I caught some flack from a couple of people after I published last week’s blog post. These people, who I associate with on a personal level, seemed concerned that I had implied that I just haphazardly toss my personal life out there for the entire world to enjoy. Of course, that’s not really what they fear. They are scared to death I just might tell a secret about them. So, just for fun, I thought I’d rock the boat a little this week and really tell something that will rattle a few cages…here goes!
I gingerly placed the palm of my hand against her cheek as I peered into her eyes and beyond, far beyond into the very depths of her soul. I watched a tear form in the corner of her eye and I brushed it from her lash with a finger.
“I can hear your heartbreaking,” I whispered softly.
She remained silent, pressing her face further into my hand.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” I continued, placing my other hand against her heart ever so lightly, “I’m here now. Please don’t cry.”
Her lips drew closer to mine and I closed my eyes and tasted her sweetness, sensing the passion of her despair.
Well, there you go! That’s about as personal as one can get, don’t you think? I should never share a moment like that with anyone, much less on the internet with, ummm….I’m going to guess around twenty-five thousand will see this week’s blog post. Let’s take a closer look. I did not divulge any descriptions that would give this person’s identity away. What color were her eyes? Her hair? Did this event happen earlier this evening or twenty years ago? Or…did it happen at all!
I am a writer…I write fiction. The above is nothing more. Who I visualized as I wrote is not the same person you saw as you read the blurb. If in the course of writing something I do happen to refer to a true event that passed through my life at some point, I’ll guaran-damn-tee you you’ll never know if it was fact or fiction…even if I wrote it about you. I’m just that good!
When I sat down to write ‘Nineteen Seventy Something,’ I had intended to base the story on my teen years. Page after page, I diluted the truth with embellishments and falsehoods until upon completion; the novel was just a story...fiction. Sure, there are half a dozen people who might recognize a random event within the book, but they’d be hard-pressed to accuse me of letting any skeletons out of the closet.
Let’s face it. Everything is fiction these days. The news…is not the news. It’s embellished and slanted in every which direction to the point that it borderlines fiction. When I studied journalism way back in the day, we were taught that one’s personal opinion was to never bleed into the news story you wrote. Today the news is simply someone’s twisted opinion.
Politicians are perhaps the best storytellers of our time and they produce much fictitious fodder to fuel the media’s fascination with fiction. By the time the general public gets the story, it’s apt to be a fiction doubleheader. We, the American people are often befuddled and bedazzled as we wade through the inaccuracies that bombard us daily.
So who can we trust to tell us something true? Surely scientists wouldn’t fill our heads with fiction! I fear that the scientists of today are more storytellers than their predecessors. Recently scientists proclaimed that as much as fifty percent of the earth’s water is older than the sun. But wait…doesn’t that nullify the ‘Big Bang Theory?’ Scientists overload us daily with new revelations, many of them unbelievable and likely most of them mere fiction.
The late famed physicist and devout atheist Stephen Hawkins told us we no longer have any reason to believe that a God exists. We now have enough scientific evidence to support the hows and whys of the universe that we can put the Supreme Creator theory to rest. He said, and I quote, “In my opinion, there is no aspect of reality beyond the reach of the human mind.”
I’m a simple minded person and there are a lot of realities beyond my reach. The fiction of today’s world tends to confuse my mind. When I search for facts, I turn to the only reliable source of fact in existence today. The Holy Bible, written over a period of two thousand years by forty authors from three continents in three different languages, has not a single contradiction within its pages. That WOWs me!
Gotta go…I see a smokin’ hot blonde coming down my road in a shiny black Camaro! Haha! Can’t believe everything I tell you!
It's been a tough week for me, just one of those weeks that beats a man down. And when I get beat down so far, I throw a party...a pity party. Weeks like this get me to thinking about how, if I were really honest with myself, truthfully...my whole life has been pretty tough. So, I've moped around for a day or two contemplating that perhaps I should throw in the towel. Give up. Not anything major, mind you, like eating rat poison. No, more along the lines of piling up on the couch, turning on Netflix, and devouring an entire family size bag of Lay's potato chips. If you know me, you know that if it comes to that, I've pretty much given up on life.
We all go through these little bumps in the road and I suppose we all handle it differently. Some drink. I'm not much of a drinker...I've still got a beer in the fridge from 1999. I just haven't had the urge to drink it. Some folks turn to drugs. The last time I laid eyes on any illegal substances was the night Sticky Nikki pulled a baggie out of her panties on some dark country road back in Nineteen Seventy Something. Ah, and there you have it. I just gave it away with that last sentence. When I get down and out, I go back...to Nineteen Seventy Something.
I wrote a book titled 'Nineteen Seventy Something' a few years back. It's a good book if I do say so myself. I wrote it during a pretty tough time in my life, much tougher than this week has been. Looking back, I didn't realize it then, but writing the book was a form of therapy, probably the best therapy I could have gotten. As I wrote what would become a fictionalized account of my early years, I began to realize just how bad those days were...and I never knew it at the time.
I found myself on my own at the age of seventeen with my senior year of high school looming ominously before me. I had a piddly job sacking groceries that brought me a paycheck of around seventy bucks a week. I had a car payment, rent, and all the usual bills, and somehow I had to feed myself with what was left over. If I had a twenty dollar bill in my pocket, I thought I was living in high cotton. More often than not, my money usually ran out a couple of days before payday, and most of those days, supper was a piece of bread or a few saltine crackers and the scrapings from an empty peanut butter jar. Those were the good weeks. There were weeks where I'd have to buy a tire or a starter for my car, or a jar of peanut butter. Then there was the senior ring, a tux for prom, and all those expenses that come with graduation. When the soles of my boots wore through to the pavement, I made insoles out of cardboard. That'd get me by for a few days, and then I'd put more cardboard in my boots. I suppose I could write a book about those times...oh yeah, I did.
Not much of all that made it in the book. When I allowed my memories to rattle loose from their hiding places within the depths of my mind, it wasn't those times that I remembered. It was the good times. Only in later years did I realize that in spite of all the trials and tribulations I endured in the seventies, I looked back on them as the good old days. I asked myself why and the only answer I ever came up with was...because I survived. And I grew up strong!
I was a kid at the end of his teen years, full of hope and dreams, and I never let anything take either of them away. I took life by the horns and held on tight for the ride of a lifetime. I never even considered failure a possibility. I worked forty hours a week and made the A honor roll. I was in the senior play, active in FFA, editor of the school paper, and won second place in the state in the UIL journalism competition. I paid off my Plymouth Roadrunner and never missed a payment. I had friends, best friends. I had girlfriends...two at once and they didn't care! I discovered a love of such magnitude that few would ever experience in a lifetime. I received a scholarship to college and never missed a day of class. I moved from a shack that had been converted from a chicken coop into a three bedroom, two bath house, charming and quaint...with carpet and air conditioning! I promoted up through the company to become the youngest store manager in its history...then promoted to become the youngest area supervisor ever. I accomplished all of this before the age of twenty-one. Not one time did I ever consider giving up...not once.
I've had more tough times since the seventies, lots and lots of them. I call them adventures. The Good Lord grants some folks immense success, financial wealth, enduring love. ageless beauty...me, I've been blessed with lots of adventures. I'm grateful for every one of them. Through it all, I've never lost the hope and dreams...and I've never lost faith. I suppose without those bumps in the road, there'd be no adventures...and no stories to tell. Am I really going to let one lousy week get me down? No...because I go back...
My eyes focused on the girl sitting beside me on the hood of my car out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. She was all I had in this whole world at this exact moment...and I couldn't bear the thought of losing anything more than I'd already lost. My hand drew her face close to mine until our lips touched and I let Sticky Nikki D take my loneliness away, if only for the night. Rising up through the air like the smell of colitas, the wail of the guitars of the Eagles played on the 8-track and the words rang in my ears,
'We are all just prisoners here, of our own device...'
With author Rodney Strange
You just never know when the world as you know it is going to come crashing down around you. There I was last Monday merrily cruising through life with my Rusty Goat mentality just as I've done for years now. I narrowly avoided an accident down at the edge of town when I ran a red light while craning my neck to scope out a hot cowgirl putting gas in her Dually pickup truck. A skimpy little pink blouse that left most of her midriff exposed had caught my eye, but it was those exceptionally short blue jean daisy dukes that nearly caused the wreck. My heart rate had simmered down somewhat by the time I pulled into the parking lot of the local Walmart Dollar Store. On the way in to buy some dunkin' sticks and coffee for tomorrow's breakfast, I fiddled with a package of peanut butter crackers, finally managing to rip through the cellophane. I popped a whole cracker in my mouth and with the first crunch, felt a pinch on my arm. Turning around, I came face to face with a short brunette who has been shamelessly stalking me in recent weeks. Her eyes twinkled as they met mine.
"Can't you find anything better than that to put in your mouth?" she giggled and winked.
I smiled, my cheeks bulging with a wad of chewed cracker.
"When are we going to go dancing? I've been asking you this same question for three weeks? I'm beginning to think you're putting me off!"
Well, my mama taught me to never talk with my mouth full, which was convenient at the moment so I shrugged. Giving her the universal fingers-to-the-ear sign for 'call me,' I turned and scurried on into the Walmart, knowing she didn't have my number.
Once I arrived home, I plopped down into my easy chair, grabbing the laptop and checked my email, wondering what I was going to cook for supper. I took a deep drag off my e-cigarette peace pipe as I deleted everything. Then, with hesitation, I clicked on the link to a dating site. My eyes lit up as I discovered I had one message. Not bad for an old guy, I thought. My enthusiasm faded as I stared at the photo. The message likely had been sent from an out-of-state nursing home. I'm old but not that old, I muttered as I shook my head.
For reasons unknown even to me, I had spontaneously put my profile on a dating site the previous week and up until this moment had not had a single nibble. I didn't expect much. I'm pretty old to most women searching for true love. I'm beat up and rough around the edges. And then there is the issue of who I have become.
My fear is...can I escape that 'Rusty Goat' persona that has become so 'me' over the years? I am very comfortable in this skin. I drawl my Texas accent proudly. I conversate through tales and parables. I'm fond of words like ain't and ya'll and it's really hard to refrain from throwing a damn in here and there. My fear is trying to overcome who I am.
I reluctantly opened the message.
'Hello. I found you on the dating site and I think you would be a perfect fit for my daughter. She is single and apparently intends to remain so for the rest of her life. It worries me that she will end up like me, old and alone. So, I have undertaken the challenge of finding a suitable man for her and I choose you. She lives in your area, is a doctor and a very attractive middle-aged woman. Would you be interested in learning more?'
My mind spun out of control. A doctor? Shaking my head, I knew someone of such prestige would never be interested in the likes of me. I never wanted to be one of 'those people' and it's likely that throughout the years I've missed some golden opportunities because of my insistence to remain 'just a good ol' boy.' But, as I pondered over this, I realized that I thrive on challenges. I've accomplished much in my life and succeeded at most everything I've taken on, except finding true love and getting rich, and I haven't given up on either of them. So, I find myself excited at the prospect of yet another challenge. Perhaps the biggest challenge won't be escaping that Rusty Goat persona...perhaps it will be as simple as making 'those folks' love me for who I am...
My eyes sparkled as I typed my reply.
"Yes, please, tell me more!"
As an author, there are many potholes, in fact, vast chasms that one must cross when putting their work on public display. One is self-worth. How does one wish to be remembered when they're gone? As an author, my reputation with the masses of readers who may come into contact with my writing means something to me. I could probably write some pretty wild erotica. Matter of fact, I had a whole short story written in my head the other day as I stood behind a smoking hot little thing in a checkout line at Walmart. There she stood clutching a set of watercolors...and nothing to paint on. She was the kind of woman you'd find on a rack at Dillard's. Me, Goodwill. But she was eye candy and I was fully aware that I had about as much of a chance of landing a date with her as I would Reba McEntire. My imagination spiraled out of control. But, no. Truthfully it is not the millions of folks I will never meet who keep me in check. It is that pitifully few that I know personally. My family, friends, and fellow church members. Oh, and pastors. I value my personal reputation too much to jeopardize it with those around me.
This is where an author takes on new challenges. Can I write a sultry love scene fit to be viewed by a pastor, a Sunday school teacher, or my child? Can I draw my reading audience into a moment of passion without using a single word unfit to be spoken in a church building? Can I as an author pit two characters head to head in a heated conversation, and portray that scene fitfully without using four-letter words? Yes, I can. And taking on a challenge of this magnitude makes me grow as an author.
In my last novel, 'Imperceptible: The Parables of Steele,' there are two very mild curse words in chapter one. Once you get past those, you'll not find another cringe-worthy word throughout the entire book. I'd bet the farm you'd never notice their absence. Yes, pretty proud of achieving that. Pat myself on the back.
So what are you as a person worth? Whether you're a writer like myself, or a singer, a teacher, a mentor, or a parent, do you jeopardize your reputation, do you de-value your self-worth, for the sake of 'shock and awe?' I find it a refreshing and rewarding challenge to take a high road. And let's face it...F-words lost their shock value long ago and there's nothing left to top 'Shades of Gray.' I cherish the challenge of taking a mere teaspoon of my personal imagination and turning it into a raging river flowing through your mind! An author worth his salt doesn't need much imagination. He just needs to figure out how to make the reader use theirs. Sometimes all you need is a beautiful woman, some watercolors, and a spoonful of imagination!
With Author Rodney Strange
I'm just about ready to throw in the towel, hang it all up, chuck up the sponge, cry uncle, roll over and play dead, spank the monkey...no wait, that doesn't belong in this sentence. Quit. I'm almost ready to quit...social media. Social media is not worth its weight in goat turds anymore. If I could recoup all the time and energy I've invested in social media over the years and cash it in, I could retire. I could retire anyway, I suppose, but what would I do with my time now that social media is dead? Yes, I believe it...social media is dead.
The great minds who created social media and took it to heights never imagined have in turn set out to destroy it. Greed overcame them, clouding their vision of a new virtual world where the masses would never have to leave the comfort of their homes to interact. And the masses loved it...until greed reared its ugly head.
Remember the early days of Facebook? Co-workers, friends, classmates, and family all gathered together via the internet, separated by miles, states, and countries, yet able to connect with one another with their fingertips. We liked and poked each other until the wee hours of the morning, our bloodshot eyes straining to focus on the computer screen before us. Nowadays, what's for supper and little Sally's piano recital have been shoved into oblivion, replaced with advertising disguised as social media. Those who think they know us better than we know ourselves sit in their cubicles beneath fluorescent lighting, deciding what we can and cannot see. Rather than investing time and resources into giving us better opportunities to connect with each other, they devoted their research to how to make another billion dollars. Yes, we still take our daily scroll through our Facebook timeline, bored at the fake content thrust upon us, but hoping...still hoping for a glimpse of those days long gone.
Twitter. Yes, Twitter is a different critter and not for everyone. And it is faltering as we speak. I can remember back in the early days of twitter how I would announce my new weekly blog post every Sunday night. My website would literally crash from the invasion of eager readers flooding the server. Yeah...no, that doesn't happen anymore. Back in those days, I had around six thousand followers. Today I have twenty-seven thousand and I'm lucky to get a handful of link clicks to my blog. Twitter never found it's purpose, nor did we. There's not much you can say with a limited amount of characters including spaces and punctuation. Perhaps it was the novelty of those limitations that even gave Twitter a chance, but those same limitations are taking it to the grave. Now, the only twitter frequenters are trying to hawk something or another to folks who don't want to buy anything. We all want to sell something! Twitter is like a Mary Kay convention. Everybody wants a pink Cadillac. Oh sure, there are a few who just wish to have their voices heard. My timeline is filled with haters, Republican haters, Democrat haters, gay haters, straight haters, God-haters, cat haters. None of these folks seem to want to buy anything from the Mary Kay tweeters. They just want to hate. And to drive the final nail in their coffin, Twitter has now decided they will follow Facebook's lead and decide what we should see. Let me think...what do I want to see on Twitter? Thank goodness, I will no longer have to make that decision.
Pinterest appeared out of nowhere when Facebook kicked us peasants aside, making a place for us to post our pictures of food and clothing and random flowers growing in random places. Now, I really try to get all worked up over Pinterest but apparently I'm just not one of 'those people.' I dunno, I have a dog who sleeps all the time. I suppose I could put up a few pics of it. Can't imagine who would want to see a sleeping dog...or random flowers...or random food. But, the good news is, if you have a super photo of last night's dinner, Pinterest will let you promote it to thousands...for a fee, of course.
Here's the dilemma. All these social media sites cropped up at a time when entrepreneurs were literally crawling out of the woodwork. It offered people like me an opportunity to put ourselves out there, giving us a fighting chance of making our dreams a reality. When those social media sites realized this, they saw dollar signs. The common social media browser, i.e. us normal folks who are just killing some time while supper is cooking, are of little value to the social giants. These people are, however, of enormous value to the entrepreneur. As a result, social media has become one continuous newsfeed of advertising. And nobody is getting rich except the social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Frankly, I don't want to see biased updates from the news media about Donald J. Trump...I want to see little Sally's piano recital! So, frustrated, I put the laptop down and go find something else to do. And the more I do that and the more you do that, the closer social media comes to it's demise.
When social media draws its last breath, what on earth will we all do with our eight hundred dollar cell phones? We may actually have to call somebody...shudder at the thought! Perhaps the time has come for us to get a life!
By Rodney Strange
"Regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention..." I have always thought the classic song, 'My Way' as one of the very best pieces of music ever penned. In my earlier years, I thought I might have it played at my funeral, for so many of my years on this earth were indeed lived just the way I saw fit to live, my way. I lived under the false assumption that, as the song says,
'I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway...'
And I really believed that. I was in full control of my life every step of the way. I was wrong.
Sunday was 'Senior Sunday' at our church, a Sunday set aside to commemorate the achievements of those who made it across the finish line, those who will graduate from high school and embark on a life of their choosing. Just as I so many years ago, they will set out on this new adventure with the firm belief that they are in complete control of their future.
I spent a vast portion of my life believing that my very best days were those from my high school years. During the worst periods of my adult life, I would yearn to go back to those simpler times. In my memory, those were the best years of my life. A few years ago, I sat down and began putting those memories into a novel, 'Nineteen Seventy Something.' While the story was embellished here and there, the plot, as best I remembered, was as true as the gospel. Within those three-hundred and fifty pages, I would lay out a tale which would lead up to, what I still considered thirty-five years later, the biggest regret of my life. A regret I had lived with every day of my life.
As I toiled on the script day after day for several months, I began to come to the realization that those days weren't as good as I remembered. I endured hardships and heartaches that I've not seen since. Writing the book had become therapy I never knew I needed, a means to take me from the past I wanted so badly to live in to a future I had been so blind to that I never saw coming.
It was a year ago this past Sunday that I sat in church and, just as this year's seniors were honored, my own daughter sat on the front row in her cap and gown. It was a bittersweet moment for me. There was an ominous sense that my duties as a parent were complete. There was also a sadness as I felt a sinking feeling that I was no longer needed. But through blurred eyes, there was also a sense of joy, a joy that my child's accomplishments were being celebrated by an entire congregation. There was a happiness in my heart that she...that we were in church.
I came to a revelation before that Sunday, but it amplified so loudly in my mind on that day, that my biggest regret was not from those days back in nineteen-seventy-something. Had I had it my way back in those days, this Sunday would have never happened. In fact, had I had it my way...my daughter would have never happened. It was a horrifying realization, so disturbing that I wished I had never dwelled on that fateful decision that changed the course of my life and brought me to this point.
I realize that I was never in control, that I didn't do it my way. For had I, the very best blessings of my life would have never come. The Good Lord just let me think I was doing it my way, but it was His way all along.
My biggest regret? That of the four children I raised, I've only sat in church with one. While I spent several decades thinking I didn't need to do it any other way but mine, I never darkened the door of a church...and neither did those other three children. There was no Bible School, no Sunday school, no family sitting side by side in a pew singing hymns, and no 'Senior Sundays.' When judgment day comes, I fear that will be the first question I will have to answer. And 'I did it my way' won't be an acceptable answer.
With all the evils in the world today, including school shootings, the killing of kids who will never see their 'Senior Sunday,' perhaps the answers to our problems are no further than the church down the street. If you are a parent, don't make my biggest regret yours. It's a regret that's hard to live with...and harder to answer to.