Friday, July 31, 2009

Progress By Inches

Last night, as promised in yesterday's post, I went to the Bentonville library after work. They forgave me the fine and renewed the book. I spent a little time in a genealogy magazine, checking to see if I could write for that one, then went to the coffee shop, bought a large house blend, and sat and wrote my article on The Notebooks of Robert Frost. I didn't quite finish it, but I came close.

This was my first time to sit in a coffee shop and write. My son writes or studies in coffee shops all the time. Somehow he shuts out the noise to background and then effectively uses his time. He says he can do certain work there better than he can in the quiet of his lodgings. I've tried reading in coffee shops before, but never writing. I was surprised to make as much progress as I did. The TV mounted up high behind my back kept blaring a sitcom re-run, then a CNN program. I looked its way on occasion. Still, in about an hour I wrote 500 or so words in a steno notebook. Having previously studied the key words for this article for search engine optimization, I felt I had incorporated most of what I wanted to. I headed to the house with the article needing only a closing paragraph and editing.

At home, after a simple supper, I keyed in the article, added a photo, and published. This was my first Suite 101 article in a week, and it felt good to be back in the saddle. I then shifted gears to working on my Harmony of the Gospels. I'm pretty much done with the appendix covering the trial before Pilate, so I went next to the passage notes required for passages in that chapter. I actually finished notes for two passages! I think I have two more passages and I'm done with this chapter. Except... I consulted my workbooks, from which I pulled the passage notes, I noticed that what I wrote in the workbooks did not match what I had previously typed in the Harmony. One of the differences was significant, incorporating something in the gospels I had missed in the workbooks. Had I made the changes while typing, or did I have other notes in the workbooks? I searched a little for other notes, but didn't find any. I never got around to indexing the workbooks, so I have no way of knowing if I have supplemental notes in another book (I have three all together for this project, the last one being only 2/3 used). So I spent fifteen minutes indexing that workbook.

The hour was such that I could still afford more computer time, so I spent a little time on Facebook, still trying to learn how to navigate on that site and to use it for a combination of promotion, friendship, and networking. Found two high school friends who didn't show up on the alumni list and invited them to be friends. Last, before leaving the Dungeon for the Upper Realms, I e-mailed a friend a copy of my incomplete novel, In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. He's a huge baseball fan, and when he visited us in April and we discussed this he said he'd like to read it. Only took me three months to comply.

I concluded my productive evening by reading in Robertson's Harmony of the Gospels (the book at the top of my reading pile), and read one article in a 2008 issue of Writers Digest magazine. Then I went to bed on time.

So, I'm making progress on most fronts. The checkbook is up to date. The budget is up to date. Papers are being filed. Dishes and kitchen are being handled (batching it again). Writing progressing on several fronts. Reading moseys along. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't play computer games.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Robert Frost on Poetry

Last night I was dead tired when I got home, for some reason. Was it the emotional letdown after the successful class I taught during yesterday's noon hour? Or was it my bagworm ministry for 35 minutes before church yesterday evening? Or might it just be over-eating and under-sleeping while the wife's away? For whatever reason, I slept the sleep of the dead last night--until about 3:30 AM, when I woke up and felt something crawling on me, something insect-sized. I pulled it off, squished it between fingers, and rolled over. I suspect a tick picked up from the bagworm infested bush. Of course, after that I imagined every little itch to be a tick and probably pulled off several imaginary ones. Still, I got back to sleep and slept well.

I'm working on several articles for, including one on a book I checked out from the Bentonville library, The Notebooks of Robert Frost. I waited for this book to come in, then was somewhat disappointed in it when I finally got it. I guess I expected to see drafts of all of Frost's famous poems and observe how he went about his compositions. Or maybe I expected copious notes of his poetic philosophy, or preparation for his many lectures.

The book has little of that. I'm going to write a review of it for, so I can't put all of what I want to say here. But I did find an interesting segment with some quotes on poetry. Quotations allegedly from Frost about "Poetry is..." are rampant, such as "Poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom." Maybe he said this, maybe he didn't. I never see those with source citations. But this book documents some things Frost wrote about poetry. In his Notebook 38, he wrote the following under the heading "Poetry":
  • Poetry is prowess
  • Poetry is the renewal of words
  • Poetry is the dawning of an idea
  • Poetry is that which tends to evaporate from both prose and verse when translated.
  • Poetry is the Liberal Arts. The Liberal Arts are Poetry.
  • A poem is a momentary stay against confusion
  • Poet is a master of sentiment
According to footnotes in the book, the prowess comment would be related to Frost's lecture titled "Poetry as Prowess", and the renewal comment is related to his lecture titled "The Renewal of Words".

Now, I have not yet studied these sayings of Frost. Perhaps he wrote them together in notebook 38 as a list of lectures given or that he thought he might give someday. I see that he repeated a couple of these in notebook 26.

The notebooks are hard reading, and I can see I would need to own a copy to really get much out of them, for in the little time I have the book for (actually, it's already three days overdue), and as difficult as it is to read for long sittings, I'm not getting all that much out of it. But he has some gems in it that are worth thinking and remembering. In the same notebook 38, after his list of what poetry is, he has this statement, evidently intended to be another statement of what poetry is:
  • Difference between smoke and smoke rings.
That's good enough for me. Off to the library now to beg forgiveness and hopefully renew this overdue book for a couple of more weeks. I need to see a few more gems in it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Progress in Tasks, but not Much in Learning

Well, the Planning Commission meeting last night was not as long as was expected by the City. One or two items were pulled from the agenda, and I was up to the podium about 7:20 PM, done at 7:40 PM, home just after 8:00 PM. I now get to pull together the FEMA submittal. I'll set a goal of one week from today for sending that in to the City. I can't remember if the legal advertisement goes in the newspaper before or after the submittal to FEMA.

Last night I really didn't feel like writing. Not sure what was going on. I had eaten before the meeting (half-price night at Sonic), so gathered up my financial records to enter in my budgeting/planning spreadsheet. But I didn't feel like doing that task. Got on my user page at and had a pleasant surprise: I had a record revenue day: $0.72! Whoopee! That brings my average per 1000 page views up to work out to about $90 a year if I don't post anything else. Two or three tanks of gas is nothing to sneeze at.

That should have spurred me on to writing. But instead I began climbing up the learning curve at Flickr. I think I understand that, and will begin using some of the photos there. I have two articles for Suite in the writing stage, and about six others somewhat planned. Hopefully I'll get back to these tonight.

What I decided to do next was join Facebook. Everyone says you have to be on a social network. You have to promote yourself (but don't abuse your friends on the network; be a friend first and a self-promoter second). So I went ahead and did it. I had a fair amount of difficulty registering. My screen partially locked up and I wound up putting in my high school and employer three times each. I managed to delete the two bogus ones, and began looking for friends. I published one short item, but did so before I had any friends. Hopefully it shows up on my "wall".

One more learning curve to climb. I'm determined not to let this become a time sink. I'm not even going to try to log on to Facebook from the office; I imagine it's blocked anyway. Tonight I'll set a time limit, say 15 minutes to learn a little more about it, then I'll need to write an article, wash it through an SEO tool, lace it with apt images, post it, and wait for the revenue to roll in.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

So Much To Learn

Today I have two major tasks at work: prepare for Planning Commission meeting tonight, and prepare for the brown bag class I'll teach tomorrow noon. The P.C. meeting is easy to prep for: ten copies of two figures and about three pages of text. The figures need some hand coloring, but that's a throwback to childhood and not at all unpleasant.

The brown bag is tougher to prep for, because I want to include a PowerPoint presentation with it. This is my second PowerPoint to prepare. The last one was all text. For this one, I want to include photos and drawings. This increases the degree of difficulty (from about 1.0 to about 3.5, I'd say). Plus, the last one I did was back in March, and I've pretty well forgotten all I learned then. So it's a learning day. When I get frustrated with building the slide show, I just pull out one of the figures to color. I have till 6:00 PM to complete them.

Then there's the whole question of learning photographs for the Internet. I spent some time at Flickr, following a link to their Creative Commons, which is the area that's supposed to have the copyright-free photos. I had a little time with this, then Internet Explorer locked up. So I exited and went back to Flickr, this time the home page. And on that page I could not find a link to the Creative Commons. Am I missing something? I'll get back to that after this post.

I love learning, but this is almost too much today. PowerPoint alone would be fine, or maybe the photo study would be fine, but the two together are somewhat overwhelming.

On the other hand, the pleasant evening I wrote about yesterday came to be almost exactly as I hoped. The genealogy meeting was good. I actually knew the speaker, and met a few new people. Any time you are in a library, even if it's just the meeting room, is a good time. At home I filed and wrote and read and talked on the phone for a long time with my son. I balanced the checkbook, which in two prior sittings had refused to be balanced. I didn't get to my financial record spreadsheets, or paying a couple of bills, but I have tonight for that. Another pleasant evening coming.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Pleasant Evening Awaits

It's 4:32 PM by the clock on my computer at the office. I returned here a little while ago from Centerton, where I presented my flood study to the mayor and department heads. This was for the purpose of presenting the summary of findings and recommendations, and to help them understand what their options are concerning future conditions in the drainage basin. Tomorrow evening I present it to the Planning Commission (for information purposes only).

I'd like to say that's the end of the project, but, alas, it's only the end of the study phase. I now need to pull together a submission to FEMA. This consists of reworking my report to include only those things FEMA will look at, filling out about 15 pages of FEMA forms, having one more exhibit drawn--the actual changes to the flood map, and getting the City's approval of those. At some point this will involve a public hearing and newspaper ads. The actual flood map revision, which will be the end of the project, is likely 6 to 8 months away.

But, a burden is lifted. I look forward to a pleasant evening tonight. My wife is away (no, that's not what will make it a pleasant evening), having gone this morning to Oklahoma City with her mother to spend a week with daughter, son-in-law, and grandson Ephraim. I'm going to take advantage of the time, however, and attend the regular monthly meeting of the Northwest Arkansas Genealogical Society at the Bentonville library. I've never been to this group. I look forward to the fellowship.

Then, what to do at the house? A quick supper of leftovers won't take much time. I'll probably read in Robertson's harmony of the gospels, then go work on my own. I made some good progress on this yesterday, and would like to finish the appendix I worked on. That would feel pretty good, if I could finish that. The progress I made yesterday would have been greater except, having taken so long away from it, it was difficult to shift my mind from magazine articles (on-line and off-line)and Bible studies to that work. Tonight should be better, with me having not worked on other writing since then, except for this blog.

After that, probably about 11:00 PM, I'll exit the Dungeon for the upper realm and read something lighter, say in an old issue of Writers Digest that I picked up at a thrift store. That will put me in the mood for bed, and I should get six hours of blissful sleep, dreaming about the Bible, genealogy, and writing, with a little successful engineering mixed in. What could be more pleasant to dream about?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Good King, Bad King

Well, today I began teaching Good King, Bad King to our adult life group at church. I've written about this off and on. The lesson series will be about the kings of Judah and Israel, which were a series of good and bad kings. It seems that Israel had more bad then good, while Judah may have had about the same.

I began with King Asa, third king of Judah after the division. I've blogged about Asa before:

The first prophet speaks to him
Asa's first religious reforms
Asa and the high places of Judah
Asa responds to a threat from Israel
Another prophet confronts Asa
The Jerusalem Assembly: good or bad?

For life group I'm breaking this down into two lessons. The first covers Asa's early years, and focuses on the good he did. The second covers his later years, and focuses on the mistakes he made then.

The class went well, despite the fact that I left the handouts I had prepared on the kitchen table, including the creative non-fiction piece I was going to read to start the class. I relayed the creative non-fiction from memory as best I could. As expected, no one was able to guess which king it was about. During class, several people focused in on the Jerusalem assembly, and were troubled about it, specifically the part that anyone who did not take the oath to follow I AM wholeheartedly was to be killed. I wasn't going to bring that up this week, but rather next week, but it might be good to have it now. Next week it will be easier to show that assembly as possibly the turning point (for the worse) in Asa's life.

I'm ready for next week already. I think now I will go and write some on my harmony of the gospels, either finish up an unfinished appendix or possibly some passage notes. I'm not quite ready to jump back in with Suite 101 yet, due to the picture deal. Maybe in a couple of days.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Emotional Roller Coaster

Life is an emotional roller coaster for me, maybe for most people to a certain degree. Rare, I think, and probably drug-induced, is the person who doesn't have emotional highs and lows. For some the track tops and bottoms are higher, the run-ups and -downs steeper, and the twists sharper than for others. But I think it is all there for most people.

Seasons in life are another factor. When we lived in Saudi Arabia the roller coaster was particularly pronounced. A lot had to do with our time in life (children ages 3 and 1). A lot had to do with the harshness of the country and culture. A lot had to do with being at the whim of the company for everything from drinking water to rides to spending money. Back in the good old USA was the merry-go-round to Saudi's roller coaster.

I find the writing life to generate those roller coaster type swings. They can be quite wild at a writers conference, where you're at the peak one minute and 15 minutes later, after a meeting with an editor, at the bottom of the trough. Other aspects of writing can do the same, almost as quickly.

Take for instance. I'm now up to 26 articles posted, in 31 days. Several of those articles rank high on a couple of search engines for key words I included in the articles. I had one article selected as an Editor's Choice. I'm starting to generate a little revenue--emphasis on "little," but that's better than none. Everything was humming along.

Then, Suite101 adds the requirement, previously a recommendation, that every article include an image. No exceptions. So I quickly had to ramp up on how to find copyright-free images, how to download them to my computer, how to save them to the right type of image, how to upload them into Suite101's image uploading system, complete with caption, file name, source reference, and available link. I got several uploaded on new articles, and even went back to some earlier articles and added some photos and map excerpts.

Then I captured an image of Ben Franklin to illustrate my latest article. Poof. The image wouldn't upload. Not from my computer at work. Not from my computer at home. No reason why. It took a couple of days to get help from an editor, as the site trouble-shooting guide and the editor's e-mails contain many terms I don't understand. And I find I can't really do things I don't understand. I have to understand what I'm doing. Save the image as a jpeg or png file? What do those mean? Why, or when, should I use one instead of the other? Make sure the dpi is 72 or less? Okay, never done that before. How do I do that? And why is that necessary? Make sure the size is not more than y by z? That I think I can handle, but I'm not real sure. Use shorter file names? Okay, but how do I keep them straight on my hard drive?

All these are going to take weeks to come up to speed on. Meantime, all my creative writing time has gone into writing for Suite101. Now suddenly all my creative writing time is going to go to learning photos and images and how to manipulate them for the Internet. Doggone it. I want to write. I don't want to be a photo manipulator, or a layout artist. The bloom has certainly come off the Suite101 rose. Whether it will bloom again remains to be seen. I'm not a happy camper.

Oh, I also was out of commission a couple of days this week, having a colonoscopy. Not the world's greatest experience, but at least all seems well (one "small polyp" removed). Bad week to have that in terms of emotions.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Movie Review: The Half-Blood Prince

Lynda and I went to see "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" on Sunday afternoon, at matinee prices of $4.00 each. Popcorn and pop cost more than the movie. I hesitated to write a review yesterday, wanting a day to see if my feelings had changed. They hadn't. I know no other way to say this than to say it straight, and with words that Ron Weasly might use: It was a bloody waste of time and money.

I haven't read the books, and so don't know what this particular one said. As a lead-in to seeing this one we watched the first four Potter films over the last two weekends, finishing up Saturday evening. We had re-watched the fifth one in late April in Chicago.

Now I know everyone is supposed to be all ga-ga about Harry Potter. Maybe the books are good, I don't know. But this one did not, for me, do enough to warrant the 2hr 20min we spent in the theater. Nor the $8.00 we paid for two tickets (the popcorn was excellent though).

I'd say some specifics of why I didn't like it, but I have already invested enough time on this thing, and won't waste any more.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Of Bagworms and Blackberries

Don't confuse the title of this post with my sonnet "Of Bollards and Berms" (which garnered a bit of critique and discussion at AW-password is citrus. No, this is about my war against the bagworms and my quest for blackberries--the edible kind.

My first experience with blackberry picking was in Snug Harbor, Rhode Island, on a vacant lot, or couple of lots, right behind the stony beach we went swimming at when we didn't drive over to East Matunuk. They grew right next to a cleared field, so getting them was easy. As kids we probably ate as many as we brought home. The fun was in the picking, not in the having. Years later, on a return to Rhode Island, the blackberry patch was gone, torn out to make room for waterside houses. Alas.

Now I pick blackberries both for enjoyment and for food. I love the taste, and they taste even better because they are free. The cost for a half-gallon: an hour and a half on a Saturday morning, a few scratches, two chigger bites, and maybe a pound of water sweated away. I'm having some right now, as I write this, with lunch. Now, a quart of blackberries won't stretch the budget a whole lot, but it will help. Especially if we get another quart this Saturday, when the temperatures are supposed to be fifteen degrees cooler than last Saturday.

Now, as far as bagworms go, I am at war with them. Not at home, but at church. There we have four evergreen bushes of some type, a cedar relative, kept neatly trimmed but not otherwise maintained--except by me. Every May the first bagworms appear. I pick them off and squish them under foot. But I never take time to go through the bushes thoroughly. So they are back in June and abundant in July. No one seems to see them or care about them except me.

I'm enough of a HEED-onist (only URI grads will know the background of that) to not want to spray some kind of chemical on the plant to kill them. So I pick the bags off the bush. I used to do that at our property in Bentonville, and never lost a bush. Did that back in Kansas City too, if I remember correctly. It's more work than spraying, but it has to be environmentally friendly.

So I pick, and pick. Yesterday I got to church 30 minutes early to have 20 to pick bag worms. I came with a doubled plastic sack (that's a bag to your Rhode Islanders) and had it about 1/3 full when my time was up. I picked one bush clean; it only had a few. I moved to the next one which was fully infested, and could stand in one spot and pick forever, moving branches to get the ones that were hiding. All the time I'm picking, I'm stewing, wondering why no one else cares enough about the poor evergreen bush to rid it of these parasites. People pass me by, heading into church, and ask what I'm doing. No one stops to help, except Jeremy, the grandson of my best friend in these parts. He sees it as a child's game. But, like most child's games, I'm on my own again in ten minutes.

But I've decided this is one of my ministries. It fits my personality. It's solitary. It's mindless, allowing for mental multi-tasking. It is limited in time duration: by the mid-August I'll either have saves the bush or it will be dead. It's a service no one will even know I did, except for those few who saw me--and Jeremy, of course. It doesn't involve any interpersonal relationships--except Jeremy, of course. What better ministry could there be?

Well, my blackberries are fully consumed. They were good, but somehow not as good as they were when eaten straight from the vine on a hot summer day. And, they seemed just as enjoyable as they did when they were a child's game during a Rhode Island summer. The joy is still in the picking, but eating them is nice, real nice.

Monday, July 13, 2009

SEO: An Unfruitful Weekend Study

Due to my low revenues from my posts to date, I had little motivation to write articles for that content site this weekend. It seemed to me that blackberry picking would be more profitable (got about a quart). I wanted to push through the discouragement to write a poetry article and a history article. I even brought home some references from the office to maybe write a civil engineering article. Alas, on Friday evening I decided I really should 1) clean-up the articles already written for linking and images, and 2) do some research in SEO: search engine optimization.

The clean-up was easy. I found some public domain photos residing on the Internet, with the site giving permission to copy and use. And I added a bunch of links, internal and external to Suite 101, to my existing articles. I'm probably not done with that, but I'm close. On to SEO.

I found, however, that I couldn't deal effectively with SEO. I found plenty of references, but my mind was just not in it. I'd pull up a reference, and begin to read, but quickly said to myself, "Is this really necessary? How does this equate to advancing a career in creative writing? How will my ego, demeanor, and pocketbook be bettered by this? And how will this affect my creative writing? Will it diminish my other writing?" Not being able to answer, I kept shifting to mindless computer games--as if Minesweeper will better advance my second career.

By Sunday afternoon I had had enough. Since SEO wasn't working, I knuckled down and wrote two articles and posted them. One is the last in my series about Robert Frost's poem "Into My Own." The other is in my continuing series on the lead-up to the American Revolution, this one on some writing of Samuel Adams. These are probably not any better optimized for SEO than ones I posted earlier. They do, however, have links and images. And today I'm getting some hits for them.

This morning before work I was able to concentrate a little on SEO. I found some good training sites and copied and pasted them into a Word document, and printed a few pages. I think part of my problem is I still have not learned to read stuff on the web for comprehension. I need to learn that to save a tree or two, but I'm not there yet. So my reading material for the evening is in hand. I'm off to plan the next two engineering articles I'll write.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Miscellaneous Musing on an Unexpectedly Free Lunch Hour

I should probably be writing something that will someday lead to revenue, but I find myself drawn here instead. I had a lunch appointment today, but the other party cancelled unexpectedly. I'll have to go out and buy something shortly, but until then I'll enter a few miscellaneous musings here.

  • I'm up to 19 articles posted on, and have maybe four in the hopper that may jump out this weekend. The writing is enjoyable. Unlike at some Internet content sites I get to choose my own topics, the articles go life as soon as I post them, and I can edit them as needed. Unfortunately, so far I have earned only $0.03 (not a typo) based on ad clicks, on none for over a week.
  • This search engine optimization thing (SEO) is going to have a steep learning curve, I'm afraid. No doubt my failure to do this well is keeping my page views low, thus fewer viewers to click on the ads. But to learn SEO will take hours and hours of reading and experimentation. You have to know this because Google and other search engines are the main way readers find your articles. So titles, subtitles, meta tags (still not quite sure what they are or if they still hold importance or not-the SEO experts seem unsure of this), and image captions all need to be "key-word rich". Yuck. I must now bow down to the Google altar.
  • Suite 101 now requires that each article include at least one image, preferably more. This is adding a lot of minutes to the time it takes to ready an article for posting. Yet, the SEO experts say this is part of SEO and I will benefit by doing it. I have to believe the experts, I suppose, but I'll believe it when I see it.
  • As expected, writing for is taking pretty much all my creative writing time. I've not even thought about other freelance queries, or novels, or Bible studies. Well, except for the Bible study I'll begin teaching in about three weeks. I have that pretty much completed as much as I need for teaching. And about a week ago I worked on an appendix to the Harmony of the Gospels. I have about an hour to do to finish that appendix, and hope to do it this weekend.
  • The good news is that poetry has returned and filled what little time I have for creative writing outside of the Suite stuff. It hasn't returned in a big way, but at least it has returned. Possibly writing the Suite articles on Robert Frost was part of the catalyst for that.

Well, I'm off to either buy a lunch or forage. This weekend may be the height of blackberry season in these parts, and I hope to pick a bunch.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Bit Under the Weather

I intended to post something yesterday, but found myself with a touch of illness. It hit me about 9:00 AM, a queasy feeling in the stomach, a bit of pressure behind the eyes, and a blah feeling physically. I thought of flue or a summer cold.

Despite this, my mind was engaged at work. I'm writing the technical report on the flood study I've been working on forever, and for which I finally a week or two ago finished the computer analyses. The report is writing, which is enjoyable, and I look at this technical writing as a new challenge, to be a little more creative than I used to be, to avoid passive voice as much as possible, and to learn to say in seven words what used to take me ten words. My mind seemed sharp and I was getting some good stuff written, so although my body screamed "go home" I decided to stick it out. I did not walk my laps at noon, however.

In the evening I didn't feel like trying to learn more about search engine optimization (SEO), which I really need to do to begin earning some money at However, study seemed too tiring, so instead I wrote a Bible study article for Suite 101, on the timeline discrepancy in the life of King Asa of Judah. I had studied this a few months ago and had come up with some thoughts I thought would be worthy of an article, so I wrote it in about 90 minutes, including looking for some elusive sources I had electronically misplaced. It's now up and live, my 18th article at Suite.

After posting the article, I continued in my study of Asa. In three weeks I will teach the first two lessons in my series Good King, Bad King to our life group. Both of these will be on Asa, who was very good in his early years then turned bad in his later years, an unfortunately too common problem with Jewish kings. I was able to make progress on the lesson plan for both lessons. I think I could teach them both right now. All I lack is finishing the student handouts I want to have.

Not sure what today will bring. I'm feeling better for sure, but not 100 percent. The flood study report still awaits my words, tables, and figure. And the electronic files still want me to pick through them and get rid of all the extraneous stuff. So I'll have a full day. I hope also to get an engineering article posted at Suite 101.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Book Review: "Robert Frost" (a book by that title)

Given that Robert Frost is my favorite poet, and that I've been writing some articles on him at, I decided to do a little more research on him. So I got the book from the public library Robert Frost by Philip L. Gerber, 1982 G. H. Hall & Co. ISBN 0-8057-7348-7. This was originally published in 1966, and is part of the "Twayne's United States Authors Series."

At 171 pages, this is rather slim as Frost career-length reviews go. This is based on the bibliography in the book, which lists several multi-volume studies. As such, I suppose this could be called a Frost primer. That's perfect for me. It is divided into six chapters:
  1. Man Into Myth: Frost's Life
  2. Poet in a Landscape: Frost's Career
  3. The Appropriate Tools: Frost's Craftsmanship
  4. The Aim Was Song: Frost's Theories
  5. Roughly Zones: Frost's Themes
  6. Testing Greatness: Frost's Critical Reception
Each of these presented a pretty good discussion of the subject. Well, to my layman's mind it was a good discussion. I'm sure those more learned in Frost would laugh at the brevity of it. But again I suggest that this is exactly the type of book needed for someone who had never read a Frost criticism or biography. The chapter on his life did a good job of exploding the myth Frost worked so hard to create: that he was a New England farmer. He may have done some of that, but except perhaps for some very early years he never did it to make money. Possibly his living on a farm and resulting observations gave fodder for poems. If so, who cares exactly what his career was? Although he never earned a degree, he spent a lot of years on college campuses, either as poet-in-residence or professor. It would seem his main income came from these, supplemented by book sales. Or maybe the other way around.

My favorite chapters were on Frost's craftsmanship and on his theories of poetry. He alone among the major American poets bucked the trend to imagism and modernism (okay, maybe Edna St. Vincent Milay also). He was called old fashioned for writing in rhyme, meter, and form. Although his first couple of books were highly acclaimed, the "experts" said he would have no staying power. He proved them wrong, and I, in my semi-learned state, believe his staying power was because he wrote in form. People still like that, and are more likely to buy that than other things that pass as poetry.

I especially liked the things Gerber said about "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening." While I can't really continue to use this as an excuse, it was this poem, or rather it's treatment by a succession of English teachers in junior and senior high, that ruined poetry for me for thirty years. They said this was a suicide poem. I didn't see it. They said I had to see it. I said I didn't see it. They said I had to see it. I said I didn't. I decided I either wasn't cut out for poetry or it was something I wouldn't get, so from that point on I parted ways with it, building a New England stone wall between us. Here's what Gerber wrote about it:

Critics have from the start appreciated his skill in handling metaphor and symbol. Perhaps it is a part of his basis for protest that in their zeal the critics overdid it, as they have generally overdone so much in the twentieth century and as they have specifically overdone Frost's own "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."

To say that "Stopping by Woods" has been one of the most discussed poems of the twentieth century is an understatement. It has been analyzed, explicated, dissected--sometimes brilliantly--but altogether to the point of tedium. ...Proud as Frost was of this lyric, and only partly because it got into the anthologies more frequently than any other, he felt that readers made themselves too busy over "my heavy duty poem" and squeezed it for meanings not present...."

...Frost ordinarily gained amusement from the meanings people located in his work, meanings he claimed to have been totally unaware of. ...he became downright touchy about the "busymindedness" that inspired the ceaseless flow of questions, many of them asinine indeed, concerning the minutiae of "Stopping by Woods."

He was irritated by people who asked to know the name of the man who did the stopping. It appalled him to have someone write inquiring whether those woods really fill up with snow. ...Who would be going home that way so late at night? What did the woods mean? What did the snow stand for? Could a horse really ask questions?

Ah, so I was right and my teachers were wrong! And to think they cost me thirty years--no, can't blame them. But wait, what's that Gerber writes just a little further on?

Like other major poets, Robert Frost writes on multiple levels of meaning. ...Frost's symbols are hidden like children's Easter eggs--barely out of reach and easily found.

...His gift was for creating an artifice so vivid, moving, and significant on the initial level that any probing for further rewards can seem like meddlesome prying....

Well, I guess I'll have to give up and begin looking for those hidden meanings Frost hid like Easter eggs. At least I don't have to go digging holes to do so.

The section "How Poems Arise" is a good two page description of how Frost went about capturing ideas and setting them to verse. I won't go into details, but it's not too far from my own: a long gestation period before anything ever escapes the mind and finds paper.

I give this book an enthusiastic recommendation for all who want to explore Robert Frost and his world and his poetry. It's a shame it has to go back to the library in a few days. I could benefit from a second reading.

The No Service Conspiracy

I planned on posting a book review yesterday—not a major review, but just writing a little bit about a book I checked out from the library. I went down to the Dungeon after church, life groups, taking recyclables, and a quick visit to Wal-Mart to be parted with some of my money. Book in hand, I called forth the Internet to bring up this blog, but the Internet didn’t answer. No service. I rebooted the computer. No service. I tried the other computer, the nice new and powerful one that neither of us uses. No service, so it seemed it wasn’t my computer. I piddled around a little, reading some things at hand, checking back and still finding no Internet. We frequently have Internet service lapses of a second or two, sometimes stretching out to a minute.

When this came to 30 minutes, I decided to do something I hadn’t done on a Sunday for a while: take a nap. I should have gone out to the nearby blackberry patch and see what was ripe. The temperature was okay, and this should be the peak season, but my heart and legs weren’t in it. I had an hour of restful sleep. Or was it restless? I can’t remember now, but I then got up and came back to the computer. Still no Internet service on either computer.

Now for some reason it never dawned on me to write my book review in Word and save it until service was restored. I looked at various writing project sitting on the computer desk and work table, and decided to pull out the Harmony of the Gospels I laid aside a couple of months ago. I found it easy to get back into, first writing the passage notes for the post-resurrection day events.

I then began writing the appendix on how I harmonized the resurrection, and found that easy to do, even though I hadn’t thought about this for at least three months. I found the right place in my workbook, re-read a portion of my notes, then started typing the appendix. I never did go back to my notes. The words flowed, as I explained how I reconciled the way the four different gospels described Easter morning. An hour and a half later I had a good start on this appendix, maybe as much as half done.

At 5 PM we still had no service. I went upstairs, found Lynda up, and her not able to get on the Internet on the wireless laptop. So I called Cox and learned we had a service outage in our area (duh) and that technicians had been dispatched to restore service. After supper I went back to the Dungeon, and service was restored. However, by that time I had lost interest in posting to this blog, lost interest in writing an article for Suite 101, and so just spent the time working through a backlog of e-mails and catching up on the two message boards I read.

For the rest of the evening I set aside library books and went to my regular reading pile, now almost a year old, and pulled out the next one. It’s a harmony of the gospels, originally written in 1891 and updated for several decades as new research and manuscript finds came up. I read it through the time Jesus was in the temple as a twelve year old, and was gratified to find their conclusions were the same as mine, or since they were first I should say my conclusions were the same as theirs. It’s good to know that you worked independently and came to the same conclusions as an expert.

I got to work today intending to write this blog post, and found our Internet down. It must be a conspiracy. So I did what I didn’t do last night: I typed this in Word for later posting. Actually our service came back about twenty minutes ago, but I decided to complete this in Word, as practice for the next outage at home. This evening I’ll come back with the book review. I know you all can’t wait.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Irked by the "Fourth of July"

No, I'm not anti-patriotic.

What irks me is that we almost never hear the words "Independence Day". We are not celebrating the fact that a specific day on the calendar happened to come up again. We are celebrating that on that day, 233 years ago, a certain event took place. The thirteen colonies, after a month of wrangling and delaying tactics, finally agreed to a resolution in favor of independence from Great Britain, and then to a statement of the reasons for taking that step.

Yet, in newspapers across the country, on radio and television, you see, read, or hear such things as "4th of July Events"; "Come early for the 4th of July parade"; "Sale on the 4th"; "Celebrations of the 4th"; ad nauseum. It seems we have barely remembered what we celebrate on this day and why.

Oh, I know that "4th of July" takes a whole lot less characters than "Independence Day" in a headline, and one less syllable when spoken. That allows print and broadcast media to have a smidgen more space or air time to print or write something else.

But doggone it, I don't celebrate the 4th of July. I celebrate Independence Day. I look forward to a time when our country does so again.

Oh, I wrote an article at about the debates leading up to the original Independence Day. Check it out here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July Goals

After a successful June, when most of my goals were met, I'm going to be fairly aggressive in setting my July writing goals.

1. Blog at least 12 times.

2. Post 15 articles at

3. Research, prepare, and submit 2 other freelance queries.

4. Complete one set of passage notes for my Harmony of the Gospels.

5. Complete the first two lessons in Good King, Bad King (already started and maybe half-way done) and outline the full series.

6. For Life on a Yo Yo: Write a "sell sheet" for the Bible study; complete the first four lessons in publishable form.

7. Complete the new chapter of In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People that I got half-way done in June. It would be nice to both complete that and start another chapter, but I'm not making that a goal, not with everything else I have going on. Plus, I'm a freelancer not, not a novelist.