care that would be more efficient than the Doogie Houser interns.

3. Use parking garages as bookstore kiosks. Picture this: you park your SUV, and as you walk away you come face-to-face with a vending machine containing many great self-help titles like, Grand Theft Auto, The Parking Garage Strangler, or How to Make a Spare Ignition Key.

Come on, folks. We can't let bookstores die. Let's use our imaginations!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Problems With Poetry

Over the past six months I've read at least twenty books of poetry, including both of the anthologies of contemporary American verse collected by (then) U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins: Poetry 180. I've enjoyed these slim collections of 180 poems, all highly-readable and accessible verse, and ol' Billy did a great job bringing the whole shebang together.

About 16 months ago I also began writing poetry on a more focused basis. During my college years I wrote poetry all the time, hundreds of poems actually, but I burned those long ago for the dross that they were. But I'm finding that the poems I've turned out in the past few months aren't bad, and I now have quite a number slated for publication in 2011 in various literary journals.

Still, I lament the passing of light verse from our social fabric, and continue to try my hand at the humorous vein. Here's one I wrote over a year ago. And, since no one wants to publish it in print, I'll publish it here. Anyway, I like it.


From Greek the name sounds rather scary
(A prehistoric dictionary?)
But as for books which are canorous
My money goes to the thesaurus.
Tucked inside its pages slim
One finds the perfect synonym
For words like hack or Hadrosaurus
For liver, heart, or the pylorus--
And every word or participle
Dangles there inside its middle:
A type of literary chorus
Singing words that ring sonorous
And on the page look quite decorous
Because they come from the thesaurus.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Going to the Dogs

(Photo: Buster, the wonder pug)

After completing my 50-year-old conditioning goal, I have subsequently gained back ten pounds, only to lose seven again (as of today). So . . . I'm still staying close to top condition even as I gorge myself on donuts and pizza.

Yesterday, I decided to take a short online quiz designed to show how my life-outlook and behaviors would translate into dog years and dog breed. My results were startling.

If I were a dog, I'd be nine years old, and I'd also be a chihuahua. A chihuahua? Evidently this breed of dog demonstrates "high-energy, lovable, personable, social, and workhorse" tendencies. Workhorse? Lovable? I'm lovable? Really?

Why is it that I can take a quiz like this and find out that I'm a chihuahua, but if I ask my wife to take the same quiz, she would be offended, thinking that I'm telling her that she's a dog? Well . . .

I just can't get over the chihuahua. Heck, I've squished larger bugs.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ambling With Amis

On my way to a conference meeting today I had a few minutes to kill, and so I stopped by a "rare and used bookstore" on the northside. After perusing the dusty shelves for a few minutes, I was astounded to find a first-edition of Visiting Mrs. Nabakov, by Martin Amis (the British journalist, novelist, and essayist who is also regarded in literary circles as one of the bright, shining Londoners of letters).

I had time before my conference to read three or four of the essays-cum-interviews in the book and was delighted by Amis's range of interests, personalities, and excursions abroad. Having visited the island of St. Lucia last summer, I read his luminous essay about the culture and tourist points there, and then pressed on to read about Isaac Asimov and his penchant for self-aggrandizement and his literal book-of-the-month club ability to turn out a new volume every three to four weeks. (Oh that some publisher would give me the opportunity to do it!) And, naturally, Amis's conversation with John Updike in a hospital cafeteria was mesmerizing.

Okay, so if this stuff doesn't float your boat, don't worry. I plan to read through the remainder of this book on Friday and get on to the higher calling of eating donuts, completing sermons, and writing my own stories and essays . . . and I've got a bunch brewing in the kettle right now. More than I can count, actually.

Meanwhile, I'll pin Mr. Amis's tome under my left armpit (my non-injured arm) and cart him off to the gym with me on Friday morning. I plan to read him while I'm doing my treadmill work.

Heck, a guy has to have something good to read while he's burning a.m. calories so he can eat more donuts. And a first edition doesn't hurt.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Don't Quote Me

2007 was a big year for quotes. It was for me anyway. That year, there were three publishers who requested excerpts from my books. "Do you mind if we quote from your book?" they asked. Of course, I didn't mind. And of course, there was no pay for the quotes. I just couldn't believe I had written anything worth quoting . . . and I still don't.

But in case anyone is listening to what I say, I would like to offer the following quotes for the bargain basement price of $1.95 a quote. These would make great refrigerator magnets, bumper stickers, or sidebars for your next best-selling book (since my books don't sell worth crap!). Each of these quotes is original to me and would make fine additions to your vocabulary or family conversations.

Have you tried peanut butter and celery?
(Speaking to my son who eats, predominantly, Zebra cakes and Twinkies. This is my healthy alternative and can be your snack, too!)

Have you tried peanut butter and carrot sticks?
(Speaking to my son about my second healthy alternative for snack foods. This is a nice option in case you don't have celery.)

Are we out of peanut butter again?
(Asked this question last night and had to eat half of an onion that was molding in the crisper. Good Lord a-Mighty, I'm not eating that again!)

Good Lord a' Mighty I'm not eating that again!
(See previous explanation.)

Have you seen the TV remote?
(A lot of people think this came from The Family Guy, but it was one of my originals. This quote is usually accompanied by a tantrum, where I stomp on the floor, throw magazines across the room, and fling sofa cushions against the rafters. I usually find the remote in the cat litter box.)

When's the last time anyone changed the cat litter?
(A great thought, really . . . worthy of framing. Cat people would eat this up. Freshness counts, especially when the litter box is located under the bed in the master bedroom.)

Long time, no see . . . .
(One of my favorites, spoken daily when I see my wife around midnight. We usually settle in around this time to read term papers, proof, and print the daily output. But now it's midnight, and there's nothing left to do but go to sleep. We sleep together, but we don't sleep together . . . you know what I mean?)

Is it 5 a.m. already?
(Another favorite of mine, spoken usually before I get up to brew fifteen quarts of coffee and transition to the gym for my gut-busting workouts. I usually come back home from the gym to write more quotations.)

How am I doing so far?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Holy Cow!

Have you ever had a holy cow moment? I seem to have these every day. A few of my holy cow moments that have occurred in recent days related to reading or writing are the following:

Holy Cow Moment # 1
Driving home from the hospital today I began to think about all of the essays, stories, book proposals and other matter I have floating around in the mail and in the netherworld of the publishing industry. Holy Cow! As I thought about the full corpus of work passing from one hand to another, I realized that I should be hearing any day now . . . any day now! . . . from an editor somewhere. The odds are just too great that EVERYTHING will be rejected. Holy Cow! Surely those editors can reject hundreds of submissions!

Holy Cow Moment # 2
I heard my first Christmas song on the radio today and I realized, Holy Cow, that Christmas is a mere 7 weeks away. I was flabbergasted by the thought of Thanksgiving next week--where, in our family, we pass around Christmas lists for shopping. My mother always wants to know: "Besides underwear from Goodwill, what books do you have on your wish list?"

Holy Cow Moment # 3
I hadn't really thought about 2010 as a productive year in terms of writing. It seems as though I've written much less (though I do write every day). Still, as I look back, I have produced a staggering amount of work, and I've actually had quite a few essays, stories and poems accepted for publication . . . some of which are slated for a 2011 release. Holy Cow . . . it's actually been a great year.

Holy Cow Moment # 4
I was driving through the rain today when I realized, Holy Cow, it's been weeks . . . weeks . . . since I've heard from my literary agent. When last seen or heard, she was on her way to old New York to distribute one of my book proposals to various publishing houses in the hopes of making a sale. The silence is not a good sign. Which makes me say, Holy Cow! What does a guy have to write in order to get a new book published these days? Do I have to run naked through a rain storm (okay, I can do that, let's set up a photo shoot)? Do I have to squawk like a chicken? Do I have to write better material? This latter might prove to be the most difficult, actually . . . I'm writing my guts out now. I'm writing, I believe, some of the best material in my life . . .

And so . . . Holy Cow. It's a cow-eat-cow world out there.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Poet Laureate

For those who follow this sort of thing, I recently noted that the United States, as of July 1, 2010, has a new poet laureate: W. S. Merwin. I first became acquainted with Merwin in college, and do recall what was, perhaps, his earliest signature poem: "The Drunk in the Furnace." (Not that I was ever drunk . . . I wasn't . . . I just looked dopey as a college student--but I did, in fact, burn garbage in furnaces in the women's dormitories at Indiana State, no joke!)

Okay, so Merwin is the new poet. He's earned it. I've also followed some of Merwin's career through the years and last grew envious of him over a decade ago when I learned that he lived in Hawaii. 'Taint fair, W.S., living in all that splendor.

That's why I'll never be a great poet. How could anyone write poetry who lives among sycamore and buckey trees and has a dog named Buster? A dog, by the way, that often eats his own poop? A dog that will eat the cat's poop?

Merwin has written poems on many subjects, true. But I'll challenge him to a poop poem. Bet I could beat him. I've got a whole drawer full of 'em. (Poems, that is.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Beyond 800

It wasn't until after my last blog that I noted that I have now written more than 800 blog posting for Between Pages. If I wrote an average of 300 words per blog, that's 240,000 words or, to put it in perspective as books . . . the equivalent of three substantial volumes.

Regardless, I do want to say thank you for reading this insanity. I'm sure most of you have other things you could do. In fact, you could do so much better. Actually, why do you read this thing?

801 blogs? I'm sure I don't remember most of them. But it would be interesting to know if anyone out there has a favorite.

But I do hope you'll continue reading. Thanks for visiting.

I'll be here tomorrow offering up another crazy piece of my mind.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Column

At a clergy gathering this afternoon, I had several of my colleagues ask the question: "So, what are you going to write about in your next column?"

Evidently the word is out that I will write about most anything, and, quite frankly, it's getting tougher to live up to my own high standards (which are pathetically slim, actually) when it comes to maintaining and monitoring the quality of these published pieces.

Still, I've got several grand ideas that I've been batting around of late. I'm sure there are people out there who can't wait to read some of these gems. Should I write them?

Column #1 Title: Life and the Married Columnist
Here I'll explore the behind-the-scenes life of an average columnist in America . . . who we are, what we do, where we eat. I'll take readers into the dark back rooms of sleazy office spaces where, in places most people don't want to know about or don't want to admit exist, we write the columns that keep America's cogs turning. I will also write in technicolor detail about columnists' sordid sex lives . . . the spouses who spurn us, the types of fruit we eat for their aphrodisiac qualities, and the key phrases that turn our spouses on, including, "my keyboard needs to be dusted" and "have you seen my thesaurus lately?"

Column #2 Title: The Truth About Bedbugs
Okay, this column is part memoir and part confession. But the truth is, I've got 'em, you've got 'em, and that's why, quite frankly, we can't stop itching. Got nothing to do with allergies. Check under your armpits. They're there! I discovered mine after I shaved my chest: a family of four bedbugs--and not insignificant in size--that had taken up residence between my pecs. In this column I'll tell you how to get rid of the little beasts. But first, you'll need some gasoline and a large comb. Oh, and save a little money for a motel room for two nights. Red Roof Inn has the best rates and they also sanitize their hot tubs daily so you won't have to worry about contracting TB.

Column #3 Title: Blue Ain't My Favorite Color
Actually, I prefer earth tones, for obvious reasons. Orange ain't bad. I could also live with chartreuse. No lavender. Red turns me on.

Column #4 Title: Church Kitchens
Most people at one time or another have wondered: what's really in a church kitchen? Well, I'm blowing the lid off! You won't believe how many sticks of butter . . . and I'm talking OLD sticks . . . have been growing mold in church kitchens since the Eisenhower administration. And listen, you'll never find a fresh vegetable in a church kitchen. Two year old green bean casserole, maybe . . . but no carrot sticks. And I wouldn't eat anything wrapped in tin foil. The last time I ate a foil-wrapped church kitchen food it was actually Playdough from the preschool. And I'm not going to write the follow-up column about church bathrooms.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I've been reading Saul Bellow: Letters. This collection, edited by Benjamin Taylor, is an epistolary foray that I've been looking forward to for months. I ordered this book long before its publication date, and I'm finally enjoying reading Bellow's correspondences with other writers, editors, friends and family. This collection also reveals the lost art of letter writing. Who writes letters today that are worthy of filing, cherishing or collecting? About the only thing we moderns have are blog postings, emails and twitters. And twenty years from now, who's going to care?

It's refreshing and inspiring to read such well-crafted personal correspondence. But hey, that's just me. Bellow, incidently, won two National Book awards and a Pulizer Prize for his many novels including The Adventures of Augie March, Henderson the Rain King, and Herzog.

Naturally, I write letters, too. I hope my family is keeping them. I expect them to be worth big bucks some day. Who wouldn't want to read some of these gems?

Dear Becky,
I left a twenty dollar bill next to your purse so you could buy coffee and dinner tonight after your class. No need to thank me . . . I'm just glad to be your sugar daddy. You can pay me back tonight. How? You know how! It's time for you to do the laundry!

Dear Logan,
Have you seen my marbles? I lost them again.

Dear Chelsey,
How much do I owe the Bursar's office at Ball State? I keep getting intimidating calls from some guy named BoBo who is threatening to "break my ******** kneecaps!" Is he one of your professors? A nice guy, though a little touchy. I'll write a check as soon as I crack some more walnuts and sell the jug of leftover motor oil.

Dear Bishop C!
What's shakin' dude?!
Grace & Peace,
Brownsburg Rev.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Discounting Me

I'm being discounted. In fact, most of my books are now available for pennies on the dollar, which means, of course, that I make pennies on the royalty.

Consider, for example, my first book (originally published in 1998) which is now selling for $4.95 on Amazon.com. This means that, for every sale through the giant internet warehouse, I'll be making something like thirty-five cents in royalty. Chump change.

But I'm used to it. I've been discounted all my life. My mother was discounting me way back in 1968, telling me that I didn't know how to clean my room. My father was discounting me in 1972, when he pointed out my deficiencies in planting the lettuce seed in the garden, which the rabbits ate. And now my wife discounts me.

She's correct, of course. I wear my underwear until it disintegrates. I only have two pairs of socks, which I rotate by the week. Becky has written me out of her will, choosing to give her money to the dog.

But I don't mind. Heck, in a world where I'm worth thirty-five cents, I feel I'm taking a huge step up whenever my mother buys me a new pair of socks.

Monday, November 8, 2010

My 50 Photo Revisited

Photo: Glenn Howell mocking the October 19 photo of Yours-truly.

On my October 19 blog I published a photo of myself at 50. Little did I know how much this photo would be used and discussed . . . but here are some of the more interesting responses I've received.

First, Rev. Glenn Howell (see his photo above) actually used my photo as an illustration during his October 24 sermon at Zionsville United Methodist Church. A portion of his message centered on what could be accomplished through consistency and dedication. I guess he thought my Photo @ 50 demonstrated those qualities. Okay, I'll accept the accolade, even though most of my dedication for the past decade has been centered on locating the perfect donut. But I guess some folks are easily impressed by a guy like me who just keeps on going back to the gym every day for more punishment.

I also received several emails, responses and cards from folks who said that my photos were "inspiring" or "hilarious" or "incredible." I guess many thought, as I had hoped, that those photos showed what an old guy could accomplish with a bit of dogged determination, sweat, and stupidity. Yes, I continue to work hard in the gym most every day, and I do fully intend to be in even better condition at 60, but it helps that I don't take myself too seriously. If anyone, like my friend Tom Heaton in Guatemala, found themselves "speechless" . . . well, thank God I was good for something. I'll just keep working hard--through all the injuries and the piles of donuts--and look to improve as the years go by.

And finally, last weekend my wife ran into one of our old high school friends who had seen my photos on Facebook. It has been decades since we've seen each other, and she asked Becky, "Were those photos of Todd real? Does he actually have a six-pack, or was that a cardboard cut out he was standing behind? If those are real, I'd love to touch em."

Thank God my wife told the truth: "Believe me . . . the abdominals, the pecs, the deltoids . . . are actually his. I touch em twice a year! It's his face and personality that are cardboard cutouts."

Until 60 . . . I stand ready over the next decade to help anyone--especially kids who need a discipline or a healthy life-style path--to ask for my advice. But until then . . . you can find me at Dunkin Donuts. I'll be the one eating the black licorice donut breakfast combo after my workout.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fear and Honesty

A few days ago I received a response from an editor who offered the following comment on one of my humor submissions: "Sorry I don't have a place for this one . . . but I appreciate your honesty. Wish more would write like this." Honesty. Well, it's a rare thing, evidently, even among writers . . . and I'm not talking about truth vs. lie here. I'm talking about openness . . . the willingness of a writer to put the guts of his or her life and thought radically upon the page.

I know what the editor is talking about.

Most of the books I read today (particularly "religious" ones) lack this crucial element. I read voraciously, but most often I come away from a book, whether fiction or non-fiction, with the feeling that the writer hasn't really said what he or she wanted to say from the gut, but was writing from some artificial center.

But perhaps publishers are to blame, too. Today, every publisher wants a "formula" success. And if a writer is going to get published, there's a growing tendency for editors to lump writers into specific genres or marketing niches. Many writers feel they can't write what they want to write, but what the marketing department at the publishing firm believes will sell. Most of the books I read fit into this latter category, I'm afraid.

The older I get, the greater my proclivity to write what I want to write, to say what I want to say (whether humor, religious, satire, fiction, or history). I do strive for honesty and openness above all.

I guess I get this from my wife. She's always telling me what she thinks. According to her, I'm generally a good man, a guy who cooks decent soups, somewhat of a work-a-holic, a weirdo, a frustrated father, and a writer who continues to fail forward and write for nothing, having not had a single "success" in thirty years of work. She's right, of course. And honest.

And she's not even an editor.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Writing My Last Will & Testament

In October, my wife and I made changes to our Last Will & Testament (which we keep in our secret lock box with the combination 18-39-33). Some of the biggest changes to the language in our Will were centered on making sure that our two children don't get their "grubby little paws" on our "significant assets" (which now, get this . . . total more than $187.94 in stocks and bonds after making another payment to Ball State!!!!). Our children must also wait until they are (respectively) 87 & 93 years old before cashing any of these assets. And finally, if I die tomorrow from, oh let's say, an extended bout of diarrhea or a severe case of rickets, Calvary UM Church in Brownsburg will get some of this money and will be able to plant a shrub in my memory . . . a scrawny shrub, yes, but a shrub nonetheless! It can be planted in the darkest corner of the property next to some sticker bushes with a plaque: In Almost-Fond Memory of What's His Name

I wish more people would remember their churches in their Will (and that's why I'm doing it--to put my own money where my mouth is). But most of us can give significant gifts to God's work when we die if we'll only plan for it. (It's true!)

Now, having said that, there are other significant assets that I also have in a closet. I've told me wife about this numerous times, but she doesn't believe me. I keep telling her, "Remember, if I die from scurvy, I have very valuable writing in the closet. I have great heaping mounds of novels and essays and stories and articles and poems that you should be able to cash in at some pawn shop in Speedway. This lifetime of work should be able to buy groceries for you and the kids for a couple of months, and if you drive a hard bargain on that novel series I wrote about canker sores, you could probably take an extended vacation in Akron, Ohio."

Naturally, Becky covers her ears and begins sobbing at the very thought of my death (which, I remind her, could be immanent if I don't eat enough limes). She tells me (she's a great actress!) that she can't stand the thought of going on without me . . . and sweet Jesus, she'll miss my turkey chili too! I hold her, wipe her crocodile tears, and tell her that yes, I'll be saddened by my own death, but it's for the best. Just think of what she'll have once I'm gone. And the men! This cheers her up.

I just don't have the heart to tell her that I've written her out of my Will. If I die, she can't remarry. In that instance, all of my worldly assets, including my secret stash of black licorice, goes to the dog. And let me tell you . . . dogs and black licorice don't mix. My wife will have a heck of a mess to clean up. Serves her right!

Got your Last Will & Testament written???!!!!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Switch Up

One of my forays into the world of business and leadership has resulted in reading Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip & Dan Heath . . . those powerhouse brothers who have now written their second best-selling business book.

I liked Switch for good reason: it's an engaging read with pertinent illustrations from the boardroom and life, and I'd recommend it to anyone who is trying to either lead change, instill change, or even change habits and patterns in their daily expressions.

I continue to try to change things in my life. But it's tough. The dog goes out into the back yard at the same time each day and must be bribed back inside with a tasty treat. My son also follows the same dull routines of sleeping and pizza-eating. My wife sets her stage each day with the same routines and then spends her evenings reading and writing and researching. And me . . . I now spend a lot of time calling the dog, purchasing pizzas, and proof-reading term papers and blog entries. Sometimes I get confused and bribe my wife with a Milk Bone dog biscuit or I feed the dog a whole pizza. It's tough to affect change when my influence is so small.

But as the Heath Bros suggest, perhaps I need to do something daring, bold. Shake-up is required. Wild thoughts.

On Friday night I'm going to fix chili and use a different seasoning. I'm going to serve carrot sticks instead of celery. I'm going to purchase a two-liter bottle of some generic diet cola and try to pawn it off as the Real Thing.

I'll bet no one will notice. But even if they don't, at least I'll know I tried. This change stuff is tough!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Yesterday I received an empty envelope in the mail with one-dollar-two-cents postage attached. I recognized my own handwriting on the return address immediately, but there was nothing inside the envelope . . . not even anthrax spores. What should have been inside the envelope? One of my manuscripts.

Now, this phenomenon is not unusual for a writer . . . it happens all the time. An editor reads a manuscript, rejects it, and then ships back the empty envelope with return address and postage affixed. But to the writer, it's disheartening. I would actually prefer a form rejection letter over an empty envelope or, in lieu of that, hate mail.

I wish editors would be more forthright with their feelings. If they didn't like my work, why not tell me? How about saying something like:

Dear Mr. Alleycat:
You call this good writing? You think this is funny? You actually think we're going to publish this crap? Obviously you are high on something, or you were sniffing diesel fuel when you wrote this. Are you feeling well? Are you constipated?

That's why were are returning your envelope . . . empty. Your material is just so bad, we had to burn it. And please, don't send us anything else. It's a waste of your time . . . and ours. We have better things to do around here--like signing big name authors to large contracts, or searching for politicians who can't write, but would put their name on a book cover if we can find a ghost writer. We don't have time for the likes of you.

Anyway . . . have a great day!
The Editors

(PS--tomorrow I'm going to buy a new box of envelopes and start the whole sordid process over again.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Training Wheels

In recent weeks, I've attended several workshops and training sessions designed to make me a better human being. I have returned to Kindergarten, and have appreciated the advice offered to me on how I should tie my shoes, blow my nose, and say, "thank you." Always, after each training session, I've been asked to fill out a piece of paper that says something like "Give us your feedback" or "Tell us if we wasted your time."

So . . . let me offer some of my opinions here for the good of the whole show so that others might learn too and be edified.

Q: What did you enjoy most about this training session?
A: Definitely the snack bar. Loved the little granola bars with raisins in 'em. The coffee . . . ? I should have stuck with the orange juice and the bottled water. Oh, and the little M & M game we played at table . . . great touch. Ate my education.

Q: What did you enjoy least about this training session?
A: I'd say the length. Actually, I consider myself a fast learner and I can usually pick up information in three minutes. I don't really need four hours to get in touch with my feelings. I can tell you if I hate the workshop after thirty seconds.

Q: What will you take away from this training session?
A: A pocketful of mixed nuts, which I will eat on the drive home. Probably a bottle of water.

Q: What suggestions do you have for future training sessions?
A: Let's not.

Q: What other training would be helpful to you?
A: Believe it or not, I don't know how to use a jig saw. But they look fascinating to me. I could imagine myself making puzzles, or Christmas gifts for distant relatives (triangles and stuff). In lieu of this, I'd opt for training as a certified electrical engineer. I encounter a lot of electrical problems in the church and holy nosebleed, it would be a great help to be able to fix these problems myself. This would save mega bucks, too, and the training would come in handy so I would not electrocute myself or fry off a couple of fingers. Finally, I guess I should mention that training on my cell phone would really be helpful. I still can't respond to my son's text messages (how the **** do you work the keyboard?) and I'll be dogged if I have the foggiest notion how to Twit. I'm just now learning how to log into the computer with my password and now I have to learn all of this new stuff, too. I can't keep up. Let me tell you . . . that's why pastors are dropping like flies. Our intellects can only handle so much at a time, and I'm still trying to figure out the book of Ecclesiastes. Who wrote that thing? Not Solomon, I'll bet. Well . . . and any training on anger management would also be helpful. I know people who would use it.