Something, anything

The value of establishing a writing streak is enormous. Making the commitment to write something, anything, every day, creates a habit that is hard to break, and especially once you have sailed past 1,000 days, then 1,100 days, and then 1,200 days. You just don’t want to go back and start counting from 1 all over again.

Still, inevitably you’ll have a day like this one, a day when you can’t think of anything to write about except the streak.

It’s weird. You might have just finished your first significant bit of fiction in almost a decade and published your first significant bit of fiction in nine years.

It may, in fact, be your first published book of any kind in more than a year.

You might have all sorts of ideas rolling through your head.

And yet still, some days, you find that none of your ideas are formed well enough to convert into a coherent blog post.

You kick yourself for not working far enough in advance, despite your best intentions to work ahead and especially never to leave the blog until the end of the night. 

But you made a commitment, and so you sit down, reluctantly, to scratch out a little something about writing for the sake of extending a writing streak. 

“This is the 1,215th day in a row that I have posted something here — three years, three months, 28 days,” you write. “And isn’t that something?”

And you realize, why, yes, it is something, isn’t it? After decades of writing intermittently and thinking how good it must be to develop a regular writing habit, you did it. You’ve been writing and posting something here every day for so long it’s second nature to write something, anything.

You know there will be days that you write something more interesting or thought-provoking or entertaining, because you’ve already had days like that. You know there will be days when you come up with three and four and a half-dozen blog posts, because you’ve had those, too. 

In short, if you follow through on a commitment long enough, the days when the words barely trickle out don’t trouble you all that much, because you’ve also had days when the floodgates open. 

And so you write a few words about not having much to write about today, and you sleep well, looking forward to what you will write next.

Lessons in inflation

Comic books taught me everything I needed to know about inflation.

It cost more than it used to to make a 10-cent comic book, so they had to charge 12 cents. They had been 10 cents for more than 25 years, although as costs rose, they held the 10-cent price by cutting pages. The standard length of a comic book went from 64 pages to 48 pages to 32 pages. Finally they decided 32 pages was the minimum, and so the price had to give.

Twelve cents held for about seven years, but then inflation kicked in and they went up to 15 cents. There was a little experimentation with offering 48 pages for 25 cents, but that was quickly abandoned and it settled back to 32 pages for 20 cents, and then 25 and 30 and 35 and 40 cents. By 1980 a 32-page comic book was 50 cents.

Eventually other factors than inflation affected the price — the starving writers and artists won the right to be paid as if they were writers and artists, and better paper and printing techniques became the standard — so it’s not fair to say the 10-cent comic book of 1960 morphed into today’s $3.99 product, but inflation was the main culprit in the 1960s and 1970s.

I want to show you something about percentages and inflation.

That first price increase, from 10 cents to 12 cents, inflated the price by 20%.

When it went to 15 cents, that was a 25% increase.

The rise to 20 cents was 33%. Yikes!

Going to 25 cents was a 25% increase.

Going to 30 cents? Only 20%.

And 35 cents represented a 16.7% raise.

The hike to 40 cents raised the price by 14.3%.

Do you see? After a while, the inflation rate went down. But make no mistake, the price never went back. You could buy 10 comic books for $1 in 1960. By 1980 you could buy only two.

Don’t ever be fooled when the politicians announce that the inflation rate is down as if that’s wonderful news. The damage is already done.

The 10-cent comic book is gone forever.

Everyone knows it’s windy

I have never seen the wind, but I have felt it sweep cold into my bones, and I have seen leaves dance across the yard, and trees sway, and rain and snow fall almost horizontally. I have been comforted time and again by the melodious non-melody of our wind chimes outside my office window.

The wind is a mighty metaphor for God. I have never seen God, but I see the effects. I have seen God’s glory.

Early returns

One Facebook reader, upon hearing that Ebenezer is a sequel of sorts to A Christmas Carol and having seen Alaistir Sim’s immortal portrayal the night before, wrote, “maybe now we can find out if Ebenezer got back together with Alice.” Doh! I did think about putting a Mrs. Scrooge into the story, but she — whether her name is Alice or Belle — will have to wait to see if there’s ever a sequel to this sequel. I borrowed several characters from the original tale, but not that one. Dang!

(This is not to suggest there isn’t a bit of romance in the story, of course.)

The early reaction has been mostly positive, although so far most readers have been friends and family, who can be forgiven if they’re biased. I look forward to seeing what the “outside world” has to say, but thank you to everyone who took the time to read Ebenezer already and offer kind words.

And the audience for my podcast reading of Stave 1 has so far garnered five time as many listeners as the Uncle Warren’s Attic reboot earlier this fall, so my voice career is apparently not over after all. Thanks for listening!

And thanks most of all to Mr. Dickens, who conceived a Christmas carol in prose so endearing that it still packs a punch these 180 years later. 

Ebenezer: A sequel of sorts to A Christmas Carol

I am pleased with how my little Christmas story has turned out and thrilled that the day has come to send my fable out into the world. Thanks to everyone who pre-ordered Ebenezer, my “sequel of sorts” to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and now it’s here. If you pre-ordered the ebook, it ought to be in your hands already, and the print editions ought to be on their way soon — famous last words.

The paperback proof arrived Wednesday, so I am able to post the obligatory selfie, and I got a notice Thursday morning that the hardcover proof is going into the mail — I’m guessing today because Thursday was the Thanksgiving holiday. For what it’s worth, that translates to about a week from order to delivery for the paperback and a little bit longer for hardcover.

As my Christmas gift to you, and in the spirit of shameless self-promotion, I will be reading the story to you on the five Fridays leading up to Christmas Day, a chapter a week. You can press the “play” button above or (Lord willing and the creek don’t rise) find the podcast on iHeart Radio and Amazon Music by searching for “Uncle Warren’s Attic.”

This is a mere novelette by word-count standards, but it’s the first fiction I’ve completed in almost a decade, and my intention is to grow as an artist from here. And I would be remiss not to say, as I do in the “About the author” blurb, that this is the first work of fiction I completed after Red’s passing, but her love infused it with life.

For that reason I am committing all of the revenue I receive from the sales of this book to what I’m dubbing the C.J. Townsend Memorial Fund. I plan to tithe all of my book income, but Ebenezer is my “tithe book,” that is to say, this particular book is the first fruit of the next phase of my life. I’m not sure how I will disperse the proceeds of this fund yet, but since Carol Jean was an artist whose chosen medium was gardening, I’m sure a significant amount will go toward projects that are green and growing.

My goal in writing Ebenezer was to rehabilitate Ebenezer Scrooge’s reputation not as he was before that fateful Christmas Eve — a silly old humbug — but as the good and generous man he was as he lived the rest of his days. Whether I’ve had some success in that attempt is now up to you. Enjoy!

Why I give thanks

“I coulda been a businessman, I was too hot-headed, Plus I never had the money, plus I kinda got arrested …”

Now that’s a first line of a song that gets your attention. “Critterland” by a singer named Willi Carlisle jumped out of the Folk Alley background stream at me Wednesday morning. By the time he finished the second verse, I had dropped everything and looked up the lyrics online.

It’s a song that takes a stand, and it’s a unique stand that makes you think, and I don’t believe I completely agree with his stand but I’m still thinking. I’m bringing it up Thanksgiving morning because of one line in the middle of the song:

I think love is a burden if it ain’t brave.

I had been trying to put into words how I could be thankful during this, which surely qualifies as the worst year of my life. For the first half of 2023, I helped my dear Red negotiate emergency rooms, then hospitalization, and then hospice. For the second half of 2023, I have been negotiating the reality of her loss, which believe it or not caught me by surprise, even though I know full well what a “hospice” is.

She was the toughest cookie I ever knew, and so I knew if anyone was going to beat a fatal disease, she would. That was my expectation up until the moment the hospice nurse told me Red was “transitioning,” and I had only 21 hours after that to revise my expectation.

“Love is a burden if it ain’t brave.” It takes bravery to commit yourself to a partnership with another human being, forsaking all other potential partners, and work on that partnership for a quarter-century, and I’ll tell you, facing the “transition” has taken every ounce of brave I can muster.

Twenty-six years is a good long time, but it would be easy to be jealous of the couples who get a half-century — my parents got almost 62 years, for example. Still, I am as sincerely thankful as I have ever been on this Thanksgiving Day.

I am thankful that Red was brave enough to commit to a partnership with a guy who had three unsuccessful partnerships behind him and was facing a second bankruptcy. She saw something in me that I’m not sure even I saw.

I am thankful for those 26 years. I’ve spent 26 years writing about her from time to time, but words fail me when I try to sum up those 26 years beyond simply saying, I am grateful.

I am thankful that after three months of trying to figure out what was wrong, and after seven weeks in the hospital first to get her strong enough and then to go through aggressive chemotherapy, we had another seven weeks in the hospice to get to know each other again and have time to say the things you hope you’ll have time to say before it’s too late.

I am thankful that Red told me what she wanted me to do in those final hours — read to her — and that I was able to deliver that for my precious love.

I am thankful for the staff at Unity Hospice, who are among the kindest, most loving and most courageous people I’ve ever met. They created a safe and gentle place for the hard journey she had to take.

I am thankful for the friends and family who have checked in to see how I am doing but gave me space to deal with these feelings in my own way. I am thankful for a daughter-in-law who I believe has been grieving almost as hard as I am, and I am thankful for Son of Red and the Sons of Son of Red, all of whom I have gotten to know in new ways.

I am thankful for the tears I am spilling as I share these words, for they are an essential part of the healing. I realize now I will never be fully healed. You’re not supposed to “get over” a love this real and deep, you just move to the next chapter. I found an appropriate plaque a few days into this new adventure, and the wise words now hang on the kitchen wall: “I trust the next chapter because I know the author.”

Most of all, I am thankful that, 26 years ago, I decided to be brave.

Early-morning musings on art and censorship

Is it “writing” when you stare at the page for a full minute, looking at the leaves the dogs sprawled on the floor, the bits of leaves they’ve tracked in from outside, and the toys, and wondering if you should be vacuuming instead of sitting with a pen grasped between your fingers?

I have Folk Alley in the background this morning. Music is an improvement over predawn silence or the litany of woes, tribulation, evil and unhappiness in the TV news.

We choose every day whether to dwell on death or to dwell on life. Both forces roam the earth in equal portions, but only life offers hope and redemption and a tomorrow.

The musicians explore beauty and the rhythms of life — sometimes they experiment with discord, but even then they are seeking patterns and beauty in odd nooks and crannies. There is an order to things, and artists shine lights on that order in new and surprising ways, and also old and familiar ways. 

Art — poetry, music, imagery — is a uniquely human thing, arranging sounds and images in delightful ways to bring a smile and a surge of emotion.

“I didn’t mean to make you cry” — Oh, but I did, the purging relief of tears, the exhalation of laughter, the emotion of it all, the awe and the joy — I was hoping to bottle it for you to relive and rediscover in the times when you need it again.

And so this is art — an attempt to capture a feeling to be tapped as needed over and over, the past reassuring the future that a time came when all was well, and it can be again.

(“For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her” came across the Folk Alley feed just then, two minutes of sheer beauty and exactly the reassurance I was writing about.)

The words and music relay ancient emotions snatched from the heart of yes, reassurance, peace, and hope for a better future.

Why would someone want to remove such aspirations from anyone? Tyrants are puzzling creatures: Once they were children with innocent questions and open minds and hearts, and along the way they found answers in oppressing and leashing their neighbors. 

I wonder how they reached those conclusions. I wonder if they realize they are tyrants. Don’t each of us aspire to the best in us? How do you find the best by chaining us? Only by flying free do you discover the view from the sky.