A Writer and a Gentleman

I have been spending at least one day per week working on my laptop writing essays for my blog — BDGJM. I have many times sought the counsel of fellow writers or done some research in how to deal with writer’s block. Simply put, writer’s block is the inability of a writer to produce new work. This has frustrated some writers to the point that they stop writing for long stretches of time or permanently. Fortunately, for me, the block is only temporarily frustrating (but nonetheless VERY frustrating).

A lot of times, the hardest part is actually opening up the word processor to get started. If I already have a topic in mind, the words can flow like a river. When I am blocked, I have to let my warped mind jog around the mental track and see where it goes. This can be even more frustrating sometimes because I hate jogging. I tend to associate it with the training I went through in the Navy. So, in my mind, Louis Gossett, Jr. shows up wearing his Gunnery Sergeant uniform.

I stand there as he gives his introduction: “You are coming to me because YOU want to be a humor writer. I am an Oscar winner for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. I am going to use any means, fair and unfair, to trip you up”. Then he stands before me eye to eye. “Are you eyeballing me, boy?” No sir; I am not eyeballing you. “Did you just call me a ewe? A ewe is a female sheep. ARE YOU LOOKING TO WRITE A ROMANCE NOVEL, MACK-UH-FEEEEEE?” NO SIR! “Better watch your step, Mack-uh FEEEEEE. Ain’t no virus program to protect you from ME!” I try to catch my breath and stay focused.

Then, the drilling starts. “OK Mack-uh-FEEEEEE, let’s see how your mind works. You answer my questions and spit them right out.” YES SIR! “Give me the quadratic formula.” x = -b ± ( (b²-4ac)/2a) SIR! “Factual, but not funny Mack-uh-FEEEEEE. Just give up now.” I’M NOT GONNA QUIT! “Who was born Nathan Birnbaum?” George Burns and Nathan Birnbaum, SIR! “Is that the best you got, Mack-uh-FEEEEEE? Tell me the three greatest disasters in human history.” The release of “Enemy Mine”, “Iron Eagle 2”, and “Iron Eagle 3” SIR! “OHHHHHHHHHH! You MUST be a humor writer. You’ve got JOKES all of a sudden!” I can tell by the gleam in his eye I have gained his respect; but he’s not going to tell me that.

The words begin to flow and the work gets finished. I stand before him and hand him the essay. He gives me a sharp salute. “Congratulations, Humor Writer McAfee.” Thank you, sir. “Gunnery Sergeant, Humor Writer McAfee.” I’ll never forget you. “I know that. Now, get out of here.” I then walk up to my wife and pick her up and carry her off. I have no idea where we are going but that’s okay. Don’t over think and spoil the moment. My wife takes off my Atlanta Braves hat and puts it on her head. Suddenly, I can see a British blues rock singer going into numerous contortions as he sings a love ballad with what’s-her-name.

The End

Pandora’s Library

I wrote a series of essays recently that revolved around books and reading. An organization called The National Association of 
Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) celebrated Great Books Week (October 4 – October 9, 2009) by hosting the Great Books Week Blog Tour. NAIWE invited bloggers to post one blog entry per day on topics they provided. I posted essays for four out of the five days (I got sidelined by an illness that laid me up too much that last day).

The first essay for this series was entitled “Seven Books, A Desert Island, and Me”. The basic premise was to list seven books to take if stranded upon a desert island for a few years. The last book on this list was Billy Sunday by Rachel M. Phillips. I listed this one because it was a book I had always wanted to read but I had not yet read. Coincidentally, I had just purchased the book before getting wind of NAIWE’s challenge.

This lead to some conversations between my sister and me about books we had read. Our mother was an avid reader who frequently gave books as gifts. Our father on the other hand is not as much of an avid reader as our mother (to be fair, I have met few people who were). That being said, if you gave my father a book, he would read it. If he found a particular book insightful, he would take you to school about it. My sister began to talk about a particularly moving story called The Shack by Wm. Paul Young. This was one of those books that turned my father into Professor McAfee. Trusting my sister’s insight (as well as my father’s), I put this book on my online wish list.

The conversation then turned to another book called 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper (with Cecil Murphy). My parents were involved in a severe automobile accident in 1999. It was by the grace of God that my mother not only survived the accident but lived for another seven years. My parents shared a house with my sister and her family starting in 2002. My sister told me that 90 Minutes in Heaven was a book that my mother felt was required reading. Apparently, it provides a very accurate portrayal of my mother’s experience immediately following the 1999 accident. So, once again, I updated my online wish list.

In addition to this, one of my favorite writers/podcasters, Kevin Cummings, is promoting his new book called Happily Domesticated: Musings on life, love, parenthood, malfunctioning appliances and marital bliss. I love Kevin Cummings’ work. In addition to his book he runs a podcast called “Short Cummings Audio”. If you haven’t read Kevin’ work or heard his podcast, you are truly missing out. Needless to say, Kevin’s new book is part of my wish list.

The days that followed became more and more interesting. I received a copy of The Shack in the mail. My sister went to my online wish list and ordered the book as a gift. I haven’t even started Billy Sunday yet and now I have another book to add to my reading list. Several days later, I received 90 Minutes in Heaven arrived for me (once again due to the generosity of my sister). On top of all this, I received an email from Kevin Cummings. Kevin ran a contest to promote his book. I entered the contest and added an online link to his book onto my blog site. Kevin decided to award all five people who entered the contest an autographed copy of Happily Domesticated: Musings on life, love, parenthood, malfunctioning appliances and marital bliss. I am thrilled beyond words to receive something like this from someone whose work I admire so much.

I started this week by responding to a challenge of writing daily for several consecutive days (something I had never done previously). This helped to remind me that I am the conduit of my writing, not the source (a wise writer once told me that). My week ended with four new books to read. Three of these books were given to me by people I respect a great deal. My writing this week opened Pandora’s box. I am delighted to find it full of books.

Now That I Understand It….

The first week in October marks an annual celebration called Great Books Week. To honor this week, The National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) is holding the Great Books Week Blog Tour. The tour invites bloggers to post their own blog using their topic suggestion for the day. My submission for Thursday is below. For more information, go to http://news.naiwe.com/2009/10/03/great-books-week-blog-tour-october-4-10-2009/

When I first started high school, a lot of my friends were reading “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare as part of a class assignment. I was in the drama club in school and loved the theater. My curiosity got the better of me so I checked out the book of the play from the library. Several of my friends who read it absolutely loved it. After reading through it, I thought maybe my friends were pulling my leg knowing I would get curious and read it. I mean with all the old English and the witches; I was going crazy trying to read this junk. And it was worse because I was doing this BY CHOICE. I took it back to the library vowing to do my best not to be exposed to that drivel ever again.

The following year, something happened that changed my viewpoint. The local youth theater was putting on a production of “Macbeth”. Even better, several of my drama friends were in the cast. This included a friend whose acting talent I admired in the role of Lord Macbeth. Seeing the story before my eyes gave me a whole different view. It forced me to take the time to understand the story. Make no mistake; this truly is a great story.

In my senior year, my literature class had to read through “Macbeth”. Everyone in the class was given a part to read aloud to the class. The teacher had me reading the part of Lord Macbeth. This allowed me to understand the story even better. Lord Macbeth was a man with unbridled ambition. Lady Macbeth was even more ambitious than her husband. She used her husband’s love for her and his ambition to do unspeakable acts of murder in order to further their (or rather her) agenda. I’m not a chauvinist but it was clear who wore the panties in the House of Macbeth.

Lord Macbeth was told that no man born of a woman could stop him. This was fine until he met Macduff. Lord Macbeth said: “Look, Dude. If you were born of a woman, you better step out of my grill or get stomped” Macduff countered: “Guess what, Brah. I was a C – section”. Lord Macbeth lost head his upon hearing this (literally). “Macbeth” is definitely worth the read (even if it requires a dictionary the first time)

Cherry Pits and Worms

The first week in October marks an annual celebration called Great Books Week. To honor this week, The National Association of
Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) is holding the Great Books Week Blog Tour. The tour invites bloggers to post their own blog using their topic suggestion for the day. My submission for Wednesday is below. For more information, go to http://news.naiwe.com/2009/10/03/great-books-week-blog-tour-october-4-10-2009/

I’d write my autobiography but I don’t have it would be redundant. My life story has already been written by the late Erma Bombeck. In her book, if life is a bowl of cherries – what am I doing in the pits? (sic), Bombeck wrote of everyday living as a wife and mother. Admittedly, this may seem strange that a 43 year old man relates to such a book. The thing is, when Bombeck wrote of the daily frustrations of rearing her kids, I KNEW she was talking about me and my sister. My sister and I still take pleasure in implying the other eats worms. We would mimic some of the behavior in this book just for the sake of provoking our poor mother into a tizzy. Bless her heart, Momma didn’t know whether to laugh or ground us sometimes. We also had the invisible siblings (Idunno and Idontcare) roaming about the household.

In later years, I related to the book a lot more but from a different angle. Apparently, Idunno and Idontcare grew up and had offspring. They now live in my house. As a parent, I still wonder if somehow Mrs. Bombeck was a prophet. My kids are shocked by the way I provoked my mother as a child. I guess that means I did a good job rearing them. However, it doesn’t stop them from provoking me with their bickering and non-stop need. Thanks to the prophecy of Erma Bombeck; I know that when my son gets a speeding ticket, my daughter runs her portable media player through the dyer, and the cat decorates the floor with a strategically placed hairball (all within an hour’s time); normalcy has arrived.

People often say “Someday, you look back on it all and laugh”. Bombeck suggests: “Why wait?”

Thank You, Mr. Twain

The first week in October marks an annual celebration called Great Books Week. To honor this week, The National Association of
Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) is holding the Great Books Week Blog Tour. The tour invites bloggers to post their own blog using their topic suggestion for the day. My submission for Tuesday is below. For more information, go to http://news.naiwe.com/2009/10/03/great-books-week-blog-tour-october-4-10-2009/

When I was a young boy, my favorite book was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. This story was commonly read in elementary schools by teachers. My mother even got me a 45 record of the story. I wore the grooves off that record. I cannot begin to tell how much this Southern boy loved living vicariously through Tom Sawyer. Tom was a very mischievous young boy. Tom did all of the things a Southern boy wanted to do (but most wouldn’t dare). He wasn’t a delinquent in the truly criminal sense. He was just a boy who wanted to have fun. For Tom, that meant breaking rules.

When Tom had to whitewash a fence as a form of punishment, he hoodwinked every boy who passed by to do it for him in trade. As shocking as it was to this young Southern boy to see Tom once again buck his Aunt Polly’s authority, I couldn’t help but admire his cunning entrepreneurial spirit. I loved the idea of Tom and Huck running away to become pirates on the Mississippi River. I also admired Tom’s prodigal spirit when he decides to return home (interrupting his own funeral). I could even feel my heart in my throat as Tom stood up for the town drunk, Muff Potter, who had been framed for murder. Tom testified in court on Muff’s behalf knowing his life was in danger for doing so. Tom WAS a rule breaker but he had a strong sense of right and wrong.

I remember seeing a movie about Tom Sawyer that showed him wearing overalls. He wore no shirt and no shoes. My mom told me that my Dad often dressed in the same fashion as a young boy. Needless to say, I dressed in that same fashion a few times that summer. Thank you, Mr. Twain for allowing me to live Tom’ adventures (and not get a whippin’ for doing it).

Seven Books, a Desert Island, and Me

The first week in October marks an annual celebration called Great Books Week. To honor this week, The National Association of
Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) is holding the Great Books Week Blog Tour. The tour invites bloggers to post their own blog using their topic suggestion for the day. My first submission is below. For more information, go to http://news.naiwe.com/2009/10/03/great-books-week-blog-tour-october-4-10-2009/

My mother was an avid reader. It is primarily through her influence that I enjoy reading books myself. I can remember my mother commenting on a book she read: “I wish I had never read that book. That way, I could experience reading it for the first time again”. The book was The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. It would be a few more years before I experienced that feeling myself. Listed below are seven books that I would wish to have with me if I were stranded on a desert island for several years:

  1. The Holy Bible King James Version – This is cheating the paradigm somewhat because technically this is an anthology of 66 books written by more than 40 authors. This anthology tells THE story from beginning to end. There are a variety of story genres contained within this anthology. If you want a romantic love story, read the book of Hosea. If you like a hero that comes in to save the day, the book of Daniel is full of them (not to mention of course the four Gospels). No other book could better assist in one’s survival on a desert island. After all, it is full of stories that inspire hope.
  2. The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – Again, I am cheating as there are six stories contained in this anthology. These stories deal with friendships, foreign cultures, and the worst kind of homesickness (because the home no longer exists). It does all of this with side-splitting humor.
  3. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain – As a young southern boy, I loved living vicariously through Tom Sawyer. Tom did things many boys wouldn’t dare to do. He suffered the consequences like a man. He even stood up for the town drunk who had been framed (in spite of the fact it put Tom’s life in danger). This book never gets old for me.
  4. No Time for Sergeants by Mac Hyman – This tells the story of Will Stockdale. Will is a young man in a less than one horse town who has been drafted to serve in the military. Will’s country naiveté is refreshing to read. This is in part that the reader finds out (over and over again) that Will is not as stupid as everyone assumes he is. They took Will out of the country. They couldn’t take the country out of Will.
  5. Don’t Sit Under the Grits Tree with Anyone Else but Me by Lewis Grizzard – This is a collection of writings from Grizzard’s humor column. The late Mr. Grizzard was the Mark Twain of the late 20th century. His writing cracks me up every time.
  6. If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? By Erma Bombeck – Bombeck’s perspectives of everyday living have taught me many times that humor can be a very necessary means of survival. I consider Erma Bombeck to be a huge influence on my writing. This book is probably the best example of her work.
  7. Billy Sunday by Rachael M. Phillips – This book makes the list because it is a book I have always wanted to read (but haven’t yet). I finally bought this book yesterday.

I would definitely find some way to continue writing my thoughts on this island (even if it were a temporary medium such as sand). My main hope is that I would remember the important details to write about once I left the island. There you have it folks: Seven books, a desert island, and me. I look forward to reading your list (there are some good ones out there already).

My Day (Original Soundtrack)

I have watched so many cartoons and slapstick movies that it is difficult at best to do even routine, daily tasks without adding sound effects. If I take a cap off of a pen, I make a popping sound akin to popping a champagne cork. I make racecar sounds while pushing the grocery cart. Let’s face it. Those little sounds just make the day (somehow) more interesting.

The other habit I acquired throughout my life is listening to music while performing some of these same tasks. After all, what is life without a soundtrack? Sometimes I give songs the Weird Al treatment while I shower (“HE’S A FACE…WASH…HE—ROOOOOO….GOT SUDS IN HIS EYYYYYYYYYYYYYES”). Other times, I would play the boom box while puttering around the house. I might even occasionally sing along with the tune or even (Heaven forbid) dance. Mind you, I have about as much talent for dancing as Bob Dylan has for diction (the difference is that Dylan is nonetheless a bajillionaire).

This habit grew by leaps and bounds when I acquired a portable media player. I have more than 4500 audio tracks to lay out the soundtrack to my day. This nifty little gadget has become like having another appendage. I can fit it into a shirt pocket or wear an armband to hold it for more convenient use. The armband is great for listening while I am shaving. I even situate the ear buds so that the cables don’t get coated with foam. Life just becomes less mundane.

My music choices are pretty much random. James Brown has helped me make my bed. I have walked on a treadmill while Susan Tedeschi told me how bad it hurt. I have picked up groceries while Stevie Ray Vaughan had issues with the weather because the sky cried. I have put said groceries away while Ole Willie mused about the slipping of time (which is funny when you think about it). If you brush your teeth while The Commodores are playing, your teeth get really clean by the time you’re done. I have even sung with Shania Twain while surfing the net. I have to be careful about that though. I don’t ever want anyone to hear me say that I feel like a woman. After all; once bitten, twice shy (to quote Ian Hunter). I have even typed my blog while Ray Charles sings of our mutual home state of Georgia (I could listen to THAT song the whole day through).

So, if you I don’t immediately respond to you when you approach me, I’m not (necessarily) ignoring you. I am probably listening to Stryper sing about being a soldier. Now, what did I do with that yellow and black outfit?