Sliding Otter News 12/31/2011

Christmas Travels of James and the Magi



Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.

~Mary Ellen Chase~

The Christmas season celebrating the birth of the Baby Jesus continues. The Magi traveling through the desert by camel always fascinated me most about the Christmas story. According to one gospel account, wise men caught wind of Jesus’ impending birth and made their way to Bethlehem. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Their arrival from the East has been celebrated as the Epiphany when Jesus was made known to the world and traditionally observed on January 6, also my birthday.

For me, Christmas brings with it time to reflect on my life so far, on the events of the first Christmas and the Magi arriving in Bethlehem on my birthday. This year I thought of all the times I attended midnight Mass and the crackle in the air amid the pine trees punctuated the quiet. Peaceful midnight hour. I don’t remember being a baby but I do recall all the times babies took center stage at Christmas.

Something new took place in our family around Christmas time this year. A baby, James, traveled with his parents from the East, specifically Abu Dhabi, to Western New York to meet his relatives. He arrived by jet, not camel. Typical of most babies he did not do much, but then he didn’t have to. He cuddled in the arms of those who immediately loved him. Previously they had seen him only in pictures or through the electronic miracle of Skype. His bright, inquisitive eyes explored each person, immediately captivating them with his presence. He smiled his unique smile. He grabbed and nuzzled anything shiny which came into his grasp. He never said anything profound. He never said anything at all. Yet he brought something special to each room he entered and quickly became the center of attention, drawing all eyes to himself.

Any concerns or issues I brought with me into the room vanished immediately, no longer important. Nothing else mattered for the moment. I had a sense that everyone else’s experience matched mine. James radiated pure peace, innocence and delight as only a baby can do.

Babies bring a fresh perspective to each new experience. They have nothing to compare it with and delight in everything happening around them. They never have a chance to become bored since everything takes place for the first time for them. Everything is new, even their own toes. They haven’t learned to like or dislike anything yet. Each experience opens a new frontier.

Babies don’t know very much about life, at least not yet. But they have no worries, cares or problems. They approach each moment with eyes wide open and eager to learn about whatever takes place around them. Maybe we can take some of their peaceful presence with us and try looking at life the way they do.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Spend some time with a baby.
  • Leave behind you concerns, fears and regrets.
  • Look at life the way a baby does.
  • Remember what that feels like.
  • Try it later when you feel overwhelmed.

Ready for Christmas

Back Yard in Winter

Back Yard in Winter

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. I wasn’t sure I would hear from you this year.
JOE: Don’t be a pessimist. I’ve just been busy at work and with Christmas preparations.
CALLIOPE: So, is all that behind you now?
JOE: It is. All is prepared.
CALLIOPE: And your writing?
JOE: In between everything else, I have been reading steadily in preparation for my next book. I would rather be writing but I want to make sure of what I have to say.
CALLIOPE: What are you reading?
JOE: At present I am reading Bill Kauffman’s “Bye Bye Miss American Empire” a book about the restless relationship between political entities within the US and loosely affiliated with it. I am also reading Henry Howard Brownell’s “The New World: Embracing American History.” I have several other books waiting in the wings.
CALLIOPE: What are your prospects for completing this project?
JOE: Too soon to tell. But so far I am enjoying the journey.
CALLIOPE: Will you have to keep fitting it in with everything else?
JOE: Eventually I will, but I have all next week off and hope to get a good start.
CALLIOPE: Glad to hear it. Anything else going on?
JOE: Just enjoying the Christmas season.
CALLIOPE: Merry Christmas to you and those you love.
JOE: Merry Christmas to you and your sister Muses.


Sliding Otter News 12-17-2011

Sliding Otter News

December 17, 2011

Knowing When It’s Time for a New Path

Incan Road- Cozumel

Incan Road- Cozumel

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could

~Robert Frost~

Several years ago, I completed my first novel, The Pastor’s Inferno. Another project popped into my mind and I started jotting my second novel, Marital Property. The draft finished and polished to the best of my ability, I asked two trusted friends for their comments. Both told me they learned some things they did not know about marriage, but found the characters dull and the narrative flat.

Not what I wanted to hear. But I thank both for their honesty at the risk of tarnishing our friendship. I have written long enough to know that I am not always the best judge of my writing. I let the manuscript ferment for a while and then embarked on a revision. Although working on it encouraged me, the end result proved less than satisfying. More fermentation. Then I made another foray, several times in fact. Still no progress.

After much ado, I set it aside yet again and threw myself into books about fiction style and bringing characters to life. Then out popped the manuscript again. Poring over it and changing description and dialog failed to bring it to life. However, I noticed improvements in my nonfiction writing. Hmmm.

After another period of reflection, it dawned on me that I might be laboring in the wrong vineyard. Perhaps I was not destined to write fiction or perhaps life brought me into a new field of endeavor. Putting my prospective novel to pasture brought me sadness and a sense of having wasted quite a bit of time. But then maybe it was necessary to work for a while on a manuscript not destined for publication to arrive at a project with more promise.

Lately I have started researching a nonfiction project, quite different from anything I have written before. Whether I fare any better this time remains to be seen. At least I have not given up on my writing and have the sense of adventure and promise I always find with a new writing challenge. Where it will end I don’t know but am ready for a new path.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~Robert Frost~

Life Lab Lessons

  • Are you spinning your wheels?

  • What makes you feel stuck?

  • Is it time for a new path?

  • What is it?

  • Take the first step.


Sliding Otter News 12/3/2011

Finding Little Ways to Share Our Treasures

Metropolitan Opera

Metropolitan Opera

Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to feel grateful for what we have. Besides feeling grateful, we can do something about it. Spending Thanksgiving in New York City gave me ample opportunity. Waiting for La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera, I glanced through the list of contributors to the opera, some giving as much as thirty million dollars. How would it feel to make such a gift?

Up since four AM to travel to New York, my energy began to wane after two acts in standing room. Carol and I decided to meet Mike, who performed in Act II, at the ticket office and call it a day. As we waited, a man came and sat next to us. He settled his satchel and take-out coffee on the floor, plugged his ears into the Sirius Radio headphones on the wall next to him and listened to the intermission show.

Maybe he could not afford an opera ticket. The threads of his clothes looked ready to separate from each other. Yet no spots stained his suit. No offensive odor emanated from him. I guessed that he loved opera and ambled in from the street to listen for a while. I greeted him and he shared a tidbit from the intermission show.

A plan began to emerge but I had no wish to offend him. How could I put it? As the intermission wore on, a sense of urgency overtook me. I asked him if he would be heading back in for the third act. “Oh no.” he said, “ I’ll just listen from here.” I gathered he had no ticket. I offered him mine, telling him I could not stand any longer although I thoroughly enjoyed the first two acts.

He came to life at my offer. In the few minutes we had before the next act, he told me of his manuscript in the scuffed and worn leather satchel between his feet. He never let it out of his sight. He is writing a book about how opera fits into the overall culture. As a writer, I would have liked to spend more time with him. I knew that if he did not soon make his way to my spot in the theater, the doors would close and he would be no closer to the stage than when he arrived. Profusely thanking me, he gathered his effects and made his way toward the stairs.

I don’t expect to ever see him again. No time to exchange names or contact information. To me it was a small favor. For him, perhaps the chance of a lifetime. I will never know.

Life Lab Lessons

  • What can you share?
  • Who can use it?
  • Would you feel better?
  • Would someone else feel better?
  • Take a chance.



All of my books are now available for Nook and Kindle:

Commonsense Wisdom for Everyday Life Nook or  Kindle
Young Man of the Cloth Nook or Kindle
The Pastor’s Inferno Nook or Kindle
Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage Nook or Kindle


Phoenix Revisited

Times Square

Times Square

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. Glad to talk with you at a civil hour.
JOE: My pleasure. I was up at 3 AM thinking about my writing.
CALLIOPE: Share your thoughts.
JOE: As you know I have been reading furiously about writing technique and also reading a great variety of stories. I have been working on my novel, Marital Property, and continuing with my columns/newsletter.
CALLIOPE: And your discovery?
JOE: Strange you should ask. I have noticed that my novel still shows no signs of coming to life. On the other hand, my nonfiction writing seems to be sharper and brighter. I think it is clear that I should concentrate on nonfiction, at least for the time being.
CALLIOPE: Makes sense. You should concentrate on what you do well. Do you plan to abandon your novel?
JOE: Abandon seems to definite. I will put it aside and work on another project.
CALLIOPE: Such as?
JOE: I had none in mind. By the time I was ready to fall asleep again, I had the germ on of an idea which I embellished a little this morning.
CALLIOPE: Tell me about it?
JOE: I am considering a book on how America got to its current crisis state and where we can go from here.
CALLIOPE: Sounds ambitious.
JOE: It is but I think I am ready for it. I will refine the idea and talk more with you about it.