Category Archives: Misc

You Say It’s Your Birthday!

Yes, I do… almost. Tomorrow I turn a year older. Some people like to ignore birthdays, especially as they move into and through middle age. The passing of each year is, after all, a reminder that our time here is limited, and our bodies wear out, no matter how well we care for them. I prefer to celebrate the fact that, by the grace of God, I have been granted this past year. And, by that same grace, I might be around to celebrate again next year. There is much in my life to be thankful for and to celebrate, not least of which is my family. I’m also thankful for all of you people out there who take time out to read my blog, or follow my comments on Twitter. Writers like to be read, so thanks for reading!

Who else is celebrating a birthday tomorrow (or would be if they were still with us)? Here’s a partial list of folks you might know:

  • Harry Houdini, the escapologist and magician
  • Peyton Manning, the (American) footballer
  • Fanny Crosby, American hymn-writer (“Blessed Assurance,” “To God Be the Glory,” and numerous others)
  • Clyde Barrow, American bank robber (along with partner Bonnie Parker)
  • Joseph Barbera, American animator (Scoobie-Doobie-Doooo!)
  • Steve McQueen, American actor
  • Alan Sugar, English businessman (host of the UK version of “The Apprentice”)
  • Nena, German pop singer (“99 Red Balloons”)
  • Jim Parsons, American actor (“The Big Bang Theory”)

Are any of you celebrating a birthday tomorrow?

And if you want to make this birthday particularly special, why not give a gift that keeps on giving: become a PATRON!! 🙂

www.patreon.com/colindsmith

Have a wonderful weekend!

Happy American Pie Day!

It’s pie day–at least in the US. I say that because the pie/PI thing only works if you use the US date format, where March 14th is 3/14 (3.14). In the UK, it’s 14/3. And I’m not sure if 14.3 is a significant number. Maybe that can be British PI. It would certainly explain why I suck at mathematics. 🙂

So, in honor of American Pie Day, how about some Don McLean?

And how could I not also post the Weird Al parody (in anticipation of May 4th?)?:

Happy PI day!! 😀

A Change of Tack

When I launched my Patreon, I said I would post Patreon stuff here, but only Patrons would be able to unlock and read it.

Well, I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to keep the blog articles and Patreon content separate. From now on, all Patreon goodies will be over at my Patreon site. I’ll still link to them here, but Patrons will have to go to Patreon to find them.

At some time in the future, I might change my mind and move Patreon stuff back here. But let’s see how this works out, okay?

If you enjoy my writing and want to encourage me to keep going, consider becoming a Patron. Details are on my Patreon site:

www.patreon.com/colindsmith

Thanks! 🙂

Better-Late-Than-Never End-Of-Year 2017 Wrap-Up

I’m over a week late with this post, but here it is. 2017 was, to say the least, an interesting year. But let’s just stick with this blog and what I’ve been up to and leave the wider world to bigger blogs.

Once again, the most popular page on the blog was my Graham Crackers in the UK Update post. It baffles me why this post is so popular. After all, this is a writing/books type blog, not a food blog. Is no-one else covering this topic? I’d like to think that the many people who check out that page stick around and read some of the other posts (1,236 of them including this one). But that’s probably wishful thinking.

The biggest thing that happened on the blog in 2017 was the focus-shift to writing. I’m a writer, no two ways about it, whether it’s novels, short stories, flash fiction, articles, essays, wish lists–I write. Yes, I do other things (music, theology, watch copious amounts of Doctor Who), and I love doing those things. But writing has been that thing I’ve always done even before I learned to play an instrument. While those other things will still have a home here (Who Reviews, Sunday School Notes, Music Monday), I’m determined to give this blog more of a writer focus.

Speaking of writing, one of the biggest writing events for me in 2017 was my first ever short story sale. I still love telling people that you can read my story in the October 2017 issue of Empyreome Magazine. It’s a good one, too–even if I say so myself. 🙂

Looking ahead to 2018, I’m hoping to write more short stories, and maybe even get a few more published. I already have one story due to be published in the February 2018 issue of Riggwelter, so look out for that. Hopefully there will be more to follow. I’d also like to finish another novel, but mainly I want to keep writing, keep producing stories, and improve.

I need to do a better job of keeping this blog up to date with writing stuff. I’ve let my Facebook page go stale since Christmas, so I need to fix that. And I’m still planning to start a Patreon sometime in the very near future.

Thank you to everyone who has been following my blog thus far. I hope you’ll stick around for the ride in 2018, with, hopefully, lots of exciting things to share!

Award!

I am honored that Friday’s article, “When Bad People Do Good Things” was deemed worthy of an award. Namely, Silver Fox’s Thrust Home Award:

The award is “Given to the Author of a Single Outstanding Blog Post.” Check out his blog for further explanation. Thank you, Silver Fox. This was unexpected, and very much appreciated. 🙂

When Bad People Do Good Things

A few days ago, I posted the following in Twitter:

It was meant as a pithy commentary on what’s happening in our society at the moment. Last year, it seemed as if every time you pulled up the news, some major celebrity had died. This year, it’s major celebrities being outed as sexual predators, or guilty of sexual misconduct.

Don’t misunderstand. I don’t lament the fact that women are finding the courage to stand up and tell their stories. Some have waited years for this moment, not out of opportunism, wanting to cash in on a trend, but because others have gone before and demonstrated that, at long last, they will be taken seriously, and not be punished for speaking up.

But this raises an important question: What of the work these shamed, and in many cases now jobless, celebrities leave behind? Should it be shunned along with them? Should we never watch another episode of the Cosby Show? Or House of Cards? Or watch another Dustin Hoffman movie? Can we separate the bad men from their good work? To what extent are they “dead to me”?

Before offering thoughts on this, let me make clear that I come to this from a Christian worldview. According to that worldview, no-one measures up to the only objective standard of goodness there is: God’s. We are all sinners, standing guilty before Him, and it’s only by God’s grace that we all don’t sink to the worst depths of depravity. This demands of me the utmost humility, recognizing that I have no grounds within myself to judge someone else’s moral failing. However, God has spoken to these issues, so it is to His judgment I appeal when I make any moral pronouncement with regard to anyone’s misconduct. And while there is forgiveness of sin available in Christ, which puts us in a right standing with God, this does not absolve us from the moral and legal consequences of our actions. And anyone who claims the name of Christian should be willing to own those consequences, knowing that God is glorified when we repent of, and take responsibility for, our sin.

There’s a lot of theology summed up in that last paragraph. If you have questions, or want chapter-and-verse, let me know in the comments.

With all that said, is it an endorsement of these people’s sin to enjoy the fruit of their talent? I think the answer is no, and I don’t think it inappropriate to enjoy a Charlie Rose interview, or a tale from Lake Woebegon. While Charlie Rose and Garrison Keillor have been accused of sexual misconduct, this was not a part of their work. Claude Debussy was a moral reprobate, and if the #MeToo movement had been around in his lifetime, he would no doubt have a long line of accusers. And yet his is some of the most beautiful piano music on the planet. I would not commend Debussy as a person, but I cannot deny his musical genius.

It pains me to see Dustin Hoffman added to the list of those accused of sexual misconduct. I’m a fan, and still enjoy his movies. I might try to absolve him by saying the allegations are over things he did thirty years ago. But that means his victim has been suffering in silence for thirty years, and only now, in light of the changed atmosphere in Hollywood, does she feel comfortable coming forward. What he did was wrong, and he should be held to account. His protestations over the allegations only make things worse. His response should be unqualified repentance, and a desire to submit the consequences of his actions. But I’ll still watch “All the President’s Men” because it’s a great movie.

I do think that, while these abusers are still alive, out of respect to their victims, it’s good to have a public moratorium on their work, at least for a season. Let those who have been wronged seek justice. Let the accused be held to account for what they’ve done. Where there’s true repentance, let there be forgiveness, bearing in mind that true repentance accepts the temporal penalty for the crime (loss of job, jail time, etc.), and forgiveness does not nullify the need for that temporal penalty.

After that, though, I don’t think it in bad taste to return to those people’s work, and enjoy it for what it is, even while we grieve over those who created it. Just as we might enjoy Debussy’s music, or Anne Perry’s novels. After all, if we only ever enjoyed the art of the morally pure, there would be little left to enjoy.

What do you think? Feel free to disagree with me, but please disagree agreeably. 🙂

Total Eclipse of the Blog

Yesterday (Monday, August 21, 2017) was Eclipse Day here in the US, with a number of places across this fair land getting the once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness a solar eclipse. Of course, necessary precautions have to be taken to view an eclipse, like protective eyewear, special viewing devices, and excuses to be out of school or work. But nevertheless, it was quite a spectacle for an hour or so.

Contrary to my article title, we here in Eastern North Carolina didn’t get the total eclipse, but we got quite a partial. At the height of the event, there really wasn’t much sun hidden away. We didn’t go dark–which gives you an idea of how bright the sun is, that even a sliver of sunlight keeps the birds happy… not that you hadn’t figured that out already by having your retina burned from staring at the sun too long–but the light did dim a bit.

I didn’t have the equipment to capture the event as one might like (do I look like NASA?), but I gave it my former-British best. Swiping my boss’s cardboard Eclipse Glasses (the black market value of which competed with gold for about 20 mins prior), I held them up to the lens of my phone and took a picture:

 

Hmmm. Not very impressive. I mean, you can see the sun, but not much eclipse. Then I hit upon the idea that maybe the filter was too close to the lens. With the help of a co-worker who held the glasses, I took a picture through the filter at a distance of a few inches:

It won’t win a Pulitzer, but it’ll do. It looks dark because of the filter, not because it was actually dark. Trust me, it wasn’t.

The eclipse started around 1:25 pm Eastern Time, peaked at around 2:50 pm, and it was all over with a little after 4. For those who missed it, I believe there’ll be another in 2024. See you then! 🙂

Did you see the eclipse? Any stories to share? Or was it much ado about nothing for you?

“No, Mr. Smith, I Mean… Where Are You *REALLY* From?”

This is a question I’m never asked, despite the fact I am an immigrant. I came to this country 25 years ago, and became a naturalized citizen 13 years ago (which is why I now spell “naturalized” with a “z”… which I still call a zed. What can I say? A leopard can’t change his alphabet). However, I came here from England; I’m white, and I look Western European, and English is my first language (albeit the Mother form of the American hybrid). Which, I believe, is largely why I don’t get asked that question. My original English accent has faded somewhat, but from time to time an astute listener will pick up on my enunciated “t”s, and that unmistakable sound of authority and intelligence, and infer that I’m not American born-and-bred. At that point in the conversation, the person might ask, “Where are you from?” But they often preface the question with a reference to my accent, and they never use “really“. Sometimes they hazard a guess that ranges from Australia to Scotland, with the more adventurous going for South Africa, though most of the time they figure it’s “the UK” or “Britain” (probably hedging their bets, just in case I’m actually from one of those weird sub-genres of English called “Welsh,” “Scottish,” or “Irish”). I don’t mind being asked, and I will talk quite freely and happily about my English-Irish-Scots-Welsh origins.

But not everyone feels that way. Especially if the person asked happens to have a non-English sounding name, and has English as a second, third, or fourth language, and is not white. I have to confess, I used to glibly ask people who don’t look or sound like me where they’re from, and would get a little frustrated when they would reply with some US city. I’m fascinated with foreign cultures and languages, and all I want to do is learn more about them first-hand. What’s the harm in that? After all, I don’t mind being asked about my British background!

To my surprise, there’s a lot of harm in asking. And I’m surprised that I’m surprised. Let me put myself in the shoes of someone who is a first generation immigrant to the US from a non-English-speaking country–maybe even non-white. I don’t look like everyone else, I don’t sound like everyone else, and all I want is to settle down, work, raise my family, and be treated just like everyone else. Then someone asks me where I’m from, and all of a sudden I’m different, foreign, maybe even not welcome. This feeling only intensifies if I’m second or third generation from a non-white country. I can sound like the natives, but I don’t look like them, and my name isn’t like any of their names. Still I get the “where are you from?” question.

Here’s my dilemma (speaking now as the white British-American dude): I want immigrants and their children to feel welcome, loved, part of society… but I also want them to feel good about their cultural roots, and be able to talk freely about being (or their family being) from China, Iran, or wherever, without at the same time feeling un-American. Watch Disney Channel for any length of time, and you’ll see their celebrities and viewers talk about their ethnic heritage, and celebrate cultural diversity. So why does this only seem to happen on television? How can I ask you “where are you from?” without making you feel uncomfortable?

The simple answer: I can’t. At least not when I meet you for the first, second, third, or perhaps even fifth time. The consensus opinion I have heard is that the only context in which I can get away with such a question is one of friendship and trust. I have to befriend you, so you know I care about you for who you are, that you are more to me than just an ethnic identity. Then, and only then, can we talk cultures and languages without anyone feeling judged. And the reason I don’t feel uncomfortable talking about my British heritage is thanks to a thing we call white privilege. That term is a hot potato in American society, but like it or not, in this case, it applies. Let’s be frank: because I’m a white English-speaking person, when someone asks me where I’m from, I’m not afraid they want to deport me, and I’m not afraid they think I’m a terrorist. The UK is a friendly country, and everyone loves the Brits and their wacky sense of humo(u)r and their Queen and Doctor Who and Monty Python, so I’m not going to get asked whether I’m from the “good” Korea, or whether I’m a communist, or what it’s like to live in a free country at last. The red carpet awaits me as soon as I open my mouth. Like it or not, that’s white privilege. I’m not happy about it. Not at all. It makes me boil, in fact. It’s sinful. But it’s real.

But what about my curiosity? People fascinate me, especially people who aren’t like me, and come from places that are strange to me. I want to learn. I want to understand. What’s wrong with that? Here’s what’s wrong with it: it’s fundamentally selfish. Is my curiosity more important than someone else’s feeling of security? Is my desire to learn more important than someone else’s desire to feel welcome and accepted for who they are? Maybe the answer is to treat people as fellow human beings first. When we love and appreciate one another as fellow creatures created in the image of God, maybe then we can celebrate our rich ethnic and cultural diversity without the shadow of fear and suspicion.

Just a thought. 🙂

PS: As I was considering this post, I came across an article on CNN.com by Tanzina Vega on the same subject. Here’s her take on “Where are you really from?”

Happy Resurrection Day!

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [1 Corinthians 15:3-20, ESV]

A History Moment: The Queen’s Sapphire Jubilee

This past Monday, February 6th, Queen Elizabeth II of England, my former monarch, celebrated 65 years on the throne. It’s a bittersweet celebration for the Queen since this also marks the 65th anniversary of the death of her father, King George VI. According to the people who determine these things, 65 years is a “sapphire” celebration. The Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 1977 (25 years, and I still remember our street party), her Golden Jubilee in 2002 (50 years), and her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 (60 years). She is, however, the first British monarch to celebrate a Sapphire Jubilee. Not even Queen Victoria managed that–she reigned a mere 63-and-some-months years. King George “I-want-my-colonies-back” III just missed his Diamond Jubilee, spending 59 years on the throne. King Henry III (1216-1272) and King Edward III (1327-1377) both achieved Golden Jubilees, which is quite remarkable for monarchs in the middle ages!

A point of interest. Some books cite Queen Elizabeth’s reign as starting in 1953. As I understand it, most monarchs are usually crowned shortly after the death of the previous monarch, so their coronation year usually matches the year the title passed to them (the year of ascension). In Elizabeth’s case, her father died on February 6th, 1952, but she wasn’t actually crowned queen until June 2, 1953. Part of the reason for the 14 month delay was to properly observe a period of national mourning for the dead King. But 14 months seems a long time. Other than allowing time for the extensive preparations (which included the first time a coronation would be televised live), I’m not sure why it took so long. But that’s why some books say she has been queen since 1953–they’re looking at the actual coronation date, not the ascension date. Most historians go with the ascension date, making this year her Sapphire Jubilee year.

Given the Queen is 90 years old, and her mother lived to 101, she might yet get to Platinum (70 years). We’ll see… 🙂


Our “street” (more like “cul-de-sac”) Silver Jubilee party in our
neighbor’s back yard. June, 1977. That’s me in the bottom left corner. 🙂