A little over two years ago I had an experience that I’ve been turning over in my head lately.  It has to do with a nerdy black t-shirt.  I was teaching high school English at the time, and I bought the shirt in honor of my American Lit class.  It is solid black and written on the front in white lettering are the words “Ishmael& Ahab& the Pequod& the Whale.”   Each item is listed on its own line and at the bottom is a line drawing of a whale’s tail.

I was wearing the shirt when I went to pick up my Ranger at the Ford service department.  When I walked in the door, there was another customer at the counter—a middle-aged white man.  He had a graying beard, a ball cap, a flannel shirt, and jeans.  He glanced at my shirt and then shot me a sharp look and demanded, “What does that mean?”

I was taken aback (and rightly so) by his rude tone.  “This shirt,” I explained, “is a reference to Moby Dick by Herman Melville.”

He seemed a bit mollified by my answer and muttered, “Oh, okay.”

At that moment I surmised he had mistaken the shirt as an expression of my solidarity with Muslims, or ISIS, or Israel, or perhaps the environment.  He found all these things objectionable.

I was offended by his peremptory tone, but I answered quietly.  I knew then, as I know now, who that man had chosen as his king.  He chose another white man—a man who is aggressive, dismissive of women, dismissive of minorities, loud, rude, and entitled.  Since that day I have watched people I admire and love chose the same king.  Some have done so with an uneasy and tacit silence.  Others, not so much.  I get why.

Choosing such a king can be fun.  First, he is not boring.  Almost everything he does is entertaining.  More importantly, as king, he is the example to his followers.  He empowers them to enjoy the same things he enjoys—making fun of those who disagree with him, being openly rude, telling those who are hurt by his words to “toughen up.”  This king values money almost more than anything else, and so it’s fine if he is rude as long as his followers are making money as well.  This king fears and hates strangers and immigrants, so his followers can feel free to express their own fears along the same lines.  Best of all for those who admire him, this king has very few rules.  He really asks for only one thing—loyalty to him.

He is nothing like my King.  I made my choice a long time ago, during a time when I was more idealistic and impractical.  My King chose a life of poverty.  He wasn’t particularly handsome.  He followed perfectly torturous rules and thereby set an impossible example.  My King requires me to love others, and not just those who love me.  I’m supposed to love my enemies.  I’m supposed to bless those who curse me.  I’m not supposed to be selfish or rude.  I supposed to serve others and to make sacrifices.  It’s crazy.

There is one big advantage my King has over the current imperial of the United States.  My king is made of truth, not just circumstance, but T-R-U-T-H.  He teaches love.  Love God.  Love others.

Having chosen my King, I spend a good deal of time asking for forgiveness for falling short of His great commission.  I have to ask for mercy and help and grace all the time.  I have to answer with patience and kindness when someone who wants to infringe on my God-given right to free expression makes rude inquiries of/and statements to me.

So be it.

I have a feeling some rough times are ahead for all of us in the dear old USA.  I hope I can continue to love in the face of all that’s to come.  I’ll need all the help I can get from my King.

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Returning to Cyberspace

I’ve been gone for a time, nearly a year.  Why?  I’ll explain that later.  Here I want to celebrate home cooking.  For the past week I have been engaged in a bit of a home cooking joyride!  It has been difficult for the past few months to do a great deal of home cooking, more of a burden than a joy, but this past week I did a good deal of meal prep with an eye toward simple pleasures.  Here we go!

Wednesday of last week I made breakfast brownies.  That’s not some special recipe that turns a frittata into a meal.  It’s just plain old brownies made in the morning and eaten as breakfast with a cup of coffee.  Here’s how it looked!

Breakfast BrownieThe next day our yard man Dale came over and gave mother a sack of sour pie cherries.  After making a trip to Ace Hardware, we were ready to do something special with our new handheld cherry pitter.  I went through various church cookbooks and came up with an easy cobbler recipe. I don’t understand why cobbler recipes have disappeared from the cooking landscape.  Here’s the incredibly easy, incredibly tasty cherry cobbler.

Sour Cherry Cobbler

I decided I wanted to keep things cool in the house the next day, so I took some grilled chicken we had left from an earlier meal and made chicken salad sandwiches along with a nice mango salsa.  I have always loved sandwiches, and this one is made with sourdough bread and butter lettuce.

Chicken Salad Sandwich

My final entry in this week’s cooking journey is Memorial Day Strawberry Waffles.  I like to make fruit into sauce, especially strawberries because they can turn really quickly.  I am also a fan of waffles because they feel dressy but are remarkably easy to make, from scratch.  They can also serve as a base for a later dessert.  As a matter of fact, brownies can do that as well.  Thoughts for the week to come.  I always serve bacon with waffles.  I always serve maple syrup as well, though I didn’t need it this morning.

Strawberry WafflesWhen I finish cleaning today, I’ll be ready to finish editing a novel one of my favorite people has written.  I can’t say when I’ll blog again, but I’m certain I’ll be back in less than a year.

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Bookish Directions

In two days we’ll be ready for one heck of an event.  The Bookish Affair will begin on the NMMI Campus at 2:00 pm in Mabee Hall, and I have come to realize that most people have not visited the interior of that august institution.  I have decided to provide some directions and some images to help those who are nervous to feel more at home at the “Old Post.”

First, we’ll be watching The Shawshank Redemption in Mabee Hall which is just inside the door of Penrod Toles Learning Center.  So…we’ll start with the map.  On this map, TOLES is building 32 and Mabee is just inside the door.   The center “X” is right on Mabee.

BOOKISH Map Marked

You will notice that there are two different entrances on College BLVD.  Both go north off College.  If you take the first west entrance from Main Street, you will end up in from of Lusk Hall.  It looks like this:

Bookish Lusk

Looking north from the Lusk Hall parking lot, you’ll see this:

Bookish Bronco

If you turn directly west in the Lusk hall parking lot and walk along the broad sidewalk, you should head toward the “X” in the picture below:

Bookish from Lusk

Once you walk about 20 yards, you’ll see the Penrod Toles Learning Center sign. Just go in the building and turn left immediately.  This is the sign you’re looking for:

Bookish Sign

Now, let’s take a look at the path from the second allowed entrance west of Main Street on College BLVD.  You’ll end up in the Bates parking lot.  This is what Bates looks like:

Bookish Bates

Directly north of the Bates parking lot is another building.   It looks like this:

Bookish Bates parking 1

Toles is directly east from this parking lot.  If you face directly east, you’ll see a broad sidewalk, and in the image below, you should head for the place marked with a big red “X.”

Bookish Toles from Bates

It should be fairly simple, and I’ll probably be lurking about looking to be sure everyone is finding his or her way to the venue.  I can’t wait to see all of you.

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It’s Finally Here!

Yes, the hottest week of the year is finally here–the week when just stepping outside is equivalent to stepping into a tandoori oven, and the JOY Writers are once again sponsoring A Bookish Affair.  Hold on to your backsides, folks.  It’s about to get event-centered.

On Friday, 29 June, at 2:00 pm events will start with a screening of The Shawshank Redemption, free and open to the public, at Mabee lecture hall on the NMMI campus.  Visitors can either park in front of Lusk Hall (that’s the clock tower), or Bates, just one parking lot to the west at 101 West College BLVD.  This adaptation of possibly King’s best literary work is a lesson in how the mediums of novels and films work differently, and also explains why so many novels are interesting to film makers.  It also helps us see what an arguably great script doctor can do when put in the director’s chair.

At 6:00 pm that evening we move to The Gallery on Main Street, and there take a class on artistic inspiration and creative journal making.  It promises to be fun and productive evening, and tickets are $20.  Peggy Krantz will be teaching us about book creation in the most practical and tactile of terms.

The next morning, we have a brunch at 10:30 at Bone Springs on east Walnut, just one block south and east of Mays Lumber.  This event is also $20, and seating is limited.  It will be catered and Bev Coots of the JOY Writers will be leading the presentation on publishing and her experiences with it.  The catering will be by Pecos Flavors.

That afternoon, at 1:00 pm, we head back to Mabee and the NMMI campus, to listen to a panel of leading readers in the community to discuss their favorite reads from the past year and offer suggestions about Book Clubs and library offerings.  The events wind up with a special presentation by three Roswell writers who have spent significant amounts of time studying and honing their craft–Kyle Chaney, Barbara Morales, and Barbara Corn Patterson.  Chaney and Morales have recently completed their MFAs in Fiction and Poetry respectively and Corn Patterson has just completed a new novel that will come out this year.

It all promises to be fun AND enlightening.  I look forward to seeing all sorts of people there.  Just comment on this post if you have any questions or are interested in attending any of the paid events.

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Constructive Criticism

I used to take voice lessons, and for those who have not done so, voice lessons can be a great deal more daunting than you might think. They test the self and the confidence in all sorts of strange ways. My voice teacher, Lynn Werner, is a genius, and during the time I took lessons from her, she gave me some fantastic insights. One that comes to me now resembles the advice I got from one of my excellent writing teachers. Lynn told me to be cautious when listening to the comments and “constructive criticism” from people who hear me sing.

First, look carefully at the background of the person who is offering comment. Look at that person’s experience in the field and his or her interest in you as an artist. That really matters. People who do NOT know what they are talking about or people who do NOT care about you in the slightest should NOT form ANY PART of your ideas about your performance, your work, or your choices.

That may seem harsh. Someone reading this might think, “Hey, when I offer a suggestion, I’m being nice, and I’m very wise, so people should listen to me.” If you are thinking that, you are wrong.

I make the caveat that a reviewer for a publication may be an unbearable boar, or a roaring idiot, but if he or she is hired to write about a performance or product, that is a legitimate job, and worthy of the pay it takes to do it. Watch Ratatouille, and you’ll see what I mean.

On the other hand, people who offered unsolicited “constructive criticism” need to think again. Consider the purpose of the comment and its intent, and (most importantly) consider what good it will do.

I do NOT offer criticism, constructive or otherwise, unless I have been paid or I am invested in the success of the person or persons I am advising. I have known professionals and friends who say and write things incorrectly, but I do not tell them so unless I am their designated editor or teacher. I do NOT say, “It’s ‘moot point,’ not ‘mute point.’” I do not say, “You’re mispronouncing that.” I may be right, but that would not be constructive. It would be merely critical, and I doubt they would feel anything but embarrassed by my criticism.

I DO criticize writers, students, and readers. I am paid to do so, and I put a great deal of effort into finding a way to make it constructive. First, I acknowledge what works. I pay attention to and point out the things that make any effort or product strong or good. I am specific in this as often as possible. I don’t say, “That was a good story.” I say, “The dialog makes the character seem completely real and sympathetic, especially here on page three.” Then I read back what I think is strong. When I make suggestions for revision, I try my utmost to make what works bigger and what doesn’t work go away. I remind my audience that the author is the final authority on these things, and that my suggestions should only be followed if they inspire confidence, creativity, and joy.

If I correct an error in mechanics or spelling, I do so in as painless a way as possible and refer to it as being picky because that is the truth. I don’t mean to imply my suggestions do not make people frustrated or hurt or angry or confused. I know how it is to be taught. I have taken lessons in writing and singing. I have had my feelings hurt when I should have just listened and tried what was suggested. I have an ego the same as anyone else.

What I mean is that the best type of criticism always comes from the context of helping a fellow become great. If it causes pain, it should be short-lived and productive, like a shot of antibiotics or waxing.


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Spring Break Ends

It doesn’t seem fair that Spring Break is over since I feel like I have zero motivation to get back to school tomorrow morning.  I’m serious.  I am infected with terrible Spring Fever, and I have to write a test which is not done.  It’s miserable.  I thought pretty long and hard about retiring at the end of this school year, but I decided (after conversations with my nephew, my students, and a very dear friend) that I could hold out for one more year without becoming insane.  Let’s see if that happens, shall we?  I include in this a short slide show of my journey into Texas, a brief one, but not without merit.


 Here is the slide show!

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Best Huck Sentence 2

It’s that time of week again.  It’s time for me to add to the best sentences.  I have so many this week, it’s hard to choose just five.  I chose fifteen for my lecture on this set of chapters, that is ten through twenty.  I have whittled those fifteen down to five for this blog post.  Part of what determines my choices this week has to do with the effect each sentence had on me.

Twain, Mark.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Penguin Classics, 1985.

The first sentence I chose is from chapter ten.  “Never you mind, honey, never you mind” (62).  Here Jim is speaking to Huck, and I believe it is the first time Jim calls Huck “honey.”  I just love that.  That little endearment seems so sincere coming from Jim.  Some people, when they call someone else “honey” or “sweetie” or “darling,” it seems utterly fake, but not Jim.  He’s the genuine article.

My choice from chapter fourteen is also from Jim.  “En mine you, de real pint is down furder—it’s down deeper. It lays in de way Sollermun was raised”(90).  This is from the debate between Huck and Jim as to whether King Solomon is wise.  Huck comes across as too ready to accept the common line about Solomon’s wisdom.  Jim makes a solid argument against cutting babies in half.

This third best sentence if from chapter fifteen.  “No, you feel like you are laying dead still on the water; and if a little glimpse of a snag slips by, you don’t think to yourself how fast you’re going, but you catch your breath and think, my! How that snag’s tearing along”(95).  Here we see Twain giving shape to Huck’s observation of perception of speed as a relative thing.  It will take some years for physicists to make something of this truth, that speed is a relative thing.   This observation gives you sense of both Twain’s and Huck’s native intelligence.

From chapter fifteen we also have Jim teaching Huck how perfectly awful being a prankster can be.  “Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren’s en makes ‘em ashamed”(98).  Those who read this book will see this truth worked out in torturous detail in the final chapters.  Jim treads a line calling Huck trash, but his hate is aimed at the behavior, not at poor little Huck who could easily be seen as trash.

From chapter eighteen comes a wonderful description.  “Sometimes he smiled, and it was good to see; but when he straightened himself up like a liberty-pole, and the lightning begun to flicker out from under his eyebrows you wanted to climb a tree first, and find out what the matter was afterwards”(117).  This description reminds me of my father.  Enough said.

This last of this set comes from chapter twenty.  “‘Looky here, Bilgewater,’ he says, ‘I’m nation sorry for you, but you ain’t the only person that’s had troubles like that'”(135).  The “late dauphin” calls the “duke” Bilgewater.   It takes one…

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