Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My London Letter

Last week an editor in London wrote, asking me to send him a one-paragraph bio for the science fiction story he will be publishing in a spring issue.  I never know what to write in these things, but since it's science fiction we are talking about and, since Gene Roddenberry isn't around to object, I thought I'd send along something futuristic, like:

Brownsburg . . . the final frontier.  These are the stories of Todd Outcalt, whose eight year mission, thus far, has produced three graduates (including his alien wife).  He likes to think he is boldly going where no man has gone before, but in actuality his life is quite boring and is littered with mounds of 2-liter diet Coke bottles that he intends to recycle. He writes at warp speed, however, and still manages to produce five or six books in a light year, including some of the stories like the one included in this volume. Sometimes he talks to his wife, who is of the same species, and he can now converse with his son, who for many years seemed to be from a distant planet.  He has written for a starfleet of magazines recently, including works on fitness, health, nature, finances, and theology.  He also writes a dozen blog postings a week and cooks the family meals, which consist of futuristic ingredients that few people have thought to combine.  Generally, he likes to help people--as long as their phasers aren't set to "stun"--and he hopes you'll be stunned by his story here. Oh, and he lives across the pond in the U.S. of A. and some day hopes to see Liverpool and visit all the places where his daughter worked two years ago, when she spent all of his money teaching and traveling around Europe on his dime.  In the meantime, he's giving it all she's got and can't get any more power out of his fifty-one year old mainframe.  Later, when he dies, he hopes to be beamed aboard.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Leave it to Beavers

Two summers ago I spent several weeks bogged in a nature and science writing jag.  I completed essays about birds and wildlife, various species of trees, stars, physics theorems, and even roadkill.  I wrote a personal essay about a Pileated woodpecker, which was published last year, and back in December an outdoor sports magazine purchased my essay about beavers.  The February issue containing my work just arrived at my door.

When I was writing all of this material some months back, my wife kept asking me, "Why are you wasting your time writing about woodpeckers and dead squirrels?"

"I'm not just writing about woodpeckers and roadkill," I told her, "I'm also writing about beavers."

"Beavers?  What do you know about beavers?"

"Nothing," I said.  "I don't have to know anything about beavers to write about them.  I just have to find the people who do know.  Kind of like understanding women.  I don't have to claim expertise in order to appreciate YOU.  I don't have to be Dr. Ruth in order to be the kind of Casanova you've come to expect."

"In other words, you don't know what you are talking about?"

"Precisely," I said.

Still, after calling the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, interviewing a couple of swell groupies over the phone, and talking to a local trapper, it was easy to whip out this 1000-word piece.  Only thing was, no editor would buy it.  Not until a Midwest outdoor magazine picked it up a few weeks ago. The pay was two years in the making, but eventually, with time and persistence and pressure, all good writing finds its way home.

Now that I've written the article, I know a lot about beavers.  I'm a beaver expert.  People are now calling me to ask about beavers.  But I don't take money for my knowledge.  Just knowing that my wife recognizes my beaver intelligence is pay enough.

I brandished the article and waved it in front of my wife last night.  "So, who's the beaver expert now, baby?"

"I can't believe anyone paid you for that," she said.  "It's so lame."

Yes.  True.  But writing about these critters has kept me busy.  Busy as a beaver.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Unreadable Pile

My pile of "to be read" material has now grown to an imponderable height.  There are reasons.  First, I've been receiving a steady supply of books that I am to read and review.  These are not my choices, but my work--and it's tough reading for fun when I have to read in order to write.

However, among some of the titles I do hope to get at in the next few months are:
Dune, by Frank Herbert
The Hunger Games trilogy
Unbroken, by Laura Hillebrand
Home, by Bill Bryson
The Collected Works of John Masefield
Giving 2.0 (a nifty business/non-for-profit book I am dying to read!)
My Father's Tears, by John Updike
and many, many more . . .

Seeing this pile every day, it is obvious that I won't get through this stack before acquiring more titles, and still more.  The pile will grow.

Becky always asks me, "When are you going to pick up all of those books?"

Short answer:  I won't.  I won't be doing this any time soon.  I doubt I will ever do it.  And with my bad back and ailing knees, I can only lift so many books in a day. 

I suppose I could always go on a book diet. But how would that look . . . me eating a book with milk or ripping out pages in order to dip them in guacamole? 

You see what I mean?

Friday, February 24, 2012

My Major Award

After receiving my OSCAR last week, I began to reflect on those other awards that have come my way.  And I realized that there had been several awards, and these of astounding quality, that I had simply taken-for-granted.

I've never received any prominent award, or course.  No Pulitzer prize, no Noble or Guggenheim for me.  And I've never been the recipient of a World's Greatest Dad or Best Husband award either (really, people, just being a husband and a dad is enough . . . I don't need a tremendously-large cash award for putting my kids through college or being a great lover).  My wife and children can attest to my effectiveness in these arenas, and they have given me several birthday cards over the years that were dead serious (though some have contained fart jokes).

No, but I'm thinking of my Major Award now . . . the one my mother always wants to touch when she comes over for dinner and, while eating my cooking, reminds my wife that, had she not married me, she would likely be living under a wooden crate and sipping scotch ripple out of discarded flower vase.

I'm thinking of my last place Midwest Bodybuilding trophy that I garnered back in 2001.

My wife ignores this gorgeous hunk of masculine pulchritude, this bronzed god trophy with the flaring pecs, the dripping abs, the sweeping thighs . . . and she reminds me that, even at my best, I bore no resemblance to the tanned Hermes sitting on my bookshelf.  "Oh, you were a little hotter back then," she'll say, "but that was years ago . . . and look at you now." 

My arthritic shoulders are offended by such talk, but I don't let on.  I don't need a strong back to type, and writing this blog requires no particular demonstration of flat bench prowess or lat pull flexibility.  I'm a man.  I can take it.  And I'm nursing loose cartilege in my knees to boot!

Still, a little affirmation would be nice.  Perhaps some day my wife will affirm that, even though I got last place at the Midwest Bodybuilding Show, I'm first-place in her heart.  And perhaps my children will stop drawing mustaches on the trophy in black magic marker and writing Loser on the bronzed forehead.  I can attest that my mother is getting peeved.

My mother knows she didn't raise no junk.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Writing With Ashes

I returned home last night, post-Ash Wednesday and a challenging sermon by Michelle, to meet my daily quota of words--as I had risen early to prepare a talk and drink coffee.  But I had found no single minute since to commit a solitary thought to the page.

Home at last, I met my wife coming in the door after her own ferociously long day and she commented on my ashes.  We kissed.  And then we both said simultaneously, "I have more work to do!"

I set out to revise several poems that I hoped to perfect and submit for publication by the weekend, listening to the steady tap-tap-tap of my wife's laptop in the living room as she worked on toward 10:00 p.m.

But as I thought about those ashes still on my forehead, I found myself digging back into my voluminous pile of ancient verse and discovered this sonnet I had long forgotten about.  In the spirit of work and rest and renewal, perhaps it pffers a few decent thoughts.  I assume I wrote these lines.  But I sure can't recall the time or place (though, according to the file date, I wrote this one in 2010).


Had we lived in some distant century
Our path, our world, would have been dimmed by night
With half the day unfit for work or sight
And each decision lorded by decree.

 Our work would be the candle and the flame,
The full week’s labors lifted up by song
In search of food and water, and the long
Return back home to where kin knew our name.

The only true insurance was the spear
And any scratch or madness led to death.
The span of life was like an evening’s breath
And creature comforts were the hearth and beer.

So few there were who lived to dark and gray
When all was superstition and decay.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Another Kind of Calvin

Calvin Trillin's latest humor collection--Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin--is, well, not quite enough. The book is big and thick and comprehensive of his satire, humor, and parody over the past thirty+ years, but I loved it all.  Trillin writes with the kind of zest and light-heartedness that makes a reader feel he has been sitting with a good friend in the kitchen sipping a cup of coffee.  I feel I know that man and I've never met him . . . only occasionally, usually through the pages of The New Yorker

Trillin is also a versatile sort.  He can not only write for laughs--but for sighs, moans and tears also.  His memoirs, particularly those remembering his late wife, Alice, and his best friend (Remembering Denny) are both poignant and thoughtful.

It's also wonderful to see that another writer feels that his readers have had quite enough of him.  I'm sure my readers feel the same way.  Lord knows I've had many people wanting to know when I'm going to quit.  They've had quite enough of me apparently.

But I'm too far into this mess now.  I have not had enough yet.  Perhaps, some day, I'll have enough and quit, but not yet. 

My wife, of course, thinks I should quit.  She's had enough.  Everyone in my family has had enough.  But I've not had enough.

Well, but you get the picture.  Enough already.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My Oscar

Last week I was afforded the high privilege of being awarded an OSCAR.  (That's my blurred image on the far right.)  This award, bestowed upon me by Carel & Associates' founder Bill Carter (a truly remarkable man), now resides on my office shelf.  I'm not deserving of this award, given to me under the auspices of helping "at risk children" . . . but the award does bring back memories of other awards--none of which hang on my office wall.  Perhaps you'd like to know about them.

Fourth Runner-Up, High School Homecoming King
Actually, there were only five guys in this competition, so I got last place, but it was still a great honor. If I had been dating Becky at the time, I would have won, as she had the ballot box rigged and was not only awarded Home Coming Queen that year, but also won the Sullivan County Jr. Miss and got to ride in a red convertible around the square during the Corn Festival Parade.  Me, I was picking my nose and shouting, "I know that girl!  I know that girl!  She's in my English class!"  Mr. Walters, the dean of boys, kicked me out of study hall later for excessive flatulence.  

President High School Letterman's Club
Yes, I was president before I got impeached for suggesting that guys on the chess club were athletes and should also get letters.  But listen, a Ruy Lopez or Queen's Gambit opening is difficult to memorize and I was trying to take a stand for all my egghead friends who couldn't make the varsity badminton team.  I stood by them then, but where are they now?!  

1978 North Central High School Badminton Champ
It's true. I wiped the floor with the entire male population at the high school and triumphed in the face of adversity during one of the worst outbreaks of acne the school had ever seen.  I beat Jimmy Swalls in the championship round.  I still have my championship birdie and sometimes I let Becky touch it.  I was also on the basketball team and, while I never won a championship trophy in that gig, I once scored 26 points and in another game garnered 13 rebounds--both tough to do in a high school game.  But Becky was a cheerleader and she distracted me.  If she had not been courtside at all of those games, I could have been a contender.

Pfenning Scholar
Okay, yeah . . . I won a writing award at Indiana State University.

Simon Scanlon Prize & Award from Bell South
Okay, yeah . . . I received a couple of cash prizes some years ago for articles I wrote about breast cancer.  It's true, I parlayed my wife's suffering into money.  Not much of it, but enough to take her out to Wendy's.  

Of course, I have no idea where these awards are now.  In a box somewhere, I suppose.  Hence, I'm going to enjoy my OSCAR.

And in the meantime, I'm going to bring my badminton racket to bed some evening.  I think Becky has forgotten how good I really was and I'd like to show her I can still play.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Hot Lines

One of the blessings of "breaking in" to a particular magazine is that, in most instances, the writer is given access to an editor's email address or phone number.  In other words, the writer now has a "hotline": the possibility of direct conversation with the person who can say "yes" to the writer's work.

The hotline, of course, cannot be abused.  There is an unspoken agreement between editor/publisher and writer that essentially says, "You're part of the family now, and we expect you to respect our privacy."

Therefore, I can't be dialing the Kremlin every time I get a wild hair.  Better press that button only when I have something in hand that is over-the-top good writing.  Best to be self-directed, self-deprecating, and self-motivated.

I have managed to collect a sizable number of hotlines, however.

I have access to editors in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Nashville, and many other points around the country.  I also have a few contacts now in such places as London and Sidney, Australia.  But I always make tea before I dial these numbers!

Having these contacts on hand is a grave responsibility, too.  I am always fearful of making a mistake while ordering a pizza. Instead of ordering sausage and pepperoni I might be cutting myself off from access to these editors.  Mistakes could be costly.  

After all, I doubt the editors would throw in breadsticks for free.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Francis Asbury Leaves His Mark

Francis Asbury Leaves His Mark

The first American bishop
Was a guy named Francis (no joke)

And he rode through brute force
On his broken down horse
And left in his wake a brown smoke.

Now most folks don’t think of it now
But the frontier was littered with trees
And wherever he rode
He made a commode
And would mark every place where he peed.

It’s true the kingdom comes
In various and sundry ways
Sometimes strange, of course,
Or on back of a horse,
But always with human bouquets.

And today in each village and town
Wherever a steeple is sought
There’s a very good chance
Francis Asbury danced
On that ground where X marked his spot.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

John Wesley's Hair

I often write humorous verse (usually to make my wife laugh).  But this week I thought I would try my hand at a few Methodist themes.  Our history has too much humor to overlook.  And you can admit it.  Come on!  You've had these thoughts about John Wesley, too!

John Wesley's Hair

In John Wesley’s day
The methodical way
Created a movement of prayer
But even back then
No one had the skin
To comment on John Wesley’s hair.

Sometimes in his haste
He would smear it with paste
Or would powder it ‘till it would glare
Of a soft snowy white
Which would toss back the light
Of Jesus revealed his hair.

Though some folks in private
Believed that he dyed it
Most others refused to declare
If what Wesley used
Was a mouse or an ooze
But they all lied about Wesley’s hair.

And yes, once or twice
Wesley surely had lice
But hygeine was certainly rare
In those days when a Brit
Would not throw a fit
At the sight of John Wesley's hair.

Of course as time passed
Wesley died at the last
And people revered him, I swear,
Not because of his way
Or the depths he could pray
But because he had odd-looking hair.

And today (it’s a fact)
That nobody with tact
Would accept a pastor with flair,
Not even if he
Combed his hair like a she
Or if she had John Wesley’s hair.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Big Pile of Work

Thus far in 2012, I've signed no fewer than six contracts and have been shelling out shorter pieces for magazines at an ever-increasing rate.  The pile of work now on my desk has grown to an alarming size.  This, coupled with my stack of new ideas I want to write, may result in my complete exhaustion.

But I press on . . . . 

As Hawkeye Pierce once said on M*A*S*H . . . "I never knew how tiring total exhaustion could be."

Still, I rather like these editors who keep writing to me.  I feel I know them.  I might even be in love with a few of them.  I may send them flowers.

As one editor quipped a few days ago in her usual weekly email:  "I don't know how you keep getting these ideas, but wherever they come from, thanks for sending them my way."

Awww, shucks.   

But I can't take any credit. Those ideas come from exhaustion.  The later I write, and the earlier I rise, those ideas keep coming and won't let me sleep.  I continue to sleep less each day (and work out harder at the gym) and one of these days, the way I figure it, I won't have to sleep at all.  

I'll just be a writer alone in a room hunkered down beneath a twenty-five watt bulb.  Writing all night.  

And when I've expired all of my ideas, I'll drop dead.

But come to think of it, there's a story there, too . . . and I'd better get crackin'.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

One Heart, Two Heart

Each year I try to write a humorous Valentine's Day piece for my wife (in lieu of taking her out to a fancy dinner or sending a five dollar greeting card--which I refuse to buy).  But this poetry stuff is work, brother, and it's not every man who can woo his woman or melt her heart with such marvelous verse.  So this year let's have a try at a Dr. Seuss parody.  Perhaps this will bring out the kid in all of us and let me off the hook. That, and I've got to get back to the canned Chunky soup boiling on the stove.  As soon as I serve up this Valentine meal I'm lighting a candle for some romantic ambiance.  Don't tell me I'm not a player!  This soup is HOT! 

One Heart, Two Heart

One Heart
Two Heart
Three Heart
I write this Valentine
We go to Wendys
Or the store
Then home for romance
Where we'll score.

Five Heart
Six Heart
Seven Heart
Ain't this Valentine's Day
All this candy
We just ate
Will tack five pounds on
To our weight.

Nine Heart
Ten Heart
Eleven Heart
Nothing rhymes with 12
But "Elv".
So let's forget this rhyme
And shelve
It so that we
Can delve

Into one heart
Two heart
Three heart
And move ahead
To the encore.
This other stuff
We'll just ignore.
Isn't this what
Love is for?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Funny Faces

Andy Borowitz's book, The 50 Funniest American Writers, is a gem of an anthology. It's also insanely funny.

Borowitz takes a waltz through American history, reaching back to grab nuggets of humor from masters such as Mark Twain, but centers the bulk of his book on more contemporary masters such as Garrison Keillor and David Sedaris . . . as if writers have become funnier since the turn of the century.  Okay, so maybe they have.  

Regardless, it's also a fact that most editors always say that humor is the most difficult writing to obtain.  A great humor writer is worth his or her weight in gold.  I've been trying to write humor for years and I've not found an editor yet who thinks I'm funny.  Proof positive.

My wife, of course, thinks I'm funny.  That's why she married me.  She often says to me, "You think you're so funny."  I appreciate the affirmation, but she doesn't have to say this every day.  Twice a week would suffice.  A humorist doesn't need constant affirmation in order to find a reason to live.  He is perfectly willing to find humor in his odd assortment of T-shirts and boxes of Hamburger Helper.  He appreciates the fact that his family laughs at him incessantly and this is enough for him to die a happy man.  He laughs at death also.

A humor writer is loved by his family, too.  His kids think he's funny, and they often make faces at him behind his back.  He is respected in this manner for his fine work and his children are appreciative of the $3.95 royalty checks he receives twice a year for his various humor writings.  He can't wait to cash these checks so he can purchase cat food and/or a can of assorted nuts.

In the end, or course, the humorist is just a guy like anyone else.  He doesn't want to be put on a pedestal or worshipped from afar.  He just wants to write in his underwear in perfect anonymity, alone at night on the sofa, with a pile of peanut shells forming a pyramid in his belly button.  He wants his wife to love him and mean it, and he wants to make her laugh before they go to bed at night . . . which is rare . . . as the humorist often sleeps alone, or falls asleep on the couch, dreaming of other laughter and other times and new packages of briefs. 

The laughter is his life.  And everything else is gravy. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

My UK Konnection

Let this be a lesson to you boys-n-girls.  Never give up.

Two years ago I completed what I believed to be a top-notch science fiction story . . . one of my best.  The story actually circled the world, and was rejected by magazines on the east and west coasts in the U.S., by a Canadian publication, by an Australian magazine, and by points in between before finally being accepted last week by the top Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine in the U.K.  (Thanks, Adam!)

But before the acceptance, I knew better.  I didn't listen to the rejection letters . . . I just kept working on the story, perfecting it, and sending it out again.

And then, either in a fit of dementia or in the delirium of reading a story written by an American guy with a strange last name, the English editor of London decided this one was worthy of appearing in his pages.  (Thanks again, Adam!)

What I most appreciate about the publication of this story (in addition to the exposure to a larger readership) is that I now have enough in the science fiction genre to create a collection in book form.  Now the only question is:  is there a publisher out there willing to accept that?

I wonder . . . if I roamed the halls of New York publishers yelling, "KHANNNN!!!" would anyone notice?

And just in case anyone out there is interested in seeing some of my other available science fiction/fantasy stories, here's a breakdown of some of my still-remaining backlog.  And there are more, always, on the way.

"Triple's Blog"--a story about a futuristic society where people must pay for conversation instead of sex.

"The Scribe"--a tale reciting the joys of discovering language, and the old men who teach the young how to embrace the lost art of writing.

"The Law of Zupiter"--wild, galaxy-sprawling, eon-encompassing saga about a 900-year-old lawyer who saves a civilization from extinction.

"The Snow League"--a return to the ice age

"Redshift"--a scientist's take on everything from the extinction of the dinosaur to a human colony on Mars . . . with consequences.

"Up in Jacky's Treehouse"--one of the scariest tales I've ever written.

"The Man Upstairs"--a little boy encounters a guest from beyond and receives him as his friend to fill the gap left by his distant father.

Anybody interested in seeing these???

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Super Bowl Bling

Evidently the Super Bowl must be a watershed event for many editors, as Monday turned out to be a veritable fountain of editorial feedback.  In fact, Monday was not only one of the busiest days I've had (pastorally) in a long time, but also one of the most fruitful in terms of response to my writing.

In just a few hours I was blessed to receive the following news.  Although not all of it was "yes" . . . the day represents one of the most fruitful I've had in many a year.

A New York literary magazine accepted one of my totally-warped humor pieces for publication.

The New York Times Book Review rejected six of my poems, but the editor did write me a personal response and invited me to send more his way. (There's more on the way, Mr. Editor!)

The Upper Room (daily devotional) accepted two of my meditations.

A youth ministry publication sent me a contract to write three short pieces.

A university magazine in Los Angeles accepted one of my literary stories for publication (one of the best stories, I believe, that I've written in the past 18 months) . . . and also entered the story for a prize consideration. I'm grateful for the kudos and the recognition, whatever comes of it.

Two other literary magazines wrote to say that they were passing on my respective stories (Fooey on them!  A plague on both your houses!).

One of my long-time editors wrote to say "yes" to a piece of light verse I submitted a few days ago.

Another editor wrote to affirm that he would like for me to submit two new book proposals (one about Sports).

And I had a few other rejections that I've already forgotten (I forget rejection easily and move on to greener pastures with the ease of a man who has been informed of the death of his cat).

Wow . . . quite a day for this guy.  One I won't quickly forget (although I have already forgotten where I live.)  A day full of charge, and various meetings, and conversations, and prayers, and a whole lot of shakin' going on.

I now have miles to go before I sleep, and it's good to know that all of my Late Nights (without David Letterman) and early mornings (without Chuck Lofton) sometimes pay off.  All I have to do now is convince my wife that I've actually written these things and that, in spite of evidence to the contrary, I am actually doing this for her.  I'm saving up money to take her out to Wendy's.  She can't argue with that. And next year I'll be sure to write even more during the Super Bowl.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Latin Super Bowl

It happens every year: I end up working during the Super Bowl.  This year, however, was rather surreal. While my wife and daughter joined me in front of the tube to watch the game, all three of us were writing on laptops. We worked the entire game this way, making comments in between plays and through the interstices of commercial break.  My son had long before retreated from our little company to watch the Super Bowl at a friend's house (the only intelligent one of the group).

Me?  I was having an editorial interchange with an editor in New York--which was rather interesting, given the fact that the Giants were in town.  I was all the more impressed by the fact that this editor was also working on game day (and Sunday!) and was quite eager to publish one of my humor pieces.

I had written the piece last Friday . . . a rather bizarre escapade, a sudden urge if you will, to do something with Latin abbreviations and the various Latin cognates that form much of our common speech in English.  It doesn't sound funny, I know, but I felt while I was composing it that it was one of the smartest, most innovative and absolutely weirdest pieces I had written in the past month.  I whipped it out in an hour, sent it to the above-mentioned editor later Friday night (yes, I have no life on Friday nights either!), and received word from him during the game that he loved the piece, found it absolutely mesmerizing and pants-kicking hilarious, and he would publish it if I was willing to do a few re-writes and make a few cuts.

I gladly consented and sent my response back just as the Giants scored the winning TD.  (Yes, I remember these things, too . . . but again, I am a writer and I have no life.)

All in all it was a memorable Super Bowl.  In addition to writing a piece that was, perhaps, my fastest turnaround yet for publication . . . (what, less than 48 hours from concept to writing to acceptance?) . . . I also completed or revised several poems, sent off a new foray of emails to other unsuspecting editors, and fell into bed exhausted around 11:00 p.m. having written during the entirety of the game while also consuming an entire loaf of United Methodist Women pumpkin bread and a half gallon of skim milk.

Naturally, before I kissed my wife goodnight, she wife wanted to know what I had been working on so ferociously all evening.  "Mainly corresponding with an editor in New York," I said.  

"What about?"

"Latin verbs," I told her.  "Really funny stuff."

She didn't believe me.  Never does.  "I can't believe there are people who read your insanity and are willing to pay you for it," she added.

"Pax," I said, kissing my pillow.  

Yes.  Pax Romana.  Peace of Rome.  And goodnight New York.

Monday, February 6, 2012

My Super Bowl

When a guy can no longer play football
(As if he ever could . . . )
He becomes an armchair quarterback,
The best in his neighborhood.

He joins a fantasy football league
And believes he's part of the team,
He wears a superstar's jersey
And his friends hold him in high esteem.

But in spite of his best efforts
He's not an athlete at all,
The only game he's winning at
Is defeating cholesterol.

He watches the Super Bowl, of course,
But he's not playing the game,
In spite of the fact he likes to believe
The coach might be calling his name.

The only thing the armchair guy
Can actually claim to control
Is the number of meatballs on his fork
And his helpings of casserole.

He may feel empowered in his chair
Eating a bag of nacho chips
But the only influence he holds
Is the cheese dip on his lips.

At the end of the game he may feel bold
To hoist Lombardi's heft
But the only weight he's hoisting
Are the hot wings that are left.

He's not a champion (or a chump)
He's just an armchair soul
Who's lived vicariously through
The food in his Super Bowl.

Friday, February 3, 2012

My Diary

On January 1st of this year I not only started writing two new blogs (Manopause, and The Donut Diary, but I also began keeping a poetic "journal" intent to write a poem each day in 2012.  Thus far, I've been able to keep up the pace.

As far as my poetic diary is concerned, my hope is that I can look back on this year with a type of poetical retrospective of a life lived, with my daily observations and thoughts committed to verse.  Of the thirty or so poems I've already committed to this diary, a few are, I think, decent accomplishments. I don't title these poems, I just write them by date.

I'm finding that these strict disciplines of journal and blog (and rising early and working late) are helping me focus . . . along with gallons of caffeine.  It also helps to have a wife who is famously busy and engaged with her own 60 hour-work-week and who never asks, "What did you write today?"  She only asks, "What's for dinner and why isn't it hot and ready when I walk through the door?"  

Thought I'd share a couple of the entries I've cooked up in my poetic journal thus far in 2012.  Here's the first:

January 3, 2012

I consider the wonderful you
Who embraced me the night before
With such enthusiasm,
And who has become my soul
So much so
That even the new year
Is filled with the old
Sweet song of you.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Good Book

I heard an interesting line in a movie last week that went something like this:  "For centuries, those persons have been considered educated and cultured who know Homer, Shakespeare, and the Bible."  To that, I must resoundingly add my "Amen."

Of course, as an English and Classical Studies major in college, it was easy for me to pick up Homer, as I learned how to read Greek through Homeric dialect and from parsing excerpts of the Odyssey.  And my course work in English always led me back to references to Shakespeare.  Later, I had a very focused education at Duke in the Bible . . . and pursued a great deal of my understanding of the Bible through the languages of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic . . . course work I took by the gross back then inside the walls of that Gothic wonderland, but have long since forgotten in the hustle and bustle of Indiana.

Okay, so I'm educated.  But cultured?  Awww, shucks.  You'll have to ask my wife about that.  She claims I'm a bumpkin.  I still use a toothpick, say "ain't", and I have a proclivity for using salty expressions and double-entendre puns around the house. But those who know me best rather like my sense of mundane humor and get the fact that I'm not just telling a joke, I might be a joke.  My mother kicked me out of the house a long time ago.

I'm not sure anything I've ever read has made me educated in itself (and I sure ain't cultured).  But I do think that anyone who seeks to understand great literature, great movies, and the finer points of history can't understand even a fraction of these allusions if they don't know the Bible.  This is especially true for older works and for the wide sweeps of human existence.  Writers have always assumed their audience, at the very least, knew the Bible.

I still read the Bible every week.  I read for devotion, sure . . . but I also read to keep my sense of humor, to learn, to keep my sense of connection with the past, to explore depths of meaning in literature and movie, and to stay abreast of the contemporary allusions that one can find in the newspaper, in speeches, in books, and in conversation.  I read the Bible to help others.  I read the Bible for its own puns and humor and playful language.  I read the Bible to write better. I read for enjoyment.  I read for life.

Been looking for a good book?  Try the Bible.  You probably have a copy.  And if not, try looking in the nightstand at the hotel.  If you don't have a copy--take that one!  Really!  The Gideons would love for you to have it.

And if you don't know this about the Bible (or don't know the story of Gideon) can find the answers to these and other troubling conundrums in that very same book.  The Bible.

Crack it open.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pieces of My Mind

There are many ways that a writer can approach the work of creation, but I've always regarded writing as the most intimate of endeavors.  People are, after all, getting a piece of my mind.

Problem is, my mind wanders.  It ranges over a vast plane of ideas, like the Serengeti, and from moment-to-moment I might find myself, say, thinking theologically and then suddenly shifting gears into memoir mode or science fiction.  I could set out to write humor and end up writing something that is deeply personal.

Writing is mind over matter.

Creating the tone, the pace, the "voice" of a piece is the most delicate creation, and I rarely achieve what I set out to do.  Success is fleeting.  Most of writing is failure, and might be considered experimentation or process.

Today, since I feel philosophical, I thought I'd relate a few ideas I'm mulling--not necessarily with any end product in mind and no end in sight.

* Why do most of us work so hard for ends that "in the end" won't matter?
* Why is ending a book so much more satisfying than beginning one?
* Why all this preoccupation with rear ends?
* Does this blog make my rear-end look big?
* Always remember to write "The End" at the end of a piece of writing (especially fiction).
* I've got a notebook full of endings to stories, but I haven't figured out the beginnings to them yet.
* It's easier to begin than to end.
* I hope my life ends well.
* I hope your life ends well.