Thinking about Recalls

It finally happened. After all these years, I got my first recall notice. It was for my car. I called the dealer to schedule an appointment and was told that the first available slot was for nearly six weeks from that date. The scheduler said they had been inundated with recalls for that particular problem.

Was the recall really necessary? I asked.

Yes, it involved a potential safety issue, the scheduler told me. Constant abrasion of a wire in the steering column could wear through the insulation around it, exposing a wire and resulting in the airbag’s suddenly deploying. Not something one wants to happen in traffic or when he’s speeding down the highway (at the speed limit–or faster). So I scheduled my appointment. After all, the problem was to be repaired at no cost to me.

Well, today was the day. I pulled the car into the service area and produced the recall letter as instructed. As the service manager was checking me in, I made small talk. Had he had a lot of people bringing in their cars for this problem? Not really, he replied. In fact, he couldn’t remember seeing another one before mine. (Then why had the scheduler told me they had been inundated with them, and why had I had to wait nearly six weeks for the appointment?)

It shouldn’t take long, the service manager assured me when I told him that I would be waiting. An hour and a half later, a service person came to the waiting room to tell me that I absolutely needed to have two filters replaced and the cooling system flushed–for only $170 plus taxes. (I politely declined and later replaced the filters, which I already knew had to be replaced) myself.)

This incident set me to thinking about recalls. Why do they occur? Some of them are to resolve legitimate problems, of course, but how is the average person supposed to be able to discern whether the repairs are actually necessary or if the dealer is just trying to make a fast buck? After all, auto engines are so complicated today that even people who were whizzes with auto mechanics a quarter century ago scratch their heads in amazement when they raise the hood of the average car today. Caveat emptor! “Let the buyer beware!”

That incident also made me think about other kinds of things that often need to be recalled. After having spent decades in the publishing industry as both an editor and a writer, I never cease to be amazed at how often, no matter how carefully one examines the printed page or how many different sets of eyes examine it, mistakes still slip through. Factual errors, omissions, typos, and other problems pop up no matter how careful one is. One’s mind is blinded to what is obvious to first-time readers of the material. One’s mind supplies words that are missing because he or she is too familiar with the content. Often, such mistakes are inconsequential, but at other times they can be critical. Once the product goes to print, it’s too late to correct the errors. Oh, an errata list can be issued or a second edition produced, but that only draws attention to errors that perhaps might not even have been noticed if we hadn’t publicized them.

Even more dangerous, however, are our spoken words. Once uttered, they cannot be recalled. The damage has been done. “I’m sorry” comes too little, too late. That’s why preventive care is the best way of dealing with those problems, just as it is with auto mechanics–don’t let them happen to begin with. It’s better to pray, as the psalmist did, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Psa. 141:3). And as Abe Lincoln famously said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt!”

Whether one is referring to auto mechanics, one’s physical condition, the printed word, or the spoken word, preventive maintenance is always better than a breakdown or a wreck.

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

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Author Talk (Part 2)

At the recent authors forum in which I participated, the moderator asked us several thought-provoking questions. I summarized my responses to two of those questions (What influenced you to write? and What has been your greatest joy in writing?). In today’s post, I’ll answer two more of those questions.

1. Where do you get ideas for writing?

In a word, LIFE. Experience. What happens to or around me. That’s a virtual–no, an actual–cornucopia of possibilities. I might overhear a piece of conversation, someone’s observation, a quip, etc., and it sets me to thinking about and developing it into an article. Or perhaps there’s a subject I know nothing or little about, and I begin to research it. And then I develop an urge to share what I’ve learned with others. Since I’m not a big talker, the natural medium for such sharing is the written word. One of my daughters gave me a mug on which is printed a summary of my idea mill: “I am a writer. Anything you say or do may be used in a story.”

2. Why have you not entered genres like drama, fiction, or poetry?

A rule of thumb is that one tends to write what he most often reads. I read primarily nonfiction. Within nonfiction, I read mostly historical, educational, or biblical topics, so that’s what I tend to write. Knowing the need to read widely, I do try to read fiction occasionally. In fact, I have an annual goal of reading at least one novel–not that I always achieve that goal!

Truth be told, I have dabbled at fiction and poetry, and the results have been dismal. I also dreamed of playing major league baseball but got no farther than being a cow-pasture pitcher. (I didn’t even have a sandlot to play ball on when I was a kid.) I’ll stick to what I know and continue to work at improving what little talent I have in that area of writing.

If you weren’t able to attend the author’s forum and be one of the people who asked questions from the floor, perhaps you have one you’d like me to answer. If so, contact me, and I’ll try to answer it in a future post.

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Author Talk (Part 1)

Last Friday, I participated in an authors forum, or “talk,” during which the moderator asked seven or eight questions of the three of us who were on the platform. For the benefit of any readers who were unable to attend and might be interested in knowing my responses, I’m summarizing two of them here and will address two others in a later post.

  1. What influenced you to write?

The initial impetus was my frustration as a second-year teacher with students who were unwilling to exert an effort to learn. As a form of therapy, I vented my frustrations on paper. After getting home from a particularly trying day in the classroom, I wrote of the problems I faced and then read the results to my wife. After I had done that repeatedly for several weeks, my wife tired of hearing it. She said, “Either submit it to someone for publication or–whatever! Just don’t read it to me again!” That hurt my pride and challenged me to submit it to The Freeman, the flagship publication of the Foundation for Economic Education. Much to my surprise, the editor accepted and published it as “Help Wanted: Laborers.” More recently, my first book, Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries, was the result of a desire to know about the subject and the inaccessibility of information on it. The most recently published book on the subject was written more than 70 years ago, and I thought that it was time that more recent findings were pubLished in one source. The publisher, McFarland, agreed. (I wish that more readers would, too!)

2. What has been your greatest joy in writing?

It’s always good to find a check in the mail and to see one’s byline on a book cover or magazine article. But I must admit that my greatest joy in writing has been learning that something I have written has been a blessing or help to someone. To hear someone say, “I really enjoyed that article” or “I learned something from your work” or “That really encouraged me just when I needed it most” makes all the research and writing efforts worthwhile. One particular incident especially encouraged me. I was walking back to my office when I was a textbook author, and I happened past a young Korean college student who was eating her lunch al fresco. Just as I passed her, she glanced up and said, “Hello, Mr. Peterson.” Surprised that she knew my name, I stopped, turned around, and returned her greeting. “How do you know my name?” I asked. She explained that she long had wanted to be a teacher, and one of her high school teachers had read all of my articles that had been in Journal for Christian Educators, translating them for her until she could read them in English for herself. Such encouragement, and the prospect of helping some other young teachers, led to another of my books, Teacher.

Next time: Answers to the questions Where do you get ideas? and Why have you not entered genres like drama, fiction, or poetry?

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Announcement: Author Forum and Book Signing

I have been invited to participate in the Author Forum and Book Signing activity during the 2017 Homecoming and Family Weekend, October 12-14, at Bob Jones University. The Author Forum will be held on Friday, October 13, at 2:00 p.m. in Levinson Hall on campus.

The Author Forum will be moderated by Dr. Ray St. John of the English Department. (I am not sure which other authors will be participating in the forum, but I will post that information as soon as it becomes available to me.) From 3:00-5:00 following the forum, authors will be at their respective book tables to interact with visitors. I would like to invite any friends, fans, or blog followers who are in or will be visiting the Upstate of South Carolina during that time to stop by and say hello. I will be featuring two of my books: Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries (McFarland, 2016) and Teacher: Teaching and Being Taught (2017). They will be available at special Homecoming prices.

I look forward to seeing many of you there.

Mile Markers

We’ve all passed them on the interstate. They’re ubiquitous. We can’t miss them, but we seldom notice them. We note them only when we’re in trouble and might need to refer to one to direct help to our location. We’re just too involved in our journey to notice them more than then.

I’m referring to those narrow, vertical green signs along the shoulder called mile markers.

Today, this post is sort of a mile marker for me. It’s not much of a mile marker to many bloggers who have been at this longer than I have. Maybe I’m just a late bloomer.

Be that as it may and for what it’s worth, this marks my 200th blog post since I began this blog on September 4, 2015. Much like what happens when I’m driving, I happened to glance to the shoulder during my writing journey and noticed this mile marker. It flashes past and becomes history as soon as I hit the “publish” button. Then the journey goes on as though the marker never existed. But for a brief moment, it made me reflect.

Why Did I Begin Blogging?

I had read and heard the “experts” say that every author must have a blog to gain “credibility,” to build and expand a “platform,” and to “brand” himself or herself. (Hmm. Doesn’t branding involve getting burned?!) I had only days earlier signed my first book contract with McFarland for Governing the Confederacy. (Only they changed my title to Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries, which I thought was too long and ponderous and uninteresting for an effective title. But they were the “experts,” so that’s how it hit the market.)

I’ve never been much of a salesman, especially when it involves promoting myself, so even the baby step of starting a blog stretched me well beyond my comfort zone. I’m still uncomfortable doing so.

Has My Blog Achieved Its Purposes, Accomplished Its Goals?

I don’t know, but probably not if measured by the standards of those who presume to know. And judging from the successful blogs I read, I’d have to agree. I’ve gotten a few “likes” and fewer comments, and I have a couple of faithful followers. (They’re usually the ones who comment.) I have no idea whether it has led directly or indirectly to any book sales.

Judging by the number of readers, most “experts” would say that my blog is a failure. Agents, editors, and publishers want to see a lot of followers and shares. They judge the size of an author’s market by those magic numbers. Without them, they won’t consider the author’s works, no matter how well written or timely. Or, if they do, they won’t devote a lot of time or money marketing them.

The Positive Benefits

But my blog has accomplished a couple of things. First, it has forced me to write regularly, according to a self-imposed schedule. That is a big part of my journey. I determined (based on what the “experts” said) to post something twice a week, every Tuesday and Friday. Those self-imposed deadlines, the mile markers along the writing roadway, forced me to come up with things to write about. I don’t know if readers have found my subjects to be interesting, but those subjects interested me–at least at the time I wrote about them.

Most of my topics have related to historical events or historic characters. Sometimes they were about writing, editing, or publishing. Sometimes about educational issues. In a few instances, I’ve even forced myself to post something about my articles or books. And I’ve learned, unsurprisingly, that it’s much easier and more natural to write about those other topics than about myself or my writing products.

Second, writing a twice-weekly blog has forced me to plan. I can’t wait until the last minute and then just throw something together. Oh, I’ve posted a few things serendipitously, such as quotations that struck me during my reading or when something unexpected happened or came to my attention. When “the muse” spoke to me most clearly, however, was when I had a planned schedule, a prepared list of topics, each tied to a specific date that just happened to coincide with a Tuesday or a Friday. These were the items on the itinerary of my journey. Once posted, each became another mile marker passed, little noticed and insignificant.

The “experts” would probably say that I’m being too transparent here. But I’m just telling it like it is.

Mile marker 200 is now behind me. MM201 is approaching. I don’t know how many more such mile markers I have to pass during my journey. No one but God knows when or where one’s journey will end at one’s final destination. I only know that I must keep “driving” on my journey. I must write. I don’t know how many people are following me; I know that a lot of people are ahead of me, and a lot of people are passing me, progressing faster in their writing careers. But I just know that I must write regardless of numbers. That’s my calling. I’ll leave the numbers, the results–the “likes,” the “shares,” the “followers,” the sales–with God. After all, He is the only Judge of true success.

In yesterday’s sermon, our pastor hit the nail on the head and offered this food for thought: If glory goes to you, it’s not going to God.

Soli gloria Deo!

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

 

Lessons Learned: Writing

For the last 36 years (since my first article was published in 1981), I have been learning the art and craft of writing and the “tricks of the trade” of publishing. To paraphrase a certain insurance company, I’ve learned a lot (much of it the hard way) because I’ve seen and experienced a lot. And I’m still learning. Perhaps you can relate to some of the things I’ve learned. Here are a few of them but by no means all of them.

  1. Study the markets before you submit. When the first article I ever submitted was accepted and published and I got that check in the mail, I was hooked. I began cranking out article manuscripts right and left and submitting them so often that the postal clerks and I were almost best buds. But then reality struck: I began finding more rejections than junk mail in my mailbox. That’s when I realized that something was wrong. I wasn’t studying the markets and tailoring my submissions accordingly. When I began to do so, the acceptances became to creep in. Even some articles that had earlier been rejected found a home and were published.
  2. Rejection is not personal (usually). Publications have needs and guidelines, and those needs change over time. Sometimes the changes are seasonal. Sometimes they are topical. And sometimes they are philosophical. When the rejection reads, “Doesn’t meet our needs at this time,” we should take it at face value. In a few instances, however, maybe you and the editor just don’t hit it off. Or your writing isn’t quite up to the bar that publication has set. But those instances should be rare. Even if the rejection IS personal, move on. There are other publications and editors out there who want and need what you write. Forget the bad experience and create good ones elsewhere.
  3. Editors change.¬†This point goes along with the previous item. Editors tend to move around a lot. If you have a good working relationship with an editor, work to stay on good terms with him or her. But realize that one day–sometimes sooner, sometimes later–that editor will move on. Be ready for the new editor and brace yourself for rejection–then move on. I once worked with the same editor at the same publication for nearly 25 years. He published almost everything I submitted. But he eventually retired. His replacement rejected everything I submitted. My writing hadn’t changed. The editor did. I submitted my work elsewhere, telling myself that he and the publication’s readers, not I, were the losers.
  4. Not everyone will rejoice at your successes. People are funny. One day, someone will cheer you in your writing efforts, but as soon as your work is published, he or she suddenly becomes sullen and silent or begins to find fault with your writing. I think it’s the result of a big lump of envy and a dash of jealousy that prompts the change. If you’re excited about your writing success, I hope others will be, too. But don’t count on it.
  5. Be faithful to your calling. If God has called you to write, realize that He does not use the same measuring stick for success that people use. He rewards faithfulness in performance, not outward results. This truth is hard to swallow when you’re getting rejection slips, but faithful persistence promises and pays an ultimate reward. Keep at it. All in God’s time and in His medium of exchange, you’ll see success.

What have you learned from your writing experiences? Care to share them? I look forward to reading them.

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Unfinished Business

For a number of years, every time my wife and I traveled to Florida to visit her parents, as we turned into their street, we passed an unfinished house. The concrete slab had been poured and the walls erected years before. But the structure had no roof and no interior walls. The stereotypical South Florida vegetation had nearly swallowed the structure.

Just last weekend, during our visit to North Carolina to see three of our four daughters, we passed a similar sight. The footers of a home had been poured and the blocks of the foundation had been laid. The sill plates had even been attached. And then construction had halted, and vegetation was beginning to encroach over the unfinished structure.

I don’t know the reasons for the unfinished jobs. Maybe the people ran out of money. Maybe they changed their minds. Maybe they even died without heirs to finish the work. Who knows which of myriad reasons fit these instances. All we know is that people started jobs that they did not finish.

As I contemplated these scenes, I felt a little guilty because I have myself started so many projects that I didn’t complete. Some of them I never should have started in the first place. Others, however, I should have seen through to completion. I think, especially, of writing projects that I began with gung-ho enthusiasm only to see them falter and then end up stuck, uncompleted and unsubmitted, in a box somewhere.

Dr. Bob Jones Sr. used to repeatedly tell the students attending his college, “Finish the job!” I need to apply that mantra to my writing (among other things). How about you? I’m sure that I’m not the only writer who has experienced this problem of unfinished work.

Why do we not finish our projects? For some of us, it’s procrastination. We get sidetracked by other things and end up losing our enthusiasm for the project that we started with such gusto. For others of us, it’s perfectionism. We keep tinkering and tampering with our words, our organization, or some other aspect of our writing, and never getting around to finishing and submitting it. And sometimes it’s our petrifying and paralyzing fear of rejection¬†that stops us in our tracks. We are so afraid of having our work criticized and rejected that we let it sit and rot rather than submit it and let the chips fall where they may.

The cure for procrastination is determination. Just make up our minds to do it! And then follow through with action! For our perfectionist tendencies, we must admit that nothing that anyone (especially not us) writes will be perfect. Even at our dead-level best, we will still have flaws in our writing. When I worked as a textbook author, I was amazed at how the authors, editors, proofreaders, and others involved in the publishing process could go over text, photos, and illustrations with a fine-toothed comb time after time after time–and still the end product contained flaws. At first, I was appalled and embarrassed by such mistakes that slipped through. But then I realized that perfection was impossible and decided that the best thing was just to do my best and let things work themselves out. The sun would come out again tomorrow. The world would not end.

The fear of rejection and criticism, however, is harder to deal with. Some people seem to take great pleasure in searching out and then reporting to everyone who is willing to listen the errors in the work of others. We must get over the fear of what other people think and just do our job, knowing that it will not be perfect, that it will contain flaws and errors.

Easier said than done, I know. But the alternative is even worse. We will never finish any job as long as we fear what others think of it. As I sometimes look back over the hundreds of written products that I’ve created since I began writing for publication in 1981, I find myself cringing at the errors I made and thinking of how I should have written them. But then I realize that had I not tried, had I not done my best and submitted my work such as it was, I would never have had anything published. I’d still be a wannabe rather than a published author. And that’s when I’m glad that I stifled my inner critic and ignored the naysayers and critics (or as Spiro Agnew called them, the nabobs of negativity). And when confronted by their criticism, I thought, Well, at least I got something published. What do they have to show for all their criticism? What have they produced that is worthwhile?

So if you, like I, feel badly about your unfinished projects, don’t just wallow in self-pity; do something about it. Finish the job! Select just one of those unfinished tasks and tackle it, determined to get it done. Do your dead-level best, but get it done. And let the chips fall where they may. You’ll certainly achieve a whole lot more than if you do nothing. And later you’ll be able to look back and be glad you saw it through to completion.

Now please excuse me. I have some unfinished business to attend!

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Books by this author, all available in paperback and Kindle versions at http://www.amazon.com:

Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries

Look Unto the Hills: Stories of Growing Up in Rural East Tennessee

Teacher: Teaching and Being Taught (essays in Christian education)

The Positive Power of a Mentor

Dr. Walter Fremont, the late educator who motivated me for my teaching career, once said during a class lecture that no one should write a book until he was at least 50 years old. He opined that until one reached that chronological age he had not lived or learned enough to write an authoritative book.

His life’s ministry was sharing with others, especially aspiring teachers, the wisdom and knowledge that he had gained so that they could, in turn, minister to still others. He exuded a positive attitude, a can-do spirit that was infectious. And that was what first-year (and even veteran) teachers needed even more than they needed materials and methods and curriculum development classes. It was what would keep many of them going when they had reached the point at which they were ready to give up and change careers.

True to his own stated belief, Dr. Fremont’s first published book came when he was 56 years old. He went on to write four more books, and they all dealt in some way with education and family living.

When Dr. Fremont was 62 and seemingly at the apex of his phenomenal and inspiring career, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Doctors gave him two to five years to live. But they didn’t know Dr. Fremont or the God he served.

Dr. Fremont continued to serve as dean of a university school of education for four years. Then he continued teaching for another year. He finally retired, but not to rust. Not Dr. Fremont. Not Dr. Positive Faith Attitude. No, he spent the next fifteen years working from a hospital room, authoring four more books between 1986 and 2002. In 2007, he finally succumbed to the disease that the doctors had thought would take him in two to five years. His God gave him 82 years during which to serve Him. And right up until the end, his life continued to bless and teach others. His life is proof of Jesse Stuart’s assertion that a teacher is immortal, living on for years through his or her students. And I was blessed to be one of Dr. Fremont’s students.

I was perhaps a slow learner in school, and I didn’t publish my first book (I’m trying to be positive by using that phrase “first book” and to assume that I will have others someday!) until I was beyond Dr. Fremont’s 50-years-old cutoff point and past even his own 56 by several years. But once published, I was inspired and motivated to keep writing. In fact, I have several books in the works. Whenever I get stuck or bogged down with one, I can turn to another, so that I always have something to work on.

But sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get beyond that one book. Can I do it again? By nature a melancholy person, I begin to doubt. But then I think of Dr. Fremont and how his most productive publishing years came after the doctors had essentially written him off. But God was not finished with him, and his work continues to influence people for good.

I don’t know how many years I have remaining in which to write. Who does? I might go in my sleep some night. Or my time might come in an accident on my way to pick up my son-in-law at the airport this very night. Or at some unknown (to me) future date to a dread disease–heart attack, cancer, whatever. That makes me want to live and work today as though it were my last. I want to do what I can with the time I have. And I pray that, like Dr. Fremont, I might have been able in the process to be a blessing to someone else.

May this be the prayer of each one of us. May we be faithful in the work we have while it is called today. May we be ready when we are called home to give an account of our life and be able to do so with joy. Until then, let’s keep serving!

Writing Instruments I Have Known

It’s funny how the anniversaries of certain historic events make you reminisce. Today, I’ve been reminiscing about the typewriter, a writing instrument with which I’m almost as familiar as I am a pencil or pen. On this date in 1868, Christopher Latham Sholes patented a typewriting machine, a giant leap forward for his time.

Inventors had been working to develop a typewriter since as early as 1714 (Henry Mill) and then to “reinvent” it, making it something practical and useful. Sholes was successful in developing one of the first commercially successful such machines.

Sholes was a newspaper editor in Milwaukee. His newspaper’s compositors went on strike, prompting Sholes to try (unsuccessfully) to build a machine that would set type. He and printer Samuel Soule later were working together to develop a ticket-numbering machine when lawyer and inventor Carlos Glidden suggested that they might be able to make a machine that produced not only numbers but also letters. They began with a machine called a Pterotype, developed by John Pratt, and tried to simplify it. The result was the typewriting machine, which is shown to the right of Pratt’s machine.

The men received a patent for their invention on June 23, 1868. Their machine sold for an average of about $250 each, not a paltry sum in those days. Remington, a company better known for its firearms, bought the patent in 1873. The inventors continued, however, to improve on their original design, the most lasting improvement being the QWERTY keyboard arrangement to reduce jamming of the keys, and the arrangement is still in use today (although with computers it is no longer necessary).

The first typewriter that I worked on wasn’t quite as old as Sholes’s machine, but it was old. It was my mother’s Remington portable with a small suitcase-sized carrying case and a ribbon that allowed one to type in either black or red ink. I used that machine before I even took a typing class; I used the hunt-and-peck technique instead.

Then I took typing in high school. (My “wise” guidance counselor tried to convince me that I wouldn’t need to know how to type for college, but my father convinced him otherwise!) We learned on heavy Smith-Corona manual machines that required a heavy hand. To this day, I still pound the keyboard although it’s no longer necessary. (I guess I just enjoy both the feeling of strength it gives me and the sound of the keys being struck. It makes me feel as though I’m actually accomplishing something.)

I enjoyed the typing class so much that my parents bought me a refurbished but very functional Royal typewriter for Christmas that year. I took that machine to college with me and used the carbon paper, erasable bond paper, and hair spray to bond the ink to the erasable bond so it wouldn’t smear when the professors read my papers. I used that machine not only throughout college and grad school but also during much of my teaching career–typing mimeograph and ditto stencils–until I decided (foolishly, I now realize) that I needed an electric machine to be successful as a writer.

The electric machine that I bought was a Brother Correct-O-Ball, which had a golf ball-sized ball in the center where the letters used to be on long, curved arms. The ball would spin around to the letter that corresponded to the key one struck. The idea was that the keys would not get jammed when one typed too fast. I liked that idea because my writing was slowed every time I had to untangle the keys, and that happened often to me. The only problem was that I was so enthralled by watching that ball spin around that I ended up watching the ball rather than writing. And before I knew it, it became hard–and expensive–to get the ribbon cartridges for the machine. I decided I needed to upgrade.

A friend told me that the wave of the future was in word processors, so I bought a used Magnavox Video Writer word processor. It had an ugly yellow-on-black screen display about the size of the modern iPad screen. It also had a neat feature whereby when you began to type a word, the machine guessed what you meant and completed the word for you. When I began one day to type one of my daughter’s names–Tisha–the machine changed it to Tissue. For a while, that feature provided some interesting entertainment, but eventually it became frustrating because I had to proofread even more closely, and that slowed me down. For all the hype about speeding up my production, I found that I was wasting even more time.

Then I pursued a full computer, something that I could use for multiple functions, not just word processing. That’s when I bought and paid for the Tandy computer–and then the franchise went bankrupt before they could deliver it. Then they refused to deliver it. I was called as a witness in the resulting bankruptcy proceedings. When the franchisee lost, I won my computer, but by then I had bought another (a Gateway desktop). I didn’t need and couldn’t afford two computers, so I had to sell the Tandy at a loss.

More recently, I joined the laptop trend. I’ve had Gateways, Toshibas, and now an HP Pavilion. And I’ve suffered through crashes of hard drives, obsolescence of the 5 1/4- and 3-1/2-inch floppy disks, and constantly required upgrades to software and hardware. While this rapidly changing technology has had its advantages, I still look back upon the days of the old manual typewriter with fond memories.

Man’s Best Friend?

Groucho Marx reputedly quipped, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

I can recall many a night when, as a youngster who had been told to turn out the light and go to bed, I dutifully obeyed but then pulled the covers over my head and finished a riveting chapter (or even an entire book) by flashlight. And I’ve been an avid reader ever since, usually having multiple books in progress at once.

I just started another book, this one for instructional as well as inspirational purposes. It’s Writing with Quiet Hands by Paula Munier. Some of its contents promise to be welcome and much-needed reminders and maybe even a few gentle (or not so gentle) rebukes for not minding what I already know. But much of the contents are offering additional instruction on how to improve my craft, and there’s always room for improvement.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that there are no know-it-alls in any field. Oh, there are a lot of people who think they know it all (and they’re the ones who are eager to let everyone else know that they do), but in reality, no one knows everything there is to know about anything. One of my favorite quotations is from Will Rogers: “We’re all ignorant–just on different subjects.” So I’m reading this book to learn something new.

But I’m also reading it with the hope of being inspired, and we all occasionally need that, too. We sometimes tire of doing what we know we should be doing to be successful in our professions and callings. We often hit the proverbial brick wall when we don’t know what to do next, or we can’t seem to make things work just as we want them to. So we risk stagnating, and we need a little spark of inspiration to motivate us to persevere. Eventually, that brick wall will crack, and we’ll break through the impasse. But that won’t happen unless we’re motivated.

It’s sort of like when you’re just about to your last gasp on the treadmill and then you look over at the 93-year-old man beside you, and he’s running faster and for a longer time than you, and he’s not even breathing hard. Suddenly, you tell yourself, If he can do it, then I certainly can, too! And you get a second wind and press on, achieving more than you thought you could.

I haven’t even started the first chapter of Writing with Quiet Hands yet, and I’ve already encountered some interesting statements. Here’s one of them:¬†“Books are our friends–and that friendship becomes a happy marriage when we sit down to write our own stories.”

In my office are two plaques. One reads, “Write your own life story.” The other says, “Home is where your story begins.” Whenever I read those two statements together, a small voice inside me says, “Now get busy!”

My lesson for the day: Read for information. Read for inspiration. But don’t just read; write. And that’s what I have to get busy doing right now! Time’s a-wastin’!

By the way, if you haven’t yet decided on your next book to read, may I suggest Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries? It might just surprise you!