Sunday, July 14, 2019

On Deck

I've been thinking a lot lately about what's next from a writing standpoint. I realize I have two forthcoming poetry books, Thoughts From A Line At The DMV, and Genetically Speaking and ,another major memoir in the works, but like any good writer, I'm always looking ahead.

Of course finishing memoir #3 is first on the agenda. The Cretin book is at 65,000 words or so, and just in need of some attention and commitment. I may have sent it to its room for misbehaving. I'll let it out when I've had a chance to step away for a bit. It's going to be quite good, but right now I'm thinking the book and I should see other people. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all that.

While I don't want to commit just yet, my ideas are threefold.

My first idea is to write another memoir about Milwaukee, my move to it and the life I've built once I got here. It would be in large part a book about moving away from Minnesota, finding out who Jim really is, establishing a career, and my blooming relationship and eventual marriage to Donna. I've already got a couple of stories started there, stories that could serve as standalone stories if I decide to start submitting them.

The book would certainly give me plenty of material and thus is my first choice. All I need to do is start hacking away and see what happens. If it becomes something, I'll follow through with it. If not, I might have some decent stand alone stories.

My second idea would be to re-work my uncle Jack's book and try and get it published as a co-authored book. It is an intriguing idea, but would take a whole lot of work, with all of it being in the fiction genre, which is not my area of great experience.

And finally, my other thought is to work on an entirely new fiction novel. Not having done much fiction writing though, this one seems the most daunting of all. It would probably be a dark humor sort of novel - possibly science fiction with a humorous twist. Lots of possibilities.

So, like an unfocused kid, I can't keep my train of thought on any one of those for very long. I think I will just start hacking away at #1 and see where it goes for now.

I've often said my only regret is not starting my writing sooner in life. Now I'm trying to catch up for lost time and writing like a maniac.

And that's a good place to be. At least for me.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Coffee And Lightning

As usually happens at my Thursday coffee discussions with my buddies at a local coffee shop, the conversation took twists and turns that one couldn't have predicted if they tried.

In this particular case, the conversation started at a discussion of reparations for Native and African Americans, but ended with a discussion of hearing the voice of God.

It was a winding path, to say the least. I can't recreate the thread that got us on to that topic, but it was an interesting one indeed. Basically, one of the guys said that if the Bible is the only way some people say we hear from God, does that mean He's not talking to those people, or are they just not attributing a moment, an experience or an emotional reaction to perhaps being the voice of God. The whole discussion started on the topic of the Originalists with regards to the Constitution and went on from there.

But the best part about the conversation was how these two guys and I all told stories of our artistic pursuits, music, art and writing that led us to have either emotional reactions or a feeling of unwarranted inspiration. The question for all of us was, was that God moving in some form? The answer is, who are we to say it isn't? If you put God in a small box and say He doesn't operate that way, then, you're talking about a different god than me, (and my friends would probably agree.)

We talked about our old days as more conservative people of faith when we had God (and God's word) boxed up pretty tight, mostly out of fear of the lightning bolt. (Some of which still exists, mind you.) We joked a little about the days when a friend said they didn't like to do Christian book studies because it was just someone else's thoughts about God, and why shouldn't we just stick to scriptures?  (Wow, okay)

We kick around our understanding of the Bible and all of its good and bad. We talk extensively with both reverence and a bit of healthy questioning about what the "Good Book" really is and should be used for. Because none of us claims to know what it really is, and most are a little scarred by the way it was used to drub us in the past. We know its good, but we also know it can be used for harm. {Waits for the lightning bolt...}

I could go on and on, but the crux of my story is these guys, every Thursday, help me work things in the world out. We talk politics, world issues, religion, family life, art, and pretty much anything else. I would say it never ceases to go way deeper than any conversations I have the rest of the week. And for one hour a week, I am challenged to look at my faith, my country, my world and myself.

And I've said it before, it is one of the best hours of my week.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Genetically Speaking

While I don't have too many memories about my dad, I do have several of my stepfather, Jack. He and my mom dated for nearly 10 years before they married in 1979. While he was by no means a perfect father, (I mean, who is?) he was all I had growing up, with maybe the exception of a few father figures that played various roles in my upbringing.

Perhaps Jack's most redeeming quality was his sense of humor. He was nicknamed Happy Jack because of it. It carried over into his drinking where he was known as a happy drunk. (Believe me, I've seen both happy and mean drunks, and I'll take a happy one any day.)

But his sense of humor was what carried him through life. It made him more tolerable and someone whom people loved to be around. I credit much of my own lightheartedness to him. One of his famous phrases was "Not to worry," said with a hint of an Irish accent. I use that as my mantra most days of the week.

I bring Jack up because this past week, I had a poetry manuscript accepted for publication. It is centered on the theme of Fatherhood and is a product of a 30 poems in 30 days contest that took place in April. As part of the contest, we submitted our final 30 poem manuscript for judging. Mine took an Honorable Mention so was offered for publication as a chapbook (chapbook = a short collection of poems).

Frankly, I am ecstatic about it because as a collection about fatherhood, it is intensely personal yet, I feel it will resonate with practically anyone who has had (or been) a father. (Which about covers the whole world, right?)

In the book, I look at Fatherhood from all different angles including stepfathers, fathers in-law, godfathers, father figures and would-be fathers. Of course I build in plenty of my own fathering experience, having recently entered the empty nest phase of life.

The book was incredibly inspirational for me, causing great introspection as I wrote it. My experience as a young boy with the death of my natural father and the introduction of a stand-in surrogate for 10 years, then formal stepfatherhood provides plenty of diversity in my reflections. It was both healing and revealing for me, and not all the poems are happy-shiny fun. Some are raw and tough to chew. But the sum total of these makes for an interesting collection that I think people will love.

So, stay tuned as I await publication time frames and details. This will be my 5th poetry collection and my 7th overall book. And like all of the rest, I feel it's important and represents stories I think need to be told.

And I can't wait to see it in print.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 30, 2019

You Can See Kansas From Here

We had what some people might call a weather event here on Thursday.

It happened right after work and I was going to try and sneak a ride in before the rain came. I could see the skies were dark to the west, but that always happens. I really look forward to my rides, so was determined to get one in quick.

As I went west down College Avenue, the dark cloud covered the entire western horizon. It had a definite front line to it, so I thought I'd go to the edge of that front line and then turn around.


Well, every block I got closer to the death cloud the more I began to think I love my wife and kids and I should probably turn around. This cloud looked different. Menacing. So, I didn't even reach the bike trail and decided to double back.


I got my bike in the basement and within 10 minutes we had us a good old whippin' going. I've only seen wind come up that fast one other time. In 1998 we had straight-line winds blow through the city that had a similar intensity. That one was different in that it had a definite sound to it. The old saying "It sounded like a freight train," held true for that storm of '98. I see where everyone gets the correlation now.

This one didn't have a sound, but I was able to witness the whole thing. The storm of '98 was spent in the basement, because the sirens were going off. To watch the trees shake and bend and twitch like they did this year was pretty frightening. Wind speeds were estimated at 60 MPH.

Then, when I noticed our planters were tipped over and running the risk of blowing away, I opened the door to grab them. The door ALMOST got ripped right off the hinges...along with my arm, I might add. I've never experienced wind that strong. When I asked Donna to help me, she couldn't because she was fighting to close the porch door to keep the dog (who was going ballistic) at bay. But because the open screen door was creating such a vacuum, she had to pull with all her might to get it closed. It literally took both hands and all my strength to close the door once the planters were in.

The two of us looked at each other and said, "What just happened?" After we'd secured everything we had a good laugh, but there was a moment there when I was channeling the Wizard and Dorothy.

As it turns out our immediate area was among the hardest hit in this part of the state. Carroll University had a number of trees down and a few electric poles were bent to unsafe angles, to say the least.

It was all over in an hour or so, and the cleanup and post-mortem began in earnest. Carroll University had kids and staff out there picking up branches, rerouting traffic, etc. The city had work crews clearing trees and closing streets off immediately following. Police and fire were super responsive as well. It was a testament to the community's ability to work together.

Lucky for us, we only lost one major branch. Our neighbors weren't so lucky but it could have been worse.

The whole event was an unpleasant reminder of how loosely we should hold onto things.

Because at any given moment, the wind could blow it all away.

For more Photos click here.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Prairie's Own Companion

My son has taken a summer job working for an environmental lab in Madison. It is a full time gig for the whole summer and involves working underneath a graduate student working toward his PhD. The job is a perfect fit for Ben as he is an environmental science major. This work is right up his alley.

The job near as I can tell, involves two days a week in the field collecting data and samples in a large prairie owned or leased by the University of Wisconsin. The area is near Viroqua, nearly an hour drive from campus. They are studying prairie plants, insect and animal life and the impact of various practices and climactic changes upon them. For instance they do controlled burns on some areas to see if that helps or hinders seed growth, output etc.

So as part of it, he frequently sends messages to us via text with pictures of the things he's encountering. Suffice it to say, it makes a desk job look as boring as heck. And while I know it's not all daisies and fields of gold - there are bugs and heat and poisonous plants - I do envy his experience a great deal. The closest thing I had to that was an archeology field school at the U of M where we were digging up the foundation of a house from the early 1800's.

In any case, as you can see from the pictures, it's pretty spectacular. Having just been in the driftless area a few weeks ago, I can testify to the awesome serenity of the place. It looks like he is enjoying time away from the bricks and mortar of campus life.

As with my daughter who is in her first "real job" at the University of Minnesota's Supercomputing Institute, I am elated to see my kids getting real-life experience and enjoying it along the way. It is setting the stage for a career path for both, or at least a good stepping stone to something else. It seems like it was just yesterday when I was in their shoes, stepping into my first job.

I realized how lucky we are to have these opportunities and am grateful that I've got kids who look for them.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Pedaling For Life

I have enjoyed biking pretty much my whole life. Ever since my sister Pat taught me how when I was seven or eight, I've always liked the sense of freedom and wandering that a bike provided. I've written short stories and poems centered around the pleasure of pushing pedals.

My first bike was a gold stingray knock-off that my mom got at a Super America gas station, I think. I loved the bike with its 20 inch tires, metallic gold flecked paint and a banana seat. Unfortunately, a year or so after I got it someone stole it virtually right in front of me. A couple of teenagers were walking down the street, one on a bike, one not. The one walking just hopped on my bike while I was playing in the yard and they both sped off. It was an early lesson in how people are capable of brazen theft and meanness.

A couple of years later, I got a much bigger bike, a 26" 3 speed Huffy. It was a big, geeky bike that I made geekier by adding a battery operated headlight, odometer and a flag to the back. I was always jealous of other kids' cool bikes, but Mom always said, rightfully so, that I was too big for a bike like that. This was a much better fit.

Ever since those days I have owned a bike of one vintage or another. I've also owned a heavy lock as well. One doesn't make that mistake twice in a lifetime.

My current bike is a Trek mountain bike that I have grown to love. However, I am beyond the years where a lot of trail-crashing off roading seems appealing. I think if I were to get another bike, it would be a cross-bike - a hybrid between a mountain bike and a road bike. Get me to work and out on the paved trail, but keep me in an upright riding posture as well.

Today I went down and watched a little of the bike races in downtown Waukesha. It is a sport I enjoy watching but never aspired to do. I am not a group rider. I am not a team rider. I ride alone and I ride to be alone. I told some friends once, I don't even like to say "On your left," when passing a rider. I ride to think, to be introspective and to relax. Having someone pacing me or cheering me on is not what I need. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

But watching these guys gave me an appreciation for all the training and discipline they have to partake in. It's a grueling sport of speed and finesse and position. I give them credit, they're better people than me.

And I'm okay with my 10 mile rides after work. It keeps me sane.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Keep On The Sunny Side

So I achieved a bit of a writing milestone this week.

For a while now, I've been trying to get published in one of my favorite magazines of all time, The Sun.  A few years ago when they were only accepting submissions by mail I sent a story or two only to get polite rejections back by mail a few months later.

More recently they have started taking digital submissions for their issues. This makes the submission process much easier, though I am guessing it makes the acceptance percentage much lower. Most of these magazines get hundreds if not thousands of submissions for each "Call for Submissions." Because of this their rejection or, "slush pile" as it is called, probably gets much bigger.

The Sun features a section called Readers Write, devoted to a topic that is structured entirely around readers' stories. Most of these stories are only two to four paragraphs long and take different twists on the theme at hand.

The topics are posted months in advance of the publication date which allows the editors to filter through the submissions. The theme for July of 2019 was "Smoking," so I thought I had the perfect story for it. Click here to link to the story.

So, I typed my submission and sent it in. Because I am submitting my work to multiple places at a time, I sort of forgot that I had sent this one in. It happens.

Then, on Monday of this week, my wife got the mail and said "Why are you getting a manila envelope from The Sun?" I wasn't sure, frankly, so I opened it up to two copies of the magazine and a note informing me that my piece, had been accepted and I was awarded a free year to my subscription! I remembered that I had submitted the article and I can't say how happy it made me.

Now, it was a short article, and not a feature story. But when you look up to a publication, like I do to The Sun, it's sort of a big deal as a writer. It's a decent source of validation for me. I am probably making more of it than I should, but hey, cut a guy some slack.

My next step, I guess is getting a full featured story into it. I've got a few ideas, but no time at the moment. It would only be like the biggest accomplishment of my writing life to have it happen, so I think I have to keep trying.

I have a bunch more submissions out and about, so I hold hope that they will get recognized.

But for the moment, I'm going to rejoice in this one a bit. Maybe I'll even celebrate with a cigarette.

Blogging off...



Sunday, June 16, 2019

Fathered By Inspiration

My Dad and Mom. 
I thought it might be relevant to post a poem for Father's Day. I'd recently taken part in a 30 day "Poem a Day Challenge" where I'd chosen the theme of Fatherhood. I figured I'd go back to that collection and pull one from it.

As I sifted through the 30 poems, the emotions were a little all over the place. The whole exercise at the time was fairly revealing about some deep seated perspectives of the various fathers in my life, as well as my own experience. Having been away from the collection for a couple of months, it was weird looking back through them.

Father in Law, Dick

They were about my three fathers, blood, step and in-law. Each hits their own nerve or dredges up feelings of joy and angst.

There is even reference to my mother-as-father as well as other "fill ins" like older siblings, uncles and the like. When you don't have a steady father, you tend to find other ways to fill that void. And finally there are a few that address others in my life who have lost a father.
My stepfather, Jack and Mom
And I am waiting to see if that collection wins/places/shows in the contest that comes after they were all written and submitted.

The thing is, if they don't I have a decent feeling that they will get published elsewhere. It is too relevant and universal of a topic to not have broad appeal. Not to mention I think some of these are really strong works. They certainly came from within and from the heart. I can't wait to find a home for them. I think they need to breathe.
My whole heart.

To be sure, some of them cut to the core. I don't mince words, when maybe I would have in the past. But I think that's what makes a good poem a better one. As I said, I was a little taken aback looking back through them. Some real hurt coupled with tons of joy and good moments.

So on this Father's day I'll be spending it with my wife and son serving ice cream at the Purple Door Flavor Contest in Milwaukee. And I will appreciate every moment with him - as I do these days - recognizing that neither of us is getting any younger. I can only say that being a dad is the biggest legacy I can claim to leave the world, namely two great kids. I am filled with pride every time I speak their names. I love you Sarah and Benjamin.

Here is one that speaks to that.

114 Reasons I Love Being A Dad               

I saved a school assignment of
my daughter’s that reads
114 Reasons My Dad is Super

It ranges from the obvious
He reads to me.
He nice.
He takes me to the park.

To the hearfelt
He dances with me
He’s a speisal dad
He takes care of me

To the admittedly hilarious
My dad sings in the sower
My dad fixed our toilit.
He reads adult books.

And even downright fabrications
He makes me cookies (Lie! Ask my wife)
He jogs with me (I did?)
Dad feet smell. (Hey!)

These 114 memories of hers are
now memories of mine and serve
as a reminder that the days are
long and the years short.

Never underestimate your
actions as a parent

they are watching.


Blogging off...

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Rebel Without A Bike

A buddy of mine recently joined a motorcycle gang. Well, it's not what you think. The gang is titled Rebels On A Mission (ROAM). The group is centered around advocating for kids that have been bullied. I didn't get to talk to him at great length about it, but it sounds like they seek out kids that have been bullied or physically abused in school or at home.  Then they will do things like escort them to school on their motorcycles or other protective things.

They recently had a call for a used (pedal) bike donation so they could give away bikes to inner city youth at an event later in June.

It is a great cause, but it got me thinking about a motorcycle again. My brother recently sold his Harley Davidson, and so the subject keeps coming up. I used to ride a lifetime ago, though my bikes were all small, Japanese things, Hondas and Yamahas.

Tall man on a little bike!
And while I haven't ridden in years, I won't go so far as to say I'll never ride again. I used to REALLY love the feeling of freedom I had on a bike, the wind in my hair, when I had it. Yes, I know they're dangerous. I still stand by the argument that anyone who says, they won't ride because it's dangerous has probably never experienced the exhilaration of riding one. Because there are some dangerous things in a lot of things we do, one just has to weigh the price.

A few of my old friends still ride. One who used to own a Japanese bike back in the day finally  bought a Harley that he'd always wanted about 10 years ago. I give him credit for following through. And while I don't necessarily have to have a Harley, I would consider a large imported bike or maybe an Indian or Victory motorcycle.

Of course any pursuit of that aging dream will probably have to wait until I retire. There's still too much on the line to risk it.

But there are days when it sure would feel good.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Slaying Dragons

I gave a presentation at Muskego High School last Tuesday. The daughter of my ex-boss is in charge of the Media Center and recommended my books to a teacher of Applied Composition an English elective for seniors. She gave the kids three options for memoirs to read, one was Lucky Bastard by Joe Buck, there was my book Dirty Shirt and there was a third one. Six of the students chose Dirty Shirt and so the teacher asked if I would be willing to come in and talk about the book.

Now, any time I have an audience where people took the time to buy, then read my book, I always jump at the chance. This is how you build an audience, but for me its as much about the personalization that comes with knowing an author. I know the readings I've gone to with some big authors have allowed me to put a face and a personality to the book. That takes the author/reader relationship to another level, in my opinion.

So I brushed off my PowerPoint presentation for the book, updated it and brought it into the classroom. There were probably 18-20 students whose attention I had for 50 minutes. I ran through the slides and inserted my jokes, stories and reading snippets throughout the presentation. I also showed the book trailer that we made for the book five years ago (Yikes!).

I can only say I was very, very impressed with the level of attention and engagement I had with the students. They were quiet, respectful and courteous. (And no one fell asleep, a bonus.)

But what occurred to me is how far I've come with regards to presenting in front of a group. What once struck the fear of God in me is now just another gig. As I've been forced to do it more and more with both of my books and my poetry, it has become much more natural and relaxed for me.

Sure there are anxious moments here and there, but overall, it is almost always a very positive experience for me. Part of it is being hyper-prepared. I always have a script or PowerPoint to go from and I work through the event in my head before taking the podium. Then, as with most of my public persona, I try and lighten things with a little humor. It warms up the audience and lets them know that this will be no TED talk, but it will be a lot of fun.

So while this may seem like a little thing to any of you who are energized or super proficient at public speaking, know that it is a huge thing for me. I still feel I am an introvert even though my wife claims I have moments of ambivert in me. For me it still takes everything in me to get up there and talk.

In the past, when the presentation was over, I was usually drained. That has changed a bit to where I am now almost a little energized. That is a huge shift for me.

At the same time, while I may seem totally comfortable talking to people, I am much more in my element alone on my laptop with my ear buds in writing the story I am telling you about. I fully realize though that the public speaking part of the craft is completely necessary and I'm committed to doing it the best I can.

It's a dragon I will slay, one talk at a time.

Blogging off...


Sunday, June 2, 2019

Driftlessly Appealing

It has been a whirlwind week of travelling for me. After a two day conference in Eau Claire, Donna and I took a vacation in the Driftless Area of Southwest Wisconsin. For those unfamiliar, this is a hilly region of the state that was "missed" by the last glacial period. It is one of those areas I've only really visited once or twice, and then it was just to go camping at Wildcat Mountain and Canoeing down the Kickapoo River.


In a nutshell, the place is absolutely stunning. Hills, coulees and valleys are dotted with idyllic agricultural vistas, horse and cattle in pastureland and lots and lots of streams. There is a fairly high Amish population in the region and it was so cool to see them farming using a team of horses and a sit-plow/tiller. The area was green, and lush, and fertile. Frankly the whole place gave me a sense of hope and made me ashamed of the whole concept of mega farm agribusiness. I know these places are not the norm, nor could they feed large populations, but it sure seems like they're doing everything right. The cows looked happy.

The proprietor of the cabin we stayed in said there are over 250 miles of Class A streams in the driftless region. Now, I'm not a trout fisherman, but with all of the Class A Trout streams in the area, I had to give it a try.

So, I took my non-trout fishing ultralight rod and spinning reel out yesterday with the goal of catching a fish. One fish would have been one more than I expected. Trout are hard to catch, and stream fishing is difficult and tricky.

Well, I successfully landed 5 fish and lost a couple more. A couple of the ones I managed to bag would have made a good meal, but alas, I am a catch and release guy. If I knew more about how to prepare them, I'd have given it a go, but I had no bag, nor a stringer. As I said, I'm not a trout fisherman.

But the whole experience was so much fun. I think of trout fishing as a "thinking man's fishing." It takes a special breed to strap on waders an whip a fly rod hundreds of times to catch the elusive trout. But that same challenge makes catching one even more special. I did all of my fishing from shore, but I think I still would like to learn how to fly fish and see what the secret is. I've done most every other kind of freshwater fishing, so maybe it's time.

I do know that I've fallen in love with a new part of the state. The resort we stayed at was the Kickapoo Valley Ranch near La Farge, Wisconsin. The host Cowboy Joe was gracious and helpful. His partner Cowboy David, is a baker and makes phenomenal cookies, among other bakery. I can't say enough good about the place.

To top off the trip, we had dinner at the Driftless Cafe in Viroqua. I have one word of advice. GO! I had the beef tenderloin with potatoes, gravy and kale and it was off-the-hook! Certainly one of the top five meals I've ever had dining out. I enjoyed it with a traditional Wisconsin Old Fashioned that was dang good too.

All in all, it was a really cool couple of days. It is hard to put into words what the experience meant to me. Some quality quiet time with my favorite travelling partner, Donna. It's trips like these that rejuvenate a marriage - a reminder of why we chose each other.

They are also a reminder that it's good to be alive.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 23, 2019

North Of Wausau

In a matter of minutes I will be heading north to go fishing with a couple of longtime fishing buddies. It's hard to describe how happy this makes me. It has been a brutal winter and a not-so-nice spring, so this entry into God's country is well timed.

The species of the day will be Smallmouth Bass, though, like most good fishermen, we will take whatever will bite. There will be much smack-talk, a little solving of world problems and an adult beverage or two along the way.

It is my absolute happy place. Sprinkle some of my ashes up there if I don't make it back. (JK!)

Blogging off...


Sunday, May 19, 2019

Small Things

Ed Werstein
Yesterday I was part of a gathering of poets in Riverwest. It was an event called the Bards Against Hunger. It is a Wisconsin version of the movement that was started in New York.

The story behind it is the Bards Against Hunger solicited poems about hunger and poverty from poets all over the U.S. It turns out a large number of poets from Wisconsin submitted poems to the anthology. Through some connection with the editor, Ed Werstein a poet from Milwaukee felt moved enough to take on the task of creating a Wisconsin anthology for the Bards Against Hunger.

I submitted a couple of poems, and the poem, The Guest House, was accepted for publication. While it is nice to have my poem in a book, there is an even greater cause to it.

Ed has made it a point to hold several readings around Southeastern Wisconsin where the contributing poets are invited to read their work. As part of the reading, the poets and the people in the audience are asked to bring either 3 food items or make a small donation. The collected food and money then goes to a local food bank or pantry.

This was my third time reading at one and it was as moving as the other two. The organizer mentioned that over $200 and two bags of food donations were raised through contributions and book sales. I realize this isn't a big deal. At the same time, it IS a big deal. I love the idea of people coming together for a cause, big small or otherwise.

People might say poetry can't change the world, but I would argue different. Yesterday was a small example of a group of people trying to impact the city in a small way. In a conversation with one of the poets there, she said something to the effect that she noticed poets always seem to gravitate toward social issues and social justice. I said I think it's due in part to the empathetic nature of poetic people.

I think there is an element of compassion that goes into writing poetry, and that compassion organically comes out in our actions toward others as part of our common humanity. Maybe I'm making more of it than it is, but I've seen it time and time again. Just this week I talked with Truth Thomas, a famous poet living in Washington DC who has written about social justice - especially with regards to racial relations, and he and I concluded that as a culture and a country, we have to do better. It was a refreshing email discourse.

So, while this is small, small things add up. With as many issues in the world it's hard to find hope. But I find some solace in doing one small thing at a time in hopes that it can have an impact.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Corporate Laddering

So my daughter got her first "real" job out of college this week. She will be working for the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute at the University of Minnesota. It was one of two U of M jobs she interviewed for last week. She was offered both, and took this one, as it seemed more challenging and like a better fit. As a parent, there is nothing more satisfying than the sound of your kid getting a job. (A paraphrase from a friend.)

That first job after an education is always the hardest. Convincing a potential employer that you are better than the part time job you're currently working is the tricky part. Once you do that and successfully land a job in a career field, you have a leg up as you begin to build experience. You're "in the system" so to speak. It's all skill building and networking after that.
My friend Bill in the CADD room at Intelligraphics Inc. in 1988

My first job out of college was not nearly as lucrative as my daughter's, but it was equally rewarding. I was dating a girl who saw an ad for a mapping job that paid $5.00/hr. I was making more than that at Montgomery Wards, but I saw it as a great opportunity to get some experience.

My friends thought I was a little out of my mind to take a job for so little out of college. They were probably right, but I have not one regret about that job, and here's why.


  • I loved the work. At the time Markhurd Corporation was doing a lot of Department of Defense mapping for the Federal Government. I was manually augmenting contour maps for a warm place in the Middle East where political tensions were high. (Iran). It was the manual process on the front end of a resulting 3D digital map.  
  • It provided the experience I needed to get the next job I got in Wisconsin, doing digital mapping. It didn't pay much more, but as I always told people, I loved mapping so much I joked that I'd do it for free. That job got me the next job and the next one, etc.
  • It grew my network of fellow Geographers. In fact it was one of the guys from Markhurd that gave me the lead on the job in Wisconsin. He and I ended up working three different mapping jobs together, Markhurd, Intelligraphics, and SEWRPC.
Having been blessed with working in a field that I went to school for - a longshot field, at that (Geography) - I am a huge advocate for people doing something for the love of it rather than the money. As the saying goes, if you do it for the love, the money will follow. 

With almost 35 years of experience in the field of Mapping and GIS, I can say that that saying is nothing short of truth. Because, while doing something you love for little pay is nice, a little cushion is even better.

Blogging off...

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mother Love

So, it's Mother's Day, and I am reminded again how lucky I am to still have my mom around. She is 86 and still going strong. I know this because I called her three times last week and she wasn't home. When I finally talked to her last night on the phone to wish her happy mother's day, she said that last week was so busy! She had cards on Monday night, work on Tuesday, cards with church on Wednesday and book club somewhere in there, too. While I talked to her, she was talking to a neighbor about bringing the brats to the cookout. On the go again, so we had to cut our conversation a little short.

It's funny, but it reminded me of the Harry Chapin song Cats in the Cradle. "When you coming home Dad, I don't know when. We'll get together then." (I joked about this all the time with my kids when they would go out with their friends instead of staying home with the parents.)

But don't get me wrong, I'm not saying her busy lifestyle is a bad thing. Frankly, I think it is awesome. It is something to strive for. Forget wanting to be "Like Mike." I want to be like Mary when I get old.

When I was at a preparing for retirement seminar a few years back, they said the single most important thing in retirement is staying engaged socially. It is key to keeping mentally sharp and fundamentally engaged and happy. Well, if that's the case, Mom's going to live forever.

There are many stories of mom's thoughtfulness - too many to count - but one in particular comes to mind. After Donna and I were engaged, we got a small apartment on the East side of Milwaukee. Donna was still out in New York, and I was trying to settle our apartment. Mom and my sister Jane drove down to visit me. When they showed up, she had brought a braided rug, a wastebasket, some cleaning supplies and a few other household items. "It's a housewarming gift, sorta," she said.

Now one would say that any mother would do this, and maybe that is true. I only know that as the "kid that moved away," I had done life on my own and was stubbornly independent. So it meant a ton that she would travel 300 miles to help me and my fiance start our life together. It was proof that you can be a 28 year old adult, but you're still someone's kid. And family is family. You help each other.

If you know my story, or have read my books, you know the background behind my mom and our family. She faced a lot of adversity as a young mother and it fueled her will to persevere and raise us despite it all. When I think of the grief I went through losing my brother, it makes me even more cognizant of her strength to carry on.

And while she had help along the way from my stepfather and other family, there were still incredible stresses she faced when none of them were around. If you ask her how she did it she will say it was her faith, and I can't deny anyone that claim. I would add that she was just doing her best as a mother to set the bar for the rest of us to stretch toward.

I can only hope to do half as much for my own kids.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Postpartum Impressions

It is an interesting time in our lives with both of the kids being out of the house. Things are quieter around here lately, that is usually good, though some days I miss the din of activity that kids bring with them.

But they go on with their lives, living separate young lives, one in Minneapolis, the other in Madison. It is exciting watching them navigate the life of young adults, one in the workforce the other in college. I try and emphasize that these are some of the best years of their lives and that they shouldn't take it for granted, but I think they know. They seem to be making the best of it.

My daughter has not one but two interviews this week, both for positions at the University of Minnesota. One was yesterday - a secretarial job, and the other as an administrative assistant for a supercomputer consortium of some sort. Both look like steps up the employment rung, so we hope and pray for her success. So much of that first real job out of college hinges on getting into a system. From there, one works their way up building experience and employability.

So we cheer from the sidelines and try and get text updates as they happen. As parents, we know the potential of our kids, so we hope and pray that they do well to boost their position in life. When I look back on my own employment journey, I owe much of it to a woman I dated a few times in college. She pointed out an ad for a mapping job in Minneapolis that sounded too good to be true, albeit for a pittance of a salary. I followed up on it and got the job. We broke up shortly thereafter, but I feel God puts these people in our lives sometimes to move us along. Strangely enough, I've been in mapping ever since, going on 34 years now.

My son finished his last final at Madison for his sophomore year. He had four classes, a fairly full load for a student at UW, and did well in most of them. I swear kids have it much harder than we did as students, but maybe I'm not giving myself enough credit. I do know that his GPA last year made me incredibly proud. These kids are WAY better students than I was. It's a different time though too.

Meanwhile my wife and I continue on with our lives, reacquainting ourselves with each other after raising kids for 23 years or so. It has been a weird adjustment, but we've actually done better than I thought we would. One of our standing dates is going for coffee every Saturday morning. It orients us for the coming week and gives us a little undistracted time to work through life. Frankly our discussions of travel and downsizing our house are very attractive subjects for us, so I really look forward to those hours every Saturday.

Despite the sadness that goes with having a kid-free house, we've adapted well. Thankfully we have so many ways of keeping in touch with our kids, that they're never too far. I guess you never stop worrying and cheering for your kids, but we've got a couple that seem to have good heads on their shoulders.
Photo by Roost Photography

I can't wait to see where their lives take them.

Blogging off...

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Good Fatigue

Well, it was a weekend that provided some hope for the coming of summer. Waukesha actually experienced two consecutive days of high 60s and low 70s. This is a Wisconsin equivalent of two months worth of San Diego weather, where 72 is the norm.

This weather is energizing for anyone with a pulse in these northern states. After five months of wooly sweaters, long pants and hats, we can - at least momentarily - venture out without debating whether we should take our heavy winter coat or our medium weight one. I was even compelled to break out my sandals. This is likely a curse, but it happened.

Our grass is getting unruly and our mower of 20 years use is about beat, so I was tasked with getting a new one. There is something satisfying about a brand new mower. When I mowed today, I didn't have to stop mid cut and tighten the back wheel.

Furthermore, the oil replacement nozzle on the mower is actually in a logical place which should  make the whole maintenance job easier. Like any aging tool or appliance, you kind of get used to accommodating the quirks of a beat product, so it is nice when you just use it the way it was meant to be used, with no hassle. What a concept.

Other than that we've been busy getting the backyard ready for summer. Adirondack chairs are out, hammock stand is setup, picnic table with umbrella is ready to go. Bring it.

My wife laughs at me because when it gets warm like this, I sort of turn back into a kid again. I want to wear shorts, go fishing, go for bike rides, walk the dog and be outside as much as possible. I am even writing this from my backyard because the sun called me out here. It is heavenly.

So as we scurry around "getting stuff done" we end up at the end of the day feeling a fatigue that doesn't happen during the winter months. That is a different kind of fatigue, usually a lethargic, food-coma fatigue that comes with too much darkness and not enough physical exertion.

Now, I hope to get a few more things done before the rain sets in at 7:00 PM, so I gotta go!

Blogging off...


Thursday, May 2, 2019

Sunday Sadday

Sunday was a bad day for me. I woke up sad and despondent for no good reason, and sort of stayed that way all day. I kept trying to bust out of my funk, but nothing seemed to work. I searched around for what I was sad about and couldn't really find anything specific. I was sad about everything. 

I hated my writing and labelled all my successes as a sham, I was sad about my kids being out on their own, I didn't like my house, I hated the weather, felt bad about my aging pets and was even sad that I was still a ways from retirement. I hated everything.

Like I said, I was in a funk. And I never get in funks.

There were a few times during the day I was near tears. For no reason! What the hell is that all about?

Sundays, especially near the evening, are typically the worst day of the week anyway, so this was not a complete surprise. There is the looming Monday morning rat race gun that creates an angst that isn't there the other days of the week. That certainly played a role, but what was weird was the fact that I had NOTHING to be sad about. I have about the best life going a person my age could hope for. 

I have a forever wife, two amazing kids, a job I love, a house, a loving extended family and friends that I would kill for. So, why do I feel like a blanket of despair is over me? Why so sad?

The answer is, I don't know. I chalked it up to "well, these things happen once in a while."

At the same time, there was part of me that knew it was only a temporary state. I am too positive a person to let that kind of thing linger. I knew Monday would be better - as much as that sounds like an contradiction in terms.

And to be truthful, it was. It started a little like a Monday, but got significantly better as the day went on. It piqued with serving the guys at the Guest House, the high point of my day. A bit of advice: If you are ever feeling sorry for yourself, serve dinner to a bunch of guys in transitional housing once. It is an instant attitude adjustment.  

The whole sadness experience made me realize how fortunate I am to never have struggled with depression. I know people who have and I feel for them. I can't imagine being that way for more than one day, let alone so despair filled you can't get out of bed. What a horribly debilitating affliction. 

The good news is I had a decent week. Every day has it's ups and downs, but I have a sort of happiness middle ground line that I walk most of the time. It is my healthy place and I aim to keep walking it. 

Because the other end of that spectrum sucked. It's not me and hopefully never will be.

Blogging off...(Happily)

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Paint Versus Prep

Painting is a love/hate thing with me. I love the newness of a freshly painted room, but hate all the work to get there. And for me, the worst part of any painting project is not the actual painting, it's all of the crappy prep work that you have to do before dipping a brush.

We have an upstairs back porch area that is south facing. Because it is poorly insulated and located in the nether regions of the house, the room has always been under-utilized. It started as an empty room, was converted to a sort of game room/movie room for the kids for a bit and most recently served as Ben's hangout room, with his gaming computer taking up much of the space.
Before primer

The room has beautiful tongue-in-groove woodwork on the walls and ceiling. The window panes however were starting to show their age, so we decided to paint. The thought was to spruce up the room and possibly use it as an office for me for my writing. We decided to paint the windows and door frames an off white to brighten the room and give it a new feel.

And then the not-so-fun part begins. Prep.

It starts with a trip to Home Depot for primer.

Because the wood has a coat of polyurethane on it, it required a light sanding before priming it. Then, because I'm a slopper we had to tape it off. Next, all of the shades and hardware needed to be removed. And finally, because there were 50+ years of curtains, valances and blinds hung, there were a couple dozen holes to be filled with wood filler.

This of course requires a second trip to the hardware store for wood filler and more sand paper.

Ugh.

Once it was done, though the meditative part of actually laying down paint began. I don't actually mind the actual painting process. I put on some music and just start painting. I am one of these guys that can't stop until it's finished, so I did one coat on Friday, one on Saturday. When it was done, I am reminded that, like any project, preparation always precedes a job well done. This pertains to house projects, writing, art and pretty much everything.
After primer

And while it's still only primer, I am really happy with the way it is looking. It is exciting to think that we may finally be transforming a part of our house into a more useful space. Maybe it will make me a better writer. (Ha!)

One thing is for sure, it feels good to get it cleaned up.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Leaning Into The Tape

Today marks the twenty fifth day of my National Poetry Writing Month challenge of a writing poem a day. I'd like to say I'm energized and ready to finish strong, but that would be a lie. The theme for these poems is Fatherhood and while it's not been easy, it is nearing the end and it has revealed much. 

It probably doesn't help that I started a week ahead of time in fear of having to miss some days. So technically I have about 32 poems already, but I am determined to finish out the month. The challenge was for April, I do April.

What I like best about the challenge is not knowing what each day's work will bring. Some days are just "meh," producing poems that are just average. But every third day or so, I get a poem that, by my standards, I can hardly believe I've written it. Really, really good. You've got to break a lot of rock to find the gold I guess.

The pressure to create every day, regardless of how tired I am, how busy or how non-creative I'm feeling is a LOT like working out after work. But in some ways, working out is easier because it involves my body and not my mind. At the same time, I've become better at it as I've gone. It has pushed me to try new styles, to mix it up between humor and heart, and to change it up between long and short. 

I've branched out into Father in-law, Stepfather, Godfather and, of course, lots of my own fatherhood experience. The variety has kept my work fresh and as I said, it has revealed things about each of those roles. I've had poems that were happy, angry, sad, introspective, hilarious and playful. It has dredged up emotions from my childhood about each of my fathers and in some ways, was therapeutic. Almost like talking to my dad(s) at times. I seriously don't know what each session is going to turn out. 

As I mentioned, at the end of the challenge, we are invited to submit our collection of 30 poems back to Local Gems Press and from those submissions they will choose a winner for publication and two $100 runner-up winners. I can't wait to step back and look at the collective body of work and organize it for submission. My intent all along is to submit it to other presses if it doesn't pass muster at Local Gems. I think the subject matter is appealing enough for some to warrant a look. But, I've been wrong before.

So that is my April angst at the moment. It is a love/hate affair, but one I'm determined to finish out. No one stops running a marathon at the 22nd mile. 

Because if there's one thing this father is, it's disciplined.

Blogging off...

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...