If you would’ve told me 10 years ago I’d be receiving letters from people who wanted to be writers, I would have laughed and asked you to refill my Ovaltine.

But the truth is, I receive messages about this very thing from aspiring writers all the time. Nearly without fail, most of them actually use the word “aspire” in their letters.

Here are some excerpts:

“I’m an aspiring writer, please help me figure out how to go about this.”

“I an aspiring author… I’m 18, I’d like to know what my next step should be.”

“I’m 71 years old, I aspire to be a writer, do you have any tips...?”

So I wanted to depart from my usual subject matter and take a moment to address these letters. Because I know from my own pitiful experience that there is nothing more frustrating than wanting to BE something but not knowing how.

Which leads to my first point. And this is the main thing I want to tell the good people who have contacted me: Quit calling yourself an

“aspiring writer.” You are not an aspiring writer. You are a REAL WRITER.

Simply put, if you write, you’re already the real deal. I truly believe this.

After all, you don’t aspire to be alive, do you? Nobody living in New York aspires to be a New Yorker. Birches don’t aspire to be trees. Episcopalians don’t aspire to be Episcopalians; they simply open a Pabst Blue Ribbon and shout, “And also with YOU!” ‘Piskies are fun!

Skill has nothing to do with who you are. Who you are is who you are. And if you like writing stuff, you are a writer. Not an aspiring one. A true writer.

Now you say it.

See how easy that was? You’re legit now. Identity crisis solved. Now you can go on with your life.

I realize you probably think I’m being lighthearted here, but…

“So you’re the writer who wants to hear my story?”

Yessir. I’m the guy. Thanks for taking my call, I know you’re a busy man.

“Busy? In a retirement home? Yeah, I’m slammed. Say, I knew a Dietrich when I was in high school, ‘bout 70 years ago. In Chicago. Bill, Bill Dietrich. You related to him?”

No.

“Well, good for you. Bill was a sorry piece of work. Nobody would wanna be related to him.”

Your daughter Janell told me you have a story.

“Story? Aw jeez, I wish she wouldn’t have told you that. I don’t like telling that story on account of people think I lost my mind. I’m sorry, sir, I don’t think I want to tell it today. I’m just not in the mood.”

Okay. I absolutely understand.

“It all started like this, you see. I’s working in sales in Chicago, I never got to see my family. It was real hard, my kids hardly knew me, I missed their birthdays and everything. But when you’re a young guy, you only care about money.

“Well, back then they didn’t pay for salesmen to fly

unless you were a hot shot, so I drove everywhere. Had a ‘66 Chevy Caprice, I’d driven it to almost every state.”

That’s a lot of driving.

“Don’t I know it. So one night, I’m driving, and I’m missing my daughter’s birthday because I’m on the road to some little Indiana town. It’s late, I’m riding over this big, tall bridge over a river or creek or something. Listening to the radio. And I see an enormous light coming toward me. I mean big.”

A light?

“Yep. And the closer I get, I can see it’s actually TWO SETS of headlights, coming at me.”

And you’re on a bridge?

“A very tall bridge.”

So what happened?

“Well, right away I can see it’s two delivery trucks, and the idiots are passing…

I received an anxious email from 26-year-old Candace, who, among many other things, writes:

“I’m so [expletive] mad right now… America is a [double expletive] trainwreck... And why are people are so evil? What’s going to happen to us?”

At first I was not sure how to answer this message, since I’m no expert. But then it dawned on me, I can actually answer her question.

Which is rare for me. Many times I am asked questions I cannot answer. Questions such as: “What is the capital of Ohio?” “Are you Episcopalian?” and “Why didn’t you pull over when I flashed my blue lights, sir?”

So I’ll answer your question outright, Candace. I’ll tell you exactly what’s going to happen to America next. Play by play.

The first thing that will happen tomorrow is that at 6:42 A.M., in my hometown, the sun will rise. It will rise at 7:11 in Boston; 7:42 in Atlanta; 7:17 in Saint Louis; 6:51 in Las Vegas; and in Seattle meteorologists expect to see the sun

in mid-July.

After sunrise, people will stumble out of bedrooms, yawning, dressed in pajamas. Well, technically, only 52 percent of Americans will be wearing pajamas, the other half will be buck naked.

I’m completely serious. Roughly 48 percent of Americans sleep unclothed, or partially clothed. And in the coming years this statistic will change because a survey recently discovered that two-thirds of millennials sleep “in the raw.”

So after we Americans stagger from bedrooms, wearing nothing but the Joy of the Lord, do you know where this country will be heading next? That’s right. The coffee pot.

Currently, 150 million Americans drink coffee. This means that each morning, as a nation, we fiddle with Japanese manufactured coffeemakers to brew the sacred life-juice that nurses our stimulant-deprived animal brains into low-level awareness.

What happens to our nation next? Glad you asked. Something urgent. While coffee perks, 85 million U.S.…

He stands before his mirror, adjusting his collar, fixing his white hair until it’s just so. He’s thinking of her.

She always took care of him. He was used to having her do all the little things. Not just the laundry and cooking. Any trained dog can learn to do his own laundry. It was things like stocking his favorite snacks in the pantry, always refilling his prescriptions, or remembering to replace the toilet paper.

Above all, he says he misses having her beside him in bed. King beds don’t feel the same without the weight of another person beside you. A bed can feel like a tomb when you sleep alone.

Her dog, Martin, misses her too. The first day she didn’t come home, he took Martin on a walk and the loneliness was overwhelming. This Labrador was her friend.

Martin sleeps beside him at night now, in her old spot. But it’s just not the same.

He’s switched to using instant coffee because he can never remember to set the coffeemaker. Besides, he doesn’t see

the point of making a full pot for just one person. It’s funny how dependent a man can become on another. He says he hasn’t made his own coffee in half a century. Or eggs. He can’t figure out how to flip them without breaking the yolks.

He says, “Nobody tells you that you’re going to be afraid a lot when you lose your wife. You know, even though you’re the man of the family, and always have been, she was kinda your strength.”

He’s adapting though. In the last few years he’s come to truly enjoy his daily walks with Martin. They follow the same route she used to take through the neighborhood. When he gets home, he and Martin eat lunch. Then they piddle.

He says the memories of her don’t hurt anymore, they just make him warm.

“We watched each…

Louisiana. A minuscule town. Grace’s mother watches her daughter get ready for her big date tonight. She is reminding herself not to cry. Although she wants to shed tears. Because kids grow up so very fast.

Sixteen-year-old Grace is seated before her mirror, cross-legged on the floor. Her mother is fixing her hair. Grace’s mother used to be a hairdresser in a former life, so she knows what she’s doing. They aren’t even close to the makeup application stage yet.

Meanwhile…

Over at Chad’s house, Chad’s dad comes barreling into the hallway after work, clueless as a Clydesdale. He finds Chad’s mom spying on her 17-year-old son.

Mom is camped outside the boy’s room. “Ssshhh!” she says.

Chad’s father peeks into the bedroom. Chad is wearing a brand new shirt. And—WHOA!—is Chad wearing hair gel?! Dad suppresses a laugh. He turns to see Mom smiling, too.

Back at Grace’s house. Grace and her mother have now moved on to the makeup phase launch sequence. This is going to take a while.

Her mother is positioning trays and brushes on

the dresser like Rembrandt at the easel. Grace seems like she’s having a hard time getting a deep breath tonight.

Nerves.

Her mother places a hand on Grace’s shoulder to steady her. This year has been a difficult year for American teenagers. Pandemics, social unrest, social distancing, and now the horrific events in our nation’s capital. What a hellish time to grow up. What an era to be a kid.

At the same time, 12 miles away, Chad has again stripped off his outfit. He now decides he hates his entire wardrobe. His bedroom floor is an ocean of failed clothing options. He browses his empty closet, dressed in only his underpants. His skinny, pale torso contains 0.0003 ounces of body fat. Every rib shows.

Chad’s mother wants to help her son dress, to put him in a shirt that will…

I have here a message from 12-year-old Amy, who wrote me today. The main thrust of her email was this:

“...I’m really scared about what’s happening in the world, can you make me feel any better?”

Well, you’d have to be an ostrich not to know which world events Amy is scared about. In fact, there are too many frightful events to list here.

Not only has this year been fraught with viruses, unemployment, and deadly scenes taking place in Washington D.C., but as I write this, the current year is only 10 days old.

So you have every right to be afraid, Amy; you are a human being. And you’re not alone, either. This morning after reading the newspaper the first thing I did was pour myself a stiff shot of Alka-Seltzer and go back to bed.

But if you ask me, your biggest problem (and mine) is not current events. It’s fear. Which has a lot to do with how we mammals are wired. We have low thresholds for stress.

Take the rhinoceros.

This is a powerful animal who can withstand predators, hunters, droughts, and even confinement. But when a rhino sees a vehicle chasing it, do you know what sometimes happens? It drops dead.

We’re talking about one of the oldest surviving species on this planet, a creature which existed alongside sabre-toothed cats. Not to mention that a rhino can weigh upwards of 5,100 pounds and grow 11 feet long. But it’s terrified of a Jeep Wrangler.

Deer are even worse. There are cases of deer getting trapped in wire fences only to die from fright when a farmer tries to free them.

Horses too. I’ve read about horses who died during noisy fireworks displays. The cause of death? A “twisted gut” from fear.

And rabbits. A rabbit can die from cardiac arrest in the presence of loud rock-and-roll music.

Sheep and goats sometimes have heart attacks…

A minor miracle happened a few days ago on a secluded Kansas farm. It occurred while a nation was transfixed by what was happening in the U.S. Capitol building.

The small farmhouse sits upon a tranquil prairie, roughly 1,190 miles away from Washington D.C. I am told the sunset was one for the books that night. The sky was an arresting seascape of reds, violets, and golds.

Some are surprised to learn that Kansan sunsets are among the most unique in the world. This is because of dust. Dust particles from the entire earth travel to the central plains, riding on global wind currents.

Sometimes dust comes from as far away as the Sahara, drifting 5,000 miles to hover above the Flint Hills. At dusk, the sun shines through these particles and it sets off an explosion of color throughout a pink and yellow sky.

It was during one such vivid sunset that an SUV came barreling up the elderly cowboy’s driveway.

The wiry cattleman stood outside his barn, waiting, watching the car’s dust cloud

get bigger. He pulled his jacket snug over his slender frame. It was 29 degrees outside.

From the SUV ermerged his adult daughter and his two grandkids (ages 8 and 9).

“Grandpa!” they cried. “Are we too late?”

He shook his head. “Nope, just in time.”

Most kids would have hugged their granddaddy at this point, but this particular cowboy is a distant man. He’s not a hugger. Call it evidence of his abusive childhood. Call it a byproduct of serving in a Vietnam War. Call it being a windburned cowpoke.

His adult daughter explains: “My father’s a great guy, but he’s never hugged me. Not in my whole life. We’ve never said ‘I love you’ either. Not even at Mom’s funeral.”

The funeral was back in March. It’s been hard on everyone.

The quiet man led the family into the barn to see something…

I was sitting here thinking about you. Which is kind of weird because I don’t know you. But I still consider us friends. And this has been one heck of a year.

See, when I write, sometimes I envision you reading this. Whoever you are. I can almost see you sitting in your PJs, or your work clothes, or dressed in a gorilla suit.

Maybe you’re sipping your morning coffee, or hot tea, or an ice cold Ensure. Or maybe you’re stopped at a redlight, reading this on your phone, holding up miles of traffic. In which case, you’d better put your phone down because right now everyone wants to harm you.

Over the years I have written some off-the-wall things to you. I once wrote an entire column/blog/whatever-you-call-it about eyebrow hair. Another time I wrote a column where, as a joke, I quoted God. Almost everyone got the joke, but a select few didn’t. These are a select few religious people who might benefit from a little Metamucil in their diets.

But after

I quoted God I got some hate mail from these people who obviously have incredible amounts of free time because they went into lengthy detail about what was going to happen to my eternal butt. One guy told me I was going to rot in hell for putting words into God’s mouth.

Normally this kind of thing doesn’t bug me too bad. But getting more than a few hate messages at once can really put you in the dumps. Which is what happened.

But the tides turned. A Catholic gentleman from Maine sent me a bottle of Knob Creek bourbon in the mail. There was a card attached.

It read: “I sure love you. Sincerely, God.”

Somebody I’ve never met guessed that I was having a bad week and took the time to send me the Catholic sacrament of choice, full-proof alcohol. The thing is, I…

Yesterday. It was 4 P.M. Carol turned off cable news and picked up her phone. She announced there would be an emergency club meeting.

It was “URGENT!” she texted her friends.

It was urgent because within Carol’s 73 years, she has never seen anything more disheartening than the events she saw unfolding in Washington D.C. that afternoon.

“This country needs healing,” says Carol. “Just like any sick person would.”

Carol is no stranger to healing. She leads the quintessential small-town church prayer group. These are elderly women who get things done.

The older ladies have been getting together for 18 years to do things like raise money, volunteer, eat congealed foods prepared with liberal amounts of mayonnaise, and of course, pray.

These women have prayed so hard their knees have gone bad. They’ve prayed for rowdy husbands who are bad to drink. For children who are ill. For couples who fall upon the rocks. They have even prayed Carol through her cancer. Twice.

“I could tell you stories ‘bout healings we’ve prayed for,” says Carol. “It’d shock you, the kinda miracles we've seen

happen over 18 years.”

When the pandemic hit, Carol started holding their weekly meetings online instead of in-person. It was the smart thing to do since most ladies are older, and three members have compromised immune systems. Carol herself is on oxygen.

But social distancing never sapped their enthusiasm. There are nine group members in total. And on this particular day, after the horror in the U.S. Capitol, the world needed all nine of their healing prayers.

Carol sent out her first text to Kelly, and their conversation went something like this:

“HAVE YOU SEEN THE NEWS?”

Kelly texted back: “Yes! Watching now! Scary!”

“TEXT EVERYONE! LET’S MEET!”

“In person?”

“IDK, MAYBE IN OUR CARS.”

“Cars? Really?”

“YES!”

“Why are you writing in all caps?”

“BECAUSE I LOST MY GLASSES AND I SEE BETTER THIS WAY!”

“[Thumbs…

The world is a dang mess. And I have gone fishing.

It’s been a long time since I’ve held a rod in my hands. Too long. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I sat on this overturned five-gallon bucket, perched upon the shore of this Choctawhatchee Bay, staring at this water.

Some people don’t understand fishing. Take my wife. She can’t figure out why any rational man would spend hours on a bucket not talking. She says it’s boring.

Boring? No. To go fishing is to embark upon a great intellectual competition, attempting to outsmart the cleverest creature on earth. You might not think fish are intelligent, but believe me, they are much smarter than humans.

A redfish, for instance, would never drain his kid’s college fund to purchase a 17-foot Tracker Pro Team 175 TXW boat package simply to go catch his limit of humans.

Today I came to this bay because earlier I was watching the news and it made me sick to my stomach. The headlines du jour were

giving me literal palpitations. The irony is that I was having a pretty good day until I saw the state of our world.

You have to worry about us sometimes.

So I packed my tackle and left. And I’m glad I did because bay water can work wonders on a man’s soul.

Try to visualize this. I am looking at 129 square miles of brackish, blue water that spans two counties, and has a watershed that covers roughly 3,339,632 acres. Out here there are no radios, no screens, no phones. No traffic. No billboards. I only have a rod, a bucket, and the ghosts of my ancestors.

Fishing.

I come from a long line of fishermen. Most were mediocre anglers, but others were gifted like my uncle Ray Ray. Uncle Ray Ray could communicate with fish through extra sensory techniques. Sadly, the only message he could…