R.S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

Category: Videos

Statler and Waldorf vs. Milton Berle

When The Muppet Show was in production, I was a small child. Now that I’m an adult, I appreciate the show even more. The writers include humor for everyone.

Here’s one of my favorite clips. Statler and Waldorf, the cantankerous, heckling old farts in the balcony of the Muppet Theater, finally get the best of comedy legend Milton Berle.

I’m a real person. Here’s what I sound like.

I’ve been blogging for almost 11 years, on this site and elsewhere. One good thing about this is that, when I’m having trouble creating new material, I’ve still got (literally) hundreds of pages of material to re-post. This saves both my sanity and my hide, in times of creative emptiness.

While my words are slowly coming back to me, I rediscovered this video from a reading I gave a couple years ago. A beloved writer friend organized a Creative Nonfiction Open Mic Night at Underground Books in Carrollton, Georgia. For such a small town, Carrollton boasts an astonishing number of amazing writers. I had a blast meeting new people and hearing them read their work. Here, I read “On Inspiration,” which I first posted in January 2014. It’s been pretty popular, and is also one of my favorites.

A few readers have asked me to post more videos in which I read my work. That might be fun. Stay tuned.

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)


In Which I Read My Work to Strangers, Part 2

Thank you to everyone who came out to last night’s Creative Nonfiction Open Mic at Carrollton’s wonderful Underground Books. It’s great to meet new people and hear them read their work. Here, I read “On Inspiration,” which first appeared on this site one year ago today.

Stay tuned for the next CNF Open Mic sometime in early May 2015!

Back to the Soul: Because great music matters

Each semester, my students take on the challenge of writing a critique essay. “Believe it or not,” I tell them, “you already know how to critique. You listen to music. You know your standards for what makes a good album and what makes an awful one. That’s the beginning of a meaningful critique.” Let me reassure you: Today’s first-year college students know quality music. Their All-Time Best Album lists always impress me.

What gives me the most hope, though, is how much they appreciate independent artists’ work. As a former student explains, “Excellent music isn’t dead. You just have to know where to find it. Some of the best stuff out right now is from artists staying true to themselves, artists raising money to make records on their own terms.”

And that’s exactly what my friend Grayson Hugh is doing.

When I first heard his music back in the late ‘80s (“Talk It Over” and “Bring It All Back,” in particular), I called it “blue-eyed soul.” Since then, Grayson’s work has combined many different influences: country, blues, folk, funk, jazz, gospel. Most compelling, though, are his lyrics. “North Ohio,” from his 2010 album An American Record, breaks my heart. The rest of the album glues it back together.

For his upcoming album, Back to the Soul, Grayson returns to his R&B-soul-funk roots—and, with our help, it’s going to be one amazing record. We all long for thoughtful, heartfelt, original music. Now we have a chance to make it happen.

To read more, to share, or to contribute, click here. There are great perks available at every level.

If you care about heartfelt, meaningful, original music—and the people who create it!—I hope you’ll join Grayson on the fascinating journey of creating a new, original album.

Text © R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

In which I read my work to complete strangers

Here I am, reading a few short pieces at the 2nd Creative Nonfiction (CNF) Open Mic Night at Underground Books in Carrollton, Georgia, on 12 Sep 2014. Many thanks to owner Josh Niesse for hosting us once again!

And, just for grins, here’s a photo of me mid-read:

2014-09-12 20.15.05

The pieces are all previously published on this site, and are as follows:

Hope you’ll join us at the next reading in January 2015. For details, Like Underground Books on Facebook, or Follow me on Twitter (@WilliamsWrite) or Facebook (RS Williams).

George Jones: 1931-2013

September 12, 1931 – April 26, 2013

June Carter Cash: 1929-2003

Country music legend June Carter Cash was born this day in 1929. Here’s her famous duet, “Jackson,” with husband Johnny Cash.

Waylon Jennings: An original outlaw

Country music legend Waylon Jennings was born this day in 1932. In this 1970 video clip, he performs “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line” during an appearance on The Johnny Cash Show.

Here, he plays the black-and-white scrollwork Fender Telecaster with which many people identify him. Some may also remember this guitar from the intro sequence of The Dukes of Hazzard.

Kentucky what?

I’d forgotten how good this song is until I stumbled across the video yesterday evening. The Kentucky Headhunters’ Pickin’ on Nashville still holds up 24 years after its release.

Happy birthday, Willie Nelson

There should be a law against saying “Willie Nelson” and “80th birthday” in the same sentence. Good thing there isn’t, though, because I’d be going to jail right about now.

In honor of the Red-Headed Stranger’s birthday, here’s his version of “The Rainbow Connection,” first made famous by Kermit the Frog in The Muppet Movie (1979). The video has quite a long intro; Willie comes in at 1:51.

Happy birthday, Willie! Thank you for sharing your gifts with us.

Roy Orbison: 1936-1988

Today would have been Roy Orbison’s 77th birthday.

The first time I’d ever heard of him was in 1987, when The Traveling Wilburys (Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Tom Petty) released “Handle with Care.” I had heard Van Halen’s version of his classic “Pretty Woman,” but somehow failed to make the connection between Orbison’s original and the 1980s cover.

No matter. This song was so unlike anything on late-1980s radio that I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of Roy Orbison. That fragile, haunting voice—where’s it coming from? His mouth barely moves, yet all this world-weary heartbreak still pours forth.

But the next year, he died of a heart attack at 52, and his record company released Mystery Girl posthumously. My favorite from that album, “You Got It,” was a simultaneous #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, Adult Contemporary, and Hot Country Songs charts. It was also his first hit in nearly 25 years.

Rest in peace, Roy, and thank you.

Happy birthday, Roy Clark

It doesn’t seem possible that Roy Clark can be 80 years old—today, or any day. In my mind, he’s forever 45 and hosting Hee Haw with Buck Owens, or making guest appearances on The Muppet Show.

Speaking of which…

For something a little more serious, here’s Roy in 1969 performing a blistering version of “Malagueña,” which he’s made his own over the years.

Happy birthday, Roy! Thanks for sharing your many talents with us.

Happy birthday, Loretta Lynn

Her 81st birthday, no less!

“Portland, Oregon” is one of my favorite tracks from Van Lear Rose. The entire album is stellar, though, so it’s hard to choose just one. Since nearly everyone’s familiar with Loretta Lynn’s best-known work, I thought I’d share this in honor of her special day.

Thank you, Dr. King

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

15 January 1929 – 4 April 1968

Happy birthday to the Man in Black

John R. Cash
Feb 26, 1932 – Sep 12, 2003

Five Random Songs: 2/25/13

The “cat and owl playing” video is the first time I ever heard this post’s featured Random Song. Too bad Sopa De Cabra broke up before I got a chance to see them live. Of course, I probably couldn’t have understood a single thing they sang, as all their lyrics are in Çatalan. Who cares? The music’s good.

As usual, here are five songs I chose at random (more or less) from my music collection. I used Random.org’s number generator to come up with the numbers and choose which songs I’d feature this time. Want to join in the fun? Post your selections and/or the URL for your own random song blog post in the Comments section. And, of course, happy listening! Continue reading

Run-On: Not Just a Really Long Sentence!

Thank goodness for Grammar Girl’s parody of those awful Head On ads to help explain run-on sentences. Some of my students have had trouble understanding what’s wrong with their run-on sentences. Comma splices and sentence fragments are in there, too. Perhaps this will help.

Five Random Songs: 1/14/13

Here’s the first Five Random Songs post of the new year. It’d be a shame not to continue the fun into 2013 with a song from, oh, 1983.

As usual, here are five songs from my music collection, chosen at random. If you create your own list of Five Random Songs, please let me know by posting the URL in the Comments section below.

Won’t you join us? Continue reading

Happy birthday to the King

Elvis Aaron Presley was born this day in 1935. This would have been his 78th birthday.

The key to good creative work? Do a lot of it.

Ira Glass of This American Life reassures creative types that frustration is normal early on. (Thanks to Maria Popova at Brain Pickings!)

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

David Shiyang Liu’s kinetic typography brings Glass’s words to life in a way that combines reading and hearing.

My favorite lines:

The most important possible thing you can do is to do a lot of work … because it’s only by going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap [between your expectations and the quality of your work].

What we create isn’t supposed to be brilliant when we first start out. It’s normal for our early work not to meet our expectations. Just as Anne Lamott counsels us, we have to get through the not-so-good material in order to discover the really good material.

I feel much better now.

Five Random Songs: 9/24/12

Need a Monday playlist? Perhaps this installment of Five Random Songs will help you get started.

If you put together your own Five Random Songs post, please let me know and include the link in the Comments section. Random.org is just one of many random number generators you can use to pick out your own out-of-the-blue tunes. Continue reading

Happy Labor Day

Happy Labor Day to those of you celebrating today. I hope you’re fortunate enough to have the day off.

In honor of the working people who keep America moving, here’s a classic:

Thanks, Merle!

So many workers make our lives easier, better, possible. Dana Velden of TheKitchn notes the interconnectedness of all our lives, especially when it comes to food:

Consider the people who pay for and maintain roads and stop signs and lights that assure that your onion will arrive safely to the warehouse or the market. And at the market, the people who haul the boxes that your onion is in and the people who pull your onion from the box and place it on display and people who take your money at the register and maybe even the person (getting rarer but still possible) that packs your onion into your reusable tote bag and helps you haul it out to your car. The people who clean and maintain the market, and the people who work at the electrical plant that lights the market and cools the refrigerators, and the people who take the money at the bank so that the manager can pay the electricity bill.

You get the picture, right? That if you were to follow the concentric circles of people and their work out from your beautiful onion sitting on your beautiful cutting board, you will find a vast and complex system of people and their work, seen and unseen, acknowledged and unacknowledged, but without whom your life would be miserable, if not impossible. Innumerable labors bring us our food.

Read the rest of this excellent article here.

This day in 1963

August 28, 1963: The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his I Have a Dream speech as part of the March on Washington.

Nearly 50 years later, style guides point to this speech as Continue reading

Five Random Songs: 8/20/12

It’s been a while since the last Five Random Songs post, so here’s a fresh new list for your Monday morning.

Was my former student right? Is it possible to tell what a person’s like simply by looking at his or her music collection? I’m not too sure, but it’s fun to peruse what other people are listening to these days. I’m always discovering new songs thanks to my students and friends. Continue reading

Monday fun

Thanks, Best Coast, for the back-to-work smiles.

Five random songs: 7/30/12

Following up on an earlier post, here are five more random tunes from my music collection. Was my former student correct? Can we really tell a lot about someone just by their CD wallet or their MP3 player? I’m not sure, but it makes for some interesting conversations and great new music.

Feel like joining in on the fun? Choose five random songs from your library (here’s a random number generator, if you’re so inclined) and publish your own random songs playlist. If you do, I hope you’ll leave a link in the Comments section. Continue reading

Kitty Wells: 1919-2012

Rest in peace, Kitty. I’m so grateful to have seen your special live interview and exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame in the summer of 2008. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us all these years.

You were—and always will be—the original Queen of Country Music.

Statler & Waldorf: Home at last

Leave it to these two to sum up the entire Internet in 17 seconds. And don’t forget that only Statler and Waldorf could heckle Milton Berle into a stammering mess.

Happy Independence Day

Happy Independence Day to all of you celebrating in the U.S. today. Let’s start the holiday with something out of the ordinary.

Everybody expects a John Philip Sousa tune for July 4th. But nobody expects to hear it arranged for guitar. Indeed, Chet Atkins’ version is one of my favorites. Take that, Boston Pops!

And a special note: This is WilliamsWrite’s 100th post. Hooray!

Five random songs

A student once confided that he could tell what anyone was like just from looking at that person’s music collection. So I opened up iTunes on my office computer. “Well? What does mine say about me?” Continue reading

Happy Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there. Hope you’re having a fun and relaxing time today.

My dad passed away in 1997, and this marks my 15th Father’s Day without him. From the time I was born, Daddy would spontaneously break into the first verse of “Poke Salad Annie,” no matter where we were or what we were doing. Along with the chorus, that was the only part of the song he knew. I didn’t know it was a real song until I heard it on oldies radio years after he died.

And carry it home in a tote sack. So many old Southern expressions in this song: truck patch, no-count, pick a mess of. Gotta love Tony Joe White’s old Louisiana accent. You can eat poke salad, as Annie and her family had to, but that doesn’t mean you should. It’s tough to boil out all the poison. Stick with collards or turnip greens.

Wright, ruined: The Wynant House (Gary, Indiana)

Ask any group of people to name a famous singer, and you’ll probably get a dozen names right away. Ask them to name a famous architect, though, and chances are they’ll stare at you in puzzled silence.

It’s strange that we can name singers whose forgettable songs won’t even be a footnote in 50 years, but Continue reading

Give him the ball and get out of the way

The 2012 NBA Finals begin tonight. There will be much trash talking. No championship series would be complete without it.

However, to paraphrase an old saying, it ain’t trash talk if you follow through. Witness:

I won’t get started about my disappointment in my Boston Celtics. Or in the fact that we have a weather-themed NBA Finals this year. [deep sigh]

Edited to add: My disappointment is minor compared to that of Seattle basketball fans. Their former Supersonics are now the Oklahoma City Thunder, and playing in the NBA Finals. My condolences, y’all.

Even if it’s bold italic

A classmate pointed me to this hilarious parody of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” Whoever said you can’t mix typeface geekery and pop music obviously didn’t know what they were talking about.

Creativity strikes in the strangest ways, at the strangest times. “What font should I use for this invoice?” Hey, it happens.

I’ve blogged before about my love for some typefaces (fonts) over others, and Continue reading

Fuzzy Martians and good instructions: Yepyepyepyepyep.

This classic Sesame Street sketch aired in late 1974, when small children automatically would have known what the funny-looking black plastic object was. (Would today’s preschoolers know? Hmm.)

In case you haven’t seen this recurring skit, the googly-eyed Martians teleport into random scenes in the Sesame Street neighborhood. They encounter everyday situations and make sense of them based on what they find in their “earth book.” In other sketches, for instance, they figure out a table fan, enjoy a leaky kitchen faucet, dance to white noise on an old-fashioned radio, and meet Ernie and Bert.

I love watching the Martians work through each scenario. They’re not afraid to make mistakes or change what they’re doing. As Shunryu Suzuki once said, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.”

When we create a set of instructions, it’s essential that we return to beginner’s mind. Otherwise, we miss opportunities to help our readers. Usefulness, rather than publication, is the hallmark of tech comm success. When it comes to instructions, all anyone wants is to complete the steps and move along. If we fail to get inside that beginner’s process, our readers will be frustrated. That’s the last thing we want, whether we’re creating software help, a chainsaw owner’s manual, or home perm instructions.

So what happened with the Martians’ “earth book?” I ask because it’s leading them nowhere fast. How outdated could this thing be? What’s in that book to make them think the object in front of them is a cow, a cat, or a chicken?

That’s what makes the sketch so funny. Whoever compiled the book had no idea what was actually on earth. No SMEs consulted here, no sirree. When the earth book doesn’t help (which is just about every time), the Martians approach the situation or object as complete beginners.

They’re not afraid to make guesses or try a different approach. They don’t get frightened unless there’s a reason: an unusual noise, an unexpected movement, or a new creature. The phone rings, scaring the bejesus out of them, and chthunnnnng! up go their jaws. Much like the little kids watching this segment, the Martians simply learn as they go.

We, too, could learn as we go when writing procedures. In The Practical Guide to Information Design (2007), Ronnie Lipton notes that “the audience is different, and you’re not it” (p. 82). We may be very good at what we do, but we are not our readers. If we don’t remember that readers don’t share our experiences, our writing will fail. “Listening to the audience in any form suggests the need for a redesign,” Lipton adds (p. 82). It may bother us to hear that our work needs revision. But what’s at stake here is much more important than propping up our ego. Imagine that our readers are these two Martians. Would we want to hear back from their Earth mission that they mistook the brrrrinnngggg! gagdet for a variety of livestock? Talk about embarrassing.

Unlike the Sesame Street Martians, readers don’t have time for trial-and-error learning. They want to get done and move on. Going back to complete beginner mode, truly listening to what our audience requires, helps us give them what they need.


To be 12 and in love with Justin Bieber

I have never been happier to have come of age before the advent of the internet.

Because in just a few years, these girls won’t even admit to having once liked Justin Bieber. No matter, though, because it’s all preserved on YouTube. Continue reading

Monday. Meh.

Today’s post is also featured on my other blog, Forgotten Plants & Places.

It’s Monday, and for whatever reason, words aren’t coming to me as easily as usual. Don’t know why. I mean, it’s not as if there aren’t a lot of forgotten plants and places around here to document.

Poke salad, no Annie. (29 April 2012)

That’s one of the downsides to blogging: Even if I don’t feel very inspired, I still have to post new content on a regular basis. Of course, as I tell my students, there’s nothing to get you inspired like writing when you’re not inspired. Sounds counterintuitive, but it really works. Just as with plumbing work, you have to flush all the junk from the pipes before the clean water can flow. Write a little while, get the junk and fragmented thoughts out of your brain, and the good ideas begin to flow onto the page. Trust me.

Currently, I’m working on a couple of exciting projects—one involves a historic home, and the other involves highways. For fear of jinxing myself, I won’t divulge more. But if these ideas turn out, they’ll make for great reading and interesting photos.

I don’t know why I took a photo of the poke salad (phytolacca americana) leaves above. I also don’t know why I thought it would go with this post. But I stumbled upon it while looking for interesting Nearly Wordless Wednesday pictures, and then started humming “Poke Salad Annie.” My late father sang that song all the time. Okay, he knew only part of the first verse and the chorus, but he still sang it.

Heed the Alabama Extension Service’s warning, though, and don’t carry any poke salad home in a tote sack.

Herding cats: This is how you do it

I first saw this ad during the Super Bowl in 1999 or 2000 (I think). Over a decade later, it still makes me belly-laugh.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you herd cats and create a memorable ad.

Earl Scruggs: 1924-2012

Legendary banjo player Earl Scruggs has passed away at age 88.

Thank you for sharing your amazing gift with us, Earl. Rest in peace.

How-To Video: Posting Peer Critique Drafts

This is one of the first “how-to” videos I posted in September 2011 for my ENGL 1101 students. I used Camtasia Studio 7.0 for the screencast, and a Creative EF-0170RX headset mic.

Many characterize today’s college students as “digital natives.” Umm, no. Most students have never attached a file to an e-mail before their first semester of college. None that I’ve encountered so far have ever added headers, footers, or page numbers to a Word document. A large proportion of these students come from middle- to upper-middle class homes, and attended “good” high schools.

Apparently, computer skills aren’t included in college prep curricula—too much studying for standardized tests, I guess. A surprising number of first-year college students, then, find themselves lagging far behind where society assumes their tech expertise lies.

So I end up helping my students with much more than their writing.

In September, it was time for my students to post their first essay drafts in CourseDen (my university’s version of the Vista/WebCT learning management system). A few days before the due date, I took an informal survey in each class: “Who knows how to add a running header or footer in a Word document?” Out of 75 students, two raised their hands. For anyone out there doing the math, that’s 0.0267%.

Oh, my. This would take some creativity. “How many of you have ever watched a video on YouTube?” All of them, of course. “Would it help if I were to put together a how-to video? Maybe a screencast to show you exactly what I’m doing, where I’m clicking, what to type?”

Yes! That would be great!”

It took about two hours to put this together and then post it, false starts and do-overs included. The payoff? Seventy-five students created running headers in their essay drafts—and they learned something they can use every time they create a Word document. And of these 75 students, most have been able to recall the steps. If they forgot, they simply reviewed the video.

My video helped 75 people do something new in a program they had seldom used. That’s so good to know.

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