Sunday, December 9, 2018

A Little Devil on the Christmas Tree

This evening Martina and I finally decided to put up our Christmas tree, which has ornaments representing our various travels and experiences. One of my favorite ornaments is a handmade wooden "čert" or "devil" that Martina's mother, known colloquially as Baba Jaja, sent us several years ago from the Czech Republic. On December 5th, Saint Nicholas, the Devil, and an Angel all travel together through the streets of Bohemia. Good children recite poetry to Saint Nicholas and get a treat. Bad children end up in the Devil's sack. There is, of course, no in between.

This year, I made the mistake of forgetting St. Nicholas Day, so I had to improvise with a gift. I asked Martina to recite Pushkin in Russian, but instead she chose to recite the epitaph of the Czech poet Jiri Wolker, which he wrote shortly before his death. Despite the rather morbid nature of Martina's recitation choice, "Saint Nicholas" directed her to click a button on Amazon and buy herself a little present.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

A Legend Riding into Town

This week Ramblin' Jack Elliott will be playing in Fort Worth, which got me to thinking about the time Martina and I got to meet him and hear a number of his stories at the now-defunct Live Oak a few years ago. Ramblin' Jack is a living, breathing connection to American musical history, and it was incredible to hear him talk about traveling with Woody Guthrie, about his brief encounter with Lead Belly, and about Bob Dylan's early days on the folk scene. Ramblin' Jack is a national treasure, and I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to talk with this very approachable legend that evening in Fort Worth. It felt as if the Smithsonian had somehow turned into a person, and that person was standing there talking to a handful of strangers as if he had known them all of his life.

Here is "Hard Travelin'" played by Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Jerry Jeff Walker.



Sunday, November 25, 2018


Over the past year I have spent a lot of time thinking about the people who have made an impact on my life. I am thankful for the teachers and professors who instructed and encouraged me, my family, which has always supported my quest regardless of how quixotic it may have sometimes seemed, and friends who never doubted my abilities. This holiday season I am truly thankful for all of the wonderful people whose paths I have had the great fortune to cross. Thank you all so very much.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A Tow-headed Boy in the Texas Republic

This week I was pleased to discover a package from the Texas State Historical Association in our mailbox. Receiving such packages is one of the perks of being a card-carrying member of the TSHA, and, as is my custom, I promptly dipped into the book I received, which was a copy of The Texas Republic: A Social and Economic History by William Ransom Hogan.

The style of the book, which was published in 1946, is quite entertaining, and the language reminds me of my grandparents, all of whom were born within about a 30 mile radius in North Texas. On the first page, I came across the word "tow-headed," a term I had not heard in a while, though it was occasionally used to describe me as a child. Well, anyway, I am certainly looking forward to reading The Texas Republic, which contains chapters with titles such as "Fighting the Devil on His Own Ground."

If you happen to read my blog with any regularity, you have probably noticed that I very rarely post pictures of myself. Today, however, I have decided to post a picture of my brother and me in our cowboy get-ups in the mid-70s. My brother is wearing twin pistols, and in an act of blatant anachronism, I am firing a machine gun. When this picture was taken, I was probably about two years past "tow-headed."

Sunday, November 11, 2018

McMurtry at the Baskin-Robbins

"What is Baskin-Robbins?" Martina asked one day while sitting in our little garage apartment in Northern Bohemia. She was reading a Czech edition of Cadillac Jack by Larry McMurtry, and the ice cream parlor was mentioned in the book. So I explained what Baskin-Robbins was and told her that I would take her to the land of 31 flavors one day.

Since that time she has read a stack of McMurtry novels in the original and has even visited McMurtry's bookstore in Archer City a couple of times, but until today she had never stepped foot in a Baskin-Robbins. Yes, today, more than a decade since I made that promise, I took her for a scoop of pecan pie ice cream on her name day. Mission finally accomplished.

  Cadillac Jack

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Saint Martin in Texas

November 11 is the feast of Saint Martin in the Czech Republic, and my wife, Martina, claims it as her name day since her father always considered it as such. Martina is trying to talk me into buying her a pet rabbit for her name day, but she will most likely be getting a book, a Thai dinner, and a surprise of some kind.

In the Czech Republic, it is said that Saint Martin comes on a white horse, meaning that he brings the first snow. Here in Texas, that is hardly the case, though strangely enough, there is a chance of winter weather in Fort Worth this Monday. It looks like the old proverb might even apply to Texas this year.

Here is Uncle Willie and Trigger (who happens to be a Martin N-20) playing a little song for us.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Sound Advice

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to attend sessions at the Texas Book Festival. In the morning, I had the chance to attend the O. Henry Prize Celebration, which was moderated by Laura Furman, who is the editor of the prize-winning stories. When she opened it up for questions, I asked the writers, Youmna Chlala and Jamil Kochai, about their philosophies on using languages other than English in their writing.

Being a writer who often uses other languages in his work, I am always curious to know how others incorporate foreign languages into their writing. Youmna Chlala was of the opinion that a writer should "just do it," and Jamil Kochai considered the use of his mother tongue essential to his writing about his native Afghanistan.

Laura Furman provided what I would consider universal advice for writers. She said to always assume that your reader is as smart or smarter than you are. Heeding such advice causes a writer to create work that challenges the reader but also the writer, for he or she should always assume that the person reading his or her work is both wiser and more intelligent. That causes a writer to always strive for excellence. That, I feel, is sound advice that I will carry with me down the road.