Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Lesson of Lost Hair

Essential wisdom never changes. Let me tell you a small tale. That is, let me paraphrase a simple story from more than 2,000 years ago. This is from the ancient Greek tradition. I found it among a collection of folk tales, and rewrote it:

An aging warrior was distressed over the accelerated loss . . . not of his battle skills, but of his HAIR. Ultimately, he found himself almost totally bald. His response: to acquire a wig. This served its purpose to a degree. But one day, on a hunting trip with some of his most revered friends, a violent wind gust spirited away his fraudulent coverlet. Laughter could not be stifled all round. In fact, the old soldier himself had to chuckle. “I must confess,” he said, “that if my natural hair refused to linger, why should I expect an estranged surrogate to be long for this world?”

Why am I blogging this? Not for the story per se, but for its exemplification of humility. Wouldn’t we all do well to confess our foibles, laugh at ourselves and get on with our purposes in life, unencumbered by vanity?

Blessed With Bogs

In South Carolina, we -- some of us, at any rate -- relish our swamps. Different people enjoy them in different ways. Duck hunters don waders and gleefully ply the mire. Naturalists and nature guides in flatboats chronicle the wonders of primitive creation. As for me, I treasure the thought of exploring dark, snaky swamps, but in reality I never get to do that. However, I take an interest in the names, locations and histories of our swamps.

In lower Lexington County (my own stomping grounds), for example, is Bull Swamp. I've never clarified the legacy, but there has to be a story there. In Berkeley County is the pleasantly dubbed Daisy Swamp -- although the name derives not from flowers but from a corruption of the name of area landowners: Deas. Hell Hole Swamp in the same area long has been called “a hell of a hole,” but there are conflicting ideas as to the name’s origin. According to some, moonshiners secluded in the swamp concocted such vile potions that their customers, after a few pulls at the jug, thought they surely were in hell. A more sinister suggestion points to the fact that in a certain area of the swamp, no trees will grow -- allegedly a sign that Satan has cursed the ground.

By one listing, South Carolina has more than 500 swamps. Some are protected areas. One of my favorite places on the planet is Congaree Swamp National Monument, a vast riverside domain only 20 minutes south of the state capital. Four Holes Swamp in the Low Country includes the Francis Beidler Forest, now managed by the Audobon Society.

Carolinians have taken special pride in their swamps ever since the Revolutionary era. Col. Francis Marion, the Patriot guerrilla hero, used formidable bogs as hideaways from the British and was branded, quite appropriately, the “Swamp Fox.”

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Weekly Folk Music Quiz (28jul05)

Blind Willie McTell, the respected Piedmont-style blues musician, developed innovations on the: a) bass, b) trombone, c) piano, d) 12-string guitar.

Weekly History Quiz (28jul05)

The First Balkan War was fought in: a) 1651, b) 1774, c) 1845-50, d) 1912-13.

Weekly Amusement (28jul05)

From a high school geography student’s report: “It is so cold in Greenland that the inhabitants are forced to live in other countries.”

Milton in Darkness

John Milton (1608-74) began writing verse at the age of 17 while a student at Cambridge. During the next half century he built his legacy as a giant of literature. His greatest work, by virtually all accounts, was accomplished after he was afflicted with blindness in 1652.

Milton’s most famous classics are Paradise Lost (1667), Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes (both finished in 1671). The former two expound on the relationship between God and humankind; the latter is a Puritan-era tragedy based on the biblical Samson.

Much of Milton’s later life was a progression of tribulations. He was severely frustrated by his visual incapacity. His first two wives died, as did an infant daughter. And he briefly was imprisoned after the restoration to the throne of Charles II in 1660; Milton had been a member of the rebellious parliamentarians during the English Civil War. He persevered with remarkable diligence to his death.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Weekly Folk Music Quiz (21jul05)

A naker was a medieval: a) ensemble of street singers, b) drum, c) fife, d) ballad composer.

Weekly History Quiz (21jul05)

Spaniards during the 1500s built Fort Morro to protect their colonial port of: a) Manila, b) St. Augustine, c) San Francisco, d) Havanna.

Weekly Amusement (21jul05)

Father: What did you learn in school today?

Daughter: Not much, apparently. They say I have to go back tomorrow.

Emily Dickinson, Self-Published Poet

Many authors and poets struggling to get their works in print shy away from the concept of self-publishing because of its stigma; it’s perceived as the final resort of amateurs whose output isn’t good enough to sell. However, they might want to consider the legacy of one 19th-Century poet who pursued self-publishing: Emily Dickinson. Her method was tedious and not at all lucrative, but it endeared her to a wide circle of friends.

Dickinson (1830-86) wrote almost 2,000 poems, many of them four-line commentaries on topics ranging from romance to religion to death. Only 10 were published while she lived, but she distributed hundreds of them -- sometimes self-bound -- in letters to friends.

Four years after her death, the first anthology of her poetry appeared. Her verse became immediately and immensely popular, and the rest is literary history.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Weekly Folk Music Quiz (14jul05)

The ancient plainsong was: a) a Catholic chant, b) a Gypsy poem, c) a work song of medieval serfs, d) a funereal litany of Native Americans.

Weekly History Quiz (14jul05)

Dirk Hartog in 1616 found himself “accidentally” exploring western Australia . . . for which European nation? a) Germany, b) The Netherlands, c) Finland, d) France.

Weekly Amusement (14jul05)

A family and their pet dog watched a video movie. The dog’s ears drooped and its eyes moistened at the sad scenes. It rose on its haunches, pawed the air and barked loudly during the action scenes.

That's weird,” intoned the family teen-ager. “Dottie hated the book.”

Productivity Tip: Organize Your Time

If you collapse onto the sofa at the end of your work day wondering what, if anything, you’ve accomplished, that means you’re much like me. I don’t loaf (much), but I rarely feel I’ve put in the proverbial “good day’s work" -- yet, I'm always exhausted. That’s usually because 1) I’ve been repeatedly diverted by crisis fires to put out and by chit-chat or 2) I’ve simply not focused on what I needed to get done that day.

Consider K.J. McCorry’s new book Organize Your Work Day . . . In No Time (Que Publishing; A professional organizer in Colorado, McCorry starts by getting you to describe your “perfect work day,” then to identify the differences between your ideal and reality. She focuses on the use of computers to manage your work time (this being the Digital Age), but much of her tutelage can be adapted by those whose office routines are paper-based, as well. Computer books these days are exorbitantly priced, in my view -- but not this one. At $16.95 (paperback, 227 pages), it can be a bargain, if you’ve been squandering your time hand-over-fist like me.

Que Publishing sent me a review copy of the book to consider for The Lawyer’s PC, the legal technology newsletter I edit for Thomson/West. I find it to be of potential benefit not just to legal professionals but to all readers whose office jobs are drowning them.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Weekly Folk Music Quiz (7jul05)

In which century do folk musicologists believe a predecessor of the banjo arrived in America from Africa? a) 16th, b) 17th, c) 18th, d) 19th.

Weekly History Quiz (7jul05)

World War II “officially” began in: a) 1934, b) 1939, c) 1941, d) 1944.

Weekly Amusement (7jul05)

Newspaper headline: “Local Realty Firm’s Holiday Generosity: $5,000 Bogus Check to Each Employee”

Classic Mystery Short Story E-Books -- Free!

It's up right now! It's running! "Vintage Short Mystery Classics," my selected series of mystery/gothic stories by some of my own favorite writers from generations past, is available to you for downloading and reading. Go to and take down the stories you'd like to read—literally without obligation. I'd like nothing better than that you forward some of these vintage stories along to your friends. Introduce them to the genres of literature we've come to admire. The wonderful part is that they're free, because they're now so old they're in the public domain. My daughter Courtney (the artist) and I have been punching the text into digital files, and the first group of short stories now are formatted and posted for downloading. (CAVEAT: You'll see notices describing my "Harper Chronicles" stories in the back of each "Vintage Short Mystery Classics" storybook—but you can ignore those, if you wish.)

Please let us know what you think. More will be posted each month. Come back often!

Above all . . . enjoy!

In Christ,