Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter 2019

It is Easter Sunday and this is just a short post.

I spent the weekend with my Sarah, her boyfriend Sam and my son Ben. It was a few days of down time, lots of food, laughs and hugs. We reminisced a little, talked about the present and the future a lot. We hung out with friends and family at restaurants and homes. We Skyped relatives in New York which, technical hacks aside, is really a technological miracle of its own if you think about it.

This morning I saw the sunrise with my church family on top of a Drumlin in a nearby park. It was church of the holiest kind.

Photo credit: Roost photography.
So my soul is full with the multitude of things I have to be thankful for. Family, friends, a job I love, a home to share and, not least of all, my faith. I thank God for all of it, as I deserve none of it.

And as my kids return to their distant homes away from home, the house is quiet again and Monday and the requisite rat race looms. But knowing I have such a blessed life makes it so much easier to look toward tomorrow.

Happy Easter to you.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Moving Verses

As you may know, April is National Poetry Month. Or, you may not. But I do.

It is a month that is designed to increase the exposure to and awareness of poetry and it's impact in our world and our culture. There have been a number of events around town, some of which I've been able to attend, some not. There were a couple of events this week that were interesting and inspiring.

The first was a reading by Wisconsin's poet laureate, Margaret Rozga at the New Berlin Public Library. I've gotten to know Peggy over the last few years as we've run into each other through our poetry circles. She and I sit on the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books planning committee, so I've seen more of her lately.

For those who don't know, she was very involved with the Fair Housing Marches that happened in Milwaukee in the late 1960's. These were racially tense times in the city and along with Father Groppi they marched for racial justice, the inspiration for her poetry book, 200 Nights and One Day. James Groppi later left the priesthood and the two married and raised their family.

Her readings were from her new book, Pestiferous Questions, which is historically based as well. Part of her presentation involved soliciting one line per person from the audience to form the basis for a collaborative poem on her theme of Opening Doors. I thought this was a cool exercise to engage the audience in something creative.

Then, last night I was at Mama D's for the monthly poetry night. This one featured Tom Montag, a prolific poet from Fairwater, Wisconsin. Tom has published too many books to count with his most recent book, Seventy At Seventy. I'd only known Tom from Facebook, although he was a gracious contributor to the signed poetry book solicitation I did earlier this year for Kettle Moraine High School as one of my poet laureate initiatives.

Anyway, I am so glad I got to hear some of his work and have come to appreciate his style and stage presence. His words are minimalist but impactful. He is an approachable guy with a list of credits that include having one of his poems inscribed in the Milwaukee Convention Center. It was a great night.

I continue to write a poem a day as part of my National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) challenge. My theme is on fatherhood and as I mentioned, it has been both challenging and revealing. I never know what is going to happen from day to day, but it appears to be all good.

And finally, I found out my forthcoming poetry collection, Thoughts From A Line At The DMV, is due to be released this October, which is about as exciting as it gets!

So, I would challenge you to check a book of poetry out of the library this month. Many people say "Poetry is not for me," to which I say there is something for everyone. You can find mine here.

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Creativity Under Fire

I am taking part in a 30 day poetry challenge that requires writing a poem a day during April on a particular theme. I chose Fatherhood as my theme, in part because I was curious what it would reveal. Over my life I've had a father, stepfather, father in law, grandfathers, and I've been a godfather and a father myself.

Each of these titles brings its own inspiration for me. I knew the challenge would be difficult, it always is when you're sort of forced to be creative for 30 consecutive days. But what I am finding is that it is revealing and insightful. I sometimes struggle with a piece at the beginning and by the end I am looking at something that I can barely believe I wrote. I think it is a combination of the pressure to produce and the topic of interest that makes for such inspiration.

It has caused me to remember the good, the bad and the difficult in all of my fatherhood/sonship  experiences. While my childhood experience might have been somewhat unique, I know that my story is only one of many. 

I have intentionally chosen not to let my bitterness about the death of my father at such a young age dictate who I am or become a part of me that I wear as a badge. At the same time, I have come to realize it is a glass-dropping story when I tell it to people. But, because it was so long ago, I have shoved it to the corner of nonchalance, a bit. 

The story is what it is. I have a great life and that is as much a credit to my mother, and to a limited extent, my stepfather, as it is to the strength of my family's spirit. She carried us through in his absence, as many other mothers have through divorce or death. We plod on, and I am thankful that my mother didn't give up, was too proud to lean on others for help, and loved us enough to expect the same level of hard work and success from us. And it worked.

As I've said multiple times in the past, everyone has a story. Everyone started with at father. Some know theirs, some never did. Some were shrouded in love, some were abusive. My own had a tragic twist early followed by some years of trial with a stepfather but all of it set the stage for how I wanted to raise my own kids. 

And in the end, I knew what I didn't want for my kids and I also knew that being there, being present and loving them hard, was the best thing I could do.

Now, back to work!

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A Glimpse Into My Softer Side

I went to the Art In Bloom event at the Milwaukee Art Museum today. It has become an annual tradition with Donna and I, one I have come to look forward to. If you're not familiar with the concept, it is gardening clubs and floral shops around the Milwaukee area that put together floral arrangements centered on a work of art at the museum.

My choice as the best in show.
Suffice it to say, there are some stunning displays of creativity from a floral/ekphrastic perspective. This year there were so many great entries. This year we bought a membership because we both love to go to the art museum, but never go more than this once a year. It is my plan to make it more regular.

I say that because as I looked at some of these paintings today, I was again floored by the work in front of me. These artists have a sense for light, shadow, depth, color and dimension. It is nothing short of brilliance. They have skills that a small percentage of the people in the world do. They call them masters for a reason. I am no art snob, but I know beauty when I see it.

My choice for the best display went to the display of Ed Paschke's work done by The Pink Peony. Colorful and eye catching.

But frankly they were all pretty cool. I can't recommend this event enough if you appreciate art at all.  GO!!! It is worth the trip and gives me hope for spring. I will let the photos speak for themselves for the rest of this post.

Another favorite.

Runner up, IMHO.
Blogging off...

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Phone Hostage

Last weekend I woke up and my phone didn't.

It was dead.



The night before, when I tried to access it, it would shut off as quickly as I turned it on. It was behaving badly. Facebook was wonky too. It would open, then close saying "Sorry, Facebook can't start," or some such message of hopelessness.

It was a nearly 4 year old Samsung Galaxy S6. I loved the phone, it rarely gave me problems and despite a battery that died halfway through the day, it worked pretty flawlessly. I had the oldest phone in my family, so was due for an upgrade anyway.

Now, understand that I have a love/hate relationship with these things, more hate than love, frankly. I think as a culture we've created devices of distraction and disconnection. There is a wonderful photo journalism article in The Sun magazine by Gianpaolo La Paglia that captures peoples' obsessions with their phones quite well. I feel that we've gone down a path we can't get back up, but I guess we'll just have to see where it takes us.

Anyway, knowing that my wife and kids are dependent on being able to get hold of me, I went to Best Buy to get a new phone. I am the world's biggest cheapskate so it took my phone being completely useless before I was willing to offer up $850.00 for a new one.

The buying process was about as painful as I feared. When I got there, they told me they were having a BOGO sale, buy one/get one free. This required a trip home to talk to my wife and son about what that meant to us. Ben needed a phone as well, and this looked like a good deal.

When I went back it was the usual hour and a half of typing my information into a slow application, calling ATT support and general jagging around. It is absolutely astounding to me how this process is not easier, but it never is. After that hour and a half of my life that I'll never get back, I walked out of the store with my new Galaxy S10e, and Ben's Galaxy S10 "on order" and due in at the end of the week.

Seems easy enough, right?

So two days later, at work, I'm showing a co-worker a picture of something and I noticed my BRAND NEW screen was cracked. I had a case and screen protector on order, but hadn't received them yet. I was horrified.

After looking closer, I realized it was only scratched. It still made me sick to my stomach knowing I hadn't paid the $40 for an overpriced Best Buy screen protector at the store when I bought the thing.

I then spent the next six hours of my life in obsessive worry and dread about my stupid new phone. After reading online, I saw where sometimes applying a screen protector will cover up a scratch. That night I went to T-Mobile to get a screen protector. They said that they cost $44.00. I knew I had two that were on the way from Amazon for $13.00, so I said I'd wait.

I then told the clerk about my screen and mentioned how fragile these stupid new phones were. She took a look at it and asked if I had removed the protective film on the screen?

The what?

"Yeah, there's a protective film over the screen on the new Galaxys to protect them until you can get a screen protector."

This is the part where I am a man conflicted with both joy and embarrassment. Of course I hadn't removed the plastic film and the film was scratched, not the screen. The phone screen was fine.

I felt about as dumb as a person can be, but even more glaring was my awareness of how this worry had overtaken my life for six hours. What a stupid waste of energy. But, like everything else obsessive with these damn devices, it takes over your life, and I hate that about them.

To finish the sales story, I have been back to Best Buy twice in an attempt to pick up my son's S10, and we still don't have it. More life-sucking from the folks at ATT/Samsung.

I guess the moral of the story is we all have to take a step back and see where we are letting phones take us. This new phone has a "screen time" function, where it tells you how many times you've used it. When I checked, it said I'd had 46 unlocks.

46! in one day, and the day wasn't even over yet.

That is sobering data I could only get from a phone.

My name is Jim, and I'm a phoneaholic.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Portaging Without A Canoe

About six months ago, I was invited to be one of the two featured poets at an event called Poetry in Portage (PIP). This is an event that takes place monthly and features two poets, each reading for 30 minutes, followed by an open mic where anyone can read some of their work.

Portage is a city about an hour and a half from Waukesha, just up the road from where I-94 splits with I-39. I saw this as a chance to increase my exposure a bit as well as take a little road trip. If you know me, you know I love road trips, so I told the organizer I would come up and present.

The reading was held at Suzy's Steak and Seafood restaurant. When I got there, I was greeted by the other presenter, Jane McCarty Osypowski and her husband. Later we were joined by a friend of Jane's as well as June Paul, the event coordinator. We had a pre-dinner drink and got to know each other a bit. Jane is also an artist, so admitted that most of her recent artistic endeavors have been with paint, not pen.

Now, I only have steak maybe twice a year, so I thought it would be a nice splurge. I ordered the New York Strip, and it was fabulous! If you're ever in the Portage area, check out Suzy's. A good old surf and turf restaurant.

When it came time to read, we moved to a private room. The crowd was small but appreciative. After a quick introduction and lead-off poem by June Paul, I started the evening off. I read a "greatest hits" list of poems from my four books. The more I do this kind of thing, the more comfortable I get. Near as I could tell, my work was well received.

After my reading, Jane took over and read her work, which was moving and well presented. I always admire these cross-disciplinary artistic types, because it is a skill I don't have. (i.e. my artwork sucks!) . When Jane was done, there was a short open mic where a few poems were read.

Ultimately, I ended up selling a few copies of Written Life, which is always a good thing for any poet. While it is great to have people appreciate your work, its even better if they buy a copy.

At the end of the night, June read an emotional poem about her brother that is dealing with a serious illness. I can certainly relate to the pain of watching a sibling going through difficult health issues. It was a point of connection for us that I hadn't expected when I decided to agree to the poetry event.

These poetry events are often times small affairs, but they are something I will continue to pursue. The new friends I made at this event made the trip worthwhile unto itself. But sharing my work with others and hearing their stories is ultimately the reason behind the whole deal. For a few hours I was thrust out of my geographic bubble into a new arena with strangers who three hours later became friends. It's probably an introvert's nightmare, but I've learned to embrace these opportunities and turn them into lifetime events that I can look back on with fondness.

Because these things make life a little richer.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Art Of Noise

Donna and I went out and saw some live music with friends on Friday night. One of our favorite bands, Zach Petrini, an band that plays largely Americana, was playing at a new venue called the Ivy House in the Third Ward. It was a place we'd never been, so thought we'd check it out.

If you know me, you know I'm a music buff. I love live music because it is such an in-the-moment experience. Like theater, each show is an entirely different experience. If the band is having a good night and the crowd is into it, it can be almost a spiritual experience. (Speaking for myself personally.)

What I enjoy so much is picking out the different instruments as they play. Everyone has a critical role in the creation of it. If the bass player sucks, the whole thing sounds like crap. If the guitarist hits a couple of rough notes in a row, people cringe.

But if every member is in synchronicity, it can be downright stunning. Many of Petrini's songs have a distinct progression to them. They begin, with establishing a tempo, then have a pause in the middle and work into a frenzy near the end.
Photo credit: Jill Kenehan Krey

It is these moments when the band is fully extended, the drummer is hammering away, the bass is thrumming, the guitarist is ringing out, and the vocals are carrying the whole thing that I realize how much music is art. It is layered, textured, spontaneous and interpretive. When the audience is engaged it is a give and take thing. The whole room moves.

Years ago, I was in Milwaukee with a friend at a blues club on a Saturday night and we were listening to a band and the blues harpist (harmonica) player was just killing it. The whole band was smoking it up and it was just phenomenal. I've seen John Lee Hooker and the Coast to Coast Blues Band do the same thing at the Cabooze in St. Paul. They blew the doors off the place.

And all of it means both something and nothing. After all, some would say, it's only music. But I would argue that it fills me up. There's something about being a part of that moment. It's entertainment, sure, but like any art, it is part of the human experience and nourishes the soul. As I work to be more in the moment and deliberate, I appreciate these types of events.

Much of the quality of a show depends however on a good team at the mixing board too. The show on Friday had some serious mixing issues for the first half. At the beginning, you couldn't hear the lyrics. Then, the organ was too loud and in your face. Near the end, the drums were too prominent. It was like the sound guy was tone deaf. It made the first half of the show an exercise in frustration for the audience. Eventually they figured it out, but the issues took away from the overall experience.

Live music continues to be a way for me to appreciate those who have talents that I never profess to have. Like those who deal with graphic forms of art, I just don't get how they do it. It's nothing short of miraculous and beautiful to me.

So I aim to keep following the world of art and music, because it gives me an escape and hope at the same time.

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Hope Springs Eternal

It seems we are on the cusp of spring, for real this time. As with everyone else, this is a long awaited season of expectancy for me. The older I get, the more I need spring. This past winter was brutal, starting after one of the crappiest Novembers in a long time.

There are a few things that help ramp up the giddiness for the coming warmth.

  • Brewers Opening Day. I'm a fair weather baseball fan, but always appreciate the possibilities of opening day. Back when the Brewers played at County Stadium, I used to try and get to an opening day every once in a while. It was almost always a guarantee that it would be rainy, cold, or snowy for it, so the memories are of dressing warm, lots of beer, and more Brewer losses than wins. (They weren't very good in the late '80s.)
  • Kayaking Season. We sold our Santa Fe, SUV this past winter, so my kayak hauler of choice has become a minivan. Lord, help me. I rigged it with some roof racks that I got for a song on Amazon, so all we need now it ice-out.
  • Biking. I picked up my bike from Wheel and Sprocket today. I got it "tuned up" and had them put a new chain and sprocket on the back. Now, I'm old school. Back in the day I could get a tune up and the whole thing cost less than $60. This one cost me $179.00. The sticker shock of it just about knocked me over. I have a hard time paying that much for a CAR repair. What the heck? I guess it is just the new normal and I've got to get used to it.
  • Open Windows. In the car or in the house. I miss it and the fresh air gives me hope.
  • Walking Without Fear Of Falling. A friend pointed out that the ice this winter was the worst part. Worse than the snow, or the cold. I kind of have to agree. 
  • Fishing Season. This is probably the thing I miss the most. Alone in my kayak or together with a friend in his boat, fishing is my Zen. My friend has a new, bigger boat this year, so that's nice too. I'm not an ice fisherman, so this is my season. Unfortunately it has to wait until mid-may when the season opens.
So, it looks like we're going to make it. The last of the snow has melted in our yard and I even see green shoots around. I'm not sure, but maybe just maybe, spring is happening.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Travelling Vicariously

Both of my kids just finished up trips to California. They are 23 and 20 years old and these trips were completely orchestrated by them. 

They planned them.

They paid for them.

They lived them.

Sarah was out visiting her boyfriend's parents in Sacramento and managed to take a side trip to San Diego and Los Angeles. Ben was out for Spring break and managed to stay at a friend's uncle's place in Oceanside. 

I'll admit it was weird knowing that they were both in the same state, over essentially the same period of time. It was also sort of comforting in a way, knowing that they were within a few hours drive of each other if anyone should have any issues.
It is well known that San Diego is maybe my favorite city in the US. So when Sarah mentioned she was going there, I wanted to tell her all the places to see. I might have mentioned a couple of things that I thought were important, but ultimately, these trips are up to them. She made it to the San Diego Zoo and saw the pandas. She also made it to Balboa Park for the cherry blossom festival, which was beautiful in its own right.

Ben made it to Oceanside and from there took an Uber to various locations nearby. Then, later in the week, he took the Greyhound, alone, to Los Angeles to visit a friend from high school. That little side trip almost put my wife into cardiac arrest. The thought of my son navigating the streets of L.A. on his own, makes me both proud and terrified. At least my daughter is with her boyfriend. ALONE! In LA!

Seriously though, it was great getting text messages from them about their travels and adventures as they were living them. We were able to relive part of our own youth as we read them.

If there is one take away from the week, it is this. 

Our kids figure it out.

I did it when I was 23 too. It was a trip that is the basis for my chapbook, On a Road.

We've raised them with a suitcase in their hand for the most part. We've driven and flown thousands of miles with them in an effort to show them there is a big wide world out there. 

They have come to an age where they are taking travel matters into their own hands. 

And while it makes us happy and proud, there will always be a level of concern and worry that goes along with it. 

I guess that's called being a parent. 

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Restoring Wetlands And My Faith In Humanity

Nothing like clomping through a muddy farm field in March to restore my faith in humanity and remind me how much I like my job. I did just that today as part of a "field trip" of sorts for me and a fellow GIS guy as we followed our friend around for most of the morning.

Alan works in our Land Conservation department and was scheduled to do some GPS data collection as part of his work with the Waukesha County Land Conservancy. Megan, the woman in charge of the project told us the land we were walking on was 57 acres of farm land that was being restored to a wetland.

These wetland restoration projects involve a lot of factors including removing existing drainage ditches, clearing invasive species, planting native plants, etc. Then once the wetland is restored, the wildlife follows.
A Drone Selfie (aka a Dronie!)

So while the main function was to "GPS some points" and learn about how that ties into the mapping, I was more interested in the overall project. It gives my heart great satisfaction knowing there are agencies like the WCLC and people like Megan and her intern Abbie, that are passionate about birds, groundwater, flora and wildlife that is supported by a sound wetland.

As we walked the property, I heard the loud calling of the cranes, saw a hawk circling overhead, saw many deer prints and even heard an owl. It was positively heavenly. Because I live in the city, these are sites and sounds I don't get to hear near enough. I often forget these places exist within 20 minutes of my home. I need to get out more.

GPSing a Well Head.
The other cool part of the day was my coworker flying our drone over the property and taking photos and video. The video will help show a "before" shot of the land from a bird's eye view. They are pretty cool devices and have created another way to collect spatial data at a low cost. The thing was noisy but fun to watch. It got some great footage which I've embedded here.

I can honestly say in 22 years of working at the County, I've only been "in the field" about three times. I realized today how important it is to get out once in a while and see the land I've mapped for 22 years. It is really great to see projects like I saw today and know that GIS plays a small part in helping projects happen.

And I'm still convinced I have the coolest job a guy can have.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 17, 2019

My Alter Ego

In the ebb and flow of my "other full time job" as a writer/poet, there seems to be a lot going on in the world of poetry lately. As we approach April which is National Poetry Month, I thought I'd run down a little of what's happening.

  • I was asked to fill another year term as Poet Laureate for the Village of Wales. My term was initially scheduled to be up at the end of April. They claim to like my work and my initiatives and asked me if I'd be willing. Of course I agreed. Looking forward to another great year.
  • As part of year two I have a couple of new things I'd like to do to try and increase the awareness of poetry in the. My first thought would be to get the poetry I read at the board meetings every month onto the Village website. 
  • The other idea involves installing "free poetry" dispensers at area coffee shops, bookstores, libraries and other meeting spaces. I heard about the idea being started in Duluth and thought it would be cool at the local level here. See more here

  • I will be the featured poet along with Jane McCarty Osypowski at Suzy's Steak and Seafood restaurant in Portage as part of their Poetry in Portage series. This is a great way to increase my reach and get some good exposure. Looking forward to hearing Jane's work as well.
  • Last night I attended a poetry collection for a friend and colleague, Cristina Norcross. Her book Beauty in The Broken Places has some great work on her struggles during a tough time of her life. (On a side note, it was released by Kelsay Books, the same press that my book will be published on.) She is one of many that I look up to as someone who does a lot for the craft. She is editor of Blue Heron Review online magazine as well as an accomplished poet with multiple books. I always enjoy supporting other writers and poets, because I know how great that feeling is.
  • The contract for, Thoughts From A Line At The DMV, is all signed and sent off to the publisher. I am going through the manuscript to make sure it is in good order. I Still don't have a release date, but will post it when I know it. I hope to showcase a sneak peek at a few up in Portage. 
  • I have a few cover ideas for the book, including using artwork from my Facebook friend and St. Paul native, Walter Jack Savage. I love his work and would be ecstatic if the publisher chooses to use it in some form.
  • The Mama D's poetry series continues to roll. This coming Wednesday features Lisa Marie Brodsky reading from her book Motherlung as well as some of her other work. This series has become part of the duties of the poet laureate position. If you're a poet and interested in reading, please contact me.
  • I continue to submit poetry to various magazines and have a couple of contest entries that I am super hopeful about. These keep me going.
Lots going on. 

All of it good. 

If you get a chance, check it out.

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Fostering Future Literaries

Yesterday I took part in a Young Adult Writer's Conference at Carroll University, across the street from where I live. Last fall, a friend, Bob Goswitz, author of Dragon Soldier's Good Fortune, asked if I'd be interested in volunteering to help and I thought it sounded like fun. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I am always eager to help other writers succeed.

To put it in perspective, these are Middle School writers who chose to be there as an option. This weeded out the kids who wouldn't be engaged because they didn't want to be there, which makes it a little easier. There were 25 groups or so of 12-15 kids per group. It was a huge undertaking.

We started the day by gathering in the main auditorium for a keynote interview with a successful author of middle grade books, Ali Novak. She gave an inspiring talk on how she started by posting her work to WattPad and before she knew it she was getting hundreds of thousands of readers. She's written 4 books and she even has one that is being considered for making into a movie. Her success makes me look like a mere mortal.

From there we broke into our groups. I was tasked with trying to get to 10 different groups over the course of the 4 hours of writing time. The goal was to have each student get enough of a start on a story for entry into a group publication which would be printed and given to each student.

I have to admit it was an interesting study in watching how students work in 2019. Almost every student had an iPad and many had a cell phone as well. While most worked hard typing in their stories, I saw a few that were distracted by their phones or videos/websites on their iPads. Snapchat, Facebook and texting was all part of the underworld. These are distractions I never had as a kid. The closest I had was a passed note.

But as I said, the classrooms were focused for the most part. It was funny because some rooms were nearly dead silent, and others buzzed with the hopelessly distracted socialite kids. The whole day was a reminder that teachers are a special breed and I am not among that breed.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy working with the kids. There were some incredibly rewarding moments. Like with the three kids that asked me to read their work and give them feedback. I used the opportunity to give them praise where I saw good lines and correction where they needed it. And I have to tell you I was surprised at the quality of a couple of their pieces. Stories of zombies, body image as it relates to social acceptance, some poetry, kidnapping and jail and lots of others. Good stuff.

And then there was the moment when we were walking back to the auditorium and a little guy named Justin and I struck up a conversation. After a few minutes, he said, "Could I get your autograph?"

Well, shucks, sure kid!

I scrawled out a note that just encouraged him to keep writing. He said he'd always wanted an autograph from an author. It was sorta humbling.

At the end of the day, Bob Goswitz and I had a chance to go on stage and field some questions from the whole assembly of kids. They asked some great questions, despite the fact that Bob and I are essentially deaf and had to ask them to repeat each question. (Ambient noise didn't help, though.)
Post Conference Author Q & A with Landwehr/Goswitz

It was another day of sub-atomic micro fame as I like to call it. But this one was rewarding in ways I didn't expect. I came away feeling like if there is even one student in the group that came away with a passion for the craft, we'll have done our job.

I also wish I had this opportunity as a kid. What a great chance to soar. Who knows where I would be if I had that level of encouragement at that level?

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Trying Not To Act My Age

I write this from the home of my father and mother in-law's living room. We are here in small-town Gorham, New York for a 3 day visit with my wife's parents. It is a big trip, a 12 hour drive. We didn't make it back for the holidays and wanted to get back. Her mother is battling dementia and has good days and bad days.

I came into the weekend with great apprehension. Frankly, I was worried that she wouldn't remember me. There are days she doesn't remember her daughter or her husband. So, to bring "the son in-law" who she hasn't seen in over a year, I was expecting the worst. Couple that with some stories of her getting flustered and angry and, well, I had low hopes for the weekend.

Well, it has been a really good stay. Really good.

We have had some good laughs as a family. My mother in-law has been extremely pleasant to be around. Of course there are the repeated questions, "How old are your kids, now? How long does it take you to get here? Where do you live, again?" I also went from being Jim, to "the tall guy" to someone she didn't know or want to.

I knew these moments would happen and both my wife and I answer with politeness. We are here to enjoy her company and to love her. There are moments of great clarity and tenderness mixed in with those of confusion. Dementia is a horrible disease and something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

Then, last night we had dinner with a friend who went to college with my wife. I haven't seen her in nearly 29 years. She is a university professor with a specialty in deaf geography. (Studying the evolution of American Sign Language, from European to America. We had a nice dinner filled with laughter, reminiscing and catching up. We picked up where we'd left off.

But the weekend has reminded me of my mortality and my own aging as well. I've taken a couple of long walks down the country roads of my wife's hometown and it has caused a little introspection. As I passed her old house, I thought of the memories and times we had there with our kids and their cousins.

As I walked, Rod Stewart's song, Forever Young came on and I thought it was incredibly ironic given all that I'd been a part of over the past few days. None of us are getting younger. Yet, age is also a state of mind, and that is as important as any of it. Despite a few nagging owwies, I still feel young. And there were some great lyrics to the song.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you

-From, "Forever Young," by Rod Stewart.

Later, I got an ear worm from another band, the Chameleons. It is weird how these things come into my head, but again, the song had some poignant lyrics for my weekend.

Where are we?
First and last, bound together in our past
Much too cruel, much too fast
Much too quick to anger
I suppose, years ago, years ago
I might have known
I suppose
Years ago
Traps laid bare in my face
Said to keep me in my place
Waved goodbye to the child
and life it seems is colder
-From, "Thursday's Child" by, The Chameleons
So as I drive back to Wisconsin, I will have much to ponder. Not the least of which, is enjoying time with family when I can, taking care of my health and my spouse and making the big trip when the big trip needs to be made.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Creative State

I sometimes hear people say, "I'm not creative" or "My brain doesn't work the same way as creatives do." I am still trying to figure out if this declaration is legitimate or just a cop out, a sign of laziness.

And I think I've come to the conclusion, that it may be very similar to the thought that "I've never been good at math," a thought that I often fall back on. In my own situation, I can write a ten page paper without a second thought. 

But ask me to divide a fraction or figure out a decimal and you'll see a slow and steady glazing over of the eyes followed by a wrinkling of the nose. I remember looking at my son's calculus notebook in high school and instantly rocketing him to the status of genius, compared to his flunkie dad. Does my lack of math skill make me a bad person? No. Just gifted in different ways.

And I do mean gifted. I feel everyone has gifts in different things, and not just tangible skills like reading, writing, arithmetic, but even skills of the interpersonal or communicative sort. These skills carry as much weight in the real world as some of the head skills, IMHO.

Because of my involvement in my writing circles and my friend group, I am surrounded by creatives of all sorts. Just a few of them here:

Sara: is an artist that not only is a beautiful, loving person, but an artist whose gift of blending colors and lines is positively breathtaking. She experiments with mixing photography and paint and it makes for some stunning pieces. My idea of color blending in dark blue pants and a light blue shirt. People with an artistic eye like this see the world differently.

Mark: is a community theater actor/thesepian whose comfort level and confidence on stage almost precedes that of his real life. Something in him changes when he gets in front of the spotlight. He emotes, sings, dances and makes it all look easy. The thought of going up there like that sorta mortifies me.
Summer: is a writing colleague that has not only written half a dozen YA fantasy novels, but has written Fan Fiction that has seen sales levels that I can only dream about. This past week her numbers on Kindle surpassed 100,000 books sold, with 60,000 of those coming in the past year. Phenomenal. She is one of those people gifted with words for a compelling story and a knack for pushing out books. She gets it.

Nick: is a musician friend of mine that is proficient at multiple instruments. Guitar, harmonica, organ and drums. He's got a great voice and can write his way around a song better than most. This ability to play an instrument while singing is like trying to rub your belly and pat your head. I can barely listen to music and walk at the same time. Gifted beyond belief.

Brandon: is a photographer friend whose pictures rarely fail to drop my jaw. His knack for spaces, perspectives, shadow and light is nothing short of a gift. He sees things other people do not.

This list is not meant to leave others out. I know far too many to list. You know who you are. This short list though, does give a good feel for the breadth of styles that creativity can take.

Even cooler are those artists who are gifted at two forms. Many of my writing friends are not only  great writers, but really good artists. These hyper-creatives are from another planet, I think.

Creativity, like math skills, is something everyone is capable of, in my opinion. I think those that tap into it with curiosity and a desire to be better at it can become better at it. I also think that there are some people with innately better propensities for expression and creative output. It doesn't make the rest of us that don't any worse, but it sure helps me appreciate them even more.

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Working At It

So, I've been fairly quietly shopping around my latest poetry collection, Thoughts From A Line At The DMV, to various publishers. I had it out to 14 different small presses in two different forms, a full collection and a pared-down chapbook. A few of the submissions required a "reading fee" and a couple were contests. These are always exciting times once a submission  has been sent, a time of waiting and expectancy.

On Tuesday, I got an email with the subject "Kelsay Books acceptance." Now, it's hard to describe the excitement at seeing an email like that in my inbox. I opened it to opening lines which read:

"Thank you for your excellent poetry submission, Thoughts From A Line At The DMV. We would love to publish your book!"

Well, someone pinch me.

The details are very sketchy at this early stage, but I do know that it should be published sometime in 2019. I also know that Kelsay Books is a highly respected publisher of quality, beautiful books. I am lucky to be working with them. It is dreamlike.

I can say that the book is comprised of 50 poems and they are among some of my best. Many of them have been previously published in magazines and journals, which is always a selling point when marketing a full collection. There is a fair amount of humor, some serious bits and even a few sad ones.

Poetry to me has become my tool for becoming a better nonfiction writer. It forces me to be a minimalist with my words and allows for a whole lot more creativity than straight creative nonfiction. And for a guy who always said he really didn't consider himself a poet, well, I've scrapped that thought. I can't imagine not writing it at some level. It gives me a satisfaction just like my nonfiction does.

That's not to say it's all good. The other night I opened Microsoft Word with the intention of writing a poem and after 15 minutes and two crappy lines, I shut the computer off and went to bed. It just wasn't there.

And the next day I started to fret about "losing my edge," and oh my God, what if I never write another good poem again? The jig is up!

The following evening night I managed to write a heart wrencher that reminded me that everything has a time and a place. We all have our good days and our bad days.

So now I will be publishing my sixth book in 5 years as a writer - granted, four of them are poetry books, so that's kind of cheating. Frankly, I'm kind of at a loss to describe how good this makes me feel. It has boosted my confidence in myself as a writer and a person. None of it is for lack of effort, but I also owe it to my family and an incredible network of creative people around me. The encouragement I get from family and friends, energizes me and keeps me plugging. So, thank you. You know who you are.

At the same time, I'm working hard at it because I know time is short. None of us owns tomorrow, so I want to write like there is none. I still say this is the legacy the death of my brother Rob left to me. We need to live hard, love harder and take each day for the blessing it is.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Home Defined

This past week I received an email from an old neighbor that lived with us on Portland Avenue. He'd somehow come across my book, The Portland House. His letter was complimentary in nature. One of his quotes read,

"We laughed, we teared up, we learned a great deal about your family and our neighborhood."
"Home," then and now. Portland on left, College on right

Additionally it was filled with his own memories of the neighbors we had as well as some of his experience. I remembered most of the neighbors, but his experiences were his own. He went on to say he still lives in the area and thanked me for the look-back.

Then, I was asked to review a forthcoming book of poetry by, Vegetarian Alcoholic Press. The collection was about life in Appalachia. While the collection is well written, the thing that impressed me the most was a line about how the author had started a new life yet kept thinking about "home." One of the stanzas that caught my eye, reads:

"I sailed around the world only to find
that I am now the one left behind,
without an anchor, haunted
and homesick for a home

that no longer exists."

-from Solastalgia, by V.C. McCabe 

I think that description holds true for any of us. Home is both where we are right now and where we came from, not to mention where we will be.

But what jumped out was that we cannot go back. Our home, as it once existed, will never exist again. I realize this every time I drive past the house on Portland. The house is different, the neighborhood is different, the city is different.

Yet it will always be "home" to me. It obviously meant something to my old neighbor, as well. Our sense of home is something no one can take from us. We tend to romanticize it and see past the bad and there is nothing wrong with that. As I sit here in my Waukesha home, I am fully aware that my kids' "home" will soon be under the ownership of someone else. (Don't worry, it's a ways from being on the market. LOL)

So I hold it loosely and look forward to my next home. And I am certain there will be times when I'll be homesick for this "home" that no longer exists.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Running It Down

Things have been active and changing on the writing front these past few months. Winter seems to give me more time to write, submit, edit and stare off into space waiting for the next line. That last part is where I probably spend 50% of my "productive time."

Sometimes it only becomes apparent how many plates I have spinning when I step back and take a look at all that I'm doing. I tend to add things one at a time and before long they add up. Here's a rundown of all things written.

  • I was recently asked to be part of the Program Committee for the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. This committee organizes one of the bigger book conferences in the state. It looks like I'll be part of the Authors in the Schools portion of the committee, but it is also nice to be behind the scenes and have input on how the conference is constructed.
  • I was also asked to be the nonfiction judge for the Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring Contest. This will entail reading a number of manuscripts and picking a winner and some runner ups. It is something I've never done before, but I was honored to be asked. Things like these remind me that I have arrived, to a certain extent.
  • The book about my high school experience continues to move forward. I've slowed on the new content and am focusing on a good edit. I am probably about 60,000 words deep into it. I want to get it ready for my return to an AllWriters workshop. I've taken a couple of sessions off and it has given me time to recharge and focus a little more intently on poetry.
  • Along those lines, I am currently marketing my latest poetry collection to a number of publishers. This is a mix of nervous hopefulness. It is a full collection (about 45 poems) but I am also shopping a smaller version out as a chapbook. We shall see.
  • In the past two weeks I've had 5 different acceptances of my poetry in 5 different journals and magazines. This is about as good as it gets. 
  • The Portland House got a great review from Mary Ann Grossmann in the Saint Paul Pioneer Press today. Check it out here
  • I also had a nonfiction piece accepted by Story News, which is very exciting. This is a pair of parallel stories about racism and hatred in America over the past 50 years. 
  • In March I will be part of a Middle School young writers symposium at Carroll University. My friend Bob Goswitz set it up and I'm fuzzy on details, but it sounds fun!
  • In April I will be one of two featured poets in Portage Wisconsin as part of their Poetry In Portage series. Should be some decent exposure to a new region of the state.
  • I'm still carrying out my duties as Poet Laureate for the Village of Wales, Wisconsin. As part of that, I organize the Poetry Nights at Mama D's Coffee in Wales. We were fortunate to land Wisconsin's newest Poet Laureate, Margaret Rozga as the featured poet this coming Wednesday, February 20th. It should be a packed house!
  • Over the past few months I've read at a couple of Bards Against Hunger events. These feature poets who contributed to the Bards Against Hunger anthology and are designed to raise food and funds for local food shelters. I intend to set up one of these events for Mama D's in Wales for June or July of this year. They are a great cause. Poetry trying to change the world in a small way.
  • I've had a couple of nice emails and reviews about The Portland House from people that used to live in the neighborhood. It is always good to hear feedback about my books and I can't emphasize enough how much an Amazon review helps an author. 
  • I was part of an interview for Brain Hackers last week. They talked to me about my writing process a bit. I'll post a link when it is live.
So, yeah, there's a lot going on at the moment. I love all of it and wouldn't trade it for anything. There are days I feel like I'm running blindfolded through a cornfield though. 

But I will keep plugging.

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Happy To Be Here

So as a few of my last posts allude to, I am powering through this winter trying with all my might to make it through to ice-out so I can get my kayak back in the water and find my zen. It is a grueling stretch of winter for me and my better half. We have each other to laugh through the looming "Winter Storm Warning." so that counts for something.

On Tuesday we got another 8-10 inches or so. I woke up early as I often do the night after a storm and set to work on the driveway and walk. About 3/4 of the way through the process, I twisted wrong and blew out my oblique muscle. It is right below my rib cage on the back side and I knew it was bad when I did it.

I treated it with ice, Naproxen and an Epsom salt bath. It seems slightly better today, but I suspect the healing will take a while.

But the untold benefit of it was that even in my pain, I realize how good my life is and how lucky I am. My wife was nice enough to finish up the shoveling and followed up a time or two as the snow kept falling.

And while I realize this is no fun, I also know it will heal and I will be fine. There's others with chronic pain who will not heal, so I am fortunate. I will take my good health less for granted when I am back to full strength.
Me, being happy.

Also, while winter is bad, it too shall pass. I have a house with a furnace, two cars and all the modern conveniences a person could want. I am content. I absolutely do not take for granted that I am among the top 10% of the richest people in the world. THE WORLD. Most Middle Class Americans are. I work hard and hope I can bless others along the way. But I also know how easily it can be swept away and hope I would still retain my joy and sense of urgency about every day I am given.

The other night I got a random text from my son that simply read; "Goodnight Dad. Love ya!"

My kids seem to know the best times to drop reminders of how much I am loved. I love the fact that they make it a priority, even after not hearing from them for a series of days. We're all busy, but never should be too busy to send a three word text.

I'm one of those guys that can also honestly say I love my job. I work with great people and we all maximize the others' skills. It is energizing to be around young, motivated co-workers.

I don't know why this post went this way. There are days, more and more frequently, when I just look around at everything that life has given me and am incredibly awed by how fortunate I am to be a part of the world today. Oh sure, the times are not perfect - the world is full of problems - but there is a whole lot, a WHOLE lot of beauty, and joy, and positivity and happiness around us as well. And I try and tap into that every chance I can get. Because life is short and negativity is life sucking.

I wonder if these realizations aren't part of some sort of mid-life crisis or something? Or does everyone experience them? I remember I was happy at 30, but I'm not sure I was this wistfully happy about just being granted another day, one at a time. That must come with grey hair and an empty nest.

In any case I'm going to run with it. Because it's February and spring is just around the corner.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Grinding It Out

Well, it's finally happened. It's that time of year when I am officially done with winter. DONE. We had the most boring super bowl game ever and now with regards to sports, I have nothing to look forward to until next fall's football season. To add to that, the quirkiness of the weather we've had the past few weeks has pushed me right over the edge.

The problem is, we still have 38 days until the official 1st day of spring (March 20th.)

This seems entirely too long, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. When this time of year hits, I fall into my power-through-it mode.

Having said that there are some things I pledge to between now and then to get me through it.


  • Continue to drag myself out of bed in relative darkness, do my stretching, and drink my coffee as I plow through my workdays. Work is good. Well, it's warmer than my house, anyway.

  • Keep over dressing to almost clownish proportions at home on the cold days. This includes rotating through my 4 fleeces, wearing my Stormy Kromer hat at night to keep my head warm and a scarf. Yes, a scarf indoors. Looking good, I am sure. 
  • Skate to work on this godforsaken skating rink that we've been blessed with after the last freezing rain/ice storm. I'm waiting for the first big fall of the season, so stay tuned. 
  • Take my dog for extremely short walks. He looks at me and guilts me into taking him out into near zero weather. Most times we get to the end of the driveway and he stops, looks at me and says "Nah, I think I'm good." We went out on the ice yesterday and he was sliding all over the place. Good for a laugh if nothing else.
  • Drink tea. I don't drink a lot of tea from March to November, but in winter IT HELPS.
  • Take my Vitamin D. Sunshine in a pill. IT HELPS!
  • Stay as busy with activities in writing, poetry and church group activities as I can. They get me out of my chair/scarf/Kromer and keep me intellectually engaged.
  • Salting and shovelling as needed. However I am about three weeks from my give up point where I say, "It'll melt" and quit shovelling altogether. Everyone gets to that point.
  • Keep attending outdoor shows and watching fishing videos. It's hard to believe the lakes will ever thaw, but it happens I'm told. And when it does, I'll fish again. The Milwaukee Musky Expo is next weekend. I'm planning on it.
  • Continue to blog about how much I hate winter. Because, IT HELPS.
  • Keep checking out books from the library. Those late night hours (after it gets dark at 5:00) can make for some serious reading time. Just finished William Kent Krueger's book Thunder Bay and am currently working on Ram Dass' book, Grist for the Mill and, Grounded: Finding God In The World by Dr. Diana Butler Bass and The Sun magazine which I read cover to cover every issue.
  • Finish my binge-watching of Schitt's Creek on Netflix. I should pick a series every winter and plow through it like I've done with this one. Between it and NFL football, it is the sum total of my TV watching.
  • Ski. If we get another decent snowfall I may even cross-country ski one more time. Maybe, yeah. Unless its to cold/rainy/dark/warm/deep. So, maybe.

Before I know it, it will be March 20th. I keep telling myself this and I know it's much longer than that until "real spring" hits but IT HELPS.

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Home Pet Surgery Meets The Civil War

It has been a strange week of weather round these parts. We started with an 8 inch snowfall last Monday, followed by polar vortex 50 below wind chills mid week followed by 40+ temps for a few days, followed by a freezing rain/ice storm.

I mention it because it is how our discussion began over coffee this morning with my coffee buddies. As I've mentioned, we meet every Thursday, as an informal book study, one that sometimes doesn't get to the book at all. In fact as a preparatory text last night Claude, the guy who kind of rallies folks every Wednesday evening, said that Thursday's discussion would be Chapter 4 which was mandatorily optional. That's sort of how we roll.

For no one reason, I really love this hour of the week. I love the randomness and the deep thinking and the laughter that it brings. It's like scrolling through Twitter for an hour, but way better.

Today's discussion took a winding road. We went from the weird weather to:

One of the guys' books that was beat up and highlighted in complete with worn pages. He said he bought it on Amazon in "Good" condition. We agreed it was good compared to maybe the other books in the basement that this one was in with. That led to,

  • the same guy saying that during the cold weather last week he looked out his window to see his a house burning in his subdivision. That led to,

  • Claude speculating that it was a fire caused by dryer lint. He said you can buy endoscopes to see through dryer vents. That led to,

  • Randy saying that you could probably do home pet surgeries using the endoscopes. That led to,
  • Me saying, "We're only looking for a few polyps, Toby." Which led to,
  • Someone redirecting our attention back to the book. We talked about Monastic life and how people are leaving organized church and religion in record numbers and why was that? Which led to,
  • Each of us speculating about our kids and how we brought them up through the church, but at some point you have to let them go and be themselves and hope that some of it stuck. This led to,
  • Someone else directing us to how the language of this book, written in the '70s was changed in subsequent editions to take out the '70s colloquialisms like the "far outs" and "heavy". This led to,
  • Nick, the guy with the 70s copy saying that he never understood why books written in a dialect needed to be neutered or changed. That they were a reflection from the period. Which led to,
  • Me asking if that is similar to tearing down statues of Robert E. Lee in order to rewrite history. (I was playing devil's advocate). This practically raised a guy out of his chair when he said,
  • Lee, like Benedict Arnold was treasonous and you don't see a lot of Benedict Arnold statues around. His point was that while the statue is gone, the history of both men is still there. It is just not adored of idolized. Which led to,
  • Me mentioning that I'd been to Stone Mountain which has a huge high relief etching on it of Robert E. Lee on it, and how do we erase that? Which led to,
  • Claude saying how he'd melted a camera while photographing something in his foundry one day.

And on and on. 

Stone Mountain - Georgia

It is a caffeine-fueled, philosophical, goofy, challenging, mind-bending, working out of the world's problems, personal issues, political corruption and spiritual growth all rolled up in the name of a book study. 

It's the best hour of the work week. 

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Cooking 101

Last night as part of my wife's corporate holiday party, we were treated to a cooking class at Braise restaurant in Milwaukee. For those that don't know, my wife works at Purple Door Ice Cream in Milwaukee. It is owned by two of the coolest people going, Lauren and Steve Schultz. Every year as a recognition to their staff, they have a post-holiday party of sorts to recognize the hard work of their staff.

So when it was announced that this year we would be spending the evening in a class where we learned how to cook a couple of appetizers which we would then eat, I was both intrigued and a little mortified.

You see, I'm not much of a cook.

Oh, I can get by and am capable of the basics, but as a rule, it is really not my thing. I can do it, but to me it is drudgery and work. I know it's weird, but it has never been something that "relaxes me" like it does for my wife.

Well, at the class, there were six cooking stations with 3 people to a station and a chef up front doing all the instructing. We were going to make two Asian dishes. 1. Fried Pot Stickers and, 2. Spring Rolls. I was at a station with my wife and her brother and his partner. Somehow they agreed that I should do most of the up front work, as it would be good to learn.

And I know it is completely stupid and unfounded, but I was worried and a little stressed out about it. I didn't want to mess up, and I knew I was beside a couple of amazing cooks (my wife and Jake) and an amazing baker (Mark). Me, well, I do a really good grilled cheese - when I'm not burning it.

Well, thankfully these sessions are extremely well scripted. And, also thankfully, you can drink beer while you're cooking. For starters, all the ingredients were set before us ahead of time, in the amount they were to be used.

Then, he talked us through everything and I had big help from the two cooks to my left. Once I got into the swing of things, the anxiety went down and I actually found it kind of interesting. At the same time, it is very much like art, in that you have to know what goes well with what, as well as a good idea of what the end result will taste (or look) like. At one point he was squeezing limes into a spring roll mix to introduce acid into the mix to do something or other. That's the kind of stuff I wouldn't intuitively do, though could probably learn over time.

We got to eat our dishes and both of them were really, really delicious.

It was a great time with some fun people. I could almost see myself taking to cooking more if I took some more classes in it. I would likely be treading on my wife's territory though, as she sort of takes over a kitchen. I will be completely honest, I was well aware of her cooking savvy when we married and I haven't regretted one minute of it.

Even if it has perhaps squelched my own experimentation with cooking.

And on a related note, it is really cool to see my kids Sarah and Ben both starting to get into cooking in a big way. Ben will actually cook meals at his apartment and sell them to his roommates. It is a win-win for both. Sarah and Sam are also into it including getting a few knives and pans for Christmas gifts, because they like it so much.

Food is the great unifier. And last night I learned it can be a lot of fun.

Blogging off...