A digital commonplace for a Regular Guy called Charlie Pharis

Category: Writing (page 1 of 3)

Tuesday, July 18, 2023…

It’s taken me almost a month to get used to the pocket sized Moleskine again, but now it just feels right, like the good ol’ days, or something.

Here’s fair warning to all both of you, loyal readers. This post will not be earth-shattering, life-changing stuff. It won’t. It’ll be a couple of random lines, mostly copied from somewhere else to accomplish two things: getting my mind and fingers working, and boosting that word count up to 300 for the day. You’ve been advised, so you can probably go ahead and move on to something more profound and productive.

How Does it Profit the South?

John Slaughter writes over at The Abbeville Institute about how the South as we know it is being homogenized away by encroaching factors mostly beyond our control. Now, I understand there aren’t a lot of folks who love the South out loud (the result of those “encroaching factors”), but I am one. You can save all your blah blah blah about racism and Lost Causes and backward ignorance and all that. That’s not the South I love and it’s not what I’m talking about here. It is true, however, that Aunt Pittypat (from the Book That Shall Not Be Named—and Film That Shall Not Be Named) was quite prophetic: How, indeed?

But back to Mr. Slaughter:

We are already seeing our rich customs, traditions, and values being overshadowed or discarded in the relentless pursuit of profit and conformity. How many statues and headstones now lie in ruins or hidden away in storage lockers because transplants brought forth by the lure of money and employment sought to turn the South into little New England?

The consequences of large corporations dictating our cultural landscape weigh heavily on my mind. In a world driven by mass consumption and fleeting trends, I can’t help but worry that the vibrancy and authenticity of our Southern traditions may be reduced to mere commodities, stripped of their true essence and significance. The introduction of conflicting values from diverse backgrounds further compounds these concerns, as it threatens to dilute the very core of our heritage and erode our collective identity.

Moreover, the rapid expansion of urban centers raises valid concerns about the displacement of longstanding communities. Iconic cities like Atlanta and North Carolina’s Research Triangle now wield significant influence, overshadowing rural areas and threatening the very fabric that has nurtured our customs and shaped our collective memory for generations.

Reflecting on this situation, I find myself drawn to Christ’s words in Mark 8:36, “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Are we willing our identity for GDP and manicured lawns? Is increased tax revenue worth forced cultural amnesia? I for one do not want a South that is indistinguishable from Ohio or Illinois.

Eleven Reasons for Stories

Nicholas Bate reminds us that stories are powerful means of communicating important material. After all, the Great Storyteller and some who followed in His footsteps have been good examples.

Among the eleven reasons Mr. Bate gives for good stories, this one sits in the middle:

Stories use language not just words; it requires an engaged brain to use a story. And the latter is an increasingly rare commodity on a Zoom/Teams call.

Toni Cade Bambara reminded us to take words seriously.

And finally, this morning, Mitch Chase engages Proverbs 15:30 to encourage us to be, well…encouragers!

And would you look at that? That 300 word goal? Well, it almost doubled! Take that, inertia!

On Journals and Whatnot…

I’ve been keeping a somewhat regular journal/notebook since around 2003. Coincidentally, that’s about when I started blogging (but not nearly as regularly).

Anyway, I’ve never been real sure about how to format my journal, what to include and leave out, pencil or pen, computer or whatever. Somewhere along the line I came to the conclusion that what I have is not a journal in the classic sense, but more of a commonplace book that includes all kinds of stuff.

Today as I was making my way through the stack o’ stuff in my Reeder feeds, I happened upon this article from The Millions. This part about Lynda Barry helping non-creative people learn to express themselves included this:

I’m turning this over when I come across Lynda Barry’s Syllabus. Barry is a cartoonist, author, and teacher whose recent books are devoted to changing the way people think about their own creativity. Syllabus is based on a workshop Barry teaches called “Writing the Unthinkable.” The main course requirement is keeping a notebook—and not just any kind. Each day’s hand-written entry must contain these items: 1) a list of seven things you did, 2) a list of seven things you saw, 3) something you heard someone say, and 4) a sketch of one item from the “saw” list. Don’t even think about skipping the sketching step.

Much like , this approach has been bouncing around in my brain this morning. I think I’ll try it. Here’s my hack, though. I’m going to try to start each day’s entry with Barry’s list, and then keep using the same book for the commonplace items I come across throughout my day. We’ll see.

What Shall We Write About Today?

That is the question facing us today, dear readers—all both of you—as we contemplate the goal, the intention, the vow of posting something every day in this space in tribute to my upcoming birthday. What shall we write about?

I could write about The Dream. Yep, the one I had last night. The one that awakened me with a start, one of the most disturbing and fearsome dreams I remember having. That one. The one with the maniacal laugh and crazy eyes. The one that involved not only my son, but my grandson. I’ll spare you all the details for now, but let’s just say I may have actually screamed my son’s name in real life when I woke with a start. It was that terrible and that realistic.

I could write today about the Ongoing Discombobulation that seems to characterize life these days. Maybe that will come soon. Or maybe it will go away soon, and be replaced by something more productive and pleasant.

I could write about the latest picture of the grandson, mad about his food, but looking like an intense rock star singing into his spoon as a microphone.

I could write about the joy of starting The Chronicles of Narnia over again and catching up with where the grandson is hearing the tales for the first time in his nightly reading/listening time. I could write about how happy it makes me that my son is introducing his son to the wonders of Narnia at an early age.

I could write about how I got some words stuck in my head during this morning’s predawn jaunt, and how I pondered the difference between “shore” and “bank” as the boundaries of bodies of water. Because I tend to geek out about words like that sometimes.

I could write about the fascinating account of one woman’s bicycle adventure from Ireland to India in 1963 (via Maria Popova, natch).

I could write about my put-out-ness (there’s a word for you!) with people who should be grateful for your work on their behalf, but instead pile on incessant demands for impossible results. I could even ponder why I can’t say no to those demands.

But I think, for this moment, at least, I’ll leave all that and think about the scent of books. Real books, I mean. The dead tree/dead octopus kind. One of the most common reasons bibliophiles give for preferring real books over, say, ebooks, the unmistakable aroma, the smell of them. There is a technical term for that aroma, I think, but I can’t put my cursor on it right now. Suffice it to say, the interwebs are rife with articles, posts, and reminiscences about the comforting scent of books. Many of those commentators limit their appreciation to the smell of old books, but I’m quite partial to the smell of all printed books, old and new. Some kids remember the amazing experience of holding that brand-new catcher’s mitt up to their face and taking in the smell of fresh leather, and how that was part of the game. (True confession: that was me, too.) But books! The essence of paper and ink, the feel of the deckled edges…these all add to the tactile adventure that beckons the reader and the lover of craft and art.

That’s what I’ve got on my mind this dark and early Monday. I think I’ll take a few minutes and sniff some books.


A Sweatshirt for the Soul…

Cold, always cold so I put on the sweatshirt.

Sometimes the classic gray, others the navy blue.

New, as they were, since I was just reminded of their classic look.

Perfect for knocking about, puttering as it were around the house.

Yet, classic and kind of hip and cool,

At least for this old coot, classically unhip and uncool as could be.

Is there a sweatshirt for the soul, for the heart?

And So We Write…

When the words won’t find their way from our hearts to our voices, we write.

When the storms brew and the thunder booms, and we worry once again about the damage the storms may cause, we write.

When the months outlast the money, and we see no path to catching up, we write.

When injustice seems to hide the face of all that is good, great, and beautiful, we write.

When our deepest secrets are too deep for others to handle, we write.

When we lose our way amid the clamor of the ever-hostile and confusing world, we write.

When we don’t know what else to do, or where else to turn, we write.

When we have words that need to get out, but no one who hears, we write.

When we long for someone to listen, but no one cares, we write.

Random Thoughts on Reading and Writing for the Fun of It…

soul music to go

John Greene via Compfight

I started thinking about reading just for the sheer enjoyment of it, about how we – especially we who seek to teach, motivate, or encourage – are very utilitarian in our reading.

Every book, every article, every word has to mean something. There has to be some great principle, some earth-shattering truth which we can impart to our hearers/followers. We read with highlighter in hand, and we look for the snippet, the literary equivalent of a news soundbite, that we can incorporate into our teaching or writing or preaching or other pontificating.

Whatever happened to reading for the sheer pleasure of it? Where did we lose the childlike experience of being so engaged in a book that we lost all track of time, save as it functioned to measure our adventure?

And when did we stop trusting writers – I mean, real writers – to lead us on that kind of adventure? When did we start expecting them to drop those nuggets of factual truth that lend themselves to pontification? Why did we start evaluating writers on their ability to enunciate mere facts without enchanting our imagination along the way?

I’m reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creekand it is a beautiful book. Yet, for all its beauty, it reads like a diversion, a distraction, a long journey with a very observant friend. Yes, there are truths to be gleaned. There are quotes to be used in sermons and social media feeds. Yet, there is a whole lot of sheer joy and enchantment.

I’m not sure I have gained any practical benefit from reading it. But I sure have learned to look around me, to see my surroundings, and to express wonder and delight at the extraordinary ordinary goings-on of life.

I say all that to say I started to write this piece as a post on my mostly-dormant, mostly-ignored blog. While the thoughts were running through my head, I opened the “new post” screen and instead of writing words much like these in this space, I searched for the “perfect” image to go along with the words. As I scrolled through the images in Flickr via the Compfight extension, I became focused on the images and lost the train of thought of the words. That quickly. Just that fast. Once again, I had lost sight of the main thing because I was chasing something secondary.

You see, the “experts” tell us that choosing and using the right image can go a long way toward attracting attention and building our platform. Whatever that means. But I’m more convinced than ever that if we neglect – if I neglect – the act of writing the words, of following my instincts, of listening to my heart, it really won’t matter about the picture. People can find the pictures on their own. I need to be clear on the task at hand: creating the compelling picture with my words.

If I want to write, says I, I need to write. A lot. On a regular basis. The pictures will come in time. The format will take care of itself.

The words. That’s what I want to create. For the sheer joy of it. For the enchantment. For the magic it does for my soul. Then I can invite others to come along for the adventure, and they will share the glory of a dreary Monday evening as we infuse magic and meaning into our surroundings and into our lives.

Once Upon a Time…

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lauraritchie/ via https://flic.kr/p/cSuLVN

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lauraritchie/ via https://flic.kr/p/cSuLVN

Once upon a time…

Four little words that fill us with anticipation, that open wide horizons, that set us on a journey to Who Knows Where. Four little words. Filled with power to create.

I’ve been thinking today of J.R.R. Tolkien, who gave us the wonderful world of Middle Earth, and hobbits, and wizards, and elves, and dwarves, and dragons, and adventures that enchant and inspire us.

According to Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac, Tolkien was grading student papers at Oxford when he came across a blank page. For whatever reason, he filled that student’s blank space with the words…

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

…and a whole new world was born.

Reboot, Part 1…


 Image:  Acid Pix via https://flic.kr/p/dPcExT

Sometimes we encounter problems and issues with our computers, phones, and other devices that can only be resolved with a complete reboot. Powering down the device completely and giving it a chance to fix the issue is often the only recourse. In fact, some experts tell us we should schedule regular times of powering down and rebooting to keep or devices running at optimal effectiveness.

We’re like that, too. Just like our devices, we encounter issues that can only be resolved by a time of rebooting. I’ve come to recognize some of the symptoms in my life that may indicate it’s time for a reboot.

I need a reboot when…

  •  I’m isolated. I’m not talking about the time alone that most of us need more than we admit. I’m not talking about being an introvert by temperament. I’m talking about those times in my life when I go out of my way to avoid other people, even those who are in my close network of support. When I find myself shutting people out and retreating to the places where I can stay away from others, I may need a reboot. As an introvert living in a world that tilts toward extroverts, I need some time away to recharge and refocus. But I also need to realize I was created for community and any excuse I find to get away from others over an extended time is a good indicator I need to reboot.
  • I’m impatient. A sure sign of impending failure for me is my short fuse that gets shorter when I’m stressed or under pressure. Every little thing sets me off and makes me irritable. Things that I normally ignore or try to resolve peacefully seem to fester from “gnat bites” into major events. I need to reboot when my patience is running thin over minor issues.
  • I’m inconsistent. In my work, in my ethical dealings, in the way I treat others and issues. When my work starts to slip into shoddiness, I may need to step back, rest, and refocus on excellence. When I start to cut ethical corners with little thought, it may be time for a reboot and a heart check. When my relationships reflect a lack of consistency and compassion, it’s often a sign of something wrong in my system. I need to check that and restart with a commitment to do what’s right.

Next time, I’ll give some practical pointers on how to make that reboot effective.

Until then, think about the issues that get your system off track and out of sorts. Can you identify those triggers and symptoms?

If You Wanted To, You Would…


Ray Edwards is a copywriter/blogger/podcaster/etc. who coaches/challenges/encourages/etc. wannabes to get started/get better/get busy/etc. His recent blog post – a pitch for Scrivener – included this story…

Once upon a time, I loved the writing tools more than the writing itself. I loved to talk about writing, to speculate about writing, and to collect writing pens, writing paper, and writing software. One day, when I was complaining about not having time to actually write, my wife asked me, “Why does it bother you?”

“Because I want to write,” I said. I am certain it came out in an exasperated tone.

“No you don’t,” she said. “If you wanted to write, you would write.”


Ouch, indeed.

If we say we want to do something – whatever it is – and we keep looking for excuses not to do it, it may be time to question whether we are telling ourselves and others the truth.

I know I keep coming back to this space and moaning and whining about wanting to write, only to keep putting it off.

I don’t have time.

I’m not good enough.

No one wants to read it.

I don’t know enough. 

I haven’t found the right tools.

I’ve used every excuse imaginable. And some unimaginable ones, too. I see people who I never imagined being real writers knocking it out on a regular basis. They can do it. Why can’t I?

I keep coming back to Ray Edwards’s wife’s “ouch” moment…

If you wanted to, you would.

The stark truth is not that I can’t, but that I don’t.

I have a birthday this week. I can’t think of a better time to focus on some intentions that have gotten off track.

What do you say you want to do, but aren’t doing? Why not? What would it take for you to get back on track? What’s stopping you? What’s stopping me?

2014 Intentions…

On the Camino againCreative Commons License José Antonio Gil Martínez via Compfight 

Three weeks in, and I’m just getting around to my intentions for 2014. I quipped on Facebook that #1 would be  “Stop Procrastinating.”

Please note I didn’t say “resolutions.” I discovered a long time ago that “resolutions” don’t really work so well. You make unrealistic ones, and then when you fail early on, you pile guilt on top of the necessary changes. So let’s just say I’ve thought about some “intentions” for this year and leave it at that, shall we?

Anyway, these are not the only things I need to do/stop doing/change, but here’s a start…

  • Read the books currently on my Kindle. I love books. I consider myself a reader. It’s important! I love to find new books and have others recommend them. But I have plenty of books already on my shelves and my Kindle that are in various stages of unread. I need to finish them. I intend to start with the “almost-finished” ones currently on my Kindle as a launching pad for my reading plan in 2014.
  • Learn Adobe Photoshop. I don’t expect to become an expert. I just want to become proficient enough to use this powerful tool for improving our church media, my class materials, and any other digital imagery needs I have.
  • Learn Adobe Illustrator. See above.
  • Learn Adobe InDesign. See above again.
  • Write 300 words every day. I keep talking about wanting to write. And I keep coming up with excuses why I don’t. I know it has to become a habit. The only way it becomes a habit is to do it. Daily. I’m not sure how to estimate 300 words. (This post is currently at 277.) Jeff Goins, Guy Kawasaki, and many others say you have to be brutal about developing the habit. Starting today, I’m putting on my writer’s mask, and going for it! Some of those words will be in the old Moleskine. Others may be here in this space. I hope some will be compelling enough to end up on your must-read list!
  • Cultivate my LinkedIn account. I did a workshop on using it and other social media at a university career event last summer. I set up my own account but since then it has languished in disuse. I see the value. I need to take advantage of that and other tools.

That’s about it, so far. I wrote in my Moleskine that I intended to “use my daily time wisely.” I scratched through that line, because I knew it wasn’t specific enough to motivate me toward action. I need to make better use of the days, but I’m not sure how I’m going approach that task yet.

There are other areas I need to take intentional steps toward improvement. I see this year as a pilgrimage of sorts. The journey begins today. Let’s see where we end up! Buen camino!