Friday, December 30, 2011

It All Ads Up

I had a bit of a surprise earlier this week when I noticed a pop-up advertisement for my book, $5 Youth Ministry, on Google.  I say "surprised" because this was the first Google ad I'd ever seen for any book, but it was nice that the publisher deemed it worthy of some year-end advertising.  The idea of the ad was that youth ministries could make 2012 a great year by purchasing a copy.

Amen!

Book advertising has always been risky business for publishers.  And most publishers prefer controversy to rake in the bucks.

But what controversy can I create with my titles

About the only thing I can offer in that vein would be my humor.  People might buy my books, for example, if they knew that my mother gave me some very sexy underwear for Christmas this year and that I have already modeled them for my wife who promptly laughed me out of the bedroom.  Others might buy my books if they realized that I frequently talk to strange women at the gym and offer them advice on how they can get buns of steel ("like mine!").  Or, perhaps, I could spike book sales by confessing that, many years ago, I won a contest on a youth mission trip and was crowned, "Miss Luncheon Sack" (ask me about it!).  

Outside of these hot controversies I'm afraid my life lapses back into a vein of total boredom where, in a good year, I might have two nights of hot fun and one afternoon delight and, perhaps, retell one raunchy joke.  I also eat lots of donuts, which some people might find provocative, but when they realize I'm a dunker, they let it go.

I am, however, eternally grateful for the four people who have purchased copies of my book from the Google ad . . . and I hope to create a bigger stink in 2012 so my publishers will think I'm doing my job. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

With Every Christmas Card I Write

Christmas Eve has come and gone...and now during the 12 days of Christmas, I am discovering that I still have Christmas cards to write.  But it is tough business, this writing of Christmas cards.

Although some people are dreaming of a White Christmas, I am already dreaming of summer.

Toward that end, here's a poem I wrote last year that asks the question:  what happens to the snow man when he melts

The Snowman in Summer




He dreams deep dying of leaf to frost,

The windshields covered with hominy dew,

When the sun consumes in its holocaust

The remains of an old year not yet new.



With coal-black eyes, though apropos,

He twists his stick arms avant-garde,

Entombed in sleep until the snow

Shall resurrect him in the yard.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas from Todd

What a difference a year makes.  Here in central Indiana our snowfall has been minimal compared to last year, when we had already received over 8 inches of accumulation before Christmas.

Still, many people are dreaming of a white Christmas . . . why we'll never know. 

As I wish everyone, however, a very Merry Christmas, I thought I would whip up a poem about snow.  Here's one I created just this morning on a whim . . . a bit of light verse, and not a bad one for fifteen minutes of effort.

Call it my Christmas Eve gift.  But you can keep your snowy dreams to yourself.


Snow Co.

I've heard it said that Eskimo
Have literary skills for snow:
Vast words that parse accumulation
Like earthquakes numbered to the Haitian.

However, scholars know Inuit
Assigns no more than we do to it,
Allowing us who hate our snow
To thumb noses at the Eskimo.

Friday, December 23, 2011

TV or Not TV

It happened on Tuesday, December 20.  I was in the kitchen, cooking up a new batch of Hamburger Helper for the family (no joke!) when I heard a loud CRACK! shoot from the television in the living room.  And with that retort the television died.  The second such electronic death in our house in the past three months.

But I'm not complaining. 

Now that we have no easy access to a television, we are actually talking to each other.  I'm also writing more, and reading more.  Now that I have no History Channel, ESPN, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, or Turner Classic Movies--I'm feeling very Amish.  Sure, I still have this computer and my blog, but I've always regarded the computer--as well as my junk car, my junk phone, and my heavily-penciled calendar--as tools.  Tools help me to accomplish greater ends.  Tools are what sets us apart from the apes.  Tools are not entertainment--but items that fit the mind and the hand and help to "create" other experiences and means to even greater ends.

Over the years, of course, my wife and kids have chided me for writing on a fifteen-year-old computer or for driving a car with 175,000 miles on the odometer.  "When are you going to buy something that looks good?" they ask.

"Looks aren't important when it comes to tools," I tell them.  "Tools are utilitarian.  Tools are for getting me from one location to another, or from one word to another, one paragraph to another, so that I can create or complete a greater work.  Remember this, kids!"

That's why I'm loving this TV-less home.  I don't have to worry about wasting my time watching snippets of The Bing Bang Theory or a hockey game on ESPN.  I don't have to worry about frittering away valuable pieces of my evenings with a remote, searching for Man Vs. Food or Pawn Stars.  I can sit in silence, or the family can listen to me talking to myself while I write a short story or create dialogue.  I can recite poetry aloud, or return to the old times when I used to read bed time stories to my kids or allow them to hear my novels-in-progress.  I can ask my wife how to spell "hors dourves" and listen to her complain about not having a TV and why, in God's name, I fixed Hamburger Helper for seven consecutive meals and would it hurt me, just once, to cook a lousy piece of chicken!

"So," the kids want to know, "are we getting a new TV for Christmas?"

I'm still wrestling with this one.  A husband and father has to put his foot down sometimes and exercise the authority that is rightfully given to him by Almighty God.  That, or when the family rebels and threatens to buy a fifty-foot plasma TV with Blu-Ray and Digital Surround-Sound . . . and he caves.

I tell them I'm looking for a TV.  I'm hunting.  Trying to find the best value.  This is what real men do. 

But if I don't have a new TV under the tree in two days, look for me in the local cemetery.  I'll be the one buried in the freshly dug grave.      

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Cards

As 2011 cinches toward its denouement I am trying to take stock of the writing I've accomplished over the past 12 months.  I'm still gathering the stats (will probably blog about these in January) but 2011 is shaping up to be a very prolific year for me.  Although I didn't sign contracts for any new books, I did publish quite a bit of shorter material, created some rather remarkable book proposals, and completed hundreds of pages that may yet come to fruition in the new year.

I've also had the opportunity to send out copies of my Christmas Eve story (one of my annual traditions) to other family members and friends and I've been receiving some nice feedback.

Two of the most meaningful came by way of:

1. Miss Wallace, my high school English teacher (Senior Year), who sent me a very nice card thanking me for dedicating my newest Christmas CD to her, and honoring me with her blessing of my Christmas Eve story.  Miss Wallace is now in her nineties, still has impeccable handwriting and a sharp mind, and was an enormous influence in my life.  Thank you, Miss Wallace, for pushing me toward English in college.  What else could I do with an English degree but write stories and love poems to my wife?  (You remember Becky?  She sat next to me in senior English. I copied from her papers so I could pass your class.  She smelled nice back then and was a real hottie.  When you weren't looking, I was the one passing the obscene letters to her under the desk.  But it's OK.  We're married now and she doesn't read my obscene letters any more.)

2. A Calvary family who informed me on Monday night that they read my Christmas Eve story together some minutes before their father died in Terre Haute.  Ahh...hope it was hopeful.  Hope you all will experience God's peace. Blessings for telling me this.

So, 2011 . . . as we get ready to say goodbye, I begin to look back with both celebration and dejection.  Wish I could have written better.  Glad I rose before sunrise hundreds of mornings to write, however.  It was a very good year.  And I've got a nice jump on the new one.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

End Game

Of the three posthumous books published by John Updike's family, his final collection of poetry speaks most intimately of his final days.  Endpoint and Other Poems (Knopf, 2009) actually offers the reader both a collection of Updike's considerable output since the publication of his Collected Poems and a long narrative poem ("Endpoint") which consumes nearly a third of the volume and is, for all intents and purposes, a final soliloquy detailing some of Updike's final thoughts and concerns.

The signature poem, written as a series of unrhymed sonnets, features several observations on birthdays, including 2004, 2005 and 2007.  The final seven sonnets are all dated, offering glimpses of Updike's concerns from the time he entered the hospital (11/02/08) had a needle biopsy (12/22/08) and eventually wrote on 12/22/08, just days before his death, waxing poetic of his faith and quoting from the 23rd Psalm: surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

Unlike Updike's other posthumous volumes, the cover photo--of Updike standing with his back to the camera in posture of retreating down an autumn lane--is suggestive of his hand in creating the book itself, and the fact that he dedicates the book to his wife, Martha ("who asked for one more book") leaves the reader with the feeling that this is the one Updike regarded as his last.

Endpoint isn't a morbid book, however. It is filled with an array of other poems ranging from travel observations to the saguaro cactus, and another section of sonnets leads to a final chapter of light verse (the genre poetry Updike may be most widely-known for).  

In the end, this book is worth the price of admission, and anyone looking for a classic volume on dying well can't go wrong with shelving it beside Joan Didion's, The Year of Magical Thinking and C.S. Lewis's, A Grief Observed

Thank you, Mr. Updike.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Contacts

A few months ago my wife and I both lost (nearly simultaneously) the complete list of our varied contacts stored in our electronic calendars.  It was as if the fates had a consultation and agreed to send forth a disturbance in the force.  We lost names, addresses and phone numbers of hundreds of people--including friends, family, and distant acquaintances.

I also lost a wealth of information in the publishing world . . . my many contacts with various editors, their phone numbers and email addresses.  I'm still trying to restore balance to the force, and toward that end I've picked up a light saber . . . just in case.

A couple of years ago, during a telephone conversation with my literary agent, she noted with surprise the number of people I know in the publishing ranks: editors in New York, publishers in Chicago, agents in Colorado, readers in Los Angeles.  She wondered how I had amassed such a wide-array of contacts.

I told her this is what comes from failure.  That, and the striving after wind.  It's not difficult to amass entire phone books littered with contact information when most of it comes in the form of rejection. 

Now, I have failed at keeping even these intact . . . and I'm trying to obtain a new heavenly host of information that I can stuff into a paper file . . . no more dependence upon electronic technology for me (or Becky).  Computers can crash. Cell phones can go bonkers.  Personal electronic devices guaranteed to last a lifetime can fail after the first month.  Entire civilizations can be wiped out.

One of these days I'll get back to New York.  I'll visit publishers, take the elevators to the top floors, and ask, "Hey, can I get your phone number?"

Should be interesting obtaining all of these contacts.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kid Stuff

Here's another page from my (unpublished) children's book: One Strange World. Sorry if this one is beyond strange . . . warped, maybe.











Little Eagle

Little Eagle is an Indian Chief,
The youngest chief in the clan.
He's still a kid at heart, they say,
As he's not yet an Indian man.
Little Eagle giggles and coos,
He cries and kicks a lot,
He dirties his diapers, he pees his pants,
He sleeps and makes tons of snot.
And although Little Eagle has not earned a feather
Nor cured a buffalo hide
He's held in respect by the medicine man
And the elders of his tribe.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Suit Yourself

In the most recent issue of The New Yorker magazine there is a cartoon featuring a men's tailor holding a tape measure and saying to a male shopper (as if the tailor is airport security):  "I'll be passing my hands across your buttocks and bringing the tape measure along the inside of your leg. Is that okay?" 

I laughed at this one, but also found myself waxing nostalgic at the demise of a men's store in my hometown--a men's shop that has provided my suits for the past eight years.  When I stopped by yesterday to ask the owner about his business closeout he confirmed that casual Fridays and the changing work environment have dampened traditional male attire (suit, dress shirt, tie).  

I drove home a bit depressed, put on a new suit, and promptly hashed out a couple of essays about men's clothing . . . some of the best stuff I've written in a long time.  And I discovered that I was passionate in my thought--quite a bit more passionate that I've been with my wife lately . . . and the writing hummed quickly through a second and third draft.

I recall reading some years ago about writers like Tom Wolfe and James Mitchner who, as they approached their deadlines, would literally dress to the nines before they sat down to write.  Their philosophy:  writing was work, hard work, and they were dressing for success.  John Updike was also well-known for his fashion sense, and writing for him required a writer's attire.

As I age, I find myself (increasingly) writing in attire that requires a sense of fashion. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a book review (a volume on parenting troubled teenagers) sitting on the couch while posed in an Armani suit, which seemed to help, and a few days back I arrived home from church on a Sunday afternoon, foregoing lunch, and quickly took to the keyboard while I was still shaved, polished, and scented in an effort to push through the final stages of yet another book proposal, hoping that some editor would be able to tell that I was wearing a navy blue suit and pink tie when I wrote it.

Still, I'm not sure which suit I'd like to be buried in.  I may let my wife make that decision.  She's always using me like a mannequin anyway . . . wanting to take my clothes off under the premise that I'm wearing the wrong attire.  She undresses me, and then dresses me again, just like she used to do with her Barbies.  Accessorizing, she calls it.  She seems to have a necktie fetish and has recently been pushing me to purchase a new brown belt.  Why I'll never know!

But me . . . I'm just glad to have her attention.  It's the only time she's worried about undressing me.  And the only other person to touch me in those certain places has been my clothier.

Thanks for 25 years of service, Steve!  You've helped me be a better writer.  Or, at least I look my best while I'm failing at it.   

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ever Had a Tapeworm?

My kids remember my strange bedtime stories, and here's another warped offering from one of my (unpublished) children's books that probably gave them nightmares.  That, or they learned to always wash their fruit before eating it.  A father must defend himself, after all.

This page, taken fresh and squiggling out of One Strange World, is entitled, "Tommy Target's Tapeworm".  (Yes, that low rumbling in your stomach could be a living creature!  This was a thought that tormented my kids and is, to this day, the primary source of their insomnia! But if you look closely at the drawing, you'll see the tapeworm is smiling.  He's happy to be eating licorice whip!)


Tommy Target's Tapeworm

Tommy Target had a tapeworm
That was nearly ten feet long.
It stretched from pancreas and liver
To his duodenum.
No matter what Tommy Target ate
He couldn't get any fatter,
Because the tapeworm ate it first
Before food reached his bladder.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Don's Nine Lives

Since the departure of John Updike in January of 2009, a fair number of literary critics have crowned Don Dellilo the new king of American letters. Delillo's most recent title, The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories (Scribner, 2011) provides the first and only collection of Delillo's short stories, nine total, spanning a thirty-two year vein that runs the gamut of genre and subject matter.

One makes the assumption that these nine stories represent the lifetime output of DeLillo in the short form, and each story demonstrates a nuance of the gifted writer and, perchance, a timeline of his literary development.  "Human Moments in World War III", one of the earliest stories published in Esquire in 1983, shows DeLillo in raw fantasy mode exploring a futuristic society where both natural disasters and human hatred have reduced the population to basic animalistic instincts. And "Baader-Meinhof", published in The New Yorker in 2002 nearly twenty years later, combines art appreciation and sexual desire into a single piece that resonates with loneliness and despair.

His signature story, "The Angel Esmeralda", I recall reading in The Best American Short Stories anthology in 1995 and represents DeLillo at his best--a social commentator of some large proportion, reminiscent even in shorter form of his comprehensive, sprawling masterpieces of novel like Libra and White Noise, where DeLillo has made a mastery and a name for himself as a chronicler of key notes in American history.

Unlike Updike, whose prodigious output of short story volumes was second to none (along with novels, poetry, book reviews, and essays of every persuasion), DeLillo's focus has remained steadfast on the longer form of the novel and the stage play--and these, squarely fiction. But one could make the case, I suppose, that he now reigns supreme in the longer forms.

I was glad to read DeLillo's short story collection (and to shelf another first edition), and his lifetime work in the short form is unique, both in brevity and in scope.  One would be hard-pressed, I think, to find another short story collection from any writer that would demonstrate, in a lifetime output of nine short tales, such a cornucopia of subject matter and (sur)realism.

But at Don's advancing age, what can we really expect to see from him--from this point on--within the pages of the American magazine?   

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pick-up Game

Last week I received a nice accolade from a magazine editor informing me that one of my published poems had recently been "picked-up" by an anthology.  I'm not sure what this means (probably nothing), but I'll admit . . . it's sounds high-falutin.

Whenever an editor says I've been "picked-up", it has to be a good thing, right?

Of course, I've been part of the pick-up scene for decades, man.  I was groovin' with pick-up lines long before Hollywood made them a staple in romantic comedies.  I picked-up my wife this way and, later, when I tried to pick her up and carry her over the threshold, I banged her head on the door jam. That's why I started lifting weights, so I could carry her heft. 

Of course, my pick-up lines worked much better in the 1970s when everyone was groovin' with ZZ-Top and Boston and the Eagles.  So keep in mind, I'm not sure how these will sound to modern ears. But listen, dog, these worked way back when:

Pick-up Line # 1:  Which one of you pretty ladies has my Buick Regal double-parked outside?  I need to get home to give my mother her milk of magnesia!

Pick-up Line # 2: Your name wouldn't happen to be Becky, would it?  I know a girl with the same name. What'r the odds a that?

Pick-up Line # 3: Could I buy one of you finely-educated ladies a diet drink?  Not that you need to diet, mind you, but I noticed your human anatomy textbooks, and that just happens to be my best subject . . . that, and Greek literature.  Kind of a toss-up.  But I'll let you decide.  What do you think of me so far?

Pick-up Line # 4Whaazzup!  (I was saying this long before Snoop Dog and don't let him kid you.)

Pick-up Line # 5: I'm on my way to church and just wondered if you'd like for me to pray for you?  I happen to be on a first-name basis with God and something tells me you've never had a kiss from a real man.  Or are you a cross-dresser?

As you can see, I was a real charmer, a true Casanova.  And those of you who know me can see what I ended up with.  Obviously, my wife has great taste.  She picked me up!

Still, I was glad to hear about the poem.  I can't wait to see how that one turns out now that some editor has responded to my "pick-up" lines.

Monday, December 12, 2011

To Russia, With Love

Since mid-November I've noted that over 30% of the daily visitors to this blog live overseas.  England is a mainstay, as is India, the Netherlands, and the Philippines.  And as the elections in Russia have heated up and the mercury has taken a dive, an increasing number of readers in the former Soviet Union have been needing this blog, evidently, to make it through the winter of discontent.

I thank you for reading.  Enjoy your Vodka . . . but all things in moderation!  Don't smoke too much (or better yet, trade your Camels for carrot sticks). 

For some reason, my readership has been growing through the winter months.  Perhaps it is because people need a laugh in order to find a little sunshine.  Or maybe it's other writers.  Or perhaps it is because I talk so often about donuts . . . evidently a food staple that people all over the world can identify with.  Or, it could be because this blog translates so well through the Universal Translator operated by Lieutenant Uhura.

Regardless, I'm glad to be of service . . . which is the same thing I tell my wife each day.  Use me!

Perhaps as you begin a new day--whether in New Delhi, Moscow, London, or that little town in Indiana (U.S.A) where people still think of their 1991 Caprice wagon as a "new car"--you'll enter the fray with a smile on your face and a lucky penny in your pocket.

Eat a jelly donut, kiss your wife, tell your teenage son he's got five months left on his lease.  And on a really cold day, or when you are released from the gulag, visit again.

I plan to be here.  Writing.   

Friday, December 9, 2011

Stocking Stuffer

In this season of giving, I've been receiving a lot lately . . . which, of course, fills me with gratitude and provokes me to giving.  Or, more specifically, I've become the darling of certain editors who, for whatever reasons, have been grabbing up my writing and sending me (small sums though they be) checks here at year-end.  Now I can give some nicer gifts to others in need . . . which I plan to do.

Some years back, I recall an interview with John Updike in which he explained that, as a child of the Depression, he never felt that he could turn down a writing opportunity, even one that promised a small paycheck, and that even though he had earned enough as a writer to sign only the large contracts, he could never bring himself to stop signing the small ones.  And in Updike's last book (reviewed in my blog two days ago), he notes in one essay that early in his life the money he earned from writing poems was not insignificant to him as a husband and father.  Even the $10 payments in 1950 meant something: an oil change, a sack of groceries, a few gallons of gasoline.

Although I am not a child of the Depression, I am afraid I have inherited my parent's strong work ethic and their insistence that I never turn away any work, even jobs that paid little or nothing.  As a kid, I mowed some yards for free (since my parents told me it was my duty to help a poor neighbor or a widow), and later I worked my way through both college and seminary, holding down, at times, three to four jobs at a whack.  Sometimes, I would leave one job to go to another, writing my essays or completing homework in the cracks and crevices between these jobs--tired to the bone, but energized with the prospect of writing something that I wanted to write when I found 15-30 minutes of "free" time.

I've kept the pace . . . for forty years now.

Editors who know me know this:  I'll write nearly anything. I'll write copious amounts for small sums, and I'll write late at night or in the wee hours of the morning.  I'll take a small check.  And another.  And another.  And another.

But even these add up . . . and the small sums have also taught me another valuable lesson as a writer.  My well is never dry.  I've never experienced "writer's block."  I've got diarrhea of the pen. If there's an editor who's buying . . . I'm writing.  Heck, I'm writing even if editors are not buying! 

Thanks, editors, for making my December a little brighter with those tiny little checks that I can cash out for handfuls of dimes and quarters.  Most of these have gone into a pot dangling next to a bell-ringer.  Next year, I'll just have you cut the checks to the charities directly and by-pass the writer all-together.

I'm just a stocking stuffer.  And I'm glad to be of service. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Marriage 101

My daughter, Chelsey, will soon be coming home from Ball State . . . for good.  Or at least until her wedding day (June 16).  And as father of the bride, I've been trying to steer her toward my voluminous output of marriage material in the form of books, CDs, and articles.  I've got plenty to chew on.

Before You Say "I Do" was the first book I had published (way back in 1998) and Your Beautiful Wedding on Any Budget is one of those titles any father would love for his daughter to read.  I've also written a brief Kindle "pocket" guide for brides that I hope would be helpful in creating a debt-free wedding. (And there are brides who are actually buying it!)

Still, I'm fortunate that my daughter has good taste and good sense.  Simplicity and natural beauty are two features my girl has always treasured, and she's creating a very affordable, and incredibly simple and beautiful, wedding.

She's also had the good sense not to listen to my advice on marriage.  After all, she's seen me in action and knows that Becky is in charge.  My role in the situation is to remain boring, say "Yes, honey!", and fix the toilets.  My cooking and cleaning skills are a bonus.  But as for advice on relationships, well . . . .

Actually, when it comes to marriage, I don't have a problem quoting from Hogan's Heroes:  "I know nothing!"  My writings on marriage (now hundreds of thousands of words) is simply an exploration of all the things I would like to know, but am afraid to ask.  And, of course, I'm writing from a male perspective . . . which means I am in the dark when it comes to figuring out what a woman is thinking or wanting.  I've learned it's better to offer an array of choices in any situation.  My role in the mess is to rotate the tires, change the oil, and wax romantic every now and again.  I write love poetry so my wife will know I'm no sap and can at least pretend that I've got the ability to express what she wants to hear.  Some of these poems actually make sense.  To me.  

As the wedding day approaches I'll keep offering my advice, of course.  A dad has to pretend to know something.  Otherwise, he's just a body who mows the grass and cracks walnuts in season.  

And he occasionally weeps at weddings.  (Just don't ask him why.)     

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Donut Experiment

Now here's a wonder.  Every time I post a blog about donuts, I have an inordinate number of "hits".  Is there really such a robust donut culture out there?  Why this insatiable lust for sweet pastry?

Well, but this post is an experiment.  I'll see how many visit this blog just because I'm writing about donuts.

In 2012 I also hope to put my donut knowledge and expertise to better use.  I've started making outlines of various donut essays I'd like to write:  donut history, donut culture, donut recipes, my personal experiences with the donut.  Heck, I've even applied for a job at Dunkin' Donuts . . . .

In short, 2012 might be considered the "year of the donut".

I've already started writing one article that is perfect for me.  I can't think of anyone more qualified to write it.  I'm entitling it:  "How to Dunk a Donut".  
Believe me, there's more here than meets the palate, and there is an art to dunking that most people miss.  I've got all the steps down, and I'd love to share my knowledge with others.

Watch for this article.  It will change the future of pastry. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Post-Updike

Last week I was pleased to pick up a new copy of John Updike's posthumous title, Higher Gossip: Essays and Criticism.  This, the final collection of Updike's illuminating book reviews, poems, essays on fiction, and miscellaneous prose, represents the work he was compiling prior to his death in January of 2009.  His estate was gracious enough to provide this collection--a big book littered with Updike's typical menagerie of wide-ranging ideas and subject matter.

I've been reading this book every day since I purchased it, small bits and pieces from an author I already miss terribly.  Every time I have five or ten minutes between bites of licorice whip or jelly donut, I break open the book and read. But I'll be reading this one well past Christmas day.

Reading Updike's luminous book reviews and his glowing prose helps me to realize that my book reviews, compared to his, are mud pies.  Updike is a thoroughbred; I'm a mule.  He writes. I hack.

I can only hope that my editors don't realize this and fire me.  Maybe I can continue to disguise my inadequacies.  Perhaps they don't realize that I write my book reviews under the influence of coffee and donuts.  Take caffeine and raspberry jelly out of my chemistry equation and I couldn't type.

But until I'm laid off . . . I'll continue with my diet and write as many reviews as the editors seem fit to send my way.

Anybody out there got a book that needs reviewing?   



  

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas Shopping

Weird as it sounds, I went Christmas shopping last week at Barnes & Noble. For myself.  I was using a gift card that had been given to me last Christmas, a year ago, but I had stashed it inside a book.  I only discovered it last week and realized, "Holy Cow, I'd better get to Barnes & Noble before it closes!"

Glad I went.  Most of the inventory was marked way down . . . like going out of business down, which is the fate of most bookstores these days.  Waldens has bit the dust.  Barnes & Noble stores are closing by the droves.  And Amazon recently announced that people buy more Kindle versions of books via Amazon than they do paper editions.  Another few years, I'm afraid bookstores may go the way of the Do Do Bird.  Wow.  It's a changing world. 

And changing for writers, too.  Publishers are having to adapt so quickly to the new world that they are uncertain, now, of the viability of books or, more specifically, the ability of publisher/editor/writer to make even a marginal profit from a book, especially the electronic versions. On the most recent cover of The New Yorker, a cartoon depicts a gentleman in the new bookstore--a place now stocked with coffee mugs, T-shirts, and electronic readers . . . and one tiny shelf of printed material. 

But writers still write.

And, while I'm writing . . . I can read.  I walked out of Barnes & Noble last week with an armload of discounted titles, including John Updike's last title (published by his family posthumously), an ACT test book for my son (if, indeed, he has the guts to take the ACT), and a collection of essays.

This is my first Christmas shopping foray of the year.  Probably my last.  (I hate crowds.)  It's just too bad it took a year for me to use that gift card.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Greek, The Latin, and the Ugly

Last night, after completing my sermon outline and realizing that Becky would not be home until midnight, I began a five-hour writing odyssey among the Greeks and Romans, bringing out some of my heavy-artillery missals and my Latin grammars, to whip out three essays on the Greek gods, the Greek philosopher Plutarch, and the minor-Roman poet and fabulist, Avianus.

Why?  This is the same question that Becky asked me at midnight when she inquired about my stack of books and the open laptop.

I read her some portions:

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Plutarch was remarkably prolific in his own right.  He saw himself as standing at the crossroads of the waning Greek culture and the rise of Roman influence. His Parallel Lives--perhaps his greatest literary achievement--contains biographies of Greek and Roman luminaries, including Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.  Plutarch was a Renaissance man before the Renaissance--and he wrote philosophy, literary criticism, religious texts, and even compiled myths, practical handbooks for the commonwealth, and served as a priest and reformer of the classical Greek religion at Delphi.

and

Toward the end of the 4th century A.D., a young Roman poet named Avianus began compiling some of the older Aesop's fables into verse form--many of them rounded into rhyming hexameter couplets and shot through with the poet's wit and humor.  As such, the fables took on a new role, and became a staple for teachers of ethics and philosophy (even the Christian religion, though Avianus was a pagan) during the Middle Ages.

Naturally, when I read my evening's essays to my wife (each of which rambles on for another thousand words or so) she was not impressed.  "Who's going to buy that crap?" she wondered.  

I showed her my translation of a Latin Avianus poem (not a bad poem in its own right if I say so myself) and also the parody of a Mount Olympus meeting of the gods that I'd already written and whipped out to a certain Manhattan magazine--a piece replete with Zeus, Aphrodite, Hermes, Ares, Hades, and Heracles . . . humor among the gods.

"I'm going to bed," she said.

Ah, yes. The snub.  For some reason, because I was writing about the Greeks, she considered me a Geek.  I guess I'm a Greek Geek.  I tried pointing out that I'd also written two incredible love poems (in English) and I'd be happy to regale her with romance.  

But once a man turns into a Geek and the woman drops her slipper after the stroke of midnight . . . all hope is lost.

Thank you, Plutarch and Avianus . . . .  Hey, were you guys married?   

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Testimonials

December always brings me a few fan letters (or, in this modern age, fan emails or fan Facebook entries) . . . and so I thought I'd share a few of the more inspiring ones that I have recently received.  That's what this blog is all about, after all: inspiration.  That, and a purpose for living.  If you have neither, I'm afraid this blog won't be of help to your condition.  (See "hopeless" in the dictionary.)

But in the event you want some holiday cheer, here are a few of the testimonials that have brought cheer to me (along with my responses).

Dear Mr. Outcalt, how can I order copies of your books? Sincerely, Edna
You can't.  Most of my books are out of print, and the few that are still in print are nearly unreadable. But I don't know why you'd want to read them. Most people find me a bore.  But if you must have a copy, Edna, why don't you send me your cash and I'll scrounge around in my closet and send you a dusty copy of something I wrote a decade back.  If I can't find one of my books, I'll send you a copy of James Patterson or John Grisham.  Thanks for writing.

Dear Mr. Outcalt, just wanted you to know that I enjoy your blog.  It's a hoot. Bob
Well, Bob, thanks a heap. As you can see, I put a bunch of work into this thing every day.  I'm up most nights just thinking about it.  I rise long before dawn to gather my thoughts and make coffee. And then I write the first thing that pops into my head.  Like mothballs (just now!) or imperialism (just occurred to me) or why can't they make a good zipper for blue jeans? (I just thought of that one).  If you think my blog is a hoot, you should see me in action with my wife.  She laughs non-stop.  And I ain't even trying to be funny in the bedroom.  

Dear Between Pages Owner:  Please change the password setting on your Blogger account as we've reformatted the whole shebang.  We've been getting complaints.  Blogger.
Who is this?  Mom?  

Dear Mr. Outcalt: I really enjoy your sense of humor. It brightens my day and has kept me sane for the past year. (Anonymous)
First, I'm glad you have found sanity among my insanity.  Kind of an oxymoron isn't it?  Do you know this word: oxymoron?  I like saying it.  Try it.  It will keep you sane.  

Dear Mr. Outcalt, thanks for reviewing my book on Between Pages.  One of the more unique reviews I've run across.  Sincerely, (R.W.)
Glad you enjoyed my review of your excellent book.  I'm just appreciative of the fact that I can read English and hold a job.  I write lots of book reviews, by the way . . . some of them serious.  Really serious.  So serious that these are usually published in magazines that cater to heart attacks and various liver diseases.  Still, it's a difficult job and someone has to do it.  Next time I write a book, you can review my copy.  How's that for a trade-off?  (You'll also owe me $4.95 for postage and handling.)     

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Little Dickens

Two weeks ago I happened upon a used bookstore that was going out of business.  I stopped, entered with a full wallet, and walked out with a giant box of books and no money for dinner.  Among the treasures I discovered, all for a mere $1 a pop, was an 1880 edition of The History of England, written by Charles Dickens.

This is a good season for Dickens, as the old master had a tradition of writing a Christmas story every year . . . most of which were published in London newspapers as serial-originals.  Dickens isn't necessarily a mentor (I find his novels too plodding, far too expansive, and mostly too depressing) but I have attempted to follow his tradition by writing my own Christmas tales every year. 

When my kids were younger, I often wrote (or created on the spot) various Christmas tales for their bedtime enjoyment and nightmares.  I enjoyed troubling my kids, striking Christmas fear into their hearts, suggesting they learn to sleep with the lights on.  To this day they can't wait for Christmas to pass so they can get some rest.  They don't worry about gifts, trees, eggnog, or gingerbread . . . they just want Dad to leave them alone and stop pestering them with tales of mayhem and madness.

Dickens knew all about ghosts and spirits.  Most of his Christmas tales were loaded with sinister undertones, warnings, voices, and visions . . . I feel I'm just following in the footsteps of the master.

One of these days I hope to write the perfect Christmas story.  But not this year.  My kids still need to sleep with the lights on.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Billy's Book

I don't want to count Billy out, but Nearing Home is very likely his final book.  He seems to think so, too. But the book isn't morbid, gentrified, or maudlin in any way . . . it's rather a practical book for younger and older alike, and Billy Graham takes on everything from youthful learning experiences to building a financial future to preparing for life's final passage--whatever that may be.

It is obvious that Billy misses his wife, Ruth.  Approaching his mid-90's, Billy has been subdued by Parkinsons and other physical maladies, but he's still witty and insightful in print.  Even if a person isn't nearing home, it's a good title.  And Billy sets out to help everyone create a better home in the "here and now" also.

I like Billy.  And I wonder what the world will do without him now that we have to face the often odd and stilted opinions of his son, Franklin, and a bevy of warped and wilted televangelist preachers who seem to crave the personal attention of the camera and whose followers are more enlightened by charisma than by common sense?  I won't see another Billy in my lifetime, and God save me, I hope not to see any more of Pat Robertson or Robert Tilton, either.  The gamma rays from all of that television exposure has fried their brains.  But, as long as there's a buck from TV, there will be TV preachers, I guess.  Too bad most of them don't have actual congregations.  But they probably couldn't hold a job.

All of this talk about Billy also makes me pine for The Wittenburg Door . . . a religious satire magazine that I contributed to for nearly two decades. I miss these pages dearly, and if Joe Bob Briggs or Ole Anthony or Bob Darden ever want to revive the magazine . . . give me a call, boys!  I'm in.  I'll be the first in line for a ten year subscription and you can count on me for a curt and sassy contribution every month.  I miss bashing the wild and wacky world of the church or, as Woody Allen once wrote into the script of Hannah and Her Sisters:  "If Jesus Christ returned to earth today and saw all of the things that Christians do in his name, He would never stop throwing up!"

Amen!  Thanks, Billy, for staying above it all.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Kindle

Some months back, when I purchased my Kindle, I converted several of my Christmas stories to Kindle format . . . and they are now available on Amazon (all for a whopping 99 cents).  Some good ones for the taking:  "The Peddler", "Apartment 218", "The Memory and the Dream", and "Charlie's Chip"--probably my best.  I also have a novel on Kindle, too:  A Christmas for Joey.  Anyway, loved writing these . . . a few that were originally published in magazines and a few others that should have been.

Still, I do get my seasons mixed up.

Yesterday, on the first Sunday of Advent, I found myself writing an Easter story, and I spent the better part of the afternoon and evening editing/rewriting an array of poems that I hope to send off to publishers in the new year.

It will take me some weeks yet to "get into" the Christmas spirit.  We have no plans yet for a tree, decorations, food, cookies, gifts, or shopping . . . and all of these will probably be done last minute (and some, perhaps, not at all).  One of the benefits, I suppose, of moving past the young child-rearing years into that hazy world of "baby don't care, so daddy don't either."

Any cookies I eat this year will be sponged off the goodwill and grace of others.

As for my Christmas stories, I've got notebooks filled with them . . . outlines, first chapters, dialogue.  All I have to do is get into this Christmas spirit and write a few of them before we hit Easter.

That, or I'll find myself in the Christmas spirit next summer, just as soon as the sun shines.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Reading in the Car

Later today Becky and I will be making a trek to Louisville, KY.  We will be leaving our kids in charge of the Christmas shopping, while we will be in charge of taking along interesting reading material.

I don't always read in the car, but with eight hours round-trip drive time staring me in the face, I've got to have something to peruse.  I'm taking along a couple of New Yorker magazines, a history book, a newspaper, and perhaps a classic novel.  I'll also have an atlas . . . I have a GPS, too, but I've never figured out how to use it (though everybody tells me, "It's easy, just plug it in.")

Actually, my biggest worry on a trip of this distance is getting car sick.  I hope I can get some reading accomplished.

And I hope I don't toss my cookies in the ash tray.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Turkey of a Thanksgiving

The following is a humorous piece I wrote two years ago, but which has never been published . . . so I publish it here for your enjoyment (or anguish).

Thanksgiving: A History




1621


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 made 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.”



1863


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.”




1941


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.


THE END

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cutie Pie

Word selection is everything.  Paramount in shorter written works.  And especially in love.

Take the word "cute" for instance.  I hear women using this word all the time to describe an outfit, a piece of home decor, or even a hairstyle.  "That's a cute coat," they'll say.  Or, "Oh, your hair looks so cute!"  Other expressions I've heard recently are "adorable", "striking", or "becoming."

What these women are "becoming" I'm not sure.  But according to the plethora of TV shows and movies on the subject, there are plenty of people becoming zombies.

One of the reasons I write so much love poetry is because I'm still trying to convince my wife that I love her.  I tell her this every day, as in "I love you" or "can you bring me another banana!" but she doesn't always hear the love behind the words.  That's why I carry a thesaurus.  I can use other words and expressions at a moment's notice.  As in, "you look delicious this morning," or "you're more scrumptious than a big ol' bag of fresh licorice."

I've tried using the word "cute", but evidently this is a woman's word.  I used it once in a women's shoe store while my wife was trying on a pair of sandals, telling the clerk that she had cute eyelashes, but my wife didn't get the discount.  When I tell my wife that her new outfit is "cute", she seems miffed, and asks, "Can't you come up with a better word than that?"

"How does humdinger, strike you?" I'll say.  "How about jiggy? Arousing? Shakalaka-bing-bong?

Cute never cuts it.  And if I don't come up with a fresh vocabulary very soon, my marriage may be in trouble.

I'm running out of words.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Right Stuff

Sooner or later published authors run into the queasy questions about rights, and a publishing contract might be regarded as a type of prenuptial agreement.  Most publishing contracts read like:  "You get this . . . and I get that . . . if this happens."

Years ago, a seasoned writer once told me, "Never sell all your rights to a publisher."  I've tried to live by that code, but it's not always possible.  Not now.  Not with the growing and dizzying array of publishing options available to writers these days.

In more recent years, I've found myself selling all rights to my work.  Instances include writing curriculum, writing certain columns, and on occasion, even creative work like essays and poems.  I've even written several books for publishing houses--most of which do not have my name on the cover--under this type of arrangement.  Although writing these books would add to my total "book count", I don't count them among my twenty-two legit titles, as the publisher owns all the rights, and I was basically a work-for-hire writer cranking out material that could add the publisher's coffers.  No royalties. 

Not that I mind.  Not at all.  If a publisher called me today and said, "We've got a book in mind, we want you to write it, and we'll pay you a flat rate to produce it," I'd probably jump if the price was right.  And I'd be very willing to do it if I knew I could crank the book out in a week or two (as I have been known to do in the past).  A few long evenings, maybe a couple of all-nighters, and Shazam...I'd have a book done. 

In the past few months I've also sold all rights to a number of shorter essays and poems.  My reasoning (though it could be faulty) is simple:  I feel I can always write more of them, like a well that never runs dry.  A publisher wants to buy a poem or essay (instead of giving me a subscription or sample copy), I'm usually game for a paycheck instead of another magazine to add to my piles of tear sheets and closeted history.

One caveat, however.  There have been times when I've wanted to use an essay or a poem in another book.  And then I find that (sometimes) I am writing a check to the publisher to purchase my own work

Makes me understand what the work of redemption is all about.  It's buying back the very thing I created. 

Writing and pastoring are a lot alike in that way.  Both can be works of redemption.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The StarBuck Stops Here

Earlier this week I happened upon a used book store that was going "out of business."  Naturally, I had to drop in with the intention of taking a few titles off their hands, but I ended up asking for a large box. Among the titles I discovered (all for $1 each) was an 1880 edition of Charles Dickens's A History of England, several first-editions written by E.L. Doctorow, a magnificent volume of children's poetry, and a Booth Tarkington novel published at the turn of the century.

I also absconded with The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary, by Joseph A. Michelli.  This was a book I intended to read some years back, but didn't. Last night I drank the book in a single sitting.  Tasty stuff here.  And all pertinent to leadership of any organization, large or small.

Sips of wisdom here include:
Make it Your Own (my words:  give your all to your work/effort and demand the same of others!)
Everything Matters (attention to detail is vital, and make the good, great!)
Surprise and Delight (don't settle for average, make the organization spectacular and be excellent at what you do)
Embrace Resistance (learn from criticisms and suggestions, don't bury them)
Leave Your Mark (work long enough, hard enough, and smart enough that your life counts for something in the organization...as everyone is giving his/her life to something...so make it count for something!)

I gained much from reading this book and I hope I can practice these principles in everything I do: pastoring, marriage, parenting, writing . . . .

The only thing missing from the book was a Starbucks gift card.  Reading 180 pages in three hours made me thirsty, and I think Starbucks missed a golden opportunity here.  Everyone who bought the book should have been given a free tall latte . . . would have sealed the deal and given every reader the true Starbucks experience.

Now that I've written this review, please excuse me.  I'm headed for the gym, and afterwards, to Starbucks.  My abs are burning, and I'm buying!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cracking Up

In the past week this blog has had nearly 1000 "hits".  And I wonder:  Are there really that many people leading such totally empty lives that they must fill up their existence on my inane blather?  Is this blog really becoming so popular that people want to read about my reading and writing habits?  Is this blog actually that good?

I guess so

I'll do my best, therefore, to keep this blog crisp and fresh . . . not like the celery in my fridge that I can tie into a knot. I'll be looking to take this blog up a notch.  

And in case there are folks out there (many, it seems, from England, the Netherlands, and Russia) who would prefer to know the coming attractions on this humorous blog, here are a few plans for upcoming posts.

The History of Thanksgiving
    I'll be sharing a humorous essay rejected by many magazines over the past two years . . . my version of Thanksgiving. Tune in here on Turkey Day for a laugh.  Lord knows I can't sell this one so I might as well give it away for free right here!

My Dirty Dozen
    At last count I had over 12 books circulating among editors. I'll tell you what these titles are and how these books could change the world as we know it. Any publishes want to buy 'em?

Secret Agent
   I'll give you news from my literary agent (thanks, Cynthia) who is desperately trying to sell me to the highest bidder and turn me into a literary prostitute.

Back to the Future
    Ten years ago I competed in a drug-free bodybuilding competition, wrote several essays about the experience, and have recently discovered new photographic evidence that I was once in tip-top shape. I'll share a photo (or two) and excerpts from my essays about the underbelly of this sport.

And "click-in" in coming weeks, as I will also share thoughts on: Reading Charles Dickens, My Favorite Bible Stories, Navigating the Seedy World of Publishing Rights, Interpreting Publishing Contracts, Writing for Subscriptions, and Much, Much More . . . 

See you tomorrow right here!  Same batty blog.  Same batty channel.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lessons from Coach K

Last night I witnessed a bit of basketball history when Coach K (Duke) surpassed Bob Knight for most "wins" in Division 1 BB history.  The commentators after the game mentioned that in his early years at Duke, the administration did not give him favorable nods, and there were some voices calling for his resignation.  (One of those years, by the way (1982/83), was the year I had season tickets to Cameron Indoor . . . just walked up to the box office window and bought 'em: $60. The team had, as I recall, but 8 wins that season.)

Coach K has written many books and his leadership insights (not just on BB) are now touted by business execs and corporate big-wigs.  I've found many of his insights usable in family, church and community.  Much of his insight centers on teamwork, hard work, and a family-approach mentality to involving everyone in the success of the organization.  Amen!

About a year ago I wrote a poem that I shared as part of a sermon on being attentive to the "little things" in life.  Interestingly enough, more people asked me for a copy of this poem than any I've written, and the poem started being circulated among some sports teams in the area, and posted on web sites, and then people started writing me to request a copy. I keep a stack of copies now.

It's a poem that teaches a lesson (I hope) . . . and I thought I'd offer it here under my name so people will know that it originated from this weirdo--not Coach K!  But I don't mind if anyone uses it . . . especially Coach K.  Just keep my name on the title page . . . or say, "We can't believe a hick from Brownsburg wrote this."

The Little Things (by Todd Outcalt)

There's a lesson in life that is true to form
And it never wavers or fails:
That if we aspire to build an empire
We cannot overlook the details.

There are no shortcuts to summit the top,
So before you grab for the ring
Be certain you've given your all to the small
And to elementary things.

For success isn't built on one giant leap
Nor a quirky luck-of-the-draw,
But the big things are built on the faithfulness
Of attention to all things small.

Each person holds in his or her hands
The tiniest seeds of the great,
But before we're entrusted with magnificent trees
We must plant, and water, and wait.

There is nothing in life that is not built
On attention to the small,
But we must be faithful in tiny things
Before we are given it all.

This lesson we learn in winter years
But quickly forget in the spring:
If we want to be blessed with far more success,
First honor the smallest of things.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pastor's Report Card 2011

Each year pastors provide a "state of the church" report to their various charge conferences, outlining the achievements of the year past and goals for the future.  Since this pastor seeks to be creative, we are offering this report card.  We'll let readers decide if they believe it or not.


TEACHER'S COMMENTS:  This pastor, though getting a little old for this classroom, still seems eager to learn.  Fortunately, we have placed him in a wonderful classroom filled with remarkable students who help to hide his deficiencies (which are many).  This pastor seems to play well in the sandbox and has been overheard bragging about his classmates.  If it were not for these other students, this pastor would be eating paste and digging lima beans out of his ears.  For this reason and more, we also deem it necessary for this classroom to remain intact for another year and we would be remiss to break up the dynamics of this well-oiled machine.  We hope this pastor will, however, do better work in 2012, but as his knees and shoulders give out, we can see marked improvements, though many in the classroom regard him as "a little odd."  We don't recommend remediation, however.

HISTORY                         GRADE:  B
This pastor has been in his current classroom for going on eight years, but we don't think we should move him and torture another group of students.  This group in the Calvary classroom is used to him now and we say they can have him. In the past year twenty-six new students joined this classroom by profession of faith in Jesus (along with seventeen others who just transferred in) and another seventeen were baptized.  

SOCIAL STUDIES             GRADE: A
We've had a problem in 2011 with people wanting to leave this classroom and go to other classrooms like Tanzania, Ghana, Belize, and even to foreign countries like Tennessee.  Many other students serve in places like Metro Ministries, Sheltering Wings, Jails, Food Pantries, and Schools. This classroom also tries to clothe, feed, and assist in a variety of needs.  This pastor, however, certainly can't have anything to do with it.  It's got to be the Holy Spirit and the others who lead the classroom.

SALES & MARKETING         GRADE: B
For some reason, people still want to get into this classroom.  Not only is there a waiting list for the Learning Academy and Parent's Day Out (which says something about the quality), there are new people clamoring through the doors every week.  The pastor purchased two news suits recently, and we hope this will help him to be more presentable and his wife is helping him to shave more often.   

PHYSICAL EDUCATION      GRADE: A
This kid loves gym.  He would probably live in one if he could.  He is frequently the first one in the doors when they open at 5 a.m.  His classroom offers classes like Yoga and Zumba . . . and we don't even know what these are.  We should also note that his wife assists him with his physical education and this student seems to have a grasp of human anatomy.

SEX EDUCATION              GRADE: B
While we're on the subject, we should note that this student has been married to his first wife for twenty-seven years and has not strayed.  But it's easy to see why.  Who else would have him?  And listen, have you seen his wife?  She's a major babe and still has her high school cheerleader outfit with pom pons. This pastor is also encouraging his children (including his engaged daughter) to wait until marriage.  (Wait for what, we're not sure.) We do, however, believe that after twenty-seven years this pastor has waited long enough.  We shall be sending a note home to his wife. 

ENGLISH            GRADE: A
This student seems to have a decent understanding of the English language, but writes way too much.  We would encourage him not to write six books a year as he can't find people who will read them.  He does enjoy writing encouraging notes to people, however, and he continues to be impressed by the ways the other students are talking about their faith.  He seems convinced, also, that Jesus has a sense of humor and that people might equate laughter and joy with the gospel.

TEACHER'S SUMMARY
As you can see, this pastor is a decent student and we want to encourage him in his learning.  Lord knows he's flunked out of enough endeavors in his life, so we want to keep him in this classroom where he is surrounded by so many gifted and caring students who will help him with crib notes.  He loves the people he works with and can pick himself up off the playground when he gets knocked down and scrapes his knees.  He rarely cries . . . though we've seen others crying when it was announced he was returning to the classroom for 2012. 

For a fuller summation of this student's thoughts, we would recommend people purchase his full slate of book titles (at retail price) or visit http://www.growmychurch.com/ and click on the October 24 interview.  He's the student who looks like Lawrence Welk and talks like a hick from Sullivan county.

RECOMMENDATION:  PASS (but we're being extremely lenient here).