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( With the solstice upon us and finding that I’m feeling…well, more numb than joyful as the days count down to Christmas, I thought I would share this. )

It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss-
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight-
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.

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Tomorrow here at AnthoCon, my story “Unknown Caller” will be published in the anthology Inner Demons Out: Anthology Year Two (Four Horsemen). It features a phone booth graveyard.

Why?

Because phone booth graveyards are cool. Like bow ties. And fezzes.

Ok, really it started with this picture.

Phonebooth Graveyard Newark-on-Trent UK

I had been looking at photos of abandoned buildings and this shot of a phone booth graveyard in Newark-on-Trent, UK popped up in the middle. Beautiful and lonely and strange. And I thought…a phone booth graveyard? How cool! Are there more photos of it?

Yes. Lots. Because there are many phone booth graveyards in the world. Phone booths of course, as people in my generation and older know, used to be everywhere. Because there was a time not all that long ago when we didn’t all carry phones. And use them incessantly. And take pictures of our food with them. And make videos of our cats that go viral on YouTube.

You see, waaaay back then, when you were out and about and needed a phone you went and found a phone booth. You put coins in them to use them. Or maybe you had a calling card. But phone booths are rapidly going extinct. They are being hauled away except for a few being turned into aquariums or art installations. (No, I’m not kidding.) Voila! The rise of the phone booth graveyards. Here are a few.

Carlton Miniott UK - Reuters.

Carlton Miniott UK – Reuters

Phuket Thailand

Phuket Thailand

 

Kenya - Tom Barkin

Kenya – Tom Barkin

New York City - Dave Bledsoe

New York City – Dave Bledsoe

And I thought…what a great setting for a scene. But indoors someplace. Urban explorers. And they break into a warehouse filled with these things. And some of them are very old and very beautiful, because phone booths used to be works of art, not simply functional slabs of mass production. But then there’s this one phone booth….

Well, I’ll let you read the story.

While learning about phone booths, I also learned about the Mojave Phone Booth, which is mentioned in “Unknown Caller.” In the middle of what is now the Mojave National Preserve in California there used to be a lone phone booth. It was miles and miles from anything. It had been put there in 1948 for use by miners working in the area but long after the mines closed the phone booth remained. Looked like this.

mojave-phone-booth

A whole subculture developed around the phone booth. People called the number, hoping someone would pick up. People drove out to the phone booth and waited, hoping someone would call. A movie was made. Eventually, the Mojave Phone Booth became too much of a popular attraction and the National Park Service asked for it to be removed in 2000.

But it’s back…. Well, the phone number is back. But now if you call it, you are connected to a conference call. Anyone can access by calling the number. So anyone might be there at any given time.

No, I haven’t tried it. But if you want to, here’s the number: 760-733-9969.

 

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Red Sox 2013 WS Champs - Koji and RossI’m a tired, happy, shaggy bearded baseball fan this Halloween. I’ve been up late for many October nights watching the playoffs. Last night the Red Sox won their third World Series title in a decade.

“Inconceivable!”

They did it a year after a season when they finished last in all of baseball, leaving a smoldering crater and noxious fumes pouring out of it.

“Inconceivable!”

You keep on using that word, Vizzini. I do not think it means what you think it means.

David Ortiz - 2013 WS MVPAnyway, they did it with 37-year old DH David Ortiz not only bouncing back from what looked like possibly career ending Achilles issues, but regaining close to peak form and then submitting a historic hot streak at the plate in the World Series while also playing 1B for three games, having a Churchill moment, winning his third title, winning the MVP, and making a very good case for induction into the Hall of Fame.

“It’s not possible.”

Not probable, Captain Barbossa. Because, indeed, this was a team marooned on a desert island. They had become an arrogant organization with a roster laden with bloated contracts and egos. Baseball is a cruel game, quick to punish hubris, and so the Red Sox became an unpopular joke. Casual fans deserted them. Devoted fans lamented the return of the bad old days and played their 2004 and 2007 World Series DVDs until the discs burned out.

But then the Red Sox escaped. Not by lashing sea turtles together with the hair from their backs but something almost as outlandish. They worked a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers that sent some of their biggest problems (underperformers with titanic contracts) west. Suddenly they had wind in the sails and room to maneuver.

They had a chance. But they needed to use it wisely.

Next they fired the disastrous Bobby Valentine and worked a trade with the Blue Jays to install John Farrell as manager. Suddenly they had a captain with a calm, sure hand. Someone who inspired trust rather than inciting mutiny. They took the money freed up via the Dodgers trade and adopted a different strategy, investing it in short term deals for mid range players with more professional attitudes. Voila, an entirely altered crew dynamic.

Despite all that, almost no one was picking them to with the World Series this year. Most pundits didn’t think they would make the playoffs. This was (again) supposed to be the year the Blue Jays broke through and won the division. The Orioles would benefit from experience gained in 2012. The Rays always have pitching and managerial guile. The Yankees…well, they had problems looming larger by the day, but you never count them out.

80 – 85 wins. Third place in the AL East. No playoffs. That was a common projection.

I had no problem with that. My attitude as a fan going into this season was, “Just be better. Stop embarrassing yourselves. Work hard. Play hard. Act professional. Get back on the right track and that’s enough for this year.”

Instead, something like magic happened. A sum much larger than its parts emerged. The players who had underperformed all bounced back. The players with health issues healed up enough to perform, often spectacularly. A team that actually was a team won back its fans and its city in the summer when Boston needed the escape and joy of baseball the most. They were fun to watch. Easy to root for.

Such a great story with so many fantastic threads:

  • John Lackey, possibly the most reviled athlete in Boston for stretches of the past few years, returns to full health, rededicates himself, and is the winning pitcher of the final game.
  • Jon Lester grows up and leaves behind the incessant whining at umpires to cement his status as the ace he always had the talent to be.
  • Koji Uehara goes from being a middle reliever to submitting a season at closer that’s even better than anything Mariano Rivera – the greatest of all time – achieved.
  • David Ross, a bit of a journeyman catcher for 11 seasons, becomes the rock for the pitchers and defense in the postseason and even makes some big hits.
  • Xander Boegarts, 21 years old going on 30 with dazzling potential ahead.
  • Beards. #GetBeard. Beard Night. Beard pulling.

It all culminated in a great night in Boston last night. The energy and roar in Fenway Park was amazing, even over the TV.

Thanks, Red Sox.

2013 WS Trophy Aloft

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TheMostInterestingManInTheWorld_1426I often drink beer…but when I do I don’t prefer Dos Equis. That said, I like the whole “Most Interesting Man in the World” ad campaign. I heard the current Halloween ad in the car yesterday and thought it was pretty funny. Can’t seem to find a video or audio file of it on short notice, so here is the script that precedes the standard ending. Stay thirsty my friends.

Even out of costume, he’s still the most mysterious person at the masquerade ball.
He has successfully grown candy corn.
His scarecrow also works on tax collectors and traveling salesmen.
The last time he bobbed for apples, he got a three pound lobster.
He can also scare the pants back on to you.
When he watches the cauldron, it boils faster.
His tricks are also treats.

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Partly due to my commitment to give my time and talents, partly due to my passion for the subject matter, I led the creation of a new event last October at Saugatuck Congregational Church, UCC where my wife Alison is pastor. Our church had held a wonderful homecoming event in early September 2012 outside on the grounds and there was interest in doing more events like it. I floated the idea of holding a Halloween event, except with a bit more meaning and substance than one so often finds in the plastic and sugar commercial orgy of the “Halloween Season.” Everyone involved in the conversation immediately said, “Yes!” and All Hallows’ Fest was born. It went well, given that we tossed it together in the span of a couple of weeks. One of the ideas we set aside was to use the church cemetery, which is just a couple of blocks away and can also be reached via a short hike through a park and over…wait for it…Deadman Brook. This year we featured it.

We held the 2nd Annual All Hallows’ Fest this past Sunday. It began at Evergreen Cemetery with the creation of a “Memory Grove.” Participants were encouraged to bring photos, drawings, sayings, or objects that symbolized someone whose life they want remembered. They could also use the materials on site. We provided base objects (picture frames, bird houses, large letters, etc.) for the participants to adorn with the materials and then they hung their completed object on one of five “trees” my wife and sons helped me build. About 30 people participated in creating the installation that evening. We put flyers in the neighbors mailboxes letting them know that something unusual was about to appear in the cemetery and that the installation will be there until November 1. We also invited them to add their own objects during the week. I visited the site today to add some explanatory signage that reads:

Halloween is a pop culture economic bonanza in our country, but its origin and rich themes are often overlooked. The name “Halloween” is a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening. Hallows’ is shortened from hallowed, meaning sacred. Thus, Halloween actually means “sacred evening.” Sacred because it was originally a time for remembering loved ones who have died. Holidays based on the idea of remembering and celebrating departed friends and relatives are found in cultures around the globe. Additionally, many of these holidays occur at the end of the harvest season.  The ancient origins of Halloween and related holidays are inspired by the cycle of the seasons. As plants withered and shadows lengthened, people labored to prepare for the symbolic death of winter. They feared the cold and silence to come, but knew that the rebirth of spring lay beyond. Thus, Halloween is a thematically rich holiday that explores our very human fear of death and our interest in what lies beyond.

I also took some photos, which I’m pleased to share here:

All Hallows Memory Grove 03 All Hallows Memory Grove 04 All Hallows Memory Grove 05 All Hallows Memory Grove 06 All Hallows Memory Grove 07 All Hallows Memory Grove 08

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Rush was the first band I really got into. It was during the Moving Pictures / Exit…Stage Left era. They were also the first big concert I attended (Power Windows Tour). My tastes changed and I wandered off after Presto, but you never forget your first as the saying goes. Every so often I wander back.

Tonight, after much too long, Rush are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In honor of the occasion, I’m posting this live version of “Tom Sawyer.” It’s one of the songs that made me a fan and still one of their best. This is a sterling performance from the Snakes and Arrows Tour. Enjoy.

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I’m having a fairly normal year for me, writing wise. In January, I was bursting with creativity and words were flying out of my fingers. I wrote more in a month than I did in half of 2012. Then February came. Illness and school vacation and competing agendas slowed my creative engine to a sputter. But then March arrived with improved health and a couple of submission deadlines I wanted to meet. End result: a second good month where I met all of my goals. And then….

Right. April has been lousy so far. For two weeks I was hopelessly sidetracked by a marketing project for my church. It’s good work to do, but it consumed far more of my time and spirit than I had anticipated. Add in the Little League season starting up along with a couple of projects for the school my sons attend and I’ve been getting almost nothing done on the writing front. (Including posting here. Twitter, by design, is easier to keep going even when busy.)

But April isn’t over. Heck, there’s more than half to go. So, I’ve plenty of time to restore order and regenerate momentum.

I just wish I was wired a little differently. I wish I had enough endurance and could parse my brain space sufficiently to do it all. And sometimes I have the demoralizing sensation that if I just did less for other people, I’d be a more accomplished and successful writer. Lots of great artists are renowned for their selfishness and/or chemical dependencies. So, maybe if I turned my back on my family and became an alcoholic….

But that’s not me. And most of the time I love doing all of the volunteer projects and other work that I do. I certainly don’t know how to parent any differently. I have always poured massive amounts of time into being a dad. The results of my approach are pretty darn good, as the most recent set of parent/teacher conferences reaffirmed this week. (And, yes, I know I’m not solely responsible by any stretch, but I like to think I have something to do with their development.)

So what I’m left with is a writing life that takes place in fits and spurts, ebbs and flows. The rest of the time I’m busy with other parts of my life, all of which informs my writing in the end. And the artist in me always reasserts itself. That’s how I started this journey to begin with. I hadn’t written fiction for years until I woke up one day and had to and wrote what became my first published story. Having figured out that I am an artist and that writing is my primary form of expression, I know what’s wrong when I am busy for too long with other things and start to get bitter and depressed. I’m not taking care of myself. I’m not feeding the artist.

My family and I are traveling to Tucson to visit one of my sister-in-laws for a week. I’m leaving behind church marketing and youth baseball and Scouting and school art projects and the rest. But I am bringing my journal and my pens and my Kindle.

Time to feed the artist.

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