Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Book Review - Master Lists for Writers by Bryn Donovan

Every writer I know has been there. I myself have been there multiple times; that place where your imagination dries up and all of your brilliant ideas disappear like a butterfly in the fog, leaving you staring at a blank screen, dazed and absentmindedly tapping your foot to the throb of a blinking curser.

Or maybe you find yourself in that situation where you are able to write, but the words just don’t seem to fit. You are having a difficult time expressing yourself and your writing sounds flat, dull, uninspiring, even boring. You have writing goals and publishing deadlines to meet. What do you do?

Well, you can do what I have done in the past…just blow off your writing for the day. After all, there is all of that research that needs to be done – you know, on Facebook. But if you are looking to spend your time a little more productively, then I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Master Lists for Writers, by Bryn Donovan (Munds Park Publishing, 2015).

Master Lists for Writers is a tremendous resource for writers at any stage in their career. Whether you are working on your very first story or novel, or you are a veteran published author, you will find inspiration and motivation within the almost three hundred pages of writing tips and lists included between the covers of this gem.

Some of the helps you will find inside include:
  • 183 different facial expressions
  • Page after page of physical and emotional descriptions for your characters
  • 500 great words for action scenes
  • 25 plot twists
  • 25 motives for murder
  • 100 character quirks
  • 50 ways to show a character is a good person
  • Ways people say Good-bye
  • Ways people verbalize negative feelings
  • 50 actions that show attraction
And the “Lists” go on and on...

There is one whole section devoted to character names, from Viking names to medieval England. If your story takes place in the old west, and you are looking for just the right name for your protagonist or your antagonist, then the list “200 names from the Wild West” would be a good one to check out. Or maybe your story is more contemporary. Don’t worry, there’s no need to pick a name out of the phone book. Master Lists for Writers has a list of 400 different names for contemporary heroes and heroines.

Another section covers dialogue and yet another has numerous lists devoted to plotting your story. The only downside I see to this book is that it is filled with so much useful information that you might be in danger of spending your time reading through the lists instead of actually doing your writing! But I think that Bryn Donovan even anticipated that possibility because the last list in the book is “10 Reasons Why You Should Write That Story.” Master Lists for Writers is available at Amazon.

Bryn Donovan is a professional writer and published author and poet who teaches creative workshops at corporations and writing conferences. She earned her M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Arizona, and she lives in Kansas City. Her blog at bryndonovan.com has many additional resources for writers.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Redhead And The Pickup Truck

Honey, my truck is bleeding,” I announced as I came in the front door the other day.

What do you mean your truck is bleeding?” replied my redhead. (That is what I call my wife, which is quite a coincidence because her hair is red!)

It is leaking this red fluid all over the driveway. I think that it nicked a major artery.”

My redhead has this rare medical condition that presents itself as follows: I will make a comment about something; she will heave a big sigh and role her eyes into the back of her head as though I had said something stupid. She started having one of her fits now (poor thing).

It’s not blood, you idiot,” she replied. (That’s what my redhead calls me.) “If it’s red it’s probably transmission fluid.”

Is that something that the truck really needs?” I asked.

Only if you want the transmission to work,” she replied.

It took my redhead several years after we were married to come to grips with the fact that I am not the most mechanically adept of people. Fixing things and building things and remodeling things has never been my “thing”. My knowledge of automobile mechanics is solely limited to putting air in the tires, and the first time that I attempted that, I turned blue and almost passed out. Then my redhead told me that there was a machine that I could hook up to the tire that would actually pump the air directly into it for me.

Red, on the other hand, is quite comfortable with her head under a car hood, and mechanics away like a maniac, tools flying about as she welds gaskets or hammers batteries or does whatever she does under there. For her sake I always try to sound knowledgeable when we talk about such things.

Hummmm,” I replied thoughtfully. “I think we really should keep that transmission thing working properly. What do you recommend?’

Let me go out and take a look at it,” she answered.

I walked out to the driveway with her where a big puddle of red, oily fluid had collected under my pick-up. She bent down and stuck her finger in the puddle. She actually stuck her finger INTO the puddle! YUCH!! She rubbed the fluid between her fingers.

Yep. It’s transmission fluid,” she declared.

Then she got down on the ground and kind of scooted under the truck. She emerged a moment later and brushed herself off as she stood.

It looks like the transfer case is leaking.”

Do you want me to go get your hammer?” I asked.

She did the heavy sigh, eye-rolly thing again. I really do wish there was some kind of medication she could take to help her control her fits. She says that vodka is about the only thing that helps, but she used up the last of that the other day when I dropped my cell phone into the toilet and got my hand stuck trying to fish it out.

No, you idiot,” she said. “We are going to have to take this to a mechanic.”

Now, there are a couple of reasons why the words, ‘We are going to have to take this to a mechanic’, are enough to induce cardiac arrest in me. The first reason is that I have absolutely no idea what they are talking about when they are explaining to me the multitude of mechanical defects that are rife in my vehicle. They may as well be speaking Greek. The worst part is that I have to pretend like I DO know what they are talking about! Some good ol’ boy named Joe (name above the pocket on his greasy black coveralls) will come up to me holding a grease covered hunk of metal.

Here’s your problem,” he will say. “Can you believe the condition that baby is in?! I am surprised you didn’t have to tow your truck in.”

Yeah. Wow!” I reply, trying to sound like a good ol’ boy myself. “That is one of the worst looking….um….one of those that I have ever seen.”

I can have a new one in for you by Friday,” Joe will inform me, (today being Monday) “and it will only cost you $650 bucks.”

Well, that’s quite reasonable for a new….um….one of those,” I reply.

This leads into the second reason why I dread going to a mechanic. Nothing ever costs anywhere close to the amount of money that I actually have in my bank account. Why should I have to sell a kidney to pay for a new bulb for my left turn signal? I mean, I understood it in the old days when turn signals required expensive blinker fluid, but I happen to know that all vehicles manufactured after 1995 no longer utilize fluid technology. Today’s automotive technology requires a simple $75 an hour computer analysis and a three hour phone consultation with the manufacturer to determine that the bulb is burnt out. Then it is a simple two-man job to replace the bulb. The whole thing shouldn’t take more than a day at the most. Yet, it will be two days and $495.50 later before I can drive away secure in the knowledge that I can now make left turns in complete and utter safety.

Anyway, we made an appointment with the mechanic for the following day. Red came with me when I dropped off the truck. Ever since the turn signal incident, she has to tag along whenever I take a vehicle in for repairs. She sits there next to me muttering under her breath. I can make out certain words like, “idiot,” and something about money growing on trees. I have heard that some women will get this way when they are going through the “change,” so being the kind, gentle and understanding husband that I am, I just let her mumble.

We pull the truck into the mechanics bay and Red gets out to talk with Joe. I let her do all of the talking because she speaks the language.

Yeah, it's leaking fluid from the transfer case, and GREEK GREEK GREEK GREEK GREEK,” she tells him.

Well,” says Joe, “I can GREEK GREEK GREEK, but if GREEK GREEK, then I’ll have to GREEK GREEK GREEK GREEK GREEK.”

How much will this run us?” Red asked.

Joe looked longingly in my direction. “Maybe I should talk to your husband,” he said.

HEAVENS NO!” replied Red.

After some negotiating in which I am sure I was spared my last remaining kidney, we leave the truck at the garage and catch a ride home with Joe’s assistant - a nineteen year old kid who confused us with someone who actually enjoys listening to P-Diddy and Snoop Dog at 120 decibels.

I really am lucky that Red is as knowledgeable as she is about auto mechanics. I think I will have to do something extra special for her for our anniversary. In a couple of months we are going to celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary. We have only been married twenty-eight years, but I heard that the fiftieth celebration is a real “barn-burner,” so I decided that we would do that one next. Maybe I will get her a new hammer and maybe a jigsaw. Then next time we can fix our own transfer case thingy!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Twice Saved

His name was Fleming. Some accounts say that he was a poor Scottish farmer, but it is more likely that he worked as a gardener on the rich English estate. This much we do know. It was a hot summer day in the late 1880's, and Fleming was working in the gardens of the big estate when he heard something. He stopped to listen. It was faint, but it sounded like cries for help. He dropped his tools and ran towards the source of the commotion, which seemed to be coming from a nearby pond. Topping a small hill, Fleming saw the pond below, and the source of the cries for help. Several children from the estate had been swimming in the pond when one of their playmates had wandered out into deep water and was drowning. Without hesitating, Fleming threw himself into the water and rescued the drowning boy.

The next day, a carriage pulled up in front of the little cabin where Fleming lived with his small son. Out of the carriage stepped an elegantly dressed man, obviously of noble birth, and introduced himself as the father of the boy Fleming had saved.

"You saved my son's life," said the nobleman, "and I wish to repay you."

"I cannot except payment for doing my Christian duty," replied Fleming, shrugging off the nobleman's gesture.

Noticing a small boy standing in the doorway of the little cabin, the nobleman asked, "Is that your son?"

"Yes," Fleming replied.

"Then I beg of you," replied the nobleman. "You have done a great kindness to my son. Please allow me to do one to yours. Let me provide for his education," said the nobleman. "If he grows up to be anything like the man that his father is, then you will indeed have someone to be very proud of."

Fleming hesitated for a moment, but finally gave his consent.

The nobleman was as good as his word, and provided the lad with the best education available. The boy studied hard, taking to academia like a born scholar. He eventually wound up at St. Mary's Hospital in London where he studied medicine.

Years later, the nobleman's son… the once drowning little boy, now grown to adulthood, became stricken with pneumonia. The best doctor in the country was called to his side. It seems that this doctor had discovered a new drug to treat pneumonia and other types of infections. The drug was called "Penicillin", and the doctor was Sir Alexander Fleming, the son of the gardener who saved a drowning boy many years earlier.

Now if you think about it, you really have to ask yourself, how many people were saved on that hot summer day in the English country side when a poor Scottish farmer dove into a pond to save a drowning boy? Was it only one English nobleman's son, or was it the countless millions who owe their lives to the healing properties of penicillin?

And what of the nobleman's son? Because he was saved from drowning by the father - and because the son saved him from pneumonia - because the same family twice saved his life - he was also able to save millions. In fact, he was able to save his whole country. For the name of the nobleman who paid for Alexander Fleming's education was Sir Randolph Churchill. His son's name was Winston Churchill.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A CHRISTMAS TAIL (Yes...I spelled that correctly)

I remember the good old days when dog food came in a can that you opened and dumped unceremoniously into the dog’s dish – a gooey glob of unidentifiable “something.” These days there is a virtual cornucopia of different things that you can feed your dog – even gourmet dog food that looks as good as anything that you might find in a five-star restaurant.
I say all of this as a way of explaining what happened last Christmas, and to let you see that I am not totally to blame for what followed…
My wife went shopping and came home with a big bag full of fancy Christmas dog treats. They looked every bit as good as regular Christmas cookies. Some of them were even shaped like Santa or like bells and Christmas stars. I am not ashamed to say that my mouth watered when I saw them. Anyway, she opened the bag and gave one to the dog who woofed it down in one gulp without even bothering to find out what it tasted like. Our dog has never been known for his discerning pallet. Then she put the rest of the treats into a plastic bucket, snapped the lid in place and put it on the top shelf in the pantry.
Now, I am not proud of what I did next, but my curiosity got the best of me. They looked so real and so tasty that I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I was so obsessed with the desire to try one that I couldn’t sleep.
Finally, I couldn’t take anymore. I quietly slipped out of bed and crept down stairs. Opening the pantry, I reached up and grabbed the bucket of dog treats. Tearing off the lid, I reached in and pulled out a particularly festive looking treat. I only hesitated a moment before popping it into my mouth. OH MY GOD!! I had never tasted anything so good! I took another, and then another. Before I realized it, I had eaten half of the bucket!
Now my wife is no dummy. She was sure to notice how many treats were missing, and there is no way that our dog could have helped himself to the delectable doggie delights. I had to find some way to disguise my crime. That’s when I remembered the box of Christmas cookies that I had gotten from a coworker (we’ll call her Janet). Janet always handed out cookies at Christmas time to all of us in the office. However, she was a heavy smoker and her cookies always smelled like cigarettes, so I had tossed them into the trash when I got home from work that evening. Digging through the trash, I found the cookies that Janet had given me and I used them to replace the dog treats that I had eaten.
Feeling pretty clever with myself, I replaced the bucket of dog treats on the shelf in the pantry and went back to bed sure that no one would be the wiser.
Several months went by and we started to notice our dog acting funny. He walked funny, he acted nervous and he started chasing his tail, which he had never done before. He just wasn’t himself, so we took him to see the vet. They ran all kinds of tests on him and then broke the news to us. It seems like our dog has developed a nicotine addiction. My wife is at a complete loss to explain how this could have happened. I, of course, feigned complete ignorance (which is pretty much my default position anyways).
Since our dog’s diagnosis, my wife has been smothering him with extra kindness and affection. She really loves him and is doing her best to nurse him through this rough patch in his life.
Just seeing how she has been fawning over the dog lately makes me wonder how she would react if she ever found out that I have started drinking from the toilet.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Do You Know Barbara's Story?

Outside, the snow fell. Robert May sat in his dingy two room apartment and listened to the wind as it blew the snow against the window pane. There was a good reason that they called Chicago the windy city. In happier times, thirty four year old Robert would not have minded, or even paid any attention to, the wind. But tonight, as he sat listening, he realized how alone and helpless he was.
Across the room on the couch lay his wife Evelyn. For two years she had been bed ridden - her body racked with cancer. Robert knew that she would not last till the end of the month. She was young and had put up a good fight, but in the late 1930’s there was not much that could be done against that deadly disease. All of their meager savings had gone for treatments and medications that had proved futile. So now broke, and without hope, Robert sat listening to the wind and watching his wife die. Once again, the loneliness seized him and clung to him like the frost that clung to the window pane.
Suddenly, a bit of warmth started to melt the icy prison that trapped his lonely heart. It was his four year old daughter, Barbara, slipping her tiny hand into his and climbing up on his lap. She was his whole world now. Robert held her close, and looking down into her cherub-like face, tried to smile.
Barbara had never really known her mother in the same way that other little girls know their mothers. For half of her young life, her mother had been too sick to interact with Barbara and do the things that other mothers do with their little girls. Barbara was still too young to understand what was happening. She only knew that her mother was different than other mothers.
It was then, on that snowy December night in 1939, that four year old Barbara May, in child-like innocents, asked her father a question that would change their lives forever, and touch the lives of countless millions of others worldwide.
“Daddy,” she asked, “Why is my mommy not like other mommies?”
Robert looked down into his daughters face, searching for a way to answer her that she might understand. She was too young yet to comprehend what many adults struggled with - what he himself was struggling with - with life and death and the meaning of it all. He had no answers to those questions. But she did comprehend that her mother was different. Perhaps he could approach it from that angle, and explain to her that to be different was not a bad thing. In fact, it could be a blessing in disguise.
Robert understood about being different. As a child, he was small and delicate. The innocent cruelty of his childhood playmates would often bring the frail Robert to tears. Even at Dartmouth, from which he graduated in 1936, Robert was always being mistaken for someone’s little brother. Yes, Robert understood about being different. But how could he explain these things to Barbara? Like most four year olds, she liked to be told stories. Perhaps he could make up a story for her that would help explain.
Then it came to him. You see, Robert had been pondering something else that night, as he sat in the dark by his wife, listening to the snow and wind outside. He had been pondering a work assignment that he had been given.
Robert worked as a copywriter for the Montgomery Ward department stores.  He had been asked to write a little Christmas story that could be printed up in booklet form and given out to customers as a promotional gimmick. Now with Barbara’s question ringing in his ears, he had an idea, and set to work.
The story that Robert May wrote over the course of the next few nights was indeed printed up in book form and given out free to Montgomery Ward customers. That year they gave out over 2.4 million copies. War time paper shortages curtailed its printing over the next few years, but by the end of 1946, six million copies had been given away. The popularity of May’s story inspired a song in 1949 which became the second most popular song of all time. Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon in the years that followed, producing several versions of the story which have become Christmas traditions for many families.
Robert May understood all about being different, and because he wanted to share that understanding with his four year old daughter, Barbara, the whole world now knows that being different is not necessarily a bad thing. It could be a very good thing. And the world knows this because they know the story he wrote. The story about a reindeer named Rudolph, with a shiny red nose. 


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Day Of Thanksgiving (1951) Thankful for Freedom

Thanksgiving 1951 style. Some things never change. Some things change a great deal. Do we still value the same things that we did a generation ago? What are you thankful for?


Monday, November 23, 2015

The Price of Vengeance

The Battle of Point Pleasant, October 10, 1774
This was personal. Captain James Ward sighted down the barrel of his flintlock musket at the Shawnee warrior making a dash for better cover behind a fallen chestnut. He fired his musket. The Shawnee brave lurched forward, clutching his chest. He fell short of the relative safety of the toppled chestnut tree never to rise again.

Captain Ward wasn't satisfied though. The death of one Shawnee brave was not going to atone for twenty two years of hate and a longing for vengeance. He would not be appeased until every Indian north of the Ohio was dead. This was personal.

The date was October 10, 1774. The place was Point Pleasant in, what is today, West Virginia, at the confluence of the Ohio and Great Kanawha Rivers. In 1774, this was all part of a wilderness frontier people referred to as the "Middle Ground" - a mysterious land west of Fort Pitt along the Ohio, where few white men ever went and returned to tell about it. Men like Daniel Boone, David Duncan, and Simon Butler were exceptions though, and were largely responsible for opening up the Ohio for settlement. Soon, wilderness settlements started springing up between the Cumberland and Ohio Rivers in the sacred hunting grounds the Indians called "Can-tuc-kee". Here, anyone could come to hunt, but no one, red or white, could take up permanent residence.

As more and more settlers pushed deeper into the sacred hunting grounds, establishing wilderness outposts like Harodsburg, Boonesboro, and Logan's Fort, hostilities escalated between the Indians and the whites. Eventually, a frontier militia was formed to deal decisively with the problem. It is this militia, composed of approximately eight hundred men under the command of Colonel Andrew Lewis, that, on October 10, 1774 is now engaged in a point blank confrontation with about one thousand Shawnee warriors led by Cornstalk, the principal chief of all of the Shawnees.

But our story is not so much about the battle of Point Pleasant as it is about two of it's participants. So, let's get back to Captain Ward.

As I said, this was personal. With each flash of powder in his flash pan, fifty four year old James Ward thought about that terrible day twenty two years ago when Indians raided his homestead, burning it to the ground, killing his wife and stealing his young son John. The memory of his lost family is probably what motivated Captain Ward to distinguish himself so well during the battle, as he exacted his revenge against one Shawnee brave after another. It was probably also the memory of their faces that was the last to float across his consciousness. Poking his head up over the log behind which he was concealed, a well aimed rifle ball caught him right between the eyes. Two days later, Captain James Ward departed this life with his vengeance unfulfilled.

Not far away, White Wolf, a thirty three year old Shawnee brave, reloaded his musket. He had built up a reputation among his people as being deadly accurate with a flintlock, preferring that particular weapon over his tomahawk or bow and arrows. He was very calm in battle. Every action was precise and deliberate, and every shot either killed or wounded an enemy. He would patiently wait until one got careless and exposed himself, sticking his head out from behind cover. Then White Wolf would shoot and that would be the end of the careless white man.

For White Wolf, this was also a personal battle. For as long as he could remember, the white man had been stealing the land, killing off the game, breaking treaties, and pushing the red man farther and farther west.

"No more", thought White Wolf, as he aimed his musket and fired again. Too many bad memories, and for White Wolf, memories are what bothered him the most. Particularly, vague memories of his childhood. Memories that were more like a dream than anything else, and a bad dream at that. Foggy. Unclear. Uncertain. A dream of people with no faces. A dream of names and places that meant nothing to him, but which he felt must somehow be important to him. A dream of a time when he was very young. A time before he was a warrior. A time even before he was a Shawnee. A time, long ago, before he was called White Wolf. A dream of a time when he was called by another name - John Ward.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Every Man Plays Many Parts

B-24 Liberator
These kinds of decisions were always difficult to make. A man’s career was on the line and it was up to him, Colonel James, to make the final decision. As commander of the eighth Army Air Force bomber squadron, he had been called upon to make quite a few difficult decisions. You do not become command pilot, flying combat missions over Europe, without having to call some tough ones, and this was a tough one.

Walter, a young Sergeant under Colonel James’s command, was not really a bad soldier; he was just a bit of a discipline problem. His latest infraction, however, could get him a dishonorable discharge. The other officers wanted the Sergeant shot, but that was probably a bit drastic. Colonel James wasn't sure what to do. Maybe there was another answer.

Colonel James had never considered the command aspect of Army life. When he was a boy growing up in his hometown of Indiana, PA, where he was born on May 20, 1908, he dreamt of flying someday. He even constructed a homemade plane in which he nearly broke his neck. But he hadn't planned on a career in the Army Air Corp. He was leaning toward a career as an architect, having graduated Princeton University with a degree in architecture in 1932. He pursued various interests for the next few years, spending time in New York and in California.

Then along comes W.W.II. With his interest in flying, the Army Air Corps was a natural choice. He enlisted in 1941 as a private. After learning to fly, and being commissioned as an officer, he began flying combat missions.

But here he was now, holding the fate of a man in the palm of his hands. Sending a good man home wouldn’t help the war effort at all. But keeping a bad man in the Army could put a lot of other men in danger.

Colonel James made his decision. He issued the order. Sergeant Walter would not be sent home. He would be given detached duty instead. Perhaps the rigors and discipline necessary for detached duty would do the young Sergeant some good. Colonel James believed that there was a lot of potential in the young man, and hoped that by putting his trust in him, Sergeant Walter would someday soon discover his real calling in life.

Colonel James never regretted that decision. It's for certain that Sergeant Walter never regretted it either. The Sergeant managed to make it through the rest of the war without getting shot - by either side. He even earned a number of commendations and decorations, including six Battle Stars.

After being discharged at the end of the war, Walter even manage to find his true calling, and he found it in a place called "Hollywood".

You know Sergeant Walter, although you probably never knew about his close call with a dishonorable discharge. You have seen him in such hits as "The Odd Couple", "The Bad News Bears", and "Grumpy Old Men". That's right - Sergeant Walter Matthou.

You might also be interested in knowing what happened to Colonel James. He flew a total of 25 combat missions as command pilot. He earned a number of medals of recognition for his service to his country, including the Distinguished Flying Cross. After the war, he spent 20 years in the Air Force Reserve, retiring as a brigadier general.

If you are wondering if Colonel James ever ran into sergeant Matthou after the war, the answer is "yes". They actually became good friends.

You see, it's funny the way things work out. It seems that the army wasn't Colonel James true calling either. He made a few movies himself. Actually, he made more than 75 of them. He won one Academy Award and was nominated for three others. But don't look for "Colonel" anywhere in the movie credits. You will find him listed under James - James Stewart.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Contemplating the Great Mysteries of the Universe

People often ask me, “Mike, how does a person with your tremendous intellect and verbal prowess keep his mind sharp and focused?” I always respond with, “Huh?” After having them repeat the question several times, I finally begin to understand what it is that they are trying to ask me, and… where was I going with this? Oh yeah… sharp and focused…

Like Plato, Descartes, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, I have found that the best way to exercise the brain is to ponder some of the great mysteries of life. To aid you in your own quest for knowledge, I have listed below some of the weightier matters that have occupied my own intellectual pursuit. I have, in the past, come very close to solving some of these perplexing inquiries, but invariably, my wife will start pounding on the bathroom door and I will lose my train of thought. (Note: each generation of great thinkers must suffer the inquisition of the anti-intellectuals.)

At any rate, this list is not exhaustive. It is merely a sampling of the mysteries to be found in the universe. If anyone can think of any others that deserve our attention, Feel free to leave it in the comment section below.

  1. Why do we have interstate highways in Hawaii?
  2. Where do forest rangers go to “get away from it all”?
  3. Why do we park in driveways and drive on parkways?
  4. Why aren’t “hemorrhoids” called “asteroids”?
  5. When they ship Styrofoam peanuts, what do they pack them in?
  6. When you throw out your back, where does it go?
  7. What is the speed of dark?
  8. Why are there Braille signs on drive-up ATM's?
  9. If women wear a pair of pants and a pair of glasses, why don't they wear a pair of bras?
  10. How come you never hear about “gruntled” employees?
  11. If someone with multiple personalities threatens to kill himself, is it considered a hostage situation?
  12. Why does sour cream have an expiration date?
  13. If people from Poland are called “Poles”, why aren’t people from Holland called “Holes”?
  14. If we are here on earth to help others, what are they here for?
  15. Why isn't there mouse-flavored cat food?
  16. Why do you need a driver's license to buy liquor when you can't drink and drive?
  17. Where are Preparations A through G?
  18. Why do we play in recitals and recite in plays?
  19. Why isn't “phonetic” spelled the way it sounds?
  20. If a cow laughed, would milk come out her nose?
  21. Why is it that when you transport something by car, it’s called a “shipment”, but when you transport something by ship, it’s called “cargo”?
  22. If olive oil comes from olives, and peanut oil comes from peanuts, where does baby oil come from?
  23. Are there seeing-eye humans for blind dogs?
  24. Why is it when a man talks dirty to a woman, its sexual harassment; but when a woman talks dirty to a man, its $3.95 per minute? (Don’t ask me how I know.)
  25. Why are they called “apartments” when they are all stuck together?
  26. If this is a country of free speech, why are there phone bills?
  27. How much deeper would the ocean be if sponges didn't live there?
  28. If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat?
  29. If Superman can stop bullets with his chest, why does he always duck when someone throws a gun at him?
  30. What happened to the first 6 "ups"?
  31. If an orange is orange, why isn't a lime called a green or a lemon called a yellow?
  32. Why does your nose run, and your feet smell?
  33. Why do we put suits in a garment bag and put garments in a suitcase?
  34. Why do we wash bath towels? Aren’t we clean when we use them?
  35. Why do we wait until a pig is dead before we “cure” it?
  36. Why doesn't glue stick to the inside of the bottle?
  37. Do Lipton employees take coffee breaks?
  38. Why do they sterilize the needles for lethal injections?
  39. Why do kamikaze pilots wear helmets?
  40. What do sheep count when they can't get to sleep?
  41. When you choke a smurf, what color does it turn?
  42. Do they have reserved parking for non handicap people at the Special Olympics?
  43. Why do they call it a TV set when you only get 1?
  44. If it's tourist season, why can't we shoot them?
  45. If nothing sticks to Teflon, how do they stick Teflon on the pan?
  46. If you throw a cat out a car window, does it become kitty litter?
  47. If you shoot a mime, should you use a silencer?
  48. Why do women wear evening gowns to nightclubs? Shouldn’t they be wearing nightgowns
  49. Why do “overlook” and “oversee” mean the opposite?
  50. If lawyers are disbarred and the clergy are defrocked, then doesn’t it follow that electricians are delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed, tree surgeons debarked, and dry cleaners depressed?

I hope that this provides fodder for thought, and that your pursuit of knowledge brings you enlightenment and a really buff cerebral cortex.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Tale of the Lion and the Fox

It was the 1930's and everything had changed. Hollywood was not the same town it had been only a few short years earlier. The reason for all of the changes was the advent of "talkies" - motion pictures with sound. What a difference it made! Sound stages were going up all over studio production lots, and actors and actresses who previously had only to concern themselves with how they looked on film, were now taking elocution lessons, trying to rid themselves of an accent or a nasal tone. Many new people appeared on the Hollywood scene in the thirties, making the natural transition from Broadway to the talkies.

Sound productions not only made it possible for the fans to hear their favorite stars speak their lines, but now they could hear them sing their favorite songs as well, so the musical  developed into the most popular movie genre. The first all music, all dance talkie was the 1929 Academy award winner Broadway Melody. Musicals soon became so popular, that some of the movie veterans, who otherwise would have never even considered singing and dancing, were persuaded (by virtue of their contracts with the major studios) to hop on the musical band wagon.

The undisputed ruler of the musical was Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, who produced somewhere in excess of 200 musicals during their first fifty years. Although no other studio came close, there was competition.

A rival studio - 20th Century Fox - had a young star named Shirley Temple who was becoming America's sweetheart, and MGM was obsessed with her! Oh, to be sure, MGM had its own child actors, but none of them had achieved the type of popularity, nor brought the studio the notoriety, that Miss Temple and Fox were enjoying.

MGM was obsessed. They desperately wanted her contract. They approached Fox executives. MGM had an idea for a movie that would be just right for little "Curly Top". Could an arrangement be made?

"No deal", said Fox.

MGM tried again. "How about if we throw a couple of our actors into the deal - two of ours for one of yours?"

"No deal", said Fox.

"Fine", said MGM, stomping off.

"Fine", said Fox.

They went their separate ways and there were no more negotiations.

Well, MGM went ahead and made the movie anyway - without Shirley Temple. They gave the part to one of their own actresses, Frances Gumm, a sixteen year old that they had had under contract now for about four years. She had played in a couple of bit parts. Nothing big. Could she handle the lead role in a new musical? That was the question that they were asking themselves at MGM back in 1939.

For over seventy-five years now, generations of movie goers have answered that question with a resounding "YES". You know the movie. You have seen it time after time. The movie that MGM originally planned for Shirley Temple. The movie about a little girl from Kansas and her dog Toto. The Wizard of OZ, staring Frances Gumm - whom you know better as Judy Garland.

But wait. There's more...

Remember the two actors that MGM was willing to trade to Fox for Shirley Temple? The first one was actually another actress - the beautiful and talented Jean Harlow, who stared in such films as Hell's Angels, Platinum Blonde, and Red Dust. In 1937, she became the first actress to appear on the cover of LIFE magazine.

The second was an actor you may have heard of as well. He also made a movie for MGM in 1939. His name was Clark Gable. The movie was the 1939 Academy Award winning best picture - Gone With the Wind.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Poetry and Faith: A Match Made In Heaven (Part Two - Why I Write Poetry)

We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering - these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love - these are what we stay alive for.” - Robin Williams in The Dead Poets Society

I have always loved that quote by Robin Williams, ever since seeing the movie The Dead Poets Society a number of years ago. It does a pretty good job of expressing in a nut shell what many poets feel is the impetus behind their writing. Poetry takes us beyond mere existence into the realm of living; into the experience of the stuff of life. Poetry is an expression of that experience, and poets, like writers of prose, have an innate need to express themselves. Where does this driving desire come from…this sometimes overwhelming passion, for writers of poetry and prose alike, to place their thoughts and feelings down on paper?

As a writer who is also a person of faith, I believe that this desire to express ourselves creatively through the written word comes from God. The answer to the question, “Why do we write?” can be found by looking at the nature of God.

GOD IS A CREATOR GOD… In Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, in the very first sentence of the first chapter we learn an important lesson about God. The verse starts out, “In the beginning, God created…” God could have started the Bible in any way that He wanted to, but it would seem as though his desire was to teach us from the very beginning of His special revelation that He is a “creator” God. In the rest of the first two chapters of Genesis we are introduced to God’s creative process as He brings the heavens and the earth, with all of its varied life forms into existence.

WE ARE CREATED IN GOD’S IMAGE… In Genesis chapter one, we are made privy to an ancient conversation between the three members of the godhead as they discuss the creation of man. In verse twenty-six God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” We are created in the image of a creator. The desire to be creative and productive is hard-wired into who we are. Look at the verbs that are used in verse twenty-eight. After God created man (and woman) and blessed them, He told them to be fruitful, multiply, replenish, subdue, have dominion – all commands which require man to exercise a degree of creativity.

GOD IS A WRITER… Aside from the theological and historical value of the scriptures, the Bible is considered one of the greatest literary works of all time. Great literature expresses universal human experiences, and the Bible communicates these experiences in a variety of literary forms and genres including poetry, narratives, epistles, proverbs, parables, satire, and visionary writing. God, as the ultimate author of the Bible – through the instrument of his apostles and prophets – is arguably the bestselling author of all time. The Internet Public Library estimates that there have been over six billion copies of the Bible in print in over two thousand languages and dialects.

GOD IS A POET… From the book of Job to the Song of Solomon can be found some of the most beautiful poetry ever penned. It is in the book of Psalms that we get the clearest and most intimate picture of the heart of God. John Calvin, in commenting on the Psalms, said, “…all grief’s, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, anxieties - in short, all those tumultuous agitations wherewith the minds of men are wont to be tossed - the Holy Ghost hath here represented to the life."

It is in the book of Ephesians, however, where we find the most profound and intimate example of God’s poetic nature. In verse ten of the second chapter of Ephesians we read, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works…” The word that we translate “workmanship” is the Greek word “poiema” from which we get the word “poem”. Scripture tells us that we are Gods’ poems! Anyone who has ever written a poem can tell you that you don’t just throw a bunch of random words together and call it a poem. Poems are painstakingly and lovingly crafted. Each element is carefully chosen and fitted together in order to best represent the heart of the poet. 


Why do I write? I write because I am created in the image of a creator God…because the passion to create is inherent within me. Why do I write poetry? I write poetry because my heavenly father is a poet, and I delight in being one of his poems.


By Michael R. Ritt
I am a very special poem,
My maker said it’s true.
Each word was chosen carefully,
Each rhyme and meter too.
With loving hands and careful thought,
With heavens ink and quill,
Each stanza written of my life,
Was ordered by his will.
I’m not a poem that all can read,
Or even understand.
But every line of every verse,
Was crafted by His hand.
And when the enemy tries hard
To tell me it’s not true,
I just remember I’m Gods poem,
And my friend, so are you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Poetry and Faith: A Match Made In Heaven (Part One - What Is Poetry)

In high school, I was an introspective, pensive person and a bit of a loner. I remember one day being in the school library. I pulled a volume of Robert Frost off of the shelf and started paging through it. I had never read him before, but now I couldn’t put it down. I planted myself in the middle of the isle, between the rows of book shelves, and read. I missed my last class while I was transported back to New England. I climbed birches and chopped wood; I went out into the meadow to bring in the cows and I cried over the death of the hired hand. It was that day that I learned the power of words to move people; not only emotionally, but to move them in their imaginations to other places and times…into experiences that were new and exciting. From that day forward, it was impossible for me not to be a poet.

Language is said to be arbitrary. That is, there is no natural relationship between words and the concepts that they represent. So any discussion about poetry must first start with a definition of what we mean when we talk about poems and poetry. Poetry seems to have about as many different definitions as there are poets. Kahlil Gibran said, “Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.” Percy Shelley said, “Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.” And my favorite poet, Robert Frost, had this to say about poetry, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” 

Poetry is a lot of things to a lot of people, and trying to answer the question, “What is poetry?” is like trying to answer the broader question, “What is art?” We know it when we see it…when it comes shooting out of the gate; but it is kind of hard for us to toss a loop around it so we can wrestle it to the ground.

I remember seeing a photograph once of people in an art gallery staring intently at a painting that hung on the wall in front of them. The “painting” was nothing more than a blank canvas. There was no way of telling from the photograph just what all of those people thought about that “painting”, but I know what I would have thought. I will be the first to admit to a level of unsophistication equaled by none – except perhaps Larry the cable guy - but I just don’t get it! I feel that way when I read some poems too. I just don’t get them! But that’s ok. Even Carl Sandburg said, “I've written some poetry I don't understand myself.”

So what exactly is poetry? As they say, "If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, it must be a duck.” What “they” don’t tell you is that there are between 150 and 200 different species of “ducks” in the world. Some of them look nothing like others of them. The same is true of poetry. There are numerous different poetic forms: sonnet, acrostic, blank verse, ballad, haiku, limericks and on and on… A sonnet looks nothing like a limerick which looks nothing like blank verse.

You should begin to see the difficulty in coming to a concise definition of “poetry”.

One way to define poetry is along the lines of its technical characteristics. That said, a definition I like to use is, “words arranged in a rhythmic pattern with regular accents (like beats in music), words which are carefully selected for sound, accent and meaning to express imaginatively ideas and emotions.”

But why do we write poetry? And what does poetry have to do with the one whom Robert Browning called “the perfect poet,” our heavenly father?  For that discussion, come back Thursday to read part two - Why I Write Poetry.




Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Simple Act

It was a cold, rainy, winter day in 1891, and the weather in New York was quite appropriate for the occasion. The occasion was a funeral. The occasion was also the culmination of two great lives intricately intertwined into one great story.

As he stood in the frigid rain, waiting for the funeral procession of his old friend to pass, Joe, now 84 years old, could not help but think back through the years, remembering other funerals and other friends who had already passed ahead; too many, really, to keep track of. He recalled names and tried to put them together with faces that were, for the most part, clouded over by time.

But Bill - the friend who Joe now came to pay his last respects to - was different. Joe would never forget Bill. He could not forget Bill. There was too much respect between the two friends. They had been through so much together.

Joe was in the railroad business. As a matter of fact, the last six years of his life were spent as the federal railroad commissioner. Prior to that, he was an insurance man. But before any of that, Joe was in the army. This is where Joe and Bill met and started their friendship of fifty-plus years. Both had been graduates of West Point. Both men had fought against Santa Anna in the war with Mexico.

Joe continued in the military after the war and eventually became quartermaster general of the U.S. army. Bill resigned from the army in 1853 and worked as a banker and as a lawyer. In 1859, he became superintendent of a military academy in Louisiana. Then came the Civil War. From the first battle of Bull Run to the very end of the war, both Bill and Joe were there. They were there at Bentonville and Vicksburg, New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain and Resaca. Even though both men had been wounded during the war, they both believed that it had been the hand of providence that had seen them to the end of the bloodiest war our nation had ever seen. It was a war that had set brother against brother, father against son, and friend against friend.

Oh yes. Did I mention that Joe and Bill were on opposite sides of that war? And not just two soldiers with opposing loyalties and ideologies, but two generals - two commanders of two different armies! You may or may not remember Joe – Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston, Commander of the Army of the Tennessee. But you will most certainly remember Bill. Even today, if you are from the deep south, the mere mention of his name – William Tecumseh Sherman - can get you tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.

But that was some twenty five years ago, thought Joe, as he watched the procession wind its way down the rainy New York thoroughfare. That's when it happened. For you see, the story is not quite over with yet. That's when it happened. That's when Joe did a simple, but a remarkable thing.

As the carriage baring Sherman's casket approached the spot where Joe stood, Joe removed his hat. It was a simple act of respect and honor for a departed friend and a fallen comrade. A friend, who had accompanied Joe to Sherman's funeral, asked whether it was a wise thing to do considering the rain and the cold. "He would do the same thing for me," was all that Joe replied.

Joe was a survivor. He survived a long and distinguished military career. He survived two wars, including the Civil war – the bloodiest war our country had ever seen with over 620,000 battlefield casualties. He survived most of his old friends and battlefield companions.

But not even Joe was invincible. And it was that simple act of respect and honor that proved more fatal than any bullet or bayonet charge; more lethal than any mortar round or cannon ball. You see, in removing his hat to honor his friend Sherman, Joe caught pneumonia and died ten days later.