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What Did That Old Guy Say?

One of the biggest tragedies in life happens all the time. I was guilty of it, as is most every person in our culture. It is keeping the barrier between the generations going. I only had fleeting glimpses of this thing, and looking back I should have known better. I don’t know if it maintains the generation boundary or sets up the barrier. Hard for me to tell.

I worked alongside innumerable people of the generation older than me. Why didn’t I grasp the idea that all those old-shits had a lot of things to offer, even interest, me? Hell, what am I saying? Those sons-of-bitches would’ve been flipping fascinating had I only taken the damn time to ask, and, or listen to them.

My clues to this Siddhartha type illumination were quite ordinary as I look back on it. At the times they happened they were eye-opening as hell.

The first time was when I was in college. I was visiting my grandmother, and my uncle was there. Up until then, my uncle was a person who’d always been stern, responsible, an average person of the greatest generation –stuffy and intent on having me behave correctly. This particular day the two of us drove across Oklahoma City and he told me a dirty joke. It wasn’t exceptionally dirty except he laid the “F” bomb on me. Now I had heard that word several times a day while in college. But this … he was a choir director at his church. Holy shit!

Another uncle, I should have known about, came to me when I lived in Hawaii. He and my aunt were visiting me, with my parents. The visit was about average, but after they’d taken a tour of the other islands and we waited in the airport for them to depart to the mainland he talked to me. He told me about his favorite island, Kauai. In particular, he talked about visiting Jim Nabors’ Macadamia nut farm on Kauai. He said the farm let them all have some macadamia nuts to snack on at the end of the tour. He had a problem with that, and couldn’t enjoy them at all because the whole time he munched on them, one thought never stopped reverberating through his head. “I can’t get over the fact that I’m eating Jim Nabors’ nuts.”

I cracked up. As did my Dad (a lifelong pastor). My uncle turned toward him and said, deadpan, “What are you laughing about? You ate them too.”

Now, none of that conversation would have taken place in my younger days. This was a much different side of my elders than I’d ever seen. It was refreshing.

My own father. I never really knew him when I was a child. I was the middle child and he paid more attention to the other two than me. I never got to know him until the last two years of his life when I lived near him so I could look after him after my mother passed. On his lucid days, he was quick-witted and clever. I’d never realized. I knew he was a brilliant man, but I didn’t have a gut feeling like I should have while I grew up. Then he was gone.

As far as other elders were concerned. I worked alongside many of them when I was a roughneck in the oilfields of Oklahoma. They treated me like one of them. Those bastards were funny as hell. I just didn’t equate them with my own elders. I remember one particular joke where this guy walks into a bar with a frog on his head …

Maybe I should tell that at another time.

Why do the different generations think they are the only generation that can tell a joke? Or fight in the armed services? Or have anything relevant to say? How about knowing anything about sex?

That last question is particularly pertinent. Most people in one generation don’t want to even think about the older generation lithe and entwined in passion. Actually, that was a way I raised morale when I worked as a front of the house manager in restaurants. I would pick a charming couple of an older generation and ask all of the hosts and servers to imagine the couple naked and getting it on. There were inevitable looks of horror followed by gigantic smiles. The older the couple was, the bigger the reaction.

For some reason, each generation forgets that without sex their own existence would not have happened.

The same thing is true about the armed services. The generation older than me had World War II. My generation had the Viet Nam war. Those younger than me have the Iraqi wars. But here’s what each younger generation forgets. The men and women they know from the older generations ARE SURVIVORS of the wars associated with them. Every one of those older people may not have fought, that’s true. However, for some reason, they found a way to survive. Some of them had to be mean as a badger dancing on a hot stove to make it through, and we can’t even envision that. because they are old, saggy, and wrinkly. How the hell?

While I’m at it. All of the famous gunslingers were much older than the greatest generation. We listen to historical figures and forget they were actual people. They still had their problems and behaved themselves like anyone today would.

So now, today, I’m saying everyone older is someone we all need to understand and get to know. Who knows? A lot of them might just be engrossing. I know I’m fascinating, actually, I’m intriguing too. Some of you young whippersnappers (how’s that for an older generation word?) might find a good time if you listened to us. What do you think?

Hell’s fires I’m one colorful sack of shit. What do you think? It’s worth a try.

Speaking of fascinating and intriguing The Sigma Factor (my book currently on sale where good books are available) will soon be joined by The Great Zero Sum Balance. The exact date of publication is not set yet. Check it out.
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Why edit?

Here’s to editors!

I know a lot of writers who would rather have their gums scraped than have an editor touch their work. To them, it’s a violation. While I respect my writer friends’ opinion, I tend to go with the old saying. “Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one. They all stink – except for yours.”

Personally, I think editors are like magicians. They take a freshly laid pile of words and stare at it for a while, letting their minds chug around, and then voilà. Not only do they understand what we are trying to say, but their intuition tells them better ways to say it – words, passages, and even different ideas and approaches. They perform their magic in mysterious ways, eerie smoke and lots of mirrors.

My own editor, Jayne Southern, is the Queen Mab of editors. She hands out a direction and not only knows when my words are wrong but gives me lists of substitutions that are more spot on than some of my own. There is also the occasional quips she leaves. They can be genius in their own right.

I would like to be able to hear what is said when several editors meet, perhaps at an editor convention. Do they brag about how they saved the up and coming Hemingway from certain oblivion by expert editing? Or, do they tell about the writer who needed less editing? Which is the road less traveled?

Then there are the stereotypes like in the movies. They always have the editor balding perhaps with a comb-over. his sleeves are rolled up, smoking a cigar (at least chewing on it), and throwing paper over his shoulder like a maniac. All the while he is demonstrating why he could teach advanced cussing to a sailor. Then there is the picture I believe the image editors want you to believe is a woman (sometimes a man) dressed in tasteful yet casual attire, hair brushed to perfection and reading the piece while sipping a lovely Bordeaux. They are absently clicking the mouse and laughing politely to themselves at the gigantic mistakes we make and thinking about what buffoonery their writers happen to be trying to pass off as skilled writing.

The reality may, in fact, be quite different. They work from home very casually dressed (maybe in their robe or perhaps in their skivvies)while sipping strong coffee, and pushing their morning hair out of their face. Behind them and interrupting at an unbelievable rate are the rest of the family, whether it be the spouse or significant other, kids, dogs, cats, etcetera. All of them having a crisis, and in all the world only the editor can find, fix, or put together. Amidst all this confusion, the editor has to deal with our manuscripts. That last part they have down.

I’m sure they have very thick skins. That is metaphorical thick, not actual thick. I guess they could have actual thick skin, but they don’t need that, they need the metaphorical kind. They need this because writers are temperamental and can spring forth with an unbelievable barrage of words directed at them. This is an occupational hazard as writers tend to be verbose by nature. However, we writers often forget editors also to have a large vocabulary.

So, when we fire off a snappy little comment about how the editor is displaying a ‘condition of cranial rectumosis,’ the editor might comeback with ‘get your own head out of your ass and work.’ Or we might politely begin an exchange like ‘you turd’ only to be shut down with a quirky little phrase like ‘My … what a shitty potty mouth you have.’

Now I would never do anything like that with my editor. I’m simply talking about the behavior of some of my friends and acquittances. I don’t need to resort to tactics like this at all. I understand, that she understands, what I mean in my Works In Progress, even to the point of her suggesting a correction to my words with one slightly better – and that suggestion often turns out to be a monumental upgrade.

As I said above. What they do is a mystery to me. They pull things out of nowhere, nearest I can figure is, they pull it out of their brain. Yeah, you heard me. They reach right in and POW! They know exactly what to do. Such poise. Such panache. And talk about understanding the underlying meaning of every nuance. Holy shit.

That’s a huge difference from what I do. I sit quietly with my computer in front of me and try to think through all of the rackets in the house. Then I break up a few innocuous battles between the kids before there are any bones showing, or blood spurting. After that, I usually have to make sure the babies have their milk or watered down juice. More refereeing. Then I pull something out of my ass and start typing – no thinking involved – just put something down and start some kind of story, or continuation of a story. Woo Hoo! Fingers flying over the page until I have written the first sentence.

Now is when the skull sweating begins. Second guessing raises his stupefying shadow, and that’s petrifying. Is this going to make sense? Does this present the proper tone, the right amount of tension? How about drive, does it push the reader on to the next sentence? Yes, it does! All right.

Go to the next sentence, the next paragraph, and keep going. Keep thinking and writing. Before long the pages come together and the story appears. It is complex, with great storytelling, wonderful suspense, and a thrill to read.

Then I send it to Jayne and she works on it. (See above)

Turns out the whole thing is symbiotic. The finished product, I mean the polished product that readers love and cherish is a production in which several people have had their fingers. We do it together. At this point, I take a little target practice and draw a bead on the bull’s eye. But the lights go out just before I zero my sights in on the target, and that’s what it really is. It’s a shot in the dark. All we can do is our best.

What I do know is this. If I don’t send my projects to my editor they are not near as good as when I do.

Thanks, Jayne

By the way. Have you heard my new book The Great Zero Sum Balance will be out soon? It’s a good, tense, read, and quick too, all the way to the last explosion. More information soon to come.

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Family Rules

Family rules

I know it’s been a while since I posted anything on my blog. The truth is I have tried to jot a few things down, but each time I could tell it was a heap of nothing. No, that’s not quite it. They were steaming piles of words that gave off odors that would make a stockyard proud. I mean world class stinkers. One attempt was convoluted. Hell, I couldn’t even understand it. Another happened to be a rant about a thing I despise, closed-minded people, and the voice in my head reading it sounded more snooty than a rich old spinster at a hobo convention.

So here I sit with a non-working brain, watching my two littlest children playing and watching The Polar Express. Yes, I know it’s the middle of August in Arkansas, and hot as a skillet ready to fry an egg. The kids don’t care. Besides, who gives a diddly damn. The toddlers are quiet, and if that doesn’t make sense, you’ve not watched twin two-year-olds.

Yep, I’ve put in my time with the diaper brigade – still am actually. Please don’t assume that I had my wife do the dirty work. Don’t do that. I’ve cleaned my share of bums, been peed on numerous times, daytime and nighttime, and gone the distance with two AM clean ups after fountains of puke.

Just the other day I counted the length of time I’ve had baby detail. I’ve been doing it at a constant rate for fourteen years. At one point we had diapers on six children. Talk about a shitty time. The last two (twins) are in the process of house training right now. Yes, I know the correct term is potty training. Have you ever tried the process with twins? Besides, kids with my genes need house training.

Let me correct another misunderstanding. Twins are not just as easy as one. My God, no. The first three months liked to kill us both. By the time baby-one was changed and fed, baby-two needed the same. Then we repeated said action with baby-one, etcetera ad nauseam. This continued both night and day. My wife is a hardcore mommy, but luckily they were bottle fed. She did an enormous job, but I did my part as much as I could, considering I was recouping from my heart attacks. (It was simply a coincidence that my heart gave out near the time the twins appeared). Good thing she’s much younger. I’m just thankful they weren’t triplets or quads.

Let me simply say I was lucky to survive.

Moving on, I need to also mention the UFC style fights the twins get into. To them, the rules are no rules. Wait … I remember one: you have to scream and cry the entire time. The babies are normally calm, cute, and cuddly, but holy crap they can fight, scream, and yell. It’s horrible when one tears off a screech, but when the other joins, the duet drives me to me to my knees. Yeah, laugh all you want. It hurts, and my ears aren’t near as good as they need to be. After almost ten years in the Field Artillery, I’m flipping deaf. Even so, It feels like ice picks sticking through oposite ears and fencing in my brain. Someday the older kids may come in after-school, find their parents on the floor, blood spewing from their ears, and have to call 911.

But enough. Let me revisit potty training. I’m simply looking forward to the big girl, big boy underwear phase. I will truly do the happy dance when that happens. I’m sure it’ll look like Fred Astaire dancing on the walls and ceiling.

The next phase is rough too; it’s the crayon marks on the walls. That happens about the time they try putting toys in the toilet until it overflows. All of my kids are great, but years ago I learned how to take the necessary apart. Again, shitty job, because not one child out of the ten says a thing about the toilet being broken until there is a turd or two floating in the contrivance and it won’t flush. Up until that point, they will keep the secret longer than spies out in the cold.

But it’s not all that bad. So, here is the final word. No matter what kind of a pain-in-the-ass your family is, it’s the laughs, the tears, the midnight puke cleanups that count. You know what? There is fun, but families aren’t about that exclusively. They are about nurturing, teaching, living, and loving. The whole thing of the family cannot be described. It must be lived and experienced, preferably both as a child and an adult. It is at once, the most hellacious and wonderful place where I can imagine.

And don’t worry about being dysfunctional either. I have never seen any family behave the way they should. All are dysfunctional. Well, maybe they behave normally for a short time like at church, or when they have company visiting, but that’s not always true either. I believe probably one, or both parents give commands to their children to “behave yourself” trying to pre-empt trouble. I know my parents tried that. I have too. But I also remember a legendary fight at church when my brother and I wound up sitting next to our dad while he continued with his sermon.

There are little quirks everywhere too. The stress of the world today, yesterday, son-of-a-bitch it’s all-encompassing. Stress blows the little things into big things! Stress is everywhere – someone wants more babies while someone else doesn’t. The house itself is torn apart by the devilish children. There are medical issues, financial issues, sexual issues, communication issues, and those are only the tip. How about when one parent steps out on the other, teen squabbles, unwanted pregnancies, and throw a death in there too just for good measure. And even this list isn’t all-inclusive. There are still more things that test the metal of every part of the family.

The funny thing is this. After all these catastrophes a lot of families still stand proclaiming normalcy to all that care to look. That doesn’t fool me though. Like I said, don’t be ashamed of being dysfunctional. I can’t think of anything more normal.

With all those things happening, it’s a wonder that any families survive. Some don’t, and their stories are true tragedies worthy of Sophocles and O’Neill.

But. There is a but.

The ones that make it past all of the dead ends come out like swords emerging from the water – tempered and ready for honing. They hold the sharpest of edges. It is that kind of existence that can produce a keen-edged person able to grab life by the ass and hold on, ready to bend it to a task. They have the potential to live in their own nirvana, and that is the goal.

Unfortunately, people in the everyday mix of everyday family events may forget, or even not recognize how fun things really are.