Short Stories – Cabbages and Kings

This post is part of a year-long series about short stories.  Read about my “Year of the Short Story” HERE.

Cabbages and Kings by O. Henry (1904) – A collection of short stories about the same place (the fictional “banana republic” of Anchuria) and people (mostly expatriate Americans living or visiting there).  It is a brilliant and cutting look at Americans at the height of our colonial empire-building phase.  Arrogant and lacking the self-awareness to understand that about themselves, the characters wander through Anchuria as if they exist on a different plane from those around them.

O. Henry is the pen name of William Sydney Porter.  He is best known to most of us as the author of “The Gift of the Magi”, the wonderful Christmas romance story of two young newlyweds who give up what they most treasure to give a special gift to their spouse.

Keep Calm and Focus on the Short Stories

Porter’s life is fascinating.  A successful newspaper writer but also a convicted bank embezzler.  He served time for the crime, lost his wife to tuberculosis, lived briefly in Pittsburgh (probably only important to me, I know!) and wrote hundreds of short stories.  He would eventually be overcome by the ravages of alcoholism and diabetes and die at age 48.  His work often has surprise endings. He was much beloved by his readers and often panned by the critics.    The stories in this collection make me want to read more.

The stories are:

The Proem: By the Carpenter[2]

    1. “Fox-in-the-Morning”
    2. The Lotus and the Bottle
    3. Smith
    4. Caught
    5. Cupid’s Exile Number Two
    6. The Phonograph and the Graft
    7. Money Maze
    8. The Admiral
    9. The Flag Paramount
    10. The Shamrock and the Palm
    11. The Remnants of the Code
    12. Shoes
    13. Ships
    14. Masters of Arts
    15. Dicky
    16. Rouge et Noir
    17. Two Recalls
    18. The Vitagraphoscope

Like “The Suicide Club” by Robert Louis Stevenson (whichI wrote about earlier), this is a different kind of book.  Neither pure novel nor a traditional short story collection, it is an amazing bunch of stories.  The Americans here are not unlikable at the surface and generally, they mean no harm.  Porter based the stories on the time he spent in Honduras while evading trial for the bank fraud.  He is credited with popularizing the term “banana republic”, meaning a small country with profound social stratification and undue influence of multi-national corporations and larger countries in the local politics.

Another great collection of short stories to add to your list!

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Faith – I Don’t Care What The Bible Says

I am serious about my faith.

I am serious about the importance and power of words.

But I don’t care what the Bible says.

That may seem contradictory. But the first two statements lead directly, for me, to the third. Here’s how:

The words you read weren’t the words that were originally spoken or written. The Bible you read is almost certainly written in a modern language. Even the King James Version (1611) or the Douay-Rheims (1582) is in a language that did not exist at the time of the Gospels. With only a tiny number of exceptions, none of the words of Jesus that we like to quote were ever spoken by him. He didn’t speak English and if he had, no one would have understood.

Everything we read is a translation. And translations come with all kinds of pitfalls. Idiomatic phrases can only be approximated, cultural connotations cannot be clearly indicated just by reading the words. Words in the original texts may be “lost”, meaning we are no longer certain as to their meaning. Our “best” translations still come from copies rather than original documents. All of it means that we must be cautious as we approach the words that make up the Bible.

The argument will be made that God will ensure that the truth will be preserved from translation to translation. That is certainly my belief as well. But I see no reason to assume that means that through so many versions and translations that every word is precisely correct. There are too many examples of careful translations that disagree in tone or meaning with other careful translations.

The simple answer here is to just declare a single translation “authoritative” and end the discussion. I’ve met many folks over the years who’ve adopted just such a stance. The most prominent are the “KJV Only” group. While convenient, it skirts my core issues. Older translations lack access to some of the oldest versions of Scripture. They rely on the understanding and biases of their own age.

So, am I advocating for simply tossing the Bible out? Certainly not. It remains the bedrock of the faith. A source of inspiration, challenge, and instruction.

I don’t care what the Bible says, but I care quite deeply about what it means. The challenge of the Bible is that it does not lend itself to a simple, one size fits all, straightforward reading of the words. Beyond the issues noted before, we have to deal with differing accounts of the same story. There are two versions of the Creation given within pages of one another in Genesis, no less. Those who would reject the Bible outright point to these “contradictions” as evidence to support their stance.

Because I decline to be trapped by what the Bible says, I am free to focus on what it means. What is the lesson that we are intended to find in these passages? Is there an overarching theme to this collection of stories gathered together over thousands of years?

To that last question, I believe the answer is a resounding “Yes”. From beginning to end, God calls us, through the Bible, to love. Humanity, in the form of Adam and Eve, do not love God completely, disobey His instruction, and are separated from Him. Cain and Abel also fail to love completely. Jesus will codify this in the Gospels telling us to love God, love our neighbors, and love one another as He has loved us. Paul goes on to remind us of the empty noise of a life without love.

If the central thesis of the Bible is love, now I have a tool to go back and look at the words. Now I have a key to help me unlock that which is unclear. What is the understanding that supports this thesis? Interpretations that do not align with this theme may be safely questioned and even rejected.

Rather than relying on anyone understanding of what the Bible says, I would argue for beginning with an understanding of what it means and then confronting the challenges.

Rather than trying to parse the syntax and word meanings in the “hard sayings” of Jesus, what can be explored if we begin by saying “These words are part of God’s message of love. So how does that open my understanding of their meaning?”

This way of approaching the Bible is harder. We are rarely given simple answers. In this approach, we get a light to shine on these passages that carry past lost words and cultural bias.

I don’t care what the Bible says.

I care what it means.

Writing – No NaNo

Even though National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) isn’t ‘til November, I’ve already decided to take a pass on it this year. NaNoWriMo is a great writing event and one that is pivotal in pushing me to be more serious about my writing. I encourage everyone with even the smallest interest in writing to give it a try.


So, why am I taking the year off? The simple answer is that because of NaNoWriMo, I have three unfinished novels. That they are unfinished is entirely on me. I have been trying to get focused and organized enough to push one through to completion. So far, I’m still struggling. But the last thing I need is to create a fourth project to pull at my limited attention span. My goal for this year is to build some momentum on last year’s project and push it over the goal line during November.
By taking a new project off my list of “to-dos”, I hope to take on my personal biggest issue as a writer.

Finishing.

I’ve reached the point where the most important thing for me to achieve right now is being able to say “I did it. It’s done.”

What I really need is NaNoFinMo. National Novel Finishing Month!

Let’s see what I can do.

Peace

J

Author Interview – Miguel Covarrubias

I have gotten to know some other writers over the last couple years.  To break up the sound of my own voice on this blog, I thought I’d ask them to answer a few simple questions about their most recent work and how they create.
This month it is Miguel Covarrubias.  Miguel and I became friends in a previous life as youth ministers in the Episcopal church.  Today he is husband, father, writer and well, I’ll let him tell you.

1: Tell us a little about yourself

Hello! I’m Miguel Covarrubias. I’m a storyteller with an insurance day job. I’m a writer over at TheHonestFaith.com, a podcaster with my wife on “The Patron Saints of Pop-Culture” podcast, a father to one amazing little boy, and a former youth minister.

2: Tell us a little about your book

“The Boulevard of Broken Dreams: A youth minister’s story of being shattered” is my story of wanting my dream so badly that I did whatever it took to get it. Turns out when you do that, you kind of anger a lot of people along the way. It’s my struggle with being human and being a minister which, when you think about it, shouldn’t be at odds. However, I found that it quite frequently was.

3: Why write this book? What was the driving force/inspiration?

I needed to tell my story. I see all too often those in youth ministry, even those in other ministries, who struggle with this dichotomy of being human and being in ministry. My main hope with the book was that it would help others feel not so alone. All too often there is this idealized vision of being in ministry. As if, only one heeds the call, there would be a grand world-changing moment. The world and ministry don’t work like that, but we do change the world in little ways. I think all to often the dream and the ideal get tied into our own little delusions of grandeur. When those get shattered, we get shattered. It’s a tough and painful process, but sometimes it is the lesson we need to learn. I hope that through my writing someone will see that it’s okay to walk away. It’s okay to look back and see that you did do some good, even if it was in small seemingly insignificant ways. I want people to know that they are not alone in this, that they matter.

4: What was the greatest challenge in writing it?

Not getting distracted. I started writing this book in 2015 it took until 2017 to finish. I did go through a major edit at the time as well. I would say that editing is probably my greatest weakness when it comes to my writing. Sometimes you are way too close to the story to begin taking a step back to look at what you wrote to see it with a critical eye. So, that was two challenges, but I think that I worried so much about the editing that it caused me to get distracted from the book. So, maybe it is only one. The constant worry of little things were easy distractions to keep me from writing.

5: What do you hope the reader gets/finds in your book?

That they are not alone, and that they matter. That all stories are worthy of being told, we each are a mosaic, or as I wrote in the book a stained glass window. We are all made up of smaller stories of being broken. We take from some of our favorite stories whether they be of a boy wizard, a galaxy far far away, the voyages of the starship enterprise, or what have you to help explain how each piece fits together. These help us in understanding that we are not alone in mending the pieces together to make a bigger artwork. This helps us to see that our small pieces of the story matter in the bigger framework of the mosaic.

6: Writers and readers are often fascinated by “the process” of writing. Can you share your process?

I’m a bit more unusual when it comes to my writing. Most have to be organized and have notes laid out and know precisely how each piece fits together. I’m not at all that way. My process was very much, sit down and let the words flow out of me. I know what I want to say, I know my story, so sit down and write it. Granted, this probably is why most people will not really enjoy my writing. I get that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. I put it out there and that’s what I needed to do. With the blog, I just set for myself some goals. Once I started doing it and stuck to my goals I found that I enjoyed doing it that way. I set the goal for myself in 2017 to write at least one post a week. I succeeded, and so I continued. I did upscale to 2 posts a week there for a while, but I’ve since downscaled again until I find a good place to have more words flow.

7: Who or what is your inspiration? As a writer or in life.

My family. Every day I get up around 6 AM to get my son ready for his day. Toddlers need a lot of help. I know this will not always be the case, but when he smiles at me. When I see the light in his eyes at all that is new and wonderful for him, that’s my link to the Divine. I had lost sight of a lot of that through being shattered. I used to see it in my students. I used to love when I saw the spark of understanding go on in them. I used to love to see the Divine in each of them working in different ways. When my dreams were shattered, I didn’t think I’d find that again. I did, in him.

8: Any more books in the works? Any ideas you’re kicking around?

Yes! I am working on 3 fiction ideas right now. Each of them are different. The first I started in 2010 and I haven’t really been able to finish it. I did write this current book and another in the meantime. I guess you can call my second book a fiction novel with non-fiction influences, but the three that I’m working on right now are completely fiction. The first is an exploration of Father/Son relationships as told through a time travel novel. The second is one I’m super excited about, but playing close to my chest as I’m a bit paranoid of people stealing my ideas. The third was inspired by a dream that I had which is still being kicked around in my head and has no real solidity to it yet, but it will come.

9: Where can we buy your book? And what formats is the book available in?

Amazon! I self-published due to understanding that I’m really a niche writer at this moment. I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay!

https://www.amazon.com/Boulevard-Broken-Dreams-Ministers-shattered-ebook/dp/B073FPYHWK

It is available in E-book and Paperback! You can also find my 2nd book there too

“The Story Of Esperanza Reyes”

Adventures in Cycling – The 3/10 Tour

Every once in a while, I get a crazy idea.  They usually turn out to be harder than I expected (like the year I promised to review 52 youth ministry resources in 52 weeks).

It has been a very rainy year here in Richmond.  Which is screwing up my riding totals, since I hate/loathe/despise riding in the rain.

I’ve got a crazy idea.

The Tour de France (TDF) just ended.  I watched some of almost every day of the race.  If you read my cycling posts you probably know the details of the greatest bike race in the world.  For the more casual reader, it is a 23-day race (21 racing days or “stages” and two rest days) through different parts of France.  It includes long endurance rides, mountain climbs, sprints and time trials.  The riders can ride for four or five hours on some days, covering hundreds of kilometers.  There is nothing quite like it.  This is the ultimate bicycle race in the world.

No, I’m not that crazy.

But how about this?  A 3/10 Tour.  A third as many days and a tenth as many kilometers.

It’s both a challenge for me and something that I can do if I do the work.  I have never biked for 7 days in a row.  Not since I was in elementary school at least. Plus, if I’m honoring the spirit of the Tour, it means I may have to ride in the wet.  We’ll see. No reason to risk life and limb at my age.

So I chose Week One as my template for the 3/10 Tour.  I will be honest and say I chose it because the mountain stages come in Week Two.  But I do want it to fairly represent the challenges of the TDF.

Week One breaks down to 153.2 kilometers (that’s 76 miles).  That would be in the top 1% of my highest miles in a week.  It’s probably close to #1.  My rides tend to be 2-3 a week and average 10 miles or so.  So it’s a challenge.

I want a serious climb, I want cobblestones, and Week One includes a Time Trial.  (The Week One TT was a team event.  Since Team Old Fat Guy consists of just me, it will have to be an individual trial).  Based on the numbers of the week one stages, my stages look like this

Stage 1 – 12.5 miles

Stage 2 – 11.0 miles

Stage 3 – Time Trial 2.2 miles

Stage 4 – 12.1 miles

Stage 5 – 12.75 miles

Stage 6 11.2 miles

Stage 7 – 14.3 miles

So no day is beyond my ability, but I’ve never strung this many days together at that length.  I can get the climb in going up out of Richmond to Varina or so.  Cobblestones are available on either Monument and/or Grace.  I am in the process of mapping out these rides now.  The goal is to be ready to do this before August is out.

Part of me looks at this and thinks “Too easy, dude”.  And the rest just shakes its head and says “You’re crazy”.

We’ll see.  I’ll keep you up to date.

Writing – On Drafts

 

And sometimes you lose what you’ve written completely and have to start again. That what you’re reading now.

Writing is usually done in “drafts”. Versions of the story that are crafted and changed over time. For some writers, like Rex Stout who wrote the “Nero Wolfe” mysteries, there were very few drafts. He got his stories done the way he wanted almost from the first. Other authors will go through many, many revisions on their work. It can be a maddening process. If done correctly, the result is a focused and well-crafted story.

This is not the first draft of this post, for example. Somehow I lost the first page or two of the first draft. All I found was the third page. It began mid-sentence so it was clear I’d begun elsewhere. I have no idea where it went. No doubt it will turn up now that I’ve begun again. Or it may be gone forever.

Drafts are like that. You “finish” one. But when you go back and read it again, the story is awful. The phrasing is awkward, the storytelling shudders along, the characters are rubbish. Draft One is a wreck. Now begins the sifting process. Is there anything good here? Can the story be salvaged or should it be abandoned? Even a good draft will need work. Move parts of the story around to improve the storytelling. Develop characters or discard them.

There’s a concept in writing called “kill your darlings” that comes from the great American author, William Faulkner. It means that no matter how beautifully you’ve written a passage, no matter how much time you’ve put into a sub-plot, no matter how much you love a character, if they are slowing the story, they have to go. When you have invested hours, days, months or years to get to where you are in a story’s life, realizing that you need to go back, again, can feel awful.

The goal is that each draft moves the story forward. There are times when resolving one issue with a story creates ripple problems down the line. Which sometimes means another draft.

One reason that short stories attract me is that I can finish and move on with fewer drafts. The storyteller in me is strong. The push to tell the next story is powerful. Because there are fewer “moving parts” to a short story, I can arrive at the end of the process more quickly.

The end of the draft process can have an arbitrary feel to it. Finding the finish line is more by feeling than by checkpoints. At some point, I simply look at the latest draft and decide that I’ve done everything I can. Not that I think it’s perfect. I don’t believe in perfection in this world. An internal relay closes, a gear turns, and the story is done. I have nothing more to offer that piece.

That’s the final draft.

Peace

JD

Time To Change – The Check Up

Twice a year it happens.

I trot myself into my PCP (Primary Care Physician) for a checkup.  One is just a Diabetes Check, and the other is the annual physical.  Much to the confusion of the professionals in the office I tend to refer to them both as “physicals”.  The early year one is usually just the diabetic check.

That means getting in and getting stuck for all the various blood tests and taking a whiz into a small plastic vial.  I am always amused by the specific instructions on how to do this last task.  You are supposed to begin the process (into the toilet), stop, then fill the vial to at least halfway, then stop and finish in the toilet.  Am I “flushing the apparatus”?  Do I really want to know?  Probably not.  Even I’m not that curious.

Eating these last six months was OK but hardly impressive.  The wettest May in recorded Richmond history put me WAY behind on exercise.  I was fully expecting to get the stink eye from my doctor.  (For the record, I have a great PCP.  He is relaxed, answers all my dumb questions, and puts up with my natural impulse to deal with serious issues in a less than serious manner.  He’s everything I could hope for in a doctor.)

So I tried to pre-empt him.  I had peeked at the test results so I knew my A1C (THE number for a T2 diabetic) had remained steady.  That’s bad because it’s still a little higher than we want.  I knew my weight was pretty much exactly the same as last time.  Which was bad because it’s still about 15 pounds higher than we want.

But there were pleasant surprises as well.  My blood pressure, which has been an issue for several decades, was astoundingly low.  My LDL cholesterol (I think that’s the one) had dropped a significant amount, as did my fasting glucose number.  Those are both outstanding results!

The only thing I cant think of that helped was eating salad every blessed day that I substitute taught.  Whatever the cause I’ll take it.

The weather has improved, my schedule has changed and I am getting out to exercise some more.  The bike ride numbers are improving too.

So maybe at the next one, I will be able to improve those other numbers too!

Be healthy.

Onward.

My resolution remains:

 

want to am going to be The Guy again.  The Guy weighed 175 pounds and looked good and felt good.  And his blood pressure was good and his blood tests were good.

 

 

Active Minutes – Goal is 150/week

Steps – Goal is 10,000/day

Watch my activity on my Fitbit page

Biking Mileage – Winter Break

I track my mileage with MapMyRide

The next milestone is getting back below 185.  I will get there and go on.

Official Weigh-In Weight

192 pounds

Weight Change this month -0.0 pounds

Total Weight Loss To Date: 1.0 pounds– Goal is -17  pounds

Goal Weight and Total to Lose – 175/35