Monday, May 22, 2017

Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, You Should Too


I have heard that more antidepressants are being prescribed every day, than the day before. It isn't the people are any more depressed, although I think some of the increase may be improved diagnosis methods for depression, I think it is that people expect to be happy all the time and by happy I don't mean just not sad but actually feeling jubilant.  I am not in any way making light of serious depression or the people that have it -- I am talking about that occasional feeling of blues or ennui we all get.  I don't believe it is in human nature to feel happy 100% of the time; in fact, I believe it is harmful to not feel anything except happiness.

Setting aside the wonderful music that people feeling less than happy has given us, like the blues or melancholy classics, would there have been any creation of the wonderful tales and poems of Edgar Allen Poe if he had not felt anything except happiness? The Taj Mahal was built as a memorial the sadness one man felt at the death of his wife – – suppose he had never mourned, would it have ever been built?  Inventors and engineers creating things to prevent accidents and failures usually has a basis for inspiration in something tragic that is happened. It is how they work through their sadness and back into joy. Would we have seen such marvels if everyone just took a pill when they felt down?
I don't consider myself someone whose writing is considered earth shattering, but recently I was looking back through several entries in this blog and I came across a few that were actually based in sad memories and feelings I was having and wrote about. It served two purposes, it let me share those feelings publicly with people who may be had not found their own voice for their melancholy thereby finding some relief; but also in the end I found I had written my sadness out rather than allowing it to stay inward.

One of my favorite movies is Elizabethtown -- if you haven’t seen it, great chance romance story, I recommend it.  In the movie, Drew has just had a failure of epic proportions at the same time his father dies, then he meets Claire, who is more force of nature than flight attendant and at a pivotal point in Drew's blues -- she sends  him on a guided  journey (with soundtrack) across country so that he can learn to feel and see sights based on things she feels strongly about.  The trip is actually self-indulgent in that it allows him complete immersion in feeling sorry for himself but at the same time shows him new and beautiful things that are meant to allow him to heal. Claire also says what I consider to be one of the most memorable lines from the film that also can serve you well in real life:

I want you to get into the deep beautiful melancholy of everything that's happened.

She wants him to indulge in the sad feelings that he is having rather than trying to immediately drop and get over them – – she knows that somewhere in that deep beautiful melancholy is redemption. 

By the end of the journey, when she guides him to a place where she is waiting – – he is ready to proceed and embrace true joy. From time to time, I am on the highway passing by Elizabethtown, and I am always tempted to take the exit and allow myself to take Highway 60B. 

Life is meant to be a journey of ups and downs, not a mediocre level or only joy existence. It is the downs that make you appreciate and enjoy the ups.

After all, what good would a wonderful Taco Tuesday be without a blue Monday, Monday?



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Monday, May 15, 2017

My Summer of Live Rock & Roll, 2017 Edition - The Mersey Beatles



I am not sure when I first heard a Beatles' song or which one it was, but I do know I bought my first Beatles’ album during the summer of 1974 and it was The Beatles Yesterday and Today -- I still have that well-worn piece of vinyl.  That album was first published 11 years before I bought it and the Beatles  broke up 4 years before I became a fan.  

Over the course of my life I have owned nearly all of their albums, I never saw a need for 6 different studio cuts of a song that were deemed not be good enough to keep when first produced, but now are considered the Holy Grail.  One of my favorite albums by the Beatles was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; which I no longer have.  I took the album to a barber shop trying to explain that I wanted a haircut like John’s from the gatefold photo – I have always been very specific about how I like my hair --- the barber screwed up and I was so upset when I left that I walked out leaving my album there.

Even though I was in Hamburg in 1960 when the group made their appearances at the Indra Club in Hamburg, I don’t recall getting in to see the band -- after all I was only one.  So, the chance to see the Beatles live never existed except through Cover or Tribute bands.  Those terms are NOT interchangeable, a Cover band just plays another band’s songs, whereas a Tribute band tries to recapture the actual look and feel of the original.  So far, I have seen five different Beatles Tribute bands: two mediocre bands whose names I cannot recall performing at various large open venues (Air show & Country Fair), the worst was Beatlemania (performing at the worst venue in Michigan) and the best was Rain – until now.  Now, I have to give the title of best Tribute band to The Mersey Beatles.  

I have developed a mental checklist for Tribute bands and I weigh each band I see against the list as a way to compare and judge.  Physical appearance really doesn’t come in to play – getting the hair and clothes right matter more than whether or not the musician looks like Paul or Ringo.  What matters most is musical quality and the ability for me to close my eyes and be mentally taken to the original.   There are nuances that really display the extent to which the band has gone to make the performance an experience – is John’s stance right while playing (cool and in control), Ringo’s facial expressions and smile as he plays while rocking back and forth, does Paul shake his head while singing the Oooo's in She Loves You, and does George come to the front when playing and then step back when playing rhythm.  Things like the correct instruments (Gretsch & Rickenbacher guitars, Hofner Classic Bass, Ludwig drum kit etc) and stage presence are crucial.  I have gotten over the need for Paul to play left handed – I would rather hear the music played well than forcing a musician to relearn how to play with the opposite hand.  Here is how the The Mersey Beatles did and why I now consider them my best seen to date.

A Few Notes on Sgt. Pepper’s


Released in 1967, it was the first studio album that the Beatles released that was NEVER intended to be performed live.  The band had just reunited in the studio after a short break following a grueling tour and they made the unanimous decision not to tour again -- feeling that the performances on the road were more about the event than about the music.  Watch any old videos of them and you will agree.  As a result, the music on Sgt. Pepper had a wider variety of instruments and recording techniques than they had ever used before.  The result was a masterpiece that ranks near the top of any list of top albums ever recorded.  Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields were recorded for the album, but instead were released as a double A side 45. Producer George Martin said he always regretted that decision.  I love both songs, but I also see how they fit into Sgt. Pepper.

The Mersey Beatles


The band’s “hook” is that all four of the band members were born and live in Liverpool, but I think the fact that they were the house band at The Cavern Club (also in Liverpool) is more impressive.  The club is a Mecca for Beatle’s fans and a bad copy would not be accepted or last as they would be the most critical audience of all.  The show began with a video short of the band’s history which ended with a list of tour dates that included local landmarks – good way to get the crowd on your side from the start.

The Mersey Beatles took the stage and in proper attire played Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, including Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields.  The costumes were dead-on and even had the fringe on the bottom edge of the coats, a detail usually overlooked.  The band played the entire album, in order, start to finish.  The placement of the two added songs were probably based on producer Sir George Martin’s original intent, as they fit where placed.  The music was amazing and since it had been awhile since I heard the entire album played that way it was a real treat.

The banter between the band member sand the audience was all in character and added to the authentic feel of the evening.  While a lot of people sang along with every song, the band encouraged participation for When I'm Sixty-Four that had the whole crowd participating.  Great fun.

My only negative comment about this section of the show is the facial hair.  Instead of wearing mustache wigs the band had them drawn on.  From a distance, it might have looked acceptable but I was in the front row and it did not pass muster.  Having done stage productions that involved adding artificial facial hair, I know it can be time consuming – but worth every minute for the correct appearance on stage.

After intermission, The Mersey Beatles turned back the clock and returned to stage dressed in the Fab Four’s trademark suits and boots to play the music that became labeled as the British Invasion.  All of it was perfect and the sequence of the songs made sense. Several individual songs garnered standing ovations which the band seemed to feed off.  The harmonies were terrific and songs like My Life were like individual presents enjoyed one at a time.  I will admit that I channeled Ferris Bueller and danced in the aisle to Twist and Shout.

They transitioned wardrobe, hair, and music to play songs from the Abbey Road, Revolver, and Rubber Soul albums. It was great to hear all those live, as most Tribute bans concentrate on the early Beatles.  Even though not a Beatles song, John performed one of my favorite John Lennon songs – Imagine.  It was beautiful.  Get Back and Revolution were magnificent and the sing a long for Hey Jude also noteworthy.

A few minor cons…. Ringo was only featured on one number in this section of the show.  I was too busy enjoying the show to record a proper setlist so it may or may not have been Honey Don’t.  In my opinion, there were better choices – Act Naturally came immediately to mind as it would have fit the timeline they were on.  It should be noted that Ringo only sang 11 tunes with Beatles, With a Little Help From My Friends was done during the first half of this show.  Also, the musician playing George has serious guitar skills, and I was looking forward to hearing While My Guitar Gently Weeps – alas it was not played.

Individual notes:


Ringo (Brian Ambrose) – the absolute best I have ever seen.  He rocked to back and forth as he played, had all the right facial expressions, and beat for beat was always right where he was supposed to be and when he was supposed to be there.  Outstanding.



George (David Howard) – The lead guitar segments were fantastic and alive.  He was obviously having a good time and provided the joker persona George was famous for, most Tribute bands get that wrong.  Within Without You was cosmic.








John (Mark Bloor) – From the on-stage banter to the transition of his personality through the timeline – it was like watching John.  The voice, playing and appearance were all solid.  The portrayal was polished and professional.  He also seemed to command the stage the way John had a tendency to do – it worked.  Come Together and Imagine were wonderful.







Paul (Steven Howard) – The performance was a little inconsistent – when he was on he was really on – you could close your eyes and hear Paul – notable were Yesterday and Let It Be but a few times he appeared to drop character and even head off away from the rest of the band.

Billy Preston/George Martin (Tony Cook) – Playing all the keyboards plus the added horns, calliope and sound effects plus production items was no small task.  I hope this musician knows that I for one realize and appreciate the difficulty and admire his immense talent.  Well done.

I am not sure what it says when I still rate the band as the best Beatle’s Tribute Band I have ever seen but say that Paul’s performance was a little unsteady.  I guess the other three were had significant enough chops to carry the overall performance -- and like I said -- when he was on -- he was on.

The Venue


I have run out of ways of saying that the Kalamazoo State Theatre is the best venue in the state of Michigan.  My thesaurus suggested I use:  unsurpassed, superlative, preeminent, paramount, Grade A, elite, crème de la crème and most excellent (apparently, my thesaurus channels Bill & Ted).  It is all those things and more.  To read other most excellent words about the Kalamazoo State Theatre that I have said in the near past, check out any of my reviews for performances there:




Hanging with the lads













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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Finding Work Euphoria

Play a guitar and harmonica at the same time and people are impressed, but add cymbals and
a trumpet and you're a punchline.

While employed as a government civilian, I was having a discussion with a supervisor when I made the statement that I always do my best at my job, giving it everything I have every day.  His response was that everyone does that so it is nothing special.

I disagreed.  If you have ever gotten bad service, had a bad meal, sat in line waiting on someone muddling through the line, or had to return or throw away a defective product – you would also disagree.  It would be easy to go off on a rant about bad parenting or the loss of work ethic amongst the populace, but I think the root is much easier to see – bad matches between people and their job – indeed they put time in at a job instead of performing work.

We have all heard it… work is effort you put towards something you want to accomplish; a job is what you do for money.  Too often they are not the same thing.  I have a vastly varied work history that shows they are not the same thing.  I have had jobs that brought me great contentment and some that barely lasted a full day -  I was not then, nor now, nor will I ever be a vacuum cleaner salesman.  What all my jobs taught me was to always look for something new and different that might be a better fit and bring not only greater financial rewards but greater spiritual ones.

After many years of promising myself I would create such a list, I finally did it – I compiled a list of all the jobs I have done over the course of my life.  This does not include things I did as a volunteer or as a parent – just the things I actually made money doing, and more or less in chronological order:

Mowed Lawns, Newspaper Sales, Scout Camp Staff (Crafts & Indian Lore), Babysitting, Veterinary Assistant, Baskin-Robbin's Soda Jerk, Wendy's Burger Flipper, Night Club Janitor, Bus Boy (Officer's Club), Busch Gardens Ride Operator, Disc Jockey (Country, Rock, Oldies, & Soul), Blood Donor, Port Vehicle Delivery, Life Guard, Arcade Attendant, Research Assistant (Work Study), College Newspaper Opinion Columnist, Loan Agent, Repo-Man, Customer Service (Men's Clothing), Tour Guide Andersonville National Cemetery, County Training Center Trainer, Vacuum Cleaner Sales (1 day), Shipping Line Worker (Levi’s -- 1 week), Liquor Store Clerk, Air Passenger Service, Guitarist (Train station busker & salaried), Air Cargo, Maître D', Security Guard (unarmed), Photographer (Wedding, Sports, Art), College Instructor (Photography & Computer Science), Software developer, Software Company President and CEO, Bartender, Air Cargo Service, Strategic War Planner, Board of Directors Association of Shareware Professionals, Painter, Master of Ceremonies, Logistician, Air Force Reserve, Technologist, Chief Cyber Security Officer, IT Project Manager, Chief Information Officer, Director of IT Operations Europe, Middle East & Africa, IT Manager Middle East, Network Engineer/Architect, and Author.

In very rare instances, I have found what I call the euphoria of work.  That is work that you can’t wait to start, that in which you find intense happiness within, and that work you don’t want to stop doing at the end of the day.  I once heard that Henry Ford once said he didn’t spend the week waiting on the weekend, he spent the weekend waiting on Monday.  He had found his euphoria and I think I have found mine too.

As I continue wading into my next life choice as a full-time author; I am finding intense satisfaction and pleasure in doing it.  My mind is constantly working on telling my tale, even when I am out of my writer’s garret and away from my keyboard – not due to worry but because I find fulfillment in the work.  I hear the voices of my characters and I am always looking for ways to improve the descriptions and plot lines.  I am eager to get to work and happy with the progress and end result.  It has been a long time since I have felt such a frustration free and creative work environment.  Granted, I really like my boss, but this is something deeper and more eclectic -- a vibe that flows.

One of the biggest life lessons I can pass on is to search until you find work beyond the job.  Financial realities may not always make it possible for them to be one and the same, but there is always time for work in life – use it.  You will reap the reward of soul drenching serenity as you put your efforts towards your discovered work.

I will admit that in the back of my mind I hear a voice telling me that I will face critics and possible failure when my effort is done – but because this is work and not a job I know it will not change the way I feel about what I am doing – after all I have been writing a blog for over 7 years and I am still not a millionaire nor have I won a Pulitzer prize (yet) – but I have gotten the occasional kind word and great heartfelt joy from the work.



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Sunday, April 30, 2017

What If She Never Knocks Three Times?


Music has always been a big part of my life, in particular songs with great lyrics or telling a great story to which I can relate.  So, from time to time I find myself telling Alexa   l   to play something from my past to retrieve and relive those memories.  Recently, I told Alexa  to find and play the Tony Orlando and Dawn song Knock Three Times*.  Even though I was living in a single family, single story home in Oklahoma; somehow, I related the lyrics of the song to my life and to my first forays into love while surviving the beginnings of adolescence at Tomlinson Junior High.  

As I listened to the song about a man living in the apartment above a lonely woman who did not even know he existed, a question arose in my now adult mind -- was he stalking her?  I played the song again and listened to the song with a different ear and noticed details I had somehow missed….  He knew what music she listened to, in his own mind he thought he could feel her move as she danced by herself, he thought he was in love with her even though he had never met her, and rather than receiving a definitive acknowledge of his interest from her – he was willing to rely on the building’s sound effects as an indicator of interest.  It almost seemed like the prelim of an episode of Law & Order SVU that ends up with the guy being committed for hearing voices.  Kinda creepy, but is that what the song really means?  No, of course not.

The story of two people coming together after one notices the other from a distance is relived and retold daily.  He saw her, he thought about her and he was just waiting on her to tell him that she was also interested in him.  It may be a bit of a stretch for him to be declaring love for a woman he has never interacted with, but is it any more than poetic license?  Is he just trying to tell her how earnest the feelings he has for her are?  Sure, we have to let that emotion have the validity of the moment and try not to view it from an outside prism in which it exists.  In other words, the only way to get from a simple song of random attraction to a creepy stalker is by adding emotion and meaning that just aren’t there.

What was there, all the way back in 1973, were my 14-year-old feelings for a girl who did not even realize my interest in her.  That’s okay, Rosetta and I eventually became friends even though I held my true feelings for her as a secret.  My memories of that time are positive, as are my memories of this song and I will not allow some huge leaps to conclusions brought on by some notion political correctness to soil the memory or the truth of that time.

The next memory evoking song that Alexa chose was Dancing in the Moonlight by King Harvest.  Another great tune – and a song that eventually turned into an outline of a novel about childhood friends trying to conquer the realities of adulthood.  One of them is framed for murder, leaving another to uncover the truth at the insistence of the girl, now a woman, who was the cause for the friendship falling apart years before.  

A friend from college recently told me that if you are friends with a writer you will live forever.  As I find myself putting more and more words upon the page, I see the wisdom in her statement.  Writing also serves a cathartic purpose as you finally get a chance to say all those things you wished you had said and live through the endings you felt should have been versus those that were.  My guess is that song writing is a lot like that too -- I wonder if she ever knocked three times?

* The song was originally released under the artist name Dawn, it was later that the group’s name changed and the song re-released under the artist name Tony Orlando & Dawn.


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Monday, April 24, 2017

Sock Tech & Other Discoveries



A few months back, I started thinking about the basic stuff I buy and use.  It all started with the purchase of a Logitech MK710 in order to facilitate an office redesign.  That resulted in me writing this review on Amazon:

I have been working with keyboards since I started with computers back in 1978. Since then IT has been my career and as such I have always allowed myself the best, newest and fastest systems as soon as they hit the market. And with all that tech, I never gave the keyboard a second thought. When I redesigned my office space, I wanted to move the computer away from the desk and so I started looking for a wireless keyboard -- that search led me to this set. I had never spent more than $20 for a keyboard, given that it is my primary tool maybe it was time I did so. DAMN GOOD DECISION.  This set is awesome. I have always ignored the adjective ergonomic when it came to mice, but this one is and all the buttons and wheels are in the right place. The keyboard itself is so quiet and the key presses as easy and smooth. Wonderful! Have never noticed lag (and I type fast) or drop off of signal. Well worth the $$$. Go ahead and get it, you deserve it -- I did.

The unintended result of my keyboard purchase was a basic change in my personal philosophy on the routine and mundane things I buy.  I stopped grabbing the cheapest item on the shelf while discarding more expensive choices based solely on price.  This does not mean I don’t still ignore designer labels for their own sake – that started back in High School when I decided if Calvin Klein’s name was going to be displayed on my ass, he was going to pay me for the privilege not vice versa—he hasn’t sent me a check so I don’t wear them.  Recently, this edict has expanded all the way to --- socks.  But, before I go on I will repost this disclaimer:

Whenever I provide a review or write up, it means that I have bought and paid for the item or admission costs myself.  In the extremely rare instance when items or admission are being provided free of charge or at a discount, I say so.  This site is non-monetized therefore the opinions provided are truly free of influence.

To me, socks are about as mundane an item as there is. Until I went to the Air Force, my sock drawer was full of one size fits all white tube socks a majority of the time. One notable exception was a pair of toe socks that I won in a radio contest by being the 32nd caller; I never wore them, but they were in my sock drawer. While I was in the Air Force, I was forced to wear black socks and during the first few years I actually wore the wool socks that they provided me. I hated them, they were hot and itchy. When someone got smart at the sock factory and started producing tube socks and black, I transitioned over to them. Now, when I would dress up I did wear other types of socks, but nothing that was either outlandish in color or style. My socks were purposely boring.

Just after I bought my new keyboard, I saw an ad on Facebook for something called Bombas. You may have seen the ad and ignored it, I did too. Until that fateful day when I mistakenly clicked on the damn thing and the Bombas website appeared and discovered Bombas were socks. They were wildly colored socks but aside from that, they were socks. They didn’t even have the decency to try and tempt me further by providing a really hot looking model wearing nothing but socks - or holding strategically placed socks.  They were just socks. Something must’ve been right about the website because I actually took the time to click on the Sock Tech page and read all about what went into the Bombas socks.

Admit it, you are just like me and really don’t give a crap about Sock Tech. If it’d been another day, I might have not given a crap either. But the socks I happened to have on that day had bunched up around my toes and were about to require me to take my shoe off in order to straighten them out – – again. By the way, the high-end socks I was wearing cost me, I think, $8.99 for 10 pair or something like that.  Bombas somehow inspired me to look at an ad for socks that were apparently so expensive the price was not even displayed on the pages I had seen thus far. You know what that means in a restaurant?  Well, it probably means the same thing on a sock website – lobster priced socks...but back to my story – – I read all about the tech that went into the socks. I have to admit, it was impressive. There was technology to make them stay up, support your arches, prevent blisters, and they even get rid of that damn seam that usually runs across the top your toe and hurts after you’ve been walking for a while.

Due to the planet’s alignment on that particular day, as well as the failure of the socks that I was currently wearing, I decided to try a pair or two of Bombas. Actually, due to the limits of their free shipping and handling offer, I tried three.  One black pair, one grey pair -- both calf height, and a pair of ankle height to round it off.  The socks arrived in no time flat, and I took some time to look them over and compare against the finer points of Sock Tech.  The colors, were really cool and depending on which style you order the colors are completely hidden from the casual viewer by your pants leg or the shoes you are wearing. As a result, you get to be the wild freak you want to be without letting anyone else know who you really are. Part of the sock’s design and use of various colors and other markers is to indicate the presence of each of the unique features of the socks. But there was no way of telling if any of that actually works, without wearing a pair. So, the next morning I did.

The first thing I noticed when putting the socks on was that they fit from toe to heel. That means that the part that was pattern for the toe was actually on my toes while the part that was patterned for the heel was actually on my heel. I bought the size large, which the website said was appropriate for my size 10 ½ foot. The sock only came up to the lower part of my calf, which was okay because that’s where I actually liked my socks.  I say this here only to clarify where their particular socks fit because I’ve had calf fit socks that actually went almost to the bottom of my knees. At the end of the day, the top of the socks where in the exact place where they started. In other words, they did not slip or fall.

Other features of the socks became apparent as the day went on. My feet never felt overly hot, cold, or sweaty. There was no irritating seam going across the top of my toes, grinding against them all day long. Even though the socks were not overly thick, they did feel well cushioned. The honeycomb technology may have helped out around the arch, but aside benefit that I think I felt was the fact that the extra structural integrity there helped with padding and supporting the insoles that I wear. The biggest selling point was that the issue I had had with my previous socks bunching up inside my shoe has never occurred with a pair of Bombas.

Up until now, I have not listed the price for the socks. I will do so now – – they start at $12 a pair. But there are various ways to reduce that cost to include using this link which will give you 20% off plus free shipping if you by over $40 worth.  You can also buy the socks in bulk packs of four or eight and get a percentage off as well.  

Now consider the part of the deal that is not in the package Bombas sends: accidental good karma.  Aside from the Sock Tech my feet were now enjoying, the company also designed some socks specifically for homeless people. They too have unique features like treatment that prevent fungus and bacteria from growing even if the socks are washed infrequently, they use darker colors, and are fully reinforced for a longer lifespan.  I know what you’re thinking:  That’s great but how can a homeless person afford high-quality socks?  Well, for every pair bought, a pair is donated.  By the way, the donations are not made only in Bombas’ neighborhood but in neighborhoods across the United States. How cool is that?  

Over time I will gradually replace all my socks with Bombas. I will end up with a higher quality sock that performs the way a good sock should and some homeless person will also benefit from the same and in case it had not occurred to you up to this point – – that is a good thing.  

The only negative that I can mention about the socks is the way Bombas  handles their bulk packs. If you choose to get a bulk pack of four or eight, you do not get to pick which colors you get in that pack of four or eight. This was a bummer for me because after my test run with the socks I decided to start replacing the socks in my drawer with Bombas so I ordered five pair, but because I decided I wanted to specify the colors I could not order the discount bulk pack and paid more for the privilege of choosing the colors that I would wear upon my feet.  

I will continue to look for day-to-day items in my personal life that can benefit by being upgraded. As for my socks, a majority of days you will find a bee logo on the side of them. After all, Bombas is the only company I have ever run into that has a 100% happiness guarantee -- how can you pass that by?

Note:  Yes, I am the model in the above picture and I am available for sock modeling gigs worldwide.  Please contact my agent.


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Sunday, April 9, 2017

At Last, A Teller of Tales


Way back when I was 10 years old or so, I went to my first sleep away camp at Lake Arrowhead, California which was run by the YMCA.  There are many things I could write about with regard to the camp, just like everyone else who has gone to camp, it is impossible to escape without more than a few One time at camp stories.  But it was at this camp that I found out what I wanted to be when I grew up.  

Every night of the week we were there, there was a huge bonfire down by the lake right at sunset.  It seemed like there were thousands of us gathered there, but in reality, it was probably only 2-300 boys gathered around in a semi-circle being led in cheers, songs and watching skits.  All of this was new to me.  I was not a Scout yet, so camp was a big bag full of new stuff to be a part.  Then at the end of the evening came an act that changed my life.

Too many years have passed since I have given this serious thought, so the character’s name escapes me now, but I remember the important parts.  He walked out slowly from the darkness, using a cane to walk and wearing a jungle explorer jacket and pith helmet.  His beard was long, and too obviously fake and he wore wire rimmed glasses.  Everyone fell silent as he walked to the center of the fire ring, and then some staff member from the side ran to center stage and placed a small stool a few feet in front of the fire.  The interloper slowly sat down on the stool and then took off his glasses and cleaned them using a handkerchief he had taken out of one of his many pockets.    No one said a word as all this happened and the only sound was the crackling of the fire that roared behind him.    

I can’t really recall any of the qualities of his voice other than it was clear and loud enough for all of us to hear.  Even among us first timers there was a sense of expectation as he cleared his throat and then began to speak.  Then, he told us a story.  It was something I had never heard before and as he spoke he used facial expressions and hand gestures to emphasis points.  The story was a combination of local legend, tall tales and humor; all told using various voices and sound effects he provided.  The assembled crowd was no longer silent as we laughed, cheered, and shouted comments as all this went on.  The story would go one for several minutes and as it did, the teller of tales would eventually stand and walk from side to side in front of the assembled crowd as his story came to the climax; his gestures getting more wild and inspiring excitement.   

When he finished his story, he would slowly drop his hands to his side and lower his head – as the absolute silence returned.  Then, as if on cue, we all exploded in loud cheering and applause.   Over the course of my life I have come to realize that what we all witnessed was a master story teller sharing his craft.  I went back to my cabin every night of camp inspired and knowing the career path I wanted for my life.  I wanted to be a storyteller too.   

Later when I was a Scout and an adult Scout leader, I had my chance to tell tales around a campfire from time to time (even adding a guitar now and then), but it was never a full-time pursuit.  As years went, reality sank in and I pursued a very satisfying but different career path that has provided well for myself and family, but I never forgot those nights around the lake or the desire to be a story teller.

Fast forward a few decades to 2012 or so, Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.  I was working as chief technologist for a transportation unit and a new Deputy Commander, was holding a team building session with the staff asking of us to share something we had as a goal or dream when we were younger.  This meeting was one of a series of sessions held by LtCol Dan Ellis, a Reservist from Florida, with a prior session including something new we were doing since being assigned there to constructively fill our time. 

During that prior session, I talked about writing and maintaining this blog.  For today’s session, I related the story above and expressed a small bit of regret that I had yet to become the story teller I envisioned.    LtCol Ellis pointed out something that had never occurred to me before – I was a story teller -- through my blog.

Sometimes it takes someone outside of you to point out a truth you are too close to see.  I am glad Dan did and I am grateful to him for doing so.  Someday, I may get a chance to be a purest and experience that feeling as I walk out before a crowd in front of a roaring fire, wearing a story teller costume with cane in hand to tell tall tales --- pausing at just the right moments for the listeners to reflect on the words I have spoken.    Until then I am telling stories a different way, via this blog and via my fiction writing.  A career path chosen so long ago, now being realized every day, full time.


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Saturday, March 18, 2017

On Being Weighed & Measured


It was hard to believe when I first read it, but having seen the reference several places since my initial discovery, I can accept as fact that the length of the average Agatha Christie mystery is between 40,000 and 60,000 words. Christie is the most prolific and widely sold English language mystery author in the world. Of course, I found out several other facts about books and their length while researching the number of words that make up various literary works.  Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is over 481,000 words, whereas The Hobbit is only 95.356 words; the Harry Potter books run between 77,000 and 200,000 words; and Huckleberry Finn is right at 110,000 words.

Why was I even looking at the number of words contained in the average novel? Due to my own personality quirk, I needed some way of measuring the level of effort I was giving to my latest writing project. Since the beginning of the year I've started to write a story  that I have had bouncing around in my mind for the last few years.Allah's Numbers (working title)is an espionage thriller with several main characters, multiple story lines, various plot twists, and turns, and it takes place across several countries. Evan Davis, the main character in Three Paperclips & a Grey Scarf and Blood Upon the Sands, is back again and he is drawn into yet another situation that requires a man of both common sense and ethics who can rise to overcome his faults and human frailties. Anyway, since I have transitioned from full-time government employee to full-time novelist I needed some way of gauging how I was doing on a day-to-day basis.

I have read that some writers sit down and attempt to write a specific number of pages per day.  They start at eight in the morning and whenever they reach the specified number of pages they stop for the day. This means that some work days may only last a couple of hours whereas others may stretch into the evening.  I actually tried that method when I was in Kuwait and found that I would write 4000-5000 words on Monday and on Tuesday I would delete half of them because they felt forced. By the end of the week I would have 500 good words. That is no way to actually finish writing something.

My typical schedule right now is to write two full days a week, edit one full day a week, and do story flow and continuity checks on Fridays. Every week I record the number of words in each of the story segments that I am writing and compare the that total to the week before. I realize now that some weeks I just write more than others, and likewise there are times when I actually delete things during editing and continuity checks which can cause fluctuations. Breaking my effort into different purposes actually helps my overall writing productivity and my rate of production, as measured by just number of words written, has gone up every week.  I take this to mean that the more time I spend writing, the more productive I get.  

What is this mean for where I am at today?  Three Paperclips & a Grey Scarf came in right at 33,000 words, but that was a novella and not a full novel; even so it is my longest published work to date.    As of today, I have written 47,000 words of my current novel Allah's Numbers (working title).  I will continue writing until I have told the entire story that I want to tell, but based on my research I found that most thrillers tend to run between 120,000 and 150,000 words.  Looking at the story I've captured thus far, and where I want to be when I write the words The End that is a pretty good estimate for what it will take to finish things.

A few more hints to whet your appetite – – – other characters in the book include a failed KGB chief, a sleeper agent who has been in place for almost 3 decades ago, a beautiful Mossad agent, a confused Palestinian boy who is being used in order to exact a final revenge and a dog name Zax.

I hope to release the book by July of this year.


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