Don’t “When-Then” Life

02-25-2021

          Why do you write, and why do I write? These are questions which seem to be asked frequently. I once heard someone answer by saying, “I have to write.” I can’t in any good conscience argue or question that response, yet it does not fit for me. I breathe because I have to. I eat Häggen Dazs butter pecan ice cream because I have to. I write because I like to and because I feel a need to create something tangible. It is not something I must do.

          I was at a party some years back and a person was explaining in great detail how she was in an art museum and had seen a painting that changed her life. I’ve can’t recall having ever had that experience. I’ve seen beautiful women that dazzled me, I’ve seen a $1,900,000 Bugatti Veyron sports car that awed me, and I’ve heard K. D. Lang sing notes that were songbird perfect. But nothing in those realms ever changed my life. I’ve read sentences that made me stop and reread them again. I didn’t reread them because they were difficult to understand, but because they were beautiful written works of art and worthy of my taking a few moments to try and fully appreciate them.

          Perhaps I write because I long to know that I will someday write a sentence that is uniquely beautiful. Maybe I write because I hope to make another person smile, think, or question. Perhaps my vanity is in play and I hope to leave behind some lasting written legacy. There is no question that I write because I love hanging around with my lovely writing friends. I am sure of one thing, those people, Karen, Deb, Devi, Wes, Brad, Mark, Carol, the list goes on and on, are among the best people I know. Writing gives me a legitimate reason to call them and say let’s get some coffee and talk about writing.

          Yesterday on NPR, I heard an interview with the brilliant writer, Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried. He is 74 years old and a Vietnam War veteran. The interviewer noted O’Brien has had several serious bouts with pneumonia and wondered if he continues to smoke cigarettes. There was a pause, and he answered he does. He was asked why, given that he’d made a statement about forfeiting all his books for more years with his children. His response was startling. He said, “Because I’m afraid if I quit, I couldn’t write, and I have to keep writing.” As a non-smoker, I couldn’t understand the apparent direct connection he made between smoking and writing, but he was clear that he feared he could no longer write if he stopped smoking. We can all do our arm-chair analysis of that, yet O’Brien’s drive to continue writing was clear.

          My career as a social worker and therapist was one that showed little tangible result. I didn’t lay bricks so that I could eventually see a completed structure I’d built. I didn’t overhaul car engines and see the auto run smoothly after my work. I talked some, listened a lot and sometimes I heard someone say, thanks, that helped. There were many days when I did not know if I’d accomplished anything. Writing, although not a career, provides something I can hold and say, “I did this, I created this story, or this book.”

          I follow some online social media platforms that discuss and post thoughts about writing and publishing. I read of dreams of New York Times best sellers, I read of the frustrations of months of agent and publisher rejection letters and the exasperation of completing a self-published book and after months of effort, selling only eight copies. The old Field of Dreams comment about “Build it and they will come,” does not prove to always be true.

          So I ask others, why do you write? Most answers sound similar, and I try to accept them for what they are. Everyone has their own motivations and reasons for putting word to paper. I think all answers are legitimate if answered honestly. Mickey Mantle would never have been in the MLB Hall of Fame, had he not tried. We might still believe the moon is made of green cheese had humanity not put forth the effort to travel that distance. Of Human Bondage or War and Peace would not have been read by millions had Somerset Maugham or Leo Tolstoy believed they had nothing to offer and simply waited until the right time.

          So we come full circle. It doesn’t matter why you write, or why I write, except that it matters to us. I have many privileges in life, one of the most freeing being that I’m retired from a day-to-day job. But the therapist side of me says don’t be a “When-Then” person. Don’t say when I get my degree, then I’ll have enjoyable work. Don’t say when I move to Seattle, then I’ll be happy. Don’t put off playing golf, or writing, or building castles in the air until THEN. That day may never come. If you dream of writing and only have ten minutes a day to write, write for ten minutes. If you dream of being the next J. K. Rowling, sit down now and start writing, “There was this unique boy…”

          Find what’s important to you, do it. This is the only life you have. Make the best use of it.

Go well, David.

“Without ambition, one starts nothing. Without work, one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“That’s when I first learned that it wasn’t enough to just do your job, have an interest in it, even a passion for it.” Charles Bukowski.

Haiku 2 U 2

summer sky darkens

a prayer from those who know

monsoon rains bring life

Trust or Overstuffed Ego

2-10-2021

Yesterday at coffee, a friend and I discussed writing. During that conversation, we talked about the worth and/or worthiness of what we have written. Obviously those two terms – worth and worthiness, are objective and subjective. What is a smile worth? What makes a gesture of kindness, worthy? Is a book worthy only if it sells 100,000 copies? Does a poem only have merit if it is recited at a Presidential Inauguration? The answers to those questions must be answered privately and based upon our individual way of measuring worth and worthiness.

To date, I have submitted thirty-nine short stories and poems for publication. Eight are still under consideration by magazines and on-line publications. Two have been accepted. One short story was submitted fifteen times before it was taken. That is a 6.4% acceptance rate. That batting average would not get me into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

This small account of my publication progress is given because I think it touches on the issues of worth and worthiness. Do I think any of my tales are worthy of the Pulitzer Prize? Of course not. Do I think any of the poems or stories should earn a Pushcart Prize nomination? No. Are any of them perfect? No. Are any of my stories, my poems, worthy? Yes, I believe they are. Do they have value? Yes, I believe they do. Is my Ego out of balance for thinking this? I hope not. 

Now I return to the idea that worth and worthiness are individual concepts. The notion of what I or you think is worthy does not eliminate the need for some realistic manner of determining value. A crust of week-old bread has great worth to a starving man, while a 2018 Honda Civic may have little to no value to a billionaire. And then there is the painting completed by an amateur artist that may appear to be the work of a 3rd grader to some, while it is beautiful to the husband of the painter. It has enormous worth to that singular man and therefore is worthy.

Still, I believe there must at some point be an objective assessment of value. I would not attempt to defend one of my doodles as having the same economical value of a Monet painting. I may like my cartoon character, but I’m not so foolish as to put a $1,000,000 price tag on it and hold my breath until the check clears. The same holds true with our writing efforts. Jack Kerouac may have been able to write On the Road with little to no editing, (which I think to be more myth than reality) but I’m not that skilled. I still occasionally write set instead of sat and spell your when it should have been, you’re.

I’m no different from my writing friends, no different from the millions of women and men who have put pen to paper. I suggest we all have occasional doubts about our abilities and labors. We want others to appreciate our efforts. I believe writers want to know the work they’ve completed, the time they’ve devoted to writing, has some worthwhile meaning. We want to matter, and we want what we do to matter.

So where does mattering begin? – It begins with us.

Two weeks ago, a writing friend sent me information about the Writer’s Digest Competitions–Self-Published Book Awards. For the winners, this is a big deal. $8000.00 as a grand prize. A featured article in Writer’s Digest and a paid trip to next year’s Writer’s Digest Annual Conference. Placing first in several categories is also significant. What jump-started my ego boost was my friend’s suggestion that I enter my novel, The Unusual Man in the competition. My first reaction was, yeah right. It costs $99.00 to enter. A price far greater than I’ve ever spent submitting any of my work for publication. Not only is it expensive, it’s also Writer’s Digest we’re talking about. There will probably be hundreds if not thousands of entries. So no thanks.

Flash forward to today. I’m proud of my book. Far more so than my first novel. It’s a good story, and a different tale than mainstream. Like most other serious writers, I poured my heart and soul into it. Would I expect it to win? No. Then why would I on second thought, consider entering the competition? Because sometimes we need to believe in something. Sometimes we need to believe in ourselves and in our efforts. We have to put our faith on the line and set aside all the negative answers we can present. My overstuffed ego? Maybe. But it may also be what is needed to keep trying. Maybe our success or failure to be worthy, to have our work have worthiness, is to simply try. I don’t have a great deal of regard for cliches, but in this case I’m going to use one. “One way of ensuring failure, is not trying.”  

Every day presents each of us with an opportunity to try or not try. To risk or not risk something, and to make an effort or to walk away. I have taken the easy path many times in my life. I can’t remember an example where that has ever made me proud. Sometimes it is the sensible or reasonable thing to do. But it still evokes no pride.

There is a line in the movie Dumb and Dumber where Jim Carey’s character asks the girl he loves if he has a chance with her. She answers, “I’d say the odds are about one in a million.” Jim Carey beams his great toothy smile and responds, “So you’re saying I have a chance.” You gotta love that optimism.

So I’m going to ship off my book to Writer’s digest and pay my entry fee. I’ll wait several months looking for that e-mail notice that says “Thanks for your submission, but…” And then again there is that one in a million chance it may say something else.

Is it my faulty ego working overtime, or is it some blind faith that I should try? I’m not sure. But I am going to try. I have failed when I’ve tried and when I haven’t. I’ve never succeeded when I didn’t try.

When in my 30s, I played many tennis tournaments. I was a solid player, but never a great player. I saw humility as being a positive trait on the tennis court, still I entered tournaments with a desire to win. This is what I said to myself… “I am not predicting that I will win, but I am saying I can win.” I won a few tournaments, and I lost in many. Still, I never had to say to myself, “I wonder if I’d won had I tried.”

I believe that you, whoever you are, also need to find something to trust in yourself. To try. I wish you nothing but the best in your efforts.

P.S.—I’m looking forward to seeing you at the next Writer’s Digest Annual Conference.

Go well, David.

“Maybe the hardest part of life is just having the courage to try.” Rachel Hollis.

“Not only try, but try your best.” Mehmet Murat Ildan.

Denni’s Wise Words

“I always try my best to be a good Princess. Louie, my brother, is a good lizard hunter because he tries his best. That’s just one of the many reasons I love him.”

How to Remain Calm While While Querying

1-27-2021

This is a guest blog post by Darlene P. Campos

She is the author of young adult novels – Behind Mount Rushmore, Heaven Isn’t Me and Summer Camp is Canceled. Check out her website and blogs at http://www.darlenepcampos.com

Querying is a long, strenuous journey along the publishing road. Rejections, full requests that turn into rejections, and reading each agent’s submission guidelines can certainly feel overwhelming. Sometimes, after several rejections, giving up might seem like an option. The good news is there are ways to remain calm while trekking on the querying mountain. Here are a few helpful practices I used that worked for me and can also work for you:

  1. Go for a walk or complete another physical activity

I love to walk. Ever since COVID lockdowns started, my gym closed temporarily and then sadly permanently closed, so every day, except when it rains, I walk 4-5 miles after work to de-stress myself. But when I was querying, I would go to the gym and go for a long swim, take a Zumba class, run on a treadmill, or do some DDP Yoga. When your mind is focused on a physical activity, you can forget about the querying process, even if it’s just for a half an hour.

  • Pursue a favorite hobby

Writing, in my opinion, can be a hobby, but it’s also work, and work can burn anyone out. Drafting, revising, line-editing, and of course, sending out query emails are part of the publishing process, but eventually, you will need a break. Spending your leisure time with a fun hobby also helps to distract your mind. I’ve heard of writers who make quilts when they’re not writing, so if you can make a quilt, why not? Whether it’s quilting, cooking, home renovations, or learning another language, go for it!

  • Read

Reading is part of the writing process as well. When we read books, especially books in the genre or age group we’re writing in, we can get ideas on how to strengthen our own manuscripts. For example, when I was querying, I had an agent tell me that I needed to cut down on some dialogue in the opening pages. I did, and I additionally read the opening pages of several books within my genre. I noticed that dialogue didn’t really show up until page 3 or 4, so it made me rethink my opening pages and in turn, my draft became stronger. Reading is so much fun already and the fact that it can help improve your writing is a big bonus.

  • Talk to people you trust

Life can be stressful indeed and sooner or later, all of us need to vent about what’s going on. Querying definitely adds to the stress. You’re thinking “Wow! A full request? What if the agent doesn’t like the rest of my book?” or “Why am I not getting any full requests?” These internal questions plus the long wait times can become overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to talk to a trusted person about the process. The trusted person can be anyone from a best friend or spouse to a professional counselor. The #WritingCommunity on Twitter is a great place to network with other writers who understand how frustrating querying can be. Remember that accomplishments don’t necessarily need to be done 100% on your own. Having a support system makes a huge difference. If you watch any award show, the winner will make a speech about the people who supported them, such as their spouse, children, parents, etc. Think about your trusted community and talk to them about your querying process — I promise that they’re rooting for you!

  • Find Time to Relax

This one sounds easier said than done. When life is ultra busy, can anyone really find time to relax? Maybe you can’t relax every day, but try to take five minutes about twice a week to sit back in a comfortable chair and just breathe deeply, in and out. There are YouTube videos available called 5 minute meditation or 10 minute meditation if you’ve got a little extra time. Put on some earbuds and listen to one of these videos or listen to a favorite song or two. When you’re relaxed, you can focus on tasks much better than when you’re extra stressed.

These tips worked wonders for me, and I hope they are helpful for you. Feel free to try these out or modify them into something that works for you. Querying is tough, but think about it this way: if getting an agent was truly impossible, there would not be any books, not even one, being published in our current times. Finding an agent for your manuscript is difficult, but it’s not impossible. Keep going!

Great advice Darlene, and thanks for this helpful information. David

Making Small Moments Count

01-20-2021

          I once read research shows six months after an event, large or small, positive, or negative, a person is generally about as happy as they were before the event occurred. That would suggest that six months after winning a million dollars in a lottery or after going through a divorce, my overall happiness would be about the same as it was before either event. Although I’ve never won a million dollars, I did once win five thousand. My level of happiness (define the word happiness as you see fit) was no greater or lesser after a week. I’ve also been divorced, and although it was painful to accept, I admit after six months, I was pretty much back to my old curmudgeonly self.

          My younger son played high school tennis. He was a decent player who made the varsity team three years. I was forever urging him to practice more in order to be a better player. He often said he wanted to be better. One day he announced, “Why should I try if I’m never going to be a professional tennis player?” I was somewhat dumbfounded by his question. I gave some half well thought through answer about tennis being fun, his good friends, that it could be a lifelong sport, and he might feel a genuine sense of accomplishment. To the best of my knowledge, he has never played another match after his high school graduation.

Now that you’ve waded through those first two paragraphs, I’ll get to my point. You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to know life is made up of successes, large and small, and of failures, large and small. I have a writing friend who has queried her writing efforts to agents for years. She acknowledges she has sent out 500–700 query letters to agents. I could never in five lifetimes follow her lead. I’m not that patient, and my ego-strength is not strong enough to accept that much rejection. The kinder word is declined. As in, “Your poem was delightful, but we have declined its publication in next month’s edition. Please know we appreciate your efforts.” I admire my friend’s tenacity, but it’s not for me.

On a far lessor scale, I have submitted 34 short stories and poems for publication in various magazines and books. To date, two have been accepted. Even with my limited math skills, I know that is roughly a 6% acceptance rate. If that was my baseball batting average, I might get a job sweeping up sunflower seed shells in the visitor’s dugout at Yankee Stadium. If your interest runs more towards the academic side, my grade would be somewhere between a F— and a F—-. Yet I have strutted like a peacock (my apology for the lame cliché) over those two accepted submissions. My less than 6% success is plenty to keep me submitting more.

It seems to me that we need to keep our victories and losses in some reasonable perspective. If I were a major league baseball player with a lifetime batting average of .300, I’d be considered a good hitter. With a 30% hitting success rate, I might be nominated for the Hall of Fame. In music, very few people can name any song other than Louie Louie recorded by The Kingsmen. Yet that one hit record has lasted for nearly six decades. Not a bad one-hit wonder.

So I pose the question – Why do we write? Yes, this is about writing. But it is no different from why do we play tennis, record dirty lyrics in a rock-and-roll song or play tiddlywinks? It is a rhetorical question. We all have our own personal reasons why we do many things, and mostly, they are all valid.

Tomorrow, in a writing group, we will discuss publishing something we’ve written. Although it will be something of a how-to session, I think it should also be something of a why-to discussion. I don’t need to hear everyone’s personal reasons, but what I hope is that people consider their “why” as much as their “how.” It requires a lot of energy, expense, time, and frustration to complete the process of publishing (traditional or self-publishing.) Once answered, I wish nothing but the best for my writing friends.

I find joy in the effort, in the writing, in the work to get it ready for publishing and certainly holding the final published story, poem or book in my hands. I also like the money. On the 15th. of this month, I received a royalty payment of $26.31for the previous three months’ sales. A princely sum to not ignore.

So now back to the beginning. My level of happiness is most likely to remain consistent no matter if I write or publish. My son is now well into his adult years and I doubt he spends much time saying, “what if I’d tried harder to be a better tennis player?” It’s just not the way life works. So my self-advice is to keep enjoying the process, accept the successes, large or small, and accept the failures with equanimity. We are not all going to be the next Stephen King, Roger Federer, or Adele. But we can find some happiness in the efforts of writing a short story, hitting a tennis ball against a wall, or trying to see if Louie Louie was really as naughty as we all thought it was.

“We are all failures – at least the best of us are.” J. M. Barrie.

Denni’s Wise Words

“When I can’t jump up on the bed by myself, I call my dad and he lifts me on the escalator. You have to keep trying, or you need to whine.”

When is Good Enough, Good Enough?

01-07-2021

This is my first blog post in 2021. Like everyone I know, I too hope that this year is better than 2020.

This morning I read a tweet posting from an author I don’t know. He was writing about being finished with his book and being aware that it still had some editing errors. I found nothing particularly novel about the fact that he was speaking of some lingering problems. What struck me was this statement, “I suppose I’m a lazy writer, my mind is totally focused on getting my story written and I ignore correct punctuation.” He went on to say, “There seems to be a massive amount of published books available with typos and simple errors of all types throughout the story.” It sounded like a justification for not fixing known problems in his writing.

I keep turning over these words in my mind. I rushed through completing my first novel. I really wanted to see it in print, to hold it and know I’d done it. I wanted to say not only that I’d written a book, but that it was also published. You’d think my vanity would have drained away when I got fatter and my hair got thinner. No such luck. It lingered then, and it lingers now.

I’ve regretted my rush to “get it finished” attitude for nearly three years. I still think it’s a good story, and I’ve received some kind words and reviews for the book. But I was also told once by a person who’d read it, “I almost stopped reading it because all the punctuation errors.” You can believe those words have remained tightly glued to my brain. I also recall reading once in Writer’s Digest, “In writing, perfection is not the goal, it’s progress.” For me, they are also powerful words. I have never been perfect with anything in my life. I have made progress, perfect, no. My second book is also a good story, and it is better written and better edited. Perfect no, good yes. There seems to be a space between it’s good enough and I want progress in making it better.

So what are we to think about an attitude of “It’s good enough,” vs. “I want to make it as good as possible.” Many of us cannot afford or choose not to pay a large amount of money to have our writing professionally edited. John Grisham has sold 300,000,000 books. He and his publisher can pay editors whatever is required to make his books near perfect. I say near because I continue to believe perfect is not possible. Okay, perfect is possible. A red-tailed hawk in flight is perfect. I have elected to try to self-edit and to use my writing friends to assist me.

My writing friends and those others in the writing group in which I belong, talk about several writing issues. “Why do I write?” is among the most common. Often, I hear, “I write because I have to.”  Maybe I’m a bit envious of that answer, but it often sounds like one of the clichés we are supposed to avoid using. My answer is simpler. I write because I enjoy it and because I like how it feels to accomplish something tangible. Being only 299,999,890 books away from sales equal to John Grisham, I have to hold onto some reasonable answer. Yet there is still something missing in my short response.

Today, on our Zoom writing group meeting, we are going to discuss our 2021 writing goals. As most know, goals are supposed to be reachable, somewhat difficult to make them a challenge, and tangible. This year I want to complete a book I started about three years ago. I also want to have enough good stories to consider publishing them in a book. I also want to write  “poemoir.” More about that later.

But (Don’t you love sentences that start with – But) I will set aside one or two of those goals if I can’t make them good. At some point I will need to define for myself what that g word means. I do know I want whatever comes next to be better than what came before. I think if I can figure that out, I can have a more accurate answer to why I write.

A last tag on thought.

I asked a skilled and successful author friend of mine if she had an outline or resource to help me understand how to better self-edit my work. She provided helpful information, but it was not what I really wanted. What I was seeking was a recipe to tell me how to fully bake a book. To tell me to add a teaspoon of this and add a dash of that and out of the oven comes the next Of Mice and Men.

What I wanted was akin to asking Roger Federer to show me how to hit a backhand, and then believing I’d be ready to play at Wimbledon. Or maybe I should ask Eric Clapton to teach me a C chord and I can be the half time act at the next Super Bowl.

The simple answer is – Nope, it doesn’t work that way. Thanks for playing, try again next week.

Note to self.  David, pull up your big boy pants, set your ass down in the chair and do the work you need to do.

“If you’re going to do something, strive to do it better than anyone else. Do it all the way. If you’re going to half-ass it, why bother?”       Ashly Lorenzana

Louie’s Book Bark

Conley Bottom – A Poemoir by Benjamin B White. White is a retired Coast Guard officer, and currently an editor at Running Wild Press. This brief offering is thirty-four poems about White’s childhood and adult years. He calls it a poemoir because it lays out his life in a very revealing and approachable manner through his poetry. This is a joy to read. In addition, do yourself a favor and consider his book The Recon Trilogy + 1. It is epic length poetry about the Vietnam War.

Louie gives it a five-star rating.

Writing Something Important

12/27/20

On Twitter this morning I saw a post that said, “We’re running out of ideas of what to do in lockdown… any ideas?” Being the helpful one, I quickly responded, ‘Learn something new. Find something that fascinates you, study it and then write a story about it.’

Rather good advice if you ask me. It would be even better advice if I followed it myself. There are many things that fascinate me: the Sonoran Desert, jazz, blues music, animals, books, and writing, lots of things. Still, there are many times I sit in front of a blank computer screen or at the coffee shop and ask myself over and over, “what should I write?”

A gifted and successful writing friend of mine once said she wanted to write an important book. A statement I glommed onto like liquid cement. Yeah, me too, I thought. I want to write an important book, maybe something a little less bold, an important story. Some days I’d settle for one good sentence. Although I’m filled with sage guidance for others, I often get stuck when trying to follow my advice.

The question arises, “What is an important book?” Is it a book that sells a million copies? Does an important book bring pleasure and sometimes tears to a reader? If so, is one teary-eyed pleasure filled reader enough to justify the designation of important? Does a five-star review move a book from ho-hum to wow?

Why do I look at Submittable two times a day to see if one of my stories or poems has been accepted for publication? Am I vain, shallow, or insecure because I check my KDP account to see if another book or two has been sold, or if a few more pages of The Unusual Man have been read by an Amazon Unlimited reader? In full disclosure, yes, I am vain, shallow, and insecure.

Still, I believe we all want or perhaps need personal validation. Writing is one way to attempt to achieve this validation.

Ernest Hemingway has been reported to have once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” There are several variants to this quote, but they all say basically the same thing. Yet, who among us wants to bleed? Who among us is willing to bleed? I once unkindly said about a book I’d just read, “I don’t care that it’s not a good book, I mind that the author apparently didn’t care that it wasn’t a good book.” I openly admit that was a very mean thing to say.

If writing a book is an item to be completed and checked off a bucket list, most anything will do. There is nothing wrong with that. If one wants to write “something important,” then it’s a lot of work. It starts with coming to an acceptable answer to what does important mean. Writing well, writing skillfully, is damn hard. It comes from effort, from learning, from failing and from trying again. Maybe Hemingway was correct. Maybe it requires bleeding.

 I ask the question I read earlier this morning, “I’m running out of ideas of what to do during the lockdown, any ideas?” If you do, please pass them on, I’d very much appreciate reading them.

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” Orson Scott.

“Write what should not be forgotten.” Isabel Allende.

Louie’s Book Bark

Desert Wife by Hilda Faunce is an old and beautiful book. Faunce and her husband Ken moved from Oregon to Arizona to operate a trading post for Navajo people. They spent four hard years and, in the writing, Faunce skillfully tells how she came to know, respect and like the people. There is no question life was a day-by-day struggle. The four-year adventure occurred between 1914 and 1918. To get a sense of the time, the location, and the adventure, read this book.

Louie gives it a 4.5-star rating.

Passion and Friends

12-18-2020

I’ve had two passions in my life. The first started when I was fourteen. Music. Music took over my existence for nearly four years. It remains an important part of my life; although I no longer play music, I listen each day. Tommy and I became friends because we were new in town, had few friends, and wanted something to fill the void in our lives. We started a band, The Avengers which later morphed into a last version called EKOS. A Panhandle surfing band eight hundred miles from the nearest beach. Tommy, Tim, Jimmy (Whom we still call Jock), Bill and me. We practiced four or five nights a week, three or four hours each session. We eventually became a good band. Later bands – The Eddie Haskell Band, Second Exit and Layton Park Station. All fun times with talented friends.

Today I take my musical journey on Pandora or YouTube. I can listen for hours as Clapton, Natalie Merchant, John Coltrane, Hound Dog Taylor, Bare Naked Ladies, and Mark Knopfler take me to places I love to go. The beauty of music never fades, Beethoven remains as fresh as Taylor Swift and Buddy Holly still rocks like Larkin Poe.

My second passion came many decades after my music playing days faded. Somewhere along the side of the road, I decided I wanted to become a writer. I was the adult who could never remember reading a single book in high school. I remember reading Hemingway’s short story – Hills Like White Elephants. That was it, period, full stop.

I started putting words on paper, most of which read like a stoned sixth grader trying to impress his English teacher. Some of my first attempts are as embarrassing as admitting I still like John Denver. But I kept at it and gradually advanced to the level of a C+ ninth grader. Typing is easy (I still type using only two fingers) but writing is a skill learned over time. A skill that does not sneak into your brain while you are sleeping. It does not come from saying, “I wish.” Writing well comes from work. Disclaimer: I am not yet a competent writer, I have yet to learn how to move from skill to art. I have yet to write a sentence that blows me away. But I love writing.

What I love as much as writing are my writing friends. One can never have too many friends, and the same applies to writing friends. I define a REAL writing friend in this manner. “A good writing friend tells me what they just read of my efforts sucks. That it reads like an airplane three seconds from crashing. That they’ve read more interesting words on the side of a cereal box. Then, they tell me ‘it wasn’t bad.’ They tell me they see improvement. They give some gentle nudges to get rid of the clichés, the overuse of that, and I need to learn when and how to use semicolons. And the last thing they tell me is , keep at it, you’re doing pretty damn good.”

I have many friends like that. My writing group likes me, and I like them. We are friends in the truest sense of the word. We help each other, we support each other, and we give each other a hard time. I wouldn’t trade them for a million copy best seller. OK, maybe I’d have to think about that. My critique group lifts me up, holds me accountable and makes me think. They improve my writing, and I honestly believe they improve me as a human.

Here is my point. Find some passion for your life. Music, art, writing, sewing, counting backwards from ten million. Find something to get excited about. Something that makes you think, makes you smile, frustrates you, makes you patient and humble. Something that turns on the light when the room is dark.

Thank you to all my old music buddies. Thank you to those wonderful musicians I listen to now. Thank you to the authors of the hundreds of books I’ve read since high school. And mostly thank you to my writing friends. I couldn’t ask for a more gracious group of talented and loyal comrades.

I hope everyone finds their passion in life.

Go well, David.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have

within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the

stars, to change the world.”          Harriet Tubman.

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life

that is less than the one you are capable of living.”  Nelson Mandela.

Dennis’ Wise Words

“If you dream of being a princess, be a princess.”

Life – Up & Down

12-10-2020

          The range of human emotions is wide, and they seem to shift in seconds. Yesterday was a wild ride for me. My son teaches English at a high school in Idaho. My grandson and granddaughter both attend that school. Like all schools, this year has been greatly disrupted by COVID. Half the kids are in school two days a week, the other half two other days, and a fifth day is on-line for all students.

          After waking up to read and hear that there is good and bad news about COVID, I attempted to do some writing. It was sometime after 9:00 a.m. when I got the first text from my son. He was letting me know there had been threats made towards the school. The kid had a gun, and the school was on lockdown. As the morning passed, he sent pics of a SWAT sniper on the roof of the school, and pics of his classroom door barricaded by a desk stacked with books. He sent a pic of the threat note and pics sent by the boy. The boy was holding a Glock pistol with an extended ammunition clip. After almost two hours, it was over. The boy (minus the gun) was found in a classroom three doors away from my son’s classroom.

This is the second threat of violence by a student with a gun in this school in less than two years. It was not LA, Detroit, or Washington DC where this occurred. It was small Twin Falls, Idaho. A town we have always called Twinkie Falls because it was so safe and quiet.

Children should not fear being in school. This is not what teachers should have to focus upon. This is not what parents and grandparents should worry about. And yet, it is now such a common occurrence that it only makes news when several people are wounded or killed.

Later, in the evening, Suzanne and I watched a Lisa Ling documentary. It was the story of boys from a prestigious California prep school who started visiting convicts in a penitentiary. They read and discussed Hamlet, and then they talked about life. The convicts shared their sorrows about what they’d done and the people they’d hurt. The boys shared their dreams and difficulties.

One student had transferred to the prep school from the public school system. His mother had an accident and was blinded in one eye. His father then had heart surgery and couldn’t work. Their son was going to have to leave the prep school, and then something beautiful happened. One prisoner started asking other convicts if they wanted to assist the boy by donating money. These were men who earned in most cases less than a dollar a day. One man donated a month’s wages (in his case, $100.00) to the boy. The men gave nearly $30,000 to the boy over three years. These were men who had been convicted and in some cases sentenced to life, having committed horrible and brutal crimes.

One prisoner highlighted in the film earned a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees while in prison. After serving twenty years, his sentence was commuted because of his exemplary behavior. He is the convict that started the goal of helping the student stay in school.

I freely admit to crying through half of the documentary. After my morning’s fear, I desperately needed to know there is still good in this country and in this world.

Daily I see cartoons, jokes, postings that 2020 has been a year from hell. And without question, it has been. Every person has been affected by the pandemic. My youngest son and ex-wife both tested positive for COVID. Both seem to be doing OK, but it is terrifying and anyone who thinks for more than a minute knows it is real. I trust we as a country and the others in the world will eventually get past this. I hope that we will have learned something about how fragile our lives and the planet are. I hope we have learned something about compassion, unity, and the need to help each other. I hope this country is as good as I have always believed it is.

I wish nothing but the best for all. Go well, David.

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” The Dalai Lama.

Louie’s Book Bark

          If you are a writer or aspire to be a writer, read How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career. By James Scott Bell. This is a concise book that gives very pragmatic information about how to write short stories. It is a quick read from a knowledgeable writer. He provides examples of well-written stories that help to explain and show the differences in ways of storytelling. Louie gives it a 4-star rating.

Amazonia – Where You Matter

11-27-2020

          Writing in second person point of view is seldom attempted and can be confusing. It is often reserved for “How-to” writing, or for recipes. As an example, “For Skunk Stew, you will need one skunk, (freshly dead or frozen) potatoes, carrots and don’t forget your face mask.” You get the idea of 2nd person POV. Below is an attempt to provide a clear, concise, and vastly illuminating illustration of this form of writing.

Amazonia New Employee Orientation—Spring 2026

          Welcome to all you winners. Winners because you have been selected to represent the greatest company in the universe. – Amazonia. You are now a new employee among the elite of the most elite. You work for The Greatest company in the universe.

A summary of Amazonia’s successes during 2025.

          In the past year, Amazonia was able to bankrupt thirty-seven of the countries’ Fortune Five Hundred companies. In our ongoing obsession with growth, Amazonia is proud to humbly say we take full credit for shutting down 156,210 mom and pop businesses in the US of A. Our 2026 goal is to close another 300,000 small community businesses. With your help, we will achieve that lofty goal. Profits soared to a record $327 gazillion dollars. The founder of Amazonia takes pride in knowing his wealth is now 35 times that of the combined wealth of the other 7,800,000,000 people on the planet.

          What about company philanthropy, you ask? During the past year, Amazonia generously donated 00012% of one half day’s profits to the Amazonia Retired Executive Golf Club. Giving back where it’s most needed.

Your benefits as an Amazonian Gold-Star Employee

  1. You can expect to receive a ½% increase in salary after five years of full-time employment, assuming you have no blemishes on your work history. Such infractions include but are not limited to 1. Missed a shift for any reason. 2. Disagreement with a supervisor about anything. 3. Hesitated to come to work during a blizzard, hospitalization, vacation on Unalaska Island or your Mother’s funeral. 4. Failure to salute and praise Amazonia in the presence of any senior staff member. (Please see remaining 219 work infractions in Employees Manual.)
  2. After 10 years of full-time employment, you will be eligible for Amazonia’s Diamond Health Care Policy. Imagine having no worries about hospital costs if your entire immediate and extended family is stricken with malaria, leprosy, or starvation from world famine. Imagine no concerns regarding burial costs if your family is wiped out by a tsunami. (Restrictions apply regarding uncles who have a history of alcohol problems.) What about my income if I suddenly come down with beriberi? No Problem. Amazonia will guarantee 5% of your weekly income for up to two weeks. Amazonia cares about you.

Retirement from Amazonia

          Amazonia has adopted an extremely generous age-old formula for your retirement years. It is called the 155 Golden Years Retirement Program. Here is how it works. After you’ve reached a combined 155 years of age and employment, it immediately begins. You may feel fully confident of a guaranteed monthly income of 6% of your starting salary for the rest of your life. Here is an example. You begin your employment at Amazonia when you are 32 years old. After you reach 93.5 years of age and have completed 61.5 years of Amazonia employment, you’re all set to relax and live out the rest of your life in financial security.

          Now that you’ve been selected by Amazonia, prepare yourself for a bright and fulfilling career.

          We’ve saved our two best benefits for last. Your Amazonia loyalty bonus. Beginning on your 25th. anniversary with Amazonia, the company will add one-half hour to your earned vacation time. This benefit added for each five years in which you have not missed a day of work. Imagine, after only twenty-five years in your wonderful career with Amazonia, you will earn 2.5 hours of additional vacation time. Time you can spend with your middle-aged children, a few more hours of dream vacation time at Motel-6 in Oklahoma City or at The Neptune Society planning for your cremation needs. You will have that extra hour needed to shop at Walmart. Please be advised that shopping at Walmart is a Class-A employment termination offense.

          Your second new bonus opportunity as a new employee is our “Close Down a Family Business” benefit. Upon substantiated proof that you have personally been responsible for the permanent closing or bankruptcy filing for any immediate family member business, you will receive a five dollar Amazonia gift certificate and a framed certificate stating you screwed-over a family member.

Welcome to Amazonia. Remember our motto. “You Matter at Amazonia.” (restrictions apply.)

I hope this piece of literary instruction has been beneficial. Go well. David

“It’s always better to receive than to give. Especially if it’s Christmas, Thanksgiving, or your birthday. Hell, it’s always a good day to receive.” An Anonymous Rich Guy

Denni’s Wise Words

“Always be generous. Especially with your dogs. We make the world a much better place.” Denni

Leaving Something Behind

11/13/2020

          In July 2019 I again read Slaughterhouse Five. It was the 50th. Anniversary edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece. Last night Suzanne and I watched a brief documentary about this author. During the program, a Vonnegut friend recalled one of the last conversations he had with the writer. Vonnegut lamented that no one would remember him after he was dead. The friend disagreed and attempted to assure him that his book would be remembered for many more decades and therefore so would he. For me, I can’t imagine Vonnegut not being remembered. His book was monumental and continues to sell over 100,000 copies per year and is taught in high school and college class rooms. According to his friend, Vonnegut was not convinced.

We in the United States recently lost two giants. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Lewis. Neither in stature were titans, Ginsburg stood 5’1 and Lewis 5’6, and neither were ever inhibited in greatness by their height. The outpouring of respect, gratitude, and love at the time of their deaths has given ample proof of their enduring legacy.

A friend and I recently sat in a coffee shop and spoke long and vociferously about many things we know little about. Both being old, neither of us much care about the reality or sensibility of our meandering minds. We both like to talk. As usual, the topics ranged from writing, politics, (yep still on that one) boredom, sage advice on what the other should do, and friendship. I like CC a great deal, not his real initials, he’d get a bigger head if I named him. His hats are already too small for his over-inflated ego.

Eventually, as it always does, our conversation moved towards more serious issues. Our families, other friends, and the reality that we are old and not going to get any younger. I asked my buddy a question about what he hopes to leave behind when he’s gone. He speaks a lot about worthiness, and I’ve yet to understand what that means to him. Most often it sounds like a need to prove something. To himself, to others, I’m not sure. I would apologize to him should he tell me I have that wrong. We talked about the passing (okay; they didn’t pass; they died) of Lewis and Ginsburg. From what I can tell, they were both satisfied with what they had accomplished and who they were. Simply stated, they were content with their lives.

We discussed the belief that we both write in part in order to leave something tangible after we are gone. A dear friend who died some months back wrote this on the back cover of my book The Unusual Man, “A story can reach across a hundred years and still be as fresh as warm-from-the-oven baked bread.” I would be less than honest if I said I didn’t hope my writing lasts a hundred years. Still, I am accutely aware that I too need to check my ego at the door.

The psychologist Erik Erikson wrote about the 8 stages of life, the last being Ego Integrity vs. Despair. Erickson told us that around the age of 65 until our death, we contemplate our accomplishments and can develop integrity if we see ourselves as having led a successful life. But what is a successful life? Is it Power? Money? Fame? Perhaps it is love, friendship, generosity, kindness, humility, and beauty. We all must come to our own personal answers. One of my college professors, Dr. Tom Cannon, told the class to imagine that we were at a funeral, and that funeral was ours. Four people would speak honestly about us: our spouse (partner), our children, our friend, and our boss. He added, do we know we would like what they said about us if they spoke honestly. Dr. Cannon ended it with this idea: if we wouldn’t want to hear what they said, then we already know what we need to change in our lives.

My maternal grandmother died at 103. I doubt she had $10.00 in the bank when she died. Her house later sold for less than $10,000, (in 1995) and she left behind many children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. What was her legacy? Granny Annie was the kindest, most loving, most generous, and most humble human I’ve ever met. In my heart, she was a saint. Actual sainthood is bestowed on few, yet many of us have known saints.

CC and I will continue to meet, and we will probably discuss and re-discuss the same ideas we’ve talked about many times. No doubt we will continue to talk about what we wish for now and what we hope for after we are gone. I hope Suzanne will say I was a good partner, lover, and companion. That she knew I loved her. I hope my sons say that I tried to guide them, to give a small amount of wisdom, and that they knew I loved them. My bosses will hopefully say I was a trustworthy employee who gave a full measure to his work. A man that took his work seriously, but not so much himself. And for my friends, my wish is that they will say they knew I was there for them when needed and that they could count on my friendship.  

          Some say that a person dies three times. When your body dies, when your soul leaves your body and when the last person forgets you. I hope that each of us leave behind a legacy of joy, love, passion, honesty, compassion, happiness, and fond memories. I hope each are fondly remembered for many generations.

Slaughterhouse Five — “So it Goes.”

“I want to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the best of her ability.”     Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”    John Lewis

Louie’s Book Bark!

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. A collection of linked short stories about a platoon of American soldiers in Vietnam. Given that it was recently Veteran’s Day, this book is a must read about a dark time in our country. Possibly the best book ever written about the VietnamWar. Not setimental or complaining, just an honest account of war. Louie gives it a five bark rating.