Monday, September 01, 2014

Things that resonate ~ My column from Sunday's paper

I envy people like the late Steve Jobs, who was one of the creators of Apple. It was not his wealth, or health that is enviable, but his ability to understand with certainty what would resonate with people. Having this gift would be handy. It’s what made him wealthy.

Jobs realized from the beginning that not everyone is a computer nerd, some folks just want their computers to help them be more creative and productive. They don’t really care about bits and bytes, RAM, silicone, or transistors. They just want to sit down at their computers and work. That idea resonated with a lot of people.

Later when Apple developed the first smartphone, no one even knew they wanted, or needed one. But Jobs knew a device that could play music, take pictures, send texts, check addresses, record messages, and do a thousand other functions would resonate with the public. As it turns out, he was right. 

Steve wasn’t a writer, but I have a feeling if he had been he would have intui-tively known what people wanted to read. 

These thoughts wandered through my mind this past week, because I’ve been in a rut. Everything I’ve written seems as thin as a bony finger. 

While beating myself up, I Googled - where writers go when they're fresh out of ideas. It was good to learn that most writers struggle at times with creative droughts, but it seemed my drought made the Sahara Desert look like a rain-forest. But simply knowing that the condition was only temporary made me feel a little better. It didn’t put any words on the page, but it kept me from jabbing a pencil into my eye.

Last Sunday’s column, generated a ton of feedback on my blog, on Facebook, emails from people across the southeast, and a grunt from my sister. It reso-nated and I’m not sure why.

Perhaps it has something to do with shared experience. When I write about doing something goofy, some readers will smile and say, “I can name that tune in one note,” because they’ve been there. I actually hear that a lot from readers. “You’re writing about me.” Who knew?

The dictionary defines resonate like this -- to have particular meaning or im-portance for someone: to affect or appeal to someone in a personal or emo-tional way.

That makes sense, but it’s much easier said than done. It would be invaluable to know in advance what things will resonate, and what will sit there on the page like a fly on a biscuit.

I talked to one writer at a conference last year. He worked for a large publica-tion and he said that sometimes he struggled with fresh ideas, but when that happened, he just wrote something down.

That was an option for him, but I feel that I’ve built a relationship with the people who take the time to read my column. Simply writing something down just to be done would be like cheating a friend.

Every column might not be an iPhone, but it won’t be because I didn’t try to write something that resonates.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

After the Gold Rush

I remember within a few feet where I was standing when my taste in music changed. Before August of 1971 my favorite artists were Frankie Valli, Tom Jones, Jose Feliciano, as well as The Mamas and Papas. 

I still love that music, but that August as I walked down barracks row at Fort Monmouth, I
heard Neil Young's,  Tell Me Why which was on his After the Gold Rush vinyl LP. 

I went inside and followed the music until I found a GI lying on his bunk playing the record on the record player he kept locked in his footlocker.

I told him I heard the song playing through the open window. The barracks weren't air conditioned then, so most of the windows were open from May through mid September.

He smiled as he tossed me the album cover. I sat on the edge of the bunk across the aisle and read about Neil Young. 

As it turns out, I had also become interested in photography at that time, and I recognized that the album cover was actually a negative.

Even though I didn't own a record player at that time, I went to the PX and bought the record.

My friend Ken Runnels who lived in the bunk next to me had a record player and when I returned to the barracks, we listened to the record over and over.

It was as if that music opened a new window for me. Soon  I was listening to Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, and the list went on.

It was then I really began to appreciate music. The songs I listened to then had a profound impact on me, and the music I've written since then.  I'm so thankful I heard Tell Me Why on that steamy August day. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014


It's been a long time since we've had rain. Clouds to the west and east had drenched swaths of Alabama, but none here.

When I looked at radar this morning, it looked as if today would be no different, but Jilda woke up with aching shoulders and wrists. As I wiped sleep from my eyes with the back of my hands, she rolled over and said, "It's gonna rain today." But as added insurance, I washed my truck.

I'd worn my shoes so thin that you could have thrown a soccer ball through in places, so we went in to town to buy me a new pair. I'd actually rather have shingles than to buy new shoes, but I knew resistance would be futile. So we loaded up and headed into town to shop for footwear.

Jilda's sister Pat went with us, and after buying a new pair of spiffy new shoes, I treated the girls to lunch at the new Cracker Barrel that opened out on the freeway.

We took a seat by the window and as we waited for food, we could see rain in the distance. It looked like fog, but you rarely see fog at noon in August here. The temps were in the 90s but off to the east, you could see cloud to cloud lightning.

It rained for a moment at the restaurant, but only long enough to turn the parking lot into a steam room. I wondered if the rain had passed us by again.

When we got home, it was overcast and I could hear thunder off to the west. Soon I heard it coming. It started out like static on an AM radio station with the dial slightly off station. Then as it came closer, we opened the doors. On the screen porch, the wind drove wisps of mist through the screen and onto my face.

At first the rain puddled on the hard clay of the yard, but the persistent drops began to soak into the roots of the water oak. You could almost hear it sigh.

Radar shows more showers headed in our direction and soon the temperature will drop enough to make it comfortable sleeping with the windows up.

As my lovely spouse often closes out her blog: Good night, sweet dreams.

Summer Weeds

Friday, August 29, 2014


Years ago, long before bits and bytes painted pictures on screens not much bigger than a postage stamp, I learned to take pictures.

A photograph then was an investment, so I spent a great deal of time on setup. I'd check the light on the subject, check for stray hair, or wrinkled clothes. And then I'd spend a few seconds thinking about things like, shutter speed, f-stop, depth of field, and focus. Shooting a spontaneous picture was rare for me.

Then came developing and printing photographs in a small cramped darkroom with a dim orange-yellow light which was the only color light that wouldn't harm photo paper. 

I'm sure the smell of those toxic chemicals were the cause of the third ear I had removed from the middle of my forehead back in the late 70s. (OK, I'm kidding but I couldn't resist.)

I didn't take a lot of color pictures in those early years, mainly because I couldn't develop and print them myself because I didn't have the supplies and equipment.

When I did take color pictures, it was rare I'd take a full roll at one time so I'd make a mental note of the number of shots I took. I would then roll the film back into the small canister and write the number of shots I took on the roll. When I got ready to shoot more color pictures, I'd put the used roll into the camera, leave the lens cap on and shoot off the number of photos I'd already taken. That way, the pictures I'd already taken would be double exposed. And then I take the new pictures at the end of the roll. I know that seems like a lot of work, but color film wasn't cheap, and I was broke most of the time then so cutting corners was routine.

Once I had forgotten to make a note of the number of photos I'd taken when I loaded a roll of color film into my camera. 

Thankfully the photos I shot were for fun, because shot over about a half roll of film which resulted in about 18 photos that were unintentionally double exposed.

Most of them were throw aways, but as serendipity goes, a few of the pictures were stunning. I still have them stashed in one of my picture boxes.

The process changed with digital photography. Now you snap of a half a hundred pictures at the drop of the hat and simply delete what doesn't work.

The downside to the new way is that a lot of people take pretty good photographs, but they don't really know how they did it. Or if the light is tricky, they don't know how to compensate.

Below is a picture I shot with the double exposure app on iPhone. It took less that 10 seconds.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Backup plan

I've struggled with focus this week. I know my updates have been as thin as corn silk, but no matter how hard I tried or how hard I focused, the words would not come.

That is the ebb and flow of writing. My column was due yesterday afternoon and at lunch, I still hadn't written the column.

After lunch, I sat still on the couch and meditated. Each time one of my mental voices chided me, I pulled it like a weed in my garden and tossed it in my virtual compost bin.

When I sat back down at laptop sitting patiently on the table on the screen porch, I managed to pull a column together.

When I addressed the column to all the newspapers awaiting it, I breathed a sigh of relief, and vowed to do something about the drought.

This morning, I fired up the laptop and did some research while sipping coffee as thick as pine tar. I came across several resources with column ideas. I also came across a link to a Life column that runs in the New York Times. After a few clicks, I found how to submit my work for consideration.

Maybe I'm a dreamer, but I'd love to be published in The New York Times.

Before I shut down my laptop, I'd document 10 killer ideas for columns. This afternoon, I took one of them and wrote it within an hour. This gives me one in my hip pocket in the event I hit a dry spell again.

I know it's not Friday yet, but I'd like to be the first to say, Have a great weekend. And while I'm at it, since it's almost the first of September, I will also wish you a Merry Christmas.

In honor of National Dog Week, here's a photo of my
faithful companion Caillou

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Blooming moss

When I see blooming moss in summer, I think of my great grandmother. She and my grandfather didn't have much. They were in their late 80s, living in a three-room house. It was built of second-hand pine and listed a little to starboard when the power company hooked their house to the electric grid.

They were on social security, living from check to check, but one thing she did have an abundance of was flowers. 

During the spring and summer months, her porch looked like a rustic botanical garden. She had flowers planted in most any container that held dirt. Someone had made planters from old car tires. 

They'd cut the edges in a way that when turned inside out, the container looked like a lower itself.

She'd totter down creaking steps into the yard each morning before sunrise, pulling weeds and deadheading petunias. There were many plants she couldn't name except with the old names used by her mom.

My favorite flower was blooming moss. She had an old coal scuttle that served as a hanging basket and the moss draped over the edges. The blossoms looked like candy.

I found this photo I'd taken last summer of blooming moss and and it triggered the memory of my great grandmother.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sad garden

The wet-spring garden was slow to develop, but once the weather warmed, it was off to the races. However this year, it went from warm to hot and for the most part dry. Soon much of the garden was dry as tinder. It seems during dry summers, that no amount of city water makes it thrive.

So this has not been a banner year for bumper crops. It is my intention to experiment with raised beds with a small irrigation system. Raised beds are work intensive on the front end, but when built and laid out correctly, they tend to be less trouble over the long haul.

I stepped down this evening as the sun settled in the west. There's little left except a few puny tomatoes, and peppers. For some reasons, peppers love summers here.

I snapped this picture over the fence of the outer edge of sad little garden. It would probably be best to put it out of its misery and simply bush hog the entire plot.

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