Effort and Reward

9-13-2022

The mortal asked the gods, “What shall I do?”

They answered–“Strive for what you can.”

“That is not enough.” The man responded.

“Then strive for what you can’t,” Came the reply.

I sat in a meeting with my writing friends, and one of the members began talking about predictions (perhaps they were dreams) for her yet unfinished book. Later, in talking with another writer, I mentioned what she had said and expressed my thoughts that her expectations were lofty and likely to never happen. He listened patiently and told me–“Well, it’s certainly not going to happen if she doesn’t try.” He was right.

Later, I thought about that conversation. I also thought about the plaque that is on the wall where professional tennis players enter Louis Armstrong Stadium to play matches at the U S Open. The plaque says, Pressure is a Privilege” The connection of recent conversations and that plaque started me thinking.

It feels to me that we live in an age of increasing mediocrity. A place where just good enough reigns and getting by is becoming the norm. And I think what life would be without dreams, hopes, and persistence?

Who would be in the NBA if no one dared dreamed of making that happen? Would we have landed on the moon and returned, or found a vaccine for polio if we’d listened to the Nay Sayers proclaiming it can’t be done?

Now, in this stage of life, I spend a lot of time and energy writing, and many of my friends are also writers. We each have different reasons why we put pen to paper. Some are with dreams of the next bestseller, and all that goes with that accomplishment. Others long to write just one magical sentence. No reason is right, and no reason is wrong as long as it is the honest why that we do it.

I can only speak for myself, but I am keenly aware of the difference I feel when I have put my heart and soul into doing something and when I have simply gone through the motions and said, that’s good enough. Life is too short to drink weak coffee, and it’s too short to not give it our best shot.

I’ll repeat the line from the Mary Oliver poem, The Summer Day

                         Tell me, what is it you plan to do

                     with your one wild and precious life?

We may all have regrets at the end of our lives, but I hope that we can all say it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Go well, my friends, and may your books be best sellers, your basketball shot win the NBA finals, and may you embrace pressure as a privilege.

Some last thoughts.

John Steinbeck was told by a professor that he would be an author when “When pigs flew.” And so he had this printed on every book he wrote – ad astra per alas porci. “To the stars on the wings of a pig.”

“My grandmother told me a long time ago, ‘I don’t care if you’re sweeping a porch for a living,’ she said, ‘You need to do your best.’ So I’ve lived by that every single day

                                                                                                    Tori Bowie

“One finds limits by pushing them.”

                                          Herbert Simon

Joy Found In Music

8-24-2022

My first memory of music was when I was eight years old. My dad was stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany, and my uncle was on a smaller army post nearby. We would visit, and my older cousins would play The Coasters, Bill Haley, and Little Richard. Keith and Sharon were Cool, and I wanted to be too. Later, I’d visit another cousin, and we’d listen in the middle of the night to KOMA as The Four Seasons sang Sherry. It hooked me then and still am today.

On a recent morning walk, I considered the impact music has had on my life and all the wonderful performers I’ve seen in concerts or festivals. Each brings back many memories.

The performers and bands I’ve seen and heard, and what is connected to each performance.

The Dick Clark Caravan of StarsDel Shannon, The Zombies, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and The Shirelles. Amarillo, Texas (I was 15 and hitchhiked from Dumas, TX., to see the show.)

The Beach BoysAmarillo Texas (Perfect bubble-gum music to make you feel cool.)

Johnny Burnette Dumas, Texas (You’re Sixteen and it was a year before he drowned.)

The Crickets Borger, Texas (Buddy Holly was already dead)

Jimmy Gilmore & The Fireballs Dumas, Texas (Sugar Shack)

The Astronauts Amarillo, Texas (Baja is still one of the greatest surfing instrumentals ever)

Les Brown and His Band of Renown Camp Eagle, Vietnam (Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah didn’t seem to us grunts the cool new song Brown thought it was.)

John Denver West Texas State University (I know it’s not cool to say, but I did like him.)

Ike and Tina Turner WTSU (Before Ike became a villain.)

Olivia Newton John WTSU (RIP)

Delbert McClinton Soap Creek Saloon, Austin, Texas (Ken and I watched a couple climb in the back of a pickup and get it on.)

Neil Diamond San Antonio, Texas (I know, another I’m not supposed to like)

Moody Blues San Antonio, Texas (brought back a few nights sitting in Happy Valley in Vietnam) (I didn’t inhale)

Stevie Ray Vaughan San Antonio, Texas (My boyhood band mate, Tommy Shannon, made it big playing bass for Stevie Ray.)

Jimmy Buffett San Antonio, Tx.(The audience showered the stage with joints.)

Dire Straits San Antonio, Texas (Mark Knopfler one of the three best rock guitarists, who are the other two?)

Jackson Browne San Antonio, Texas (1st. concert with my youngest son)

Melissa Etheridge Salt Lake City, Utah (Concert with my oldest son, and about 6000 lesbians – they were using both men’s and lady’s restrooms, we politely waited our turn)

Natalie Merchant Boise, Idaho (I had such a crush on her.)

The Eagles Boise, Idaho (The Hell Freezes Over tour. What could be a better name than that?

John Fogerty St. Paul, MN. (He was Creedence Clearwater Revival, the other players were unnecessary.)

Johnny Lang St. Paul (That kid can play a guitar.)

.38 Special St. Paul, MN. (Hold on Loosely – iconic of the country rock sound)

Matchbox Twenty Rochester, MN. (Listen to Rob Thomas sing Fire on the Mountain, a great tune.)

Bare Naked Ladies St. Paul (Maybe the best Canadian band ever)

BoDeans St. Paul (Everyone knew and sang the words to every song.)   

Eric Clapton Minneapolis, MN. (What can be said except the old line about him Clapton is God.)

Robert Cray Minneapolis, MN. (He’s still a Hot Smoking Gun.)

Charlie Musselwhite Minneapolis, MN. (What a blues harp player. Old School)

Walter Trout Minneapolis, MN. (Walter plays blues like there will be no tomorrow.)

Big Brother & the Holding Company Tree Frog Music Festival Faribault, MN. (Janis was long dead by then.)

Hubert Sumlin Minneapolis, MN. (Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar slinger. He was near 80, had lost a lung and played like he was a king.)

Los Lobos Tucson, Az. Tucson Blues Festival (They didn’t play One Time One Night, pissed me off)

K T. Tunstall Hotel Congress, Tucson. (She played with the best female drummer I’ve ever heard, and Suzanne and I were the two oldest people at the show.

A lifetime of music has brought joy to my life and to my soul. I’ve also been lucky in that I’ve played music since I was fifteen. Our first band was named The Avengers. We were later more cool and became EKOS in Dumas, Texas. Later with The Eddie Haskell Band in Twin Falls, ID., then 2nd. Exit in Northfield MN., then Linden Station in St. Paul. I’ve met, played with, and been friends with great music people throughout my life. There are few joys as ubiquitous as music.

Songs are the memories we hum and sing. What songs take you back to a time that was, or never was?

“When I die, they’ll say he couldn’t play shit, but he sure made it sound good.”

                                                                                            Hound Dog Taylor

“Rock n Roll might not solve all your problems, but it does let you dance all over them.”

                                                                                    Pete Townshend

“I been in the blues all my life. I’m still delivering cause I got a long memory.”

                                                                                  Muddy Waters

What is Contentment?

8-10-2022

In a recent discussion with a friend, I was attempting to articulate that I believe what we say brings us contentment, joy, or satisfaction in life, is often not what we spend our energy, time, and money to get. An example–If I say my family and friends are what is most important in my life, and yet I only spend one or two percent of my time engaged with them, then maybe my statement about their importance is not completely accurate. Before anyone gets up in arms and says, “but my life is busy, or I have to make money, work, pay bills, etc., I understand life can be busy, and we all have actual obligations to attend to. I do not disagree that life is hectic at times, but I would also add that there are times that are not hectic, that we have the leisure to decide what we can and what we want to do.

I am not judging or suggesting what anyone should do. My point is that each individual might consider what in life is most important to them, what makes life worthwhile and significant to them, and when they know what that is, then pursue it with passion and determination.

In the wonderful Mary Oliver poem The Summer Day, she ends the poem with these words–Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Stop for a moment and attempt to answer Mary’s question. Do you have an answer? Are you living the life that your answer is? If you don’t know the answer, is that OK with you? If you know the answer, and you’re not heeding it, what do you need to change in your life?

Many of us live lives of if only. If only I had a million dollars, I’d relax and take it easy. If only my husband, or my wife didn’t have so much for me to do, I’d have time to write–play golf–volunteer. If only I had that new Corvette, I’d be happy. If only – if only.

I think Mary Oliver was right. We have only one wild and precious life to live, and what we do with it helps determine our satisfaction and contentment with life. There is nothing wrong with having nice stuff but thinking it will make you content or fulfilled is a losing game. There is always more to buy. The old bumper sticker that said He who dies with the most toys, wins, was satire, not wise council.

I’m reading a good book by Christina Feldman–The Buddhist Path to Simplicity. There is a great buzz about minimalism these days. If we just have less stuff, life will be more simple, and easier. Feldman contends our having fewer possessions can make life less cluttered, but it is not quite that easy to live a more simple life. She writes that maintaining a simple and therefore a more full or fulfilling life is more about what is in our heads and less about what’s in our overstuffed closets. Contentment with enough is far different and much easier to maintain than always seeking more things and worrying about losing what we have. Letting go of attachments is a key idea of Buddhism.

So to my initial point, do you know what brings contentment, meaning, satisfaction, and genuine joy to your life, and how much of your energy, time and money resources are going to that end? What do you need to do in order to make yours A LIFE WELL LIVED?

Two quotes on contentment.

Many people lose the small joys in the hope for the big happiness.”

                                                                               Pearl S. Buck

“I have learned that to be with those I like is enough.”

                                                              Walt Whitman

I was 16 and sitting behind that used Ludwig gold-sparkle drum kit and playing music with my best friends was PURE CONTENTMENT!

comment from yesterday’s post

8-7-22

My friend and fellow writer Rosemary, responded this way to yesterday’s posting. “Perhaps that’s the challenge – to figure out how you want to live and then make the right choices. But suppose you work very hard at it and then discover that you didn’t want to live that life after all. So much wasted time! Try again?”

A thoughtful comment. What do you think?

Lives Well Lived

8-6-2022

I woke up this morning realizing (not for the first time) that I’m not as young as I was forty years ago. I know, pretty astonishing insight on my part. With that new revelation, I decided the focus of this blog is going to change. For those of you who might have read my previous postings, you may be scratching your head and saying you weren’t aware that it ever had a focus. Fair enough, I say. I have now played around with some possible names to better reflect my thoughts. Here are a few of the considerations–A Gathering of GeezersThe Retired Village People (still humming YMCA) –The Old and the BreathlessDepending on DependsThe Bald and the Beautiful. Since I couldn’t decide, I went with something less condescending and more of what I really want to write about–Lives Well Lived.

When I was working at a job, I’d often say I take my work seriously, but not myself. In practice, that was mostly true. Now that my work is deciding what to have for breakfast, being hopeful that I can write a clever story, or going for a desert hike, hoping to see a coyote and not a rattlesnake. The central idea is I have more time now to think, and also more time to choose what I will spend my time doing. I also consider the reality that there is far more life behind me than there is in front of me. That is not a morbid thought, but it is reality. So the central point becomes, what do I do with the rest of my life? What will make it the most pleasant, fulfilling, meaningful, vital, helpful, and peaceful? That last word strikes me as the most important one. For many years, peace is what I have sought.

The Mary Oliver poem When Death Comes ends with, “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

And a poem by Christopher Logue called Come To The Edge

Come to the edge.

We might fall.

Come to the edge.

It’s too high!

COME TO THE EDGE!

And they came,

And he pushed,

And they flew.

So here we are, moving closer to the next adventure. But if you’re like me, you are not quite ready to end this adventure we’re in now. And so this is what I want to explore, what I want to write about. I want to let people think, laugh, consider, and most of all, encourage us to choose to live the life we want right now. When that last day comes, I want to say, and I want you to say, ‘I lived life well.’

For whatever time we have remaining, let’s not just visit this world. Let’s live as we want to live.

Go well, David

Questions and Answers

5-24-2022

“If I haven’t made you smile, or cry, or think, or laugh, then I haven’t done my job as a write.”

This is the note I have pinned to my wall just above my computer where I write. I see it each time I open my laptop and fire it up. I put it there to remind me of what I believe my job as a writer to be. I still believe it’s true, but like holding three nines, in a hand of poker, often a good bet, but sometimes you lose even if you have a decent hand of cards. The point I’m attempting to make is to not only to figure out what I want as a writer but also what I enjoy as a writer. And what am I willing to bet on to achieve my writing goals, and what hand do I throw away and say the odds are too great?

“What is your goal?” is a question I’ve asked many people who are or who want to be a writer. It is also a question I’ve asked myself many times. It’s probably not a fair question to ask of some people. Many folks have not asked it of themselves, and those who have may be too embarrassed to reveal what their secret goal may be. I’ve yet to hear anyone say without jest, I want to write a best seller, make a zillion dollars, be famous and hobnob with Kim Kardashian. And yet, deep inside, every writer has secretly coveted at least part of that dream. I’d take any part of it except maybe the last two words.

I wrote a friend of mine a note asking how she came to develop and understand her personal brand as a writer. I wanted to know because she seems to have found a level of comfort and success in hers. She gave me a well thought out response that was honest and made perfect sense. Secretly, maybe I wanted to be given a sure-fire cookbook recipe that would tell me I need a teaspoon of this, a pinch of that, and add a half cup of something else, and out would come a perfectly baked brand to be savored. What she said and asked was (paraphrased) “What am I passionate about? What has already been successful? Or maybe I could look at something completely new.

This note followed a discussion with another writing friend. A question was asked another way – “Who do you write for?” And also something to the effect of, “What do you take as validation of your efforts, and who gives you that validation?” That’s a tricky one for sure. From one side of our mouth comes, “I want honest feedback, especially if it’s negative. It will make me a better writer” and from the other side, “I judge my work, and that’s what matters most.” BS! We all want the approval of others. We want to be told we are worthy of our efforts. But that comes only after being honest with ourselves. We know when we’ve skated through something, showed up, but not put in the training miles. We also know when we have given our best effort, and as imperfect as it might be, it is still the best we could do. Oddly enough, most of the time, that’s enough. As I once read, and now believe, the goal of writing is not perfection, its progress.

So I circle back to where I started. What do I hope to accomplish as a writer? I want to evoke some honest emotion from a reader. I don’t write mysteries, cozy or not so cozy. I don’t write about studly men with six-pack abs and women with flowing blond hair. I don’t know how to create a space alien that takes over this planet, and my humor is not that of David Sedaris. The closest I’ve come to understanding what I write about is the Human Condition. Obscure as that sounds, to me it means to understand and put onto paper stories that help us share and accept this thing called life. A wise colleague of mine who had been an aeronautical engineer and then earned his Ph D in clinical psychology, once said something like this to me–“Anyone can build an airplane, it’s much harder to understand the human brain.” Although I might not wish to fly on any airplane I designed, I agree that the mind, the heart, the soul of a human is much more fascinating than most of everything else in this life.

So I think I will keep writing about our species, wonderful and flawed as we are. I may not make Oprah’s list, I may never have to worry that my book royalties will put me in a higher tax bracket, or meet Kim Kardashian, but I have wise, kind, and talented writing friends, I have a framed $10.00 royalty check I never cashed for a published short story, and what the hell would Kim and I talk about, anyway?

I’ve added a new sign to my wall. “Read without limits – Write with honesty – Live without regrets.”

I came upon this quote and somehow it seems to fit just as well with writing as it does with music.

“If you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note you play that determines if it’s good or bad.”                                                                                    Miles Davis

Go well. David

A Near Perfect Day

03-14-2022

I’m generally early for events and meetings, and yesterday was no exception. I was scheduled to take part in a book signing and selling event at the Tucson Festival of Books at 12:15. I arrived at 8:30 in the morning. From the beginning, I knew it was going to be a good day. And it was near perfect.

Before 9:30 I’d met Maya and Klepto. Maya, a beautiful Golden Retriever who was soft as a new cashmere sweater and sweeter than cotton candy. Her owner, a young man, was obviously in love with her. Klepto owned an older guy who told me she inherited her name because she had stolen his heart eight years ago and had never given it back. I was wearing this funky and playful shirt I’d bought at Goodwill and had at least five people during the day comment on how much they liked it. You have to know, a man as old as me rarely gets compliments about his clothing.

I spent the next two hours wandering around the festival. It is the 3rd. largest book fair in the USA. It is an amazing sight to see and such fun to just do nothing but a lot of looking and watching. Authors dressed like Wyatt Earp, beautiful college coeds, purple-haired grandmothers, and dogs, dogs, dogs. Oh yeah, lots and lots of books, and good food.

At noon, I set up my spot, filled with anticipation of the hordes of people who would be eager to buy my books. It was a perfect location, in the hot Tucson sun, and next to another writing friend. The hordes of people turned out to be a slow trickle, but what fun they were! Two of my dearest friends showed up. We chatted like magpies and gave each other hugs. OK, so I didn’t give Brad a hug, but we gave each other a good amount of ribbing.

I met some wonderful people. Some browsing, just enjoying the day. Old folks, younger folks and even a few kids. My friend Wes had advised that I “engage” the visitors. And he was right. I need to point out a significant difference between Wes and myself. Think of a Titan intercontinental missile and that’s Wes, whereas I’m more of a bottle rocket. He could talk to a rock and get it to talk back to him. But I engaged as instructed. I spoke with writers my age, readers of all ages, an author with the greatest tattoo I’d seen in a long while, two college students who want to write and both smarter than I’ll ever dream of being, and a fifteen-year-old girl whose mother bought both of my books and seemed a perfect role model for a would-be writer.

The best moment occurred only after I had returned home. It started as I was packing up everything to leave the festival. A man came up to me, looked at my books and said he wanted to buy both. He also handed me a children’s book – Squim and the Magical Sunflower Seed. It looked well made with nice illustrations and had been written by his brother.. I thanked him for it, and asked no questions, thinking I’d give it to my neighbor’s young kids. When I got home, I looked through it and noticed the line from the author Aaron Patrick Archer. This is what he wrote – “The unique life lesson I learned growing my own garden, one that I hope to pass along through the adventure in this book, is YOU GET BACK WHAT YOU PUT IN.” Very nice words, then I looked at the last page and read what his brother had written about his Aaron. He told how his brother “Archie” had planned to scatter sunflower seeds along the median of roads and interstate highways in order to grow sunflowers for people passing by to enjoy. Then he went to visit his mother in Indiana to help her revitalize the old farmhouse where his mother lived. As harvest was approaching, Archie was diagnosed with cancer and died two years later in 2019. He was 44. The book and the meeting with his brother took on a new and beautiful meaning for me.

Later, I sat in my living room, petting my little dog, Denni. The afternoon ended just as it had started, with a sweet dog. It was a great day. I even sold some books. But what really made it great was meeting people, seeing dear friends, talking about books, and writing, and finding out again about the beauty of family and love.

Go well, David

The Desert is Holy

01-13-2022

          Across the street from where I live, lies a tract of desert land. I don’t know the acreage, but it is large enough to walk for forty-five minutes without walking the same ground. Over the years I have watched hawks and Turkey Vultures circle over it. I have heard the songs of the mourning dove, the tic-tic-tic of cactus wrens, and the sharp tweet of the Phainopepla. On rare occasion, I’ve caught a quick glance of a lone coyote making his way through the brush.

          Two weeks ago man moved into that area. They brought with them machinery well suited for destroying the desert. Within a few days, crude roads had been bull-dozed and open bare areas the size of football fields were haphazardly laid out across the area. Seventy-year-old barrel cacti, Palo Verde trees, prickly-pear and cholla cacti were reduced to piles of discarded rubble. The beautiful saguaro cacti were spared, I suspect, only because it is illegal to destroy them and because they have a dollar value to be gained from selling them.

          Soon that section of the Sonoran Desert will become another row of tract houses and a large car wash. One more area of nature, one more home for local flora and fauna is lost for the financial benefit of man.

          This morning I walked past the new construction site and down the road a mile to the Maeveen Behan Desert Sanctuary. Over the past 8 years, I have walked the trails of this preserve over one hundred times. It is a wonderland of Arizona nature. I have seen coyotes, javelina, desert tortoise, jack rabbits, hawks, vultures, road runners, rattlesnakes, and countless lizards on my hikes. Springtime brings the landscape awash in wildflowers.

          This morning had a different feeling about it. There was a coolness in the air, with wispy clouds letting the bright January sun warm the earth, and with only the occasional sounds of the local birds. What I realized was a subtle difference that comes over me when I am in the desert. My heartbeat slows, my mind, which normally chatters like a tree filled with monkeys, begins to empty of its worries and clutter, and begins to fill with calm and joy. At some point on my walk, I knew I am at my best when I am there. Monkey brain chatter becomes thoughtful musings about writing, beauty, and happiness.

          As I walked, I again noticed the golden dry grass (or perhaps it is weeds) eight or nine inches tall, swirling as a carpet. A resting spot for the creatures that live there. The early morning cast shadows across my body, and I looked thirty feet tall. A vulture flew high, using thermals to glide as a graceful dancer above the desert floor. Once again, I felt gratitude for being allowed to share this beautiful spot.

          Recently, another joy came into my life. I started reading The Book of Hope by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams. I came across the book after watching a short documentary about Goodall. The book has proven to be a much-needed bright spot in my life. I confess to often falling victim to the seemingly endless cycle of news about what is wrong with us as a species. It seems we are daily bombarded with reports of what we are doing to destroy each other and the planet on which we live. This book, with a subtitle of A Survival Guide for Trying Times, is just that. Jane Goodall has spent the majority of her 86 years advocating, teaching, and studying nature and our place as a species within that sphere. She is a realist in the truest sense, but she also lives a life of hope and optimism. She believes to this day that mankind can change and that we can save this planet. To be sure, she does not say we will do this, but she says we can do it. This little book is filled with that hope and optimism.

          Goodall talks about the power of nature to maintain. She tells the story of how two five-hundred-year-old camphor trees survived the atomic blast that leveled Nagasaki, Japan. Only the lower half of their trunks remained and most of the branches were torn off. Not a single leaf remained. Now the trunk of one tree, filled with cracks and fissures, thrives, and is considered sacred and a holy monument to peace and survival. Prayers are written in kanji characters on parchment and hung from the branches for those who died.

          I said to Suzanne the other day, if I could meet and talk with any person on this planet, it would be Jane Goodall. She was a beautiful young lady when in her 20s, now at nearly 90, she may be even more lovely. There is an unmistakable wisdom and contentment in her eyes. I freely admit I envy in that serenity.

I remember hearing the following quote while watching the raptors flying at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. The quote is from Baba Dioum a Senegalese forestry engineer.

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”

In my universe, I could hear nothing more accurate. Give yourself a gift, go outside, be quiet and let the beauty draw you in.

Go well, David

Plowed Over
Harvested Saguaros
Jane Goodall’s Book

Finding Joy

12-23-2021

Merriam-Webster defines the word joy as – A feeling of great happiness.

Although that is a nice definition, I also find it lacking. To me, joy transcends happiness, just as it is more than pleasure, fun, enjoyment, delight, and so many other similar words. Joy does not come so easily and so often, and yet, or because of this, it is a singular and wonderful experience. As I write that last word experience, that word too seems inadequate. Joy seems to come from somewhere deeper than a fleeting emotion. It is perhaps a gift that is left to us when we are very lucky, when we are very aware, when we are open to receiving it. Maybe those words are mumbo-jumbo and mean nothing, or maybe they are the essence of what we seek in life. I choose to think they are vital.

In a age when we are bombarded with information, I sometimes feel I am overwhelmed with keeping up with not what brings me joy, but what often brings me confusion, anxiety, weariness, and mental overload. Those feelings lead to frustration, anger, and sleeplessness.

But when I’m able to slow down, to take stock of what I want in my life, I find it is often there for the taking. This past Sunday, three of those times occurred. I believe it was on the TV program Sunday Morning that the first one came. A short, simple story about a program in a Maine prison. It showed the work of inmates who create beautiful art. Men who had committed heinous crimes, and would never see a day of freedom outside of prison walls, were creating beautiful works of art. These same men have worked and graduated from college programs while incarcerated, knowing they will never be free men. The beauty was they were not trying to excuse their crimes; they were trying to keep or regain their dignity. And I believe they were succeeding.

In a previous episode of 60 Minutes, I watched a program about efforts to save and increase the numbers of gorillas in Rwanda. After many years of decline, the numbers have now grown because of a program of gorilla tourism and using the money to benefit the nearby villages and to protect those beautiful giant animals.

We also watched the CNN Heroes program. Stories of everyday people making extraordinary differences in the lives of fellow humans across this planet.

Here is the commonality. In each of the programs, there was great joy in those being presented. Inmates doing life terms, game wardens (some who were previously gorilla poachers) and people doing wonderful things for others were in every sense of the word – JOYFUL. And as an observer of that, I too felt joy. It wasn’t news of division, great wealth by a few, the newest Porsche, or some magnificent chateau in France. It was the joy of beauty and goodness. In each of those moments, I found tears coming to my eyes. Feelings I want to maintain in my life.

I also follow Facebook and see an endless stream of everything. Some beautiful, some mundane, and some hateful. Political ranting, yummy bowls of someone’s breakfast oatmeal, and ads for a beauty cream that will make my 73 year old face look like Brad Pitt. But when I’m lucky, there is something else. A photo of a painted bunting that is more beautiful than any bird could be. A short video of the unbridled happiness of dogs when their owners walk through the front joy. This morning I saw a photograph of a mother orangutan holding her baby. The look on the tiny animal was pure adoration. A look no different from that of a proud human mother seeing her child for the first time.

And I am near tears of JOY when I see that.

The question then becomes, what do I, what do others do if the quest is joy. I can only speak for myself. I’m retired and have enough (more than enough) of what I need. I no longer have to go to work each day. I have few time demands. I can choose how I spend much of my time. But having those gifts does not guarantee that I will somehow magically find joy.

When I was in my career and counseled others, I often attempted to explain that one view of getting “better” was to look at ways to find more balance in their lives. One way of looking at this was to take steps in getting more of what they wanted and, looking at ways to having less of what they did not want in their lives. As an example, one might work to reduce stress (an unwanted issue) by taking walks, eating a meal more slowly at the diner table rather than in front of the TV, reducing the number of commitments that were not mandatory, or a plan to lower debt. On the other side of the coin might be wanting more family time, being active with a hobby, or listening to music. I’d suggested thinking about turning off the TV for thirty minutes nightly and discussing the day with family members. Telling the wife you wanted an hour on the weekend to learn to build a birdhouse. Even something as simple as taking five minutes to listen to a favorite jazz tune before going to bed. Nothing magical in those thoughts. The magic (or difficulty) was in getting people to do them, to change their behavior in order to change their lives.

It has taken me some time to know, to really know what brings me joy. Now that I know it, it becomes for me the same issues as those in which I counseled others. Nature brings me great joy. Animals bring me joy. Friends bring me joy. Writing brings me joy. Suzanne brings me great joy.

And.

Hearing news on TV that is little more than hate-filled tribal politics brings me great sadness. Fixating on man’s inhumanity to man brings sadness. Feeling I can do nothing about the wanton destruction of our planet, hunger, poverty, racism, bigotry, and endless war brings me sadness.

So what can I do? I can be out in nature often and observe, deeply observe, what it is and my place in it. I can turn off the news and stay informed without staying angry. I can write honest words, and I can counter inhumanity by being kind. I can give my small share to this planet, those who are hungry and poor. I can try to always avoid being racist, or a bigot. I can live my life in peace. I can be a loyal friend to humans and to animals. I can tread lightly on this earth. To paraphrase Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I can weave my one stitch in the magnificent tapestry of life. That I can do, and I can know it is enough.

In the most simple terms, I can seek joy. And if that is your desire, so can you.

I wish all a peaceful, safe and happy holiday.

Denni’s Wise Words

Read the poetry of Mary Oliver. She loved nature, she loved life, and she wrote beautifully. Mary Oliver was one of the necessary voices of this world.

From Mary Oliver –

“Let me keep company always with those who say ‘Look!’ and laugh in astonishment and bow their heads.”

Stopping to Learn

12-10-2021

This past week has afforded me two opportunities to learn something new. I wasn’t initially aware that it had occurred, but upon reflection, I was certain it had.

My first experience came about at a book signing event for the Society of Southwestern Authors. Two good friends and I, along with about twenty other authors, took part in this annual event. I shared a table with one of my colleagues and we waited with anticipation for crowds of people to come fawn over our writing efforts. Actually, having done this before, we hoped someone might buy a book.

My partner in crime that day has a gift of the gab, as some might have said long ago. I would have to agree. I have no doubt given the opportunity; he could convince a door to talk back to him. I was daunted in thinking I had to compete with him in vying for the attention of perspective buyers.

To his credit, having published three well-written non-fiction books on three different subjects, he is well positioned to talk about his work. On another occasion when he and I were having coffee, he told me he often asks a person where they were from and odds were he has either been there, or in close proximity. He can usually start talking about a place they have in common. Watching him in action with strangers proves that tactic works for him. At the event last Saturday, it didn’t take long to see him perform. Very quickly, he had folks attracted to what he was saying, like a bear is attracted to honey. Within a brief time, he was selling books while I twiddled my thumbs and talked to other writers about the weather.

By the end of the event, he had sold several books and traded two with two other authors. I had traded two copies of my books to other writers, given away a poetry chapbook I’d created, and nibbled on the chocolate candy kisses sitting on my section of the table.

On Monday following the event, I received an e-mail from Writer’s Digest. Several months ago, I submitted a copy of my book, The Unusual Man in the WD Best Self-Published Book of the Year contest. Unfortunately, the judges did not have the insight and good literary taste to judge me as the winner of the contest. What the e-mail did contain was a very thorough and enlightening critique of my book. Primarily, what it did that all good critiques do is give me specific feedback on what was good in my book and also what improvements were needed. As anyone knows, one has to have thick skin to be told, this was good, and this was ok, but OMG, what were you thinking when you did…. The review which had been carefully written, provided well thought out comments and left me hopeful rather than angry or crying. In short, it said you didn’t win, but you did pretty damn well.

Now to the point of what did I learn from these two events. I’ve often said my best success in selling books was when I could have face-to-face contact with perspective buyers. I still believe as a self-published author, that is true. But! And it is a big but (Please, there was no pun intended) in talking to buyers, in addition to being friendly and interested in them, an author also has to make them interested in his or her books. OK, maybe I am Captain Obvious. The other friend who was also at the event said to me that she didn’t have a clear and concise pitch for her book. I agreed that neither do I. What our more successful friend has is a very convincing and interesting sales pitch for each of his books. He has a story about each book, and he tells it in a way that makes people intrigued by what they hear. As a result, he sells books.

Learning lesson one. Become a better salesperson by having a clear message about what I’m selling and make the sales pitch in a manner that makes people want to buy. Yes, I know, salesmanship 101. What I think many authors secretly think is something like the Field of Dreams Build it and they will come. Translation – I’ve written it, now they will swarm to buy it. The truth is simple, if you want to sell a book you’ve written, you have to learn to be a good salesperson. The bottom line is, if you don’t believe in your work, why would anyone else?

Learning lesson two. Honest reviews and critiques do not sugarcoat with simple, I don’t won’t hurt your feelings comments like, “I like it.” The review I received from WD taught me some critical issues. I will pay more attention to pacing in my stories, to making sure there are no tense issues and sometimes the correct word is hanged and not hung. It also taught me to pay closer attention to the consistency of voice (that was a positive for my book) also to continue to write interesting characters (another positive in the review). The short of it all is, I must pay attention, clean up the simple issues and continue to try to improve, even on the things I already do pretty well.

I am grateful for the lesson my friend taught me and for the honest review I received from Writer’s Digest.

Aside from the lessons I learned at the book signing, another good thing happened. I was invited to participate in the Society of Southwestern Authors 14th. Annual Local Authors Showcase. It is a fancy luncheon where I along with a few other writers, will read a section from one of our books to the assembled audience. For that opportunity, I am grateful and honored. And you can bet I will use that chance to practice what my friend taught me about presenting my book.

I have a note I made that is taped on the wall where I write. It reminds me of a task I have as a writer. It says this If I haven’t made you smile, or cry, or think, or laugh, then I haven’t done my job as a write. I believe this is true.

I wish nothing but the best success to all in their writing, or in all other endeavors.

Go well, David.