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!
I know it's been a while since I've written anything. I've been busy trying to grow some nuts. Hey, you went there all on your own and shame on you. Nuts...pecans. They grow on trees. I have forty trees, I think. It depends on how many beers I've had before I try counting them, but thirty-five to forty trees. (FYI - I've downed a total of two beers the past two years.) Pecan trees are like children and horses. They demand lots of attention.
A severe drought settled upon west Texas a few years ago. Not one single drop of rain for three years. Millions of trees died, as a result, some of mine included. I had one hundred and twenty trees before the drought, so you might say I've down-sized since those days. With a chainsaw in hand, I sat out this spring to whip the remaining trees back into shape. They eagerly reciprocated by whipping me back into shape. I've not worked this hard in years and find myself really enjoying my return to nature after my retirement from a mundane job that literally held me prisoner for twenty-three years. Birds of all varieties, cottontail rabbits, and an occasional skunk entertain me beneath a scalding summer sun as I tote a chainsaw from tree to tree in an attempt to accomplish my mission.
It was the original plan, after all. For those twenty-some-odd years, I grinded away at a dead end job dreaming of a day to come where I'd tend to my trees. The loss of two-thirds of my orchard knocked the wind from my sails, but really...forty trees are enough for an old man like me. right? Beat up, battered, bruised, and bleeding I trudge back to the house as the sun sets every evening, easing my aching body into a chair on the patio. And I sit there as the sun drops below the horizon of a west Texas landscape, staring at my trees and nodding my head with approval.
I recall meeting the man who sold me this place over two decades ago. The two of us stood on the porch of what would become my home, staring at nothing more than a vast patch of weeds.
He commented as he waved his hand, "There's a hundred and twenty pecan trees out there hiding in those weeds."
I thought to myself, "Well, I do like pecan pie."
I spent countless hours reading every article I could find about raising pecan trees. I babied those trees, catering to their every need. Pecans began to fall...lots of pecans. And I began selling them...all over the world. When I sold all of my pecans, I bought more from anyone in west Texas who had a tree or two. People from Amarillo to Odessa began bringing their pecans to me. And still, I would sell out every year. And then the drought came.
Discouraged, I let it go, the orchard and the pecans. The water was scarce and with temperatures soaring as high as 114 degrees, there was little hope of saving my trees. Bored, I turned my attention to writing, penning a few novels and spinning stories on the internet. On a whim, I wrote a book about growing pecan trees. After all, it seemed a shame to let all that knowledge go to waste. The book began to sell well on Amazon and I garnered a respectable following. I made how-to videos and posted them on a Facebook page and Youtube. Folks began to message me about their pecan trees, yes even call me from all over the United States with questions about their trees. As it all began to grow almost out of control, I realized how much I really loved those poor, struggling trees that clung to life in hopes I'd come back to save them. One spring day I donned my super-hero shirt and tied a red cape around my neck and set out to rescue those trees. And...they are making a comeback faster than Fleetwood Mac!
I sat in the shade of my biggest pecan tree this morning with a cup of coffee, peering into the branches at all those tiny pecans. A smile crossed my face as I pondered,
"What in the world am I going to do with all those nuts when they fall."
I took a sip of coffee and said out loud to no one in particular, "Well, I do like pecan pie."
A cool southern breeze blew across my face as I realized just how much I love a simple way of life where nothing much matters except me and my nuts.
*Rodney Strange is the author of the best selling book, 'Pecan Tree Care,' available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle edition.
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.
There's a lot of things I like about summer. Like summer shorts. No, I don't necessarily like to wear them. I have a few pairs but I feel like a duck out of water running around in a pair of shorts. I don't want the neighbors to see me that way. I do have a reputation to maintain and I've been told it's not cool to wear my boots and hat with shorts, so I just stick to my wranglers. I like summer shorts on women...and to avoid any #MeToo feedback, I'll just leave it at that. I'm a normal guy, old but normal, and I like girls in shorts. That's not the kind of summer shorts I'm referring to, anyway.
Summer is here. We've already had two one hundred degree days here in west Texas. I'm an outdoor sort of guy and it has to reach a hundred to drive me back inside the house. I've shirked my indoor duties lately. If I can't cook it on the grill this time of year, we don't eat. I drink my coffee outside in the morning and sweet tea in the shade in afternoon. I try not to miss a single sunset and usually wait until the stars are twinkling in the vast Texas sky before finally calling it a day.
My days are full and honestly, I could use a few more hours in my days. There are around forty pecan trees in my front yard that need my attention. I'd wager my yard is bigger than yours by a few acres. I toil and sweat in bliss as I relish this new life that retirement has introduced me to. I admire my farmer's tan and the searing sunburn on the back of my neck reminds me every night how blessed I am. Calloused hands, scrapes and scratches, and even the sting of a scorpion hiding beneath a coiled water hose are all trophies of a man who has found peace and happiness.
I enjoy writing stories and sharing them, but not nearly as much as the life I treasure away from this laptop, beyond the confining walls of this man cave. So, with these weekly stories consuming time that I honestly don't have to spare, I've decided that during these blissful summer months, I will be delivering what I call 'Summer Shorts.' I don't have time to write lengthy blogs and likely, you don't have time to read them. Therefore, I shall keep in touch with some passing thoughts now and then.
Let's all enjoy the best summer has to offer...cookouts and sunsets, fishing trips and sleeping beneath the stars, swimming holes and watermelon...and good times. And summer shorts!