From talking myself into trouble, I moved on to writing.

The Stella Atomic Fireball scooter, happily upright and devoid of a careless rider. And now on sale for $1,975 with helmet, rain skirt, and battery charger included!

Writing can be a dangerous activity. Not in the way of, say, a bit of cutting-board contamination (Kung Pao chicken) leading to one’s first experience with drug delivery by suppository. Nor in the way of turning too fast and into one’s gravel driveway on a new 150-cc motor scooter and crashing into the shrubbery as neighbors look on in amazement. But writing can be dangerous in similarly peculiar ways, especially when the writer dashes off a piece of writing with insufficient forethought. (“Dashing off” may imply that.)

The progenitor of impulsive writing is, as you might imagine, impulsive speaking.

Thinking back, as I do when searching for examples from my past, those kindergarten days of yore in Chase City, Virginia come to mind. My dirty word lexicon consisted of “wee-wee” and “doo-doo,” making them numbers one and two in usage as well as, well, you know. Uttering either meant an eruption of laughter from the kindergarten intelligentsia – and incurring Mrs. Moseley’s ire and default punishment: a trip to the bathroom to wash out my mouth with soap. Ivory, if I recall. It was a time when teachers were rarely imprisoned for forms of mild child abuse.

Did “The Gray Ghost” TV series about Confederate raider John Singleton Mosby teach me how to elude trouble? No, but had it lasted more than one season, who knows?

I was a repeat offender known to skip the soaping step, so Mrs. Moseley would have a girl classmate accompany me. Once we were safely out of sight, I entreated my witness for mercy, which meant joining me in the lie I had performed the tastebud-abusing deed. (Bless you Nancy Parham, Yvonne Bugg, et al.) It was a standard ploy for us mouth-washers. Even though Mrs. Moseley was inadvertently honing our ability to fib, we loved her and that kindergarten she ran out of her basement.

By fifth grade, teachers still had great leeway; and mine, Mrs. Parker, used all the lee she could get away with. A classmate’s report of my rash comment, e.g., “George said he would beat the snot out of me,” would land me in solitary confinement in the hallway athletic-equipment closet. At least until I came up with a highly effective early release stratagem: bouncing a red playground ball without pause in the darkness. Mrs. Parker left this mortal realm long ago, and sad to say, I still hate that woman.

The habit of impulsive speech tagged along with me to Bluestone High School. An innocent but overheard laugh during assembly once got get me suspended for three days. After that, I became quiet. And read Marvel comic books in class. And had them confiscated. They would’ve been worth a lot today, Mr. Blane, wherever you are.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote about religion, morality, culture, philosophy, and science but neglected entirely topics that future college students felt he should have delved into at some length.

It was during the maturation process of college that I made the leap from rash comment to dangerous writing situation. I had been putting off choosing a topic for a philosophy paper; Professor Carlsson pressed me on it.

“Nietzsche’s epistemology,” I blurted. The nature and origin of knowledge had interested philosophers for ages. Nietzsche was among the greatest.

“Really?” Carlsson said, and added, “Very interesting.”

A bit of research later, possibly done the night before the paper was due, I discovered Nietzsche had never given epistemology much thought at all. My esteem for the great man dropped immediately along with that for a certain close-mouthed college prof of my acquaintance. Then I scoured the library for every Nietzsche-ism I could in a bungee-cord stretch contrive to address the subject. It was the first time I had written very creative nonfiction. (It’s a subset of creative nonfiction.) I received an A, and to this day that paper remains among my most treasured writing specimens.

But the greatest danger that writing ever put me in? That was not to come for many years. An account of that life-threatening event and its cast of characters – a careless outdoors writer, an ex-Marine crackpot, an African lion, and a Maasai spear – comes to you next week.

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How “scrib-something” in a podcast changed my writing life.

Rising action (of a mild, reflective kind)

My wall awaited. My stockpile of comic-novel timeline raw materials awaited. I will get to that, I told myself. And told myself. Then one day, tired of the self-harangue, I went on a walk and listened to a podcast interview of author Gail Carriger by a certain Evan Christopher. (I think, Evan; English accent, American ears.) The Christopher fellow briefly waxed gushingly about scib-something writing software. Carriger said she would check it out. Me, too, I thought. Why? Because when I listen to a podcast, I eschew saying things out loud.

Scrivener’s neat yin-and-yang ripoff logo with commas appeals to my aesthetic sensibilities; and that literatureandlatte.com is their website appeals to my “that makes no sense whatsoever but I like it” sensibilities.

Back in the office, I discovered that scrib-something was in fact Scrivener. (Google! Is there a better spellchecker for the severely spelling challenged?) I went to the website. I read. The progression of my comprehension went as follows:

1.) After reading, “Scrivener knows nothing of pages until it comes to exporting or printing and therefore does not have the page layout viewing features of modern word processor applications,” I thought, “What? No page layout view! These guys must be absolute idiots!”

2.) I watched two Scrivener instructional videos and thought, “Actually, it appears these people are pretty smart idiots.”

3.) I watched more videos – “Snapshots” and “Statistics” to be precise – and thought, “My god, they’re fucking brilliant idiots.” (As this blog’s author and editor, yes, I’m allowed to use the f-word as well as many other letter-hyphen-”word” words.)

4.) After the “Outliner & Synopses” videos, I dropped “idiot” altogether and wanted to have the developer’s child.

And so it was that I assumed the full risk of Scrivener’s 30-day free trial offer. This brave decision was helped by the fact I had sent the developer, Keith Blount, an email with whiny questions to which he had responded with a short story of explanations. (As someone adept at testing patience, I especially appreciate it in others.) Or perhaps it had been a slow day in Truro, Cornwall, population 15, 310 (World Book Encyclopedia, 1975) where Blount lives and writing me had been a diversion from boredom.

Falling action (of dubious narrative relevance)

(I was excited to communicate with someone who lived in Cornwall. I’d seen firsthand the striking Cornish coastline on “Coastlines of Europe.” [If you find that amusing, know this: it was in high def.] Add every episode of that Masterpiece Theatre, 18th Century Cornwall-set, soap-opera classic “Poldark” to my body of knowledge and it’s easy to see why I’m considered something of a [modest] expert on things Cornish, especially in the subject areas of game hens and clotted cream.)

Climax (in a narrative sense, a narrative sense!)

Scrivener puts everything before the writer’s eyes and at the writer’s fingertips. It ignores other parts of the writer’s body, but that’s OK.

Scrivener was a revelation. Here was a program designed around the needs of crafting a book-length manuscript without the 18,628 superfluous features that MS Word inflicts (That’s a rough count.) I could, were I of a mind, bore you to tears with how Scrivener has this amazingly simple yet efficient interface, how it breaks writing into manageable chunks, how it enables you to rearrange chapters or scenes in endless ways, how it can isolate a subplot or part of the story from start to finish for viewing, how it creates an index card for each piece of writing and thus an outline as you go, how it takes snapshots of each draft of a scene and then reveals how you changed it from one revision to the next, how the screen splits into two vertically or horizontally so that a picture or website or PDF or some other file can then be viewed in one of the halves, how all the research related to any part of the writing appears with that part for easy reference. But as I say, getting into all of that, even in summary form, would most likely be more than you’d care to hear about. And dear reader, I like you.

Dénouement (for purposes of a blog post anyway)

You’re probably thinking, “But George, was Scrivener easy to learn how to use?” Yes! Indeed it was! Mastering it (more or less) didn’t begin to approach the difficulty of the first time I took Calculus 101 in college. (Or the second time I took it. Or, for that matter, the third.)

Epilogue (of sorts)

Scrivener is all things to a writer wrestling with a novel, non-fiction book, film script, poems, song lyrics, lecture, or any other chunk of writing. Kudos to Keith Blount for realizing the need for such a program and developing it. I love that guy. But we’re both already married.

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Word doesn’t have it. But does another app?

When The Blog of George editorial office held its brainstorming session for this week’s post, one suggestion was an account of my switch from Microsoft Word to a writing app designed for book-length manuscripts.

I said, “That would make an entertaining read? Who would give a Muridae Rattus‘s ass about that?”

To my utter surprise, this suspect idea carried the editorial day. It’s a problem of brainstorming sessions. A poor idea can be put forth and catch on like wildfire. And then? Then somebody has to write it.

Introduction

How does the most ubiquitous word processing program on the planet, Microsoft Word, facilitate novel writing? Word gives you folders. What can you do with them? Put them into other folders. (You can also take them out.) In manuscript management tools, Word, in a word, sucks. But I had never found anything better to use. Had I looked? Sort of.

Prologue

After finishing the second draft of my novel’s manuscript, I deconstructed it, i.e., did a reverse outline, to see what I had in those 98,000 words.

I had problems in those 98,000 words.

I spent weeks moving parts of the story forward and parts backward, expunging a subplot here and a chapter there, adding notes on where the storyline had to change and new narrative had to be written, and umpty-umpth edits later, arrived at a 13-page synopsis. Mind-numbing process, really. Almost drove me insane. My right hand still trembles a bit. (Benign tremor; had it since childhood.)

The story begins. (Or does it?)

The problem with a 13-page outline is that, visually, it’s a 13-page outline of words. (True of most outlines, actually.) I couldn’t look at it and see the story arc. And so it was that I devised My Brilliant Bayeaux Tapestry Plan: a wall timeline of my novel synopsis.

In illustrative style, the Bayeux Tapestry had set a low bar I knew I could top. But does writing allow time for embroidery? No. Special thanks to the Barnaby’s Picture Library, London and the Bayeux Museum, Bayeux, France for their permission to World Book Encyclopedia for use of this image in the 1975 edition, volume E, page 246a. And my personal, heartfelt thanks to Canon, Inc. for its easy-to-use MP460 printer/copier/scanner.

The next two questions were simple enough: How long would it take me to learn needlepoint embroidery? And then, to create the tapestry? Way, way too long, I discovered.

I changed the name to My Brilliant Bayeaux Tapestry-like Plan.

Careful measurements revealed that at 30-plus chapters, the timeline would cross a wall of my office, exit the door, jump over the old pine wardrobe on the landing, go around an outward-facing corner of the wall, go into and through an inner corner of the wall, and end somewhere to either side of our guest bedroom door. Careful measurements I made after going to Staples and purchasing sheets of foam-core board, packages of Velcro hanging things, shrink-wrapped stacks of index cards, bubble packs of colored gel pens, boxes of pushpins, a package of Post-It notes (not on my list, but multicolored and on sale), triple-A batteries (two-for-one deal!), a pencil cup (clearance bin!), and a trashcan-sized barrel of sourdough pretzels (irresistible bulk-buy savings!). I hauled all of this stuff home to my office, opened each item, and laid it all out in staging readiness. I was justifiably proud of what I’d accomplished so far. Staples is a great store. But is everything on one aisle? No.

Is Howarth's book an enjoyable read? Absolutely. Should I have read it in preparation? Maybe not.

Is Howarth’s book an enjoyable read? Absolutely. Did I need to read it in preparing to do my timeline? Probably not.

Break time! I retired to the den to veg out watching the tube and enjoy a light snack of one or two dozen pretzels and a half-gallon of iced tea. (Is there any snack drier than hard pretzels? I don’t think so.)

I had writing to do; I moved on to it. Time passed. (Have you noticed that, too?) I contemplated beginning the construction of the timeline. I also thought about what it would mean to have it hanging on display. Such as having one of my daughters’ friends who was sleeping over say to me, “Mr. Tisdale, this scene where Scott tries to get that girl’s attention and rides his motor scooter into a hedge. I was thinking, what if you moved that over, um, to here? I really like that. What do you think?”

I think I’ll conclude this story next week.

Memorandum to The Blog of George editorial staff: There will be no brainstorming session on next week’s post. Enjoy your weekend!

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When “Moby Dick” sank me.

I take a back seat to no former English major when it comes to confidently talking about literature that I’ve largely forgotten. Thus it was that at a pre-Chistmas gathering of my wife’s family year before last that I trotted out one of my stock comments. We all have them, stock comments, waiting for the perfect moment. But sometimes the moment lies in wait with ambush on its mind. (Yes it’s true: a noun that means a brief period of time can lose its grammatical way and become a sentient entity with dastardly intent. In such cases, a pronoun rescues the situation by taking over the noun’s shirked duties.)

We were sitting at this long table enjoying our meal of casseroles of a similar hue, i.e., beige, when the subject of Moby Dick came up. My stock-comment switch flipped and I said, “What I want to know is this: What makes ‘Call me Ishmael’ such a great opening sentence to a novel?”

As good as one’s memory might be of Gregory Peck’s 1956 performance as Ahab, it does not serve the onetime English major when crossing literary swords with a newly minted one.

“I can tell you,” said a lovely English accent to my left.

The speaker was Nishani Rose Anam Cadwallender, my wife’s nephew’s girlfriend, who goes by the nickname Shani. (The entire family is grateful.) She and said nephew Thomas CHEWNING Jones (capitalization penance for getting his middle name wrong once) were visiting from England. Shani was a recent graduate of Cambridge University. She has that refined English accent that American ears perk up at. That can make one feel his stock comment landed in the stockyard next to the slaughterhouse.

“You can, huh?” I might have said with bravado, had I not left it at home. Who needs bravado at a family gathering? I’ve never felt the need.

“Oh?” I said. Adding “shit” would’ve been inappropriate; we were eating.

A brief American Lit seminar followed on how the opening sentence to Moby Dick was endowed with a peculiarly American sense of self-determination and confidence. Ishmael was an old name laden with connotations. As Shani ran through them, I tried to recall what I’d learned about the novel decades before. My brain offered up the cover of the comic book of the 1956 movie with Gregory Peck as Ahab. Ahab then morphed into Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. There was a lot of turkey in the turkey tetrazzini, and all that sleep-enducing tryptophan was probably getting a carbohydrate boost from the noodles.

George R. would ask little boys if they’d like to see a spider and then show them the spider-shaped scar on his chest from a bullet wound at the battle of Chancellorsville. I got my sense of humor from him.

I’m not the first man in my family to have said something that got him in trouble. Even keeping one’s mouth shut has been known to cause a Tisdale man problems. Take great grandfather George Renison Tisdale of the 21st Virginia Infantry, for whom the unfortunate term “The Tisdale Temper” may have been coined. George R. had a obstinate streak as wide as a country road of his time. At the surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse, George R. simply refused to take the oath of allegiance to the United States. (I would’ve sung it a cappella if they’d asked.) Some Union officer must have said, “Fine. We’ll let you think on it,” and off George R. went to The Prison for Hardheaded Confederates, which may have had a different name, but I know for certain was in Norfolk. Six months later he said, “You win!” as if he were an approval-board of one certifying the war’s outcome, said the oath, and set off on his hundred-plus mile hike home. If there had been walkathons in 1865, George R. might have raised some serious money.

Henceforth, I’m going to be a bit more circumspect about whipping out stock phrases. Besides, I’m a writer. I should whip out a diminutive Moleskine notebook and pen something original on the spot.

 

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Me and Julio down by the side yard

We had our carpenter, Julio, do some work for us a while back. One day when he was finishing up, we stood in the strip of side yard between my driveway and the neighbor’s yard and talked about being fathers of daughters.

Julio’s from Uruguay originally. He’s been here for 20-some years, so he speaks only passable English. But no more than every fourth word or so was a verbal black hole from which meaning couldn’t escape. Where language failed Julio and me, we segued smoothly into head nodding and eye rolling accompanied by minimal verbalization.

According to the always reliable World Book Encyclopedia, volume U-V, 1975 edition, Uruguay is slightly smaller than Kansas. But outline to outline, Uruguay's lopsided pear beats the Kansas square hands down. This smallest of South American republics exports excellent meat, wool, and carpenters.

“Ahhhh, mmmmm, yesssss, that isss sooo,” Julio would say.

“Uh-huhhh, uh-huhhh,” I’d reply.

Of course being men, we don’t need to say much to say much anyway. And, too, fatherhood is its own universal language.

Yes, my 20-some years comment was a joke at Julio’s expense. But after five years of taking Spanish in high school and college, I recognize a fellow slow language-learner when I meet one. Not that innate inability is my only excuse. I’ve always been pretty talented at not learning a subject that early on I decided to invest minimal time and effort in.

(The perceptive reader will have picked up on my attempt to add a veneer of rationalization to the sorry core of that last sentence. But I guess only Ikea can do that and get a really attractive result. [Did you know that to slice wooden logs [[as opposed to, say, Duraflame® logs]] to the thinness of veneer requires boiling the logs to soften them first? I did not know that until very, very recently. I’m filing it under “Trivia to bore with.”])

Even understanding some English speakers can give me problems. My friend Marina, a naturalized American citizen from Russia, can have me nodding and smiling in bewilderment in a crowded, noisy room. Her Russian-flavored English is fine. It’s my Rolling Stones-concert ears (going back to maybe The Dave Clark Five) that are the problem.

Speaking of speaking a second language, I came across a Rosetta Stone magazine ad the other day and thought, “Maybe I should brush up on my Spanish,” and guffawed. (Kidding. It was a low-key laugh.) Brushing up suggests a solid foundation to build on. At my current vocab level of five or six Spanish words, the backhoe hasn’t disturbed the ground yet.

I read the ad’s tagline: Live life fluently. Was that supposed to mean we one-language speakers weren’t living life fully? That’s the way I took it. My old Latin teacher, Bernice Owen (who long ago joined her beloved language in the hereafter), may have been blunt in her assessments of me (OK, she was) but she stuck to teaching Latin without once trying to be Tony Robbins.

I’m thinking of looking into Berlitz. They eschew telling us uno-linguals how to live.

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Tweet! Tweet! Twit! Or how to make a Twitter faux pas in 10 tweets or less.

The Book Lady Rebecca Schinsky and I were sitting in Urban Farmhouse Market & Café in Shockhoe Slip. It’s her default answer to “Where would you like to meet?” (There could be some kickbacks involved.) I was getting novelist-to-be advice, taking notes, and out of the blue Rebecca said something extremely unpleasant.

Don't let Rebecca's cute, perky persona fool you. She brooks no silliness. (And I'm capable of a lot.)

“You’ll need to be on Twitter.”

Hah ha, what a foolish woman this was, albeit one who’d made that statement with admirable, matter-of-fact composure.

“Nah, Twitter’s not for me.” Simple. To the point. No mistaking what I’d said.

“It’s an intrinsic part of your online presence in conjunction with your blog. They work hand in hand.”

“No.” More direct. More emphatic. Maybe she had a hearing problem. ”How’s your brownie?”

“I’ll get you 50 followers so you’ll be following people and they’ll be following you right from the start.”

“Not doing Twitter. What else would you like to talk about?”

Though we did have further “Twitter discussions,” honestly, none deserve a blow-by-blow recounting of here. Let’s just say I was no pushover for Ms. Rebecca Joines Schnisky.

Now it was several weeks later. Rebecca’s online. I’m online. I’m about to make my first public tweet.

Hold that thought. FYI, my Myers-Brigg personality type is INTJ, which in plain language means I’m an introvert. At social events, I stand off to myself avoiding contact. Contact ups the possibility of an awkward moment. And what is Twitter? Twitter is a virtual social event. Back to my poised, trembling fingers.

“What should I tweet?” I said to Rebecca via DPM (direct pathetic message).

“Say hello or something.”

Tweet #1 – “Feeling first-tweet jitters, I dip my toe into the Twitter pool. (Dip.) Ooo, cold. Very cold.”

Hey, not bad.

Tweet #2 – “Sitting on the Twitter pool edge now, lower legs in, splashing mindlessly.”

So I was beating the swimming metaphor to death. But, with good reason, with good reason: I was taking my time and getting comfortable. I saw a follower tweet about a flock of birds outside his window. An urge to communicate came over me, and I tweeted I had a cat he could borrow for his bird problem. He replied he was a simple man and only understood messages at the stick-figure level. What? That made no sense whatsoever.

But sitcks. I’d just read an article about boys and sticks on Slate.

Tweet #4: Speaking of sticks, this Slate piece explains why boys like them.

I included the link, hit the send button and waited. Nothing. Strange. Then Rebecca sent me a DM: I’d been sending my bird-guy tweets to some non-bird guy who had no idea what I was tweeting him about. He’d dumped me from his follow list.

Waaaaahhh!

Not ten tweets into my first time on Twitter and I’d already been “unfollowed.” I was a Twitter Twerp. And like an awkward moment at a social gathering, I wanted to go home. But I couldn’t. I was home. So I left home for Starbucks.

I took a several-week break from Twitter and followed it with a several-month break from Twitter. I tried Twitter again. I tweeted people I knew. That helped. I followed people; they followed me back. My list of followers grew. I was getting into Twitter.

A New York friend suggested me on Twitter’s “Follow Friday” thread and a West-Coast film writer picked me up. She liked one of my tweets and retweeted it to her over 14,000 followers. It was one of the proudest moments of my life, after my high school graduation, my college graduation, my first job, marriage, buying our first house, my second job, the birth of our first daughter, making a successful go of freelancing, our second daughter’s birth, a few odd advertising awards I’ve won, buying our second house, the time I shot a 76 on the golf course, both daughters’ high school and college graduations, the pride I felt recently at hanging a ceiling fan, and a few dozen other special moments in my life.

I’ve tweeted several hundred times now. I have 200-plus followers. Among them is an actor and film director in London, a white-rhino conservationist in South Africa, a comedian in New York, and a writer in Australia. I have a program that alerts me when people unfollow me – and I unfollow them right back with pleasure.

Twitter is OK. Especially when one gets people’s Twitter handles right.

 

 

 

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Belated road-trip post #2: Faulkner’s resting spot to Memphis BBQ spot

Even if you haven’t seen that 1960′s comedy “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium,” the film’s premise is obvious: too much travel over too few days. On our Deep-South road trip, Sara, Anna, and I lived that experience. By late Wednesday, two and a half days after leaving Richmond, The Tisdale Three had driven east-to-west across Virginia, north-to-south across Tennessee, and down Alabama to Birmingham. Then it was west to Tuscaloosa (and the first Starbucks sighting since Richmond despite several SIRI-instigated exits) and into Mississippi to Starkville, and then Nowheresville (actual name, Prairie) where we unloaded Anna’s cargo at her country home for the next three months, and Sara said hello to Anna’s next-door neighbor: a bull. En route north to Oxford, we’d driven through Okolona, motto: The Little Town That Does Big Things Not Much in Evidence. (I added the not-much part.) And we’d seen Oxford, Ole Miss, and Faulkner’s home and grave.

Tradition has it that someone always leaves an empty fifth of Jack Daniels at Faulkner’s grave to honor the man. But as a spirit, I would think he could handle a full bottle of spirits.

Now we were bearing down on our final destination, Memphis, and … hold on, I didn’t tell you about our visit to Faulkner’s grave, did I? There’s a reason why (that didn’t just occur to me, honest): How to explain the strange event we witnessed there.

(Have your interest now, don’t I? What I just did is a writer’s trick called “the hook.” We think of you, the reader, as a fish to reel in. To play along, pick a species of fish to be.)

After driving in circles in the older part of the cemetery searching for the grave, we asked a groundskeeper who consulted another groundskeeper who said, “See those two big trees yonder? Below them, on the opposite side.” We found the entrance, turned in, and there on the rising slope behind those trees was Faulkner’s grave – and supine atop it, a young woman in shorts, T-shirt and athletic shoes.

That’s the first half of the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain story. The other half, on the back of that marker, I guess I’ll never know.

“Look at that woman lying on his grave,” I said, because I often like to say the obvious out loud (a harmless trait except in a darkened, crowded movie theatre where it draws comment). I turned in and slowed to a stop. The woman stood and walked away. Or did she float? No, hah-ha, she walked. She did. I have floaters (laser retina surgery, both eyes, won’t bore you) and one of those floating blobs in just the right light becomes the very figure of a women. And in running attire, too, which is strange, I’ll admit.

Anna didn’t think the woman had been on Faulkner’s grave, but lying beside it. All I can say is I saw what I saw (through my repaired eyeballs). And if I had to guess (and may be about to), that young woman was communing with the spirit of The Great Writer himself, not a runner taking five.

The wolves at the Memphis Zoo didn’t share our excitement about meeting them for the first time.

There was one other possibility besides a solo seance: the mysterious woman was low on cash. Scattered coins adorned the marble slab of Faulkner’s grave. I wanted to read some significance into this, but just as many coins were on his wife’s slab as well as the ground. I tossed a penny – and just like that the explanation for the scattered coins came to me. A good number of them had been tossed by inept throwers like me also trying to land theirs on Faulkner’s slab. (There’s a reason I’ve never won a stuffed animal at the fair.) As for why the coins were left in the first place, we never found out.

Where was I? (By the way, if you’re a reader who might engage me for a writing project, please know that I can stay on topic when paid to do so.) Right, entering downtown Memphis and driving by the city’s shining landmark, the Pyramid Arena. Vacant. Considered a white elephant. But imposing, very imposing. (Advice to Memphis city planners: Do what Richmond did with “The 6th Street Marketplace” on Broad Street: Tear the thing down and move on.) Speaking of plans, ours were to see the Memphis Zoo, take in Beale Street the home of the Blues, do a guiltless drive-by of Elvis’s home, Graceland, and a guilt-enducing drive-by of the National Civil Rights Museum. And all of these activities we did do thanks to our chauffeur, retired Fedex pilot and college classmate Rich Lykins. To impose on Rich for your Memphis trip, shoot me an email.

Maria, Sara, and Anna often tease me about getting food on my face. At other times (as here, at Corky’s BBQ), one of them likes to take a photo. Worse, in this shot the harsh overhead lighting makes it appear that I have little hair.

Some highlights worth sharing? In the zoo’s tropical birdhouse, a Laughing Kookaburra told us his opinion of our presence. Wolves slumbered in their enclosure next to Elks in theirs, the former no doubt dreaming about how to gain entry into the latter’s enclosure. A swimming polar bear did a head-bobbing dance for us. (The “Good lord!” in the audio is your humble correspondent.) And in Corky’s BBQ, voted the best barbecue joint in Memphis, the nicest waitress in the world cajoled me into a combination platter, then a dessert of banana pudding I had no room for half a rack of ribs ago. Corky’s ships worldwide. I could eat those ribs again in a heartbeat.

 

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Belated road-trip post: Visiting the home of William Faulkner (and its lizard friends)

Ex-English major and English grad student to be Sara conversed with William as if she'd known him for ages.

I’m a writer. I’ve never been to Oxford, Mississippi. I’m in Oxford, Mississippi. A visit to Rowan Oak, the home of William Faulkner, is a must do. And so daughters Sara and Anna and I did.

I learned surprising things at Rowan Oak and in Oxford. How William Faulkner planned the story arc of A Fable. How at home Eastern Fence Lizards are on the Faulkner property. How at nearby Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi, female undergrads all wear the same thing, and for a good reason.

First was a visit to the Oxford town square for photos with the great man himself. Faulkner graciously consented to shot after shot, never once showing a hint of impatience. But he was quiet to a fault, forcing us to do all the talking. Sara went on and on. We tried luring her away with promises of old, independent bookstore delights to come, then a friendly cat on the sidewalk ahead (a known weakness of hers). When these didn’t work, we resorted to the magic words “handmade jewelry” and were soon on our way. It wasn’t to Rowan Oak. Taking in Oxford’s charming downtown square and side streets, and their many shops with interesting stuff we didn’t need but felt the traveler’s urge to buy, left us tuckered out.

Pipe tobacco and ashtray, book to waste time in, broken lamp, trusty typewriter - everything the diligent writer needs.

(Long ago, the noun form of “tucker” meant lace or linen worn in or around the top of a bodice or as an insert at the front of a low-cut dress, an historical tidbit I knew you’d want to know ever since I discovered it [moments ago].)

Late the next morning, we went to Rowan Oak, a grand home with all the characteristics one would associate with a great Southern writer. Tree-lined approach. White clapboard siding. Stacked front porches with tall columns. And a variety of dependencies. (That’s Southern for “outbuildings.”) From all appearances, Rowan Oak is virtually unchanged from Faulkner’s time. Not surprising, really; no one’s lived in the place for decades. As such, Rowan Oak is both museum-like and a tad depressing. Maybe two tads.

But even so, here was the front parlor where William Faulkner wrote such novels as Absalom, Absalom!, Go Down, Moses, and Intruder in the Dust; the black rotary phone in a dining room-to-kitchen passageway where he received the news that he’d won The Nobel Prize for Literature 1949; the writing room he had added to the house when (and because) his wife was traveling in Hawaii; the living room where he laid in state.

Another Oxford discovery was that Taylor Grocery & Restaurant, famous for its catfish dinners, isn't in Oxford. It's eight miles away. And it's closed on Wednesday, and the least prepossessing restaurant I've ever laid eyes on.

Faulkner’s writing room held the most interest for me. He wrote at a small desk, a simple desk lamp his only illumination. (At least when the lamp wasn’t broken as it is now.) On three walls was a handwritten, day-to-day timeline of A Fable, the novel that won both the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award in 1954. Faulkner also used a metal plant stand for a desk when he wrote outside. Where was it? In the attic, the guide said.

Where had Anna gone? I found her outside leaning over a fence, looking down at a rotten stump, transfixed. The stump’s center, collapsed in, was teeming with termites. Hopping in and out of this woody caldera was one small lizard after another gorging itself on the all-you-can-eat termite buffet. “Just how do you know these are Eastern Fence Lizards?” I said to the family biologist. Anna held up her iPhone, proving that the insane amount of money we pay Verizon each month was worth it for on-the-spot field research.

As for those Ole Miss female students, Sara and Anna noticed how all of them had on the same attire: short gym shorts so short that an oversized T-shirt drew into question their presence. We stopped a student and asked her why. “It gets pretty hot here in Mississippi,” she said.

On her blog, Anna wrote, "But what caught our attention the most on campus was not the buildings, greenery, or monuments. It was the outfits that almost every single caucasian girl was wearing: Nike shorts and a large tee."

 

 

 

 

 

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Road-trip Post – Visiting historic Foamhenge

It’s been nearly two days since Sara, Anna and I visited to Foamhenge on the first leg of our Deep South road trip, yet the experience lingers in the mind (thanks to an excessive number of photos we took) of this faux monument to the iconic monument erected by ancient man.

Foamhenge's Flintstone-like highway sign - you can miss it!

The first of several “historic” markers the visitor encounters says that Foamhenge “is a full-scale replica of the mystical Stonehenge of England.” This was good to know. I did not want to confuse this replica with other mystical hengan around the world.

What are the significant difference between Stonehenge and Foamhenge?

Thinking of poking a hole in a Foamhenge block? Think again.

Stonehenge – After considerable lobbying among competing locales, Salisbury Plain won out and work began on megalithic monument around 2950 BC. At the time, there were no rigging companies that moved and lifted heavy objects – the engineering discipline was millennia away – and so 600 to 1,000 men, all of whom had nothing better to do and may have been drugged, dragged stones weighing up to 50 tons from Marlborough Downs 20 miles to the north. It was slow going. So slow in fact that it took them (and needless to say, their descendants for oodles of generations to come) 1,500 years to complete the work. Why was Stonehenge built? No one knows for certain, though there are several theories. Mine? There were no soccer leagues at the time and the early English needed something to worship.

Foamhenge- A construction of modern times, Foamhenge came to be in six weeks time from beaded styrofoam blocks weighing a massive 420 pounds each. More impressively, the blocks came from 100 miles away; and not easily, either. Four – yes, four – trips by tractor-trailer truck were required. Then four and sometimes five Mexican workers assisted the monument-replica maker, a Mr. M. Cline, who at times describes himself as “a crazy white man.”

The Deep South road-trippers at Foamhenge. Left to right, George, Anna, and Sara (who thinks the camera might not be getting her).

If you go - Is Foamhenge a must-see for the curious traveler in the vicinity of Natural Bridge, Virginia? Absolutely. Here are some particulars.

Finding - Foamhenge is well-marked if you’re driving north on Route 11 and have just passed Natural Bridge. If driving south, you will most likely whiz right by but glimpse it on a hilltop to your right. After cursing, you’ll find a place to turn around.

Parking - Parking is generous and muddy.

Concessions - None, but you could picnic at Foamhenge with a modicum of planning.

Bathroom Facilities - None, but woods abound and toilet paper is light to carry.

 

 

 

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Random observations and puzzlements #1

Diligent bloggers always have fallback ideas for posts when disruptions of one kind or another affect their schedules. How do I know this for certain? I don’t. I have a creative license and I make things up.

(All writers have such licenses. While I’m not at liberty to divulge the licensing authority or its exact location, each of the 50 states has one. I am permitted to tell you that creative licenses, as with those for driving vehicles, are issued for different kinds of writing, and that only copywriters have permission to pose outlandish statements as fact. Thank you for reading along during this digressive break.)

Licensing rules (And hello! Identity theft!) prevent me from showing my full writer's creative license.

This morning, after a week-plus of old-computer to new-computer confusion, I reached into my back pocket (that’s figurative language; I didn’t actually do that) and yanked out the following post: a brief list of disjointed thoughts.

(Sorry, but one more digression. I’d say I stole the idea for this post from another writer, but the second time a writer looks at a source, it falls into the realm of legitimate research. If you doubt that for even a moment, then know it’s clearly stated on the back of my license, which, unfortunately, I am forbidden to show even partially [unlike the front].)

Now for the list you’ve been waiting (but come on, not all that long) for:

• I don’t understand why Real Simple magazine is 240-some pages each month. Seems to me it should be more like 24.

• Generic products should not be allowed in certain categories. The first one that comes to my mind is in paper products: ultra toilet paper.

• I want a new language choice at my bank’s ATM: Language you chose in previous 10,000 transactions.

• Shooting holes in roadside traffic signs has to be the most moronic and redneck thing in the world to do – with one exception: traffic lights at busy intersections that stay green long enough only for three cars to get through. Motorists should be allowed to shoot these out between the hours of 2:00 and 4:00 a.m. on weeknights.

• I believe the toilet seats in our house contain hidden scales connected to a silent alert system no one has told me about. Within 20 seconds of my sitting down, someone calls my name or a cat scratches insistently at the door.

• Is willfully handing over the remote control so someone can watch a rerun of “Housewives of …” not an expression of love?

• Because I’m confident in my masculinity, I have no problem in stating unequivocally that the best reality show on TV is TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress.”

• Before the Hyundai Sonata became the good-looking, reliable car it is today, I was continually surprised the model did not have this fitting tagline: It’s Sonata bad car.

Next week I’ll be road-tripping through the Deep South with the Daughters Tisdale and hope to post from points here and there. Or just at some point.

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