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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The frustration of technology

The post preceding this one I called a 'Christmas Carol.'
To me, the truth of the origin of the carol was fascinating, and I figured it would also be that for others.

What should have taken me no longer than five minutes to copy and paste ran into almost an hour because of the idioticies of the computer world. Now, I know there's got to be security, but when does security become insane?

Okay, okay, I know you're not following this, so let me explain.

When I got to my blog spot, I have to sign in with e-mail and password. Now, all my life, I've used the same password, a six-character combination of characters that nobody (I don't think) could come figure out. I can't figure them out, and I know them.

But anyway, my problem starts with almost every site requiring certain elements in the password. Some go with six characters, some more, some want numerals in them--you know. You've run into it.

When I run across a site calling for more than six characters, I simple double or triple up on the last one.

That would work if I could remember them.

Anyway, I went online, put in my e-mail and password. It was kicked back.

Impossible. The site called for eight characters. I put them in. Eight of those little suckers. I tried again. Naturally, no luck. I groaned in misery. Now, I was going to have to fiddle with passwords, a task to me akin to the Gordian Knot.

But, some sites before you get to change the password throw out a dizzying collection of non-sensical alphabetical characters in some sort of Hebrew or Arabic font written by a drunken sailor, and call upon you to repeat them before continuing.

I must have spent thirty minutes on that stupid exercise. Fifteen minutes into my inquisition, I considered chucking the whole idea of a blog. But, I persevered. Finally, I managed to get through and make a new password.

Now, here's the kicker. I simply used my old password, the one I put in and was kicked back. That's security? Go figure!

Anyway, finally, everything turned out all right except I wasted almost an hour, and I tell, folks, at my stage in live, I can't afford an hour.

I still don't understand the purpose of those non-sensical characters.

Oh, well. It's posted, and yes, I've jotted down the password. What do you want to bet it'll get kicked back next time?

christmas carol

Twelve Days of Christmas Revisited

Sometime back, one of the members of my old high school chat group sent us a fascinating story concerning the origin of the Christmas carol, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas.’
I had heard it before, but I’d forgotten much of the story.
My old friend refreshed it for me.
Maybe you’ve heard it, but if you’re like me, you haven’t heard all of the story.
From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Consequently, the story goes, someone during that era wrote the carol as a catechism song to aid young Catholics remember the tenets of their religion.
It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality, which the children could remember.
1. The partridge- Jesus/God
2. Two turtle doves –the Old and New Testaments
3. Three French hens-Faith, Hope, and Charity
4. Four calling birds-the Four Gospels
5. Five Golden rings-the first five books of the Old Testament, the ‘Pentateuch’, which gives the history of man’s fall from grace.
6. Six geese a-laying-the six days of creation
7. Seven swans a-swimming-the Seven Sacraments
8. Eight maids a-milking-the Beatitudes
9. Nine ladies dancing were the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10. Ten lords a-leaping-the Ten Commandments
11. Eleven Pipe rs piping-the Apostles
12. Twelve drummers drumming-twelve points in the Apostle’s Creed.

Fascinating interpretation isn’t it? But now, let me show you what else I ran across while researching the carol.
Now it is true that in 1529 Anglican England did abolish the practice of ‘old worship’, Catholicism.
To my surprise, I had a few facts pointed out that indicated that story was not the real explanation of the origin of the song.
For example, the Anglican (Protestant) and Catholic Bibles, King James and Douai-Reims, respectively, both contain the Old and New Testaments, the five books of the Pentateuch, the Four Gospels, the six days of Creation, and the Ten Commandments.
According to one source, since these concepts symbolized in the song were shared by both Catholics and Anglicans, what reason could there be for secretly encoding a song containing those concepts?
True, the two groups used different Bibles, and given the harsh punishment during those 270 years, a Catholic didn’t want to be caught with any Bible except the King James Version.
So, what was the purpose of the song? Did it have one?
According to Snopes, an 1780 children’s book, Mirth Without Mischief, contained the song, which had been around for many years. The verses were presented as a ‘memory and forfeits’ game in which the leader recited a verse, and then each player in turn recited the next. If one erred, he had to pay a penalty, such as offering a kiss or a cookie.
In addition, the song was from France for several of the objects mentioned in it are of French origin, not English, the French hen in particular. Another, the partridge, was not introduced into England until the 1770s, 240 odd years after the condemnation of Catholicism and the alleged origins of the song.
So, to borrow from Paul Harvey, ‘now you know the rest of the story.’
But, you know, somehow, I prefer the fiction, not the fact.

Friday, November 21, 2008

to agent or not agent

Well, I've done it. I contacted an agent, and now I've got my fingers crossed.

A friend asked why I wanted an agent because of my publication history, but the truth is, while I can produce what I think are good stories with suspense and tension, I'm not expert in determining which publishers need what.

Since retiring, I've had more time. Consequently, I can produce more, but that doesn't do me much good if what I turn out simply sits in my computer.

A point I always make in my writing classes is that you have to promote your own work. I've written about my new books in my weekly columns in the papers here in Southeast Texas, done a few TV interviews (which always makes me nervous), a few book signings. I have friends who love book signings. They're hard for me, sitting there with people staring a me. I'd rather be home writing.

I know an agent cannot do the work for you or make a publisher take your book; but it is comforting to know that if I do a good job, someone out there is expert enough to know what to do with it.

I'll keep you posted.

Keep writing.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

trying to catch up

The last few days has been hectic. I feel guilty that I haven't kept up on by blog, but sometimes, unexpected incidents explode in your face.

I've been trying to juggle rewriting a western, redoing another western for my editor, look after grandsons, remodel a bathroom, and to top it off, try to troubleshoot my laptop that suddenly took on the personality of a turtle.

If there's anything I dislike, it's fiddling with computers. I always mess things up. Now, my laptop is three years old. Now, we've all heard of dog years; maybe it's time to talk about computer years. I've come to the conclusion that a computer year is the equivalent of twenty of our years.

Now, I base that on personal experience. The first twenty years, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The next twenty, I took on more responsibilites--like the computer takes on more and more software. By the time I hit sixty, my eyes weren't quite as bright, and I sure wasn't as bushy-tailed as I had been forty years earlier.

Of course, most of you reading this have no idea what I mean, but trust me, it will happen.

While my stupid stunts far outnumber my smart ones, one of the latter was finding a competent computer tech. He built me a desktop about a year ago. That gave me a back up. When the laptop went down, I fiddled with it a couple days--you know, turned it off and on, hoping something would happen--then called him.

In the meantime, I switched the desktop to online, and got on with my life.

I dropped my last edited book in the mail Wednesday and got back to my rewriting. If you write, you know the comfort and satisfaction of sitting down in front of your computer and creating a story. I could do that all day, but presently, and unfortunately, the bathroom awaits. I still have two thirds of the wall paper to hang.

But first, I think I'll have a cold beer.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

grandson sleepover

Keegan slept over Tuesday night. Twenty-four hours later, we're still tired. Naturally, we like for the grandkids come over, but one thing their unceasing energy has underlined is that the good Lord had an excellent reason for . twenty and thirty year olds to bear children. ThI ey have the energy to keep up with them.
Usually when the boys are over, I don't get a lot of work done. Consequently, the ensuing days are much more hectic trying to get back on schedule. As I've told my writing classes, you have to produce everyday. It has to be so much a part of your routine that you're lost without it.
I read somewhere a succinct definition of a successful writer. I wish I'd been perceptive enough to come up with it, but it went somethin like this, "The difference in a neophyte writer and a pro is that the pro never stopped writing."
Now I might have butchered it, and if the author reads it, don't get upset. Just accept my apologies.
I worked late last night, and I will again tonight, but by tomorrow, I'll be back on schedule.
Unless we have another sleepover.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

As usual, when I start something new, the world about me seems to come alive with more demands for my time.

A couple weeks back, I started a blog, figuring I’d have time to piddle with it, you know, a tweak here, a tweak there.

Then I received an editorial letter from my editor regarding the first three novels I’d signed contracts for.

Now I have a new editor, and that is always an experience, for each has her own perceptions. While it is nice and comfortable working for years with an editor, a new one always forces me to look at my own writing.

I have a friend who complains about editorial letters. For those unfamiliar with the term, it is simply a letter asking questions about various parts of the book.

I like them. They point out not mistakes, but paragraphs or clauses or phrases I did not write clearly. Oh, I might have understood them, but others didn’t.

And one thing I learned about writing is you cannot be successful if others do not understand what you’re saying.

Anyway, after I rewrote the first novel, I received a letter on the second, and then the third. This morning, November 4, I’m almost halfway through the book.

And that on top of the unfinished remodeling job of a bathroom, four- and two-year-old grandsons, and half-a-dozen other tasks, I’ve had to neglect the blog somewhat.

Still, bear with me.

I’ve already voted, so today, I should be able to do a little more work on it.


I have five grandsons I’d like for you fine folks to meet. Here’s a column I wrote October 15, 2004.

Welcome to the World, Keegan

I’ve told just about everyone, but if you haven’t heard by now, I have a new grnadson. Yep, a brand-new, spanking clean, never-been-used-before grandson, and his grandmother is already trying to decide what position he’ll play on the Indian football team. He’s our first, though I do have three in the Fort Worth-Dallas area. Unfortunately, I don’t see them too often, but this little guy lives only about a mile from us.

And of course, such proximity means that whenever we go anywhere, Port Arthur, Winnie, Beaumont, Nederland, or Bridge City, our route goes right down in front of their house.

Right, all you grandparents?

Named Keegan Alan Johnstone, he was born October 5 at 3:27 a.m. at Christus St. Elizabeth. Only a short six hours elapsed from the time Keegan decided he was ready to take on the world until the energetic little bundle emerged, a real go-getter. He greeted the world as the proud owner of ten fingers, ten toes, two ears, and all other appropriate fixtures as well as sporting a head of black hair long enough to be braided.

It’s been twenty-eight years since I was around a new baby, but I never forgot that a new baby coming into a family creates a more sensitive awareness of just how precious is the gift of life God gives us.

Sad to say, we’re all caught up in the hustle and bustle of today’s hectic life. I think most feel as I that if we don’t stay up with it, life will steamroll over us without a backward glance, and that somehow we will be the poorer for it.

In the midst of a family working two jobs, paying bills, struggling to tuck funds away for an emergency, forced to buy two or three sets of clothing a year for growing children, constantly racing from church to soccer to Little League to football to dancing to whatever, we often tend to become more pragmatic in our approach to life. We find it easier to live more in the secular world where feelings and emotions are shunted aside in a desperate effort just to keep our lives and those of our family on an even keel.

In other words, we, the majority of us, have the tendency to wear a coat of no nonsense practicality that prevents us from enjoying those gifts in life that are truly valuable, that are truly priceless, that cannot be purchased with any amount of money.

And so when one looks down upon an infant sleeping so peacefully (whenever that might be), he realizes the value of those treasures that cannot be purchased with money.

We visited the hospital when Keegan was about seven hours old. I expected to see a red, wrinkled little lizard, but to my surprise, he was pink, and sleeping soundly. Jason, his Dad, pushed the carriage from the nursery to the room where we fussed over him for the next hour or so.

Once or twice, he opened his eyes, but the rest of the time, he slept. When I saw Gayle hold him, it brought back memories of how she had so gently and tenderly cradled our own girls.

When first offered, I declined to hold him, not that I was scared of breaking the little guy, but just because I wasn’t quite ready. And if you asked me why I wasn’t ready, I couldn’t tell you. But, after taking pictures (naturally) of Amy and Jason and Gayle with Keegan, I figured it was time.

I held him for several minutes, but when I tried to give him back to Gayle, I couldn’t figure out how to do it with taking a chance on dropping him, so I carried him over to the bed, leaned over until he was only a couple inches above the soft mattress, had Gayle slide her arms under him, and then, and only then did I transfer him to his Grandmother’s sure and steady arms.

Joyce Kilmer, the poet who died in World War I, wrote the unforgettable poem, Trees. In it, he said “Only God can make a tree.” To paraphrase the memorable line, it is certainly true that “Only God can make a baby.”

In the few nights Keegan’s been on the good earth, I’ve awakened in the early hours and thought about him and the world he will face. I’m not sure what it will be; I only know it won’t be like the one in which I was reared.

But that’s okay. He has two wonderful parents to guide him, and two sets of grandparents for support. The little fella will do well.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tokyo Rose - the goose

Tokyo Rose Gets Her Comeuppance

Numbered among the animals on my grandfather’s farm north of Lubbock, Texas during World War II, were half dozen or so geese. Now, I didn’t know much about geese then, and I don’t know much more about them now. I guess you could say I’m geese challenged.

However I’ve managed to live all these years with that glaring gap in my education, and I suppose I can live the rest of them without my hair falling out or other such harm coming my way. To be honest, it stands to reason that only another goose would be interested in an intimate knowledge of geese.

At first, I never paid the gaggle of geese much attention. Any time I started toward them, I noticed the gander always took up his spot between his ladies and me. For some reason, that behavior always fascinated me. Here’s the male protecting the females. Almost human.

According to my cousin, Ed, for the most part the geese kept to themselves, except for one. She decided she was too good for the gaggle. That was the one Papa finally named Tokyo Rose.

Tokyo Rose was not content to stay with her own. She was independent, and I suppose that independence is what made her sneaky. You see, being a goose, about the only creature she could best was another goose or a chicken. The other farm animals were too large for her, so she developed two means of taking care of herself.

Her main prong of assault was the sneaky backside attack. She lay in wait beneath a bush, or behind a tree, or around a corner, and as soon as her victim, be it man or animal, passed, she’d burst from her hiding place, wings flapping like bed sheets on the line, and grab the meaty part of her victim’s backside with that bill of hers.

To her delight, her sneak attack so startled her victim, he ran, and she pursued with frenzied determination, that croaking goose cry of hers echoing across the farm, warning everyone she had her prey on the run. She chased him as far as she could, savoring every second of the torture.

Her second means of taking care of herself was the protection offered by Papa’s hog, Mussolini. Now, if you remember from an earlier column, Hitler the hog was Papa Holley’s boar Hampshire, the leader of the pack as the old rock and roll song goes. And Mussolini was number three. He was of the Duroc breed, a breed that Papa claimed didn’t have much of a brain, but he knew his place in the hierarchy of hogs. He always deferred to Hitler.

How she and Mussolini got together, I don’t know, but more than once, I saw Tokyo Rose perched on Mussolini’s back while the fat pig gobbled up his slop. The first time I witnessed the strange occurrence was one Thanksgiving when Ed and I saw Tokyo Rose carry out a sneak attack on one of Papa’s old hounds.

Instead of running, the dog turned on Tokyo Rose. So startled that any creature would dare dispute her authority around the farm, she turned tail and wings flapping, raced for the hog pen.

Now domestic geese can’t fly more than a few feet, but when she hit the top rail of the hog pen, she flew over twenty or thirty feet and landed on Mussolini’s back. Naturally, the dog did not pursue into the hog pen. He was angry, but he wasn’t stupid.

The next summer, I noticed Tokyo Rose, still up to her old tricks, was no longer a part of the gaggle. Whenever she headed to her gaggle, they ran. And the gander invariably took up his place between her and the others. During the next two months, the only farm animal I saw her with was Mussolini.

According to Ed, “That old goose got what she deserved. All the animals got tired of her sneaking up on them. None of them want to be around her, not even the old gander who used to protect her.”

I studied Tokyo Rose out there, strutting around, all alone except for fat Mussolini. I guess I should have felt sorry for her, but when I remembered her sneak attacks on me, sorrow just wasn’t there.

She live another two or three years. If animals can be lonely, she probably was. She deserved it.

Note: my cousin, Ed, lives in Amarillo. If he reads this, he might not remember it the same as I. That was a long time bad, and memory has a way of poking fun at us; but still, give or take a lie or two, that's how I remember it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

oct 27

well, this is a first for me, blogging. i don't know how it'll work out for all of my time on the computer in the past has been writing my books and columns--blogging, well, it seems as if it's simply something to do when you got nothing else to do.

on the other hand, it might be a change to capture much of my youth when the world was innocent and blessed with naivete.

One such memory was a Halloween, long years ago.

A Halloween to Remember

I’ve been lucky over the years for I suppose I’ve had some of the most frightening and exciting Halloweens ever.

In our little town in the Texas Panhandle, Halloween saw all the dusty streets filled with little ghosts and goblins. Not too many back then had costumes. If you were one of the lucky ones, you probably had a black mask like the Lone Ranger. Some of girls even had masks of pink or red.

One of the most common tricks back then was soaping windows. It was amazing how much writing you could get from a bar of Ivory soap. Some of the more daring boys toppled outhouses, what few there were; some went as far as putting cows on the schoolhouse roof and in the principal’s office.

Our little town was small enough that within two hours, a youngster could cover all the streets and stagger home with a load of treats.

And it just wasn’t kids who were out.

Oh, no, there were always a few adults who planned on putting extra fright in some of the trick or treaters.

I had a couple of those experiences

Once, to my dismay, I had to spend Halloween on my grandmother’s farm. There was only one neighbor, so I figured Halloween was shot.

Then one of my uncles told my cousin, Ed, and me that if we really wanted to see a scary ghost that night, all we had to do was put our clothes on backwards and then walk backwards around the old hanging tree three times. Now, the hanging tree was an ancient cottonwood by the cow tank that according to my uncles had once had a rustler strung from it.

Well, we didn’t really believe his trick to conjure up a ghost, but that afternoon, when no one was looking, Ed and I put on our clothes backward and walked backward around the hanging tree three times.

That night, Ed and I trudged down the lane with handkerchiefs over our faces like bank robbers in the Saturday movies, and trick or treated the neighbors. Of course, they let on like they didn’t know who we were and pretended they were frightened.

Then their two boys accompanied us back to my grandparents so we could trick or treat them. Before we left, we told our friends about conjuring up the ghost. They snickered at us.

Now, you got to get the picture here. The full moon was straight overhead. On either side of the lane were pastures dotted with mesquite, and I promise you, in the dark, the twisted mesquite limbs took on mighty grotesque shapes in the eyes of spooky ten and eleven year old boys.

And the fact we were talking about ghosts and werewolves and such didn’t help. Our frightened eyes made every shadow into Dracula or the Frankenstein monster.

And then we saw it. Far to the north in the pasture, a floating white object. The wind seemed to be carrying it toward us, and then a mournful, whining moan came through the mesquite.

I remember leaning forward and squinting at the apparition, and when I looked around, I was all alone. My cousin and his pals were a hundred yards down the lane. And I can tell you, I did my best to catch up with them.

The apparition grew closer, and I ran harder. I caught them as they reached the house, and we burst inside, four breathless, frightened boys.

It must have taken us ten minutes to stammer out what happened. The grownups shook their head, and one uncle growled at us. “Did you boys put on your clothes backward?”

Reluctantly, we nodded.

He groaned. “That did it. That brought back old Burl.”

Another one nodded. “How long’s it been now, fifty years since he got cut all to pieces. He’s still looking for his missing hand.”

“Just about. Never did find who did it.”

Well, you can imagine when we heard that, our eyes bugged out like a stepped-on toad frogs.

And I don’t have to tell you how big they got when my grandfather said, “Well, Kent, it’s getting late. You and Ed walk your young friends back home, and then hurry back.”

Wild horses couldn’t have pulled us from that house.

One of my uncles had to take our friends back home.

And they couldn’t get us outside the next day.

Years later, we learned the whole family had played a big joke on Ed and me. It was my Uncle Bud, Ed’s daddy, who played Burl in a sheet.

As I stare into the flames in our fireplace now, I tell you this, folks, those are memories I’ll never forget.