The Green Fairy

After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.
—- Oscar Wilde

On my last trip to New Orleans, for the Writing Marathon, I was able to cross a line off of my bucket list. It was a small item, maybe the smallest – nothing like going to Cambodia, or living long enough to see the Sagrada Famila finished – but an item crossed-off nonetheless.

It was, I think, Thursday, and that day we would divide up more or less according to what we wrote. A fairly large poetry group set out (I would meet up with them later in the day, crossing the Mississippi on the Algiers ferry) while I joined a smaller fiction group.

We had coffee and wrote, and then the leader suggested, “Why don’t we go get an absinthe?” Despite the flurry of absinthe bars that swept Dallas a decade ago (and just as quickly disappeared) I had never drank one. And for no real reason, I always had wanted to – placing it on my list of things to do. What better time than now and what better place than the French Quarter in New Orleans. Because of its strong French ties, absinthe had always been a thing in the city.

I think the biggest reason I wanted an absinthe is my love of gadgetry, ritual, and complex preparations. I am a chemist after all and what could be more attractive than dripping ice cold water into a solution of alcohol and essential oils just until the oils are forced out of solution (because the water is making the solvent mixture more and more polar…. Nevermind).

For those that don’t know, that is the classic way that absinthe is prepared. The (often greenish) liquid (very strong – usually well over 100 proof) is poured into a glass. A flat, slotted absinthe spoon is placed over the glass and a sugar cube is set on the spoon. The large glass reservoir of an Absinthe Fountain is filled with ice and water. Then a tap is cracked open and the water slowly dripped onto the sugar cube, where it dissolves the sugar and then falls into the absinthe. The cold water then causes the absinthe to change from clear to cloudy, a process called louche.

This releases the aromatic flavored oils and indicates the absinthe is ready to drink.

The bartender pouring the absinthe, note the clear green color.
Pirate’s Alley Cafe, New Orleans

Dripping the iced water over the sugar cube, into the absinthe.
Pirate’s Alley Cafe, New Orleans

The absinthe fountain, dripping cold water over the sugar into a glass of absinthe.
Pirate’s Alley Cafe, New Orleans

The louche (cloudy liquid) forms as the water dilutes the absinthe.
Pirate’s Alley Cafe, New Orleans

—How cool is that?!—

Now, of course, absinthe has a bad reputation – and I mean that in a good way. It was banned in the US from 1912 to 2007. Traditionally, it was the wormwood used in the drink, particularly the chemical thujone that enables the hallucinations that the drink traditionally provided. It looks like that is at best a huge exaggeration, if not a complete load of hokum. It seem it’s the liquid’s 125-175 proof alcohol, rather than some mysterious elixir, that provides the desired effects.

We walked down to a bar off of Pirate’s Alley (this is a favorite spot of mine – I stumbled across a fashion shoot there once before) right next to Faulkner House Books (William Faulkner’s old apartments). The bar is called Pirate’s Alley Café and specializes in absinthe. It seems a little touristy (sometimes the barkeep dresses like Jack Sparrow) but there was none of that early in the day in the summer (New Orleans’ offseason). I had to decide on my brand of poison, settling on Absinthe Lucid (it was relatively inexpensive, French, and green).

The barkeep went through the routine, setting up three glasses under the absinthe fountain and we were able to watch them go from clear to milky.

The only problem was that since I’m no huge fan of licorice, I assumed I wouldn’t like the absinthe and this would be a one-off bucket list thing. No luck, I really enjoyed the stuff.

Now I have to find a bar in Dallas and/or a bottle of the Green Fairy.

More information:
The Wormwood Society – America’s Premiere Absinthe Association & Information Network

“I am only sipping the second glass of that “fascinating, but subtle poison, whose ravages eat men’s heart and brain” that I have ever tasted in my life; and as I am not an American anxious for quick action, I am not surprised and disappointed that I do not drop dead upon the spot. But I can taste souls without the aid of absinthe; and besides, this is magic of absinthe! The spirit of the house has entered into it; it is an elixir, the masterpiece of an old alchemist, no common wine. And so, as I talk with the patron concerning the vanity of things, I perceive the secret of the heart of God himself; this, that everything, even the vilest thing, is so unutterably lovely that it is worthy of the devotion of a God for all eternity. What other excuse could He give man for making him? In substance, that is my answer to King Solomon.”
― Aleister Crowley, Absinthe The Green Goddess

The emerald hour–
when the poet’s pain is soothed
by a liquid jewel
held in the sacred chalice,
upon which rests
the pierced spoon,
the crystal sweetness–
Icy streams trickle down.
The darkest forest
melts into an open meadow
as waves of green seduce.
Sanity surrendered,
the soul spirals toward
the murky depths,
wherein lies
the beautiful madness–
absinthe.
—-Peggy Amond, “Rimbaud’s Poison

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The Window At Molly’s

He presided, he directed, he ruled, he snarled. From his perch at the Window of Molly’s which is where I mostly saw him, he listened indulgently to the speculative thrusts of the Window Gang, paid slightly more attention to opinion derived from inside info, and gave his full ear to inside info itself. Like everything that went by the Window on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, including a variety of humanity that would have made both Goya and Picasso shriek with delight, on couldn’t be sure of the exact percentage of B.S. Monaghan alone seemed to know. People vied to be in the Window Gang, but few could stand the Chief’s tests, which to the innocent must have often seemed rough, illiberal, crude, or so deliberately provocative as to preclude any rational response.
—-Andrei Codrescu – The Passing of Jim Monaghan, New Orleans Bar Owner, from New Orleans, Mon Amour, Twenty Years of Writings from the City

The best place to write… or to sit… possibly to drink… in the French Quarter is the window at Molly’s. Take my word for it.

A machine will squirt out Molly’s frozen Irish coffee (caffeine, ice cream, alcohol – three of the four major food groups) into a plastic to-go cup and you can sit inside the window, outside the window or even mill around on the Decatur sidewalk.

Today the bar was packed with a dozen young women, obviously a bachelorette party, all wearing identical denim shorts and t-shirts emblazoned with “I LIVE TO BE DRUNK” in glitter. They handed me a phone and asked me to take their photos lined up at the bar. I arranged them and took some shots, they were particularly giggly happy with the landscape photo.

The Window at Molly’s, the street (Decatur) unusually quiet, with notebook, vintage Esterbrook pen, and Molly’s frozen Irish Coffee

There are bikes locked up all over the French Quarter, mostly to the wrought iron columns supporting the ubiquitous overhead balconies. Most of these are heavy, beater bikes – in deference to New Orleans’ rough streets, giant potholes, and flat-as-a-pancake geography. Every day, though sitting in front of me, well-locked to the pole on the sidewalk was a nice Specialized road bike – looking fast standing still, if also well-used. One day, I arrived early enough to watch the owner arrive and lock up – he was obviously a worker in a nearby bar or restaurant. That day someone else had already locked up to his pole, but he maneuvered around and managed to lock on the other side, sharing the pole. It was his spot and he was going to use it.

Specialized road bike on pole outside The Window at Molly’s. French Quarter, New Orleans.
Notice the green shelf for drinks. Sometimes the crowd on the sidewalk outside The Window grows.

One would do well, as I have done many times, to investigate a single place over time, at different times of the day. Molly’s on Market, for instance, is home in the early afternoon to a lively Window Gang consisting of a varying crew of journalists, men-about-town, women-about-town, writers of fiction and poetry, mysterious characters either larger or brighter than life, led on by Jim Monaghan, proprietaire extraordinaire, Irish wit, and provocateur. Monaghan’s extravagant personality imbues the day, but the night belongs to the tribes of the tattooed and pierced young. At night a sloshed picture gallery displays itself with sensual impertinence.

—- Andrei Codrescu, Solution: Enivrez-Vous: The Bars of New Orleans, from New Orleans, Mon Amour, Twenty Years Of Writings From The City

Bluetooth and Orange Chicken

It is the end of 1982, and I am 38 years old. One day, at noon, I notice that my bike is steering itself. Later, I am sitting on the bay, which is today occupied by the Memorial Garden, facing the Rio de la Plata. With me is Daniel Coifman, a psychotherapist friend who has spent a couple of seasons at the Esalen Institute of Big Sur, travelled several times to India and, to put it briefly, gone exploring the mysteries of consciousness. Our bicycles are leaning against each other.

I tell him that I can remember all the places that we have been: the Planetarium, the level crossing near the airport, the crossroads near the Fishermen’s Club. Also, the wind on my face, the water splashing the railings, the smell of food at the restaurants when he made a detour to avoid the two elderly people who were drinking maté… However, I do not remember the thoughts that I had. I was distracted. I didn’t know where I was. I only knew in that moment that “I am here”.

Daniel jumped up. “No, you were not distracted,” he says. “You were abstracted, but you were not absent. And believe it or not, it is exactly the opposite.”

—-The Bicycle Effect by Juan Carlos Kreimer

A couple of weeks ago, during the time I was doing nothing but work – including going in through the weekends – I took a couple hours off and met Candy at a big fund-raiser garage sale put on by a large, local church. We arrived at the very end (will have to make a note to go early next year – to get the good stuff) and, even though everything was picked-through, they still had a lot of interesting items.

I was looking at a big, old-fashioned overstuffed office chair when the announcement came out, “Only two hours to go, everything is half-off the marked price.” I bought the chair, and found a thin Bluetooth keyboard mounted in an IPad case for, well, almost nothing. I don’t own an IPad, but the keyboard popped out of the case. I pulled up my phone and confirmed that it worked with the keyboard. So I bought it.

I am always looking for an inexpensive, light, small keyboard device that I can carry with me, especially something I can carry on my bicycle. It has to be small and light… and inexpensive, so I don’t have to stress out about losing it, getting it stolen, or breaking it in a crash.

Over the years, I’ve used an Alphasmart Neo Keyboard, a cheap Android Tablet with a folding keyboard, and, most recently, a repurposed Toshiba Netbook running Lubuntu Linux.

My android tablet and portable keyboard, I stopped my bike ride on the Bridge Park over the Trinity River to get some writing done.

My Toshiba Netbook – rode my bike to a coffee shop.

The Netbook and the Tablet will still have their uses, but the Bluetooth keyboard is an extra lever of portable. I have to carry my phone anyway, so the keyboard only adds a few ounces. My big, old fingers don’t work very well hammering out a lot of text on a tiny phone screen. The keyboard makes it possible to write at least a few pages at a sitting.

The keyboard is perfect – light and small. It’s very well thought out. I am using it with the case removed from my phone so it can lean up on the slot that runs across the keyboard.

Bluetooth Keyboard and my phone.

I brought along a library book as well as my Kindle Paperwhite. The book is The Bicycle Effect – Cycling as Meditation by Juan Carlos Kreimer.

It’s a short book – less than two hundred pages – about the Zen aspects of riding a bicycle. I copied some money quotes from the book into my phone.

The book talks about destinationless riding – a Zen state of pedaling the streets without care for speed, time, distance, or direction. I am rarely able to pull that off – though I understand and crave the state. Today, I was able to leave home on my folder without care for a route or time.

My folding bike, Stock Xootr Swift – I only added the seat bag and bottle cage
(click to enlarge)

After a few miles I did notice that I was hungry so I detoured to a favorite Americanized Chinese place in an old Dairy Queen not far from where I found myself. So now I can read a little, type a little, and eat a little.

Before long I’ll be bored and ready to pedal again. Where am I going to go?

Who knows?

What I learned this week, June 18, 2017

David Mitchell on How to Write: “Neglect Everything Else”

When I asked David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, to discuss a favorite passage for this series, I was initially surprised by his choice: a plain-stated, rustic poem by James Wright. “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” bears no overt similarity to Mitchell’s maximalist, genre-busting epics. But, he explained, the poem’s pure sensory engagement inspires him to strive to be more present, attentive, and alert—an ongoing struggle with implications for his work habits, his craft, and the art of writing about the future.


The short history of global living conditions and why it matters that we know it

A recent survey asked “All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?”. In Sweden 10% thought things are getting better, in the US they were only 6%, and in Germany only 4%. Very few people think that the world is getting better.

What is the evidence that we need to consider when answering this question? The question is about how the world has changed and so we must take a historical perspective. And the question is about the world as a whole and the answer must therefore consider everybody. The answer must consider the history of global living conditions – a history of everyone.

This is truly the best of all possible worlds in the best of all possible times. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.


Two of Texas’ Best Vietnamese Sandwich Shops Share a Garland Parking Lot

Two of the best tennis players to pick up rackets are sisters who learned the game together on a public court in Compton. For decades, America’s confused letter-writers got help from two advice columnists, Dear Abby and Ann Landers, who were, in fact, identical twin sisters named Pauline Esther Friedman and Esther Pauline Friedman. And 85 percent of Hollywood blockbusters from the past seven years star at least one blond Australian named Hemsworth.

The Dallas culinary scene has its own version of the Williams sisters, and our outstanding coincidence involves Vietnamese bakeries. Two of the best banh mi shops in the region — arguably two of the best banh mi shops in the United States — make their homes in Garland, where they stare each other down across a shared parking lot. Just one suburban stretch of asphalt apart, Quoc Bao Bakery and Saigon Deli compete for the title of best banh mi in metro Dallas.

For banh mi – I go to Lee’s Sandwiches near my house (it’s also, technically, in Garland) or the Nammi Food Truck. These two are very close, however, maybe two miles… perfect bicycling distance. Sounds like a plan.

Banh Mi from the Nammi Food Truck. Giant sandwich with rooster sauce and cucumber sauce.


Welcome to the Korean Ramen Noodles Antitrust Litigation Website

This is the official website In re Korean Noodles Antitrust Litigation, Case No. 3:13-CV-4115-WHO-DMR (N.D. Cal.). This is a class action lawsuit involving the price of Korean Noodles purchased directly or indirectly from the Defendants Nong Shim Co., Ltd., Nongshim America, Inc., Ottogi Co., Ltd., and Ottogi America, Inc. (“Defendants”) that is pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The lawsuit alleges that Defendants engaged in illegal price fixing with respect to the sale of Korean Noodles and that as a result, any person or entity that purchased Korean Noodles directly or indirectly from any Defendant, during the Direct Purchaser Class Period or Indirect Purchaser Class Period paid a higher price than they would have otherwise paid in a competitive market. Defendants deny Plaintiffs’ allegations and the Court has not ruled on the merits of the claims or defenses.

Ok, let me get this straight…. A class-action lawsuit claiming some companies illegally conspired to fix the prices of RAMEN NOODLES???? I have no idea if I have ever consumed Korean Ramen noodles (I doubt it, though). How much money would I get if I did? Maybe a nickel?


How to Read James Joyce’s Ulysses (and Why You Should Avoid “How-to” Guides Like This One)

Ulysses deserves its reputation as one the best books in the English language. It generously overflows with insight into the human experience, and it’s very, very funny. And, most importantly, anyone can read it.

I have actually wanted to read Ulysses.

Maybe I should write a guide on how to read Gravity’s Rainbow. I have read it, really… I have. It only took me twenty five years to get through.


The Nine Best Coffee Shops in the Dallas Suburbs

also (some overlap)

Five New DFW Coffee Shops to Check Out Next Time You Need a Caffeine Fix

Es café macerado en ron, posee todas las propiedades organolépticas del ron, pero tiene grado de alcohol


Mass-Produced or Artisan Bread? Results May Surprise

“The really shocking result was that on everything that we looked at, we didn’t find any difference between the effects of the two breads,” a co-author says, per the Guardian.

I was into home-made bread for awhile – basing a lot of what I did on the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The bread was delicious and the house always smelled wonderful… but I realized that I was pretty much eating a loaf of bread every day. I bought a fifty pound bag of bread flour and ate the whole damn thing in a little over a month (I kept it in a freezer).

That was not good – I had to give the whole thing up.

Chipotle Sourdough

Finished loaf of Chipotle Sourdough Bread. A little too much Chipotle, it made the dough a bit wet and it came out very spicy. Still Delicious. There are kids over and it was gone in five minutes.

I am at Austin Street Shelter

I was walking through downtown Dallas with a group of folks doing a photo walk – everybody with their cameras dangling, strolling, shooting – when on a bench in Main Street Garden Park I saw a tattered spiral notebook. I picked it up and saw that it was full of writing.

There wasn’t much time, everyone else was moving on – so all I could do is skim through. It was full of nice handwriting – page after page of misery and despair set down in cursive. I briefly thought of taking it with me so I could read it completely – maybe learn something.

But I didn’t. That didn’t seem right – the owner might come back for it. So I snapped a quick photo of the first page and set it back on the bench, exactly where it was.

First page of notebook found in Main Street Garden Park, Dallas, Texas

First page of notebook found in Main Street Garden Park, Dallas, Texas

Full Sized Version of the Photo on Flickr

9/22/2015
6:00 PM
I am at Austin Street Shelter, I’ve been here since March 23 with a couple of detours. They say it will be at least 6 more months before I get an apt. I hope this works out. I’m tired. I’m old.I need a place to call my own. I’m not interested in any relationship with men ever again. I’m thinking I might buy a trailer. I’m gonna start saving all I can…

Old Found Poetry

Reality only reveals itself when it is illuminated by a ray of poetry.
—-Georges Braque

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A taste for pure pork fat, long restricted to a furtive devouring of the white nubbin in the can of baked beans, can now be worn as a badge of honor.
(Julia Moskin, New York Times, 5/7/03, article on pork fat in high-class restaurants)
hrule
Under 6 years: 1 pastille as required. Maximum 5 pastilles in 24 hours
(Meggezones 24x)
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…on a long bus ride, you should always choose to sit next to Mrs. Robinson, for example, rather than Benjamin.
(Roger Ebert, from a review for Death to Smoochy)
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Daisy, the this pretty sea, and the wind.
(Bablefish translation of the first line of a Ruben Dario poem I have stuck in my head… the Spanish is: Margarita, esta linda la mar, y el viento.)
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IAGO
I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter
and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.
-From Othello, by William Shakespeare, Act 1, Scene 1
(The opening quote of The Daily Epiphany, my old journal- Thursday – July 25, 1996)
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Dolly, Good, Hernia, Bad
(big block letters on the side of a Budget rental truck in my neighborhood)
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When I cruise, I’m an adventurer, eager to try new experiences. So on the second day of my first Carnival vacation, I found myself lying on a massage table wrapped in a crisp, clean sheet.
(From Currents, a magazine for people taking Carnival cruises)
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I had a dream last night. I dreamt that I worked in a time factory. My job was to take the one-hour time disks out of the oven and carefully cut them into six equal wedges. These ten-minute time slices were used on alarm clock snooze buttons.
I don’t know what happened next, it was time to wake up and go to work.
(The Daily Epiphany – Wednesday, May 30, 2001 )
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Often Imitated, Never Duplicated-Great for Men and Women-As Seen on TV-It’s not magnetic, not copper…it’s the Q-Ray Ionized Bracelet designed to help balance your body’s Yin-Yang. Worn by professional athletes striving for energy, strength, flexibility and endurance, it’s also worn by people looking for natural pain relief. According to the oriental theory of Yin-Yang, we remain in good health when our negative (Yin) and positive (Yang) ions are in balance.
(from an ad for the Q-Ray bracelet, $49.95, in Dr. Leonard’s America’s Leading Discount Healthcare Catalog)
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Prankster of Love – Ashton Kutcher – the newly single ‘punk’d’ star on the nonstop party he calls life
(cover of the Rolling Stone)
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Sriracha, made from sun-ripened chilies, is ready to use in soups, sauces, pasta, pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, chow mein, or on anything to add a delicious, spicy taste .
(from the bottle, of course)
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WARNING
Pucks flying into spectator area can cause serious injury. Be alert when in spectator areas – including after the stoppage of play. If injured, notify usher for directions to medical station. The holder of this ticket assumes all risks and all other hazards arising from or related in any way to the event for which this ticket is issued, whether occurring prior to, during, or after the event. These hazards specifically include (but are not exclusive to) the danger of being injured by hockey pucks and sticks, other spectators or players, or by thrown objects. The holder agrees that the arena, the league, it’s officers and employees, the participating clubs, their officers, players, employees and agents are expressly released by the holder from claims arising from such causes.
(On the back of a hockey ticket)
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Unheard Poetry

I arrived too late to the poetry reading – having spent too long drinking my cup of coffee. The poets had already started reading and all the good seats were taken.
I had to sit too far away and I couldn’t hear the words. All that made it to my ears was a cadence.
Still, that wasn’t too bad – the rhythms and emotions fan out like waves without the cluttering words to get in the way.

I find I don’t listen to the poems much, anyway, I listen to the poets. It’s not the same thing.
(Bill Chance, The Daily Epiphany – Friday, September 6, 2002 )
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“This is a poem I wrote back when… well, I still have a boring day job but this was when I had a really boring day job and I’d get back at them by sitting there writing poems all day.”
(Amy Jo Hylkema – Introducing her first work of poetry at a reading, 2002)
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Glorious, stirring sight! The poetry of motion! The real way to travel! The only way to travel! Here today-in next week tomorrow! Villages skipped, towns and cities jumped-always somebody else’s horizons! O bliss! O poop-poop! O my! O my!
(Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows)
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There is a poetry to daily
modernlife
so empty of everything else.
The staccato rhythm of the
traffic reports
off on the shoulder
one lane only
eastbound
westbound
backup
clearing

Or the shouts of the Barista
as he calls out the orders
(actually, I think
he’s making most of that stuff up).
And though my lawn has gone to weeds
there is still a bird
that kawarbles at me
as I put the key
in my car
to drive to work.
(me)
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Come ride that little train that is rolling down the tracks to the Junction,
Petticoat Junction!
Forget about your cares, it is time to relax at the Junction,
Petticoat Junction!
Lots of curves, you bet, even more when you get to the Junction,
Petticoat Junction!

(the theme song from “Petticoat Junction.”)
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So I went in to look at the thing, to see if I could figure out how to keep it from beeping. Right in the middle of all the gauges, knobs, buttons, dials, and controls was one big, square touchpad button that was labeled simply with the word “Silence.”
I pressed it and the beeping stopped.
( Silence, The Daily Epiphany, Tuesday, October 06, 1998)

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What I learned this week, December 5, 2014

So little time, so many books….

100 Notable Books of 2014


What we learned from 5 million books

Have you played with Google Labs’ Ngram Viewer? It’s an addicting tool that lets you search for words and ideas in a database of 5 million books from across centuries. Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel show us how it works, and a few of the surprising things we can learn from 500 billion words.


Heavy Hitter beer flight at Luck, in Trinity Groves, Dallas, Texas

Heavy Hitter beer flight at Luck, in Trinity Groves, Dallas, Texas

Celebrate the grand opening of a new brewery in Fort Worth December 12

Panther Island – what a great name for a brewery.


Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write

Love to write? What about a Need to Write? If writing isn’t an unresistable addiction – it’s not worth it.


Writing Surface Dropped Down

The hinged writing surface dropped down on the secretary.

Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators


Travelling Man - sculpture east of Downtown Dallas

Travelling Man – sculpture east of Downtown Dallas

23 Words That Mean Something Entirely Different In Dallas


I was more than a little surprised when I realized that I had already read all of these.

11 Books All Aspiring Writers Should Read, Because Spending Time With These Titles is Like a Mini-Workshop


THE RANGE OF FACES PEOPLE MAKE WHILE BEING TASERED IS SURPRISINGLY VAST