Category Archives: Philosophy

Thank God for Bad Samaritans

I own a classic truck.  A good definition of a classic vehicle is that it’s old enough that no one else wants to buy it from you, but not so far gone that it’s ready for the junkyard.   This one’s a 1995 F-150.

Truck

Of course, some dealer would be happy to give me a “good trade” if I bought a new vehicle from them. Some days I’m not sure why I don’t trade it in for something newer.  Typically, these are the days it decides to show its age and act up.

Just the other day, I was driving to an appointment and the truck died in the middle of the road. It was around 8:30 in the morning.  Of course, I was in morning traffic.

It’s a four-lane road, and I’m sitting in the right lane going nowhere with a line of cars piling up behind me and the left lane zooming past.  I can see in my rear-view mirror the cars trying to jockey around me, and I’m avoiding making eye contact with the drivers as they pass (because people are so happy during their morning commute, to begin with).

I try to start the truck a couple of times and let out a few choice curses.   The truck had died on me in a similar fashion about a year ago—the distributor finally kicked the bucket.  My first thoughts were that it died again, and  I should have traded in this piece of crap then.

Luckily I’m near an intersection and there’s a right turn lane.   I decided to push my truck over to let the happy commuters go along their merry way (nobody was honking, but if glares could kill…)

It’s a big truck, and I’m not a big man.  As I’m grunting to get this thing moving (and hoping no one clips my door and kills me),  I’m mentally griping about my fellow drivers:

Where were the good Samaritans?  Surely someone will stop and help me push this beast! 

After significant effort (luckily the road was flat), I get the truck out of traffic and hop back in to collect my thoughts.  I don’t even get a chance to sigh before I look in the rear view mirror and see a car sitting in the turn lane behind me.

Yes, there is a good person out there! 

I wait for the guy to get out of his car.

He looks down at his cell phone and then back up.  He’s just sitting there.

It dawns on me that he’s not stopping to help.  He’s waiting to turn right.

What the hell!

I roll down my window and wave for him to go around.  I guess my truck sitting skewed in the lane, not running, wasn’t a strong enough clue.

Now I’m fuming about the piece of crap truck and my good-for-nothing fellow commuters.  Recriminating thoughts are running through my head:

If I was a young lady, they’d be lining up to help me. 

What about a senior citizen—I’ve got more gray hair than black damn it.

I was full of self-righteous fury. . . until I looked down at the gauge panel and remembered that I needed gas.  I was on my way to the gas station that morning because I didn’t have enough gas in the tank to go into town.  My truck has two tanks, and they were both low.

Surely I didn’t run out of gas.

I flipped the switch to change tanks and turned the key.  The truck fires up.

You know that feeling when you fall on your face, or smack yourself with a rake and look around to see if anyone saw you?  Multiply it by about a thousand, and you’ll know how I felt at that moment.

Sometimes we get caught up in the blame game: Why isn’t someone helping me?  Or we jump to conclusions: It’s the same problem as last time.  We don’t look at the situation clearly and go down the wrong path in our thinking.

All I can say is: Thank God for bad Samaritans!  I would have felt ten times stupider if someone had stopped to help and was standing there when I realized I ran out of gas.

God probably had a good laugh at me that day, and I can laugh about it too—now.  I guess we all need a little reminder that we need to look at ourselves first before pointing fingers.

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Filed under musings, Philosophy, Society

Anniversaries, Writing, and Fat-boy Pants

Yesterday was my 30th wedding anniversary.  As I tell my wife, it’s been thirty looong glorious years.  It was also her birthday (I’m not saying how many, because I want to live to see another day), and my parent’s wedding anniversary.  As if that wasn’t enough, I finished the latest revision of my book (Now called Quarrel) and am preparing to send it to my editor.

We are up in the North Carolina Mountains with some friends, at our favorite getaway spot.

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I love visiting the mountains.  It is so peaceful and rejuvenating, especially after the past week.

What are Fat-boy Pants?

I mentioned about a week ago that I popped the button on my shorts while preparing to attend Supercon in Raleigh.  To add insult to injury, the next day I was trying on my dress pants in preparation for a trip to the corporate office.  A few pair were a bit snug in the waist.

I told my wife that the elves must have snuck in at night and adjusted all my pants.  In my defense, I’ve had some of those pairs of pants as long as I’ve been married (style, what’s that? You mean it actually changes?), but it still stung.  Of course, my wife’s solution was to say, “Just pull out your fat-boy pants.”

I have one pair of pants that is a size bigger than the rest.  We call them my fat-boy pants because I only break them out when the others are feeling a bit snug.  Another reason that I call them my fat-boy pants is that breaking them out gives me the incentive to say no to the sweets.

Unfortunately, I had cleaned out my closest last year and got rid of the fat-boy pants.  I think my words at the time were, “I never wear these things.  I don’t need them anymore.”  Ahhh, somebody’s laughing at me right about now.  Oh yeah, it’s my wife.

Laughter is the key to a long marriage.

When I asked my wife why she’s stayed married to me for so long, she said, “Because you make me laugh.”

I guess popping buttons and giving away my fat-boy pants are just another day filled with laughter for her.  Of course, one of her primary missions in life it to make sure I stay with her to the end, so she only laughed for a moment and then told me that we’re going to start walking farther on our daily walk, and that I needed to get back to the gym.

Right after that, I got on a plane to the corporate office.  And wouldn’t you know it, my first morning there they had the most awesome looking donuts I had ever seen.  Yes, I resisted them, and the cookies for lunch every day, and the Panera Bread chocolate brownie.  Man, getting old sucks.  I used to be able to eat all that stuff and still thumb my nose at those fat-boy pants.

Luckily, all the rules are off when we’re on vacation (Not to mention for our anniversary).  Since we’ve been in the mountains, I’ve had a couple of donuts, ice cream, and some candy.  I know I’ll pay later, but what the heck, you only celebrate your 30th once, right?

And don’t forget the Writing.

I’m also celebrating the last revision on Quarrel.  I finished it up yesterday morning.  I say last revision, but, it’s not over until I get the comments back from the editor.  Still, getting the thing to the editor always seems like the biggest hurdle in the process.  Be looking for Quarrel around Christmas time.

One last thing for yesterday.  My free book giveaway for the Order of the Wolf ended, but you can still get Stenson Blues and The Eastern Factor at a discount until August 9th.

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Filed under Books, Editing, Humor, musings, Philosophy, Writing

Everything has been Done Before

What is so bad about a cliché?

I see the comment sometimes in critiques — “This is a cliché.”  Some people say it so much that pointing out a cliché has become a cliché.  Is that like the pot calling the kettle black?

My first response is usually, “So what?”  I guess I don’t get why people get all in a tizzy about it, especially if it’s in dialogue.  People do still use clichés when they speak, don’t they?  Or is it just us older people who are stuck in our ways.

So what is a cliché?

A phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought, a stereotype or electrotype.

It sounds bad, right?  Or is it?  I think originality can be overemphasized in some literary circles over telling a good story.  The best storytellers know and use every trick in the book.  Old or new expression, does it really matter as long as you tell a good story?  After all, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, right?

Maybe it’s because I live in the south.  We like our clichés down here, and they’re as numerous as fleas on a hound dog.  It’s part of the vernacular.  Telling a southerner to stop using clichés, is like trying to teach an old dog new tricks.   You might as well be talking to a fence post.

So my advice is don’t get your knickers in a twist over clichés.  Just go with the flow and enjoy the story.  The occasional cliché won’t hurt anything (unlike this post).

Oh well, it is what it is.

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Filed under Culture, musings, Philosophy, Writing

Move Over Shakespeare

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Wouldn’t it be nice to have a rich patron to support your artistic endeavors?  No more can’t-afford-to-quit-my-day-job blues.  You could be like Shakespeare and have your writing supported by the Queen of England, or maybe Michaelangelo, who had the financial backing of the pope.  Imagine the heights to which your art will soar.

Or maybe, you’ll just waste even more time on the internet.

Patronage for the arts got its start Renaissance period.  It was a status thing for the artist—the richer the patron, the more esteemed the artist.  The patron also got status points for supporting the artist’s work because it was seen as a civic, or even religious duty.  Of course, it also let everyone else know just how rich and powerful the patron was.

So Shakespeare had Queen Elizabeth (among other patrons), who can a modern writer turn to for patronage?  There are endowments and fellowships out there, but it seems most of them are linked to academics.  I haven’t seen any Hollywood stars, rich athletes, or socialites offering to fund your next novel.  It seems today’s patrons are ordinary people.

Lately, I’ve seen quite of few anthologies and magazines being funded by Kickstarter or something similar.  People pay upfront for a future product.  Then there is Patreon, which seems to be the newest “thing” for writers to raise money.  It is based upon the patron concept, but instead of a single rich sponsor, you have many fans who donate to your work.  In return, you can give them early access to stories or special content.

I have mixed feelings about Patreon.  First, I don’t want to miss out on an opportunity that could help me with my writing, but this seems like just another thing to take time away from actually writing.  Second, and my biggest issue, is that it feels more like begging for money than having a patron.  Don’t get me wrong, I like money, but publishing isn’t that expensive in this Amazon era.  It seems like just another way to get money out of people instead of selling books (Not that I’m selling a lot of books or making any money, but I figure that’s my issue to deal with not anyone else’s).

I guess it’s my old-fashioned desire to not owe people money.  Patreon still feels like taking a loan to me.  As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet:

Neither a borrower nor a lender be; / For loan oft loses both itself and friend.

Of course, whenever I think of this line it comes out in the Skipper’s voice from Gilligan’s Island.

I would like to think that if the next Shakespeare is out there, he would be easy enough to spot and would be successful without the need of a Patreon page.  Or maybe not.

Anyone out there using Patreon?  Please let me know your thoughts.

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Filed under musings, Philosophy, Writing, Writing Process

A Thick Skin Wins the Match

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There was an article in Archeology Magazine a few years ago about the diet of Roman gladiators and how it helped them maintain a fat layer to minimize the damage from being cut.  Basically, they consumed a vegetarian diet high in carbohydrates which supposedly maintained this fat layer.  for superficial cuts, the fat layer would help prevent serious injury.  Who knows if it’s true, but the idea has merit.  Who wouldn’t want extra protection when someone is swinging a sword at you?

This reminds me of a very true expression you hear about writing:  If you want to be a writer, you need to have thick skin.  While writing a book isn’t as treacherous as entering the Roman arena and someone eviscerating your story isn’t the same as someone trying to slice you in two, a metaphorical thick skin comes in handy for a writer (that’s why we like chocolate so much — it’s for our own protection).

I’ve worked with a variety of writing groups over the years, some online and some in person.  There are always writers who politely thank you for your input, no matter how brutal they felt it was, and then there are some who haven’t eaten their porridge.  They haven’t worked on developing their thick skin, and they are not ready to listen and learn.

Bottom line, if someone is volunteering their time to give you feedback, at least listen and consider what they are saying.  Thank them, take what is useful, discard the rest, and move on.  Getting defensive and combative is not a productive use of your time.  Of course, I can say this now, but it is not easy when you first start out and have not developed your protective fat layer. (Thick skin does sound better, doesn’t it?)

It took me awhile to realize that writing is a group activity.  The only way to improve and learn the craft is to work with other writers in one fashion or another.  It’s like sparring with your fellow gladiators in the practice yard.  The purpose is to practice and learn from each other.  It does you no good if they’re hitting you will pillows instead of practice swords (unless you do this), and if you can’t take a smack or two, you’ll never get any better.

So smile and thank the people who are trying to help you.  Eat your porridge (of course I prefer Reese’s Cups) and let those superficial cuts slide off you like so many pinpricks on a gladiator’s fat layer.  You’ll come out stronger for it in the end, and maybe even prevail in the writing arena.

And if you run across one of those bullies who likes to draw blood without trying to help you get better, just walk away.  When you meet them later in the arena, they’ll still be at the same skill level and you’ll have grown into a lean (fat?) writing machine.   And we all know how that fight ends.

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Filed under Critique Groups, Philosophy, Writing

Silence is Golden

This year I’ll have been married for thirty glorious years.  Yes, with the same woman.  We know each other better than peanut butter knows jelly.  Our secret to staying together is that we have a system worked out.  I know she’s going to tell me how to do something (everything), and she knows I’m going to ignore her sometimes (most times).

Unfortunately, our system has been on the fritz for a couple of months.  My wife’s been sick since Thanksgiving with the crud that’s been floating around Charlotte and has lost her voice for much of that time (and much of her energy).

You can imagine my dismay with the situation.  I keep glancing at her out of the corner of my eye (while playing on my PS4), waiting for the inevitable instructions that never come.  It’s unnerving I tell you.  I’m paralyzed with inaction (or maybe I’m lazy, you decide).

Well the other day, she walked up to me with a big smile on her face and said, “I have my voice back.”  Her elation was unmistakable.  I tried to match it with my own.  “Awesome, I’m glad you feel better.”

Seriously, she is my jelly (you didn’t think she was the peanut butter!) and I worried about her, but . . . I guess every marriage has its ups and downs.

Silence is Golden they say, but nothing is more comforting than a familiar voice on a cold night (Even if it’s telling me to turn off the Play Station).

And she said I couldn’t be trained.

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Filed under Humor, musings, Philosophy, Romance

Ah Rats!

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Credit Velizar Simeonovski/The Field Museum

I ran across an article a couple of months ago about a new species of rat discovered in the Solomon Islands.  This rat can weigh more than two pounds and grow up to a foot and a half in length.  Apparently, it lives in trees and eats coconuts.  Not only eats them, but cracks open coconuts with its teeth.

Wow, that’s a lot of rat!  I admit, the thought sent a shiver down my spine.  Not that I’m afraid of rats, but because I just don’t like the little rat bastards.  I have a dislike for all rodents, especially rodents that can hold their own against a dog or cat or gets between me and a girl.  Have you ever seen a possum?  Yeah, it’s a marsupial, but it looks like a nasty giant rat.  People around here eat them, and I say good riddance.

I guess my dislike for rodents comes from growing up in a house where the mouse population outnumbered the human residents.  My family lived in a rural area of eastern North Carolina that bordered the woods.  Every winter, the field mice moved in to stay warm, and it was my job to keep them from overrunning the place.  Even with a half-dozen mousetraps, I couldn’t keep up.

For the record, the best way to keep mice out of the house is to seal any openings where they can get in.  I found that putting steel wool in the holes keeps them out.

Maybe because of my time as the official family mouse catcher, I just can’t understand people that actually invite the little pests into their home.  Okay, gerbils are kinda cute, and guinea pigs seem pretty harmless.  Of course, then you have the sugar gliders and flying squirrels.  Before we’re done, there’ll be a whole rodent circus living in the New York sewers along with the alligators and anacondas.

I can almost understand these other “cute” rodents as pets, but who in their right mind would have a rat for a pet?  Can you imagine these coconut eating vermin being walked around the block on a leash? (Laugh if you want, but it’s coming.)  There’ll be special coconut rat food and everything.  Why not something more practical like a pot belly pig.  At least you can make bacon out of it in a crisis. (Oh, did somebody already think of that.)

I didn’t realize that people kept rats as pets until I was about twenty.  Of course, by that age, I had abandoned mouse catching for bigger game—girls.  Girls are a lot harder to catch (and you’re not allowed to use traps or likely to find them in your attic), but I did catch one around that time.  She was pretty, and funny, and made out with me in the back of my friend’s car.  It was a match made in heaven until she invited me back to her apartment to meet her friends.

Wouldn’t you know it, her best friend in the whole world was a rat.  Yes, an actual rat with beady eyes and a long scaly tail.  I remember sitting beside her on the couch, with that ugly rat sitting on her lap being petted like a prized Chihuahua.  She so much wanted us to be friends, while I had visions of a rat trap running through my head, and the beady-eyed bastard could probably smell the mouse blood on my soul.  Have you ever been cock-blocked by a rat?  It does wonders for the self-esteem.

Humans and rats have been in competition for years.  We can’t seem to wipe them out, and you know how I feel about making them pets.  It’s time to find another option.  I say let’s eat them.  The people in my part of the US will eat possum and squirrel.  People in South America eat guinea pigs too.  It wouldn’t have broken my heart if someone had eaten that damn girl-stealing rat bastard either.  I would have lit the fire and turned the spit.  If you ate one of these new giant tree rats would it taste like coconut?  Coconut-braised rat—Now there’s a rat trend I could get behind.

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Filed under Humor, musings, Nature, Pets, Philosophy