My writing, personal

Today’s Class: Poetry

The Writer’s Studio in Corpus Christi has a class every fourth Saturday. I’ve got to be honest with you – I went to today’s class more out of a sense of obligation to support this great venture than any real interest in poetry. I mean, it’s just not my thing. The class began a bit slowly, but then, the teacher’s passion came out and she said a few things and had some writing exercises that made me pay more attention. Perhaps the most interesting thing was that poetry isn’t about ideas – it’s about words or feelings. I ended up writing three poems during the writing time. The first was dark. The second was light-hearted, and the third was just for fun based on something someone at our table said. The first one came from the teacher’s writing prompt, the second one came from the teacher talking about using color and word play, and I already told you about the third one. So, here are the (untitled) poems.

Here again

Too often these days


By Black suits, white shirts, black ties.


An autograph

Never read

The ticket to enter

and find a seat


To remember, reflect, revere;

To recall what

was never there.

A good life, he said,

A fine life.


I wondered – right place?


I see her – must be right.


Walking by with a tear

and a hug,

promising support

Then forgetting

until the next time.



It’s not where

I said,

It’s that

— but Cozumel —


Burdens, worries, cares,

not packed

left behind.


Surrounded by blue,

and sun,

and more blue

but not blues.


Food, rest, fun, relax


— but Cozumel —

Sparkling, shopping, sunburn,



Too soon — back home

Problems return

They could overwhelm

— but Cozumel —


All I want is a beer, man

(And I don’t even drink anymore)


Dark memories of the past

rolled though my mind

And I remember why I stopped


All I want is a beer, man.


Daily Work, personal

Is Ramsey As Good or Bad as People Say? (Part Two)

The second part of Dr. Barrett-Fox’s critique of Dave Ramsey deals with issues of faith. She notes that Ramsey stresses personal responsibility when making financial decisions at an everyday level, but also points out that if he were consistent, he wouldn’t dismiss socially responsible investing. 

“But he also doesn’t ask you to be responsible for anything beyond your own financial situation. For example, he is pretty condescending about and dismissive of socially responsible investing (the idea that your investments should align with your values).”

She quotes from Ramsey and provides Ramsey’s exact words in the link from her article. Ramsey seems to be saying that 1) it’s too hard to track every part of your investment and 2) when you buy stock in a company, you aren’t handing the company a check, you’re paying the guy who had it before you – unless you buy in an initial public offering. Dr. Barrett-Fox makes an excellent point that by buying the stock, you do support the company and she borrowed from Ramsey’s example of buying a used car: Ramsey said that the original car company doesn’t get any of that money; Dr. Barrett-Fox pointed out that by keeping the resale value high, you support the company. She also noted that there are people who track their money and keep track of where they shop . 

While she exposed a weakness, a contradiction actually, in Ramsey’s philosophy of responsibility, it’s hard to do values investing when using mutual funds. As Christians, we can be diametrically opposed on critical values issues. Just to give one example, while many Christians oppose abortion, many Christians support it. If you’re opposed to abortion, you’d have to be concerned about stocks that might aid or abet abortion. Even if the company doesn’t participate in providing supplies for abortion, what if their company charities allow employees to support abortion providers. Meanwhile, if you support abortion, you could easily invest in a company that provides equipment or support for abortion, but they might also povide the drugs for states that do executions by lethal injection. 

SmartAsset described the dilemma this way:

It isn’t always easy to determine which investments are strictly socially responsible. For instance, a company could practice ethical manufacturing processes, only to dispose of waste in an irresponsible way. Some companies boast that they support female empowerment, but don’t have any women on their board. It’s important to do your homework to be sure you’re investing in actually socially responsible institutions.”

I should add that the article I just referenced does contain the names of some mutual funds that practice socially responsible investing, so read the article and check them out. I guess that means I want you to be responsible for your investments.  

I should add that this quote from Dr. Barrett-Fox really slams home her point:

“So I see Ramsey preaching personal responsibility when it comes to how your financial decisions impact your life but not when it comes to how your financial decisions impact the larger world. I think Christians should have a broader vision.”

The next thing Dr. Barrett-Fox deals with is Ramsey’s materialism. 

Ramsey … likes what money does for him and is well-known for his massive house and car collection. He isn’t a critic of having too much.

He points out during his teaching that there’s nothing wrong with having stuff, as long as you pay cash for it. However, in railing against the materialism of a society that needs everything now, so put it on credit, he fails to ask himself the question “How much is enough?” Is materialism acceptable if you pay cash? 

In a society where materialism is based on credit, is it enough to say, “Oh no, don’t put things on credit; use cash,” or do we need to reject the accumulative ideology of the world and seek ways to live more simply and use cash to help others? I believe Dr. Barrett-Fox would say that we should live more simply and help others. Ramsey would say we shouldn’t deny ourselves, but we should also give to help others. D. Barrett-Fox recommends a book to think about how that question should be answered. “For a perspective on how to live with joy with what you have, I recommend More than Enough: Living Abundantly in a Culture of Excess.”

Dr. Barrett- Fox keys in on one of Ramsey’s pet phrases: “Live like no one else so that later you can live like no one else.”

One of his favorite slogans is “Live like no one else so later you can live like no one else.” This seems to me to be a paraphrase of Luke 12:13-21, in which a man saves us his riches and then is able to relax and “eat, drink, and be merry.” For a Christian, I think, the purpose of money shouldn’t be to store it up now for later; it should be to use it now for what you value and use it later for what you value. For Christians, this should be to care for others and creation.

To be fair to Ramsey, in his climactic lesson, he changes that to “Live like no one else so that later you can GIVE like no one else.” That being said, this attitude of Ramsey’s concerns me. Not that we should live more simply, which is what he means when he uses that phrase, but that giving should be delayed. We read stories occasionally of people that you would least expect leaving millions dollars to various charities. That kind of gift makes a big impact, but any charity that depends on such big gifts will soon die. Charities must depend on the small, regular gifts that come in every month. This is the major adjustment my wife and I have made to Ramsey’s system. We find ways to give to people in need and important causes now. We get great joy out of doing it and being able to do it. 

I don’t mention that to have you say anything about me, but to remind you that one of the perks of being debt free is that you have more freedom to give to support other causes and people right now. 

The only quibble I have with Dr. Barrett-Fox in part 2 of her critique comes from this comment: 

I also find him very insensitive to poor people. Ramsey encourages people to pare down their expenses, even if it means “beans and rice, beans and rice”–that is, even if they have to eat the food of the world’s poor. Simple, low-cost meals are considered to be a punishment for your past financial sins or a sacrifice for your future wealth.

I think Ramsey understands poverty to a degree, having gone through it himself. His encouragement to eat beans and rice isn’t a punishment for past financial sins so much as it’s a call to do whatever you have to do to get out of debt. He would say that if someone was willing to do that, they were serious about getting their financial house in order.

Dr. Barrett-Fox and I have differing views on the effectiveness of the Ramsey program for getting out of debt, but I think we both agree that we should do our best to keep our financial house in order. She’s studied many different systems, including Ramsey’s, and can point you to different approaches that may work for you. ‘Ve worked the Ramsey system and I can tell you that when it comes to finances, it’s been the absolute best thing for me. 

But once you get out of debt, now what? I think Dr. Barrett-Fox and I would think along similar lines that we should think about a simpler life so that we can use the financial blessings we receive from God to help others. As she so wisely pointed out earlier, God doesn’t call us to store up wealth so that we can indulge ourselves, instead, He gives it to us so that we can help others. 

My pastor told a story tonight of a scholar who was asked what he might say to God when he got to heaven. His response is stunning. He said that he’d look around and say, “If I had realized how beautiful it was up here, I’d have made a bigger investment in the place.” Choose your investments wisely. 

Daily Work, personal

Is Ramsey As Good,or As Bad, As People Say? (Part 1)

I have to admit that I’m a fan of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace program. I first heard about the program when our church hosted a simulcast that Dave held. (He no longer holds them as I understand.) Our minister of spiritual growth asked if I was going. When I asked him what it was about, he told me that Ramsey helped people get out of debt and gain financial peace. I laughed. That was an impossible dream for me. We owed between $30,000 and 35,000 in a number of different debts. I was a teacher, in my early years, and my wife was a part time interpreter and adjunct professor at our community college. It was impossible for us to get out of debt.

He convinced me to help by registering people and taking their money. I sat outside the door. It would be nice to be out of debt – nice but impossible, or so I thought. The problem was that as people went through the door, I kept hearing bits and pieces of Ramsey’s presentation. I started asking myself “what-if.” I had been given permission to listen when I wasn’t working so I began listening after people stopped coming in. Something made sense. Something gave me hope. At the end of the presentation, I discovered that our church was going to have a class. I bit my lip and called my wife. I asked her to bring my business check book.

She later told me that while she didn’t say anything to me, she shook her head and asked herself, “what is Bob getting into now?” I asked her to bring my business checkbook because I had a small business selling chess equipment and I knew I had enough money in that account, but there was no way that we had enough money in the family checking. Those were the days when our checking account was usually in four figures, but that included the two numbers after the decimal point. That day, Ramsey gave me hope and made me believe that I could improve my financial situation, even if I couldn’t ever get completely out of debt.

So, I bought the kit for $99 and together, my wife and I began going through the class. I should note that at that time, I was the person who spent money, while my wife tried to manage it. When we got to the first task, the first “baby step” as Ramsey called it, Lucy laughed. I told her that we were going to save $1000 for a mini-emergency fund.
And so, we began. It started slow. We did a better job of managing finances by not putting anything else on credit – for the most part. Then, when we got the first $100 saved, we rejoiced. After a few months, we were up to about $500 in our emergency fund, and we had to use a large chunk of it to take care of a car problem. But we paid to fix it and we didn’t have to go further into debt to do it. That moment right there made us realize that we were truly on the right path.

To make a long story short, we finished our class and facilitated a couple of other classes at our church. We cut up our credit cards and helped other people cut up their cards. We actually got out of our credit card and student loan debt, and now owe money only on our house.

Back then, we used VHS tapes and we were told that once you bought the kit for $99 you could go to any class, any time. It was a good deal, and the class helped because they gave us accountability. As technology has changed, so has the program. We co-led another class recently. While the overall plan is good, things have changed and I probably wouldn’t lead another class.
I’ve thought about these things recently because an internet friend, Dr. Rebecca Barrett-Fox, recently wrote a couple of blog posts criticizing the Ramsey system entitled “Should you buy into Dave Ramsey’s ideas?” Part 1: Finances and Part 2: Faith. I wanted to look at these articles from the standpoint of someone who supports Ramsey’s process in general, but recognizes that there are weaknesses. I will also add that she has wider experience with other systems and makes recommendations in her posts for where to go as a Christian seeking to honor God with their finances. The last thing to remember that politically and religiously, I tend to be very conservative, while Dr. Barrett-Fox tends to be more liberal in those areas. That being said, let’s look at her concerns. (Side note: when I asked how I should address her, she said, “Just call me Rebecca because we’re friends. I decided to be formal instead because I thought it was more appropriate.) I’ve put her concerns in block quote italics, just to make things easier to see,

First, his program is not for people who do not earn enough money to pay their bills.

When I first began with Financial Peace, we didn’t have enough money to pay all of our bills. Some people had to wait to get paid. As Ramsey discussed this problem in his program, he told people what he had done when he was budgeting. They listed their available cash, then they started listing bills that needed to be paid. Once the “ran out of cash,” they drew a line on their list of bills/creditors and anyone below that line didn’t get paid.

I think there’s more validity in Dr. Barrett-Fox’s argument under the current system which requires a yearly fee to stay up with the official Ramsey program. But, once you’ve gone through a class, you can usually understand the program enough to get an accountability partner who can do for you what members of the class used to do.

As Dr. Barrett-Fox continues this argument she notes that Ramsey doesn’t take into account factors such as low wages, health or childcare costs, racism, or sexism. To be honest, I don’t tend to be sensitive to issues like that in part because of my background. At the time we started the program, we had dealt with a couple of years of low wages. As an asthmatic, we tended to have high medical bills. I think Ramsey is sympathetic to a lot of these concerns because he wants to make sure that people get out of those situations. Again, the new program does seem to seek more ways to separate you from your money, so I’ll grant that argument some credence. Still, Ramsey seems to believe that if you want to get out of a financial mess that you’re in, you can. He makes suggestions to help people overcome those systemic concerns Dr. Barrett-Fox mentioned.

Sometimes, it’s not a matter of seeing people as weak-willed so much as recognizing that people who’ve been beaten down all their lives don’t have much hope. By giving them hope, by helping them to see that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an oncoming train, they realize that they can get out of their financial mess, whatever the cause may be.

Dr. Barrett-Fox’s next argument is one that I’ve heard countless times, even from Ramsey himself.

Second, his snowball method is not always the most money-saving way to pay off debt.

The Ramsey snowball method is designed to work on the psychology of building on small wins. The idea is that you list your debts in order from most owed to least owed. Then, you pay minimum balances on all but the debt with the least amount owed. You attack that debt with every part of your budget and anything extra you earn until you pay it off. Then, you take the money you were paying on that debt and apply it to the next debt on the list. This continues with the payments making a snowball effect until you’re making large chunk payments on your largest debt until you pay it off.

A quick glance shows that you might spend more money doing things that way than if you took the debt with the highest interest payment and paid that off first and used the same idea of snowballing the payments until you got all your debts paid off. If I remember correctly, our highest interest rates were on the smallest debts, so our debt snowball would have been the same using either method. I point that out only to say that I didn’t feel the pain of paying more.

Ramsey does deal with that in his program. He notes that there’s a psychological “feel-good” moment every time you get a debt paid off. It inspires you to go to the next one and get that paid off. By starting with the smallest debts first and knocking out those, you gain confidence that you will pay off your debts. I can imagine it would be easy to lose hope if you paid on the largest debt, and, because you weren’t throwing the bigger chunks of money at it, as in the Ramsey system, it takes a lot longer to pay that debt off. Discouragement could lead to a greater sense of hopelessness and giving up on the idea of becoming debt free.

My conclusion to this argument is that while Dr. Barrett-Fox, and many others make a good point about the money paid out, I’d still recommend Ramsey’s debt-snowball method. That being said, if you rejected my suggestion and paid off your debt the other way, I’d rejoice with you. Whatever you do, get out of debt!

Dr. Barrett-Fox makes her strongest point when she mentions the expense involved.

Third, this program is pricey, and the profit goes to Ramsey.

It was expensive when $99 bought a lifetime membership. I would say that I found it worth every penny and then some, but there’s no getting around the fact that the initial investment is steep for someone who’s having financial trouble.

I recognize that you get lots of materials for that money. I recognize that when you put that much money out to pay for the kit, it makes you value the program a little bit more. If you’re fighting to stay alive financially, you don’t want to give up on an investment like that. As I said earlier, I found it worthwhile – but it’s still a lot of money.
The good thing about this was that it was a lifetime commitment. At the risk of comparing apples and oranges, textbooks in universities for one course tend to come at a similar, if not higher price and, while they provide some good course information, they may not provide the life-changing help that Ramsey’s materials do. (And yes, I pointed that out because Dr. Barett-Fox is a university professor and I should note that I let her know privately that I’d be saying this.)

It’s a legitimate concern that all of the money goes back to Ramsey when the churches do all the work and provide the facilities for the classes. Ramsey would make the case that the benefit for the church would be found in members who are stronger financially.and thus, especially with his emphasis on giving throughout the program, will be better givers to the church. There are many ministry/businesses that supply teaching to churches, and Ramsey isn’t out of line in comparison.

Things have changed in one area, though, and that is why I probably wouldn’t teach a Ramsey class again: whereas before, the investment was $99 for life, now, in order to get the website access, you have to pay $99 per year. While Ramsey has a lot of good stuff on his website, I still think that’s a steep price to pay.

Finally, as we talk about the price, I’m going to reiterate that the $99 I spent was the best investment I ever made. When people in our church wanted to go through the program and asked me to teach, I willingly paid for the teacher kit instead of asking the church to do so because it was my way of giving back to members of our church. I’m willing to ask people to make a one time $99 investment in themselves, knowing that I don’t make anything from it. I’m not willing to ask them to make that investment every year.

As I said earlier, Dr. Barret-Fox is a friend of mine. I don’t think she would deliberately misrepresent anyone, but I think she misrepresents the spirit of Ramsey’s teaching in her discussion of his investment advice. I’ll be interspersing her quotes a lot, here.

Fourth, Ramsey gives a lot of bad advice. In particular, he claims that steady investment in the mutual funds will yield a 12% return. He gets this number by averaging the returns since 1923. He also breaks it down by decade and finds that 12% is still a good estimate. His dismisses the “lost decade” (2000-2009) as an anomaly–after all, we had a terrorist attack and a recession. And if you combine the ’90s and first decade of the 2000s, you still get a 8% return.

Ramsey has crunched the numbers on returns and his comments on the average return over the years seems to be on target, but let’s look at the spirit of Ramsey’s advice. In short, Ramsey teaches that you get better, safer returns from the stock market than you get from any other investment tool. He urges investments in mutual funds to diversify risk and get professional management for your money.

I think that this is pretty standard advice for most financial advisers who aren’t selling a specific product such as annuities or whole life which are much better deals for the salesman than it is for the investor. To call this “bad advice”, which the good doctor seems to be doing. (Forgive me if I’m wrong) is to call into question the whole system of financial advice in this country.

Dr. Barrett-Fox sees Ramsey’s advice to prepare as an attack on Social Security and things like union pension plans. Let’s face it, even if little old white ladies take out more than they put in, or their husbands may have, their return isn’t as large as if they had also invested and built up their own nest egg. We’ve also seen that union pension funds can have problems. I don’t see that Ramsey is attacking these plans specifically, I see it as Ramsey suggesting people find ways to care for themselves. He speaks about company pensions and advices investing in them when the companies or unions will match them. Ramsey looks at following his plan as “both and” not “either or.”

Dr. Barrett-Fox didn’t offer any suggestions on the best way to prepare for retirement other than depending on Social Security or pension funds. As to investment tools, I don’t see other advice from her, although in her second article she mentions value investing. (I’ll talk about it in a second post.)

Ramsey assures us that the stock market is safe because, on average, it works out. But the problem is that no one is average. We don’t retire over a decade; we retire at a specific period in time. Even if we look at our retirement account and think, “Well, the stock market took a turn for the worse last year, so I can’t afford to retire this year,” we don’t have a decade to delay retirement until the stock market “averages out” again.

Here’s where Dr. Barrett-Fox truly misunderstands Ramsey. While he plugs his endorsed investment people in terms of getting investment advice, he does tell you to get advice. (Which is why we don’t hear from Dave what funds he invests in.) From what I understand of most investment advisors, they’re going to advise you based on your risk tolerance and your stage of life. As you get closer to retirement, they’ll advice more investment instruments that provide capital preservation as opposed to stock investments that are high risk. If you look at your portfolio and say, “Well, the stock market took a turn for the worse last year, so I can’t afford to retire this year,” then you probably weren’t following good financial advice nor were you following Ramsey’s program. His program is a long term program that’s best begun in one’s 20’s or 30’s. Once you get to a point where you’re close to retirement, your investment philosophy, as well as your investments will change so that you should be protected from a major downturn in the market.

Over the long term, the stock market does give better returns than inflation. Over the long term, you’ll have a better financial situation if you invest in the stock market. Mutual funds provide the best way for people who don’t have a lot of money to create a diversified portfolio.If you want to prepare for your future financially, then find an advisor you trust and begin the process early. I wouldn’t call that bad advice.

As Dr. Barrett-Fox finishes her first article, she admonishes Ramsey for using the “s-word.”

Finally, Ramsey relies on shame to motivate you.

Yes, Dave throws the “s” word around a lot. He talks about people doing stupid things. I never saw that as shame so much as reminding people that we’re all in the same boat and we’ve all made mistakes. When Ramsey describes his personal experiences, he talks about himself as doing “Stupid with lots of zeroes on the end of it.” In other words, “Whatever you’ve done, I’ve done, and I’ve done far worse.

I saw a lot of empathy in Dave’s reactions to people who made mistakes. He told the story, at one time, of a single mother who was so tired and frustrated that she did something she knew would cause checks to bounce because her kids were hungry and by the time the air cleared, she had hundreds of dollars in overdraft charges. He didn’t run her down, he told the story because he never wants to see anyone go through that kind of pain.

I’ll be answering her comments on faith in another post, because this one’s gotten a lot longer than I expected. Let me just say that when I started talking with my financial advisor as I prepared for retirement, he realized that while I didn’t have a lot of investments, the fact that the only debt I had was my house was amazing. He was a lot more comfortable when I did decide to retire because I was debt-free. Yes, I have my teacher pension. Yes, I won’t collect what other people might collect in Social Security even though I put into Social Security for many years before I became a teacher. I was able to retire early so that I could take care of my wife while she went through her cancer treatments because we had followed Ramsey’s program. There are issues with it, as there would be with any program. We personalized it in ways I’ll mention in the next post. Dr. Barrett-Fox recommends some other programs that she feels are better and I would suggest that if you haven’t done any planning for the future yet, check them out. I don’t know anything about those programs, but even though we disagree about Ramsey, I don’t think she’d lead you astray. Just in case you didn’t see the link, her article is here.

Daily Work, My writing, personal, The State of Writing Today

Growing As a Writer

I’ve been sporadic in writing the last couple of months. I took August off and didn’t write anything other than my devotionals for the whole month. One of the major reasons was that I seem to be encountering a lot of Repetitive Stress Injury problems with my wrists. The month off from other writing was beneficial. I still have to be careful, though, since I’ll be stressing my wrists out a lot come November and NaNoWriMo. (National Novel Writing Month has a goal of writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.) As I’ve thought during this time, I’ve realized that I need to become more proficient in the business and the craft side of this industry if I’m ever going to make the money back that I’ve spent on writing, editing, marketing, etc. (I’m not even worried about making a profit, now!) And so, I’ve embarked on a plan that will take a while, but it’s designed to help me grow as a writer.

One of the first things I’ll keep doing is writing short stories. They help me learn get to the point quickly. Surprisingly to me, I’ve enjoyed writing short stories. I’ve written for William Mays and his two Corpus Christi Writers Anthologies. The release of this year’s anthology will be in November. The first anthology can be found in the link at the bottom of this article. I’ve also had the opportunity to have written for and included in two anthologies released by Fiction-Atlas Press run by C.L. Cannon. Cannon’s anthologies have a theme which make them a challenge to write for. The first one was a time travel anthology called Counterclockwise and the second one was a super hero anthology called Behind the Mask. (Again, links will be found at the bottom of this article.) I had fun with the first one, and the second one I wrote something that scared me to death, because I expected people to tell me that a man shouldn’t write that story. Seriously. I wondered why I had the right to write that one. Interestingly, in one of the reviews it was mentioned as being a good story. Because of Cannon’s themes, I tend to stretch myself and go beyond my limits. She has a new anthology coming out in October called “Unknown Realms” which is a portal anthology. My submission for this anthology created a lot of angst for me because the subject matter included slavery. I originally tried to write in a dialect that might have been used by slaves, but changed it because I wasn’t comfortable and was worried that people would think I was putting slaves down. I did more research to get names of places, family members, and slaves down exactly right. Well, to make a long story short, it wasn’t accepted for the anthology – and I’m comfortable with that. I learned a lot working on that story. I’m proud of it, and I’ll use it in other situations. But that also means I think this anthology will be pretty strong. Special kudos go to my South Texas writing buddy Devorah Fox for being included in the group.

When it comes to the business side of writing, I’m completely clueless. I don’t even have a mailing list. I’m making that my first priority for business, so I’m reading a book on mailing lists by Tammi LaBrecque who comes highly recommended by some people I respect. I’ll probably end up reading it again after I get the newsletter set up so that I cut down on the mistakes I’ll make. I’ll be looking for other ways to promote and market my work. If you have any suggestions on things I can do to learn this business or for newsletter companies, please feel free to let me know in the comments.

Finally, I’m studying and working on writing as a craft. I’ve started attending the workshops at The Writers Studio in Corpus Christi which are held monthly. I’ve also begun alternating my business study with craft study during the week. I’m not much of a video watcher, but I’ll stick it out for this. I’m also going to be looking at my writing craft books that I bought long ago and still haven’t made it past my TBR list. My ultimate goal is to improve my craft even at my advanced age. Please feel free to make suggestions by giving me ideas of books on writing, telling me what’s helped you, or critiquing my writing and posts.


Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology


Beyond the Mask (This is a charity anthology supporting Alex’s Lemonade Stand)

My writing, personal

One Last Performance

One of the things I’ve been able to do is pubish a few short stories. The one I’m about to post was my first. It was published in the Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology volume last year. I will have a longer story in the 2019 version. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with Fiction-Atlas Press in two different anthologies: Counterclockwise which is a Time Travel Anthology and Beyond the Mask which is a Superhero Anthology written to support Alex’s Lemonade Stand. Both of those stories are too long for one post here, but I may publish them in parts, now that my contracts allow that. Tonight I submitted a story for their next anthology. It’s a portal anthology, which needs to include some kind of doorway to another world. If the story is rejected, I’ll be able to tell you more about it then. If it’s accepted, I can tell you about it in the publicity things I’ll be doing to promote the anthology. But, as celebration of submitting, here’s my first short story ever published.

One Last Performance

Jason looked at himself in the mirror, using an eyeliner pencil to make the last adjustments to his makeup. He had to support his right hand with his left to quell the shaking. “That’ll work,” he said out loud, even though no one could hear him. He still had a private dressing room, in deference to his past greatness. He might not have the starring roles anymore. He might make more mistakes in his lines, but he still commanded the respect of audiences and directors because of his reputation and his perseverance in the face of Parkinson’s.

There was a knock on the door. “Ten minutes, Mr. Riordan,” the assistant to the assistant director called as he opened the door just a crack to deliver his message. He waited for Jason to acknowledge the call, and then left.

Jason smiled. His timing on getting his makeup done was still perfect. Ever since he’d started in theater, he had done his own makeup. “It helps me as I become my character,” he had told countless makeup artists. And now, his routine to get into character would continue. He stared at the mirror, inspecting his makeup one last time. Satisfied, he slowly closed his eyes and went over the play in his mind. This practice had served him well, as he had earned three Tony nominations. He muttered softly as he told himself where to make his entrances and recited his lines.

He wanted this last performance of his career to be perfect and got so wrapped up in his preparation that he realized he must have missed the underling’s five-minute call. As the first notes of the overture began sounding, he cursed silently. His routine called for him to be ready in the wings before the overture started playing. Now, he rushed to get to his place, so he could take his centering breaths a few seconds before his entrance. His first starring role ever was with this director as “George” in Our Town and now, knowing Jason’s condition, this same director had made a special accommodation to allow him to begin this version of Our Town, as the Stage Manager, with the freedom to look back on his career and give the audience a chance to acknowledge their appreciation for the retiring actor.

They had flocked to see the once-great Jason Riordan in his last performance. Those who had acted alongside him including the first Emily and Stage Manager were in the audience, actors who had worked with him in the performances that had earned him his Tony nominations, and various assorted fans who wanted to pay their respects to one who, even in his ongoing illness, showed grace and respect to his fans.

He got to his spot on the wing with a little over a minute to spare, and he took a couple of cool-down breaths. Then, he did that which he had never done before in his career, he pulled back the curtain and sneaked a peek at the audience. The stage lights kept him from seeing much of the audience, but the memories he had made with those people he saw and recognized overwhelmed him and left him with a slight case of stage fright.

He closed the curtain and took another deep breath, and then, he was on. From that first, special monologue to his final line, he was perfect. He didn’t suffer from the dropped lines or cues that had plagued him in recent years. His swan song performance was amazing, and the audience recognized it. Audience decorum was thrown to the winds as his fans screamed his name and he took bow after bow. The stage hands picked up flowers that were thrown in congratulations. He left the stage triumphantly after one of his finest performances ever. He walked back to his dressing room accepting handshakes, hugs, and pats on the backs from the cast and crew of his last show. He kept looking at the floor, lest they see his tears, and by doing this, missed seeing their tears as well. He arrived at his dressing room for the last time and sat down, laying his head on the makeup table to rest for a few minutes before taking his makeup off one, last time. He didn’t want to take it off just yet, because that would make his retirement final.

There was a knock on the door. “Five minutes, Mr. Riordan,” the assistant to the assistant director called as he opened the door just a crack to deliver his message. He waited for the customary acknowledgment. There was none. He knocked harder and called out louder. When he got no answer, he ran in and saw Jason slumped with his head down on the makeup table. He checked for a pulse. When he didn’t get a pulse, he ran out in the hall and looked for a stage hand. “Get the director!” he yelled.

“Sir, the director’s …” the stage hand began.

He cut him off. “Don’t argue with me. Get the director now.” When he saw him hesitate, he added, “This is a real emergency.”

The stage hand finally believed him, ran off and came back with the director. “Jones, I don’t know what this is about, but it better be a real emergency.”

He gestured for the director to follow him. When the director saw Jason, he stopped in his tracks. “That how you found him?” he asked.

He nodded.

The director walked over and tried to find a pulse also. He teared up a little when he realized that Riordan was gone. He walked behind the body to get to the other side and looked at his face. He wiped away his tears and smiled himself when he saw Riordan’s smile. It was that shy, after-performance smile that he used when he’d look at the director and ask how he’d done. “It would have been one, great, last performance,” he said as he closed Riordan’s eyes.