Devastated

I've always believed words mean things, and "devastated" has been misused a good bit lately. For example, I know of smart people who said they were  "devastated" by the death of Princess Leia, and "devastated" some more when her mum, Debbie Reynolds, died the next day. Now, those deaths are sad, but, really, how can one be "devastated" by the death of someone who, basically, made movies? The word means, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, "severe and overwhelming (my italics) shock or grief." 

I thought Princess Leia was cool, but she was fictional, created for entertainment purposes. Same for her mother's roles. It was sad that there was a history of mental illness and substance abuse, truly. But for someone who didn't even know these people to be "devastated" when they died? It baffles me. Time to move on, I think.

Recently, my favorite college football team, the Iowa Hawkeyes, were demolished in the Outback Bowl by Florida's Gators. The final score was 30-3. When the game was over and I had clicked off the TV, I just sat there. My long-suffering wife took one look at me and asked, "Are you okay?"

"No," I said. "Devastated."

Photo cred: Chris O'Meara AP Photo

Thomas O'Shea for President

Don't like Donald Trump? Ted Cruz? Hillary? Bernie? Well, I can tell you someone you will like, and his name is Thomas O'Shea, and he's the tough but tender, wise-cracking protagonist in my first two novels in the series, and you WILL like him.  But you can't like him if you don't read about him.  And I have good news.  My publisher, Neverland Publishing, has told me that the third in the series, The Face on the Other Side, will be published in December.  But why wait for #3 if you haven't read the first two?  So, let me encourage you to pick up the first, Signs of Struggle.  I am confident you'll enjoy it and then you will want to read the second, A Far Gone Night.  I believe you'll enjoy it as well and then you'll be ready for #3 when the weather grows colder.

The first two are available on Amazon.  If you live in the beautiful Upstate of South Carolina, you may find autographed copies in My Sister's Store, As the Page Turns, Fiction Addiction, and The Cafe at Williams Hardware.

These novels will make outstanding summer reading choices for you and your friends. A pleasant and entertaining diversion from politics, violence, and heat waves.  Maybe even therapeutic.

Also, I have been informed by my Book Concierge that I haven't been blogging much lately.  True, I've been working on Thomas O'Shea #4 and another novel, completely different.  What I'd like to do, besides send out puns and corny jokes from time to time, is send send out an occasional blog about the joys and frustrations of being a full time writer.  My hope is that those blogs will be interesting, along with other blogs on some unrelated topic.  Maybe snakes.

So, for now, go ahead and order the O'Shea books, stay inside by an A/C vent, put your feet up, and enjoy.

That's it for now, but I promise there'll be more later.

What's in a Name?

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Yesterday, dawn began with Dawn.  Dawn is my hygienist and I had an early appointment with her at my dentist's practice.  She gave me a good report and said she'd see me in September.  This did not surprise me, but still, it was a relief that nothing needed to be scraped, filled, bridged, removed, or reconfigured.  Then I headed to the mall with my computer, which, for some reason, had basically quit on me.  I did not have an appointment at the Apple store, so I was resigned to waiting there all day to be helped.  The Apple store in the Mall (I hate going to the Mall) didn't open until 10, so I waited, dreading spending the rest of the daylight hours waiting for a helper to minister to my techno-frustration.

But a helper-person came out of the Apple store with a little device in her hand and began scheduling appointments for those of us waiting for the store to open.  I couldn't believe it.  She took down my information and said, "We'll send you a text when your appointment is ready."  I said, "I don't text."  She said, "Oh, well, just come on in about fifteen minutes from now."  I did.  Another young woman, named "Sunny," ran a bunch of tests and we figured out the problem was me.  I'm not going into that.  Suffice it to say that my morning appointments' timing corresponded with the names of the people with whom I would be dealing.  I'm just glad I didn't have a lunch reservation somewhere only to find out the waitstaff's name was "Nooner."

The rest of the day was fine and dandy.  I met my long-suffering wife at a local soccer match because some of her 9th graders were playing another group of 9th graders nearby.  After watching a flotilla of teenage boys kicking each other in the shins, wandering around aimlessly, and bonking the ball with their heads, I remain unpersuaded about the efficacy of soccer as a sport.  Waiting for something exciting to happen in a soccer match is like waiting for a politician to tell the truth.  So, after the game, I went from the ridiculous to the sublime; that is, a dinner date with my long-suffering wife.

A fine and glorious day, all in all.  A blessing every which way.

Dream a little dream....

This academic year at my college will be over after Commencement on Saturday, May 3rd. I'll put on my Zorro outfit and the rest of my regalia, line up with my colleagues, and march over to the venue for the ceremony. Once there, and outside, we professors split into two lines and applaud the graduates-to-be as they march into the building. Although some of them should be whipped with birch branches as they pass by, almost all have worked hard to get where they are. I'm not a sentimental person (I'm a guy from Iowa, after all), but it is cool to see some of my students that I enjoyed in several classes over the years stroll by, sheepish grins on their faces, heads held high, enjoying the salutations and applause of the faculty. To me, that is the high point, other than mingling with my graduates and meeting their parents after the ordeal is over.

In between those highlights, I suffer through speeches read by guest speakers and think of Mark Twain's observation about one book as "formaldehyde in print." Then a seemingly-endless line of students march forward to receive their degrees, matched up with verbal outbursts of misplaced pride from their loud, rude, and ignorant guests who act as if they have no sense of decorum. Which they don't.

When it's all over, I saunter back to my office, remove my regalia, lock up, and head home, another year in the books, a summer of writing and a little bit of travel awaiting me.

And you know what? I am honestly looking forward already to next Fall Semester. Call me a dreamer. I don't mind.

Sonrise Service

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I don't usually write about religion and politics. However, I just wanted to share with you, dear readers, my experience on Easter Sunday. My wife, younger daughter, and I attended the 242nd Easter Sunrise Service in Winston-Salem, held where Salem College and the Moravian Church are joined at the hip. People began gathering well before the 6 AM beginning, young and old, male and female, black and white, sweatshirts and suits. All of us standing.
 
When the service began with a traditional liturgy, the crowd stretched from the parking lots and side streets, down the main street of the college and church, to "God's Acre," a Moravian Cemetary where every grave has identical, recumbent headstones with only the deceased's name, birth date, and death date. This represents that in death we are all the same. Humbling. Good for one's perspective.
 
As we moved along the cobblestone street, small brass bands played, urging us forward, and echoing from behind. In the clear, crisp morning air, and as the sun was appearing in the east, we strode slowly to "God's Acre."
 
Once at the cemetary, we stood, heard the word of God, and sang hymns as the sun rose higher in the sky, shedding light on a gathering of congregants with one thing in common, our love for Christ and one another.
 
After the benediction, the crowd broke up and headed out and away down more cobblestone streets, by the oldest women's college in the nation, back to our separate lives and hopes and dreams, united briefly during that Easter morning service, united eternally in our faith.

Clinton High, co 1963

Quite a few years ago my father-in-law remarked, upon attending his high school's 50th reunion, "What were all those old people doing there?" He had a point, of course, and it was an insight into his attitude that his classmates might have been old, or certainly looked old, but that didn't apply to him. I can relate. I attended my high school's 50th Reunion a little over a weekend ago, and it was an unqualified success. Some of those people looked, even acted, old. Most didn't look old, were in good shape, and were fun to be around. Names tags with our high school pictures on them were useful, but in many cases not needed. People looked good.

We all seem to have adjusted, at least the 180 or so who were there. Since we graduated, there have been quite a few changes in our world. Electricity, automobiles, and indoor plumbing were science fiction back then. Paper was a new thing, and quill pens were only for the rich kids. Also, there was no such thing as sex. Then the world changed and we went along with it.

Some of my classmates (Martin Luther, Jane Austen [our Foreign Exchange Student], Carl Sandburg, had gone on to their just reward and were missed.

A reunion after fifty years is significant. It provides one with perspective not otherwise achievable, a perspective that lends depth and understanding to the seasons of life, the joy of old friends, and optimism for the future. One perspective is why those old girlfriends came up to me, slapped my face, and stalked away. I would say, "What is that for?" and they would stop, turn around, declare "You know what you did!" and march away, sometimes to applause from other women. No idea. None.

Other than those embarrassing moments, it was great fun. We're already planning a gathering again come spring. And, Lord willing, I'll be there again. Expecting to be slapped.

Theological Thanksgiving

In Flannery O'Connor's short story, 'Greenleaf,' one of the characters says, 'I thank God for ever'thang!' That's a pretty solid theological approach to Thanksgiving. I have much to be thankful for, and I try not to take anything for granted. I have a wonderful (albeit long-suffering) bride who inspires and loves me, daughters who make me enthusiastically proud, and a dog (Zimbabwean Cattle Retriever - Crested) who adores me. I'm not going to say anything about the cats.

But when we have blessings, we also have those annoying, tenacious responsibilities. I have excellent health as a gift, but I also try to be wise in exercise, nutrition, and rest (especially rest). I have a great job, but I need to keep trying to be a better professor. You get the idea.

But there's another element in life for which I give thanks, a cause for thanksgiving that I can do nothing to improve. And that's God's grace, His unmerited favor.

So while Thanksgiving specifies a national day to pause and count our blessings, and that's fine, shouldn't we be doing that every day? Do we need someone to tell us to be thankful? I hope not.

Mr. Greenleaf's joyful exclamation needs to ring true for all of us. And, like him, I thank God for everything. Happy Thanksgiving!

Mars Mock-Up and a Bloodied Babe

Now that it's been established that the glorious Mars landing by "Curiosity" has been exposed as another NASA hoax (remember the ones about men walking on the moon?) perpetrated by some miniature robots photographed in Death Valley, we can all get back to other things. Like the Olympics, which I no longer watch. Trampoline? Ping-pong? Kickball (soccer)? I'd rather watch reruns of "What Not To Wear."

Back to reality:  I promised a few pages from Chapter One from my novel, Signs of Struggle, and I hereby deliver them. Just enough to get you started. A synopsis and a bit from Chapter Two are available at the Neverland Publishing site. Publication date will be sometime next month. More on that later. For now, here's the start.

                                                                Chapter One                                  “No one ever told me grief felt so much like fear.”                                                                 - C. S. Lewis

     All I want is peace. All I want is to be left alone with the privacy and quiet that goes with it. So I gave myself the gift of a leisurely drive in the countryside. What could be more benign?      I needed time to recover from my Georgia-to-Iowa nonstop road trip and two days of fruitless house hunting in Rockbluff. I needed cheap therapy, and a late springtime wandering in the hill country seemed like a good idea. I thought it just might work better than counseling, pharmaceuticals, or maybe even a cold six-pack.       I had left America’s Best Bulldog, Gotcha, perched on her pillow back in the Rockbluff Motel, our home the last three days, and escaped into my country cruise. That’s all I wanted – a drive in the bucolic backcountry – something I’d often enjoyed before the move to Georgia. Something good, back when I had a family. Before the troubles came. Before a lot of things. So I took off, leaving Gotcha to catch up on her beauty sleep.      The May morning was glorious as I meandered down gravel roads, weaving through dense stands of hardwoods alternating with fields of fertile farmland. Thick pigs wallowed in fresh black mud, and grazing dairy and beef cattle concentrated on generating more butterfat and bigger briskets. Living industry; blood and breath.      I drove randomly for a while, serenity at every turn. But then, on a blind curve, I met a speeding, skidding, silver Corvette that nearly ran me off the road. I couldn’t blame the driver. Hard to improve on springtime and sports cars. I glanced in my rearview mirror and saw the ‘vette disappear into its dust cloud behind me.      I continued, rounding a gentle, deep-shadowed bend, and slowed to a stop to admire a mailbox seated squarely on a brick column. I had time. The surname “SODERSTROM” was calligraphied on the side of the mailbox in the midst of flashy cardinals, burly bluejays, and pink wild roses. Good Iowa name. Not many Soderstroms in south-central Georgia.      Just then, a movement in the shadows caught my eye. I glanced up into a tunnel of shade produced by the oak-lined lane leading away from the mailbox. And there she appeared, tall, blonde, and full-breasted, emerging quickly from the shadows. A sprinting screamer, bloody and berserk.      And her face? Fear and terror, and agony of some kind. Edvard Munch should have painted her instead of the sexless being in “The Scream.” He would’ve sold more t-shirts.      My highly-cultivated selfishness took over and I paused, wondering if I could escape and avoid whatever problem was pushing that woman toward me, closer and closer. It would be so easy. I wanted to leave, free of any duty, responsibility or moral compunction to help someone else in pain. Her problem, not mine.      My decision bounced around in my mind like lottery ping-pong balls waiting to be plucked. I froze. I muttered to myself, pounded my palms on the steering wheel. I knew I was going to do that which I did not want to do.      The woman loomed twenty yards away, fifteen, closing fast. Too late for my escape. Maybe I had let the decision be made for me by deliberate dawdling, linked together with its sluggish brother, procrastination.      I slammed the shift to park; killed the engine, stepped out of my pickup truck onto the gravel, pocketed my keys, my blood pressure in my ears, beating out a regular rhythm of “dumb ass, dumb ass, dumb ass.”  I looked up into the sky and silently asked,  What am I doing here? No answer. Imagine.      I was reminded of the poem by A.R. Ammons, “Coward,” herein completely recalled:  “Courage runs in my family.” I should have split.      The woman, lithe, long-legged, and swift, ran beautifully and with purpose, her footspeed driven by some revulsion back there, at the farm. She drew quickly to me, her bulging breasts fighting for freedom under her pale pink t-shirt. I took two steps toward her and then the woman, shrieking words I could not understand, a kind of gory glossalalia, smacked into me in an awkward embrace. I staggered back, repositioned my glasses, and simply held her, overcoming my urge, even then, to flee.      I wanted peace. Now this woman took it away, falling into my arms and covering me with blood and pulp, screaming words I finally understood: “Where are they!  Where are they!”      I shuddered, even in the growing heat of the day and with the warmth of her panting body pressed against me, almost enough to make me overlook the goop now pasted on my chest and arms.  The tormented expression on her face would have stopped my heart a few months ago. Not now.      I drew my head back and looked at her. The congealing bloodstuff smeared her arms, up to her elbows, and splattered on her tight t-shirt and light blue jeans. I pulled back my head a bit in distaste. I do not have the gift of mercy, unless it is directed toward myself.      She trembled through our grim embrace. I took her shoulders and pushed her to arms’ length and looked into her face to try to stop her panic, to give her a stable point of reference, her stunning green eyes wide and filled with fear, and comprehending more than I could understand. Her outstretched hands and forearms, slick with spilled life, reached out to me as she sobbed convulsively. Then she pulled me tightly to herself again and I said, “It’s okay.”      I am beyond stupid.