Time--2017 A to Z Theme

My theme for the 2017 Blogging from A to Z April Challenge was "Time". The posts are of a more philosophical, contemplative, and even autobiographical bent. No time management tips in this theme, but stuff intended to make you think.

Always a work in progress--welcome to my blog...

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Memorizing God's Word

97 Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
98 Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,
for they are ever with me.
99 I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
100 I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
101 I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.
102 I have not departed from your laws,
for you yourself have taught me.
Psalm 119:97-102 (NIV)

           In order to become an attorney, a student of law must study the law.  The student must complete many courses dealing with the law; developing critical thinking skills and learning to think like a lawyer. Once that student has passed the bar exam and has earned the right to practice law, as one practicing the law they must continually study the field of law in order to keep their mind sharp in legal processes.  A good lawyer must be instilled with the law in order to act as a good defender of their cases.

          We are defenders of our faith, not only against the detractors whom we may encounter, but also against our internal wanderings and temptations which befall us.  We should not set out to start arguments, but we should be able to effectively argue our side when the occasion does arise.  We should know God's word thoroughly by reading it and by carefully meditating upon it.  We may not literally be able to meet the standards set by the psalmist in this passage, but it is a goal for which to strive. We should set our sights high and believe and obey what we learn.  To best achieve this we must read, study, meditate, and live by God's words.

11 I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
12 Praise be to you, O LORD;
teach me your decrees.
13 With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.
Psalm 119:11-16 (NIV)

      God's word is like a precious treasure to be carefully kept within us.  We should rejoice that we have that treasure as God's words guide us through our lives.  The Word should be a lamp to our feet and a light for our path.  Know God's word competely and be happy.  God's words should be the words that we store up to declare to all the world to show that we are His.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
1 Peter 3:15-16 (NIV)

      Memorizing scripture provides us with the solid defense that we need to confront our detractors.  Those words will speak for themselves to open the eyes of all those who hear them when we present them in a loving and caring manner.  Sometimes people will take the words to use them for their own personal gain, which is wrong.  Instead we should be God's mouthpiece conveying the messages of the Bible as God intends them to be heard, and that is a message of hope that can be found through Jesus Christ.

17 Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise;
  apply your heart to what I teach,
18 for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart
and have all of them ready on your lips.
Proverbs 22:17-18 (NIV)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Suddenly Saturday--Again!

          Can somebody please slow time down!  Is it just me or do the days seem to be going by faster and faster?   There is so much that I try to get done but never seem to find the time to do all of it.  Well, at least I'm staying current with my blog.  In fact I've been deemed a prolific blogger.  But we'll get to that later.  First I'll look where this blog has been over the past week and where it is going in the week to come.

          Last Monday, in my installment of the Persnickety Penman , I talked about accuracy to make sure your writing is dealing with facts and truth.  This coming Monday I'll be talking about being a good liar (is that an oxymoron?).  The two topics are actually very similar I think.  Please check it out and tell me what you think.

        If you missed my Tuesday English Toffee tasting experiment, you might want to go back and take a look if you enjoy things that border on the absurd.  Did I say border?  It was totally absurd, but some readers got a kick out of it even though it did leave me with a tummy ache and sky high blood sugar levels.
This Tuesday I will continue on the topic of food as I present my own chili recipe using a Dolores Chili Brick.  And if you don't know what a chili brick is then you'll just have to stop back by on Tuesday to find out.

        My Father Who Art In Heaven was a post that had great meaning to me and I was pleased that others enjoyed it as well.   I will be reminiscing once again this coming Wednesday. 

           My last Thursday debate discussed the relevance of fiction versus nonfiction.  You are always welcome to go back to any previous debate and express your opinion.  This coming Thursday the debate will concern the jury system:  I'll tell what I think and I hope you'll tell me what you think.  By the way my daughter Emilee was the only one that wondered about the weird pictures on my Thursday post--did any one else wonder why they were there?

         Yesterday I present a poem on the topic of death  and received some nice comments.  Next Friday I'm going to talk about "spelunking" and how it relates to death.  If you don't know what spelunking is.... well stay tuned for next Friday and I hope to see you there.

          And now for the awards!


      I want to thank Carol Kilgore at Under the Tiki Hut for kindly bestowing a Prolific Blogger Award upon ol' me and my blog.  Thanks Carol-- I have been posting everyday (except one) since I started Tossing It Out back in September of 2009.  I have been trying to treat this writing mission like it is my job, which is part of my job plan I think, so to me it has been important to keep posting and make every attempt to put thought and quality into my posts.

       And I'm not the only prolific blogger out there.  Some of these bloggers may not post everyday, but they also have jobs or businesses to which they must give attention and doing the two is a feat which deserves admiration as well.   So in honor of the hard work and dedication they show to the blog world, I pass the award to the following:

Ernest Boston   at   My Worlds My Words My Worries --- I don't know if he'll know that I've passed this to him unless he reads this post because so far as I can tell his comments are turned off.  But this guy posts pretty regularly and he posts some pretty weird stuff that is quirky and thought provoking.  And according to his profile his "Primary Goal in Life: To be the nicest person in the Universe."  That is according to his definition of the word "nice".  

Judy Harper  at  Sixty Is Just the Beginning and A Creative Writer in Progress  -- Judy's actually got 3 blogs going, but I follow these two.  She was participating in the NaBloPoMo one post every day challenge for a while, so if nothing else she should be recognized for that.

Tamika  at The Write Worship   I don't think she ever posts on weekends and she has unplugged for a week at least once, but most of the time she's there almost every weekday.  After all, she does have a strong loyal following that counts on her posts.

B. Miller at B. Miller Fiction  -- Well, maybe potentially prolific.  I started following this writer with interest recently and curious to see where it will all go. Dark fiction?  Hmmm --the blog posts have been kind of thought-provoking so far.

          These are but a few of the really fine prolific blogs out there and many others are well deserving of this award.  Perhaps one of the above recipients will pass to one of you.

             Has time been going too fast for you?   What are you not getting done?   What slows your efforts down while time passes you by?
       

Friday, February 26, 2010

More Death Poetry

          We've been on the subject of graveyards and death over the past couple of Fridays so I thought we'd continue along that thematic line.  After all, death is easily linked to mystery, dream-life, and the unknown.  Fiction and poetry often deal with themes of death.  The thought of death more than likely passes through our thoughts on a daily basis.

           I recall staying at a  motel back in the summer of 1976 in Sturgis, Michigan.  At the time I was on tour with the Ken Griffin Magic Show.  We were one of the myriad magic presentations appearing at the Abbott's Magic Get Together, a giant world reknown four day gathering of magicians sponsored each year in Colon, Michigan by Abbott's Magic Company.  If my memory serves me correctly, next to the motel where we were staying was a large cemetery.  My attention was almost immediately drawn by some very realistic life size concrete trees that apparently served as grave markers.  I had never seen concrete tree grave markers like these before and have not seen any since.  Have any of you readers seen markers like these?

         After thinking about cemeteries last week that tree marker memory come back to me and I was further drawn to a forgotten poem I had composed sometime in 1968.  Curious about my old writings, I had been  going through old boxes of notebooks and papers and began digging out many old songs, poems, short stories, and other writings from high school and college.  I may continue to share some of these findings in the future, but today I present to a poem about death.

                                          UNTITLED (1968)                                         

                                   Look at the leaves
                                    Blowing helplessly in the wind.
                                  Somebody help them;
                                    They cannot help themselves.

                                  Look at me;
                                   I blow helplessly through time.
                                  Give me your hand
                                   For I cannot stand
                                   The elements of life alone.
                                    I need to love
                                      And be loved alike
                                     For man cannot live on life alone.

                                     And when I die
                                     Don't let life stop.
                                    Be like the trees
                                     When in the fall
                                   They lose their leaves,
                                   Only to grow anew.

                                      The dead leaves still blow
                                     Away, away.
                                      Watch them go,
                                       They cannot stay.


      I must have been in an interesting state of mind back then-- kind of somber don't you think?  Are you happier as an adult than you were as a teenager?   As you grow older, do you tend to feel happier, more content, less worried about things?   Do you believe in death as part of a process of renewal?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fact or Fiction

        Now to go from a somewhat charged controversial topic like I presented last Thursday to one that is perhaps even more controversial for many of the members of this particular blog community in which I lurk.  It is based on an opinion that some people hold.  I would not be considered to be one who holds this opinion for if I did then I would be living a contradiction.  My question for this week is:

Is Fiction a frivolous escapist waste of time?

          There have been periods of my life when I have read nothing but nonfiction.  At times I will go on a stretch were I read nothing but biographies, histories, travel books, or anything that is real and gives me this sense that I am learning something.  Perhaps I become fixated on my career or current events and binge on reading only things that pertain to whatever my current interest is.  During these spans I smugly consider that my only quest should be for factual knowledge.

          Then something will trigger my desire to read a fiction.  It might be a review, or something I've heard about a book, or just a desire to escape.  I might see a movie that I've really enjoyed and want to read the source material.  Or I might just want to delve into a classic work that I have never read or even one that I read years ago.  Fiction reading is relaxing and it is an escape in most cases.

         But some would argue that reading fiction is just a time-waster.  Okay, I will concede that there might be some fiction that is a waste of my time, but the way I see it is if I had a good time reading something did I waste my time?  If I go to Disneyland and have a good time is that a waste of time?  If I spend a few hours playing golf is that a waste of time?  If I lie on the beach and do nothing is that a waste of time?  I think you get my point here:  If I'm enjoying myself and recharging my body, mind, and soul, then I don't think I'm wasting my time.

       Learning is certainly commendable.  I like to know a lot of facts in order to have interesting conversations and to be able to understand the world around me better.  Reading nonfiction is important.  The advocates of nonfiction only might argue that in order to be in tune with events and the state of one's own being, reality writing is the only type of literature that can bring about true understanding and change.

       The defender of fiction can cite works that had a profound influence on society and the course of history.  Stowe's UNCLE TOM'S CABIN had a great influence on attitudes toward slavery and has been attributed by some as a one of the factors that led to the Civil War.   Sinclair's THE JUNGLE led to investigation and change within the U.S. meat packing industry.  Other renown novels such as ATLAS SHRUGGED, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, and 1984 have raised ethical, societal, and politcal issues that have been debated and studied by scholars.  Fiction can have great relevance to society and deemed an instrument of change.

         The human mind works on many levels and dealing only with facts and figures might possibly be a hindrance to thinking with imagination.  Fiction sometimes can illlustrate real life situations with greater clarity than journalistic re-enactments of actual events.  We can recall how Jesus used parables in order to convey his teachings.  Poets and playwrights like Dante and Shakespeare took literature as art to levels of immortality to the extent that even today we can derive sublime messages from their works that non-fiction could probably never achieve.

         I enjoy well written nonfiction, though when it is too dry, technical, or pompous the writing can really turn me off.  But when it is written in an entertaining or engaging manner nonfiction certainly captivates as well as fiction.   And as for fiction, there is an important place in many readers lives for escapist literature.  Seeing as how I'm interested in writing fiction,  it is certainly to my benefit to have lots of fiction readers out there.

         I know that a great many of you are totally pro fiction and feel like I feel about it.  Do you ever feel like you're just frivously passing time with fiction writing?  Would you prefer to be writing nonfiction?  And any of you who do fall into the fiction-is-a-waste-of-time camp, please defend your reasoning on that stance.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

My Father Who Art In Heaven

              Bob Jackson  January 14, 1923 --September 9, 1990

         When I was a child, a portrait of my father sat on a table in our living room.  This was one of my favorite pictures in all the world.   In the photograph my father serenely sits with his right hand resting on top of his left as he comtemplates something to his right field of vision.  He is neatly dressed in suit and tie and his hair is immaculately groomed.  The background is dark except for a luminescent corona which backlights his shoulders.

          Sometimes I would gaze thoughtfully at the portrait.  In that strangely multidimensional way that children are able to think,  I would wonder who the man was.  He looked like my father and yet did not seem to be the same person who I would see in the evenings, often loud, sometimes funny, sometimes angry,  and always outgoing to strangers and friends alike.  The man in the picture was quiet and absorbed. What was he looking at?  What was he thinking?  Did he know me?

        Of course, I knew that it was really my father in the picture, but then again I pondered the possibility that it might be  another version of my father who I could only see in the portrait.  Occasionally I would tell my sister that the picture made it look like our father had died and gone to heaven.  With the aura of light behind him he looked like an angel to me.

         When my father was at home I paid no attention to the picture unless he had become angry and yelled at me.  In my fear, through my tears, I might catch the alternate reality daddy in the picture and be reminded that the real daddy would not be angry forever; and that even as I cried his angelic countenance might be watching me from some hidden place.  These thoughts would bring peace to me and make me sorry that I had misbehaved.

            Over the years, after we had moved a few times and I was older, I don't recall seeing this picture around our home anymore.   But the image stayed in my heart and held a sweet place in my memory.  Then a few years after my father died in 1990, my mother sent me a copy of the portrait.  She knew that I had always liked this picture.

             The framed picture now sits in the center of a display of family pictures in the home where my wife and I  live.  In fact, it's right in the hall outside the office where I work.  I often look at it as I frequently pass by it during the day.  Sometimes I pause a moment to reflect upon the peaceful gaze of my father who looks like an angel in heaven.     

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Dangerous English Toffee Test

          Yesterday afternoon I embarked upon a difficult mission as I risked life, limb, stomach, and blood sugar levels to test major brands of English toffee candy to see how they compared.  You may be thinking that I have way too much time on my hands, but I came up with this blog topic a few weeks ago and decided that this really needed to be done.  After all, if I didn't do it who would?

          It all began several weeks back on a shopping excursion to Costco, which I had described in a blog post  in January.  I told you some of the things we bought, but I neglected to mention the industrial size drum of Almond Roca.  After Christmas I started craving Almond Roca and knowing that we were going to be going to Costco soon, I recalled how they had the large canisters of the confection.  I was stoked in preparation for one of my favorite candies.

        We bought the candy can and now I've been eating this stuff for weeks.  Everytime I open the can it seems like there is the same amount as the last time I looked.  I'm beginning to think the candy reproduces inside the can.  It reminds me of a magic trick I've seen where you empty candy out of a can and then do some hocus-pocus and the can is full of candy again.  I am beginning to get sick of Almond Roca.

         So, anyway, I was sitting in front of the computer screen a few weeks back, munching on Almond Roca, and trying to figure out something to write about.   I recalled how when I was a child, every year before Christmas my grandmother would send a package of homemade candies.  Being an avid candy aficianado, I looked forward to these parcels.  My favorite of all of her homemade delights was the chocolate covered English toffee.  The stuff was heavenly, but always in such short supply that it just left me wanting more.

        As my mind ruminated on my grandmother's English toffee and my mouth ruminated on the English toffee-like Almond Roca, my memory began to ruminate upon the Heath Bars that I had discovered in my youth that were very much like the English toffee that grandma used to make.  Then it came to me:  Why not do a taste test to compare Almond Roca, Heath Bars, and the knock-off Skor Bar?   After all, the world needs to know.

        Before beginning my test, I researched the origins of the candies. The Heath Bar was developed;between 1915 and 1928 by the Heath family of Robinson, Illinois and put on the national market in 1932.  In the early days it was marketed as a healthy candy alternative with the slogan "Heath for health". It has remained a popular candy, as well as an additive for ice cream products and various other confections.  The Heshey Candy Company bought out the Heath name in 1996 and now manufactures the candy.

       Skor, which is Swedish for "shoes", was first introduced by Hershey's in 1981 according to most sources, although the Hershey's website says it was introduced in 1983.  The other sources also claim that the Skor bar was introduced in Canada as the Rutnam Bar in 1983.  After my post on accuracy yesterday, I'll offer this information as unverifiable according the research I've done, but it seems like the Hershey's company should know what they did.  In any case, it's pretty obvious that the Skor Bar was Hershey's answer to the popular Heath Bar.  Now Hershey's continues to manufacture and distribute both the Heath and the Skor bars.

         Almond Roca was invented in 1923 by the Brown & Haley Candy Company in Tacoma, Washington. "Roca" is the Spanish word for "rock" and the candy was given this name because they are hard and kind of look like rocks, although some people might think they look like something else.  In 1927, the company began packaging the gold-foil wrapped candies in a sealed can for freshness and they are sold that way to this day.

         Out of the package, the Heath Bar and the Skor Bar look almost identical.  The bars that I compared differed only in the pattern of the chocolate on top, otherwise I could see no discernible differences.  The ingredients listed on the package are very similar.  Each bar is approximately 5" by 1 1/8" and weighs 1.4 ounces.  The Almond Roca are smaller log shaped candies about 2 inches long and about a half inch in diameter probably weighing about a half an ounce each.

        The Almond Roca is a pleasantly mild butter toffee with a less pronounced chocolate flavor and a highly nutty flavor.  The toffee contains almonds and the candy is coated with ground almonds.  The candy has an airier crunch quality which gives it a ligthness as one chews the candy.

        The Heath Bar seems to have the highest degree of milk chocolate flavor with a denser buttery flavored English Toffee.  The Skor Bar seemed to be less chocolaty and more crunchy, but still with the buttery toffee flavor.   

        Of all the candies my preference would lean toward the Heath Bar, although in reality the Skor might be identical.  If one prefers nuttiness then the Almond Roca might be the favorite.  Then there are the many gourmet chocolate covered English toffees available.  See's Candies is one that I can think of that is very fine. However, none of them can match the memories I have of that candy that my grandmother used to send us.

        This test was really not done in the most scientific manner.  It would have been much better to have had a panel tasting and comparing findings.  I still have a lot of Almond Roca left and half each of a Skor Bar and a Heath Bar, and quite frankly I feel sick and don't care if I eat any more of this candy ever.  But that's just how I feel today after the taste test.  Anybody want to come over to help me finish and do your own taste test?

       Which do you like best Almond Roca, Heath, or Skor (or Rutman)?  What is your favorite candy?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Persnickety Penman: Actual Accuracy

            Last Wednesday I wrote about my relationship to Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson and I made a mis-statement which I have gone back and corrected.  Originally I stated that there were no direct decendants of Stonewall Jackson,  This is not true.   I was corrected by my aunt, Nancy Jackson, who is a past president of the Jackson Brigade.

         Actually Stonewall's daughter Julia bore two children before dying at age 26.  These two children had several more children and this line continues to the present time.  When I made my original statement I was relying on faulty memory which I backed up with an incomplete geneological chart which I have in my possession.  The chart does not continue on with Julia's offspring so along with the data from my misinformed memory bank and this chart I came to the conclusion that no descendants continued on Stonewall's line.

         This is only a blog post, but nevertheless I like to know that what I state here is accurate.  I suppose my mistake was a fairly minor offense, however if this had been done in a published article or a book this would have been quite serious.  A historian or an author of a nonfiction work would be subject to derision and loss of credibility to have made such a serious error as this.  Solid research from multiple sources is imperative when citing claims as factual.

         So what about fiction?   If a writer makes major errors in a work, the suspension of disbelief can be severely impaired if the facts aren't straight.  A glaring error might cause a reader to become distracted from the story and shake their head at the author's carelessness.  Especially if you are dealing with real places, people, or events, you should take care to research everything you can about those devices you are using in your work.

           In the novel I am currently working on, A Desert Place, I continually refer to an atlas to make sure my locales, highways, and travel distances are accurate.  I also refer to various online resources to obtain details about cities concerning neighborhoods, demographics, crime statistics, and other detailed facts in order to make sure that the feel  of the settings I use are realistic.  Whenever possible, since my story deals with events of 30 years ago, I have consulted meteorological  information sites to make sure the weather that I describe on specific dates in specific locales is accurate.   I am trying to create a sense that the story I am telling is something that might have really happened.

         When writing fiction, how far do you go to be detailed in accuracy?  Am I being too picky about my details?  What are some of the sources you like to use for obtaining accurate data?  Have you ever made a glaring inaccuracy in your writing that was funny or perhaps caused a problem?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How to Study God's Word


1 My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
2 turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding,
3 and if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
4 and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
6 For the LORD gives wisdom,
and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
Proverbs 2:1-6 (NIV)

         Much attention has been given to becoming a life long learner.  Education is a process that begins when we're born and continues to the day we die.  None of us can ever know everything.  Constant learning helps us to keep up with the latest knowledge and find out about things we didn't previously know.  Like the body needs exercise, the brain needs stimulation to maintain good mental health.

          Studying the Bible should start when we are young and continue throughout our lives.  Each reading of a passage can bring new insights.   We will see things in God's Word from different perspectives at different times of our lives.  The most important things we ever need to know are in the Bible. 

          Be sure to dig deep for the treasure within.  Read the Bible with a prayerful attitude.  Ask God for help when you need clarification.  The Holy Spirit is with you to bring you understanding and assist in applying biblical principles to your daily life--just ask.


All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)

      Why do we need to waste our time reading such an old out-dated book?  There are plenty of good self-help books and books about religion, you may say. 

           The Bible is timeless.  Biblical princples provide everything we need for living a fulfilled life.  What do you think the authors of the newer books used as their sources?  In many cases these books are rooted in the Bible.  If they are not, then they are rooted in the thoughts of men.  The Bible is divinely authored by God and God's ways are higher than the ways of men.  It's okay to read the other books, but study and reread the Bible and become firmly rooted in the Bible so you can make wise judgments about those other books.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV)

           Make Bible reading and study serious work.  Some of us go to college and take the reading we do there very seriously.  We are concerned about the grades we make on our tests and papers. Or we may go to work and intensely learn our jobs and become experts.  We want to excel in the eyes of our peers and our superiors in order to gain esteem and advancement.  Studying God's Word should become our life's work and applying the truths of that Word should be our test in the eyes of those around us.  We should become shining examples of what God expects of us.  We should strive to be pleasing to God.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual[a] act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)

          We are in this world and so long as we are not offensive to God and we are doing his will, we should do what we need to do to get by.  Excellence by the world's standard is okay.  But excellence by God's standards is pleasing to God and is our act of worship.  It may not always be easy.  In fact, it may be downright difficult.  Many have suffered and even died doing God's work.  Allowing your mind to become transformed by God's will and the power of God's Word will help you through life's most difficult trials.  The way to transform your mind to understand what God wants from you is to read His instruction manual--the Holy Bible.

33 Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees;
then I will keep them to the end.
34 Give me understanding, and I will keep your law
and obey it with all my heart.
35 Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.
36 Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not toward selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
preserve my life according to your word.
Psalm 119:33-37 (NIV)

        In school we have textbooks to help us to learn in the different courses we take.  If we buy a new computer, it comes with an instruction manual to help us learn to operate it.  When we need to get a driver's license, the state has a manual that we must study in order to learn about the traffic laws.  There are law books and instruction manuals and books to help us learn about things that we may need to in this world.  The Holy Bible-- the Word of God-- is the most important book we can ever read and study and reread and share with others. This is the book that we should take more seriously than any other book that we ever read.  This is the book that will bring us our greatest rewards and our greatest delight.  The Bible can make your life, shape your life, and ultimately save your life.

5 I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
6 I spread out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
Selah
Psalm 143:5-6 (NIV)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Me, me, me, and you, you, you!




          This week may have seemed a lot about me, me, me, but it really wasn't.  Monday was about self-promotion so really it was about you too.  Maybe Wednesday and Friday was about me, but in all fairness all of our posts contain each of us--right?  We all put ourselves into our writing to some extent, unless we're plaigerizing someone else's work.  Right? 

            And don't forget that on Tuesday I talked about Stephen King, even if it was my opinion of UNDER THE DOME.  Then on Thursday I entered perilous waters with my opinion of the Roman Polanski controversy and actually it was supposed to be a debate so it was about you to.  That one was a sticky subject and you can still weigh in with your opinion if you like.

          But me, me, me?  I'm starting to sound like a self-centered egotist.  Everybody look at me!  Then to beat all I got an award from that lovely spunky redhead L. Diane Wolfe at Spunk on a Stick .   Isn't she the sweetist blogger and if you're not following her blog now then you really should be.  So as I was saying Diane gave an award to ME!

          I received the You Are My Sunshine Award from L. Diane Wolfe at Spunk on a StickThis award goes to bloggers who lovingly follow and comment upon other blogs to give relevant feedback and encouragement.  Most of know the labor of love we invest in our blogs and are thrilled when someone stops in to acknowledge our efforts.  I know I try to give meaningful and encouraging comments to other blogs and I hope you are glad when I do so with yours.  Why, sometimes my comments require as much effort as my posts.

          So now it's time for you, you, you!   I can't pass the award to everyone by name, but be assured that I love you all (well, excepting maybe those anonymous visitors that I've been helping with their college projects or other spammers that I've deleted).  The bloggers who are adding themselves as a followers or dropping by just to let us know there are people out there are special to all of us so please don't any of you stop commenting.

So I pass this You Are My Sunshine award on to the following 5 special commenters:

Yvonne at Welcome to My World Of Poetry  --- I can almost always count on finding a lovely comment from her first thing in the morning when I check my blog.  Of course, being in the UK she sees my daily post before most of those in the U.S. do.  And she composes some pretty nice verse on her site. 

Teresa at Journaling Woman -- She's been a standby for months with consistenly kind comments  I see her comments on a lot of other blogs as well.  Teresa seems like a really fine lady and she's real good about recognizing when someone leaves a comment on her blog as well.

Ron at The Old Geezer ---This guy's living proof that the more you leave comments, the faster you'll grow your following.  If he hasn't left a comment on your site yet, just wait--he will.  And he's left some very nice ones for me.  Folks seem to really enjoy his site as well.

Jemi at Just Jemi -- and it's not because she's way up north in Canada and doesn't have anything else to do--it's because she's just darn nice.  You want proof?  Look at how many comments she gets on her posts.  Why you'd think she was an agent or something!  The difference being that she comments back to almost everyone.  Thanks for all the nice comments you've been leaving on my site, Jemi.  Oh, did you get this award twice?  Well I guess you just comment twice as often.

Sig at Beadedbear's Nonsense and Complete Waste of Time  -- She doesn't comment eveyday, but when she comments you can usually count on a pretty long comment and she'll tell it like she sees it.  If you leave a comment on her site, she almost always responds.

Then I'll add this one more for controversy's sake:

Carrie at Heim Binas Fiction  --Many of you might follow her blog that is mostly about writing  and we can't disagree with much she has to say there.  My biggest gripe is that I wish she'd acknowledge more of the comments she receives.  Now I know that sometimes I get on some pretty wild topics and though Carrie doesn't comment on my blog as often as others, when she does it's often substantial. A lot of times we don't agree--usually on my Debate Day topics--but I sure respect the effort she puts into laying out her arguments and responding to me.  That takes some time, but that''s what my debate topics are really about.  Thanks, Carrie, for helping to make some of those debates really interesting.

          And I could just keep going on with my praises of all of you.  L. Diane Wolfe ("Spunky")--thanks for the award and you certainly deserved getting it because you are a great commenter.

         See all of you in the upcoming week.  I won't tell you what I'll be posting about because it's no longer about me --- it's about YOU!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Some Laughs and Epitaphs

        When I was a child I was apparently shielded from death for the most part.  I don't really remember ever really visiting a cemetery in my younger days other than Boot Hill in Dodge City, Kansas and I'm not sure that was even a real cemetery or just part of the tourist make-believe scene. 

         I can recall adults talking about death in somber quiet tones as I would carefully try to listen and try to understand what they were talking about.  In the 1950's it didn't seem like many people really died and when they died in the movies it was all drama and no blood.  When I was a child death seemed like a story and not something that really happened.

        During my family's drive across country when we moved from Pennsylvania to San Diego I remember visiting historic Front Street in Dodge City.  Part of the attraction was the rustic cememtery called Boot Hill (because they died with their boots on), but it all seemed like comic fun with crude tombstones with funny epitaphs similar to the following which is actually found at Boot Hill in Tombstone, Arizona:

           




             Here lies Lester Moore
                Four slugs
                From a forty-four.
                 No Les
                  No More.









            Epitaphs can be funny, sad, philosophical, politcal, or whatever the deceased or those who want to comment on the deceased want to come up with.  The epitaph is the final statement that defines the deceased for as long as the tombstone exists.  There are tombstones that are inscribed with a signature saying like Mel Blanc's "That's all folks!" or  Jackie Gleason's "And away we go!"  Then there are the more complex epitaphs that go into detail telling about a person, citing something they said or wrote, or quoting a poem.

          In a poetry class that I took when I was attending the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, one of our assignments was to write our own epitaph.  This was probably around 1972, although I actually used a song that I had written in high school in about 1969.  The song was intended to be performed in a style reminiscent of carousel music with something like a grand Wurlitzer organ providing the instrumental backing.  As far as I am concerned songs are poetry, so this one worked for the project of my epitaph:

          Look into the eyes of death,
        Cold and lifeless now they seem,
        But once these eyes had warmth within them,
        And once this man was still living.

        When I lived I ran through fields
         And strolled on paths near mountain streams.
         I knew beauty and I praised it.
         I had wishes; I had dreams.

        But now these eyes no longer live
        And this body is turning to dust.

      The project as it was turned in was typed inside a tombstone shaped outline.  Curiously I put my date of death as 2036.  I hope I live longer than that, but if I were making a prediction at that time that turned out to be correct then I still have several years to go.  So far my prediction has been accurate--- thank goodness.

          Have you written your own epitaph?  What would you want your epitaph to say?  Would you rather change the subject?   Does death creep you out?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lights, Camera, Focus

            This weekend marks the release of The Ghost Writer, the latest film from director Roman Polanski.  Reviews for the film so far have been very positive, but considering Polanski's controversies will the reception by the filmgoers be equally so?

           If you aren't familiar with Roman Polanski and the scandel which has followed him for over thiry years, there is certainly plenty of information to be found on the story. The point is that many find Polanski to be abhorrent.  He has been in the news--again--for the last several months.  Now with his new movie coming out in theaters around the world many cries of condemnation of the man will continue to be shouted along with calls to boycott his film.  This leads me to the question for today:

Considering the charges against Roman Polanski, do you think his new film should be boycotted?

           Roman Polanski is a talented director who has directed some great fillms.  In my own Blogger profile you will find Repulsion in my list of favorite films.  I am also a big fan of other Polanski films like Chinatown, Bitter Moon, The Pianist, and Death and the Maiden.  The Tenant (French: Le Locataire) and Repulsion are two of the greatest psychological horror films ever made in my opinion.  I will not be going to the theater to see his new film, but only because I just don't go to the movies anymore.  I'm sure I will put The Ghost Writer in my Netflix queue when it comes out on DVD.  Roman Polanski stands as one of my favorite film makers

          However, as far as Polanski the person I am in no postion to make a judgement about him.  I know something about the story but I have not followed it intensely, do not dwell upon it, and am not particularly interested in it.  I don't know Roman Polanski and I am not going to judge him solely upon media reports.

         He has an incredible life story that would be scoffed as unrealistic if it were put into a book.  He lost his mother at the Auschwitz concentration camp, lost a wife to the Charles Manson family murderers, and went on to become an award winning movie director including the Oscar for Best Picture for The Pianist.  He is excoriated by many, while championed and defended by much of Hollywood and the arts community throughout the world.  Which leads to another question:

Is too much effort and money being put into extraditing Polanski?

      Society seems to delight in scandal and digging up all of the sordid details of a celebrity's life until that person is ripped from their pedestal and dragged through the mud.  Lately it's been Tiger Woods, once it was Michael Jackson. There have been politicians, actors, and authors who have had lives scrutinized and dissected and even destroyed.  For many it's so great to see the "big" people brought down to size.

         But aren't there more serious issues that we and our legal system should be focusing upon.  Low life criminal scum who contribute nothing positive to society infest our communities as they are released by overcrowded court systems.  Prisons are overcrowded with a criminal class that has adapted to being a criminal class until this prison system overflows its unredeemed population into the streets to prey on more victims. Rehabilitation is an ideal which is often talked about but rarely achieved.

          By no means am I a champion of Roman Polanski the man-- it's just not something that is in the range of my concern.  I just think that we should put his crime in perspective.  For one thing the case was settled in civil courts from what I understand.  I would say that Polanski has learned his lesson.  He is probably not going to stop being an unproductive person and head out into the streets continuing a life of crime. 

           There have been other great creative individuals who have done bad things and were less than good people.  Richard Wagner was rather a scoundrel who was loved by the Nazis, but his art is still highly  regarded.  Can you think of anyone whose work is respected but was really a nasty human and had a bad reputation put aside?   Do you plan to see Polanski's The Ghost Writer?  What do you think should happen to Roman Polanski?
        



           

             

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Some Obscurities, But There Nonetheless

          In my Monday post I had mentioned that a short piece which I had written about myself and my blog appears in the current issue of Jackson Brigade Quarterly (Vol. 18, No.2 issue dated February 2010).  This quarterly magazine is a publication of  Jackson Brigade , which is a genealogical association for descendants of John and Elizabeth JACKSON, who were the great-grandparents of Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson. 

        Stonewall Jackson, along with Robert E. Lee, was one the greatest confederate generals in the American Civil War.  He is considered to be one of the greatest military minds of United States history. Stonewall Jackson is part of my family tree.  I am  not a direct descendent of Stonewall Jackson, but I descend from his family line which is celebrated by the Jackson Brigade organization.

          I am proud to be part of this heritage and this was the primary reason for my article in the Quarterly.  Since membership is spread all across the United States and I am a fairly recent member of the organization, not many members knew of me.  The article gave me a chance to tell a bit about myself and my blog.  I hope to see members of the Jackson Brigade add themselves to my blog followers. And if Stonewall Jackson is a part of your family tree and you haven't joined the Jackson Brigade check out the website and find out how you can join.   In the future I hope to include some more stories about this Jackson family and those related to it.

         Unfortunately, most readers will not have access to the article that I have written for Jackson Brigade Quarterly since distribution is limited to members of the organization and a handful of libraries and historical organizations.  However, on the internet you can read another article that I wrote back in 1990 that is a tribute to my father.

         I was quite surprised many years ago when I ran across this article listed on Google.  The article does not appear under my pseudonym which I use in this blog and on my current written work.  You can read this article which appeared in the magazine Juggler's World , a quarterly publication of The International Jugglers Association.  My father had been among the earliest members of this organization and served as president in 1957.


          Getting published is almost always a thrill for a writer.  After all isn't that why we write?  I hope to have many future posts about articles that I get published.  Do you have any articles appearing in recent or upcoming publications?  What are some of the more obscure publications in which your written work has appeared?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Stephen King's UNDER THE DOME: A Review

         A couple weeks ago I was somewhat laid up with an extreme backache problem and a general sense of not feeling so well--highly unusual for me, but it happened.  I'd gotten of copy of Stephen King's UNDER THE DOME at the end of November but just could not set aside the time for this book then.  I mean, at well over one thousand pages this book is huge!  I'm not saying that lifting it caused my back problem, but it just seemed  to be too big to carry with me on my vacation.  Well, as fate would have it, my unfortuitous health circumstance seemed to provide the best opportunity to read King's latest book.

         Believe it or not, I had never read a Stephen King book until this one, even though I have several of them sitting around the house.  I've seen several movies based on his books and have enjoyed nearly all of them.  I knew from his reputation that he must be a passable writer to have gotten as much attention as he has received over the years.  Now that I have read DOME, I will attest the Stephen is the King--at least of this kind of writing. 

          The premise of the story is that a huge impenetrable transparent dome has settled upon the Maine community of Chester's Mill and surrounding area.  People on the outside of the dome can see in and people inside the dome can see out, but otherwise no one can move between the two realms.  The people of Chester's Mill are trapped and physically cut off from the outside world.  The story takes place over a span of about a week or so as we see how the lives of these trapped citizens are affected.

         The setting is well drawn out right down to a map of the town in the front pages of the book.  The cast of characters is extensive.  The characters are drawn believably, though they are stereotypical and shallow.  In fact they are much like the characters of a movie or a TV mini-series--hmm! Should this surprise anyone?   For the most part the characters were people that I did not particularly like, but I was intrigued about their situation and how they dealt with it.

         The story is well paced and interesting.  The chapters are very short.  The dialogue is natural and flows easily.  I am normally a very slow reader, but I was amazed how the book was not only a fast read for me, but also very easy to follow and retain.  I never had to go back to reread anything because every page flowed smoothly to the next.  Every detail was depicted vividly and the reading experience was highly cinematic for me.  I think this is masterful writing and I can easily understand King's popularity among readers and why so many of his books have been made into films.  King is a master of pop-shock-shclock, taking it into the realm of highly readable literature.

          This does not make DOME great literature.  I liked the book and it will stay with me for a long time, but reading it did not really enlighten me or change me in any way.  It was just grippingly good entertainment.  Much of the book is very topical and makes reference to current events and people.  King was right on top of things when it came to writing a book that will feel really fresh for the next few years.  I don't think it will have staying power in decades to come. 

         I was also disturbed by some of the crassness and profanity.  There is some pretty disgusting stuff said and portrayed in these pages.  In other words, this one is definitely not for kids--adults only!  In all fairness, the story portrays some pretty disgusting people and the language and actions suit these characters.  Also another thing that perturbed me in this book was how the worst villain was labeled as a Christian and some of the worst activity of the town was related to so-called Christians.  I'm not saying that wacko people who relate themselves to Christianity don't exist in the world, I just thought it was played a little heavy-handed in this book, but King did make it work effectively in the context of the story he created.

       If you are very offended by bad language and immoral behavior, I would recommend that you avoid this book.  However, if you can get past that aspect and enjoy good story telling then you might like UNDER THE DOME.  Hard core science fiction buffs might scoff at the resolution of the story, but overall I think King was pretty meticulous in dealing with many of the scientific problems arising from the circumstances of the dome's presence.  Also, other details of the events in the book seemed to be pretty well researched.  All in all, UNDER THE DOME is worth the money and time if you are merely looking for light entertainment that is well written.

        

Monday, February 15, 2010

Persnickety Penman: Promoting Yourself

         I'm very pleased to announce that a very short article that I have written appears in the current edition of Jackson Brigade Quarterly (Vol. 18, No.2 issue dated February 2010).  Actually it is a self-promotional piece about me and my blog.  I plan to discuss this in more depth in my posting for this coming Wednesday, February 17.  But this inspired my post for today:  How are you at promoting yourself?

         Over the course of my various careers, I have had several instances where my writing has appeared in print, primarily in the form of press releases or feature stories that have promoted myself, someone I know (usually a family member), or a business enterprise in which I was involved.  Often this was just a matter doing what I needed to do to promote business and I didn't really think of it as my writing--after all my name didn't appear as an author of the piece and nobody probably even thought about who wrote it.  Some of these articles were clipped and sit in a box or a file somewhere in my house and some I probably never even actually saw. 

         The press release is standard procedure for anyone who is trying to promote themselves or their agenda.  Usually if the release is formatted correctly, sent to the right person, and has some relevant topical interest it will appear in the pages of a newspaper.  But is that all you really want?  Is it adequate enough to just have a little blurb hidden away somewhere in the newsprint pages announcing the publication of your book or a book signing where you will be appearing?  As far as I am concerned that is better than nothing, but why not shoot for more?

       In my many years in show business I found that a newspaper would like to see a show buy some advertising to promote the appearance of that show in their town, but they are also hungry for interesting stories that can appear on their pages.  It was standard procedure for our show's advance team to provide local media with press kits with press releases and photos.  That was often enough to get at least one story in print. However, sometimes when I could see an additional tie-in with our show, I would write up a special story to send to the appropriate editor.  Sometimes they would use that story and more often than not they would send a reporter and photographer to do their own feature story.  If I hadn't taken the effort to promote myself and my agenda nobody else would have.

      For example, if our show was going to play a town where I or one of my cast members had come from or gone to school, I would let the local media know.  This was an item of local interest.  Or, my wife and I were traveling with our children and sometimes there might be a story related to that--human interest.  Occasionally, we would visit a hospital or school and media would show up to capture those special charitible moments which in turn called attention to our show.  Somebody had to make the contacts to make these connections that in turn inspired stories in which people would be interested.

       If you want to become a more widely known writer and you don't have someone doing the work for you, you should definitely consider more self-promotion. Come on--it's not that bad of a thing.  Sometimes we might think we are bragging or being egotistical.  Is there anything wrong with that if it is true?  Get over any embarrassment or fear that you might have about self-promotion.  Distance yourself from the project of promotion if you must; in other words make you, the author, and you, the promotional business person, two seperate things.  However, if you are truly confident in your book, you should be proud to get it out into the hands of the public.  Let's face it, if the public does not know about you and your work, then you are going to have a much more difficult time in getting your product into their hands.

      While you are out there promoting, try to find exceptionally creative ways of getting yourself and your book known.  Make yourself and your book relevant to the reading public.  Part of this is your platform and you should take advantage of that to the greatest extent that you can.  The other part is creatively finding opportunities to which you can connect yourself.  Contact media in locales where you may have connections to do a story about you and your book.   If you have written something historical,  connect your piece with a local celebration of the event or in conjunction with a feature about a historical site or the like.  Call attention to something notable that you have recently done or been involved with and casually mention your book in the process.  Your opportunities are really unlimited.  You just have to find them and exploit them.

        You can spend all the money you can get your hands on to promote the sales of your books and there is no guarantee that you'll make back a penny of it.  You can invest in book fairs and conferences--it can help but it's still self-promotion.  If you don't have a big bankroll to spend on these things, the best thing you can do is start investing your time and creativity into what is essentially free advertising.  After all, the best advertising is the free advertising you get through word of mouth and stories in the press.  More than likely this will all have to start with you.

       Whatever your circumstance may be, you should not be embarrassed to self-promote yourself.  All businesses do it to generate sales.  If you are trying to sell your books, then you are a business.  For most of us our books aren't going to sell on the basis of our names and good looks alone.  That's why we have to get out there and make our names known and convince people that there is something about us and our books that they might--no should!---be interested in.