Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Fifty States of Pray -- My Christmas Eve Prayer

Merry Christmas!!!

OK, I guess technically it's Christmas EVE...  But this is still a day that has "Christmas" in the title, so I'm going to wish you a merry one!

It's also the day for the Fifty States of Pray blogging event hosted by Mark Koopmans.  I'll let Mark share his thoughts behind it:

"About two months ago, I had a random thought.  Normally, these get me into trouble, but this one sounded like a great idea:
'Why not set aside a moment to reflect on the year that was and share some hopes for the next year?'
I’m calling it the 50 States of Pray event and I’d love to find at least one person (but the more the merrier) from each U.S. state to participate.
All that’s required is to take a moment and about 100 words. Then, on Dec. 24, 2013, please share a prayer, a thought, a memory, a hope and even a regret about the past and/or a wish for the future.
Here’s my simple goal behind 50 States of Pray:
'Is there not a better time to help make the world a better place than Christmastime?'
Deep down in my heart, I truly believe someone, somewhere will absolutely benefit from your words."

I thought this sounded like a wonderful idea and so I signed up to participate, representing the state I live in -- Indiana.

Yes -- my blog is called The Creative Outlet of StratPlayer and I normally use it to share my writing, my music, other creative pursuits, and my thoughts related to those things.  So why am I choosing to take part in an event that doesn't really tie to a creative activity?  Is my blog turning religious?

No -- this is and shall remain a blog that focuses on my writing, music, and other creative outlets I have.  But I do have these two points about today's prayer posting:

  • It's Christmas!  This is the time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, to share, to give gifts, and to express our love for those we care about.  Although I guess you could consider all the creative things I normally share with you on my blog to be a form of a gift, I think this blogging event gives me an opportunity to also share another kind of gift with you.

  • I think this post IS creative -- I'm going to offer you a prayer that I've written myself.  I'm not quoting someone else or just sharing a few bible quotes with you. I've even written each nine-syllable line into an ABAB rhyme scheme -- yes, it's a prayer in poetry!  ...and just when you thought it couldn't get any verse...  :)

Anyway, I hope that at this special time of the year you will indulge me a little, and allow me to offer you this:


 A Christmas Prayer

Lord, I ask for Your blessing on each,

     and every person reading this post.

I pray that Your compassion may reach,

    wherever they may need You the most.

Please heal each body and soothe each ache;

     restore broken hearts; lighten their loads;

Any heavy burden -- may You take;

     turn all their steep paths to gentle roads.

Even if they don't believe Your creed

     please share Your blessings -- this I ask still.

Provide relief, whatever their need,

     let them see Your light, Your grace, Your will.

Lord, I ask that You may bless them all,

     on this joyful, holy Christmas day.

Please show Your love, let Your favor fall

     on all who read this -- Lord, this I pray.

(All images from Wikimedia Commons)


Now and throughout the year -- thank you so much for reading!  Simply by stopping by and giving me some of your valuable time, you have offered me the best gift possible, and I want you to know how much I appreciate it!

This will be my last post for 2013.  I will be around sporadically but there won't be another new blog post until my next Battle of the Bands entry on January 1st. In the meantime, please take a little time to visit the other bloggers taking part in the Fifty States of Pray blogging event -- you can click on the link HERE.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a New Year filled with love, joy, happiness, and many glorious blessings!

Friday, December 20, 2013

BOTB 12/15/13 Results and a 50-Word Story

Today the winner of my first Battle of the Bands post is announced!

In that post, I offered three instrumental versions of the song Christmas Time is Here -- the original song by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, a cover by John Zorn, and one by guitarist Steve Vai (you can refer back to the post to listen to each if you'd like).  Today I reveal the winner.

OK -- if you've been following my running tally in the comments, then this isn't going to be much of a surprise, but I liked adding to the taley with each vote.  Besides, if you were dying to know in advance, you could just as easily have counted the votes yourself.

However, you might be interested in my own thoughts and vote, so I'll share those too.

First, let me comment on the voting -- I don't think there was a "wrong vote." Each of these versions has a lot to like, I think. But you know what?  Even if I HATED one of the versions, you still have every right to like it yourself.  Music -- like all art -- is a subjective experience. Why does anyone have a more significant opinion as to whether a certain combination of sounds is "good" or "bad" or "better" or "worse"?  Each person likes what they like, and that's really what it comes down to.  So if in any BOTB post I ever start to sound too opinionated or judgemental or insulting about any kind of music you might like, I apologize.  Call me out on it and I'll come to my senses and remember this.

So my thoughts on this BOTB:  I am not a traditionalist in all things, but I can certainly see the value of tradition.  It provides a concrete link to the past and to the people who have come before us. I love Christmas, partly for all the nostalgia and memories it evokes, and the way it rekindles family traditions is a big part of why I love it.

Still, I enjoy new things and innovative ways of approaching what is old and familiar.  I really like John Zorn's cover of this tune (and am kind of surprised he didn't even get a vote).  There is a great arrangement, some excellent playing, and I thought the "spacy" intro was kind of cool.  I also greatly respect Steve Vai and my jaw drops at his incredible playing. His version is also awesome and I can easily see why people voted for him.

But in this contest, I have to join the traditionalists.

From the opening ostinato bass, to the smooth brush work on the drums, to the wonderfully wistful piano playing, Vince Guaraldi's version is simply superb. Yes, a big part of it is probably nostalgia -- I've been watching A Charlie Brown's Christmas since it was first aired in 1965. I was five years old and saw it in living black and white on our old console TV.

So even without my vote, it was not very close.  Vince Guaraldi wins it with 8 votes.  Steve Vai takes second with 3 votes. And John Zorn comes in third with nary a vote at all (well, he's actually 4th, if you count "None of the above," which received one vote).

Thank you for taking part on my first BOTB post!  I will be having my second on on 1/1/14 -- New Year's Day!

I will also be posting on December 24th with a Fifty States of Pray post, and I hope to see you then (although my post will be pre-scheduled and it may be late in the day before I get a chance to blog).

But in the meantime, let me leave you with the last of my 50-word stories with a prehistoric theme.  This is also one I submitted to "The Prehistoric Week" contest at Tim Sevenhuysen's 50-Word Stories, although it did not make it into the winners group.  It is another dinosaur adventure with Bob and Barney -- and probably the last of their adventures:


The Cretaceous–Paleogene Impact Event

Barney and Bob were relaxing with the other dinosaurs.

Barney lay in the sun, his eyes closed. 

"She's really not that bad," he said. "Even after the divorce we get along."

"No, Dude," Bob said, staring at the asteroid growing in the sky. "I didn't say, 'your ex stinks'."


Thanks for reading, and see you on Christmas Eve!  But if not, I hope you have a wonderful holiday!!!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tuesday Newsday Two-Hundred #4

Today is Tuesday, so that means it's time for another edition of Tuesday Newsday Two-Hundred (TN200) -- a blog-exclusive bit o' flash fiction of exactly two-hundred words about a recent item I found in the news.

Since Christmas is fast approaching (only a week from tomorrow!), this story, like my last TN200 post, has a Christmas theme.   I call this one "Walmart Santa" and I hope that you enjoy it -- the link to the original news story is at the end.


Walmart Santa 

It had been a rough year for Karen's family.  Jim had finally gotten a job after being laid off for several months, but it was only half the money he brought home before, and they were struggling to catch up on the bills that had fallen behind.

She'd taken a second part-time job and that helped, but not nearly enough. With Christmas coming fast, she worried the kids wouldn't have much under the tree.  

Karen was trying -- she'd put Brandon's new bike, Brittney's Barbie Dreamhouse, and their other toys on layaway at the Walmart weeks ago, and Karen paid what she could, even if it was only five bucks at a time. 

But it wasn't enough.  She just wasn't going to get the gifts paid off in time, and she found herself starting to cry at the layaway counter.  The woman behind the register looked like she was going to cry too, but there was nothing she could do.

Then Karen met Santa.

He didn't look anything like she'd expected.  There was no white beard, no fur-lined red coat, and no sign of a sleigh or flying reindeer

And Karen had never known Santa was a Red Sox fan.


This will also be my last TN200 post for 2013 -- next Tuesday is Christmas Eve and I'll be participating in the Fifty States of Pray, the Christmas Eve blogfest organized by Mark Koopmans. I will be posting a prayer on that day (representing the state of Indiana), and I don't want a TN200 post to detract from the event.

And then the following Tuesday is New Year's Eve.  Right now, I have nothing special blog-wise planned for that, but I do not expect it to be a huge blogging day anyway.  Plus the very next day is January 1st, and I will have another edition of a post for The Battle of the Bands (BOTB), which posts on the first and the fifteenth of every month.  So I don't think I'll do a TN200 post on that 12/31 Tuesday either, since it's New Year's Eve and when it will be bumped by a new BOTB post the very next day.

So you can look forward to my next Tuesday Newsday Two-Hundred story on January 7th, 2014.

By the way -- you can still vote in my "Christmas Time is Here" Battle of the Band Post from Sunday.  I'll keep the voting open until I chime in with my own vote on Friday or Saturday this week.

Thanks for reading, and your comments are always welcome and greatly appreciated!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

BOTB 12/15/13: "Christmas Time is Here"

This is my first contribution to the blogging event, "The Battle of The Bands (BOTB)" started by Stephen T. McCarthy and FarAwayEyes back in August of this year.  This event occurs twice every month -- on the 1st and the 15th -- and each of the bloggers taking part offers readers a choice of two (or occasionally more) versions of the same song, performed by different recording artists.

Then the readers -- yes, you! -- get to vote for your favorite rendition. 

I think it's a fun thing to do, and plus there are potential prizes involved!  Well, not from me.  But you can visit Stephen's or FAE's blog to get all the details.

Since discovering the BOTB, I've really enjoyed seeing the battles taking place.  I love hearing how a single song can be given multiple interpretations.  Sometimes it's easy for me to pick a winner -- many times it's very difficult. I often discover I like BOTH versions of the song.

I've enjoyed voting in the BOTB posts so much that now I've decided to chime in with my own battle-vids. As I take part, I hope to offer you some great music and some tough choices -- I will try as much as possible to pick tunes where I enjoy each of the options.

So let's kick off my first one!

Since this month is Christmas,  I'm going to start my BOTB posts with a Christmas tune.  It's very easy to find multiple versions of Christmas songs -- it seems like almost every artist has released singles and albums of Christmas music.

For this battle, I'm choosing a song that has had many covers over the years, and it is one of my absolute most-favorites songs of the season: "Christmas Time is Here," written in 1965 by Lee Mendelson and Vince Guaraldi for the animated TV special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas".  There were two versions of the song created for the special -- an instrumental and one with a vocal.  In this battle, I'm going to feature the instrumental version, and give you three alternatives to choose from.

For me, this song is filled with every emotion of the holiday -- when I hear it, it evokes joy, wonder, nostalgia, and bittersweet melancholy.  Especially if the song is done well. And I think I've selected three versions which are done very well. Each feature some really great musicianship and playing.  But I'm not going to say any more than that -- I don't want to influence your vote.

First up, here's the original, as performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio from the "A Charlie Brown Christmas" soundtrack (1965):

Next, a cover by John Zorn, from "Dreamer's Christmas" (2011):


And finally, a cover by guitarist Steve Vai as his contribution to the multiple guitarist Christmas album, "Merry Axemas" (1996), and re-released as part of Seve Vai's compilation "The 7th Song" (2000).

Please give each of the above a fair listen (and you can also check out the links under the names above if you've never heard of Vince Guaraldi, John Zorn, or Steve Vai.  By the way -- that's Vai holding the red guitar in the BOTB logo at the top of this post.  It's from the move "Crossroads"). As you listen to the tunes, try to focus on the music rather than the videos -- the goal is to compare the songs, not the images.  If it helps, shut your eyes while you listen.

Then after listening, please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the most. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above recordings strike you, even if it's less than positive.

And finally -- be sure to check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:
Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again at the end of the week to find out how the voting has gone!  I'll make a post then with my own vote and also announce the winner!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pray, Pay, Display, Play, and Sunday

Today's post is meant to touch on a variety of things -- I want to give you a head's up on some blogging and writing events taking place, share an update on some writing I'd submitted, offer another snippet of music, and invite you to stop back for a another blog series I'm going to be joining.  Let me break it down for ya:


A Blogging Head's Up:   On December 24th -- Christmas Eve! -- Mark Koopmans is hosting the  Fifty States of Pray blog event.  Mark says the idea behind it came to him as, "Why not set aside a moment to reflect on the year that was and share some hopes for the next year?" Well, why not? Mark hopes to get a blogging representative from every state in the U.S., and as many international bloggers as possible.
I think it's a great idea, and I will be posting as a representative from Indiana.  However, I have to say that my post will almost certainly be scheduled in advance -- Christmas Eve is a big family time for me, and I may not have much time to surf the blogosphere.  Still, if you get a chance over the holidays, I would welcome your visit, and I'll also invite you to use the link to also visit some of Mark's other participants. The link to the sign-up list for the blogging participants is HERE.


A Writing Head's Up:  David List is using KickStarter to try and fund the artwork, editing, and publishing for his upcoming fantasy novel, "A Sawmill's Hope."  I know David from WRiTE Club at DL Hammons' blog and I think his book has tremendous potential.  I would encourage you to check out the thought, time, and effort David has put into this project, and to make an offering to support it.  Pay whatever you can spare. David's KickStarter project is HERE.

A Writing Update:  A while ago, I posted that I'd submitted two entries to "The Prehistoric Week" at Tim Sevenhuysen's 50-Word Stories.  Well, if you were paying attention, you probably noticed that the week came and went and that my stories were never published.

There's a possibility that Tim may still use one or both of them at some point in the future, but I thought I'd go ahead and post them here.  They're not more Og and Oona stories -- these two instead visit some dinosaur dilemmas. I'll display one here today, and save the second one for next week.  Today's is something I call "Emily's Extinct Fan".  I hope you enjoy it!


Emily's Extinct Fan

The meeting of the dinosaur book club degenerated into raging argument.

"'Wuthering Heights' is the greatest novel ever written," Dino screamed at Barney. "You're an idiot if you can't see it!"

Rex tried to intervene. "Settle down, Dino. We can have differing opinions. Don't be such a Bronte sore ass."



A Musical Offering:  I haven't posted a musical selection in a long time, so I think I need to get another one out.  I have a couple of new things I'm working on at the moment (normal hectic Christmas schedule notwithstanding), that I'll share with you once they're done.  But for now, I'll offer another piece I added some guitar to on the Jam site Wikiloops.  This is an electronic piece started by wikiloops user Dogbass originally called "Electrohive".  User tron12 added some bass, then I added two guitar tracks, and called it "Zonin' in the Hive,"  because it was kind of some trancy, zoning playing against this 'hive' track.

Unfortunately, I mistyped the name when I uploaded it and it's displayed as "Zonin' in the Hie."  I didn't realize it until it was already all uploaded.  Then I thought about it. "Hie" is an old word meaning to go fast or 'hasten' and I said, 'what the Heck?' The track is kind of fast and so it sort of fits.

My playing on this is not what I'd consider my best, but it was done as a 'jam' with two "as-close-to-live-as-possible" tracks, recorded in one sitting and then given some psycho fading.  One guitar is some spacy background (zonin') and the other one's an edgier up-front guitar (hie?). All in all, I think it worked out OK, and it at least shows another side of my musical experimentation.

You can listen to it HERE.  And, of course, you can always check out all of musical offerings under the "My Music" tab at the top of the page above.  Thanks for listening!


Joining Another Blog Series:  This Sunday is the fifteenth and I will be posting my first entry in the blog series, "The Battle of the Bands".  This is a series started by Stephen T. McCarthy and FarAwayEyes in August of this year, and now has several other bloggers who take part, including Arlee Bird and Robin (even Ninja Captain Alex Cavanaugh takes part occasionally).

The blog event occurs on the first and the fifteenth of each month and features posts with two (and sometimes more) recorded versions of the same song.  The blog readers then get to vote to decide which performer did a better version of the song. 

I think it's a lot of fun and have decided to take part, so Sunday will be my first offering.  Since it is the Christmas season, I am going to feature a couple of versions of one of my absolute favorite Christmas songs.

I hope you will come visit and vote for your favorite!

Well, that's it for this hodge-podge of a post.  Thank you very much for reading!  Feel free to offer whatever thoughts you might have on the above because, after the Pray, Pay, Display, Play, and Sunday, it's now time for your Say!

OK?  ;)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tuesday Newday Two-Hundred #3

When I first came up with the idea of having a recurring theme post on a given day, I really didn't plan on it being almost the only thing I post on my blog. :)

But I have to confess that I have not been posting as often as I would like.  My loose goal is to post two to three time a week, but with Christmas rapidly approaching, I have fallen short.  Other than my IWSG post last Wednesday, there have now been three Tuesday Newsday Two-Hundred ("TN200") posts in a row.

Well, I guess the good news is that the TN200 idea is helping me to at least post something on my blog, right?

But I do promise that this week there will be another post besides the TN200 one -- I want to highlight the upcoming December 24th "Fifty States of Prayer" event hosted by Mark Koopmans, and it's been a while since I shared some music, so there will be some of that, too.  Oh, and I've got some 50-Word Story updates to throw in also. 

However, today is Tuesday, so that means that it is time for yet another edition of my Tuesday Newsday Two-Hundred -- a weekly post which features a blog-exclusive two-hundred word story (and exactly 200 words -- not 199, not 201), written about an item found in the recent news.

As I said above, Christmas is fast approaching, and I've found something in the Chicago Tribune that touches on it.  I think it's a little heavy, but it will work well for today. While the news item is more of a photo-essay than a written article, it does highlight an overlooked, darker aspect of the holiday season, and shows that for some people, Christmas can be a time of sheer terror.

Read the horrifying story below, and then click on the link at the end to see the original news item:


Christmas Terror

The mall was crowded. Julian hated it.  His nervousness kept rising as he watched the hectic shoppers shoving their way through the congestion. He was certain that something terrible was going to happen, and the mob of people around him only made it worse. 

The noise was deafening.  Christmas music blared from overhead speakers in the mall's center court, mingling with all the voices of the people in a cavernous cacophony that assaulted Julian's ears. 

It only accentuated his growing sense of unease. 

He felt like every eye was watching him and there was nowhere to run.  Hands reached out to restrain him, holding him tighter and pulling him deeper into the crowd.

He cried out, but no-one seemed to care.  It was as if his cries weren't even heard. He fought to break free of the hands around him, but their grip was too strong. Nothing he could do stopped the overpowering pull of the crowd as it slowly surged ahead.

He erupted in screams of terror when some strange man reached out and grabbed Julian, laughing deeply as Julian struggled to get away. 

And Julian's parents just stood there with stupid smiles, taking pictures of the whole thing.

(Link to Original Story: Scared of Santa 2013)


Thank you very much for reading!  See you again in a few days with another, non-TN200 post.  :)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

IWSG -- Am I Writing Enough?

Today is the first Wednesday of the last month of the latest year of my life. So of course that means it's time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group (ISWG) post!

For this edition, how about some thoughts on writing goals and the concern that I might not be writing "enough:"

When I first dabbled with "becoming a writer" I was very focused on output.  I think that in a lot of ways, that can be a good thing.  A writer writes, and just making it through the process of getting words onto the page is much of the battle. But, of course, being the geeky engineering type, I naturally created a spreadsheet to track my output in words per day.

I'd read many places that the goal for many "professional" writers is 1,000 words a day.  But I've also got the day-job and a house and a family and other commitments and while those blessed few who could support themselves with their writing might be able to crank that out in a day, I knew I was too pressed for time to try and live up to that daily 4-digit dream level of production. So I settled on 250 as a goal, preloaded several months worth of my tracking spreadsheet with that daily amount, and set to writing and tracking my actual output versus the goal.

At first, for quite a long while, I was doing well.  Even with an erratic schedule and days where I accomplished no writing at all, I was still averaging closer to 350-400 words per day.  Then life interrupted, my schedule got disrupted, more and more days slipped by with little or no writing, and my actual-versus-goal cumulative total slid into the negative and kept going that way.  

It was excruciating to watch that artificial goal I had set for myself slip further and further away from my grasp. Soon it became overwhelming.  I'd reached a point where even if I spent days writing at thousands of words a day, it would take seemingly forever to catch back up to where I'd decided I was "supposed" to be.

So I quit.

The fact that I hadn't been "successful" in getting anything published also added to me throwing up my hands and walking away from it, but that oppressive thought that I wasn't even writing "enough" to be a "real writer" was a key factor.

My writing stopped and my blogging stopped -- why blog about something you weren't doing?  I mean, if any of my blog readers could see that huge deficit of my actual writing output versus my target, they'd realize I was really a big phoney. What the heck kind of writer was I???

But slowly, thankfully, without an artificial and arbitrary target anymore, and away from the blogosphere, I came to my senses.  With the "goal" long surrendered, I eventually started writing again.  Simply because I like it and felt like it.  250 words or 2 words -- it didn't matter. I just like to write.

And that's kind of where I still am.  I'm writing, but I really couldn't tell you "how much" off the top of my head.  The spreadsheet's been retired.  And I think I'm better for it.

But I sometimes still feel those nagging thoughts start to creep in -- am I really writing "enough?"  Maybe I should set a goal and start tracking it again.

Or not...

So what do you think? Do you set a writing goal?  How rigid is it? If it's flexible and likely not to be met, is it really a "goal?"  How much do you beat yourself up if you fall short of your goal?

How do you set a goal and use it as positive motivation without it becoming a burden and a oppressive drag? 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tuesday Newsday Two-Hundred #2

(Image by Chris J. Fries, using a template from Presentation Magazine)

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Ours was great, but as you can tell by my blogging absence over the last week -- a busy one.  I apologize for taking so long to respond to the comments left on my last post, but I do want to stress that I greatly appreciate each and every one. 

I will also do my best to visit many of the blogs that I haven't in the last few weeks.

But for now -- since it's another Tuesday -- let me keep my new Tuesday post idea going.  I mean, I'd like to get a few more than one done before completely abandoning the idea.  ;)

Here's a new, blog-exclusive 200-word story based on a recent news item.  I call it "Trapped":  



Dexter waited.  There was nothing else left to do.

For days, he'd cried out for help, but no-one came. If anyone was looking for him, it wasn't here.

He kept attacking the rubble that surrounded him, frantically hoping to dig his way out.  But there was too much of it, and it was all too heavy.  He'd try, struggling and straining, until he'd collapse, defeated and exhausted. It was useless.

At the height of the storm, when the tornado began shredding his apartment, he'd panicked and fled in blind terror.  At first, he'd considered himself lucky to find this corner of a building where he'd managed to survive the horrendous winds.  Then the building crumbled.

Now Dexter considered it a prison, and -- after days alone, with no food and fading hope -- likely a tomb.

He waited for the inevitable.

Then he heard a voice.

Overcome with relief, he called out. The man heard, called back, and managed to get through the rubble.

But Dexter was filled with fear when he saw the man.  Was the man a looter? Or worse?  Dexter backed deeper into the shadows.

Then the man's gentle offer convinced Dexter.

Looters never share their hotdogs.

(Link to Original Story: National guardsman reunited with dog days after tornado destroys town)


Thank you for reading! I'll see you again tomorrow with a new IWSG post.