Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Continuing No Shame Poetry Series Presents "Deconstruction"


I am taking down
Bulletin boards
In the church basement
Backing out the screws
That hold them to the wall
With my cordless drill
And a number 2 phillips bit.

I wonder about
The people who drove
Those screws in
Years ago.
Who were they
What were their lives like
And where are they now
Long gone, possibly
Moved away
Or dead. 

Keats had his
Statue of Ozymandias
And Grecian urn
To reflect on time
And eternity.

I have 
Bulletin boards
In the church basement


--Dan Verner

Advice for Writers: The Parable of the Sorry Pear Tree

This could also be called "Pruning and Revision,"  except that I have written about pruning and revision. This post has a different pruning story, though, and a different focus.  Anyhow, as I was saying...

When we lived in Fairfax, we had a pear tree that stood by the sidewalk. It wasn't much of a tree: it was about fifteen feet tall and its small tough-skinned fruit was as hard as a brick. My mother decided that it needed pruning so my dad got up on a ladder with his pruning saw and went to town. Maybe it's more accurate to say he went to several towns. By the time he finished, the poor sorry pear tree looked like a small telephone pole with a few leaves hanging on for dear life at the top.

My mother was less than pleased by my dad's work with the saw. In fact, she was livid, saying that he had probably killed the tree and that he might as well go ahead and chop it down.

The idea of pruning is to allow the plant to concentrate its resources and energy into a smaller volume, producing greater growth and, int he case of fruit trees, better fruit. There's an analogue in writing: more concise writing is more energetic and more to the point. It doesn't waste anyone's time with excess verbiage. It doesn't annoy the reader by skipping around the point. Flabby writing annoys the fool out of me. I can't tell you.

But I can tell you that the tree came bustling back the next spring, with an honest thriving bushy growth of limbs and leaves and, miracle of all miracles, huge pears that were sweet and delicious.

I learned an important lesson from this and it is if your wife wants you to prune your pear tree, be sure she watches so you don't hack too much off. Oh, and pruning, revision and concision are good practices.

So Long, Privacy, It Was Nice Knowing You

One of the things in the list of Nine Things that Will Disappear during our lifetime was privacy. I hate to say it, but it's gone already. In the name of national security, government agencies scan emails and other electronic media and who knows what else. Now, I don't think I'm paranoid and I don't expect the black government helicopters to come swooping down on my cul-de-sac at any moment, but we are pretty much surveilled 24/7/365.

Take security cameras, for example. They are truly ubiquituous and we don't even think about them. This was brought home to me recently when I went to take a pair of slacks back for my dad which were the wrong size. I exchanged them for a pait the correct size and the clerk offered to put them in a bag for me. I said I didn't need a bag, thank you, and she allowed as how the security cameras would pick up the fact that I was carrying something out of the store which was not in a bag and register it as a theft.

Well. I didn't even think about security cameras. They can be useful when a child is abducted or a crime has been committed, but we're all pretty much on Candid Camera when we go out.

Information is collected on us when we go on the internet. Have you ever noticed that the ads online change according to what you're looking for or in my case, writing about? Someone's watching and it ain't Santa Claus.

I also am concerned that drones are going to be used domestically for law enforcement. I know that they will be a tremendous asset to the police, but I worry about abuse of their surveillance capabilities. The New Yorker had an article on the domestic use of drones recently, and one of the major takeaways for me was the number of ways their abilities can be abused. I just hope there are clear and stringent guidelines for their use and that someone with ill intent doesn't get hold of a Predator equipped with a Hellfire missile. We wouldn't know what hit us.

I found the movie Minority Report to be the most chilling one I had seen in a long time. In that dystopian vision of the future, citizens can be arrested for crimes they haven't committed yet. Sure, it's secure, but what privacy? It looks like the brave new world that we are rapidly attaining, if we haven't already.

So, what is there to do but when we go out, mind our p's and q's and smile and wave! We're on camera and someone is watching!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Biscuit City Chronicles: When I Was a Cowboy

 A while back I did a singalong with a group of about 50 people. We sang American songs, folk songs mostly, one of which was “Home on the Range.” I asked how many of those assembled wanted to be cowboys when they were younger.  Only about three people raised their hands. I was a little surprised at this. When I was about six years old, I wanted to be a cowboy more than anything else.

I happened to come along in the early days of television, and many of the cowboy movie stars had made the transition to the small screen. There was Wild Bill Hickok (I forget who played him) and his sidekick Jingles, portrayed by Andy Devine (“Hey, Wild Bill, wait for me!”). Then there was the Cisco Kid with his pal Pancho, who embodied every Hispanic stereotype known to humankind. Hopalong Cassidy was unusual in that he had silver hair. Played by Bill Boyd, his horse had the coolest saddle and equipment around.  I even had a Hopalong Cassidy cereal bowl with Hoppy and horse on the bottom.  My reward for eating all my cereal was to see Hoppy at the bottom of the bowl. I believe Gene Autry made appearances on television, although those might have been movies. Sky King was a modern-day cowboy who used a twin-engined Cessna instead of a horse. He had a niece named Penny to round out the show. Of course, the King of the Cowboys was Roy Rogers and his inimitable cast: Dale Evans (I think she rode her horse Buttermilk sidesaddle), Trigger the palomino, Bullet the dog, and a humorous character named Pat Brady with his jeep Nellybelle that was forever breaking down.  I’m not sure to this day exactly what Pat Brady did around the ranch except mess up, but they were a family.  And Roy and Dale sang at least at the end of every episode: “Happy Trails to You!” It was a great time to want to be a cowboy.

Locally, Pick Temple had a show sponsored by Giant Food and Heidi bread.  I still remember the Heidi bread song, sung to the tune of  “On Top of Old Smokey”:

My favorite bread’s Heidi,
I hope it’s yours, too.
It tastes so delicious
And it’s so good for you.
So let’s all eat Heidi
And before very long
All Giant Rangers
Will grow big and strong.

I never missed an episode of Roy Rogers or Pick Temple.  My wife actually got to meet Pick.  She also saw the Beatles in person.  The most famous person I have seen in person was Janis Joplin and that’s enough said about that.

Of course, when we watched cowboy shows we wore our cowboy outfits.  I have a picture of my brother and me in our cowboy hats, shirts, vests, jeans, and boots, sporting our gun belts and armed with twin cap pistols. We were fairly impressive if you ignored the fact that we were about three feet tall.  My wife still has her cowgirl outfit, which is red with a hat, vest and skirt.  I have never asked her if she has ever ridden sidesaddle but it looks from the outfit as if she were about three feet tall at the time as well.

I think I wanted to be a cowboy for about four years.  I even lobbied my parents for a pony, unsuccessfully since we lived in a house with a tiny back yard.  The issue of where to put the pony never bothered me: I just wanted one.

My cowboy days came to an end about 1957 with the Davy Crockett fad. (I was susceptible to cultural pressure.) I wanted a coonskin cap, which I never got, and a flintlock rifle which I did.  It was plastic, about two feet long and shot caps. The caps were not as spectacular as the hammer striking the flint and throwing sparks far and wide. I think I might have set some fires with it.  The Davy Crocket rage ended for me when I saw the Disney movie and realized he died at the Alamo.  There didn’t seem to be much of a future in being Davy Crockett so I went on to other things.

I know that the movie and televisions versions of cowboy life were highly romanticized.  It was tough, dirty, thankless work and the heyday of the cowboy in the West didn’t last that long.  Still, the media cowboys embodied certain virtues that are worth having today: independence, a sense of justice and fair play, and a willingness to stand up for the underdog. They might not have been real, but what they stood for certainly was.

And so, for all you buckaroos out there, “Happy trails to you, until we meet again…”

Monday, June 25, 2012

Stupid Is as Stupid Does

I've written about the various household projects I have in progress, but I don't think I've mentioned one of the most frustrating.

I wanted to run a "copperline" telephone line to the glass-enclosed observation post here at the Biscuit City studios after the existing line was taken out when Verizon installed Fios about three years ago now. Instead of the four-wire telephone feed, I have what looks like a coax cable (a fiber-optic) leading to the router for my wi-fi. Fios has worked extremely well: when the cable was cut by a sliding ice sheet a couple of years ago, the repair guy came out and fixed it on a Sunday morning.

We do have a couple of hardwire phones: the kitchen phone that hangs on the wall and one of those wireless bases with four phones that go with it. The phones are a bit frustrating because if you get a call and someone else wants to pick it up on another phone, you have to transfer the call to the other phone. I have no idea where the directions are to do this, so we have to go to the kitchen phone or take the handset to the person receiving the  call. Then the handsets all end up in the same place. First world problem, I know.

So, I needed a copperline for the fax machine in the Biscuit City office. Actually, I have a laser printer/fax/copier/scanner. It has been fabulous. My dad's financial guy, Mike Washer, told me to get one and it has been so useful. But I occasionally need to fax something and to do so I go over to the church and use the fax there. I know, it's only about half a mile, but I expect convenience (I'm so spoiled, I know).

So, first I had to drill a hole through the wall, which I did with my 12-inch bit. Then I fed the telephone cable through the hole and went outside to hook it up to the junction box. There was no sign of the cable protruding through the wall. It had gone down inside the wall and had probably wrapped itself around the HVAC unit in the basement.

I pulled the wayward cable out and enlarged the hole Someone suggested a fish tape, which is a long metal ribbon (of darkness--it is black. Pace, Gordon Lightfoot!)that is used to "fish" cables through walls and other barriers. I got the line through the wall, hooked it up and tried the phone. Nothing. Since it was February and cold to be monkeying around outside, I put this project on hiatus and just got back to it this past week.

I thought the problem was the old cable I was using (nearly 45 years old) so I got a nice new run of cable and fed that through the wall. Three times. The cable kept going and slid outside the house. Finally I tied a pair of pliers at the end and that stopped the slide. I connected the wires (only need two out of four. I'm sure the other lines have a function: I'm just not sure what it is) and hooked up the jack. Nothing.

I then thought the problem was the jack so I got another one from my collection of cast-off telephone parts and tried that with the same result. I then thought the cable might have been bad even though it was new. Stranger things have happened. So I rigged up a telephone that I could take to the old school junction box and touched the cable wires to the terminal. Still nothing. Then I noticed that the hardwires that do work went to the Fios (new school) box. That was what was necessary to make a new line work. I didn't want to mess with a Verizon installation so I ordered a VoiP box (voice-over-internet telephone. I think.) that will give me a wireless hardwire (oxymoron of the week). It'll be here this week. I'll let you know how the electronic genius that I am makes out with it.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Continuing No Shame Poetry Series Presents "Realization"


The children are years gone
From this empty nest
Married, moved away, departed,
I no longer know when spring comes.

There are no more swim meets to chauffeur
No anxious awaiting of college acceptances
Or rejections
No proms to plan for
And as the months slide on
No graduations
Or weddings
Or end of school giddiness.

Spring is much like summer
Without these markers
And I am suspended, timeless
And yet somehow growing older
Wondering where the months
And where the children have gone. 

--Dan Verner

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Advice on Writing: Persistence and Stupidity

I don’t know if I have shared the story of the clock here and how I nearly drove my brother Ron crazy with it. I think I have mentioned that our pastor asked me to take apart some study carrels in one of our church buildings and move them to another room. He said, “I hear you’re good at that sort of thing,” meaning taking things apart and then (sometimes) actually putting them back together again. I have been that way ever since I can remember—I like to take things apart and put them back together, if I can. Which I can’t sometimes.

Anyhow, I somehow got hold of a mechanical clock when I was about ten years old. I took it apart, put all the pieces in a shoe box and then tried to put it back together again. I had no idea how to do this, but after we ate dinner, I would sit at the kitchen table and fiddle with the parts for hours, until it was time to go to bed. I was so engrossed in what I was doing that I didn’t notice that my brother Ron was growing impatient with my tedious and obsessive efforts.  After about two weeks of this, he couldn’t take any more. He grabbed the box of clock parts, screamed, “I can’t take this any more!” ran to the door and threw the box into the darkness of the back yard.

I sat there stunned for a moment. Our mother looked at me. “He’s right, you know. Give it up.”

I made a move for the family flashlight which we were not allowed to use without special permission since we would play with it and use the batteries up. “You may not use the flashlight,” Mom warned sternly.

I rose early in those days, so at first light I was outside, meticulously gathering clock parts from the grass and putting them in the box. As I brought my treasure inside, my mom was waiting for me. She sighed. “I’ll say this for you: you’re either persistent or stupid.”

In thinking about writing, sometimes I think that writers (and I say this with as much affection as I can muster) are both persistent and stupid. As for persistence, how many people would keep at something (short story, novel, play, poem) for weeks or months or years with no guarantee that it will ever come to anything or ever see the light of day? Writers do, that's who. 

By the same token, I think writers (self included) are on the foolish side. (My mama taught me to never call anyone stupid, except she called me that because, well, I was sometimes.) Ours is a solitary pursuit, and the same quality of persistence can seem foolish to relatives, friends and acquaintances.

I have already experienced the glazed eye look when I  tell people about the great scene I wrote that morning for my novel. No one cares about our writing as much as we do, and no one is as persistent at what we do, even when it seems a foolish pursuit. 

I think, though, that we're really determined and the smartest, kindest, most talented and good-looking people on earth. If my mama were still with us, she would tell me not to brag. But, as my daughter Amy says, "It's not bragging if you're telling the truth." And I am.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I Have No Title or Category for This

Or any comment either, except to wonder if the execs at Adidas have truly lost their minds. (News flash: apparently recovering from what they had been smoking, Adidas execs have decided to withdraw this particular model. It will probably become a collector's item, like all those cans of New Coke I have sitting around.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Biscuit City Chronicle: Little Georgie and the Lost Horizon

I have been thinking about graduations lately (it seems the thing to do at this time of year.)—and about the graduations I have been to—probably more than the average person since I was required by the powers that were to attend the graduations at the high school where I taught for 32 years. I think I missed one, somehow, and I don’t recall why. If I have counted correctly, I have been to forty high school graduations (including my own and our daughters’), two college ceremonies, two graduate school, two seminary and one kindergarten. That’s 47 graduations, which ain’t too bad if you’re counting.

The worst ceremony was, surprisingly, one of the seminary ceremonies. You’d think they would have known better. It lasted three hours (we left after two and a half), and we had to stand in spite of having tickets. The speaker was Justice Brennan, who went on for 45 minutes. I had ninth graders who would have made a better speech. You’d think that a Supreme Court Justice would have more significant things to say than the rambling incoherence that Justice Brennan favored all of us with. It was worse than the infamous Rubber Chicken graduation at Robinson High in about 1988. That alleged ceremony saw a rubber chicken flung bout by the seniors for the better part of the evening, along with the obligatory beach balls and silly string. There was also an inflatable woman who surfaced briefly, but she was larger and easier to snag than the chicken.

After about twenty high school graduations, I realized that there are conflicting expectations present at a ceremony. The seniors look on it as sort of a warmup to heavy duty partying. The teachers present expect the same degree of decorum with 600 plus seniors in a heightened state of excitement that they have with a class of 25 first-semester sophomores after lunch. Parents and grandparents are mildly confused by so many 17- and 18-year-olds in one place. Administrators are happy if no one is trampled or killed and eaten during the proceedings.

I also have a tie for the best graduation ceremony. One was Alyssa’s kindergarten graduation—the high school class of 1999 was 12 strong, wearing construction paper mortarboards they had made themselves. The director read “Everything I  Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” which then was circulating in Xeroxed copies, not printed on everything from coffee cups to diapers as it is now. Each graduate of the kindergarten received a certificate and a hug from the director and their teacher, and we all had juice and cookies sitting at tiny tables in little chairs. It was absolutely charming.

My other favorite ceremony was my graduation from elementary school, which then extended into seventh grade, a concept which makes me blanche how. We had a cool teacher, the only man in the school, who later became my first principal when I started teaching. He divided our school day into periods and we set up a giant HO train set in the room the week before Christmas vacation. In the spring, we went outside and played softball for hours.

Naturally, in the waning days of our seventh grade careers, we became thoroughly obnoxious. At least I did. I recognize the phenomenon now as short-timer’s syndrome, a psychological defense mechanism against the uncertainty of leaving what is familiar. But, as far as we were concerned, we were headed to eighth grade, intermediate school, and we were far too cool for words.

Our school chose to honor us with a graduation during the day. My mother was less then impressed.

“Graduation is for high school,” she opined.

“Now it’s for elementary school,” I returned.

“You should save some things for later,” she said.

“Geez, Mom, it’s only a ceremony. It’s not like I’m taking up drinking and smoking or anything like that.”
She fixed me with a  familiar gaze. “Boys who drink and smoke…”

“Let me guess, Mom—they go to hell, right?”

I was clearly ready to graduate from elementary school.

My mother did not come to the ceremony as a protest. It was the only school event I was involved in that she did not attend. There wasn’t much to it—Miss Brown, our principal, said a few things about striving and making our school proud of us; Mrs. Woolworth played the piano; we marched across the stage and got our certificates. And that was it. No refreshment, no reception, nothing. I think that, for a change, the school didn’t know what to do with us. So they sent us to recess for the rest of the day—for two hours.

My best friend Mike and I had given up on organized sports by that time—it was too hot to stand around in the sun and play softball, so we stood in the shadow of the building and made witty comments about the kids on the playground.

“Look how little those kids are, Mike,” I said.

“Yeah, and look at those stupid games.”

“That’s right, no more stupid games for us. Soon we’ll be bush pilots.” We were convinced that the eighth grade consisted of a bush piloting curriculum we had been eagerly awaiting. This was in spite of being signed up for English, math, science, shop/music/art, p.e. and French. I suppose we thought these were code terms for aeronautics and navigation.

We stood there, glad just to contribute our superior presence to the school. As I looked out across the playground, I felt—nothing. Well, maybe a small pang at the prospect of not being sure that the lovely Leigh Stone, the woman of my dreams, would be in any of my classes the next year. Not that I would admit that to Mike.

I searched for something to say to convey the sense of superiority that we felt.

“Whatcha doin’?”

For a moment, I didn’t recognize the voice. It was distinctive, certainly, and vaguely familiar. I just wasn’t expecting it. I rarely saw our neighbor, Little Georgie, at school, and in six years, he hadn’t spoken to me on school grounds.

Georgie was, well, different. He was called “slow” back then. I don’t know what his condition was, but he had a hard time of it. For the most part, kids ignored him, and a few tortured the poor boy. He best known for falling into the mill race during the big fourth grade field trip to Washington’s Grist Mill a few years before. We called him “little” although he was anything but that.

I wasn’t sure exactly which grade Georgie was in then. He started in the same grade that I was in and kept up for a few years. Then he slipped behind, stuck in the fourth grade for several years. I suppose he was a pioneer in what we now call an ungraded curriculum.

I wasn’t sure what to say, so I said, “Georgie, we are lordly seventh graders, masters of all we survey.”


Uh oh—he was in one of his “stuck” modes in which he repeated the same question dozens of times. I knew this, but kept after it anyhow.

“Because, Georgie, we are graduates of Westmore Elementary School.”


“Because, Georgie, that is what you do after you’ve learned everything there is to know.”

Mike sidled off to the basketball court. I think Georgie made him uncomfortable. Or maybe it was my trying to have a conversation with him.


I was stumped. I had not more explanations. Then it occurred to me that Georgie would never graduate from anywhere.

“Georgie,” I said.


“Don’t worry about it.”

“OK,” he mumbled. “I won’t…” And he shuffled off.
He never did graduate from elementary school, dropping out in the fifth grade after repeating it a couple of times. I heard he joined a motorcycle gang at age 14.

So,  maybe there are some reasons some of us go to more than our share of graduations. It might be that we are making up for those who never had a graduation.

Alyssa brought home a notice of graduation when she was nearly finished with sixth grade. She had been quizzing Amy about life in junior high school—classic questions about being lost and being stuffed into lockers and being forced to eat unrecognizable food. She was in the high school advisory group at church. I sent the youth choir director a sympathy card since she was all his the next fall.
I asked her if she wanted me to come to her graduation since it was during school. “I can take off,” I said. 

“It’s only creative writing, not a real subject.”

“Oh, don’t bother,” she sniffed. “It will be so lame.”

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“Oh,” she sighed, “Mrs. Jackson will get up and make some speech about doing our best and making Weems proud of us and the music teacher will play something dorky on the piano that I could play with one hand and then we have to stand up and sing the stupid school song…”

“The one you changed the words to?” There was the official version and the sixth-grade version, which has deliciously devastating comments about the school and the staff. I suppose I shouldn’t have laughed at it.

“Yeah, and we’re going to sing the bad words.” This from a child who walked around the house singing the Barney song as “I love you/You love me/That’s how we get H.I.V…”

“Wish I could be there…”

“Don’t bother. Elementary school is for losers.”

Some things never change, I suppose. Just the times and the ages. “I suppose it is, Alyssa,” I said. “I suppose it is.”

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Nice Evening Out

Never let anyone say that Becky and I don't know how to have a good time. One of our favorite things to do when the Bloom grocery store used to run double coupon specials was to go to the store, split up the shopping list and buy groceries for ourselves and the food pantry at church. I liked to see who could finish first, but Becky didn't want to race so my victories were always hollow. I like grocery stores in general, so we had a good time.

Saturday evening about 9:00 or so, Becky asked me if I would go with her to get gas in her Glass-Enclosed Toyota Music Machine (aka her 1999 Avalon) and, never one to miss out on fun, I said sure and we were off. The station is about a mile from our house, so we arrived quickly; I jumped out and pumped the gas, noting that it was "down" to $3.20 a gallon, and got back in. Becky proposed that we go to Nathan's Ice Cream Bar (or whatever it is) about half a mile away. I wasn't sure I could take that much merriment, but I agreed and we went to Nathan's where the line was about thirty people long. They serve quickly there and soon we were enjoying a vanilla cone and a pineapple sundae respectively.

We sat at one of the tables, ate our ice cream and watched the line double in size in about ten minutes. It was a nice evening and nice to be out. Then we went home, but it was a nice (if brief) outing.

We are not what anyone would call outdoor people. Most of the time in this area it's too humid or hot or cold or rainy or snowy or whatever to enjoy being outside. Generally we go from our heated or air conditioned house to our climate-controlled cars and then to temperate buildings and stores and rarely stay outside. We' had a nice stretch of low-humidity warmish weather and it's nice just to be out.

When I was a lad, we frequently sat outside as a family. Our house didn't have air conditioning, and we would sit in the dark (fun times!) until the interior cooled down enough to sleep. I remember chasing and catching fireflies in a jar and seeing if they gave off enough light to read a comic book by. I never could, but I kept trying.

Our mother preferred that Ron and I stay outside anyone so we wouldn't tear up the house, so we pretty much did live outside. There have been a lot of changes since those days, but it was nice Saturday evening to, in a sense, revisit an earlier time. We'll have to do it again soon.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Continuing No Shame Poetry Series Presents "There's Always a Diagram"

There’s Always a Diagram

That’s what my daughter and her friend say
As they talk about their co-workers
Who drive them crazy.

Friend: “It doesn’t matter what he’s talking about
He always draws the same diagram

It’s a bell curve and it illustrates everything
According to him,
Infant mortality rates or shopping patterns of
New mothers”
And she draws a bell curve on a scrap
Of paper.

At the table, we look at the bell curve as if
We have never seen one before
And nod sagely, yes, that is irritating and odd
But I’m thinking, it does apply to those situations.

Daughter: “My guy always draws a circle
And then puts little dots inside it. He says things like
‘Here’s the target population’ and draws a circle
And then peppers it with little dots,
‘And here are our inreach efforts,’ ”
And she quickly draws a circle
And jabs her pen into the paper a number of times.

As I study both diagrams, daughter and friend lapse into
A kind of disgusted silent contemplation of their lot
While I realize the coworkers they are fed up with
Are guys my age only a little obsessed with their ideas
And unsure just how to communicate them.
And so the old guys draw the same diagrams
To illustrate everything
Time after time

But looking at the two diagrams
I like them both and
I can’t decide between them.

--Dan Verner

Advice for Writers: A Worth-While Interview and MoreProjecting Away

Before I get into my little bit about writing, I want to recommend an interview by Carol Covin (Granny Guru, author of  Who Gets to Name Grandma-- online at Carol also writes on her website most notably an amazing blog entitled "New Grandmas Rock" ).

Carol interviewed Lake Ridge author Nancy Kyme (author of Memory Lake--online at, and also available on and Barnes and If you don't have these two ladies' books, log off now and go to their websites or to Amazon or B&N and order yourself copies for you and all your friends).

The ostensible subject of the interview is Anne LaMott's book on writing, Bird by Bird, but Carol and Nancy share their own insights into writing as well. They talk about the book and about their writing with charm and grace, which is much more than I can manage. It's well worth a listen:

OK, then, here's my paltry contribution on the subject for this week:

I seem to have fallen into a number of long term projects which I have written about occasionally on these pages. One was going through my father's household belongings and selling, giving away or keeping them. This took me from about last August to this February. In a sense, I'm not finished because I still have to integrate his tools into my tool collection and cull the duplicates. I think I presently have four caulking guns.

Then there was my attic insulation project, which ran from last August until about this April. I'm pleased to report that the upstairs is not as hot as it has been other summers so all those R values are above my head working away.

My fence project has about two sections complete with a third underway. I ran out of materials Friday and did not want to brave Home Depot on a Saturday. It waited until Monday.

My point is that a lot can be accomplished over a period of time with persistent effort. I was thinking about this in conjunction with a novel I have begun. I wrote an abysmal one-character novel in which nothing happened about twenty years ago. No one will ever see it. I wonder why I haven't burned it. But this time, I'm already up to about ten characters and I'm writing about something I know about. What a concept!

And I know from my first attempt that it's a matter of keeping after it day by day. Already I find myself wanting to get back to work on it when I'm working on tool organization or fence building. I suppose the writer has to be the most enthusiastic person about what he or she is writing or else no one else will care. I grew used to being the most enthusiastic person in the room about literature when I taught English in high school, so this is not a new role for me.

I was reminded by some writer friends to practice what I preached when I taught creative writing years ago: write what parts jump out at you, don't think you have to start at the beginning and write to the end (start anywhere and jump around if you want. No one will know when it's done) and expect to revise, revise, revise. Thanks to my friends who reminded me of these important truths. You know who you are.

As for me, I have to do some research now to make sure the details are right. What a glorious project this is!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Technology and Society—The Land Line Phone

A while back, a list appeared on various sites entitled Nine Things That Will Disappear In Our Lifetime. Now, the definition of a lifetime would depend on the person. It might be 30 seconds for someone and 100 years for a newborn. We never know (I am such a philosopher, I know). But let's take the figure usually used to calculate the duration of a generation, sixteen years, add a couple years for a fudge factor (which I learned to do in my college physics course, one of three science and math courses I took. Poetry courses--too many to count. And priceless) and come up with a nice round numbered year of 2030. That sounds about right for the things ont he list to have disappeared completely, if not sooner.

Here is the list:

1. The Post Office
2. The Check
3. The Paper Newspaper
4. The Paper Book
5. The Land Line Telephone
6. The Music Industry
7. Television
8. The "Things" That You Own
9. Privacy 

I want to give each of these its own separate post, and some of them are, in the words of the song, "as good as gone," in my estimation.  Checks are one of these. I used to write 40 to 50 checks a month. Now I might write one or two. Good as gone.

One real generational difference comes with the land line telephone. I call the difference between my generation and that of my thirty-something daughters "the digital divide." They have gone almost totally digital, reading newspapers on line, eschewing landlines in favor of cell phones and listening to digital music files. They have always known and used and been comfortable with digital devices. I'm more typical of my generation: I first used computers in school (teaching, not taking) in 1985 and have gradually learned how to use digital devices. I have several computers, an iPhone and a Nook. And yet I still keep writing ideas in a notebook, have a landline, read paper books and listen to CD's. I haven't made the break with the older forms of technology and probably never will.

There are also differences in how we use these technologies. Amy and Alyssa rarely answer their phones. If I want them to respond, I text them. I used to detest texting, although I have a better attitude toward it with some practice. When I asked them about their reliance on this form, they said it was less intrusive and that it was nice to have a written record of information such as an address or phone number. That makes sense to me, although there are times when only a phone call will do.

So, we're keeping our landline with the number we've had for nearly 40 years. I need it for my fax, although there is probably a way I could configure that to work off the wi fi at home. And I know, faxes are hopelessly old school, but sometimes that's the way I need to roll.

The Washington Post did an article on this very issue in 2010, using research and surveys. I prefer to pull these posts out of my ear, as faithful readers know.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bob Tale--Uncle Jim and Mr. Aintbroke

As my college friend Bob told his stories about Uncle Jim and his farm in rural New Jersey, it was clear that Jim’s operation was not some hobby farm, but one that grew a respectable amount of crops. Dot had her own vegetable patch and Bob said her meals were some of the best he had ever had.  It was a change from the Italian restaurant food he ate at home. Jim primarily raised corn, and so when the harvest came in, he employed several high school and college students to help gather the crops. Jim had a small John Deere combine, a big Ford tractor and a small one, and a Ford stake truck. The tractor towed a high-sided trailer into which the harvested ears fell. Once it was full, they loaded the crop onto the stake truck to take it to the co-op. Like most farmers, large and small, Jim depended on his equipment.

Of course, machines broke down and needed repair. Jim was a fair mechanic, like most farmers, and he could weld and fix most things.  But when something big went wrong, like when an engine blew or a transmission went bad, he called on his mechanic, a fellow named Sweeney. Sweeney was a big rough-looking fellow who seemed to wear the same brown overalls day after day. No one knew if Sweeney was his first name or his last:  Jim called him Mr. Sweeney, and he never said anything about it.  Sweeney never said much anyhow, but he was a genius of a mechanic who could fix anything.  His helper was a young man of indeterminate age who said even less than Sweeney did. No one was quite sure he knew how to speak.

Jim had heard about Sweeney from some other farmers in the area.  “He’s good,” they told him, “But he doesn’t like to replace anything unless it’s good and broken.” Bob said he went with Jim one time to pick up a part Sweeney had ordered for him that he couldn’t get otherwise.  The old farm he lived on had a small barn that he had converted into a garage and the wrecks of about a hundred cars covering the hillside. Bob told Jim if a Saint Bernard showed up he was leaving.

Dot had another name for Sweeney.  She called him Mr. Aintbroke or just Aintbroke because the first time Jim called him out to work on a tractor and the truck when the engines were making odd noises, Aintbroke listened to the engines and said, “Naw, that engine’s still good.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Dot handled the financial end of the farm, and she asked Jim if it wouldn’t be better to do preventative maintenance on the equipment. Jim did what he could, oil changes and lubes and so forth, but he just thought and said, “No, I’ll stay with Aintbroke. He’s good and he’s fast and charges a reasonable price.” They both took to calling him Aintbroke when he wasn’t around.

Well, the corn harvest was proceeding well with every piece of equipment going full bore. The corn picker was making an odd grinding sound, the tractor’s valves were clattering and the stake truck was belching black smoke.  They were still running, but just barely. Then it happened.  Every piece of equipment stopped, one after the other, in the space of a few minutes. Jim and his helpers stood there.  Then he went into the house to call Aintbroke.  Dot heard the machines stop suddenly and greeted him at the door.  “So, are they broken now?” she asked. Jim didn’t answer.

Aintbroke  had to replace the engines on all three machines, and it took a few days until they could be shipped to the farm. Aintbroke showed up and worked straight through, as was his custom.  He never seemed to stop, even to eat.

In the meantime, Jim was able to make do with the small tractor and the pickup truck. A neighbor loaned him a combine, and while Bob said the work was twice as hard, they got it done.  Aintbroke finished installing the new engines about the time the harvest was done. Jim and Bob and the helpers fired them up and they all roared with new power.  Aintbroke and his assistant climbed into their ancient rust-covered wrecker and drove off.

As the crew came into the house to eat, Dot greeted them. “So I guess the equipment ain’t broke any more,” she said.

Bob said Aintbroke was Jim’s mechanic through the four years of college that I knew Bob. I don’t know what happened to him after that.

Monday, June 11, 2012

I Have Seen the Light

People who know me were  treated to my unique appearance a few weeks ago. I looked like someone who had gone two rounds with Muhammad Ali in his prime or who had suddenly gotten into radical eye makeup.  I had eyelid surgery May 11th to correct what is technically called “droopy eyelids.” As my optometrist said when I checked with her last September, “It’s no wonder you can’t see—your eyelid is drooping halfway over your pupil.” I hadn’t said much about it because I don’t think most people are interesting in the medical details of someone else’s life, but I thought sharing my experience here might be helpful to someone with a similar condition. 

I experienced my drooping eyelids as not having enough light to see. If I held my eyelid up, there was much more light, but I would have looked funny walking around holding my eyelids up. Same thing with holding them up with duct tape as some people do. I chose surgery, and it took six months from the time I saw the optometrist to the day of surgery.

Becky drove me over to a well-appointed surgery center in Chevy Chase where I was promptly taken back and prepped for surgery. I won’t go into too many details except to say I was given a “twilight sleep” sedation so I could follow commands. It worked: I was awake but didn’t care what happened to me. I had my eyes closed as the surgeon worked and as he finished, he said, “Open your eyes.”

The room seemed flooded with light. “There’s so much light,” I said, and there was, especially since it was an O.R. with O.R. lights. The surgery crew laughed at what I said. 

After a short time in recovery, Becky drove me back home where we arrived about 2 PM. I was to spend the rest of that day and the next flat on my back with frozen peas or lima beans on my eyes to keep down swelling and bruising.

I found it hard to keep still and lie down. Becky kept reminding me, sometimes forcefully, how important it was to do just that. I eventually settled down, and in the next day and a half discovered some things to do while lying on my back unable to see because I have gauze pads and iced vegetables on my eyes. So, here is what I did:

I listened to the radio, particularly news, traffic and weather from the glass-enclosed nerve center of WTOP. Their frequent times checks made it easy to tell when it was time to switch the somewhat thawed peas for a freshly frozen pack.  By the way, it you want to thaw about a quarter pound of peas or lima beans, hold them on your head for about half an hour. That’ll do the trick.

I listened to Pandora, the internet music service, grooving (but not too much) to the likes of Dan Fogelberg, Gordon Lightfoot, Art Garfunkel and Jim Croce. I found that I could add percussion by tapping on the wall as well.

I listened to several televised baseball games and finally switched to radio broadcasts where the descriptions were more complete.

I did some gentle yoga exercises to keep from getting stiff from lying around.

And I talked on the telephone with anyone who called, except for solicitors.

I was able to get up to go to the bathroom and eat, and then promptly go back and lie down with my iced eyeballs. 

I decided after trying to make my way around the upper floor where I am familiar with what’s there that I would not make a good blind person. I kept running into things and was afraid of falling down the stairs and setting back my recovery. Vision is truly a gift. I did try playing guitar, thinking that some famous musicians like Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Doc Watson and Blind Lemon Jefferson were blind. I could barely play my guitar by holding it on my chest but I didn’t find songs by these artists such as “Deep River Blues” and “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” much help in healing. I gave that up very quickly.

With my eyelids lifted, I have more light coming into my pupils. With more light, I also see details better. I also gained 30 additional degrees of upward peripheral vision through this procedure. I hadn’t thought about this until I was walking into the church Monday afternoon after the procedure and I thought, hey! there’s a whole sky—a whole heaven up there and I don’t even have to raise my head to see it.

In sum, the surgery wasn’t difficult or painful, although the recovery took some doing, the results were worth it. My doctor was Paul Gavaris of Washington and Tysons Corner, and if you need this sort of thing done, I recommend him highly. Let there be light for everyone!

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Continuing No Shame Poetry Series Presents "Sticks and Stones"

Sticks and Stones

We always have sticks in our yard
because we have a lot of trees.
Now there's a cause and effect for you:
Trees produce sticks, especially when it's windy
Like it was today.
And I know, I should have been an arborist
My knowledge of trees and their by-products is
So profound. So much for maple syrup and
Pine boards and willow bark for headaches:
give me a good stick
On the ground
And I'll pick it up.
I am always picking them up
Trees produce sticks.

Stones (on the other hand) were
Produced by glaciers in this part
Of the country. The glaciers covered
This area to a depth of about a million miles
Or something like that. (Do I look like a
Paleogeologist?) It was a lot of ice
In any case,
And when the planet warmed
(as it seems to be doing now)
The glaciers were gracious in defeat
And retreated north gradually, at less
Than a walking pace, I'm told,Although I would not want to pace a glacier.
I'd rather watch paint dry
Which is fun you shouldn't knock unless
You've tried it.

But anyhow, the glaciers ground up
Great big old boulders and rocks and
Made them into little stones
But they didn't pick up after themselves
(Because they have no hands, dummy),
And that's why there are rocks everywhere
Around here, just waiting to jump up into
A lawnmower blade and be flung into someone's
Car windshield and break it
Or lie right below where I am digging a nice hole
With a shovel and trying not to pierce a gas line
And blow the neighborhood up.
When shovel hits rock the shovel handle vibrates and
Jars my teeth. (I prefer my teeth in my mouth, not in jars.
How about you?)

Of the two, sticks and stones, I prefer sticks to stones.
Sticks you can throw or make a nice archery set
And play Hunger Games with your friends.
Stones pretty much sit there like a stone
(I know, so funny of me!)
Unless they are thrown which you should not do,Especially if you live in a glass house
(Just imagine cleaning all that glass twice a year
Or when company comes!)

And so, although sticks and stones may break my bones,
It was a notebook filled with words that hurt
Me when I caught my little toe on my right foot
And broke it.

Watch out for notebooks, kids,
And watch out for words.

They can do the real hurt.

--Dan Verner

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Advice for Writers: Shopping and Writing

Now, I am not writing here about my shopping practices, which, like many men, are practically non-existent. I know what I want and if I can't get it online, I go to the store, get what I want, pay for it, and go home. I don't like big shopping expeditions, nor do I engage in "recreational shopping." I leave that to my wife Becky, who is very good at it and who has in fact paid pennies on the dollar for too many items to count. So, I am in fact writing about a fortuitous confluence of writing and shopping which in fact came together in the last couple of days, in a way I didn't expect.

Our adult handbell group at church, the Evensong Bells, gathered at Bruton Parish Church in Colonial Williamsburg to play about an hour program as part of the church's Candlight Concert series, attended by tourists and locals alike. We played about nine pieces and Becky contributed a couple of nice organ solos. The church was fairly full and we played well (except for about 20 mistakes on my part--I rattle easily playing in front of people) and enjoyed the last program of the bell season. We packed up and went our separate ways.

Becky and I have evolved a system for trips to Williamsburg over the past 38 years since we first came on our honeymoon. It starts with the drive down. She likes to drive and is a fast driver so she does that. I like to navigate with my maps, Google driving directions, GPS and most recently my Navigator on my cell phone. I like to have backups.

Once we're in Williamsburg, there are certain places Becky likes to hit to shop. Heretofore, for each shopping venue, we would arrange a time to meet and go our separate ways. She shopped, and I usually found a bookstore, browsed, read magazines, maybe had  some coffee and something to eat. Barnes and Noble in Merchants Square at Williamsburg is a fantastic place to do this. But this time, I took my laptop with me and thought, I can get in a few hours writing. And I did. I did about three days' work on my novel in two days--six first/second draft pages. It ain't much, but I write slowly. I'm used to writing short 650-1000 word pieces, doing them completely and then revising from ten to fifty times before sending them off. The novel, I don't know. I have a sense I want to throw it down, fiddle with the wording some, finish that and then start going through it. I am counting on a first draft taking about six months and the revisions about as long.

So, the point is that one can write any time, anywhere, under a variety of circumstances. I was never one for studying or writing in a public place, but this worked well. I might start hanging out at coffee houses with my laptop. Other people provide something to look at while I'm puzzling over a turn of phrase. And when it's time to go to Williamsburg again, it will be time for shopping and writing. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Technology and Society--Science Fiction and the Final Frontier

My favorite movie (before Forrest Gump came out) was Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey  which came out in 1968. I had been a big reader of science fiction since I would read, devouring short stories and novels by the likes of Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, later on, Vonnegut and Adams.  The film showed a not-too-distant future with a Pan Am shuttle up to a “Millenium Hilton” hotel on a space station. I went to see it with some friends at the Uptown Theater in Washington and we spent most of the time afterward discussing the significance of the monolith. (No clue!) We more or less took for granted that private commercial access to space would be routine 33 years later and we would have a colony on the moon and cool interplanetary spaceships and malevolent sentient computers (“Stop it, Dave, you’re hurting me…”).

Well, of course it didn’t work out that way, and all the sci-fi imaginings seemed to fall short of the reality. Human space travel was hard, darn it, and far too expensive for anyone except for a  couple of super powers. We went to the moon and haven’t been back since the end of the Apollo program, operated the space shuttle, which gave access to low earth orbit, but not as routinely as we thought, and built an International Space Station. All these were technological achievements of the first order, but they weren’t Pam Am shuttles to Hilton hotels in orbit.

Somewhere about 1980 I stopped thinking of science fiction as having predictive value and started thinking of it as present social criticism, as with the likes of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and Asimov’s I, Robot, or Philip K. Dick’s short story, “Minority Report,” which was made into a chilling movie by the same name. If I had thought more about it, I would have realized that sci fi had been predicting the technological future for quite a while.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote about a system of synchronous communications satellites in 1948. The original Star Trek communicators look like nothing more than flip cell phones. GPS devices, routine travel by jet aircraft, materials such as Teflon and carbon fiber used in the construction of the Boeing 787, and the advent stealth aircraft, all were impossible imaginings in the 1950’s, in many ways the golden age of sci fi. 

I was enthralled by the Walt Disney version of the moon rocket (which in one iteration was a TWA craft) and while it didn’t work out exactly the way they showed it, we did get to the moon. And we did put up a space station. It isn’t doughnut shaped and music doesn’t play while it orbits, but it’s been up there since the first part was orbited in 1998.

Recently, Popular Mechanics and Smithsonian magazines had feature issues about the predictive value of science fiction. And last week’s New Yorker was a science fiction issue. Talk about things I thought would never happen—there’s one for you.

Last week, the Space X Company launched a Dragon supply ship to the ISS, the first time a private company had done that. And so, in a sense, Kubrick’s vision of space travel by private companies is closer than it was. There’s to be a manned Dragon launch to shuttle astronauts to the ISS. And so, there are predictions found in science fiction coming true. I can hardly wait to see what happens next.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sticks and Stones and Other Toys

 I came across an article recently about the National Toy Hall of Fame located in Rochester, New York. (Their web site is The hall showcases 41 classic toys such as the kite, the bike, Crayola crayons, marbles and Mr. Potato Head. This year the Hall added three new toys to its collection: a skateboard, a baby doll and a stick. That’s right, a perfectly ordinary stick is now in the Toy Hall of Fame. The committee said that the stick was an “all-purpose, no-cost toy” with no rules or instructions for its use.

At first, I thought adding a stick to a collection of classic toys was just plain silly. I mean, compared to Mr. Potato Head, a stick is just a stick.  But the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with the Hall of Fame’s choice. Kids today probably don’t play much with sticks, particularly if they live in the suburbs where cutting a stick would result in some sort of trouble. In the country, though, sticks grow on trees (I just had to say that) and I remember playing with them. A lot.

With imagination, a stick could become a pretend gun.  It could also become a sword, although those battles were interrupted at some point by a parent screaming, “Stop playing with those sticks like that—you’ll put an eye out!!” They could be the lance of a knight or a staff for a hiker. Hung between two trees with a tarp thrown over it, a stick could be the basis for a wilderness shelter. Of course, it made a fair baseball bat (or a cricket paddle or bat or whatever they call it, if desperation set in). We also had javelin throws back in the septic field.  It’s a wonder we didn’t spear each other, but God looks out for children.

A good stick was hard to find, actually, particularly when it had to be cut with a hatchet the sharpness of a chunk of cheese.  My parents wanted to be sure we didn’t hew any of our limbs off flailing around in the woods. After what seemed like hours of hacking, we had our sticks. I remember one that I was particularly fond of, a piece of hickory which I decorated with arcane symbols. I didn’t know many arcane symbols so I used the ones from the beginning of the old Ben Casey  television show in which Dr. Zorba drew the appropriate symbols on a chalkboard and intoned “Man, woman, birth, death, infinity.”  It was a great stick which I kept for a while until I left it too close to the woodpile and my father burned it.

I would also nominate the stone for inclusion in the Toy Hall of Fame. (That way they could display sticks and stones.)  We also enjoyed playing with stones.  They could be piled on top of each other to create the walls of a fort or placed across a creek to make a dam. We didn’t go so far as throwing them at each other (we did have a tiny bit of sense) and used dirt clods instead which “exploded” on impact very satisfactorily. A good flat stone is also great for skimming across the surface of a pond. We had competitions to see who could have the most “skips.” We also spent hours striking one stone against another in hopes that one would be flint and create a spark.  Luckily for all involved, we never succeeded.  I also rubbed sticks against each other for hours to try to make a fire with no results. We were not allowed to have matches since our parents knew we would set the landscape on fire.  I did find some matches once and set the ditch in front of our house on fire.  But it was only a small fire which my mother easily put out with the garden hose.

I feel a little sorry for kids today if they depend on video games devices to amuse themselves. It’s so much easier and more fun to find something to play with lying on the ground. It certainly engages the imagination much more. If you do play with sticks and stones, though, be careful. You could put an eye out.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Day of Thunder, Day of Calm

On Friday, we experienced one of those wild weather days we have around here every once in a while in which the weather forecasters go on the air constantly with radar scans showing intense rainfall and "rotation" within storm cells, meaning a tornado might be imminent. The radio blares that obnoxious sounding tone to announce a forthcoming "special weather statement," which in this case was a tornado warning for a particular area, with instructions to seek cover immediately. No matter how many times I hear such an announcement, it gets my attention but good.

We must have had about twenty or so weather statements Friday afternoon into early Friday night. We missed the worst of the severe weather, although we did get quite a bit of rain. A complicating factor was the Friday evening was the scheduled performance of the last concert of the concert year for the Manassas Chorale, a group I sing with and that Becky directs. The Chorale was singing the Mozart Requiem for the first part of the concert, while the second half featured a forty-voice children's "honor chorus," who joined us on two songs and sang one on their own.

We are somewhat accustomed to having Christmas concerts postponed because of snow, but I don't think we've ever had one threatened by severe ongoing weather. Mercifully, we were able to get the concert in, and I think it went very well.

Mozart's Requiem, the last piece he started and died before its completion (it was likely finished by his student Sussmayer), is hard. It uses the Latin (and Greek) text of the requiem mass and is musically challenging. I had done it a few years ago, but had to learn it all over again. It came back to me in the three months we worked on it, and I gained a new appreciation for the complexity and beauty of the piece.

Becky had put together an orchestra for the occasion, and they played superbly, as usual. I told one of the strings players that they should just play and we would all listen. By all accounts, the vocals and the instruments were matched in quality. And we had four superb soloists to join us.

The second half, the Chorale did Dan Gawthrop's "Sing Me to Heaven," a lovely and meaningful a capella piece and then was joined by the children's chorus for "What a Wonderful World." I should say that these young students, recommended by their elementary music teachers, had only three rehearsals and did their songs from memory. They were marvelous and charming. They did a crowd-pleaser by themselves, "Who Says I Can't Read Music?" and then were joined by the Chorale for the closer, Greg Gilpin's "Why We Sing." This song is sometimes hard for the singers to get through because of its sentiments and beauty.

Talking with people who came to the concert afterward in the lobby, many of them said they were glad they braved the storm. I was, too. The Mozart was a challenge, and the songs of the second half were gentle and beautiful. It was a nice closing to a day of thunder.

The day of calm came the next day, Saturday, as all the storms passed and we awakened to a glorious sunny, cool day with low humidity. It was as if the air had been scrubbed free of all impurities.

The local writer's group I am a part of, Write by the Rails, was having a table (several tables, actually) at the Manassas Railway Festival, held the first Saturday of June for a number of years to celebrate railroads and the heritage of Manassas as a railroad town from the beginning. Last year over 30,000 people from states as far away as Pennsylvania and North Carolina came to the Fest, which features all things related to railroads including vendors and excursion trips to Clifton and back on the commuter rail, Virginia Railway Express. The atmosphere was that of a street fair, with streets closed to traffic and people of all ages thronging the venues. An outdoor stage about half a block away from the writers' table featured country rock music well done for that style.

I have not said much in Biscuit City about the Write by the Rails group, but I should say that the writers in the group are some of the most talented, kindest, helpful, supportive people I have ever met. We represent all ages and produce all kinds of writing from non-fiction newspaper pieces to novels to memoirs to fantasy to poetry. On this Saturday, six or seven of us sat at our tables not only greeting the public and trying to get our group's name out there, but also selling books and talking about a variety of subjects among ourselves, both on and off the subject of writing. The types of writing represented today were novel, memoir, science fiction (alternative universe), children's, poetry, newspaper column and blog (ahem).

The members of Write by the Rails meet to trade ideas and share readings and support each other on Facebook (where the group had its genesis) and by attending each other's book talks and book signings. They are  involved in a number of community activities and creative projects, including an anthology of members' writings due out this November. They are people I am proud to know not only as writers but as decent and caring human beings. May our tribe increase!