We all could use a good laugh

The other day I stopped at an antique store and brought home a couple of old books, as I am wont to do (a fancy-pants phrase meaning “again”).

So I’ve been reading Will Rogers: Ambassador of Good Will, Prince of Wit and Wisdom by P.J. O’Brien, which I take is a “quickie biography” rolled out after Rogers’ death in a plane crash Aug. 15, 1935, since it bears a 1935 copyright date itself.

(Aside to writers who struggle to wring out their words a few at a time: Yep, here’s more proof that you can write, edit and publish a 288-page book in five months or less if you set your mind to it.)

Rogers, of course, was a popular entertainer and writer who was at the height of his popularity when he and pilot Wiley Post went down in Alaska during the early days of a planned worldwide excursion.

I chuckle as O’Brien quotes what Rogers said and wrote about the times he lived in, and it strikes me that one of the things we could use “in these challenging times” is someone with a real sense of humor. So much of what passes for humor these days is just mean-spirited sniping.

During a radio address to the people of England to help celebrate King George’s Jubilee, Rogers described an interesting afternoon in Hyde Park where both a fascist group called the Black Shirts and a communist group were speechifying.

“Here was the Black Shirts and about a hundred yards away was the Communists, and in between was half of London laughing at both of them; and when I thought that was going to be a war, it ended quietly.

“They sang ‘God Save the King’ and all went home satisfied. They all had their say, and, after all, nobody wants his cause near as bad as he just wants to talk about his cause.

“England, you solved that problem. You certainly let ’em talk. I wish we would do a little more of that over here. We would let ’em get it off their minds.”

I have to wonder what Will Rogers would have to say about the current trend of denying certain folks their soapbox in the park.

I do love what he wrote on Nov. 2, 1932, just before the election where Franklin Roosevelt defeated incumbent President Herbert Hoover in the depths of the Great Depression:

“Come pretty near having two holidays of equal importance in the same week, Halloween and election, and of the two election provides us the most fun. On Halloween they put pumpkins on their heads, and on election they don’t have to.

“Candidates have been telling you that if elected they would ‘pull you from this big hole of financial misery.’ Now is a good chance to get even with ’em, by electing ’em, just to prove what a liar they are.

“Personally I think this is the right year for a good man to be defeated in.”

Where have you gone, Will Rogers? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

How can I help you

Not gonna win the lottery …

Not gonna have a ship that comes in outta nowhere …

No rich uncles to bail me out …

No precious gems buried under my backyard …

I guess I’m going to have to earn my keep …

same as millions who’ve gone before:

Do some good for other folks, and

Create something they can value or use.

To be of worth: The wise man said you can have anything you want in this life, if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want. It’s as simple, and as complicated as all that.

“What value can I add to the world today?” Not “What can I sell someone?”

They are different ways of saying the same thing with a different focus: How can I help you? What can I sell you? What can we give each other? What can we share?

How can I help you? — such a common question, and yet, sincerely intended, it’s the foundation of all peace and prosperity.

Peace and prosperity? Of course, because people who have what they need are not interested in disrupting lives, theirs or anybody else’s. People who have what they want are, by definition, prosperous.

Creating value for one’s neighbors — and defining everyone as our neighbors — is the road to peace. Seizing value without a fair exchange? That’s how wars begin.

The return of book-books

Once upon a time books and recordings were physical things you held in your hands. When you wanted to watch a movie at home, you took your copy of the film and slid it into a device that showed it to you.

Books were even easier. You picked them up and started reading.

Nowadays ebooks and streaming are all the rage. I have to admit they’re more convenient — shelves and shelves of storage space not required.

But recently we’ve all been seeing something I have always said and suspected might bite us someday: The stream giveth, and the stream can take away.

I’ve noticed something interesting the last couple of weeks. People are starting to buy the print copies of my books. Now, I am not going to get rich on book sales, so we’re not talking about a lot of books yet, but it’s an interesting phenomenon.

And although I’ve sold a decent handful of paperbacks since New Year’s, so far this month no one has bought an ebook from me.

Is it a side effect of people realizing their digital content can be cut off? Hard to say.

But here’s an interesting clue: My best seller is an edition of Henry David Thoreau’s classic, Resistance to Civil Government: On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. I recently revised the book by adding Ralph Waldo Emerson’s related essay “Politics” as bonus content, and it’s always had my own introduction “The definition of a peaceable revolution” (not that my work is comparable to Thoreau’s or Emerson’s), but the book’s theme is, well, rather timely, isn’t it?

It’s nice to know that some folks want to have my books in a more permanent form, in case of digital apocalypse. I would love for you to buy the ebooks, too, of course. It’s just nice. Thanks!

Free people seek the light, always

I wish I could remember where I saw it, and I wish I had written it down, or saved it, or printed it out, but I don’t and I didn’t so …

You’ll just have to take my word for it. (You do remember when a person’s word was his/her bond, right?)

Some time back I read about a historian who had tracked civilization’s ups and downs in waves, and this person predicted that the next great downward wave, a downturn bordering on dark ages, would begin in 2020.

I think about that article lately.

But it’s in my nature to seek the light.

Last month I wrote about how glad I am to live in a land where people drafted a Bill of Rights to restrict bad people from doing bad things, tyrannical things, to everyday people. Even though they still do bad things, tyrannical things, at least there’s a standard against which those things can be judged bad.

When the age looks very dark, that’s a very dim light to hang my hat on, I know. Barely a candle’s flicker on a breezy day.

Many of my favorite works of fiction are dystopian: Nineteen Eighty-Four, of course, and Animal Farm, and the 1960s TV show The Prisoner with its iconic shout of defiance: “I am not a number, I am a free man!”

Notice that: Held captive in a Village where faceless rulers insist that everyone think and act the same, where contrary thought is punished and no one may leave, this person cries, “I am a free man!”

And he is.

And, as darkness appears to be falling, and bad people are attempting to shepherd everyone into sheepish little villages and silence everyone who doesn’t think or act correctly, that flicker refuses to be extinguished.

We are free. Many don’t quite understand, but that’s The Thing about freedom: We are “endowed at birth” with it, so it’s always ours to exercise or surrender.

Bullies love to try forcing free people to surrender, but we keep reading and collecting the banned books, gathering in groups or retreating in solitary to speak and write what we please, creating great art and great businesses that free the mind, body and soul.

The response to tyranny’s violence is not more violence, because that plays into the bully’s hands. The bully can only tear down; the free person builds, always. No, the response is simply to be free. The tyrant needs your permission to take your freedom, and you needn’t give it.

If a new dark age is starting, then we protect the light. Every warming campfire begins with a flicker.

Glad … for a good laugh

An unexpected laugh is always on time.

I’ve been moving through Lucy Maud Montgomery’s delightful novels about Anne Shirley Cuthbert Blythe, starting with the best-known, Anne of Green Gables, and following our heroine as she grows to adulthood and now motherhood.

I bought the eight-pack of paperback novels and a six-pack of audiobooks via Audible — through trying to figure out the difference, I learned that Montgomery wrote six Anne books between 1908 and 1921 and 15 years later doubled back and wrote the “fourth” book in 1936 and the “sixth” book in 1939; the audiobooks cover the original half-dozen.

I’m reading and listening to the actual fifth book, Rainbow Valley, which finds Anne and her beloved Gilbert with six of the seven children they’ll eventually have. We’re in the early chapters, and Anne is gossiping with two old friends about the new pastor, who is a widower and the father of four precocious children of his own.

When we reach my laugh out loud, Susan Baker is telling Anne about the Reverend Meredith’s daughter Faith, who is 11 when we meet. “She looks like an angel but is a holy terror for mischief,” Susan says and describes what happened when a neighbor brought the Merediths a dozen eggs and a little pail of milk.

“Faith took them and whisked down the cellar with them. Near the bottom of the stairs, she caught her toe and fell the rest of the way, milk and eggs and all. You can imagine the result … But that child came up laughing. ‘I don’t know whether I’m myself or a custard pie,’ she said.”

I honestly don’t know precisely why, but Faith’s reaction to her mishap produced a guffaw as I cruised down Highway 57. Anne decides she’s going to like the little girl, and I’m with her.

Montgomery has a wonderful light touch in these books, and I find myself smiling — and, as you see, occasionally laughing out loud — during these visits to Prince Edward Island of a century ago. They make me want to visit P.E.I. in person someday.

Smiles and laughter are so precious, and I am grateful whenever I find them.

Beside herself with gladness

The first print-on-demand copy of the new book arrived yesterday, and it turned out nicely if I say so myself. I put this photo of Willow on social media with the caption, “Yeah, yeah, I’m on the cover. I’m sleeping here.”

The book is 60 quick hits of encouragement, most of them first seen right here at this site. Amazon has exclusive rights to the ebook through March, but you can find the paperback wherever fine books are sold, like Barnes & Noble.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the nasty, so I created a book of celebrations about things that make me glad so you can celebrate, too. A smile is infectious and a lot more fun to spread than the latest political smear.

And look at that face on the cover. How can you resist?

Stay the course

Monday morning arrives full of energy, resolve, piss and vinegar.

Then, at the edge of consciousness, reality chips off a small piece of confidence — you start to think maybe it’s not so important to get such-and-such done by 9, as long as the main job is underway by 12, and it all can’t be done by 5, well, at least most of it can. But you have a nagging feeling it could have been done by 9.

Chip by chip they fall, and if enough fragments of confidence are chipped away, voila it’s Tuesday and you’re well along Frustration Street, which evolves into a boulevard that’s one day paved over for an interstate highway.

Or you can capture the energy, bottle the resolve, tap the piss and vinegar, revive it every morning, and off you go.

Off you go!

Holding these truths

Your happiness is independent of Washington.

You do understand that, right?

All the brouhaha and machinations and puffery and, yes, silliness, it has nothing to do with your everyday life. Even the terrible events of this past week didn’t interrupt what you were doing.

That’s what it means to be free.

And please make no mistake:

You’re free. Nothing is stopping you.

Go! Flex those arms and legs and start walking — run if you wish.

It’s your decision to walk, run, crawl, growl, or sit and wait. The choices are all yours. You have to own the results, of course — that’s how life works in a free society — but don’t let that thought stop you, either.

Yeah: It’s those thoughts that you let stop you that really hurt.

It all comes back to this thought: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all folks are created equal with certain rights that can’t be taken away, including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Washington didn’t give you these rights, and Washington can’t take them away, no matter how much it may try. You were born with them.

So go ahead. Get out there and pursue happiness.

A report from the playground

“when we create, we are creating the world. remember this, and commit.”

— Nayyirah Waheed

On Friday morning, I crossed the 10,000-word threshold on my novel tentatively called Jeep Thompson and the Lost Prince of Venus.

Those are as many words as the average Myke Phoenix novelette, and it’s already the longest stretch of fiction I’ve written since 2014, when I hunkered down and banged out 10 novelettes.

I am having a blast. You know all those writing gurus who say writing is fun once you get out of your own way? Oh, man, they are right.

I was going to call this post “A report from the battlefield,” because, you know, it’s “the war of art” and creative types supposedly are always struggling to do the art. But if I’m honest, when it’s going well, it’s like watching a good movie. And watching a good movie is fun as hell, not a struggle.

I designed this cover more than a year ago, as a way of envisioning a finished product. It may or may not be what the actual book looks like, or its title.

But it’s coming along, and I am stoked, and I am committed. This is a cool feeling.

My advice to myself is not to be too pleased with myself, just keep going. But 10,000 words is a milestone, and so I pause to celebrate — just for a few minutes.

When the drought broke

“You only fail if you stop writing.”

My mentor’s gentle eyes bore into my soul. He knew that I’d written every day for six days, just as I’d planned, and on the second 15 days I’d rested.

“You only fail if you stop writing,” he said.

“I know, I know. You’re right. I failed,” I said.

“So write.”

“I will,” I said.

“You only fail if you stop writing,” he said. “‘I will’ is not ‘I am.’”

“I know.”

“You only fail if you stop writing,” he said. “ ‘I know’ is not ‘I am.’”

I took a deep breath.

And wrote:

“In a land far away there was a lone rider. What he was riding is a little hard to explain if you’ve never been to that far away land. It was soft like a pampered dog but big like a horse, but with a smushier face than a horse or a dog, but not so smushy that it was a human or an ape. So: A larger snout than ours but shorter than theirs. But big enough to ride comfortably and big enough that it didn’t mind so much being ridden.

“I suspect, though, that you don’t want to know about the animal so much as the lone rider. Why was he alone? Where was he going? Where was he coming from? And what is the dark secret that complicated his life to the point where he was making this journey alone?”

“That’s better,” my mentor smiled. “Go on.”

“The dust on the rider’s clothing and the weary gait of the animal told us they had been riding for a very long time — hours, or even days. The animal couldn’t or wouldn’t talk, and the rider had nothing to say. The miles went by slowly in silence. A barely noticeable path through a large flat plain, the sun bearing down on amber waves. Not a desert, but not a lush land or a wooded plain by any stretch. And still silence everywhere.”

“I see what you did there,” my mentor said. “‘Still silence …’”

“Thank you.”

“You only fail if you stop writing.”

“But it’s time for breakfast.”

“And you have written. It’s so easy, isn’t it?”

“Only when I take the time.”

“So …”

“I’ll take the time.”

“Good lad. Go eat.”

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