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“Read a Lot and Write a Lot” How I Avoid Misery 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

British historian Sir Max Hastings, whose book Catastrophe 1914, Europe Goes to War I am re-reading since I just completed another trip through Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, once made the comment: “I would be miserable if I went to bed without having written 1,000 words about something.” I am much the same way and hopefully one day I might be one tenth as good, and as successful writer as him or Tuchman. 

I do most of my writing before I go to bed at night and usually set my articles to post at 6:30 in the morning. I have a hard time going to sleep without writing be it for this website or for one of the books that I am working on. I read voraciously whenever I get the chance sometimes going to a bar just to read a book while enjoying a good craft beer or Germanor Irish import. Likewise once I am done with whatever I am writing I go right back to reading, sometimes keeping whatever Papillon is sleeping with me from getting the sleep that they want. That’s what I will be doing tonight when I finish this article which you will be reading tomorrow when it posts. In a sense my writings are kind of like Schroedinger’s cat, they are written yet unwritten at the same time, but I digress…

Today while on vacation in Huntington, West Virginia, I have been doing a lot of my own reading, as well as keeping up with the latest news about the building crisis regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles and President Trump’s unrelenting bellicose tweets and statements. Likewise today I’ve walked about seven and a half miles, much of it around the campus of Marshall University and walking my dogs around the neighborhood that we are staying. As I walk I tend to take in everything I see and because of my PTSD I am still somewhat hyper vigilant which causes me to be a bit more observant about my surroundings than a lot of other people. But I also muse about things going on in the world as well as things that I am writing or plan on writing about. I did a lot of today and over the past few days. The next couple of days won’t be as free because Judy has scheduled us for some social activities, but I will still find a way to in get my reading, writing, and walking. 

But going back to writing and reading I have to say that I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t do either, I think I would be in some sort of hell if I couldn’t write every night or read. Doing these things helps me keep my perspective and to more fully appreciate the events of the day. Honestly, if I had not consciously immersed myself in history from the time that I was a child, including the many days that I cut 10th grade Geometry class to read the history reference books that I couldn’t check out of the school library I wouldn’t be who I am today. 

I like writing history because I become immersed in the people, the places, and the intricacies and complexity of the events. I like to incorporate the little known back stories of people help understand their actions at a given point. Likewise think that the lives of the individuals involved in the events I write about, both before, and after the event should they have lived through it, give my readers a more human connection to the events, as well as understanding of the people involved. I find that the stories of people allow readers to make those connections, maybe even inspiring in them a bit of sympathy for scoundrels or suspicion of supposed saints. 

I think that the character of people, good, bad, or wherever it falls on the spectrum, and their basic humanity; their strengths, weaknesses, contradictions, and their feet of clay, matter immensely and need to be part a of the story. I hate it when I read a history where a given character’s actions during a given event are examined in detail, but who they are as a person never comes through because the authors didn’t give their readers the courtesy of introducing them as people because they included little or no biographical details to make them interesting. Instead they become one dimensional caricatures of who they were in life, which in my view does them, the story, and the reader a grave injustice. So when I write I try to find interesting parts of a person’s life that is not directly related to the event to paint the picture. Walter Lord, who wrote prolific books on some of the key events of the Twentieth Century including books about the Titanic, Pearl Harbor, Midway, Dunkirk, the desegregation of the University of Mississippi, and many more noted something that I have taken to heart, I look for something that is highly unusual, involving ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations.”

That’s one reason I like the writings of both Tuchman and Hastings, they bring life to to the events they write about, they allow your imagination to run and to want discover more about the people and the events. The late Walter Lord, who I also mentioned was also excellent at doing that, and I think that is how I would like my writings be remembered. But in order to do that I have to read and write, as Stephen King said “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” So back to Hastings’ Catastrophe 1914.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Friends, Puppies & Laughter: the Cure for the Celtic Funk 

  

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Last week really sucked and I do want to thank those of you who have been so kind to offer words of encouragement on the site or on other social media platforms. Last night was a contuation of the funk. I did not sleep well, had very strange dreams and nightmares and when I got up this morning I was in a deeper funk than I was anytime during the past week. So I just want to say thank you for the love, concern, support and prayers. 

For those that don’t know my family background, we are mostly Scotish, Irish and English with a little bit of French Hugenot and a smidgen of Scandnavian mixed in. Thus I am predominately of Celtic stock which can take a melancholy mood and make it worse, the only fixes for such a foul temper is some irreverent humor and beer. The humor I have enjoyed and I will enjoy the beer in not too long. 

Without reciting the litany of all the events that happened last week, including some that we will still have to face that could make last week look good, I have to say that I am in a far better state of mind that I was just a few hours ago. There are three things for this. First are the friends, many who have known me for years who have offered uncouragement and did not preach at me. Likewise there are my friends that I am getting to know who follow and comment on what I write here, as well as those on Twitter. It would take so much time to mention everyone who has been so kind and I fear that I would leave someone out. But you all know who you are and I have responded individually to all of you. God bless you and thank you. 

  

That being said last week I felt like my life was a bad country and western song and kind of reminded me of the opening scene of the movie “Stripes” starring Bill Murray. After losing his job, his car, his girlfriend and having dropped his pizza on the ground he simply said “and then depression set in.” I have been so depressed this past week, and I am sure that when I see her next that my shrink will note in my chart that I am officially suffering from clinical depression. But my friends I digress…

Today started out as crappy as any of the past week. I got in to work early, checked my e-mail and then went down to my empty chapel having locked my keys in my office. I had to get security to get the master key to let me in so I could open up the chapel for the throngs of people who do not show up. Then I had to get an external hard drive to take to the Apple Store as my old MacBook Pro went crazy and crapped out on me yesterday. I can either spend big bucks to have it repaired or pay a couple of hundred buck more for the new and improved model. 

  

I got to the mall where the Apple Store is located and found out that it did not open until eleven a.m. I mean that they don’t even unlock the doors until eleven. So I am standing in Barnes and Noble, which by the way is open wondering just why the hell I can’t walk the mall even if no stores are open. So in frustration I go to the Starbucks inside Barnes and Noble to get a cup of coffee. In front of me is a couple who looked far older than me though I am sure they were probably about my age. The difference is that they were dressed like grown ups, something that to Judy’s consternation I am incapable of doing. This couple were either on their way to or on their way from church and the wife was agonizing over what type of tea to purchase, maybe it was for a gift or for their own consumption by the woman was deeply serious about what would be a key decision in life. 

So the girl behind the counter, the barista, I think that is what we call them now asks me what I would like. 

I responded with my standard line, “plain black coffee.” When she asked if I wanted her to leave room for creame or sugar I responded “no I drink it dark and bitter like my life.” That was more true than usual this morning, usually I mean it as a joke, but today I was quite serious. When I said it the church lady looked up from her quest for the perfect tea and almost in shock said “you poor man.” Somehow that cheered me up a bit. I attempted to assuage her obviously genuine concern by giving her a big smile and a wink. gave her a big smile and wink. 

I sat down and had my dark and bitter coffee and as I did so my Facebook and Twtter friends were offering words of encouragement. Finally the mall open its doors and I was able to go to the Apple Store and drop off the external hard drive to get all my data from the old computer. 

When I got home I was treated by Minnie and Izzy. There is nothing like the greeting of sweet puppies to melt one’s heart and to cheer one up. That was nice. Of course Judy and I were able to talk about the week, reflect on Molly and our concerns about what she might face. We had some good laughs and then I saw a quote that made me laugh harder than I have all week. It is from Stephen King.

“When his life was ruined, his family killed, his farm destroyed, Job knelt down on the ground and yelled up to the heavens, ‘Why God? Why me?’ And the thundering voice of God answered ‘There’s just something about you that pisses me off.’

I about hurt myself laughing and now I feel so much better. I’m sure I will quote it the next time Job is in the lectionary readings for a Sunday. Perhaps a tiny bit of blasphemy is the best medicine after all. 

  

Have a great Sunday, and thank you for everything.

Peace

Padre Steve+ 


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Padre Steve’s World at Five Years: Writing My Way to Freedom as a Passionate Moderate

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“If you want to be a writer, you have to write every day… You don’t go to a well once but daily. You don’t skip a child’s breakfast or forget to wake up in the morning…” Walter Moseley

Friends of Padre Steve’s World. Five years ago I began to write on Padre Steve’s World…Musings of Passionate Moderate.

The name was chosen for a number of reasons. Padre Steve’s World hearkened back to one of my favorite Saturday Night Live skits and later films, Wayne’s World. The idea of musings is fairly self explanatory, these are, regardless of the subject my musings, inspired by whatever muse inhabits me. Finally the idea of a “Passionate Moderate” hearkened back to my days in seminary. Passionate and moderate are not terms that one generally links together, in fact when I was in seminary the term moderate was a term of distain used by some Christian Conservatives and Fundamentalists to vilify those that did not match their definition of a conservative. I chose the two ideas because to many people, on the right and the left cannot imagine a “Moderate” being passionate.

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However that moderation does not mean that I do not have strong ideas, beliefs and convictions, even when I can see truth in what others who do not agree with me have to say. Over the past five years my identity has become more established. I am a moderate, but in some ways I am a progressive liberal, in others a conservative. Regardless of where I fall in the religious, social and political continuum I am passionate about what I believe, I do seek the truth, but at the same time I attempt to maintain a moderate view that allows me to hear what others say and believe with an open heart.

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Padre Steve’s World began as a place to share my struggles with faith, PTSD and its effects on my life and coming home from war changed. It was something that was born out of pain, but also born out of love, love for writing, love for truth, love for justice and love of knowledge.

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As I began to write my life was coming apart, and writing became a place where could express my inner angst, find community and begin to heal. Engaging my creative muse enabled me to share those things that it was hard to do anywhere else. Many times those were the hardest things to say, the hardest things to put down in pen and ink, the things that were the secrets of my heart. Sometimes, just trying to write them was gut wrenching and filled my eyes with tears. But as I wrote, I discovered myself, discovered people for whom what I wrote resinated, and others that Stephen King said something that finds an echo in my life and heart:

“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.”

That being said when I began much of what I wrote about was either dealing with my struggles or about things I knew a lot about. Those subjects included history, military subjects, theology and the Christian life and baseball. As I began to expand my writings the topics broadened to include political commentary, music, civil rights and the role of religion in public life.

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When I did this I decided not to shy away from controversial topics and to risk the rejection of some. The consequences of this his became quite real in September of 2010 when I was told to leave a church that I had served for 14 years as a Priest. Since then I still write about topics that are controversial, though I do try my best to be fair when I do so.

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Mark Twain advised writers to “write what they know.” Fortunately for me that was not hard, I know a lot about a lot of subjects. That is not a boast, but merely a recognition that between a lot of academic study, a lot of reading and a lot of life experience I have a pretty good repository of knowledge, including a lot of odd knowledge. That would make me a Keeper Of Odd Knowledge, or KOOK. I can live with that too.

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That being said I am not one to think that I know it all, I follow the advice of the late manager of the Baltimore Orioles, Earl Weaver that “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Since PTSD and the Moral Injury that I had suffered in Iraq was kicking my ass when I began to write, and I was finding that I really didn’t know much of anything that I thought I knew about life I did take this advice to heart.

Stephen King noted that “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”  The fact is I have always been an avid reader, mostly of history, military history and theory, church history, theology, biography and other more academic writings from the social and political sciences. I do not read a lot of fiction, however that being said there are some books as well as book series that I like. I love fiction that deals with history, as well as mysteries and science fiction, the latter because both lure me into the realm of possibility and mystery, subjects that fascinate me.

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The fact that I read a lot inspires me to write on a wide variety of subjects. Likewise the more I write the more I become conscious of life as well as a desire to seek out truth, and when I write, whether it is something to do with history, faith, baseball or even my occasional forays into fiction and fantasy. As I do this it makes me appreciate the other writers even more, because I no longer see them just in light of what they write, but how they struggle with the same things I struggle with, I can appreciate the truth and beauty in what they write, and it decreases my sense of isolation, which since Iraq has often been crushing. I can agree with Annie Lamott wrote:

“Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.”

I read all the time and I try to write every day, if I cannot do that I feel that I have missed out on something. If I do not write it is almost if I have missed breathing. My mind is constantly musing on things to write about and sometimes it is only the fact that I have a day job that keeps me from writing even more than I do. Like Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) in Blazing Saddles I have to admit that “My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention.” But I digress…

Admittedly I do write a lot and I do try to write every day. Not counting what I do for work, academic pursuits or teaching I have posted over 1700 articles on this website since I started it in February 2009. If I ever take the time to organize and edit what I have on this site there is probably enough for several books.

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For me writing has been part of my quest for healing, the discovery of truth and the desire to be part f a community of people that is bigger than me, or anything that I can do on my own.  It really is about life, and if as some would think that I am a fool for doing this, then that is their loss. I don’t mind being considered a fool in this quest. Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451 wrote:

“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.”

I can agree with Bradbury’s thoughts on this. I do not know what the future holds. If I were God I would live to be one hundred years old and be active reading, writing, thinking and interacting with others who seek truth.

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So tonight I wish the writers, artists and thinkers who read this the best. To close I provide you the benediction of Bradbury:

“I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Padre Steve’s Favorite Halloween Horror

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“Without me, Transylvania will be as exciting as Bucharest… on a Monday night.” Count Dracula (George Hamilton) on being banished from his castle by Romanian Communists in Love at First Bite

Yes it is Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve and time for me to share my favorite Halloween horror films with you. Horror movies can be scary, but they can also be funny and even kind of klitschy. I think that is why they have such an enduring fascination to so many people, including me. I love horror, suspense, science fiction and the paranormal. They tend to be less scary than driving to work on the local interstate highways in the Hampton Roads area or going to a Mall or Wal-Mart.

Horror films have always fascinated me, especially the ones that are not simply built around a bunch of slashing and mindless killing and brutality.

Some of the films I like are more dramatic and suspenseful while others are more on the funny side of the horror genre. Not that there is anything wrong with that. There are hundreds of not thousands of horror films out there and many are variations on a theme and many are so bad I will not watch them. That being said there are some that I cannot miss.

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I love the whole vampire and Dracula genre. The Bela Lugosi Dracula was interesting but the klitchshy Hammer Dracula films with Christopher Lee were always my favorites. It was always fun for me to watch how some idiot managed to find a way to spill some blood on Dracula’s ashes and re-animate the Prince of Darkness. Of course the fact that Lee’s Dracula was always going after some really good looking girl made the series predicable and enjoyable.

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The female versions of the Dracula films produced by Hammer Productions were even more enjoyable for a teen age boy. Ingrid Pitt played a great Carmilla Karnstein, a seductive female vampire who preyed on great looking women in The Vampire Lovers.  In the vampire genre Quentin Tarintino’s Dusk ‘Til Dawn was pretty good and Wesley Snipes Blade series was enjoyable too.

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I think that the horror film that still gives me the creeps is another vampire film, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. I saw it the first time while visiting my wife’s cousin who lived in the Netherlands back in 1985. It was on Dutch television in English and subtitled in Dutch.

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Now I admit these are not the best Dracula movies, but they are entertaining. I liked Interview with a Vampire, Dracula (1979) starring Frank Langella, Sir Lawrence Olivier and Donald Pleasance, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) starring Gary Oldham and Winona Ryder were all actually better films.  Other films in the vampire genre that I like included Fright Night and The Lost Boys.

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There were parodies as well, my favorites being Love at First Bite starring George Hamilton, Susan Saint James, Richard Benjamin, Dick Shawn and Arte Johnson, Mel Brooks’ Dracula Dead and Loving it starring Leslie Nielsen and Blackula, a blacksploitation parody starring William Marshall.

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Frankenstein was okay but I love Mel Brooks’ parody Young Frankenstein starring Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Terri Garr and Peter Boyle.

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Then there are the Satanic or Demonic possession and oppression films based on actual events. There is the classic The Exorcist and more recently The Conjuring. Both kept me on the edge of my seat and were scarier at home than they were in the theater. Another film which I like but which might better fit into the Science Fiction or loosely based on real events category is The Mothman Prophecies. 

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Zombie films have never been that interesting to me but the original Night of the Living Dead is a classic that I will watch and I did enjoy the parody Shaun of the Dead starring Simon Pegg.

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In a different class is the cult classic Army of Darkness a sequel to the Evil Dead films.  In this Bruce Campbell plays a hardware store employee who gets transported through time to a medieval castle being attacked by a ghoulish army. It really is a classic full of great one liners and action. I think one of my favorite lines is where Campbell’s character “Ash” answers the leader of the dead army when he is asked who he is: “Well hello Mister Fancypants. Well, I’ve got news for you pal, you ain’t leadin’ but two things, right now: Jack and shit… and Jack left town.”

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When I was in junior high school, high school and college a lot of different horror films came out which became cult classics which spawned sequel after sequel. There was the original Halloween starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I never got into the sequels because none of them were as good as the originals.

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Another film that I found positively frightening was Invasion of the Body Snatchers starring Donald Sutherland. It was a remake of an earlier film but the whole concept of falling asleep and being replaced with a pod person freaked me out.

Like I said at the beginning of the article, there are thousands of horror films out there. I could go on and mention more but to do so would be to repeat variations on similar themes or to stretch the genre to include various murder mysteries with horror or demonic elements such as Silence of the Lambs or films which are more appropriately classed as Science Fiction such as Alien.

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In a totally different category are the Ghostbusters comedies and Scrooged. Both comedies with classic horror twists. I love those movies.

So as Halloween winds down and the trick or treaters go home, while you are snuggled in your bed with your love, turn on the television and find something scary to watch. After all, tomorrow is Friday.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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