Friday, January 31, 2014

Predictions for 2064

Isaac Asimov's autobiography, I, Asimov, is a book that I have read numerous times.  My copy is tattered.  Torn.  Coffee stained.

Back in 1964, Asimov wrote an essay in which he offered his predictions about 2014.  Although Asimov was looking ahead fifty years (to our current year) his essay includes some uncanny, "spot on", ideas that are now clearly a part of our every-day lives.

For example, Asimov believed fifty years ago that we would have hand-held, personal devices that would allow us to talk to (and see) people on the other side of the world.

He also predicted the U.S. and world populations (both with astounding accuracy). 

He predicted inter-active entertainment via screen technology.  And also believed that, while there would be many unmanned missions to Mars, the ability to put a person on the red planet would still be eluding us in 2014 (he believed the technology would be there, but we would not yet have solved the problems inherent in the human equation.)  All true.

Now, I'm not a smart man . . . but I thought I'd offer 10 Predictions for 2064.  Might make some people mad, or afraid, but I'm really just trying to help folks here.

Prediction #1:  I will be dead.

Prediction #2:  My son will be 70, very much alive, and will be retired and existing on small bags of black licorice while living in a trailer down by the river.

Prediction #3:  My wife will be dead.

Prediction #4:  My daughter will be 74, retired, and will bring flowers to my grave on the odd-numbered years.  She will refer to me as, "Your Majesty."

Prediction #5: Most of my friends will be dead.

Prediction #6: I will have died in the gym at the age of 100 while trying to complete the eighth rep of a 400-lb bench press.

Prediction #7: My wife will celebrate my passing by throwing a huge "Life Insurance Party" at the Sleepy Dale Retirement Village.  This party will include booze and Chippendale's dancers.

Prediction #8:  The Important Collected Works of Todd Outcalt will be posthumously published in 2064.  The book will be 24 pages in length and will consist primarily of cartoon illustrations drawn by a middle-school art student.

Prediction #9: My wife will contribute the Foreword to the Collected Works, in which she will admit that we didn't have sex until our wedding night but everything was "wild and woolly after that".

Prediction #10: Both of my children will write memoirs in 2065 and will actually make money from these tell-all books.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Noodle Up

(Photo:  The author's favorite flavor, big as life.)

Lately I've been living on Ramen Noodles.  I eat 'em most days.  These packages, purchased in bulk, are about ten cents a meal.  But I love 'em.

My wife doesn't understand my infatuation with the noodle.  She always wants some fancy box of Hamburger Helper or a dollar-fitty can of soup, and she always makes the same two comments when she sees me slurping up my slop:  "How can you stand to eat those things?" and "Could we at least go to Taco Bell?"

Actually, Ramen noodles have been feeding writers for years.  After all, I don't have time to cook.  Not with all my deadlines.  I've got to have a meal I can unpack, drop into a small pot of boilin' water, and then eat on the go or at midnight.  Ramen Noodles are perfect.  And they come in six or seven scrumptious flavors, too.  I wish my family would live on these things.

The way I've calculated it, if all five of us (yes, there are five adults in my house!) ate Ramen Noodles three times a day (that's fifteen meals) . . . I could feed the lot for $1.50 a day, or, get this, feed a family for just pennies over $10 a week.

I don't understand why others in the house can't get with this program.  I don't need peanut butter and jelly, or Mrs. Calendar's apple pie, or a quart of Chunky Monkey ice cream.  (Though, I must admit, I do consume five pounds of protein powder a week, and that's running me $15.)  Throw in some well water and a pot or two of coffee a day (another "splurge") and I'm doin' fine.  In fact, I know I could live on less than $30 a week when I'm writing full bore and don't have time to think about food or sleep. 

One of these days I'm going to buy an entire pallet of Ramen Noodles.  I'll just tell the semi driver to drop off a load and I'll store the lot in my garage.  That's another thing about Ramens . . . they never go bad.  They can sit for a century in a dark, dank basement but taste fresh as a daisy after they've been boiled in water and seasoned with the contents from that tiny little foil packet.  I'm sure the Egyptians ate them to build the pyramids.

The Pharaohs, I've heard, were also incredibly frugal.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Warm Up

It always feels warmer when I wake up to a good word.  And this morning the word came from an editor that he is accepting several of my poems for publication. (Thanks, Ron.)  Always makes my day.

As things stand now, these deep winter days have become a paradise.  Free from the pressures of being outside, I can hunker down late at night and write through the freeze.  (There's actually a little heat produced from this keyboard and, on really cold nights, I can feel the disparity in temperature.)

I can also look back on today and say these were my first accepted pieces of 2014.

It's been a few weeks since I produced any noteworthy poems, so I'm always grateful to place one of two into the market.  Does wonders for motivation.

Presently, as I write this, it is -5 . . . but it feels warmer.

A pot of coffee and a warm keyboard work wonders.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Finishing Touch

This week I should be completing a new book.  But often, it's that final push that proves the most difficult.  Sometimes, when I complete a book, I have the same feeling as when I take a beloved pet to the veterinarian to be euthanized.  When I've lived with a book for months it becomes an old friend and it is difficult to let go.  Sometimes there is grief--and its not unusual for writers to pass through a period of depression when they finally put a book to rest.

Fortunately, I have so many new projects and deadlines, I can't grieve for too long.  I've got to focus on the thrill of a new puppy . . . taking up some fresh, squirming book that is slick with promise, or turning my attentions, at last, to some brief friendship with an essay or a poem.  Writing every day means that I experience funerals followed by birthday parties.  I lay to rest one old friend and follow it up by celebrating the new.

As I get older, however, this pace offers new challenges.  Sometimes, I can't remember the name of the deceased--so when an editor calls to ask me about a book, I have to ask, "Which one are we talking about?"  And now that I'm juggling multiple books, essays, and writing assignments simultaneously, it's tough keeping it all straight.  Writing for hours at a time doesn't help, either.  

My wife says I need to create a giant chart so I can keep track of the publishers, editors and deadlines.  She may be correct.  

But I'm afraid I'd forget where I put the chart.  

I would hang something like this on the refrigerator, but I'd be afraid that others in the family would look at a note like, "March 1" or "New York" or "Done" and think that I was talking about cooking a steak.  

These may be similar.  But in most cases I don't think a sauce would help.    

Thursday, January 23, 2014

I Don't Always Write Poetry . . . But When I Do

I don't always write poetry, but when I do . . . I write about anything.  Well, most anything

It's difficult for me to keep up with myself and my obligations these days.  I have new titles coming out later this year, writing to meet other deadlines every day, and producing essays and poems along the way for magazines and journals.  Rather insane.  But I'm truly grateful I can do it . . . writing refreshes my soul and creating new worlds keeps me from being so lonely when my wife's not at home (which is most nights). 

More recently, I've had a few poems accepted for publication and later this year I'll have my first collection of poetry (a book) making its way into print.  (Thank you, Penny.)

I don't always place poems on this blog, but here's one that surprised me with its appearance a few weeks ago.  I like it.  Although it's a metaphor, it rather sums up how I feel about the role and meaning of ordination in my life (while certainly not defining the whole of me). 


Was it the laying on of hands
That melted me toward faithfulness
Or proved the Spirit's touch?

Or would the mundane make amends
Or cause mere water to express
Some power twice as much?

I say it is a love that sends
And through some graceful gentleness
Reveals the Lord as such.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Well, now that 2013 is a distant warm memory and I have a new year ahead, it's time to set some writing goals.  But I'll have to aim high to beat last year's achievements, all of which turned out to surpass the goals I'd set in January of 2013.

I could also include some goals of a personal nature, benchmarks like:

Be able to select my wife out of a lineup of strange women . . .
Prepare an evening cuisine not consisting of Ramen noodles . . .
Expand my repertoire of conversation at home to include phrases other than:
* See you in the morning (maybe)
* Yes, I've been up since 4 a.m.
* Where did you hide my licorice?

But the way I see it, since my wife is planning a 30 year anniversary trip later this summer, we'll catch up on life when we are in Ireland, London, Paris, Rome, Venice and Florence.  (Yes, Lord willin' we'll be there in July.)  And I can write abroad for the first time, too.

At any rate, my goals for 2014 are rather grandiose, but here they are:

1. Write/publish/or contract for seven books in 2014.
2. Publish 150 essays.

Now I've got work to do.  And the only way to get there is to write every day.  I can rest later.  After I'm dead. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Old Shoes

A few days ago, while perusing my home library, I came across a book proposal stuffed inside a thick anthology.  I have a faint recollection (or do I?) of inserting the proposal inside the front cover many years back.  But the interesting thing here is that this old proposal was now a book. 

Finding a manuscript is like discovering an old shoe.  I know that I must have worn it at one time.  It served a purpose.  Others had even seen me in it.  But I've since purchased a new pair, and now the prototype is relegated to the back of the closet.

It is always a fascinating venture to see how a proposal turns into a book--particularly noting the many changes that the publisher and writer undertake from inception to completion.  Sometimes the style changes.  The tone.  Or chapter headings and titles that the author had created are transformed by marketing departments or illustrators.

The old proposal was little more than a sketch compared to the final product. 

Some day I know I will discover other artifacts stuffed inside books.  It is inevitable.  I forget where I put things . . . sometimes, even, while I am using them. 

I've written my best essay, my best poem, my best book already.  I just have to find out where I left them.

Friday, January 17, 2014


Over the years I've benefited from a small cadre of deadbeats and couch potatoes who have nothing better to do than to read my manuscripts.  I've benefited from their perseverance, their insights, their coffee stains.  Some of their insights about my manuscripts actually make sense.  And a few of these readers have actually gone on to do greater work, like cutting bathroom tile or gathering dustballs from under the refrigerator.

In essence, my readers have served as a springboard to my great success where, each year, I sell upwards of twenty books and use the plush royalties to purchase cotton balls for my wife.  (What do women use cotton balls for anyway and why do they need so many of them?)

More recently, I've been asked by one of my publishers (I actually have six publishers . . . which sounds absurd, I know) to go in search of academic help . . . scholars who can weigh in on my Greek and Hebrew translation skills and contribute notes like:

Professor Alleycat, who is not a professor at all and who knows little more than how to tie his own shoelaces, has here written a work equal to the weight of two Siamese kittens.  We are certain he was operating on too much coffee when he wrote this academic book and was probably addicted to black licorice.  There's really no way to categorize this book, especially under the Dewey decimal system, but we suggest it be filed under children's literature.  

Dr. Alleycat, who isn't a doctor (but thinks he plays one in real life), has the academic credentials of a weasel and a face and personality to match.  This book has all the clout of a skinny teenager swinging a big hammer at the carnival.  Alleycat doesn't come close to ringing our bell.

Well, but despite these accolades, my readers are important to me . . . and I thank you one-and-all.

And, if anyone else out there wants to read a manuscript from time to time, let me know.  I've got plenty of pages to go around.         

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Guest Host

"And Johnny's guest host tonight is (David Brenner, Gary Shandling, Doc Severnson . . . take your pick)."  Anyone as old as I am will remember those words at the beginning of The Tonight Show.  In fact, as Johnny Carson aged, there were more guest hosts than Johnny Carson.  And that's the way it is (wait a minute . . . that's Walter Cronkite).

I've been guest hosting a lot of late . . . writing guest blogs, that is.  I've guest blogged in England, Canada, and points around the U.S.   Most of these blogs of late have been about breast cancer support and recovery. 

I've even guest blogged for several sites with the words "boobie" or "boobies" in the title.  I guess this is how these blogs get traffic.

But I can write about boobies.  That's what I do.  I might even get a boobie prize some day.  It's all part of the equation, I suppose.

I don't know how long this guest blogging will continue, but if I begin counting my guest blogs as published essays, I'm going to blow away my goal of 150 published pieces in 2014. 

And since my wife won't be reading my essays, I'm on my own.  I just hope I spell boobie correctly. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

This Little Piggy Went to Market

A Sunday afternoon discussion with another writer yielded the following observation:  "A book has to sell 2,000 copies to meet the break-even point for a publisher."  Probably so.  Marketing a book (selling it) is tougher than writing a book.  Producing the product is far easier than selling the product.  This is true in every walk of life.  Ask farmers.  Ask clothiers.  Ask playwrights and actors. 

Marketing requires constant vigilance.  And with more than 100,000 books published annually in the U.S., well, only a marginal few will find "success."

Of late I've been going to market by guest blogging, writing review copy, producing essays, creating YouTube videos . . . everything but walking in my sleep.  And that's not far off. 

I may, in fact, be sleep walking.  Or some days, it just seems that way.

Friday, January 10, 2014

What Comes Around, Snows Around

What a week.  Snow.  Gridlock.  More Snow.

And then hearing so many people use the expression that seemed to be the phrase of choice.  Stir Crazy.

I'm just grateful I have lived past that one.  Now, with adult children (still at home) and everyone working on their own interests, I no longer had to deal with complaints, boredom, or marking the slow passing days by finding those ever-difficult activities to occupy the fleeting interests of children.  (I've been there believe me . . . but I like this new stage of life.)  No Stir Crazy for this guy.

The fact is, outside of Monday, when all of our time was occupied with shoveling a driveway, the five of us worked at home.  That's one of the benefits of this stage of life, I suppose.  As long as our internet access held out, our pipes didn't freeze, and the thirty-year-old furnace continued to pump warm air--there were five sweat shops in our house continuing to churn out labor.  

In fact, I'd have to say that my wife (an elementary principal) worked at least twelve hours most days this week (I rarely saw her outside of her home office, and when I did, we simply nodded to each other as if to say, "Don't bug me, I'm in the middle or something important."). My daughter (a kindergarten teacher) worked long hours on her lesson plans and also wrote a book from whole cloth.  My son-in-law was shoveling and cooking and filling out job applications.  And my son continued to drive to work in his four-wheel drive pickup, working his 4-11:45 p.m. shift.  He even completed some grocery shopping for us at 2 a.m.  What a pal!

And me?  I wrote sermons, essays, poems, and made great headway on yet another book.  Most days, I rose at 4:30 a.m. and managed to put in a full eight hours of writing before eating my lunch (how does Ramen noodles sound?).  

Better yet, I'm appreciative of the way that the internet preserved our connections.  I did manage to check in with old friends and colleagues via facebook, posted a sermon (which I didn't preach last Sunday) and even did some counseling and prayer over the telephone.  I also talked to a slate of publishers and editors . . . and I've calendared even more speaking engagements this spring.  

All in all . . . a great week.  No, I'm not saying I'd love to live in this Siberia year-round.  (In fact, this is the most snow I've seen since the blizzard of 1978.)  But since this is what mother nature gave me, I was glad to, as John Wesley might have said, "Make the most of the time, not dribble away time, and do everything at its proper time."  Got love Mr. Wesley in winter days.  

The truth is, with all my deadlines, it's going to be difficult having less time to write.  I wonder what Mr. W. would have to say about that?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Writing On Snow Days

What with 48 hours of uninterrupted writing (save for the occasional shoveling and frostbite) I've managed to produce a wealth of new material on these snow days.  As it turns out, my wife has also been writing most of this time, and we've been communicating with each other mostly through a series of grunts and head-bobs, a complex system which we have developed over the past thirty years.  We have even mastered winks and head-turns which say:

"Bring me a cup of coffee" or "If we had a dog, would it be your turn to take the pooch out to pee?"

As it stands, I've been able to communicate with a half dozen editors today (most of whom live in states that are much warmer and are, presently, laughing at our current state of emergency).  I've picked up a few writing assignments, including a new book to review, a submission of an essay, a poem, and a story each, and a column.  I have also worked diligently on a new book, and ramped up my manuscript to a now-hefty 136 single-spaced pages. 

And, get this . . . I have also finished my sermon for Sunday, January 12.  That's what "home alone" can do for boredom. 

Now, anticipating another day at home on Tuesday (accompanied by more digging) I plan to write an additional 5,000 words--but of such variety and eclecticism that the excitement is almost unbearable. 

Or maybe I'll just write an essay entitled, "What I did over my winter vacation."  This one would include a sidebar on how to make coffee . . . boiling hot!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

By a Different Road

Although we are not gathered as a worshipping community at Calvary this morning, here is a meditation based on my sermon:  "By a Different Road".  Based on Matthew 2:1-12, the reading for Epiphany Sunday.

Each of the four gospels has its unique presentations of Jesus, and in Matthew's gospel, we have a very Jewish understanding of the roads that people take to find Jesus.  Matthew begins his gospel by telling us about the genealogical journey that leads to Jesus, including references to luminaries in history as well as to some of the more troubling interludes--such as a reference to Tamar (a horrible family saga) and to Rahab, a prostitute. 

What Matthew must be getting at here is that our roads to Jesus are rarely straight, or narrow, or "holy".  Rather, we meander our way to Jesus through our questions, our high and low points, our troubles and our sins as well as our successes and joys.  The road is not straight.  The journey is difficult.

Matthew then tells us about another road . . . a road taken by a young carpenter named Joseph, who was asked to take Mary as his wife.  (Joseph had his questions and concerns, we can't forget that!  Was Mary unfaithful?  Why should he take her as his wife since he had some many concerns?)

But Joseph takes the high road.  He takes Mary and they begin this journey with Jesus.

Soon, Matthew turns again to another journey . . . a lengthy one undertaken by some mysterious magi from the east.  Their journey is arduous.  They have to ask others for directions (though they are following a star) and they most certainly had to accept the hospitality and provisions provided by others.  Eventually they encounter Herod--one of the most evil rulers in human history.  Herod ruled by fear, intimidation, and by murder.  In fact, we know a great deal about him from historical sources.  He murdered at least one wife.  He killed dozens of his close associates.  He even systematically murdered three of his sons in succession as they became of age. He would do anything to keep power, to ensure that he would always sit on the throne.

We know a great deal about Herod, and we know his type.  Our world is filled with those who want to rule, lead, or otherwise keep people in check through fear, intimidation and threat.  This, in fact, is the way of the world.  Herod has always been with us.

The magi, however, have not taken this road.  Their road to Jesus was a hopeful one.  They journeyed by hope, following a high star that they believed would lead them to a king who would not be like other kings.  They brought gifts.  But their greatest gift was hope.

When the magi find Jesus, we are told that they, "Rejoiced with a great rejoicing!"  Wow!  I wonder:  do I have that kind of joy in my faith?  Do I have this kind of hope in Jesus?  Do you?  Is this the joy that lights up your life?

There are, in fact, many roads to Jesus (and many responses to Jesus).  Not all of these responses to Jesus are hopeful or joyous.  But the magi returned by a different road.  This was the road of acceptance, of joy, of hope.  May it be our road, too.

In Proverbs 10:28 we read:  "The hope of the righteous is joy."  And the apostle Paul admonished us to "rejoice in the Lord, always . . . and again, I say, rejoice!"  And the Psalmist declared, "I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go up to the house of the Lord!'"

Hope and joy is our journey.  Let us not travel the road of Jesus living in fear.  Let us not live in or through intimidation or violence, but in peace and generosity of spirit.  This is the road to Jesus that Matthew describes.  This is the road that led the magi, and leads us to life, too.

This is the journey of Epiphany.  Let us walk in it throughout the year!
~Pastor Todd

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Cover Me

It doesn't happen often, but two magazines recently featured me on the covers.  (Thanks, Amy and Adam.)  The idea being that readers would find my essays on goal-setting & self-care, and my science fiction, to be of particular interest in those January issues.  So, I feel honored.

Usually, my writing is under cover, not on the cover.  And believe it or not, it always seems odd to me to see my name in print.  At first blush, I almost always recoil and have a deep desire to walk away.

As 2014 scrolls around, there are also editors who want me to send new author photos, new bios . . . even my travel schedule.  I feel awkward telling them that nothing much has changed in my life since 2013.  I am still married to my first wife.  None of my books have hit the best-seller lists.  I continue to lead the same dull and boring life as before.  And as for travel, most of my mileage is racked up walking back and forth between the house and Dunkin' Donuts.  It's a much shorter distance from the bed to the bathroom, so I don't count these miles in my annual prostate pilgrimages. 

Now and again I have editors who ask, "So, what's new with you?"

I feel embarrassed to tell them that nothing is new with me.  I haven't purchased a car for twenty years; I drive a 1999 Senoma pickup with no heat or air; I still write books on a 1999 Compaq computer and use floppy disks to store my output; and I still have a land line phone and no ability to remember my pass code to check my voice mail messages (my only high-tech comfort). 

I thank these editors for placing a guy like me on their magazine covers.  But feel, somehow, that they must be hard-pressed for publicity.  I am, after all, no poster child for the new brand of writers who compose their novels via twitter.  I just write and submit my material with a postage stamp. 

And believe it or not, I miss licking all that glue.