Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Twitter Fiction

Here's the story I posted on Twitter during last week's Twitter Fiction Festival. Each chapter is one tweet. I wrote the story using words and pictograms made with typographic symbols. I hope you enjoy it!

The Caribbean. ~~~~~~~~~~~

1750 ~~ ^ ~~~~~~~~

The 1st days of the voyage were beautiful ~~~~~~~ ^ ~~~~

Then a storm struck /\/\/\/\/\^/\/\/\/\

The mainmast fell with a crash | / __ !

The pilot strove at the wheel and directed the ship to a small isle's cove (\/)

The storm passed. The passengers and sailors rowed ashore. <>==\__/==<>

While repairing the ship, the castaways built a little village of huts under the palms of the shore. ``|`` /\ /\ /\ ``|``

A community formed. They worked on the ship. The island provided for their needs. They watched the horizon. ~~~~~~~~~~~

The Capt. questioned his handling of the storm, his ability to lead the castaways. He thoughtfully watched the waves roll in. ((......

A romance developed between a young sailor, Matthias, and a wealthy trader’s daughter, Loretta. (}{)

The trader reacted to the romance as might be expected >:-(

One day, after several weeks on the island, the seaward gaze of the castaways was rewarded. ~~~~~ ^ ~~~~~~

The islanders rejoiced, until the ship drew nigh. It flew a black flag. 8=X

The Capt. realized there was no time to waste. The sands of the hourglass were running. |X|

The Capt. hatched a daring plan. The women and children were taken to a cave in the forest. ``|`` ((())) ``|``

Some men took defensive positions on the cove's shore, where they had previously moved some of the cannons for protection. /O'==

Some men swam to the damaged ship and hid themselves. Matthias took cover behind a row of barrels. (-)(-)(-)(-)

The pirate ship arrived in the cove. The men on shore created a diversion by opening fire. /O'== * * *

The salvos from shore stopped as the pirates drew closer. The men on the damaged ship swung to the pirate ship with grappling hooks. (* (*

The clang of sabres. 0={----------

The crack of muskets. )=,==< *

Matthias and many others distinguished themselves. The pirates were defeated. Cries of victory replaced the sounds of battle. :-D

On the pirate ship, a map of the island was discovered. -------X

The castaways followed the map and dug a deep pit. \___/

They began to despair. Then a shovel struck something. D---->*

They removed several large chests from the pit. {[-]}

Inside the chests, there were piles of doubloons. @@@@@@@ @@@@@@@                                                                                         
The trader, recognizing Matthias’ valor, offered his share of treasure, and his daughter’s hand, to the young sailor. O<

The Capt. took the helm of the pirate ship and the castaways departed the island well laden with gold. ~~~ ^ ~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~ ^ ~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~ ^ ~


~~~~~~~~~~~ The End

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

London and Scotland with the Fam

A few weeks ago Steph and I went down to London and met up with my mom and dad, along with my aunt, "Meme" (who is my mom's sister), and uncle, Robert Neal. We arrived in the late afternoon and checked in to our hotel. After some rest, we hit up our first stop in London: Harrod's. Pretty posh place.

The next day, we bought tickets for a hop-on, hop-off bus tour and viewed the city from the open top of a double-decker. After cruising past Big Ben, Parliament, the London Eye, and other sites, we made our way to the British Museum, where we saw some incredible things, such as the Rosetta Stone and materials from ancient Egypt and Israel. I was particularly interested in the ancient clay tablets which had been impressed with some of Humankind's earliest writing. 

After the museum we grabbed something to eat and, around nightfall, hopped back on a bus. From this one we saw, among other things, the Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, and Westminster Abbey. London is very beautiful, both by day and by night. 

The following day, we took the train up to Beeston, where Steph and I showed the fam around. Two days later, we took a quick flight up to Scotland, one of the most enjoyable places I have ever been. We stayed in the Dalhousie Castle, which, according to its website, is "a magnificent 13th century fortress set within acres of wooded parkland on the picturesque banks of the River Esk." It was incredible. 

The following day, we took  a drive through the countryside. We made our way to a point called "Scott's View," so named because it was Walter Scott's favorite vista in Scotland:

As we drove away from the View, we chanced upon a remote countryside walking trail that led to a statue of William Wallace. Some of us followed the trail through the magnificent countryside and found the statue. The trail led onward beyond ole Bill, so we followed it and saw some more beautiful sights. It was a great hike.  

The next day we flew back to Nottingham, and the day after that, our family headed home. It was very sad parting from them, but I am grateful to God that they got to come, and that we had such a fun time.       

If you are interested in seeing more pictures of our travels, follow me on Instagram. 

If you aren't familiar with Instagram, it's a photo sharing app. It's probably my favorite social media platform, and Steph agrees. Check it out. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Our 5th Anniversary Trip to Paris

Our Paris trip was...how to you say?...ah yes, magnifique.

Getting there and back was interesting: in either direction, it involved three trains, a plane, and a bus. We saw some great scenery - both French and English - along the way.

Once we were arrived in the city, we had right at 48 hours to explore. Here's what we experienced:

1) Grande Arche
2) Arc de Triomphe 
3) Champ Elysees
4) Tuileries
5) Louvre 
6) Notre Dame
7) Musee D'Orsay
8) Eiffel Tower
9) La Petite Chaise

Whew! Quite a whirlwind, but it was without a doubt one of the best trips of my life. Everything was great, and  I was especially taken with Notre Dame. The artistry inside and out was unbelievable in scope and beauty.

Our anniversary dinner was at the oldest restaurant in Paris - La Petite Chaise. It is a small, quaint place with a traditional French menu - which, to be honest, was intimidating at first. But then I started eating...and wow. I had escargot, duck, and gingerbread mousse cake. It was...how do you say?...ah yes, off the chain.

But undoubtedly the best part of the trip was sharing it with my bride of 5 years. Happy anniversary Steph!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

View from the Top...of a Double-decker!

A few days ago, Steph and I took our first ride on the top deck of a double-decker bus. At the front of the top deck, there's a large windshield, and when you sit in the first or second row behind it, the combination of height, shaking, and speed make for a pretty thrilling ride. It's especially thrilling because people drive wildly over here, and bus drivers are no exception. Here's a video I took of the experience; it's just a couple of quick shots, the first in the town of Beeston, where we live, and the second within the Nottingham city-center. 

You'll notice that towards the end of the first shot we approach a round-about. You have to be careful with those in England, because you might get caught in one a la Clark Griswold: "Look kids: Big Ben, Parliament."  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hail from Brittania

Well....we made it. Steph and I are in England.

We left Wichita on Monday, September 17th and flew to Chicago. From there, we flew overnight to London. Throughout our journey, I could not help but think of those immortal lines from the Farrelly brothers: "We're really doin' it man!" (Dumb and Dumber, 1994). I also had the song "Moon River" in my head.

We took a bus from London Heathrow to Nottingham, where we checked in the Rutland Square Hotel; it's a nice place right in the city center (centre), and it's about 100 yards from Nottingham Castle. I haven't yet been able to explore the castle, but I'm hoping to this weekend. We had our first dinner at an excellent Mexican restaurant called Las Iguanas. Our first meal in England was fajitas.

Our hotel's wifi was a bust, so during our initial time in Nottingham we were without the internet and resorted to a McDonald's to get out digi-fix and to FaceTime and Skype with friends and family. It was during this time that I left this status update on Facebook: "If I'm ever asked, 'What's the craziest thing you've ever done?', I'll now have a good answer: 'I moved to a country I've never been to without having a permanent residence, a phone, Internet access, or a car.' (The wifi in our hotel doesn't work - I'm in a McDonald's.) On the plus, the natives speak English, everyone's very friendly, we now have UK phones, and we'll hopefully have a place with wifi in the next couple of days."

In the preliminary days of our house-hunt, we stayed mostly within the city, but didn't have much success. We decided to move into the suburban town of Beeston, which is closer to the "uni," as the English say. (Incidentally, for those who care, the British would have placed the last comma of the previous sentence outside of the quotation marks, while we Americans place it inside; I had to throw that in there, since my dissertation research involves punctuation marks.)

On Friday, much to our dismay, we discovered that we could not extend our stay at our hotel. In fact, we couldn't find a place to stay in the city at all. The reason? A UFC fight in town. Seriously. Being hit with the news that there weren't any places to stay felt a little something like being hit by a UFC fighter. Okay, not that bad, but it didn't feel good.

So, we rang up some friends of friends who live in the area to ask advice, and we were graciously offered a place to stay in their home, which, Providentially, is in Beeston. It has been a tremendous experience living with them - I am continually being challenged by their kindness and hospitality. They are adamant that we stay until we move into our permanent residence, and, last night, when we insisted that we be allowed to pay for their dinner, they staunchly refused. They are ministers of the Gospel here and in the surrounding communities, and they practice what they preach with excellence. I want to be more like them.

Now, ten days after we left home, it looks like we have found a place to live. We are praying that the paperwork goes through and that we can move in next week. The apartment is modern in design, fully furnished, safe, a couple of miles from the university, and only a brief walk away from Tesco. It is also just around the corner from the High Road, which is a quaint, Britishy, mostly-pedestrian thoroughfare with everything you'd ever want in the way of shopping and restaurants.

Now a few words about the University of Nottingham. First off, it's incredibly beautiful. The University Park campus, where I will be working, is, as its name would suggest, a giant park with buildings scattered about:

Secondly, my first interactions with faculty and staff were awesome. Everyone is very kind. I had an induction event on Tuesday in which members of the faculty explained the basic Phd process and offered warm and encouraging words. I feel overwhelmingly blessed to be able to study here. 

There you have it. A lot has happened, but that's the short of it. Thanks to everyone for the prayers and the kind words on Facebook!

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Bible Lesson About Words and Communication

The following was adapted from a Bible lesson I have given in a few different venues. It is about a topic that I find very interesting, and one that I personally struggle with greatly: words. 

Over the past few years, I have studied some of what the Bible has to say about communication, and, as I prepare for my communication-related studies this fall by reviewing materials from my Master's degree and reading new works recommended by my supervisor in Nottingham, I am fully convinced that the Bible is absolutely the best communication handbook. 

There is more about communication in the Bible than can be grasped in a lifetime. Here, I'll just set out some practical verses that have been important to me. It is worth mentioning that the following verses, while they speak of the tongue and lips and speech, can and should be applied to our digital communication as well as our oral communication. 

Proverbs 12:18 reads, 

"There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword,
But the tongue of the wise promotes health." (NKJV)

Words are powerful - both for ill and good. They may seem small, but their repercussions can stretch on for years.

Words can, on the one hand, be wielded as a weapon, causing violence and harm and incredible damage. We all know the adage, "Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me." And we all know that that adage is not true. Words can hurt. They can cause profound distress, they can weaken and destroy relationships, and they can strike down a person. On the mass scale, they can even be used to propagate messages of destruction that can lead to profound evil.  

On the other hand, words can promote health. Words can give life, they can build up, and they can restore relationships. They can bind up wounds and minister strength to the weary. They can brighten days and improve lives. 

These, then, are the two potentials of the tongue: violence and health. We must embrace healthful, life-giving words, and completely eschew words of corruption and violence. James 3:10 reads, "Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so." (NKJV) 

Here are two strategies by which we can forgo words of harm and utilize words of health: (1) Speak sparingly and thoughtfully; and (2) embrace the power of kind words. 

First, speak sparingly and thoughtfully. 

Proverbs 10:19 reads, 

"In the multitude of words sin is not lacking,
But he who restrains his lips is wise." (NKJV)

When you rattle on unthinkingly, bad things are going to come out. Trust me, I know this one from much practical experience. Someone who is wise thinks before speaking, and does not say everything that occurs to him or her. 

Proverbs 15:28 reads,

"The heart of the righteous studies how to answer,
But the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil." (NKJV)

I love the use of the word "studies." Not only should we think before we speak, but we should think carefully. Further, we have the opportunity to pray even in the midst of conversation: we can ask God to help us to be wise and righteous in our speech.

Paul, in Ephesians 4:29, gives us a great measure by which we can decide if something should or should not be said: "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers." (NKJV)

When we have the impulse to communicate, here then are questions we can ask ourselves: Is what I want to convey corrupt in some way? Or, is what I want to communicate edifying - that is, is it going to build up? Will it minister grace? And these questions don't simply apply to heavy conversations about deep matters. On the contrary, even in daily, pleasant conversations, whether we are chatting about entertainment, or sharing funny stories, or anything else, we can choose to communicate in such a way so as to build up others. 

Point (2): embrace the power of kind words.

Proverbs 16:24 reads,

"Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,
Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones." (NKJV)

What a statement! Here we see that kind words have the power to minister to the soul and the body. They have a supernatural power as well as a physical power. And this verse can easily be applied to both the speaker and the hearer: it feels great to offer and receive pleasant words.

Blaise Pascal wrote, "Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much." The amount of work, or investment, that goes into kind words is completely disproportionate with the amount of good they can accomplish. Let's look at this very literally: kind words, on the metaphysical level, may cost a bit of pride and a bit of thought; on the physical level, they cost us a bit of air, and a fraction of a calorie. Their accomplishment, on the other hand, can be tremendous: they can minister joy and hope; they can even change lives for the better. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book Recommendation: Monsieur Beaucaire by Booth Tarkington

Monsieur Beaucaire 1900.jpgSome time ago, I was looking through my dad's books, hoping to find something interesting to read. My eye fell on a slim volume with the title Monsieur Beaucaire inscribed in gold along the spine. I had seen this book many times in Dad's library, but I suppose I had passed over it because I figured it was a pouty drawing-room drama or something like that. (I don't have anything against those types of books - they're just not my favorite). But this time I picked the book up and discovered that it was written by a fellow named Booth Tarkington...not exactly the type of name you would associate with pouty drawing-room dramas. As I later learned, ole Booth was an American author, and one of an elite few to have received two Pulitzer prizes; he won his first for his 1918 novel The Magnificent Ambersons and his second for 1921's Alice Adams; incidentally, this second novel, based on its Wikipedia entry, seems pretty close to a pouty drawing-room drama. 

Alright, enough about P.D.D.s.

Here are the first two paragraphs of Monsieur Beaucaire:

     "The young Frenchman did very well what he had planned to do. His guess that the Duke would cheat proved good. As the unshod half-dozen figures that had been standing noiselessly in the entryway stole softly into the shadows of the chamber, he leaned across the table and smilingly plucked a card out of the big Englishman's sleeve.

     "'Merci, M. le Duc!' he laughed, rising and stepping back from the table." 

I absolutely love that opening - the first sentence in particular. From there the book just gets better and better. First and foremost, it's funny - virtually every page leaves you smiling. It also has swordplay, romance, and even a statement about class prejudices; and, if I'm honest, there's some P.D.D. stuff in there as well - but even it is funny.   

Another big plus: the novel is short - very short. You might, if you are so inclined, denominate it a novelette; but at 13,000 words, it's really more of an extended short story than anything else. And because of its brevity, this book has the distinction (for me) of being the only book I have read cover-to-cover two days in a row. Yes, I read it in its completion one day, and then read it again the next day. That's how much I love it.  

Monsieur Beaucaire is available for free on Project Gutenberg and Amazon.com. If you are looking for a light piece of entertainment that will make you smile - give it a look.  

Friday, June 29, 2012

On the Road

Steph and I are currently in Louisiana visiting family, and we had a great trip down yesterday. I love our road trips for several reasons. First and foremost, I get to spend one-on-one time with Steph. Beyond that, I greatly enjoy seeing the interesting localities along the way and listening to music on the radio (Sirius XM). Here are some selections from our trip yesterday. This is how we do it:

A big thank you to Steph for shooting the footage. And for being a great traveling companion.

Incidentally, for those who are interested, I edited the clips last night on iMovie on my iPad - it's a fun and easy-to-use app for a quick movie like this one. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Happy Birthday, Jack!

Jack, my family's Jack Russell terrier, turns 14 today. He has brought untold joy to our family, and I am so grateful for his friendship over the years.

There is so much to learn from the character of dogs. They seem have an uncanny ability to perceive our emotions - and respond accordingly: when we are sad, they will mourn with us and remind us of their love; when we are happy, they rejoice; when we feel like being lazy, they will lounge; and when we feel adventurous, they will embark on a quest.

They greet us when we come home, eyes bright and tails a-wagging. 

They will encourage us when we need encouraging, and will even defend us, selflessly and in the face of deadly peril, if we are in danger.

Their love and fidelity are unconditional. They are our friends, and friends for life - not because of our merits, but simply because we are there.

I need to be more like a dog.

So here's to Jack, and all the other canine companions out there! May we humans be more like you!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Some Shakespeare

While wandering through a Barnes and Noble in Dallas recently, I came upon a single-volume collection of the plays of William Shakespeare. The print was readable, and the price was below $8, so I bought it.

I started reading the first play in the book: King Henry VI Part I. While there is certainly a part of me that wants to read Shakespeare with heavy annotation so that I can really understand everything that is happening and being said, ultimately, for me, I'm reading to enjoy the poetry and the story - so I decided to just read the play and take pleasure in it as well as I could. And I have to say, it was mostly understandable, and I found it highly entertaining. (Note: I did consult a dictionary for tough words, as well as Wikipedia to understand the historical background; both resources helped greatly.)

King Henry VI Part I concerns the very early stages of the War of the Roses in England, as well as some of England's martial conflicts in France. There is a lot of combat in the play, a lot of humor, and, of course, a lot of great poetic language. As I read, I couldn't help but think that the play would translate into a really cool action-adventure movie.

And on top of all of that, the play contains one of the most outrageous lines of dialogue I've ever read. Take a gander at this little gem from the Bard:

"O, were mine eyeballs into bullets turn'd,
That I, in rage, might shoot them at your faces!"


Needless to say, after reading this play, I am pumped for the two sequels.

On a related note: since the first day of summer is only two days away, I'll post one of Shakes's most beloved sonnets:

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate;
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Classic YouTube Hit

Back in the good ole days of the mid-2000s, I, along with my brother Charles and many of our friends, would devote a lot time to watching hilarious videos on the internet. This one is a classic:

I am a big fan of the internet video sub-genre of lip-syncing. And this video is an example of excellence within that sub-genre. I mean, there are so many great things going on here. To name a four:

(1) These guys are totally committed. They work to ensure that they fake-sing every note.
(2) They are wearing basketball jerseys. One is wearing a head-band.
(3) They are evidently in a dorm room. There's a guy sitting on the computer behind them who, although he doesn't get involved in the lip-syncing, is at least wearing a basketball jersey.
(4) The dancing is meticulously choreographed.

At 2:26, the guys break it down, and it has got to be one of the funniest things I've ever seen on the internet. I laugh every time; and when it comes to viral videos....I want it that way.

Any other fans of this video and/or the lip-syncing sub-genre out there? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Friday, June 15, 2012


Hi everyone, and welcome to The Sketch Blog! My wife Steph and I will soon be commencing a new phase of our life: we will be spending a large portion of our year in England, where I will be pursuing a Phd in English. In this blog, I’m planning to share anecdotes from our life and travels, as well as posts about books and writing and other things that interest me. I am hoping that this site will be yet another avenue by which we can stay in touch with family and friends. In this inaugural post, I’m going to write about the title of this blog and the classic book that inspired it.

In the years 1819 and 1820, American author Washington Irving serially published The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. While most contemporary readers are probably not familiar with the book as a whole, they probably are familiar with two of the stories contained within it: namely, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.” In addition to these classic shorts and various other brief entertainments, the book offers numerous fictionalized essays by the pseudonymous Geoff Crayon, an American who has traveled extensively in England. In these essays, Mr. Crayon writes about many topics of interest, and he often writes about England and his experiences there. For these reasons, I thought that taking and adapting the title of The Sketch Book would be appropriate for my blog.

I have not yet finished reading The Sketch Book; I am reading it slowly, taking the time to enjoy each chapter. But based on what I have read – roughly three-quarters of the book – I absolutely love it. It’s just cool. First off, the title. It’s a book of literary “sketches” (short written pieces), and, according to the title, it was composed by a guy whose last name is Crayon. I mean, come on...Crayon. So Irving gets the punning and humor started right away. Some of the stories are indeed humorous, and some are more somber and thoughtful. Many are both. All of them (that I’ve read) are great. One aspect of the book that I greatly appreciate – and in our digital era, I doubt I’m alone – is the fact that the individual sketches are short and can be read in a single sitting. Of course, if you want to remain within the confines of a comfy chair for a while, you could read many of the sketches in a sitting. And in case you are interested, The Sketch Book, like many of the books I will probably be writing about, is public domain, so you can download it for free onto your computer or e-reader.  

I hope that, in the future, this blog will afford what Geoff Crayon mentioned as a motivation for his writing in the opening passages of The Sketch Book: “the entertainment of my friends.”