5 thoughts that probably make me an old fogie

audio-technica+ I’m listening to 50- and 60-year-old LPs this morning and reflecting on how if you take good care of the discs and have the proper playback equipment, the technology still works. Much of the technology that was supposed to “replace” records is now obsolete; I transferred some of these albums to CD and digital files but it’s easier to access the original records than to keep moving those files to newer and newer devices.

+ I’m always puzzled when people say that paperless technology is better for the environment because it saves trees. The thing is: Trees and paper are renewable resources. Have you noticed how hard it is to recycle electronics?

+ No doubt, going digital saves space. These days you can pack hundreds if not thousands of books into a device the size of a cellphone. But you need the device. I have read books and newspapers that are 150 years old and more; what guarantee do we have that today’s paperless materials will be accessible in 2168?

+ I don’t think there is a more joyous bit of old-time country music, or bluegrass or Americana or whatever you want to call it, than Side 4 of Will The Circle Be Unbroken.

+ When I was a teenager, we listened to Top 40 music on the radio and often could often hear soul, country, big band, jazz, rock, old-time pop, Christian, and oldies music back-to-back within the same half-hour – I was specifically thinking of hit songs by James Brown, Glen Campbell, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Chuck Mangione, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Sister Janet Mead and Jerry Lee Lewis as I typed those words. I think we are for the worse that those diverse genres have been segregated into their own radio stations or playlists.

UPDATE: I had a sixth thought.

+ Our landline still has better fidelity and reliability. The only advantage our cellphones have is portability.

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about that box

dreamstime_xl_9150573 box vertThink outside the box, because there is no box. Not really.

The box is the little cube where you store all the ways you have done things as they always have been done, the ways you have done them, and the ways everyone says they’re supposed to be done.

But you know there has to be a better way. And what you may have forgotten is the box is not there. It’s just a mythical construct created to memorialize the routine.

The routine is easy. The routine gets the job done. But is it enough? Does it get you to the goal? More important, does it get you to YOUR goal? Does it fulfill you, or is it just a paycheck? The paycheck is even sweeter when the work fulfills you.

Imagine how it could be done if you weren’t in this box. Because remember, there is no box. It’s a convenient structure you and your colleagues built to get the job done. It you poke your hand at the walls of this box, it will pass right through and you may be on your path to a better way.

So: Imagine what could be done outside the box, because you’re already outside, because there is no box.

4 short stories less than 30 words each

4 short storiesSo there was this dragon and he had to pee and the house was surrounded by wildfire and about to be lost. The yard stank for weeks, though.

The guitar mounted on the wall came down, and he began to pick. They found him that way, guitar where it belonged, a grin on his face.

The last thing anyone remembered was the stranger turning to them with a smirk, saying, “I wish you hadn’t done that.”

“You’ve done well today,” she told the class. “That was a thoughtful and insightful discussion, but truth be told, the first thing you know is old Jed’s a millionaire.”

Today we ‘choose’ our rulers

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Here in the USA it’s Election Day, when we learn who will be the boss for the next few years and who will be in a constant, unending temper tantrum.

In recent years the tantrum has been especially shrill and ugly. Each campaign has been more unseemly, especially as the world of politics and government has devolved into a perpetual campaign.

Oddly, the harder the mongers of fear and anger have worked to divide us, the more an old Who song jangles through my mind, the words screaming out as the election winners prepare to take office:

Meet the new boss: Same as the old boss.

What keeps me from despair, and what I hope will encourage you, is something that popped into my mind a few years ago while dashing off another burst of thought like this one, and so, again, I quote myself.

“Freedom is not about having the right ruler. Oh wait, yes it is. Freedom is understanding that I am the boss of me.”

Captain Zap is 50

Captain Zap No 1 webI don’t know what made me write “11/4/68” on the cover of Captain Zap #1 when I finished it. All I know for sure is that it was 50 years ago today.

Captain Zap was my first experience in public acceptance of something I created. It was a ridiculous superhero comic book written and drawn in pencil, four pieces of typewriter paper folded in half to make a 12-page comic book with a cover.

When I say “ridiculous,” I mean it was intentionally silly. It was filled with moments like the assassination of Mayor Snort, who, when told, “Someone’s taking pot shots at you, sir,” replies as he falls from a balcony, “Pot shot, my eye! I’m dead.” The sound effect is “POT SHOT.”

Captain Zap was once Ralph Smith, who is struck by lightning one day while rushing to work. Rather than killing him, the lightning endows him with a strange power – energy bolts (er, lightning bolts?) that emerge from his hand when he points at something.

Of course, like any ordinary person, pretty much the first thing he does is decide to become a superhero, but the very first thing he needs is a good name.

“It must be something that would strike fear in the hearts of bad guys!” he proclaims, discharging one of his bolts. As it turns out, a nearby kid is saying, “Hey Joe, have you read the latest issue of Captain –” and his next word is drowned out by the “ZAP!” from Ralph’s energy bolt. Voila.

“And thusly was born Capt. Zap,” the origin story concludes.

I passed around the single copy of Captain Zap #1 and it was met with bemused approval, and so I ended up distributing 23 issues the same way, 22 of which survive, plus Captain Zap Annual #1 (64 pages!), a horror comic called “Tales of Fright (Stories That Reek),” two issues of a spin-off villain-turned-hero called Mass the Mighty, covers for Captain Zap #s 24-27, and a partially finished Captain Zap Annual #2.

Captain Zap - pot shot webOnly Captain Zap #11 is lost to the ages, having not been returned after being passed around. I even have Kapitän Zeppelin #9; a friend in my German class translated that epic battle of Captain Zap versus his archenemies Dr. Skull, the Red Demon, Mass the Mighty, Logicman, Vampireman, the Devil, and the Human Wrench (der Menschwrensch).

Dr. Skull was reborn as “The World’s Nicest Bad Guy” in my Myke Phoenix Novelettes, but otherwise Captain Zap was essentially forgotten until my brother found them in a box in my old closet a few years ago.

be silly - webActually, gone but not forgotten. I never lost the fun of entertaining my friends with my silly stories, and that motivated me to keep trying all these years as a “wordsmith and podcaster” while I made a living as a reporter and later editor. Maybe my friends were just humoring their eccentric lunatic friend, but we had fun together with Captain Zap, I think.

I pulled the pile of old pencil scribblings out recently because I wondered if I could adapt the concept for contemporary readers – Lord knows we all could use a little silliness – and that’s when I saw “11/4/68” scrawled there.

And so this morning I offer a toast to that high school sophomore who dared to be silly. That skinny, crazy kid still exists somewhere inside an overweight, somewhat addled older guy who counts among his prized possessions a plaque on his wall that says, “Be silly sometimes.” And he treasures the people who, 50 years ago, smiled at the “pot shot” joke and said, “This is kind of cool.”

10 authors to celebrate on National Author’s Day

author's day

I see by my desk calendar that today (Nov. 1) is Author’s Day. I see by my search engine that National Author’s Day is a thing: “Every year on Nov. 1, millions of people celebrate authors and the books that they write on National Author’s Day. After her grandmother’s death in 1968, Sue Cole promoted the observance of National Author’s Day.”

I wonder if that’s why Nov. 1 is the beginning of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, where thousands of writers and wannabe writers commit to writing a 50,000-word novel during the month of November – but putting NaNoWriMo into my search engine would take me down another internet rabbit hole, and I’m trying to write here.

Author’s Day coincides with the day after I finished reading the 70th book of my year. I have never read 70 books in a year before; I read 66 books in 2017 and 52 in 2011. These are the only years, since I started keeping track in 1994, that I’ve averaged as much as a book a week. Some years I read as few as 10 books, which for a wordsmith is a ghastly confession.

Having a day job that puts me in a car for 90 minutes or more three days a week has helped me expand my “reading,” as has the evolution of audiobooks from a fumble of cassettes and then CDs to a simple download into a cellphone. The majority of those 70 books have been delivered to my ears instead of my eyes, by narrators who breathe an extra dimension into the words.

So, for National Author’s Day, let me share some of the authors I’ve been sharing my car and my easy chair with this year. Continue reading →

The call of the writer

call of the writerI had an epiphany the other day while reading a book about the professional writing life:

Writing is not work.

Work is dragging your butt into the office or into the car to drive somewhere you’d rather not be.

Work may even be forcing yourself to sit down at the keyboard or take up some other writing tool.

But once the writing begins, it is fun, it’s a challenge, it’s a puzzle to be solved, a mystery to be cracked.

Sitting down to write may be work. Forcing myself to focus may be work.

But once the words start flowing, it’s a river of fun, a gusher of joy, a knowing I am doing what I am meant to do, a contentment of being where I’m supposed to be, and a wondering why I fought so hard to put my body and mind in a position to be answering the call I felt all along.

The Parable of The 27 Failures

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Blam! With a swing of the bat, a hard spherical object reverses direction and is sent hundreds of feet across the air, landing behind a wall. Thousands of witnesses erupt in happiness, praising the wielder of the bat. This is the ultimate achievement in this game, or at least the one with the most instant gratification – the ultimate achievement is probably pitching the perfect game, preventing 27 consecutive opponents from connecting with the spherical object in any meaningful way.

The appeal of baseball may be its lack of a clock, although it has its own deadline in a sense: You must score more runs than your opponent before you run out of opportunities to fail. You’re allotted up to 27 failures, and you only need to succeed a comparative handful of times (few teams ever get as many as 27 base runners in a game) to win the contest. You don’t know exactly how much time you’ll have before the 27th out, which is closer to life than games with a clock. In life, you usually don’t know when time will run out, either.

In life you’ll likely fail more times than you succeed – how many potential mates do you meet before marrying one, how many job interviews before landing one, how many great books rejected before finding a publisher – and you usually don’t know how much time you’ll have; you just keep going until you run out of opportunities.

Don’t be overly concerned when you swing and miss; step back up to the plate and give it another go. With persistence, you’ll connect enough.

[Photo © Michael Drager – Dreamstime.com]