A Good Guide

After my dad passed a few years ago, I took possession of the family collection of photo albums and scrap books, with the solemn promise I’d keep them safe.

It was an easy promise, because I adore all the family artifacts. As a kid, I used to dive into the pages and smile at photos of my hot young mom (she was stunning!) and my young dad (he was geeky!).

My mom was a great scrapbooker so there’s great stuff to look at, including lots of artifacts from when she first moved to Albuquerque back in the 1950’s.

When my mom handed this all over to me, I realized the collection is far larger than I’d ever known, and I’m loving taking time to go through it all. Every time I dive in, I manage to find something I’ve never seen before while I’m in there.

Some of my favorite finds are the handwritten letters, which is such a lost art. You can learn a lot about relatives you never knew by reading their letters.

I have an assignment from a rather important editor (my amazing mom-in-law) to write about my paternal grandmother, and so I was in the family stacks last night doing some research.

That’s when I found this, a letter from my grandfather to my father.

The handwritten bit up in the corner says, “Read weekly, a good guide – Dad”

Here’s what it says:





* *

1. The value of time

2. The success of perseverance.

3. The pleasure of working.

4. The dignity of simplicity.

5. The worth of character.

6. The power of kindness.

7. The influence of example.

8. The obligation of duty.

9. The wisdom of economy.

10. The virtue of patience.

11. The improvement of talent.

12. The joy of originating.

Such simple words that encapsulate such very strong values. This is endearing fatherly advice to a son and it is timeless. This was written in 1949, but is just as applicable 62 years later.

Gives me much to ponder as I wade through another busy work week.

Happy Birthday to The Hag

Today, April 6th, country king Merle Haggard turns an amazing 74 years old.

I’d just like to give The Hag a hearty Feliz CumpleaƱos and and big shout out for another year of amazing music.

Because this:

Plus this:

Equals some real, real nice memories.

Thank you for being such an integral part of my life, Hag.

And cheers to your next trip around the sun.

Special shout out to my twitter buddy, local radio guy @Pcon34 for playing “Fightin’ Side of Me” on the early morning show. Saaaalute!

Sometimes, the cranky old man is the smartest man in the room

Back in the good ol’ days, that wild time known at the 1980’s, I was full of youthful optimism, and I was attending New Mexico State University.

My undergraduate major was Finance.

Ooh, those were heady days when I wanted to be a stockbroker when I grew up. This was back before I realized that “stockbroker” and “salesman willing to sell underperforming securities to your family in order to make commission” were synonymous.

While the dream was still alive, I took courses at NMSU from some really fine professors with a lot of experience.

Among them, several courses with Dr. Lowell Catlett, now the Dean of the College Of Agriculture, and a noted experts on futures trading.

There was also Dr. Clark Hawkins, a man who had actually worked as a commodities trader on the NYSE floor. In his words, he had tried pretty much every investment vehicle out there…and lost money ’em all.

Dr. Hawkins was a strange little man. Wiry, small of frame and nasally of voice. He referred to himself as “Uncle Hawkey.” He often told us that, as Finance students, we should have our Wall Street Journal under one arm and our financial calculator under the other.

And this was to be done while wearing a tshirt imprinted with “Uncle Hawkey’s Ten Investment Rules”.

At the end of each semester, he gifted us with a copy of the ten rules.

Recently, I was searching around in all the old boxes under my house, picking through my crap looking for things I can sell on eBay.

How ironic, then, that I should come across my framed copy of Uncle Hawkey’s Ten Investment Rules in my search for something to sell for money.

Well, I sat down and read the rules.

Goddamn if Uncle Hawkey wasn’t right. He was right then. He’s right now. Right is right.

Now…snap your Wall Street Journal in place, place your finger over the “future value” button on your calculator and get set.

Here are the rules:

1. Don’t invest in things you don’t understand.

Ah, every single customer of Bernie Madoff…take note!

2. Remember the fundamental mathematical rule of finance.

You know what? I don’t.

I suspect this was about future value and present value of money. He was a stickler on that.

Because I understood and could calculate time value of money, I kicked the salesman’s ass when I bought my first car.

I got that salesguy demoted because he was such a dunce. Thank you Uncle Hawkey.

3. Know the difference between investment and speculation.

Oh I remember this one. I rant about this one. A lot.

Let me just say his own words, with the same shouting nasal tone…


If you do not think putting your money in the stock market is gambling, then you need to re-examine yourself and your money.

Sure, it may return better odds than Vegas, but not always.

For those of you wailing and gnashing your teeth in the current economic downturn because you had all your money in the stock market, I suggest you get this rule tattooed on your arm and look at it daily.

4. Don’t invest or speculate in financial securities that you can’t easily find quotes on.

Dangling participle notwithstanding….Uncle Hawkey was right.

Once again, I’m calling friends of Mr. Madoff….paging investors of Mr. Madoff….

5. Don’t buy a closed end fund on initial offering.

Oh yes, everyone gets oh so very excited about IPO’s. Especially during the dot com boom of the early 2000’s.

Look how well that worked out for most people.


But Uuuuuncle Haaaawwwkkkey, people in his class would wail…what about _____ and they’d name some company.

And by tracking the history of the stock price, he’d show them how they were wrong. How the price would be driven up on IPO and would, over time, settle back down.

He recommended waiting out an IPO for a company you liked, and buying the shares after you the initial flurry of IPO wore off.

6. Be skeptical of people who say they can forecast the future.

Well, if more folks did this, then people like Jim Cramer would be a lot less interesting, wouldn’t they?

7. Don’t do business with a man you can’t trust.

Too true. I would also substitute “man” with “company.”

And yet…how many of us do anyway? (*coff* AT&T *coff* Comcast *coff*)

Honestly…it’s getting a lot harder to find honesty these days.

8. If the brokers are pushing it hard, it probably should be avoided.

So simple. So true. Yet….

Paging followers of Mr. Madoff!

(seeing a trend here?)

9. Long range planning gives the dangerous notion that the future is under control.

Oooh, this one hurts.

Remember how great things felt in, oh, say mid-2008? When we all had some money and maybe a big mortgage on a great house and the financial future looked, well…bright?


I broke this one. Uncle Hawkey, wherever in the world you are now, I give it up to you.

You knew. You always knew.

10. Don’t lose money.

Well sh*t. I broke this one too.

However. Slowly but surely, it’s coming back.

Because Uncle Hawkey warned us about short term and long term.

My wise investments will, eventually, find their way home.

And finally….

11. (Bonus rule) Remember Rule 10

Fair enough.

And so…as we now dive headlong into a financially muddled 2010…

May we all remember Rule #10

Thank you Uncle Hawkey.

As a post script…

In my senior year of undergrad, Uncle Hawkey decided to go on a sabbatical from teaching.

He invited us, the students that he had so tortured, to join him for happy hour at El Patio. Ah, that venerable old bar (former home office of the Butterfield Stage).

Uncle Hawkey slapped down a credit card and said we could have all the beer we wanted. Nothing else. Only beer.

Oh, the pitchers flowed that day, and Uncle Hawkey paid for it all.

Maybe all of us college students were, on that day, a good investment.

Old habits like these are so hard to break*

It was seventh grade. She was Mrs. Olivas. Typing teacher. A rail thin Hispanic woman with long black hair, parted down the middle, a sour face and an even sourer disposition.

(sourer doesn’t sound right, but Word grammar checker told me that “more sour” was incorrect…so let’s roll with it)

Mrs. Olivas taught my brother, well ahead of me in school. She taught my sister.

And then she taught me.

There we all sat, trembling, at the keyboards of electric typewriters distributed about the classroom. Eyes forward. No looking at your fingers!

Mrs. Olivas would wander the room, shouting letters like a drill sergeant. We would type what she shouted. In unison our keys would strike the paper.

My sister had warned me, with her accent, her “v” sounded like “b” and vice versa. And she graded harshly when you got it wrong.

Mrs. Olivas taught us that after every period ending a sentence, you hit that space bar twice.

End a sentence, space twice, start the next sentence.

One space looked too crowded. Too hard to tell where one sentence ended and the next began.

Two spaces.

No questions. Don’t ask. Two spaces.

I follow this great lady, Debbie Ridpath Ohi, on Twitter (her screen name is inkyelbows). She is a writer and creates spot on comics about and for writers.

So imagine the shock and awe in my world when I read the following re-Tweet:

@inkyelbows From literary agent @Ginger_Clark “Authors: stop double spacing after every paragraph. It’s unnecessary.”

What?!? Sputter sputter. What!?!?

I say…..WHAT?!?!

Ok, to be fair, Twitter itself had me changing my typing habit. Why type two spaces when that takes two of the precious 140 characters? So I figured in the Twitter-verse, it was ok.

But in my regular writing? Stories, emails, blog posts. Can I stop?

Period-space-space is in my muscle memory! It lives in my cells!

Seventh grade was almost thirty years ago! If I don’t period-space-space won’t Mrs. Olivas come haunt me in my sleep like the La Llorona of the Smith Corona?

“Peerrrioood-spaaaaace-spaaaaace,” she will howl outside my window!

I found this bit of explanation online: ” It is generally accepted that the practice of putting two spaces at the end of a sentence is a carryover from the days of typewriters with monospaced typefaces.”

So to do a period-space-space is something of a throwback. It marks me as “old school.” Someone who learned to type on an actual typewriter.

Ok, fine. I’m trying. Every day I’m trying to retrain my obstinate thumb to only tap that space bar once. Just once.

It’s tough! I still have to do a find and replace when I finish any document, including this blog post.

I’m too old to learn new tricks!!!!


Oh, and:

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

*apologies to Hank Williams Jr for bastardizing his lyric.

Coming tomorrow: “Three Grammar rules that are okay to break.” My world is off its axis!

A sad state of affairs

I can’t say I’m entirely surprised by the news from this article. It’s a fact that reading actual books in the US is on the decline, and has been for a long time.

As a writer, struggling, hoping, dreaming of being published, of course, this is sad news to me. For every resounding success like the recent Harry Potter series, there are plenty like me, lying like rubble in the street, lost to the big machine that is today’s publishing industry.

My most recent and most disheartening rejection to date came last year. I wrote a book I’m really proud of, edited the hell out of it, made it right and submitted it to a well known local agent. To my utter joy, the agent asked for a copy of the entire manuscript. This was really something heady! The farthest I’d ever gotten with an agent! Only to be told that despite the fact that she loved the characters and enjoyed the story, she didn’t think there was a wide enough audience for my book.


I know that agents have to do this, right? They have to find something that one of the big conglomerates will love enough to put some dollars behind. Something that will have a mass appeal, and will sell. Preferably something written by an author who already has proven success. A simple fictional baseball book isn’t going to get ‘er done. (so I turned to the rocky road of self-publishing)

And why? Because people aren’t reading like they used to. I was taught how to read by my grandmother, an amazing woman by all accounts. A feminist before her time, and a teacher in heart, mind and by career. I was young, maybe three or four and she taught me to read, and I’ve not stopped my love of words and books since. And because I love books so much, it saddens me to read the article I mentioned above.

“One in four adults say they read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday”

Ugh. None? No? Zero? It makes my eyes water a bit, like the sting of a strong, cold, bitter wind smacking me upside the face. Awakening, sharply to the reality that my chosen path of creativity, the way The Muse flows through me isn’t necessarily the most popularly consumed art form.

Nobody ever said being an artist was going to be easy. It’s the old saying, well-trod but apropos at this moment, a chiding reminder from my incredibly multi-talented cousin, “you don’t write because you want to, you write because you have to”.

I take solace in the fact that my goddaughter, all of seven, reads voraciously (and at a level much higher than her years). Her mother, a good English teacher, made sure both she and her sister learned to love books.

So there’s hope yet. Maybe for every kid who grows up not reading books there are a few like my precious girl who read plenty. And maybe Nina Karen can one day find a “real” publisher to take a chance on me.

Until then, I’ll write because I have to. Because it compels me. Because it’s who I am.