Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bone-a Lisa

Trolling around the Internet yesterday, I came across a web site for a company called Jean's Dog Shop (or Cafe Press, I can't tell which), where they sell various items emblazoned with Photoshopped pictures of the Mona Lisa holding a wide variety of dogs in her lap. Being a Shetland sheepdog owner, I was glad to find a picture of Mona holding both varities of shelties owned by my family.

I'm not advertising for the company (although if they want to, they can send me a free coffee mug or something), but if you're in need of a little cyber fun, mosey on over to Jean's Dog Shop to look at an incredible number of renditions of dogs with ol' Mona.

Here are just a few more examples:

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Some Things About Me (part three)

51. I’m an innie.

52. My favorite Stooge is Curly.

53. The first Presidential election I was eligible to vote in was the 1980 contest. For some reason I only vaguely remember now, I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan, and ended up voting for Independent candidate John Anderson instead.

54. I have seen all of the James Bond movies except “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” which is considered to be one of the worst. When I was in kindergarten, I had a James Bond spy briefcase, which featured a rifle barrel that would appear from the side when you pushed a hidden button.

55. During our senior year in high school, my best friend and I were allowed to read the morning announcements over the school PA system. We loved to play jokes, such as reading a fake announcement instructing someone to report to a certain room number, which would end up being a girl’s restroom or a janitor’s closet.

56. I was in Boy Scouts for two years, attaining the rank of Life Scout. I bailed out before I earned my Eagle.

57. I’ve had almost all of the classic bad dreams before –- the caught in public naked dream, the tornado dream, the falling dream, the showing up for a big test totally unprepared dream (I seem to have that one most often). Actually, though, I rarely remember my dreams, and very few of the ones I do remember I’d classify as sexy or even as a form of wish fulfillment.

58. I have a mild to moderate fear of heights, depending on the place and the safety features. This has not, however, prevented me from flying in airplanes or standing atop such high creations as the former World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Hemisfair Tower in San Antonio or Pikes Peak.

59. I played Little League baseball for six years, basketball for one year in a church league, and football on my 8th grade school team. That’s the extent of my organized sports involvement during grade school.

60. The last time I shaved my upper lip was the day of my high school graduation, and I’ve had a mustache ever since.

61. I have never eaten snails, caviar, sardines, sushi, sheep’s eyeballs or any other nasty foods in the same general category.

62. When I was single and dating, I never had much of a chance getting women to like me through my looks or physique. If I had any chance at all, it was by making them laugh.

63. I have been keeping a daily journal fairly regularly since the early 1990s. I almost never look back and read it, unless my wife and I can’t remember the date of something and need to refer back to the journal to verify the date.

64. I am a big history buff, including family history, which I guess is one reason I keep the journals even though I never read them. They will give my kids and grandkids something not to read some day.

65. I know all the lyrics to the Texas A&M fight song, even though I never went to school there. At the same time, I don’t remember the lyrics to the fight songs of the schools I did attend.

66. I have never been bitten by a snake or stung by a bee or wasp. I have, however, lost gallons of blood to Southeast Texas mosquitoes over the years.

67. When you look at the shirts hanging in my closet, you will find a number of them with bright colors, including a Hawaiian shirt that makes my wife wince every time I get it out.

68. I had some pretty boring summer jobs, including working two summers in the men’s department of Weiner’s department store and stuffing advertising fliers inside newspapers. One summer, however, I got to be a reporter for a weekly newspaper in Pasadena (Texas), covering the city of South Houston. It was fun.

69. My middle name is Mark. If one of the radio or TV stations I worked for had ever insisted that I change my on-air name, I was going to choose “Mark Randall” as my alias. Luckily, I never had to do this.

70. I was big into racing Hot Wheels cars and building airplane models as a kid.

71. I’m told that I don’t speak with a Texas accent, although I do frequently employ Texanisms such as “fixin’ to” and “ya’ll.”

72. When I was quite young, my mom decided that she was going to make me try tomato juice, something I was determined not to do. One Saturday morning, she set a glass in front of me at the breakfast table and told me I couldn’t leave to go watch cartoons unless I’d tried some. I stubbornly refused, and eventually she let me go. I have never liked tomato juice, and I’m not going to try it to see if my tastes have changed.

73. I used to go tubing and rafting all the time in the Guadalupe River when I was younger.

74. I can’t really snap my fingers worth a darn.

75. My 5 o’clock shadow arrives each day about noon.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A Temporary Deflation

Have you ever had one of those days when worries and fears about a host of different things all sort of coalesce into a black hole in your mind? Well, I had one of those kind of days yesterday.

I surely wasn't looking for trouble. It was a normal day, but I guess my trouble started because I consumed more than my usual amount of "news and information" coming in through the media and my trusty computer. By looking at news sites and blogs on my computer, reading the daily paper and listening to a bit of a few radio talk shows, I quite by chance collected a tidy little pile of smoldering information about what a terribly fallen world we live in.

Not any of these stories by themselves were things I hadn't heard before, or are even worth specific mention here. Suffice to say that they were stories demonstrating how far the world has gone from the teachings of Christ, and how the world holds the things of God in contempt -- in Hollywood, in Washington, D.C., in our nation's courts and schools, and among some worldly, super-tolerant, so-called "Christian" clergy.

Again, it was nothing I hadn't heard before, but somehow the sheer number of stories, or maybe the unwavering philosophical agreement in all the stories, caused my soul to reach some sort of critical mass of despair. I allowed myself to doubt there was much of a point in continuing the good fight here, and concluded that the salvation of the Earth was a bit of a lost cause. I began having that delicious recurring daydream of mine, about me and all my fellow believers relocating to a peaceful, private island somewhere, devoid of worldly strife and unbelief. I wanted to be like the singer of Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World," whose desire was to "throw away the cars and the bars and the wars, and make sweet love to you."

Have you had days like that?

Of course, as I was spiraling down, rubbing my palms together and getting ready for a good session of depression and self-pity, I recalled one verse from the Bible that served as a reminder to my fevered brain:
"In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Another verse was lovingly put into my mind, the one which tells us that Jesus is not necessarily going to win any popularity contests or cause a big worldwide, hand-holding rendition of "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing":
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law — a man's enemies will be the members of his own household." (Matthew 10:34-36)
And then, as if to supplement those Bible verses, I happened (quite by accident?) to come across some quotes from famous Christians shooting down any defense of a retreat to the peaceful island:
"If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest expression every portion of the truth of God, except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I might be confessing Christ."

--Martin Luther
"When principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then battle is your calling, and peace has become sin; you must, at the price of dearest peace, lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy, with all the fire of your faith."

--Abraham Kuyper
"Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you. What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross."

--Flannery O'Connor
Well, all of this was what I needed, if not what I welcomed. It rattled my brain back into realizing that events down here are not eternal truths, and that one day all this will fade away. But it also convicted me of how little I am doing to "push back against the age."

I'm still not totally out of my funk today -- I'm not sure I'm meant to be just yet, since it has caused me to think about some things I was blissfully ignoring just days before. So bear with me if I don't have a humorous post for awhile (although I know that soon I must tell my lion story because some of you have asked nicely for it).

Again I ask, do any of you have days like this from time to time? I'd be interested in hearing about how you met your doubts and fears.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Rejected Romance Novel Titles #4

I've been busy the last few days and haven't had time to do a "proper" post, one of those gems that mines the complexities of life, grapples with moral quandaries and makes people laugh so hard they spew their Yoo-Hoo. As a stopgap measure, here's the fourth part of this continuing series. Would any of you ladies like to be in this romantic position? I think this gal will need a good chiropractor if this keeps up.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Random Observations and Trivial Events

1. I have a great idea if there’s a group of balding middle-aged guys out there who have formed a boomer classic rock band and are trying to come up with a cool name. Are you ready? INVOLUNTARY TONSURE. Mysterious, self-deprecating, and even a bit assonantal. If they’re costume lovers, they could take the stage wearing monk’s hoods. That would get the ladies’ attention.

2. The change of seasons, courtesy of Wal-Mart late one night this past week: an aisle marked “Seasonal,” a girl at one end removing red, forlorn unpurchased Valentine hearts and candy, a second girl at the opposite end, filling shelves with pastel eggs and rabbits. It’s like watching the moon and the tides.

3. I’m excited! Mrs. Muley and I are going to see the movie “Walk the Line” tonight, and I hope it’s as good as everybody says. Right now, I just don’t see Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash, so I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Rejected Romance Novel Titles #3

I don't know, I see maybe Patrick Swayze or David Hasselhoff in the movie version.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


I spent the Day of Love yesterday at home, sick in bed. Luckily, it was nothing more than a bad cold, and I spent the entire first half of the day asleep.

When I finally awoke, I stayed in bed and watched two movies, both of which I can heartily recommend. The first is the 1999 Masterpiece Theatre version of the classic Charles Dickens tale David Copperfield. This three-hour adaptation is broken into two parts. The first part, where David is a boy, features Daniel Radcliffe playing David. Radcliffe, as you probably know, went on to much greater fame playing Harry Potter on the big screen.

The movie is wonderful, mainly for the fine acting of the supporting characters. Maggie Smith, another Harry Potter alum, plays Betsy Trotwood, and Ian McKellum, who played Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings movies, does a perfect job as the cruel schoolteacher Creakle. Bob Hoskins, one of my favorite actors, does a fine job as Mr. Micawber. I will say that the guy who played the grown-up David Copperfield was rather bland, but all of the great supporting turns made up for his somewhat by-the-numbers performance. Highly recommended.

After watching David Copperfield, I saw a highly rated "chick flick" romance I'd been wanting to see for some time, Love Comes Softly. This is based on the book of the same name by Christian fiction author Jannette Oke. It's a quiet, gentle movie set during pioneer days when families were going west in covered wagons to settle the plains. Katherine Heigl, who plays on the TV series "Grey's Anatomy," which I've never watched, is excellent in the leading female role. She plays a young woman who comes west with her new husband, only to lose him during the journey to a freak accident. A widowed farmer makes her an offer to marry him and watch over his young tomboy daughter until the spring, when he'll then pay her passage back east to her home. She accepts, and the movie is about how this woman comes to learn to "bloom where she's planted" and follow God's sometimes unexpected leadings.

Like I said, this movie is considered a "chick flick," but I enjoyed it. There's a sequel titled Love's Enduring Promise which features the same family years later getting eaten alive by a pack of wolves. Just kidding. I want to watch this one as well.

Speaking of "chick flicks," I am in the middle of one of the classics of "chick lit," namely, Little Women. It's a quiet little book, full of grace and class, and though I could see why some might consider it dated in its portrayal of women, I am enjoying it for its spirit and its strong Christian undercurrent.

I'm back at work today, even though the medicine I'm taking makes it hard to stay awake. I'm happy to report that my daughter's basketball team won their first game last night, and my daughter scored the winning basket. She was so happy, it made my feelings of fatigue and illness just melt away. And Mrs. Muley gave me a sweet card and a nice new shirt I really like. A great way to end Valentines' Day.

How was your day?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Some Things About Me (part two)

26. Two foods that a lot of people seem to like (but I hate) are onions and mayonnaise. Two foods that a lot of people seem to hate (but I like) are lima beans and pork rinds.

27. I was a fairly good speech-type person in junior high and high school. I placed second in state in both debate and extemporaneous speaking different years.

28. The only time I’ve stayed overnight in a hospital is when I had my tonsils out when I was five years old. I was upset because I had asked my parents to get the doctors to put my tonsils in a jar that I could take to my kindergarten class for show and tell, but they didn’t come through. I did like all the ice cream, through.

29. I went through three schools and three majors in my tour of the Southwest Conference during college. I started out going for a year at Baylor as an accounting major, then went for a year and a half to the University of Houston as a Radio/TV major, then ended up at the University of Texas as a broadcast journalism major. I graduated with a bachelor of journalism from UT in 1982.

30. I started wearing glasses when I was 12 years old. I tried contacts along the way, but they always bothered my eyes and I gave them up. About 12 years ago, I got RK surgery so I wouldn’t have to wear glasses anymore. By that time, my glasses were almost Coke bottle size and kept slipping down my nose.

31. I got my first kiss in seventh grade during a spin-the-bottle session at a party. The girl’s name was Wendy. I enjoyed the spin-the-bottle concept because at that time in my life, it was the only way I was ever going to get a girl to kiss me without some sort of armed threat. The party might have been a little tawdry and all, but I remember it as a magical night.

32. I am a Dr Pepper addict. I believe they began putting it in my bottles soon after I was weaned from formula, and I’ve been drinking it ever since. If they figured out the volume of all the Dr Pepper I’ve drunk over the years, it would probably float a battleship. If they gave me back all the money I’ve spent on Dr Pepper over the years, I undoubtedly could retire comfortably.

33. I am a decent artist, but I never pursued getting better at it as I probably should have. I can’t draw people worth beans, but I can do graphics and landscapes fairly well.

34. I met my wife when we were both working for a small market television station. When we met, I was a news bureau chief and she worked in production. By the time we married, she had moved up to producer of the 10 p.m. news.

35. When I was being born (the natural way), my big head got “stuck” and I had my oxygen supply threatened. My mom has always claimed that if they hadn’t been able to pull me out with forceps when they did, I would have been born a mongoloid. Some people over the years have said this explains a lot about me.

36. When I was in college, I was in a “band” with some of my friends. We couldn’t play band instruments, and we couldn’t sing very well, but we knew how to use recording equipment. We’d find recorded instrumentals, write our own lyrics to them, then record our singing over the tracks. We even gave a few public “concerts” singing over these instrumentals, including one concert in a large airplane hangar. Youth has no shame.

37. I once entered a poem of mine in a contest run by some blue-haired ladies in a county literary society, and I won. I can’t even remember if I got any money, or if they just knitted me a potholder.

38. The singers or groups that I have seen in concert include Elvis (in the Astrodome as a kid), the Who, ZZ Top, Bruce Springsteen, the Marshall Tucker Band, the Blues Brothers, Amy Grant, Ronnie Millsap, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, and Weather Report.

39. I once was in the same room as George W. Bush. He was the governor of Texas at the time, and he met in his reception room at the Capitol with Abner McCall, the former president of Baylor University, who was being honored. I was there to take video of them shaking hands and talking. To my eternal regret, I did not attempt to shake GW’s hand myself.

40. I took four semesters of Spanish in college, but still can’t speak it.

41. I am a “Trekkie,” albeit the non-obsessive type.

42. From third grade until my junior year in high school I thought I wanted to be a doctor. When I went on a field trip to a hospital and saw the kinds of things I would have to do to learn to be a doctor, like cutting open cadavers, dealing with blood and doing intimate things to people, I changed my mind.

43. If you can believe it, I then decided to get an accounting degree followed by a law degree, and be a corporate attorney. I was thinking how much money I would undoubtedly make, but thankfully I also came to realize that I would end up gnawing through my mahogany desk in boredom.

44. I like to collect quotes and lists of vocabulary words I don’t know.

45. I write haiku for fun.

46. I was in journalism classes at the University of Texas with E.D. Hill, one of the co-hosts of “Fox and Friends” on Fox News in the morning. And when I working as a bureau chief for one station in Waco, she was co-anchoring at another. I seriously doubt she would remember me now.

47. I never owned a leisure suit, but I did once go to a high school prom wearing a white tuxedo with a powder blue ruffly shirt and a honkin’ big blue bowtie. I did it to match my date’s dress, but I felt like the pinch hitter at a gay escort service.

48. The first magazine I ever had a subscription to was Boy’s Life, since I was in both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. The first magazine I subscribed to out of my own pocket was Mad magazine. I can still remember how I’d be so excited when a new issue, full of twisted humor, would appear in the mailbox.

49. My first car was a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle, which I outfitted with an 8-track tape player as soon as I could.

50. I had a childhood crush on Valerie Bertinelli from the “One Day at a Time” TV show, but then she went and married Eddie Van Halen. Oh, well.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Some Things About Me (part one)

I've always been meaning to do one of these lists, so here goes. I'll break it down in smaller bites so as to not gag anyone.

1. I have blue eyes and brown hair. When I was born, however, my hair was a dirty blonde color.

2. I have lived in Texas all of my life, including stints in Houston, Austin, Friendswood and Waco.

3. I have traveled to 38 of the United States as well as the District of Columbia. I’ve got 12 more states to visit before I die: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware, West Virginia, South Carolina, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, North and South Dakota and Alaska.

4. Sadly, like many Americans, I have only been to two foreign countries: Canada and Mexico.

5. My favorite song as a very young child was “Puff the Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul and Mary. I still love it.

6. The first LP I ever got my parents to buy me was the second album by the Monkees, “More of the Monkees,” the one with “I’m a Believer” and “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone." I played it until the grooves disappeared.

7. I have a habit of cracking my knuckles, which unnerves Mrs. Muley.

8. Since I was a somewhat fat child all throughout elementary school, I got the honor of playing Santa Claus in my first grade Christmas play. I didn’t need a lot of extra padding. I had to pantomime to “The Night Before Christmas,” including puffing my pipe and shaking like a bowl of jelly.

9. I became a Houston Astros fan at a young age, back when they routinely occupied the National League cellar. I would listen to the game broadcasts on a little AM/FM radio in my room.

10. I signed up for the “Astros Buddies” club one year, and listed my favorite Astro as Jesus Alou. I got a membership card with his photo on it.

11. Speaking of the Astros, the summer before my freshman year in college I worked in “food service” at the Astroworld amusement park in Houston. I sold soft drinks, made hamburgers and peddled Pink Things out in the blazing Texas sun.

12. I have three brothers, all younger than me. I’m the only one of them who has either married or had kids. One of them still lives at home with my parents. I don’t see them very often.

13. I once was urinated on by a lion in a zoo. I must do a post about that some time.

14. My favorite Charlie’s Angel when the show was on TV was Cheryl Ladd, but now I think I like Jaclyn Smith the best. I was never a big fan of Farrah Fawcett-Majors, especially after she started knocking around with Ryan O’Neal.

15. I played trombone in junior high and high school. At one point I was thinking of switching to trumpet, so I took lessons and learned to play that as well. As a result, I ended up being able to play trombone, trumpet, baritone and tuba.

16. I can also play the triangle.

17. My mother describes my heritage as “Heinz 57 variety.” My ancestors were German, Czech, Polish, English and even Native American. We got around.

18. One of my ancestors supposedly an early Texas settler. As a result, I was accepted into membership to the Sons of the Republic of Texas. I have never been to a meeting, but I’m a member.

19. When I was a radio and TV reporter, some of the famous people I got to interview or ask questions of in news conferences were President Jimmy Carter, Beverly Sills, Merle Haggard, Alexander Haig, Donny and Marie Osmond and Heloise.

20. When I was visiting New York City one time in my bachelor days, I saw novelist John Irving in Central Park. I was a fan of The World According to Garp and a few of his other books, and I thought about approaching him and introducing myself, but he was in a deep conversation with a young woman, and I didn’t think he’d enjoy being interrupted.

21. I started collecting coins as a young boy, and have continued to do so off and on since then.

22. I can name all of the U.S. presidents from memory, and in the order they served. I’ve known how to do this since third grade.

23. I have written one short story that I took the trouble to have copyrighted. It’s called “The Bloody Turnip Diet.” I wrote it in college, and it’s about a kid who hates having to analyze stories to death in English class.

24. I’ve been a Beatles fan almost my entire life, but during college and my 20s I was a huge fan. When John Lennon was murdered in 1980, I wore a black armband to work.

25. As a kid, I once owned a guinea pig named Sassafras.

And Them Ain't Small Potatoes

Here's a little-known piece of Hollywood trivia for you on this rainy Friday afternoon (at least in Waco, Texas).

Actress Marilyn Monroe was photographed wearing just about every conceivable type of clothing during her career, including bib overalls, sailor suits and a few infamous shots wearing "nothing but a smile." At one point, a newspaper columnist remarked that Marilyn would look good even in a potato sack, and she responded by posing in one. The shots of her wearing the "potato sack dress" were a bit hit around the world.

So, what do you think? How does Marilyn Monroe look in burlap?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Random Observations and Trivial Events

1. Did any of you see the Rolling Stones perform during halftime of the recent Super Bowl? I was watching the show with a bunch of other 40-somethings from my Sunday school class, and the initial consensus was that Mick Jagger looked pretty good for someone in his 60s, especially considering how thin he was and how much energy he seemed to have. However, after Mick removed his jacket and started strutting in a T-shirt, a closeup shot revealed the wiggling wattles of fleshy fat dangling from his upper arms, and the women in the room I was in let out a loud, simultaneous “Ewwwwww” of revulsion. I think it ruined for them the whole idea of Mick as a senior citizen sex symbol.

2. People here in Waco were shocked and saddened to learn of the death of one of our local TV weather forecaster’s sons over the weekend. What was unusual was that it was not an accidental death brought on by a car accident or drug overdose, but an accidental death that occurred while parasailing behind a tractor. I didn’t know you could even do this, much less that people do do it. I know the family must be grieving, so please say a prayer for them.

3. Have you heard the incessant ads on radio and TV for some product called “HeightMax?” A father comes on, worrying and fretting aloud about his son’s short stature, and the helpful female announcer asks, “Have you tried HeightMax?” It’s supposedly an “all-natural” supplement full of vitamins and nutrients, according to the company’s website, but my question is, who has the problem here? The kid who might just be a little delayed in his normal development, or the anal retentive dad who is so worried about his child not being as tall as the other boys that he’s willing to try pills hawked over the airwaves? I know a number of buddies of mine who were shrimps in junior high or early high school, and by the time they hit college they were six feet tall or better. Sometimes it just takes time. But I guess I can understand why a person might want to try to help the body along. Society is not very kind to very short men, I don't think. (I'm 6'2", by the way. I was very tall very early, the opposite dilemma).

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Muley's Metaphors: The Coelacanth

"The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others; and it is also a sign of genius."

--Aristotle, Poetics

Okay, now hold it. I'm surely not claiming to be any stripe of genius, but I do love metaphors, and I like to create them in the same way that some people might like to make a quilt or take a pretty photograph.

What usually happens is that I will be thinking about something, usually something puzzling or surprising in my life, and, unbidden, a metaphor will burst out of my subconcious. I will then match it to the situation I'm thinking about to see how well it "fits." If it springs a lot of holes, I discard it. But if it keeps its shape on first examination, I tend to put it in the back of my mind, and then bring it out every now and then to test it again. After passing a number of tests such as these, I'll usually "keep" the metaphor in my permanent storage chest, even if there are a few minor aspects that don't fit perfectly. I mean, how often does any illustration or comparison fit perfectly?

I say all of this to preface the fact that my metaphor chest has gotten a bit crowded, and to air it out I've decided to share a few of my "keepers" with you. That way, you can tell me if I'm spot on, or if my metaphor crafting ability is as full of holes as a donut factory.

Today's metaphor uses the image of something called a coelacanth. That's pronounced SEE-luh-kanth. I first heard the story of the coelacanth when I was a child, and it has always fascinated me.

What, you ask, is a coelacanth? Well, it is a species of fish, representing the oldest lineage of fish known to man. Here's the thing: until 1938, the only examples of the coelacanth we knew of were fossils. The fish was believed to have been extinct since the end of the Cretaceous period (the "Age of Dinosaurs"), which ended 65 million years ago.

So here's the coelacanth, thought vanished from the Earth for 65 million years. But then, in 1938, an amazing thing happened. A strange fish was caught off the east coast of South Africa off the Chalumna River. The local fishing experts couldn't identify this large and somewhat ugly fish, and it finally ended up being shown to a taxidermist. He remembered seeing pictures of the fossil remains of a coelacanth, and positively identified the mystery fish.

It was evident that the reports of the coelacanth's extinction were premature. Since 1938, in fact, a number of other specimens have been caught in various places in Africa and Indonesia.

I have never caught an extinct fish, but I have had a number of "coelacanth moments" in my life with friends and acquaintances. I will meet someone at a certain point in my life -- maybe a schoolmate, a neighbor, a fellow employee, a romantic partner -- and for awhile I am in frequent contact with them. But then, something major happens -- I move, they move, or we both move. Maybe we are good enough friends that we try our best to keep in touch, but we both get busy with new friends and responsibilities, and before long we have disappeared off each other's radar screens entirely. Old photographs and yearbooks might be the only way either of us remember the other at all.

But just when we think that other person is gone, forgotten, blotted off the Earth entirely, BOOM, we turn a corner and run into them. We have had our coelacanth moment, and a person we thought we'd never see or hear from again is now making small talk with us as if only days, not years, have passed.

The number of my coelacanth moments is not large, but the sightings have definitely been more numerous than I'd ever have predicted. The latest one is one of the most surprising. I went to elementary school at a place called Frostwood Elementary School in Houston in the mid- and late 1960s. One of the kids in my classes was a guy named Lyle who was a friend, but not really a close friend. He had a very unusual last name (which I'll not reveal here), and his full name I doubt is shared by anyone else in the United States. I moved from Houston to Friendswood in 1972, and that was the last I saw of Lyle. I thought.

Fast forward to about six weeks ago. My nine-year-old daughter Katelyn has signed up for a new season of youth basketball, and it's the Saturday when she gets to meet her new coach and teammates for the first time. I take her to the gym and proceed to try and guess which middle aged guy on the court is her coach. I point to one man and ask a bystander, "Is that Coach Jones?", and they say "No, that's Lyle _____." I hear that name from my childhood, and I immediately know that there's no way that person can be anyone but my old classmate. I walk up and introduce myself, and sure enough, it's him. We're both a bit amused, I think, to run into each other this way.

Of course, there's a sequel to this story. Last night, my daughter's basketball team, winless so far, was hoping to score their first victory with an easy win against Lyle's team (winless and almost scoreless for the season). Dang it if he and his girls didn't beat us. I was thinking after the game, if I'd only known back in elementary school that Lyle's daughter's team was going to beat my daughter's team, I probably wouldn't have loaned him any pencils.

This is only the latest coelacanth moment I've known. I've been on vacation in faraway cities I've never visited before and run into people I worked with or studied with decades before. I have gotten calls out of the blue from high school classmates I last saw on graduation night more than 25 years ago. I have worked with neophyte reporters in small market television stations, lost track of them after they got better jobs, and then years later found them again, appearing on some national network TV news program. It seems I keep catching those ancient fish, over and over again.

So, what about you? Have you had any coelacanth moments? And if so, were they pleasing, or upsetting? I'm interested to know.

In any case, this was fun. I'll be back with more metaphors from time to time.

Monday, February 06, 2006

When Can We Call Ourselves Artists?

My teenage daughter Rebecca, an aspiring artist, found a book in the shelves on a recent Barnes & Noble excursion called The Art Spirit by Robert Henri. Henri was apparently a famous painter and painting instructor, and the book is a collection of his comments collected from his lectures and letters, published back in 1923. I looked through the book and found a number of thought-provoking observations. Here's how the book opens up:
Art when really understood is the province of every human being. It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well. It is not an outside, extra thing.

When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he opens ways for a better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it, shows there are still more pages possible.

The world would stagnate without him, and the world would be beautiful with him; for he is interesting to himself and he is interesting to others. He does not have to be a painter or sculptor to be an artist. He can work in any medium. He simply has to find the gain in the work itself, not outside it.

Museums of art will not make a country an art country. But where there is the art spirit there will be precious works to fill museums. Better still, there will be the happiness that is in the making. Art tends towards balance, order, judgment of relative values, the laws of growth, the economy of living -- very good things for anyone to be interested in.
Here's another passage that leaped out at me:
There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual -- become clairvoyant. We reach then into reality. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom.

It is in the nature of all people to have these experiences; but in our time and under the conditions of our lives, it is only a rare few who are able to continue in the experience and find expression for it.

At such times there is a song going on within us, a song to which we listen. It fills us with surprise. We marvel at it. We would continue to hear it. But few are capable of holding themselves in the state of listening to their own song. Intellectuality steps in and as the song within us is of the utmost sensitiveness, it retires in the presence of the cold, material intellect. It is aristocratic and will not associate itself with the commonplace -- and we fall back and become our ordinary selves. Yet we live in the memory of these songs which in moments of intellectual inadvertence have been possible to us. They are the pinnacles of our experience and it is the desire to express these intimate sensations, this song from within, which motivates the masters of all art.
I felt a pang of knowing guilt reading this one:
The habit of digression -- lack of continued interest -- want of fixed purpose, is an almost general failing. It is too easy to drift and the habit of letting oneself drift begets drifting. The power of concentration is rare and must be sought and cultivated, and prolonged work on one subject must not be mistaken for concentration. Prolonged work on one subject may be simply prolonged digression, which is a useless effort, as it is to no end.
And here's one final thought from Robert Henri:
The true artist regards his work as a means of talking with men, of saying his say to himself and to others. It is not a question of pay. It is not a question of willing acceptance on the part of the public. If he is welcomed and paid it is very good, but whether or no he must say his say.

Rejected Romance Novel Titles #2