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.

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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.”

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.

All I know is words

all i know is words

All I know is words. I can feel their rhythms, sense the way a master of words manipulates them, and appreciate a turn of phrase created with care.

“Manipulates” is a good thing when the purpose is to help the reader see or understand something. “Manipulates” is a bad thing when the purpose is to help the reader fear something that need not be feared.

“All I know is words” – that statement began as an expression of frustration, even sadness, but words unlock everything. The words teach us all that we may need to know. Gestures and signs only get us so far and can be misread – but words can help you understand the nuances. Signs and gestures can help understand the how; the words dig deep to the why.

“You’re only an English major?” say the skeptical. But understanding the words and how they work together leads to everything else. Few things are as powerful.

Lovely Rita

Saturday Stories #9

rita's story

When Rita was a little girl, there was a song about a meter maid, and it sounded like such fun, and she grew up to be a meter maid of charm and loveliness, and instead of grousing over tickets people would see her name tag and smile and say, “Oh, it’s you! ‘Lovely Rita, Meter Maid.’ And yes, I suppose I am a little late getting back to my car, and I’ll cheerfully pay my fine because you asked so sweetly.”

But then they equipped the meters with devices that did Rita’s job with electronics and told her “It’s not performance-related, it’s the economics,” and the sadness returned to the meters and the resentment: “I was only a few minutes late, damn machine.”

But Rita never lost her smile, and if she were sad not to be walking among her meters – and it did make her sad – she never let on, she just went on to share her charm and her loveliness in other places and for other people, who said, “You’re so lovely, Rita; lovely Rita, you should have been a meter maid.”

And she would say, “I was, for a time, but this is now. And I’m so grateful, at least, that I had that chance, for a while.”

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