The Next Chapter Begins

Let’s start out with the basic fact that God has blessed me immensely.

All the rest of this story comes from that simple fact.

I am writing this, as has been my dream for a number of years, from the lanai (fancy word for back porch) of my new home in the Everglades. Not near the Everglades, in them. There is a canal on the rear property line of my home that extends to the Gulf of Mexico. I am listening to the neighbor’s rooster crowing and looking out of the acres of land that are now my home. Well, Chewy is out here too, and Kip will be once she wakes up.

Today I’m going to concentrate on the good stuff. The blessings. Soon I will write about why I moved from the negative perspective. But today is a day of joy for we closed on this property one week ago today.

I think the funny stuff about the move will be a unique blog as well, so today let me talk about how this all happened, and why it can be the same for you.

I was in Florida, visiting my mother and helping her out with the annual garage cleaning/fixing the computers/light bulb changing stuff that 5’2” moms need from their 6’ sons, when God put His hand on my back and gave me the first 10,000 words of Nicholas of Haiti. I wrote them on my mother’s lanai, and it was an invigorating blast. I really needed to write in open air. When I got back home, I put in two patios outside so I could write out there as well. Some of my best work was done in the backyard under a blazing sun.

I knew that I had to make that a reality if I wanted to be a serious writer. But what about the finances? It isn’t cheap to live in this part of Florida, and I’d been a marginal saver up until about 10 years ago. I buckled down, kicked the 401K up to the max donation, banked everything I could manage, and worked like a maniac.

Yes, those 0300 recording sessions for audio books were a big part of this. I now have a nice income from those sales every month. And this home has a very quiet room (it’s out in the middle of nowhere – sort of) where I can record during the day. I’m still unpacking – the stuff all arrived two days ago – but once the studio gear is unpacked I plan to work 3 hours a day doing voice over work. The internet is wonderful, and I have audio books just waiting for me to audition.

Combine the above with my acting in television commercials, and work as Santa, and it was a five figure income every year. It also meant I was never home during November and December. But I was above board, declared it all for taxes, and it was money in the bank.

Lots of days without much rest, and I tried to write while I was still working 40 hours a week at the offices of Centurylink. Yes, I worked for the phone company as a Customer Service Specialist. We had little to do with Customer Service, but we were called Super Techs because we could theoretically do any job in the company. Very intense technical stuff dealing with the internet and customer data. I loved it, I will miss my techs that I worked with installing devices over 14 states, and I will miss the people I worked with all those years. I retired two weeks ago. I had never mentioned what I did, or where I worked because as a public persona they can make you comply with all the corporate rules in your blog. That was too big a cost in freedom.

So, what’s the moral of the story above? I was blessed by God with many opportunities, and today his blessing extends to a beautiful house in a great climate. Yes, there are gators, bears, snakes, coyotes, and hurricanes. But I never again have to check the parking lot for black ice lest I slip and break another limb. It also means that if you seek out the opportunity to use the gifts God gave you, you will find ways to bank some extra money. Maybe just eat out once a week, or cut the cable. The last year of lockdown saw our accounts grow dramatically, because we couldn’t go anywhere! You can do it a well if you are willing to put the work in. You have it within you if you look.

This move also brings me closer to my mother, as she lives about 40 minutes from my house. I can see my mommy for lunch. That’s a huge deal to me. I love my mom, and my sister, and my brothers. And some, or all, of them will probably wind up here eventually.

Today I am living the dream and the biggest questions I have are related to the blessing: do I fence in all the acres and get some goats or alpacas to keep the grass down, or do I mow it three times a year?

I love challenges like that.

The Perfect Christian Movie: Part II

Last week I told you what a Christian movie based on reality would look like. There’s actually a lot of normal people out there in normal families. 

For some reason, in Christian movies there are some things you must do/ include depending on budget.

Let’s start with the inexpensively produced ones first. It’s a long list of painfully mandatory things on the checklist.

Bad sound. Your sound operator must wear hearing aids. You will go from hushed conversations that are almost inaudible to a full-throated pipe organ and back at least twice in the movie. Mostly you will be edging the volume up to hear what appears to be shouted volume. It is, however, hard to tell because the camera angle stinks and it’s so dark that vampires are hidden on the set and have never been detected.

The musical part of the sound track must consist of your brilliant, but socially awkward, niece’s original composition on the piano that is played with only two fingers.  All you are allowed to alter is the tempo. The same 45 bars must cover all of the action.

All the actors will be from the same church. When they are not over-emoting on the screen they will be in the background. Look for no more than 100 faces in the movie.

It will largely be shot in the Sunday School section of the church and the home of one member. There will probably be one scene in a bad coffee shop simulation (all you need is a chalkboard with a menu!) and a bad diner scene. The diner is the church fellowship hall. Nobody will actually eat the food, but push it around for camera impact only.

Teenagers will either be sullen or so spunky that even Saint Paul would want to backhand a couple of them – on either side.

The plot will be convoluted. They had 20 minutes worth of material:  it should have been a sketch. But they padded it out with a bunch of extra scenes with people lying on their backs staring at the sky and the camera revolving on the axis of their vision. They will also throw in at least one bicycle riding scene, and several long cuts to people with no dialogue who are listening to a lengthy exposition.

Best of all, the editors now have 3 hours of crap in the can, and they rather randomly cut the film to fit 93 minutes – the best scenes only, even if they don’t fit into the original plot.

Last, but not least, if you can slip in a couple of near accidents to show God is involved, you now have an inexpensive movie.

The expensive ones have better sound tracks, from moderately successful Christian acts, and feature either Dean Cain or Kevin Sorbo. Most of the other points still apply. But if the camera cuts wider than 50 feet of view in the first minute, there’s hope for the film. Actually, in fairness, Cain and Sorbo turn out some good flicks. They are definitely in the minority.

Oh, and the biggest plots in most modern “faith” movies:

Single mother moves to small town and struggles to deal with their past.

Pastor is losing his faith and finds amazing signs from God that he’s having an impact.

Someone is dying of a lingering disease and everyone is crushed by it except them. They will lend their strength to the dying person. There is a 50% chance they will recover.

First responders who have lost faith in the world and their spouse. (Same basic plot as the pastor, but flashing lights instead of candles.)

If it’s Canadian, there will be priests. If American no Catholics are allowed in Christian entertainment. I blame Luther.

Finally, some Bible story is set in the modern era. It will not be subtle, and people who skipped Sunday school after third grade will still figure it out in the first 15 minutes.

I think that covers it. See you next week.

The Perfect Christian Movie: Part I

My wife and I try to watch only inspirational stuff on Sunday. A couple of internet church services (it helps to have a bunch of pastor friends) and then we dive in to the movie/television world on the internet.

Part of the problem is that the online providers don’t have a big selection of stuff to watch. Amazon, it seems, purposely gives you anything but Christian content when you search for it. There is, however, a wide variety of well tagged Japanese Anime Porn. 

I have thus decided to write and produce my own Christian movie. I have watched too many bad ones to make the same mistakes. Some are easy to miss out on, some are a little tougher.

My movie will be set in Detroit. Nobody sets a Christian movie in Detroit. Probably because it’s not a movie kind of town unless it’s an action thriller. Nobody sets a romance there either.

The story is about a family of six: Mom, Dad, two teenage boys, a tweener girl, and the grandfather who is too arthritic to be on his own, but still mentally sharp – as sharp as he ever was, for he was a bit of a dullard at his peak. In other words, like the rest of us.

Dad and mom both work at good jobs where they are upper end of the blue-collar world. Neither one completed college, but both went for three years before they fell in love and wanted to start a family. Not out of wedlock, but they quit school and went full-time at their part-time jobs so they could have nice things and a couple of kids. It’s worked great so far.

Grampa moved in last year, and since they had a big house (real estate is cheap in Detroit) they had plenty of room for him on the ground floor with his own bathroom. Mom and dad gave up that room and moved upstairs to a room almost as large, and it has been a blessing for Grampa. He’s thrilled to be there and helps the kids with school. They ask for help even when they don’t need it because they love him and want him to feel good. 

None of the kids plays sports, they all just go to school. No drug usage: one of the boys lost a friend to a fentanyl overdose just as they hit “that age” and it scared the hell out of them. They do engage in the usual teenage nonsense, but both the boys know that Detroit can be rough, so they take it pretty easy when out and about.

The tweener girl is like every other kid that age and she loves her dog, a rescue who’s owner died, more than life itself. She’s into 70’s disco, but that’s as strange as she gets. Good kid. 

Every evening, mom and dad have a couple of large vodka’s while they talk about their day. Nobody really gets drunk, and no hangovers ever. They both are faithful and have never cheated. 

Sundays they go to church and then have dinner at a restaurant. They believe in God, love their faith, but they don’t belong to the choir, Opus Dei, or even help sell donuts on Donut Sunday. But they love their pastor and the church and would feel bad if they couldn’t go any longer. 

The story focuses on a three month period of their lives where nothing happens at all. Boring as can be. No spiritual stress, no sexual assault, no robberies, not even a traffic accident – but someone did park too close and bash the passenger mirror off the car mom drives. But they left a note and paid cash for the repair.

Grampa is healthy as a horse.

Nobody is weird. 

The dog is well behaved and rather lazy.

The end. 

The next blog will be the good one: I will try to combine all the tropes used in Christian film into a single movie. It will be awesome.

Those Green Eyes Are Staring Again.

The “monster with the green eyes” is usually a euphemism for jealousy. 

The big dog with green eyes is Chewy. No doubt about that truth.

Now that I’ve been locked up with him for eleven months, we’ve come to a bit of an understanding: he’s in charge.

I took two weeks off this past month to get some outside work done. It was the first time since the lockdown (which will never end in Minnesota) that he didn’t have me held hostage in the office/bedroom for at least 32 hours in a given week. It not only surprised him, but annoyed him. Wait until I retire, Doggo. 

He made up for it by gluing himself to my left ankle. Some days he was just “there” with every step I made to declutter the house. Others he was on the floor at my feet, or on the couch next to me, while watching television. In both cases (of the couch) he was taking up space where humans usually sat, or rested their feet. We can be so inconvenient to our dogs sometimes. 

He has, in that year (almost) mellowed a lot. Not that he doesn’t get the zoomies and leap about, but it’s not as often. He’s also largely given up destroying random items for amusement. I actually saw him playing with a stuffed toy last night. Who is this dog?

He’s Chewy. A dog that was almost put down in the pound, who was rescued by a fine group of people, and who wound up in our home. He was skinny, shy, and a bit nuts. Today he’s muscular, unaware of personal space (with his people), and just goofy.

I like this dog more than a little. I don’t even mind that he’s a bed hog. His favorite is to climb on the bed while I’m sleeping and flop down on my feet. He’s not exactly a toy size (38 pounds if hotels ask) and I am thus pinned down until he offers to move.

He is also an empath. I had a massive migraine today and retreated to bed – a rarity that has only happened about 5 times in my life. He hopped up on the bed and laid down next to me so that our heads were almost touching. Usually he’s way down the bed and keeping his own space. It never fails that if I roll over, he leaves within 10 seconds. Today he just snuggled in closer. 

I needed that. I need that dog. Those green eyes mean the world to me.

 

Let Us All Argue Effectively

The title might prompt you to think that I’m advocating increased hostility. Far from it. I’m merely asking that if you are to argue with others, especially on social media, that you do it in an actually persuasive way with valid (truthful) points. 

How would one do this? Let’s start with not putting up graphics posts that say things like: “White  looters  ignored  by  American  police.” The picture shows white people looting a store, carrying out televisions and clothing. Yeah. That’s a great example. Let’s explain.

The reason American police ignored them is because the looting took place in mexico several years ago. American Police weren’t within five-hundred miles. The country is not the United States.

But that doesn’t stop the “If they were black, there’d be dead bodies” kinds of arguments. That’s the same foolish argument that is trotted out any time a white person suspected of a heinous crime surrenders peacefully. I guess we’re supposed to assign a quota to police and enforce it. If a black person is shot by the police (and you should know the numbers before you go ballistic, so go do the research) an equivalent or larger number of white people should be shot to make the numbers balance. 

I guess the argument is that if there is a tragic killing of an innocent black person (one not involved in felonious activity) we need to kill a white person trying to surrender to police. Then the question becomes how many Asian and Latino suspects need to be shot as well? Will we drill down to the point where 1 person of Lithuanian descent must die for every 4 black people? Or, perhaps, we should just execute without trial one Irish woman for every 24 Latino deaths?  I’m going to have to get a better calculator.

The next bit of public discourse is that I’m going to immediately block anyone who posts a tweet, Facebook, Instagram, or other social media post that ends with SMH. (Sweet Merciful Heavens.) This is church-going Christian code for “I’d like to use an obscenity but people won’t let me be in the choir if I do.” Some of the most remarkably stupid and nasty things, almost always unfounded and poorly thought out, are posted with this as the end of the item.

Straw men are next on the list. They are effectively used to make you feel bad because you may not be doing enough in your heart when you read them. An example? Well, of course:

If you say, “All lives matter” does that include:

Syrian refugee lives?

The poorest of the poor in Brazil?

Haitian refugees?

The unjustly imprisoned?

Those who have nothing to eat?

The list usually has one or more items. It can also start with other items such as “Protect the unborn,” or “Diabetes is a tough gig,” etc., and then list all the other tragic things in the world. 

Be honest. Doesn’t that make you feel a bit small and churlish if you think that everyone’s life matters? But what does it mean? If you sponsor orphans, feed the homeless, advocate quietly for justice reform, and shovel snow for the old and ill, are you still a rotten-racist thug who isn’t doing enough? That’s how straw-men arguments work: you take a statement and then turn all possible alternatives against the reader. 

Let’s stop that one cold: you do what you can. Even Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos, with all their money, couldn’t address all the injustice and poverty in the world. How could you possibly be expected to handle every bad thing on the planet. More importantly, you are entitled to an opinion. Yes, freedom of speech still applies. Your thoughts are no less valid because someone who can paste clip art into Facebook doesn’t like your philosophy.

How about, instead of demeaning each other, and throwing sharp rocks – or calling out the police on someone because you disagree on Twitter – you rationally engage with factual arguments. I know most are incapable. They are spoon fed by the leftist media and never do their own research. 

That’s a tragedy. They are often the most prolific posters. More importantly, they knowingly post first, so as to get the clicks. They also post inflammatory things from the past just to keep the flames going. I don’t really care if it’s the story of a veteran’s group being denied service at a hotel in 2016, or a kid being hit by a patrol car in 2017 – both are equally in the past and whatever remedy needed to be taken has likely been instituted. When you check, you’ll find out policies have changed, people retrained, others jailed. But that picture that makes your heart swell with outrage is still floating around, waiting to pop up and make others pound their fist. 

And the same thing repeats over, and over. Seriously, if you don’t have a puppy picture, or a family reunion to post a picture of, maybe some of you shouldn’t be on the internet. You (and you know who you are) are the same vicious animals who spread rumors about the Murphy girl being a prostitute back in 1887. You know, those Catholics are all evil.  She was seen with a black fellow – I am sure her parents know….

Yup. Things never change, just the technology and the hate you choose to inflict on your fellow man.