Signs Yer in Texas

I’m on thin ice here. Texas is different and the natives (Texans) not only insist on it, Texas Pride demands it with few boundaries. It was also 86-cents a 6-pack beer when I was in college. I married a Texas girl, all my kids were born here, and they all read my dribble.

Before traveling, people asked if we or our family lived anywhere near Houston and the flooding from hurricane Harvey. We are about 150 miles west of Houston, so family was on the outer bands of the storm—no damage or flooding, just rain.

Things from my morning walk…

Barbed wire (called “bob-war” in Tex-speak) may be useful for controlling cows, but it’s annoying and dangerous to humans. Putting up such fencing when it’s unnecessary is foolish, but they do it. And they run that miserable prison shit-wire right into the river. WTF is the point of that? There is not a farm, farm animal, ranch, or cow within miles. This is an in-town resort with people and kids. The state motto is “Friendship,” but nuthin’s friendly about that wire. And don’t give me that “good fences-good neighbors” crap. Pointed wire bits that can rip your skin off is not good, neighborly, or friendly.

Texas highways have the best signs. Some are funny. Like up by Moran, a little dry-spot of a town of four or five hundred hardy souls. “Moran next four exits.” It is not on an interstate, there are no exits, and you drive through town. If ya blink, ya miss it. Sarcasm and I love it. Better yet, “Moran Yacht Club Next Right.” There is no yacht club, no water or lake, just cactus and tumbleweed, residents with a sense of humor, and one joker who works for the highway department.

So, as I entered Cypress Bend Park on my walk this morning, I got a chuckle out of the signs at the entrance.

Don’t you dare pop that top until your ass is off our grass. The Guadalupe is kinda green now, but I bet it’s a high yellow color during the summer months.

Know what state you are in. And in this one, fear the sun. And for god’s sake, smile as you fry.

WTF is a “volume drinking device?” Do we need signs to remind us not to jump to our death? Lock yer cooler, the fish are thirsty.

It is not only the heat that is brutal in Texas. The norm for rain is the accompaniment of loud thunder and deadly lightning. Do the peeps here really need signs reminding them to use common sense? Seriously?

If you aren’t concealed (gun) carry licensed in Texas, you must be a namby-pamby liberal Yankee. Thus, if you visit the state capitol, you must pass through the metal detector. That is not required for the 80% who work there and are so-licensed. We know you’re carrying, so just go ahead.

Open carry is also common virtually everywhere in Texas and a gun rack in your pickup is standard, if not required, equipment.

But listen here, Cowboy. Do not open that beer until you’re “feet wet.” And above all, do not dare to open-carry your own bar-b-que grill into this here park. That would be dangerous. Comprehendo, Sundance? (Said the sheriff with a big smile.)

See? Thin ice. I will hear about this.

Look both ways for an easy way through those barb wire fences.
Mind the gaps and don’t jump off the bridges sober.

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Nano Rebel – Dream On

2016 Nano ends at midnight next Wednesday. I’m passing 48 of the 50K goal today, so I’ll meet the challenge this weekend. However, as anyone who writes knows, there is much more for me to do.

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For the past four weeks, my life has been like this: up between 5 and 8 AM, plan to write, but read the news, read and answer emails, look at my memoir and plan some more. But I only write a little. Look at Facebook and write some snarky comments there, read some blogs, go for a walk while listening to music for about an hour; return, eat, stretch, talk to wife, and finally begin to write.

Following an hour of writing; take a break, eat more, get coffee, then back to writing. After pushing out about a thousand words, take a long break and do more useful and constructive things like doing dishes, replacing light bulbs, talking to neighbors, and reading. I write more in the late afternoon and evening with interruptions for football, NCIS, or Blue Bloods. It seems to have worked because I’ve averaged almost 2,000 words each day.

musing1But this memoir – the thinking, remembering, musing, pulling out old photos, doing ancestry research, looking for old friends and finding some, but reading obits of others — it’s so different because it is about me and people who’ve affected my life. Learning and writing about myself every day is interesting for a guy who disliked writing about himself.

Writing fewer words on this blog so you can listen to the song and see the lyrics that say it for me: Dream On, by Aerosmith.

 

Indeed:

Half my life
Is books, written pages
Live and learn from fools and
From sages
You know it’s true, oh
All these feelings come back to you….

musing3“Sing with me, sing for the years, sing for the tears.”

We dream on, love on, live on;
but look both ways and mind the gaps.

 

Nano Rebel – The Big Picture

My Analogy

art-memoir-analogy3Let’s make a pencil drawing.

As we create this drawing, our personal art, we move the pencil across the page. As it leaves lines and other marks on the page, let’s say those marks are in the past – our past. We are creating the art, but we drew the lines and made the marks, past tense.

We can see the pencil point. The tip is touching on the page. We may look directly at it, or not. That small point of contact with the paper represents our present time — now. It’s in that brief instant of time where we live. We may look at the past marks, or we may focus on the pencil on the page. We may move it in any direction, going fast or slow, applying firm of soft pressure. We may even lift the pencil from the page and move it to a different location.

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As we move the pencil, the point joins with other lines on the page. Our present reaches into our past. As our vision unfolds, we make plans for where the pencil will go next, how we’ll maneuver it, how we apply pressure to it, how we will lift it off, and return it to, the page. As our drawing takes form, the page fills with marks and lines.

The blank part of the page is the future. We think about and plan our next moves, or we allow our hand to be guided by external forces, moving us into our personal future.

We keep looking to see the entirety of the drawing. We consider the past lines in light of our future plans. We make decisions to move lines in the present to be tangent with, or to intersect lines of the past. Thus, we create a new future that mingles with, and eventually becomes, our past.

We erase. We change it. We keep looking at our whole life as art. As we move in closer and back away to change our perspective, we begin to see the big picture of our life.

art-memoir-analogy2As we draw, we feel things: love, anger, spiritual things, and the passions of life. As we experience our feelings, our work of art changes. Those emotions travel to our hands to control the pencil that is drawing our life.

We learn as we draw. What worked? What didn’t? Where did we succeed and what were our failures?

As we fill the page with marks and lines, there are more lines and less white space. We are running out of places to make our marks. We don’t know how many more lines and marks that we can put on the page.

Our drawing, our art, our life. It’s on the page, or is it?

Mind the gap.

art-memoir-analogy4With 10 days of Nano remaining, I’m rolling along with my memoir. Finding memories and searching for lost feelings. It has helped me to keep writing in a searchable chronological order, so that as I recall things I want to add; I can find the right place to write (draw?) those memories.

Now, with over 34,000 words, I can tell that I may have to run this stuff past some involved eyes before I consider asking anyone to read it for feedback. Along with trying to write over 1,500 words a day, I’m reading Writing is My Drink, by Theo Pauline Nestor, and Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer.

Have you ever tried to write your life story as a fairy tale? I have. Try it sometime.

art-memoir-analogy-5“One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.” ~ Oscar Wilde

To see your life story, look both ways.

NaNoWriMo, NaMeWriMo, or NaPoWriMo?

Next Tuesday, 1 November 2016, begins another 30-day challenge to write 50-thousand words toward the authorship of a book. The challenge is called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, or just Nano).

nanowrimo1Since 1999, Nano has grown in popularity and is now international. Novels are fiction, but participants sometimes write in other genres. I wrote a historical novel my first year. Others have written memoirs (National Memoir Writing, NaMeWriMo?) or other non-fiction, and poetry (National Poetry, NaPoWriMo? It’s in April.).

Nano is difficult. Last year was my first large scale fiction project. I learned how challenging it is. The math works out so that I need to average about 1,700 words a day to “win” the 50k-word challenge on November 30th. There are no days off.

Because Nano gets more difficult as weeks pass, and life has a way of interfering with writing, I want to produce over 2,000 words a day for the first week or two. Getting ahead in the word count is recommended, and I know why. This is no writing sprint; it’s a marathon. After about ten days, I’ll be looking in the mirror asking, “WTF were you thinking?” But I did it in 2015, and I will in 2016.

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Online support, other writers, and attending motivating write-ins, make this challenge doable. Following the helpful suggestions in No Plot, No Problem, such as keeping my inner editor at bay, I’ll manage to keep writing.

Last year, I struggled with being new to fiction writing and not having a plan. Creating the story as I wrote was difficult. Writing to develop characters, scenes, and plot was work, but fun under pressure.

This year, I have an outline and I’m a slightly more seasoned writer. My introduction to blogging was during the A-to-Z Blog Challenge in April. Nano is like A-to-Z in that it’s a learning through immersion experience. It will be challenging again this year because I’ll write in a nonfiction genre new to me.

I’ve decided to write a memoir for the 2016 Nano. I’ve never written one. Technically, that qualifies me as a Nano Rebel. I don’t feel rebellious because there is ample precedent for memoir and I still need the same number of words. Since I have been kicking my biographical tin-can down the road for years, I’ve decided it’s time.

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I was raised in a religious environment, but I’ve concluded that atheism is correct. I plan to document that spiritual journey. The memoir will be spiritually thematic and family oriented, but not suitable for young children. I’ll write about specific periods and events in my life when religion or spiritual issues were more prominent, or should have been.

I’ve been researching people, places, and events to reconstruct those times. I’ll be busy with this until December. Only then will I set my inner editor free to deal with the 50K-word first draft, pile of tangled dribble I will have created.nanowrimo4

I’ve been posting on this blog twice per week. During November, I’ll post once per week to provide a brief summary of my Nano experience, and information relevant to my project. Adding news of any other participants that I find interesting would be fun — so do tell.

I’ve been reading about writing memoir. It is different, of course. But since I did this Nano gig one time, I know that I’ll have little time to work on this blog.

nanowrimo3If you have any interest in NanoWriMo, the web page is http://nanowrimo.org. Join us.

If you are jumping into the Nano challenge also, I’d like to know.

Have fun. I hope to be able to hold my head up enough to resume blogging on the twice a week rhythm again in December.

As Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones, “In the center of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write. Just write. Just write.”

Look both ways and mind the gap.

Changing Priorities

“Here’s to When I Gave a Feck”

Tom Selleck

Tom Selleck

“Look, Garrett, I’m closer to the end than to the beginning. So, some of this stuff, I just don’t have it in me to care anymore…It’s the rest of it, the posturing, the little digs, the wasting my time….” ~ Police Commissioner Frank Reagan; from the TV show Blue Bloods, Season 6, Episode 9, “Hold Outs.”

 

I can relate. I often say, “I don’t care.” But I do; in an odd, almost cavalier way. Normally, when I think I can help someone or fix something, I give my time and effort to the issue. I now care less about many of the things that were high on my list when I worked at my paying job. I haven’t lost my motivation; I now own it.

Opinions others have of me have lost much of their importance. Nowadays, I care more about issues that were of little interest during my past. Conversely, my “that’s bull shit” list is longer than ever. I worked, if you can call it that, for about 50 years. Now retired, my perspective on what’s important is changed.

Since age 18, excluding my time as an undergrad, I had one six-month period of unemployment. Even then, I treated my job search and being Mr. Mom, as two jobs. I enjoyed them both. The pay was horrendous, but the benefits were good.

I learned about myself during that time, simply by being me. That was the early 90s, the decade that I like to call my figure it out for myself years. Looking back, I now recognize that I was depressed and confused. I worried about things like money, a job, and my kids. I was more overwhelmed than I like to admit. I paid my dues. But now?

You know you want it, right?

You know you want it, right?

I wear blue jeans, shorts, or sweat pants. It’s like every day is casual Friday, but it’s really another Saturday. I’ve not worn khakis more than twice in 18 months. I haven’t worn a tie, suit, or sports jacket either.

I care about style, as long as it’s casual. While I still think wearing argyle socks with sandals is a sin for which any man should burn for eternity, there’s something to be said for not caring what others (like me) think, even in the choice of clothing styles. I toy with the idea of wearing a kilt cuz wife says I have great legs. Some opinions will always count.

It shouldn’t matter what most other people think. I’ve read that what they think of me is not my business. But it often does matter. If I ask you what you think, feel, or believe, you should want me to care about your answer. If I do, it’s fair enough.

If I like your idea, I may accept it, implement it, or otherwise go with it. When someone says, “You should do a blog on that,” it gets my attention. I often write with inspiration like that from someone else.

I’m a grandparent. A parent called to complain about a grandchild. I listened, but said nothing. I allowed my child to rant and get it out. My wife wasn’t home, so I was on my own for the call and the associated drama. These are my monkeys in my family circus, after all.

i-dont-care5Then I hear, “You haven’t said anything, Dad. What do you think?”

I take a deep breath and wonder if I should respond (the answer here is no).

Raising my kids, I made the same mistakes. But now, I have a different perspective. I answer with a quetion, “Are you sure you want to know?”

My ranting offspring responds, “Yes.” The tension builds. While I knew that this wouldn’t end well that day, I also knew it would eventually pass, and it did. I blurted out my answer as the Frank Reagan of my family.

“It doesn’t matter. What you’re so upset about is no big deal. There are more important issues in your child’s life. This is minor and kind of expected. As children, we’ve all had problems like this. We get over it and so will he. Allow him the dignity of experiencing and learning about life on life’s terms, not your conditions. I suggest you calm down and wait.”

Dial tone.

Blue Bloods writers would handle this scene at the family dinner table with everyone drinking wine.

snarkasm12I’m a here and now kind of guy. While I firmly believe in living in the present, I acknowledge that each life has a future and that’s the direction we live it. Today’s crisis is tomorrow’s funny dinner chat or neighborhood gossip.

Life goes on, and everyone should enjoy every possible breathtaking minute. What other people think is probably unimportant, and may be dangerous. So learning when to have had enough, to be tired of the BS, and to move on; to no longer give a shit, is good.

“But Mikey’s father, champion of all pint drinkers, is like my uncle Pa Keating, he doesn’t give a fiddler’s fart what the world says and that’s the way I’d like to be myself” ~ From Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt

So, care as you must. Live in your world and in your time. Figure out what’s important to you and to people close to you. Make choices, change your mind, look back and look forward. That makes perfect sense to me, I hope it does to you, too.

Meh takes a big swig of the foamy grog and grunts, “I don’t give a feck.”

Live life forward, understand it backwards,
mind the gap, and look both ways.

Literal Thinking; Ironic World

“The literal mind does not understand the ironic mind, and sees it always as a source of danger.” ~ Christopher Hitchens

Once we perceive something and it gets into our brains, the confusion begins. We communicate by employing methods or techniques to stimulate the senses of others, intentionally or not. Face-to-face, we can bring out all the best guns. Teachers employ every conceivable technology to get students to learn by seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting.

ironic-mind2

I doubt that our individual minds are exclusively either literal or ironic. I suspect that some of us have trouble communicating, especially on the receiving end, because we lean one way or the other. When the ironic mind works with the literal, caution and precision must be applied. The reverse seems to be less of a problem.

I recall a conversation with my daughter about a man who, in my opinion, was an irresponsible pet owner. I forget the details of his transgression toward the pets, but I used a rather common and innocuous phrase regarding what she told me: “He should be shot.” Julie became upset with me (he may have been a boyfriend at the time). It was quite a while before I knew the reason. Apparently, she took what I said literally. Even after our discussing and my explaining the idiom, she never quite seemed to grant me a full pardon for promoting the demise of her friend. While this may appear extreme, it’s not uncommon.

Another example involves a writing quote I like from Steve Almond.

“All readers come to fiction as willing accomplices to your lies. Such is the basic goodwill contract made the moment we pick up a work of fiction.” ~ Steve Almond

When I posed this quote to another writer, she asked, “Is that how you see it?” I confessed agreement before I realized the problem with the noun lies. What makes this even more interesting is that at the time, I was writing historical fiction (an oddity in its own) and my friend was wrestling with a memoir (a quest for truth). Her efforts were focused on discovering the truth while mine were based on developing an untrue story in a true, but flexible, setting.

Fiction is only a lie when it is not presented as such. While neither of us set out to deceive anyone (truth is not in every memoir), her goal was fact with interest. Mine was interest with a false story based upon fact. My friend’s literal mind-set related to her concern with the accuracy of her project. Mine was based more on fiction, which is not the truth, thus figuratively can be called lies.

ironic-mind4

I enjoy the humor of sarcasm and irony. Without awareness of the intended humor, harm is frequent. Furthermore, if someone does not share another’s sense of humor regarding irony, even more so, sarcasm; the exact opposite of the intended communication is inevitable. Damage control using a follow-on explanation never seems to completely mend the fence, “I can’t believe you thought that was funny.” My personal sense of humor gets me into that sort of bind on a regular basis.

ironic-mind3A humorous book I enjoyed was Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore. The book is full of tongue-in-cheek humor, innuendo, sarcasm, and other forms of witty humor. It even has an angel who is so literal as to be the best heavenly straight man I can imagine.

I (somewhat proudly) wear the label snarkastic to fit my fondness for being both snarky and sarcastic. But, I’ve learned that how I communicate makes a difference. In writing, I am advocate for a sarcasm font (we need one). In person, I exaggerate facial expressions, gestures, and voice inflection so that I can give others the opportunity to get it right. I don’t enjoy the struggle of trying to explain my humor to someone who I know will never get it, but I try. And, I’m watchful for things not turning out as planned after I shoot off my mouth.

ironic-mind1Sometimes I don’t get it either. Like when I say something and someone bursts out laughing and yells, “Bill, I love your sense of humor.” I smile and nod, then lean to the person next to me and ask, “What did I say that was so funny?” Literally?

We live in an ironic world.
Love, laugh, get wet, look both ways,
and mind the gap.

Evil’s Not My Problem

Monotheistic believers have no convincing way to deal with this issue. Because it has been around for a long time, it has been written about, answered, explained, taught, or discussed in groups of one kind or another. But it remains a problem that can only be settled one way—ignore it. Ignorance is bliss.

problem-of-evilOr, you might end up where I did, facilitating a classroom discussion of the topic in the Adult Education program at my Catholic church. Preparation for teaching, and then leading the group discussion, led me to an enlightenment. I was not, at the time, spiritually or religiously challenged by the problem of evil, but I learned a lot.

Most of what I learned involved getting deep into a topic that I’d not seriously considered. As I was reading the Bible, especially the Old Testament, I started coming to terms with my own evolving beliefs and conclusions.

I was a believer (or wannabe) at the time. My biggest aha moment was when I realized that I had no qualms pinning evil on god. And, of course, that led to the uh-oh moment. That’s when I realized that god could not be so good after all. That disconnect was not gunna work for me. “Houston, we have a problem.”

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If you’re fuzzy on what the problem of evil is about, click here  to link with a youtube that provides a quick-n-dirty review in ten minutes. Pay attention because that guy talks fast and covers a lot of ground.

I’m intrigued when a priest, deacon, nun, or any religious person says, “I can’t understand why God allowed that to happen.” Pick any natural disaster, which some people do not consider evil, or some other moral evil such as mass murder. We have heard it said.

In the case of Islamic terrorism and other nut cases, evil is even done in the name of god, ostensibly with god’s help, followed by a hefty reward from god. (WTF does anybody want with 72 virgins anyway?). I know there are other kinds of murderers, but everyday that religion is used to justify slaughter around the world.

I know, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” But, along with most Americans, I consider 9-11 the mass murder of innocents. My point is: there is evil—lots of it, and all kinds of it. If you believe in a god who knows, cares, and can fix it; you should radio Houston Control with your problem.

problem-of-evil3

We mere humans, when not being the perpetrators of some evil, expend energy preparing for and dealing with it in some way. We know it’s coming. So, in that way, it’s logically a problem that is often taken for granted (i.e., shit happens). Even the religious folks mentioned above devote their lives to promoting the goodness of god and fighting evil, albeit usually they focus on moral evil, as defined by them, of course. Other groups do a wonderful job of providing aid to victims, after the fact.

Since there is evil, it must ultimately be permitted by, if not created by, the god one believes exists. Depending on the religion, reconciling this with religious belief takes some doing and may call for a heavy dose of denial. Maybe a little help is in order? Enter the best scape goat ever—Satan. Next best are Adam or Eve. If someone says, “It’s god’s way,” you should be reaching for your bullshit flag because here it comes.i-dont-care4

In some way, religious folks must be working through or around this problem. Last I checked, monotheists aren’t switching to polytheism or finding another way to make it work. Or are they?

Atheists and believers seem to agree; there is evil in abundance. My definition of it is probably broader than many religious folk, but it’s close enough.

Atheists don’t have to determine why evil is permitted. We only need to acknowledge its existence, do what we can to make others aware of it, and prevent it when possible. If not, maybe we can find ways to deal with it when we must, which is more often than I like. I never have to ask why god did, or didn’t, do something. But you have every right to ask me why I don’t do something.problem-of-evil2

There is both good and evil in the world
and too often within us. Look both ways.