More Place Holder Nonsense

I had a great post all lined up for this morning, but my wife vetoed it. You’ll find out why in the next few weeks. 

So, instead, today I offer encouragement to all those artistic sorts out there who feel that nothing will ever pay off for them.

You create things because God gave you a gift of some sort. You feel the need to write, sing, draw, or design. Something deep inside needs to be let out, and thankfully it’s not a demon. It’s something good that will bring joy to others. 

But the money isn’t there, and you’re not going to be able to quit the day job. Probably true. Gigging in bars for $100 on a Friday night doesn’t pay the bill when you need a new laptop. Nor does the occasional painting sold give you substance when the auto dealer runs a credit report. 

But with each thing you create, every paragraph you write, and each song you sing, you get better at what you do. Sooner or later someone notices and offers you work. It may not be much, but it’s the foundation for what comes along later. 

I have worked on voice over, writing, acting, and Santa for years. About 20 all told. And just now is it starting to really add up. The money from writing isn’t fabulous – yet – but it is enough to keep me working at the craft. I’ve made a few bucks doing projects for people, and it tops the five-figure mark in lifetime stats. I won’t sneeze at the number, it paid for a couple of mission trips and a nice vacation along the way.

Voice over is now a daily revenue stream. I make okay money from audio books I’ve recorded. But it took years to get to that point, and while the work gets easier with experience, it is still tough work. I’ll be getting up at 0230 tomorrow morning to record in the still of the night. But that audio book, within 90 days, will be bringing in $10 a week. Every week. Just like the other six. So I’m going to see a couple of grand in the next year from the accumulated labor. One day it’ll pay off handsomely because I’ll record a book that gets hot and then it won’t be $10 a week, but $10 a day – for the next several years. I like that kind of math.

Santa is just pure fun, and is now very lucrative. I have a lot of overhead this year: a new wardrobe. But that’s what you do when you’re at the top of the game, and I don’t mind the expense. I’m comfortable in what I do, and the financial reward is hard earned after a lot of years of just a few jobs each year. Now I have more offers than days to do them. I still do a lot of charity work, but it is only fair to tithe some of the talent when God’s blessed you.

Am I bragging? No, I’m just trying to point out to those at the start of their artistic journey that it might be years of hard work until you have a decent financial reward. But when it comes, you remember all the mornings at 0400 when you started recording the second chapter of the day, all the mornings when you got up at 0500 to be on site at 0730 with your beard white as snow to entertain the children. And you will definitely think back on the nights when you wrote until your eyes drooped because there was a deadline looming. But you will make it. Even if it isn’t a financial reward, you will grow as you create, and hopefully improve the lives of others as they enjoy your work.

Don’t give up the struggle: it’s how God made you. 

We’re All A Mess Inside.

Recently I was privileged to spend a day with a deep thinker. A man who lives his life in the guidance of God. I try, but he really works the program.

After a few days of reflection, something he said to me stuck to whatever passes for my brain: “If you’re given a feces sandwich, you have to decide what to do with it. I’m just doing my best with my sandwich.”

The topic we were discussing doesn’t matter. But the comment does.

We’re all a mess inside. Each and every one of us is hurting, damaged, broken in some profound way. I know people who are wealthy, beautiful, smart, immensely talented, and have everything in the world going for them when you look at their lives. But when you look into their lives, as only friends are allowed to do, you realize that they hurt as much, and sometimes more, than the guy you just watched overdose on the bench in the park.

Each of them was given a Ziploc bag with a sandwich inside. The flavors vary, the bread is different, but to each of them it’s a feces sandwich.

I am no exception. I think I have a great life at times. At others, the pain and hurt can well up with a chaser of self-doubt to wash it right down into an empty stomach. Whether it’s my late dog who refused to eat for two weeks because my wife was on a trip, social anxiety attacks when I’m out of place (yeah, that happens to me if I can’t wear a red suit, or give a speech to those assembled – I’m just not comfortable around suits and ties), or a myriad of other things. Mind you, I’m confident, strong, assertive and able to deal with almost any threat, but old dogs and self-doubt can do me in pretty quickly.

I bounce back. I have to bounce back. But not everyone can, nor does everyone make it back in where the water is shallow and they can rest.

After my 8 hours of therapy with this good man I mentioned earlier, I have come to some deeper understanding about the contents of sandwich bags: you only get one.

Since all of us just get one, perhaps a little mustard in the form of compassion will help those sandwiches go down.

Let’s all work to hand that mustard to the next guy, and see if we can make the sandwich more palatable.

That’s it. Carry on.

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My second novel, Nicholas of Haiti, is now available. Go fetch your credit card for the Kindle, print, and audio book versions. This is not a sequel to Assault on Saint Agnes, but a unique book in the speculative Christian fiction world.

Audio book cover on the left, Kindle cover on the right.

Please follow me on Twitter, and “Like” the Facebook author page.

Don’t forget to subscribe (the box is on the right side of the page) to be eligible for free e-books and other benefits! Oh yeah – grab a copy of Assault on Saint Agnes if you’re of a mind.

Finally, if you like audio books, there is a fine list of them on the right. I have had the honor of recording a number of them for Michael DiMercurio. Great military thrillers. 

Put Your Clutchy Fingers Away.

This will be a short blog. Keep your grabby little fingers away from the Constitutional rights we all share.

El Paso and Dayton are awful. Going back just a way, we’ve had similar casualties from exploding pressure cookers and automobiles driven up on sidewalks.

The issue is not guns. I checked my status this morning – all accounted for, none even trying to get out of storage. Not a one called on me as I checked to do a rampage. Whew. Just saved by the bell.

The question always asked is, “Who needs a gun like that?”

The answer is, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Hancock, Revere – and the list goes on. Ask the Korean shop-owners of Los Angeles. Ask the citizens of Venezuela – the ones left after armored vehicles ran over their fellow protesters. 

Guns are not the issue. Magazine size is not the issue. Evil is the issue. Bad people do bad things. Good people do good things.

If you must make it political, picture the politician you hate the most with complete control of government. You now have no means to resist that person – your weapons are gone. If you speak out, you are arrested and put away for years. Now, do you really want to cede that power to anyone?

No. Neither did the founders. And they were right. The Second Amendment is in the number 2 slot for a reason. 

Enforce the laws in place. Provide mental health treatment for those who need it. But a gun never killed anyone. People, on the other hand, have killed many. Ask Abel and Cain. I don’t think any M-4 carbines were involved there – just evil.


Not To Worry.

Last week I wrote about the misery that was close on my heels. I spent a pretty good amount of time praying, and thanking God for the good things He’d given me. I realized that you need the rain for the crops to grow, and while we don’t like the muddy slough we’ve wandered in while trying to find our ways, that slough is where the floodwaters find the nutrients for the fields we sow.

Is that too poetic? 

Perhaps. But it is indeed what I did for the last week. And eat. Man, I blew out several people’s diets with the amount of great food I consumed. They don’t call it comfort food for nothing.

This week, as I’m writing this on Friday morning, things started to turn around. For one thing, the anniversary of Ed’s death was a pivot point. Once that was in the rear-view mirror things got better. I spent some quality time thinking about the dogs I’ve been blessed to know in my life. Not one of them would have approved of me being down in the dumps, and each of them – including the non-physically-demonstrative Stormy – would have clung to my side and tried to cheer me up if they’d been around.

Now when my phone turns on, or my Facebook page comes up, that picture of Stormy on the opening screen is the source of a smile. Yes, I miss her greatly, and still look for her to be coming around the corner when I sit down in the living room. But it’s not that mournful ache that it was a week ago. Now it’s a wistful smile and a memory of her good heart. I still get the tug at my soul, and the lump in my throat, but I know we’ll meet up all too soon in Heaven.

The last week also brought restoration physically, and the torn/bruised/whatever muscle in my calf has healed. I walked about 3 miles total on Thursday, and had no pain and pulling. Great Scott! I may have learned not to push the envelope when I’m hurt… Then again, maybe not. I’ll resume my long walks Monday and start weight-loading the pack the following week.

The giant hole in the ground next to my house now hosts a basement, and is being filled in while I’m at work today. Mind you, they had to cut another few feet off my property, and there literally isn’t room to push a lawn mower between my air conditioner and the edge of the hole. But it’s not 9 feet deep anymore, and I’m not worried about the house crumbling into the excavation. I also know that in about 2 weeks, give or take a week, the contractor will be putting my landscaping and fence back in place. 

And that leads me right back around to dogs. Once the layer-one barrier is back in place, we can have the rescue people out to inspect the joint and certify us for a new family member. My heart is in serious need of a furry friend. I’m more than optimistic that we’ll find a dog who needs us as much as we need them. 

Also, I’m really writing again after a month-plus of starts and stops. Good stuff, literally taking turns working on the three books that I’ve got in progress. For those of you who were pretty sure I’d never finish the sequel to Assault on Saint Agnes, you should plan on a sequel in the next 6 months. My goal is Christmas, but I’m not going to promise that on my soul. As I’ve discovered in the last month, things can happen that stop you dead in your tracks.

In addition, I’m almost ready to pick up the script and record the next audio book. We’ve not had as many early morning thunderstorms as last year, and I’m going to see if I can start out doing a couple of chapters a week during August. I love doing audio books, and Michael DiMercurio at Crossroad Press has been most patient in giving me time to turn them out.

Finally, I’ve been working on an invention for the last year. It’s gone from a rough idea to a final version, and the final version has now included ruling out alternative designs that would do the same thing but be much harder to manufacture. Included in this progress is the fact that I’ve gone from a single product to an entire product line. Yup, something kicked loose in the creative department after reading a book on inventing. I thought I knew how to think, but the author really opened my eyes to another approach that has benefited me greatly. I’m more than happy to recommend Stephen Key’s book – One Simple Idea, Revised and Expanded Edition: Turn Your Dreams into a Licensing Goldmine While Letting Others Do the Work. 

Thank you all for your notes of concern and encouragement this past week. It has meant a lot to me to know that the readership of this blog is out there cheering me on.

I Have A Really Good Excuse For My Absence.

It dawned on me today that this might be the longest stretch between blog postings in the history of this mess. I’m not going to go back and check that statement,  but it does seem that it’s been a very long time since I posted. 

I have a very good excuse: life. Since you dropped by to read this, you get the bonus answer that non-readers may not guess: I’ve been struggling emotionally since Stormy had to be put down. 

For those who have never had a pet, you will think this is stupid/lame/pathetic. I can see your point. For those who have cherished pets, you will totally get what I’m about to discuss. 

So, if you want to hear about it, great. Read on. If not, drop by next week and pick up there. I won’t be offended. I won’t know.

Over the last 6.5 years we’ve had to put down 3 of the best dogs a human could share a house with on this planet. That’s a lot of dogs in a short time. Maisie was the first, and she passed in the fall 7 years ago. She had every genetic defect a dog could have, and ended up horribly crippled with arthritis. Her passing was not unexpected, but she knew what was coming and fought the final medication with everything she had. I felt like a war-criminal in the aftermath, but intellectually I knew it was the right thing to do . 

Stormy came to live with us a month later, and she joined Edzell in our household. He was the king of the Shelties, and had a great life. The two of them helped me get over the guilt I had over Maisie’s death. 

The next summer, just 6 years ago, Ed died. He lost the ability to walk, and he was tired. He was totally fine with the whole deal, and he went very peacefully. I knew it was okay, and he was kind and generous in his acceptance. But he’d been with us for over 1/2 of our married life, and he left a big hole when he died. 

Stormy filled that hole. She did it reluctantly, and it took years for her to be totally comfortable with me. I worked almost as hard as she did to make the relationship work. In the end, all that time and love grew a friendship deeper than I’d anticipated. I knew when she came to us as an 8 year old rescue we didn’t have a lot of time. But I was blindsided by her death. 

So there I am with a very supportive family and friends. And a ton of projects on my plate. Asked to be on the board of a non-profit, co-chair of a very active ministry at the church, three books in progress, and an audio book in the box waiting to be started. I dug in, moved forward as best I could, and kept moving.

Until this week. I pulled up lame on one of my long walks and couldn’t walk to work. Heck, I had a hard time getting up and down the stairs at home, and I hobbled at work. The pain wasn’t all that bad, but it took another brick out of the wall I had built, and the wall was very unstable. 

Combine this with our work in getting a new dog being foiled by circumstances beyond our control, and no furry friend for at least another month. Things were not good. I would wake up every night a couple of times and look at the doorway still expecting to see Stormy guarding me while I slept. Each time it broke my heart a little bit more. I truly expected to see her round the corner while I was in the living room. Each morning I’d check the yard for monsters – she insisted I do it before she’d go out and do her business.

And, then the last two ingredients came along to the whole recipe. 

First, every day for the last month Edzell’s passing was noted on my calendar. Each day closer to his death, and farther away from Stormy puttering around the house deepened the darkness. 

Then, on Saturday, I woke up with vertigo. Just like the weekend before she died. It was too much. I couldn’t walk to burn off calories, I didn’t feel like writing, I missed all my dogs, and now I couldn’t get out of bed without the room swinging in circles. 

I did the exercises to beat the vertigo, but it left me with a migraine and a bad attitude. 

I was miserable. Lonely. Isolated. I think you call that depression if you’re honest about it. 

Don’t worry, I’ll be okay shortly. I actually feel a lot better today with the anniversary of Ed’s death behind me. New vistas and all that stuff. 

But it’s been hard. And I’m blessed to have a wife who understands me, and my need to have a dog in my life. She’s the best wife I could have in this life. 

Tomorrow? I’ll get out of bed, do the Epley exercise if the room spins, put on the pack (with no extra weights for the moment) and walk to work where I’ll write for an hour before the shift starts. I have deadlines and people that need me to get things done. And I’ll be okay. God’s blessed me with the faith that it will get better. I’m counting on it. Just like I’m counting on a new backyard fence, and a new dog. 

You see, that’s how life goes with those ups and downs. I know it, and I’m working on it heading back up. Thank you to all of you for excusing my absence. I promise it won’t happen again soon.