Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Fishing Knot That Binds

This past Father's Day, I got a text from my daughter wishing me a good day. She lives in Minneapolis and is settling into a new life up there by my blood family. In the text she mentioned how she misses us and that we really need to go fishing again soon.

This melted my heart a little bit.

Last night at a poetry open mic, I read a poem titled Queen. It is a piece about fishing with my daughter up north. Between it and her text and my son's latest interest in fishing I have been thinking about all the great times we've had as a family in pursuit of finny critters.

The activity requires a lot of patience but also allows lots of time to talk about life. It also gives you "fish stories" that will last a lifetime. Times like:


  • When Sarah crouched on the doc at 4 years old and fished until we pulled her away. She caught over a hundred fish in 3 days one year (Not that we fisher folk track these things.)
  • When Uncle Tom caught a huge bass in the Boundary Waters Canoe area and let Ben reel it in. That is a true fisherman there, letting someone younger than you take your fish because you want them to have the experience and also because in your lifetime, you've had your share.
  • When everyone caught their first trout in a reservoir in Rapid City South Dakota. A fun day!
  • Catching Walleye in the BWCA with Sarah (The full story is in Dirty Shirt)
  • Ben catching his first Muskie last summer.
  • Sarah catching a nice Northern Pike off shore in the BWCA after being frustrated the night before.
  • Countless stories of fishing with their cousins. 
  • Both Sarah and Ben fishing with my friend who they call "Uncle Steve."
  • Taking Ben or Sarah along with my friends' young kids to fish a local pond. Here were my kids teaching the next generation how to do it.
  • Hearing stories of Sarah fishing up north last summer as she worked her intern job near Eagle River. (They're doing it on their own now!)
  • Same thing for Ben taking his buddies fishing at Devil's Lake last summer. This makes me most proud of all, my kids teaching other how to do it.

The list goes on and on. And I guess fishing is an acquired taste - not for everyone. But for me it is meditative and relaxing and nothing but fun. I think I've passed on the love for it to my kids and hope to one day get them up to Canada where the best fishing in North America happens, in my opinion. Perhaps that is a retirement goal. Because we would have a blast - of that I'm sure.

Until then, local lakes as often as we can will have to do.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Portal To The Past

It is a warm August evening in 1989 and my girlfriend and I are sitting at the bar of Wolski's Tavern on the lower East side of Milwaukee. We are awaiting our friend, Bill, for a couple of drinks and maybe a game of darts, the real steel-tipped kind with chalkboard scoring. The music system, complete with octagonal shaped speakers that hang from the ceiling, belts out hits of the day by REM, New Order and The Cure. Flags of foreign countries and other places cover the ceiling in parachute fashion and the cash register is the old fashioned kind whose keys requires a two handed forceful push, followed by the drawer opening and a ca-ching. Everything about the place has an old Milwaukee feel to it and it is a recent favorite haunt of mine since I moved to the East Side.

I am drinking a Point Beer because it's cheap and a nice change from Miller products. Donna is on her second or third Gin and Tonic and is getting that dreamy look in her eyes. She has a bit of a grin on her face as she gazes at me. We're in love and infatuated with each other, something the gin is amplifying, apparently.

Wondering what her grin is for, I ask, What are you thinking?"

"I don't know. I just love you and want to marry you and have babies with you." She replied.

Sitting there a bit shocked having been taken off-guard, I laugh a little and say, "Are you proposing to me at Wolski's Tavern?"

"Well...yes, I guess I am." She answered.

"Okay," I said, not sure what she would remember.

My friend never shows up and after another half hour we head back to our cute little apartment on Lake Drive.

***

The next day as we were driving to St. Paul, Minnesota to visit my family, I asked her if she remembered what she asked me.

"Yes, I do. And I remember what you answered too."
,
***

It is June 15th, 2018 and the temperature is beginning to heat up on the edge of an approaching hot spell. My wife and I are sitting at a table at Wolskis Tavern in celebration of our 28 year anniversary. The music is a mix of '80s favorites including the Replacements, The Cure and New Order. In fact, other than a new floor and the absence of a cloud of cigarette smoke, the place is nearly as we left it. Same speaker system, same pictures on the wall, same flags on the ceiling.

All of it. 

I am drinking a Lakefront beer made a mile away, and Donna is drinking a Guinness, what she calls her "safe beer," mild, smooth and coherent. We await our longtime friends who represent the longest friendship we have with anyone in Milwaukee. Eventually they show. We have a ton of laughs and do a bit of reminiscing about our past and our hope for the future.

In every sense of the word, Wolski's is like a portal or time machine for us. It's unassuming interior doesn't allow for people to put on airs. It's a working class bar, but all are welcome. It is part of our story and in a world of constant, fast paced change, it is timeless. 

We met the owner as he came to the table to see how we were doing. I told him our story and he said he was probably there that day. Of course he was. His presence completes the picture beautifully. I asked him if we could get a couple of their world famous, "I Closed Wolski's bumper stickers and he kindly obliged. One of them was an old favorite and it reads, "Wolski's Tavern: Adventure, Danger...Romance."

I, for one, can attest to the romance part.

Happy Anniversary, Donna!

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Portland House Pays Itself A Visit

So a while back, I sent a copy of The Portland House: a '70's memoir to THE Portland House. It was a suggestion by my sister, Jane. She thought it would be a cool idea to surprise the owners and let them know that their house was famous in a sub-atomic micro fame sort of way.

I sent them the book with a short note basically telling them that it was the house I grew up in  and I thought they might enjoy reading some of its history. I also told them that if they felt compelled, they could leave it for the next owners or even share it around the neighborhood. I sort of hoped for a response, just to see what they thought.

Well, today a card came from The Portland House family.

The card was written by the wife of the current owner - the same owner who bought it from us over 32 years ago. She said that they did a big renovation five years ago, including a new garage from what I can see. They also removed the open porch and put on an enclosed one. She said they had 3 boys and that the grandchildren love coming over.

The card closed with an offer to show me the house any time I was in town. She also gave me her email address. I will definitely follow up with her and possibly take her up on her offer.

As I've said during some of my readings, our houses represent a vicious cycle of move-in, live, move-out, repeat. And within the structure we create the memories, we take those memories with us along with the couch and kitchen table.
The Portland House was where us kids became who we were to become, if that makes sense. It formed the framework for our identities that we carried into our own homes as adults.

And looking at the love, success and joy in the lives of each of my siblings, Mom and that old house did our family pretty good.

Blogging off...

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Watching For It

Like most people, I go through peaks and valleys from week to week, month to month. Unlike some, I am fortunate that the peaks far outnumber the valleys for me. I sincerely believe that part of that is because I try and focus on the positive. Negative people and thoughts bring me down, so I try and minimize them in my sphere. I've been known to hide Facebook friends who are continually negative or crass. People griping in person are hard enough, I don't need to see it on social media. 

Anyway, this week on several occasions (usually while walking the dog) I was overcome by feelings of gratitude for the direction my life is going. By this I mean the people I call friends, my beautiful wife and kids, my job and my church. A few encounters I had this week served as reminders.

  • On Monday, I went before the Village of Wales Board for my monthly poetry reading. This is a great privilege for me - something I look forward to. This appointment to Poet Laureate was brought forth by a poet friend/contact of mine. 
  • Tuesday, I went back out to Wales, across the street from the Village Hall at Mama D's Coffee. This was to meet with a (relatively) new friend who asked to meet and talk about writing. She would like to write her memoir and wanted to pick my brain. We talked a little writing and a lot
    about our upbringing and our pasts...for two and a half hours. Her story was heartbreaking and redemptive all at the same time. All it took was for me to show up. And it made me realize how far I've come with recognizing that we need to lean into people's lives to make our own richer.
  • On Thursday I had coffee with my normal Thursday guys at Cafe De Arts. These outings sometimes start slow, but by the end of them I am always disappointed that we have to leave. We talk about deep topics on God, culture, politics and how we are supposed to interact with the world. Great guys who challenge me to think and press my faith to new levels. Oh, and coffee that rockets me through my morning.
  • I never cease to be amazed by the fact that I have four books to my credit. This week I saw a preview of my cover for my forthcoming chapbook, On a Road (10/21/2018) and it just kind of hit me that here I am doing what I'd always wanted to do, and low and behold, it's actually working. I still tell people I'm just kind of making it up as I go, because I am. I don't know what the hell I'm doing, but it sure is fun.
  • Last week was spent training a new employee. With the recent retirement of my boss and the moving on of another employee, our office was decimated to half the staff it once was. At first it was initially incredibly stressful and overwhelming. Recently though, I have come to realize that I am as happy as I've been at the County in a long time. We are developing a new GIS team, a new rapport and an overall healthier work environment. What I once feared and dreaded has turned out to be all good.
  • The people in my church community never cease to amaze me. Always watching out for one another. This week when my mom was admitted to the hospital, they made a point to pray for her at a Wednesday meeting. I've been to all sizes of church, but the one that makes me feel the most connected to other people of faith is this one. Small, house based communities of people who care about one another and the world they live in trying to make a difference.
So, sorry this post was so happily positive, but like I said, I try and focus on what's right in my life, because there's enough wrong out there without me adding to it.

Keep your eyes open for the good in your week, this week. Because it's out there.

Blogging off...

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Divoters

It's that time of year where the Summer weekends start getting booked up and before we know it we'll be at Labor Day and staring Fall in the face.

I am determined to make the most of the nice weather while it's here though, so have already squeezed in a couple of outings and am looking to get a lot more in before the end of Summer.

Last Sunday I made use of a gift certificate for golf that a friend gave me a while back. I went to Moor Downs with Ben and we golfed nine holes. There were several memorable moments or comments.


  • When Ben pointed out how ludicrous the sport is and what it must have been like when the Scotsman told his friend, "Yeah, see this little ball? Well there's a hole in the ground to hell and gone over there, and you have to hit it into it." We laughed about how it probably took them playing a hole or two to determine that having a flag in it would make it easier to see. 
  • In a 9 hole outing, between the two of us, we must have lost a dozen golf balls. We were being pushed a bit by the "capable" golfers behind us hacks, so we never spent more than a couple of minutes looking for a ball. We have a zillion of them in our basement, and we both determined that life is too short to spend more than 5 minutes looking for a $1.00 golf ball.
  • That a golf cart for two golfers, one with a hook and another with a slice, is really a waste of money. 
  • Scoring is for people who care or are good at golf.
  • When you think you've cleared the water, you probably did not.
  • Golf is a rich man's sport and is 98% a mental game.
  • Life is too short for a really bad drive. Take as many (up to 3) until you're happy with one. If you can't do it in 3, move along.
  • One sliced drive he had managed to send one of his balls a fairway over. When we golfed the next hole, lo and behold there was his ball. Bonus! Take away one stroke.
The best part of the day was being with my son for a couple of hours. I love his wit and his laugh. We were a bit like Bill Murray and Rodney Dangerfield out there. It helps that neither of us will likely ever take the sport seriously, but it sure is fun farting around on a nice day.

Blogging off...

Watch and Learn

Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Nod To Those Before Us

I spent Thursday at a GIS conference in Delavan, Wisconsin. One of the speakers had a fascinating presentation about the prehistoric Native American burial mounds that dot the state and the region. His description of the purpose, makeup and art involved with these sacred places was captivating.

He mentioned that over 200 of them had been excavated and destroyed by people looking to study and/or loot them of grave goods - which they tended not to have. The vast majority of them contained human remains of one person, usually a person of nobility among the tribe.

Delavan oval mound
The thing about his talk was that after it, we were able to go outside onto the Lake Lawn Conference Center grounds and see a few of the mounds. They were simple in shape, one oval, another shaped like a reptile or turtle.

The speaker spoke with reverence and respect about all of the mounds he detailed. He made it abundantly clear that the way they were disregarded and disrespected in the years after white contact was nothing short of a travesty. He reminded us that the very place we were congregating was occupied by people thousands of years before us.


Man Mound - Near Baraboo
He even talked about "Man Mound" near Baraboo that is in the shape of a man. It is right outside his house and he has taken to painting the legs of the Man that were destroyed when they put a road right through them. He said there was a Native American woman in the community who will no longer drive the road that cut through them, out of respect for her ancestors. I think that is so awesome.

We have our own set of mounds in Waukesha, a couple of which are just up the street from where I live, on the campus of Carroll University. There are others outside the library. The whole talk spurred me to revisit these and read the plaques that had been placed there. I've included a few in this post to give you a sense of the magnitude of them. I also removed a discarded water bottle someone had left on the big one at the library. People are so irreverent. It bothered me. I have nothing but shame about the injustices done to the Native Americans in the past. The least we could do is respect what they left behind.

I studied archeology in my college years, so this kind of thing fascinates me for some reason. I get fairly obsessed thinking about people of the past, hence my memoir writing passion, I guess. At the same time, I think we need to understand the past to understand our place in the present day too.

In any case, I can't stop thinking about these now. It will fade, but every time I see one, it will make me think of those who went before.*

Blogging off...

Cutler Park Mound near WC Library
*On a writing-related note, my poem, First, will be published in the WI Fellowship of Poets 2019 Calendar. It is a poem about these very mounds and how we are immigrant visitors to this place. They were here first.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Coffee With Friends

Yesterday I continued with my The Portland House: A '70s Memoir promotion. This time it was at Mama D's, an intimate local coffee shop in Wales, Wisconsin. Mama D's reached out after a friend tipped them off that I had a new book out and that I was also poet laureate for the Village.

It was a warm day and by the time I started to read, the place was pretty much full. I was so happy with the turnout. One never knows how many people will take the time to drive there, especially on this - a holiday weekend.

There were several friend groups there. Some of my poet colleagues came and brought friends, some folks from my church, Collective MKE, and even a couple of brand new friends who have been itching to get my books.

While I usually get pretty nervous at these things, I had a sense of calm and confidence about this reading. I don't know if it was because it was largely friends there or whether I'm just getting better at this. (Or maybe my writers little helper pill is to credit. LOL)

I read three stories and the crowd seemed engaged and attentive. It was a little tricky with customers entering and the blender whirring up coffee drinks from time to time. But for the most part it was uninterrupted and fun. People laughed when I hoped they would. No one fell asleep.

But the best part was afterward. One woman asked if my book was available on audio book. I told her it wasn't, that it can be cost prohibitive. I think she enjoyed the reading so much, she wanted to hear me tell the whole story, and she isn't the first person to ask the question. I would love to have my books on audio book someday, but I get the ROI thinking too.

In any case I was flattered to know that despite my pre-reading worry about how I would come across was all for naught. People have said again and again that they enjoy my readings.

Another case was a friend who posted that she'd never been to a reading before mine and now she planned to make it to more of them by different authors. Again, a compliment I hadn't expected and one to build my confidence on even more.

So someday I might not dread these things like I sometimes do. As I mentioned to some friends afterward, there are times I even get a bit of a charge out of talking in front of groups. It's totally not who I am, but once I'm up there it's sometimes hard to shut myself up. (Not to mention it takes me 3 days to recover from the buildup and presenting.)

And, finally, I hate to gush, but every time I do an event with any of my books I realize how privileged I am to be able to talk to people who actually buy them. There are a ton of other forms of entertainment that people can spend their dollars on, and I'm lucky to be a small part of any of it. Besides, people say such nice things and all of it bolsters my self confidence and reminds me that while writing is an isolating practice, the rewards are great.

So now, to find another venue to do it all again.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Spectrum Of Adventure

A friend of mine is hiking the Pacific Coast Trail for the next few months. Yes, his plan is to hike the WHOLE thing, all 2600 miles of it. He is doing it to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis Research. He's calling it the Hike for a Cure and he has a Go Fund Me page if you're interested in donating.

But that's not the reason I'm writing. It is to say how much I admire him for following his heart. He essentially put his life on standby to do something he'd have regrets about later in life if he didn't follow through.

And it is pure, 100% adventure.

I am sort of living vicariously through his Video Log (vlog) and his periodic Facebook posts. I've even kicked around the idea of flying out and hiking a section with him for support.

As I've mentioned before, I am working my way through Paddle For A Purpose, a book by Barb Geiger, an author friend of mine. She and her husband committed to paddling the length of the Mississippi River. THAT, my friends, is adventure. A commitment to excitement, danger, risk and a healthy dose of outdoors.

I like to think of myself as adventurous. After all, I've been to the BWCA a dozen times or so, I've fished and camped a fair amount, and even hiked a small peak in the Adirondack Mountains a few years back.

The problem is, on the spectrum, I would fall into the weekend warrior category of adventurers. Adventure has levels of magnitude. Mine have been pretty safe and True adventurists put themselves out there for extended periods, or in extreme conditions. (Think polar explorers, Appalachian Trail hikers, etc.) Most of my adventures pale in comparison.

Oh, there was that time we took a fly in fishing trip. While they were loading the gear, they also loaded on two or three 55 gallon drums of diesel for the generators. If we would have crashed, we would have burned...real good.

So that was sort of adventurous. Being in such a remote location made it feel different too, although we were only one radio call and otter flight away from a hospital, so it was still on the edge of weekend warrior.

I've gone down some rapids in whitewater a few times as well. Once on the wild Menomonee River before I was married, and twice since on much milder trips with our kids. Those trips down the rapids felt as much like adventure as I guess I can ask for.

Anyhow, suddenly I'm aware that my days of adventure have an end date to them. If I'm going to jump out of a plane, hike the Camino, or summit a 13,000 foot peak in Colorado, I'd better get going because I'm not getting any younger.

I'll expect your full support and encouragement as I quit my job and pursue these adventures.

Uh, yeah, just kidding.

Blogging off...




Sunday, May 20, 2018

Writers Talking Writing

Yesterday I spent my afternoon as part of a panel of authors for an AllWriters symposium on how to get published. The panel was comprised of a dozen or so authors, all of whom had been published with traditional small presses. Many of them had multiple books and a few even had multiple books in multiple genres.

The group fielded questions the audience had written and submitted prior to the panel. I was flattered to be a part of it but it also felt a little surreal to me. I still consider myself new to the whole writing thing and like most writers suffer from the self-doubt/self-loathing bug, so facing the music that I might be able to help others still seems like a stretch.

But me and the rest of the panelists did alright. Some of the questions were pointed to specific people based on what they'd published and others were just opened up to the whole panel.

During the question and answer period I found it interesting that my inner extrovert comes out of his shell when I start talking about writing. It is one of my bigger passions right now - even though I'm still new at it, still faking it till I make it - so when I get going, it's hard to stop. Part of it too is that I really want to help people. Like any endeavor, brewing beer, fishing or setting up a GIS system, I love sharing what worked and what didn't. There's nothing to be gained by keeping your success secrets to yourself.

So aside from the fun of networking with other writers - something I can't get enough of - there were pieces of advice.


  • There is no proper discipline for writing. Just doing it is discipline.
  • Don't let the story you think your writing get in the way of the one that is supposed to be written.
  • Don't worry about your audience or yourself. Focus instead on writing a good story.
  • At some point students may outgrow the need for a peer review/critique group. Everyone is different. Do what works for you.
  • Outlines are not essential. Writing the story is. Then, organize it. 
  • Most writers would rather die than present their book in front of a group. (Truth)
  • When writing a trilogy, don't try and sell it as a trilogy. Sell the book you've written and mention that it is part of a trilogy.
It was a great afternoon and fun to see some old friends. I've found that there's always something to be gained by hanging around with peers. 

And this was a good bunch of them.

Blogging off...


Thursday, May 17, 2018

Chapters In A Book Called Life

Last weekend was a whirlwind. As I mentioned in my last post, my daughter graduated from the University of Minnesota on Sunday. It was a highly emotional day for me, having been a student at the U back in the days before the internet and cell phones. While the past memories and present moments of great, enormous pride swirled around my head throughout the ceremony, it was what happened afterward that was the weirdest thing.

We went out to an early dinner at Hell's Kitchen in Minneapolis. It was a nice wind-down from the chaos and running of the previous two days. From there we dropped Sarah off at her apartment. It was unlike any goodbye I've ever said to a child of mine.

You see, her plan is to stay up in the Twin Cities. Her boyfriend is moving out there from California and they plan to make a life together in Minnesota. This meant I didn't need to move her home. But it also meant, she was changing my life as a parent forever. She would no longer be living in my house for anything more than a "visit."

Which is not a feeling I like.

But the goodbye was weird for her too. She was not only saying goodbye (for a time) to her family, but she now no longer had school to worry about. As a super achiever, I am sure that felt weird for her. As we hugged goodbye, she said "You'll come and visit right?" We assured her we would, as most of my family is up there anyway.

So it was weird all the way around.

The night prior, I gave her the journal I talked about in my last post. She cried as she was opening it, saying "I know what this is." It was an emotional moment for all of us.

The last entry of the journal kind of summed up everything that went into it. I've transcribed it below:

Sarah,

In two days you'll begin a new chapter in your life. These chapters in this journal are all part of a beautiful, wonderful, joyful life you have given to Mom, Ben and myself and the rest of our family. Every time I think of you and Ben, I smile knowing the world has two loving souls who will do their part to make it a better place.

I've said it numerous times in this book - too many to count - but I'll say it again. I am so very proud of all you've become. You are beautiful, caring, thoughtful, funny, courageous and adventurous. Your strong will and independent spirit will carry you far in life. My prayers for you are happiness and contentment as you write the rest of your life story. Always remember that you're my sweetheart.

I love you forever,

Dad.

So, it appears I've got a new life of my own now and I'm not sure how to deal with it. But somehow I'll manage and I'm sure she will too.

Blogging off...

Sunday, May 13, 2018

It Takes A Village

This weekend we spent with family and friends celebrating our daughter's graduation from the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota.

As part of that celebration, yesterday we all gathered at a local microbrewery in Hudson, Wisconsin. We caravaned up to the cities with our good friends from Milwaukee who have been like an Uncle and Aunt to both of our kids. 

And I can't really put into words how nice it was to look around the crowded open space of Hop and Barrel last night and see everyone so happy. People were making the rounds, talking to different groups of cousins, aunts uncles and of course the grandmother, Nanny. The energy in the room was electric with love and no one really wanted it to end. 

Then, today we went to Mariucci Hockey Arena to watch Sarah walk the stage and enter a new chapter in her life. The keynote speakers, Senator Amy Klobuchar and David Gerbitz, one of the top executives at Pandora music streaming, gave exceptional speeches about the coming generation and the hope that they bring to the world. 

There were several moments during the speeches and ceremonies that I was on the verge of tears. Partly because I'm a sentimental sap, and partly because I want to believe that this generation is our hope. I know that my daughter and son have shown me that their world is vastly different than mine, and in entirely better ways. Diversity, acceptance, globalism, connectedness, and most of all, love.

The weekend was also spent in the company of my dear sister in-law and her two daughters. She lost her mother this past week and had to deal with the difficult combination of grieving and celebrating in the same weekend. A painful reminder that life isn't always great and wonderful.

I think these types of weekends are put into my life to remind me how lucky I am to have the family and support systems I have. Not only that, but how lucky I am to have been granted a chance at a college education and now am able to witness it for my own kids. As the keynote mentioned, we all know how brief life is, so we need to keep in mind what Mary Oliver mentions in her poem, The Summer Day, where she writes:

"Tell me what it is you plan to do
with your one wild, precious life?"

-Mary Oliver

Exactly.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 10, 2018

An Only One Bestseller

When my daughter was born, I started a journal.* Knowing I loved to write, I was in charge of keeping track of life's little moments of her life that touched me. The journal starts literally within the week she was born. In the early years, my entries were frequent, sometimes many to a page. As she grew older they grew more lengthy and were usually a page in length.

It was my intent that when she turned 18 I would give her the book. Well, at that time, it just didn't feel right. So, I moved the date out to "when she graduates from college."

Well, that date comes this weekend.

The book is full of great moments including:


  • Her first week with us when she was fussing in her bassinet, which she hated.
  • A day out in the back yard when she 3 or 4 and was swinging on the swing, singing away - something she never did. But that day she did. It was magical.
  • The day I took her to Eble Park skating as a 5 year old and for some reason it touched me enough that I had to write about it.
  • The night after Ben was born, I wrote about how she shared her toys with him.
  • One entry was about how she wanted me to say "Mommie's prayer." I told her I didn't know it and could she say it. So she said, "Now I way me down to sweep..."  Slayed me!
  • I wrote about her catching her first musky up north and how proud it made me.

There are a ton of other entries in there. Part of the fun of getting it ready to give to her was looking back on some of these things that I don't even remember.

The whole thing made me realize again how quickly life passes. I am so glad I took the time to put down these fleeting thoughts. I only wish I'd done it more often - though the book is only about 10 pages from being filled.

I often tell people, it is one of the two most important books I'll ever write.

The other is to my son, Ben who I've done the same thing for.

I highly recommend this practice to all you young parents or grandparents out there!

Blogging off...

*The book itself was actually a gift to us from our friend, Jacqui White, when Sarah was born.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Write From The Start

It seems like my writing life is busier than ever lately. It is all good, but I thought I would run down what is going on in part to help those who want to know and in part to help me keep it straight. Ha!

  • The Portland House continues to get good reviews. I love talking to people about it as many of them can relate to the big family thing. It is up to 12 reviews on Amazon, but I am always looking for more, so if you liked it, please let the world know.
  • Work continues on the next book about my high school experience in an all-male, Catholic, military high school in the late '70s. Again, lots of funny stories some of which make me shudder as a parent, but hey, it was a long time ago.
  • Yesterday I sent a book to WCCO radio in Minneapolis in hopes of getting an interview or maybe a plug. A friend of my mom liked the book so much that she sent a text to John Hines one of the radio hosts telling him about it. Figuring that was my lead, I sent him an inquiry. He made no promises, but told me to send him a book. It would be some great exposure.
  • I am also working on a chapbook about my father's life and death. It will be a collection of 25  poems or so. It is a challenging one to put together, but is therapeutic in many ways. More on this as it develops.
  • I have a tentative date for a book signing/reading at Mama D's in Wales. May 26th I will be reading from The Portland House and signing copies afterward. Mama D's is a cool coffee shop in Wales.
  • I had the privilege of having one of my blurbs being on the back cover of Paddle For A Purpose, a paddling adventure memoir by local author, Barbara Geiger. Check it out here.
  • I was also asked by my writing instructor Kathie Giorgio to provide a blurb for the back of her forthcoming book, Today's Moment Of Happiness Despite The News; A Year Of Spontaneous Essays. These blurbs are such an honor to be a part of. Plugging for peers and mentors is a small way of giving back.
  • Not much to report on my forthcoming poetry collection, On A Road. We're in the lull time between acceptance and publication. Still, I am very excited to have it coming out this fall. 
  • I have several pieces out for publication consideration, many of which I feel have a strong chance for publishing. Time will tell.
  • Tomorrow I will do my second poetry reading as Poet Laureate in front of the Village of Wales Board. I have a couple of my favorite poems, one by me, one by Richard Brautigan. It will be great fun. 
  • I have been asked by a friend to discuss her ideas about writing a memoir. I am no expert, but am humbled to be asked. I love talking about my experience to anyone interested in getting into writing.
Photo Credit: Ellen Enriquez

  • Dirty Shirt is up to 42 reviews on Amazon. Thanks to all who left a review!
  • A nonfiction piece and interview of me were both recently posted in Portage Magazine. Check them out Here
  • I have ten more ideas for books and poetry collections, none of which I can take on at this time, but this is a great problem to have.

So, life is good. I still feel like I'm living in a dream. I am incredibly fortunate to have this "second job" and am just happy to be able to share a little of myself with the world.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Artistic Moments

I've been thinking a lot about artistic expression lately. Not personally, although my writing is certainly an extension of my own expression, but more along the lines of seeing it in others and recognizing it for the beauty it is.

This past weekend for example I went to the Jazz Estate in Milwaukee to see a band named Devil Met Contention. They were preceded by a band named Pay the Devil. (I see a theme here.)

Both bands were really good. The folk band that played first took turns with solos from the mandolin to the guy playing the washboard to the guitarist. I love watching live music. But what occurred to me was how everyone in the audience was enjoying themselves in THAT moment. As anywhere a  few clueless folks were obsessed with their phone, but for the most part, people were giving their full attention to the music of the moment. That is what musical art is; notes played into space in this case only to fade out. Its a temporary state of joy.

The same goes for visual art. If you're at an art museum, you're taking in the creative beauty of someone you don't know and it somehow changes you. You walk to the next piece, and you are changed again - in small, maybe insignificant ways, but changed.

And it occurred to me how the appreciation of these arts is such a core human need or pursuit. It separates us from the animals, except those crazy painting elephants. We desire it. We need it. And yet it is always one of the first things cut out of a school budget, a family's expenses, or any other discretionary purchases.

Art gets no respect.

Then, on Monday I was in writing class and a woman who is 70+ years old read from her children's book she is writing. It is a story about a singing flea and it is nothing short of creative genius. And again I was amazed that there were so many other things this woman could be doing after 70, and here she is creating something beautiful, hopefully to one day be enjoyed by children.

It truly is art in another form, knowing no boundaries of age or gender. And the 10 of us crowded around the table were there to appreciate it of our own accord. Meanwhile it changed us in small ways - perhaps giving us ideas or simply a smile and an appreciation for the moment.

Tonight I will attend a play featuring my brother in-law as the lead. I am certain it will be yet another example of being there, in the moment, pummeling the right side of my brain.

Because art takes many forms, and I am of the age where all of it requires my recognition/appreciation.

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Adventure With A Purpose

A couple nights ago I attended another book launch. I've been doing my share of this these past few years, as it seems many of my writing friends have reached the point of completion for their novels, memoirs and poetry books. I can confess that writing a good book takes years, especially if you're trying to hold down a full time job to boot. The whole "write a novel in a month" thing, well, it doesn't quite happen that way, I'm afraid.

Anyways, Friday night was the launch of an adventure memoir titled, Paddle For A Purpose, by Barbara Geiger.  It was an especially cool event for a number of reasons. When Dirty Shirt was released, I did a reading from it at a local event here called Friday Night Free For All. After my reading, Barb approached me and mentioned how she'd enjoyed the book, but also mentioned that she was working on her own outdoor paddling memoir. She went on to say it was about a trip down the Mississippi River with her husband in a homemade kayak she'd built.

I was instantly hooked on the story.

It turns out that she'd built the canoe with her dad and her son, making it an cross-generational project. Then, when it was done, her husband said, "So how about we take it down the Mississippi River?"

She laughed and said, "The whole river?"

Her husband said, "Yes!"

As you can imagine she was just a bit trepidatious.

I won't tell the whole story, but suffice it to say, it started with a frozen tent at the headwaters of the Mississippi in Itasca State Park, then moves to flipping over in the rapids and gets more adventurous from there.

But there's more.

The trip was planned around doing service projects at stopping points all along the way. Barb and her husband are people of faith and they believe in giving of themselves, their time and their resources. They worked with Habitat for Humanity and several other agencies throughout the trip.

To me, this makes for a much better story than just your average kayak adventure. As she described during her book launch, they met a number of "River Angels" along the way. People they feel God put in their way to help them along. People who gave them a meal and a bed or simply a word or prayer of encouragement. Each of these became a character in the book - albeit unintentionally at times.

Another reason it was so cool was the fact that I got to see what was basically an "idea for a book" actually come to fruition. I talked to Barb many times along the way and was curious how it was coming along. When she mentioned she was in the final editing stage, I was elated for her.

Once it was finally done, she was looking for a publisher. I mentioned Electio Publishing, my publisher, who might be interested seeing as how they gave me a shot with all of my books. I mentioned they were a Christian-based house which would make for an even better fit than mine. Well, they ended up accepting her book and the rest is history. She even asked me for a blurb, which made it to the back cover of the book. It is always an honor to be asked!

More coolness in that she put together an interactive map plotting their route with photos and links. As a map guy, I can really relate to this. While I did a Story Map for The Portland House book, Barb did her own, based on Google Maps. It works great and you can check it out Here.

Perhaps the coolest part of the whole book is that she plans to donate ALL of the proceeds from her book sales to charity. It sort of brings the whole journey full circle - service, selflessness and giving all along the way.

So if you're looking for a good outdoor adventure memoir with a noble cause to it, I'd say give it a look. It's for a good cause!

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Support Call

So we had a bit of a techno-meltdown this past weekend. My wife's phone was acting strangely. One day it started rebooting at random moments. Then, it would go into a cycle of reboots that would sometimes number in the twenties before it could she could even get into it. When she finally was able to get into it, it would work fine for a number of hours before it would cycle with reboots again.

We couldn't figure out what was triggering it, but it seemed to be worse when it was trying to connect to a new wifi connection. But not always.

Being a tech-geek, I am all about the wipe and replace method. Once I got her go-ahead, I wiped it to factory condition using the settings. After setting up her multiple accounts, it worked for an hour before it rebooted on her. Then, the cycling began again.

Also being a cheapskate, I was determined to get it working again. Nothing a couple hundred google links couldn't fix, right?

One of the suggested fixes was to delete the cache partition at the operating system level. I was sure this would work.

No dice. Reboots again. I get the look from my wife.

After some more googling I decided to give it one more try. There is a restore at the operating system level that seemed to be worth a shot. For all I know it did the same restore that the app did, but it was much more primitive in how you went about it.

This will do it for sure.

Yeah right.

Well, after doing battle for a few days, I came to the end of my rope. My time is worth something too. So off we go to Best Buy on Saturday morning. Within an hour she had a brand new Samsung Galaxy S9. Ironically enough she was literally one month into the "no payment" zone. I swear they have timers on these things.

The whole ordeal reminded both of us how stupidly dependent we are on a working phone. Donna was most concerned about losing her calendar, which has all of her work appointments on it. Luckily the backups have gotten much better so nothing was lost. (That we've found yet, anyway...)

I really feel they do more harm socially than good. There is nothing more rude than having a good  conversation with someone and have them pull out their phone and start futzing. Some people are better than others with this, but some have a real problem.

When we were at a CollectiveMKE church event a couple nights ago, one of the icebreaker questions was, "Tell us about an invention that will save the world." A friend of mine said, "I think it would be really cool to have a phone that is hooked to a wall, with a cord, that you could never take out of the house."

I think he's onto something.

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Earth Year

Today is Earth Day, but you know what?

Every day is Earth Day.

I try and live my life like I actually believe that. As an avid outdoorsman, I feel connected to the earth most when I am in a natural setting. To me, there is nothing more rewarding than taking a hike, a paddle or a bike ride on my favorite path, lake or trail. When I am out in it I hate coming across other peoples' trash. I don't know how people can litter and live with themselves. I think a lot of it is in how we were raised, but that's just a guess.

One of our mantras when we're canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is "Leave no Trace." We frequently brought out not only our own trash, but a bag full of other peoples' trash as well. In my mind, to litter such a sacred place as the BWCA is even more unforgivable than littering an urban area.

As humans we need to realize that we're renters here and we need to stop acting like we own the planet. It deserves our respect. It is our gift to our grandchildren.

One of the stupid little things I do every day when I'm walking the dog is try and pick up at least one piece of trash (as well as my dog's droppings). As dumb as it may seem, I figure, if I did nothing else for the earth that day, I did that. Now, I also walk or bike to work most every day - in part for fitness, but also because it's dumb to drive 1.65 miles when you can walk. I'm certain people think I'm a lunatic, but it keeps me in shape and is less wear and tear on the car - not to mention the planet.

Anyone who thinks that they can't make a difference or that their choice not to recycle that one water bottle that one time, well, multiply that times 6 billion. That equals a large floating island of garbage in the ocean. Bottled water is evil anyway, but that's a different story.

Today I went out and picked up trash and recyclables at a local park. I'm sure people thought I was the homeless guy picking aluminum for bringing to the redemption center, but frankly I don't care. It is my way of feeling better about the role I play in God's creation. If that's what it takes to feel good, well, I'll keep on doing it. (FYI, Unlike years past, the trash was really hard to come by this year, which gives me great hope.)

So, as always, the subject of Earth Day has made me all preachy again. I can't help it. I am an ecology nut, and not even as nutty as some people I know. I just think it's important that we realize our impact and try and minimize our footprint.

I'd encourage you to do your part, however small. Because again, multiply small time 6 billion and it becomes much greater.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Swedish Resilience

Well, my mom turned 85 a couple of days ago, and while I will probably get in trouble for stating her actual age, I wanted to mention it because I am blessed to still have her around. A lot of my friends have lost their moms/dads these past few years and I can't imagine how tough it must be. I am also lucky to still have both my in-law parents around. Heck, these days I'm grateful to have anyone older than me around. Life is weird that way.

And while my Mom is an octogenarian, she is still more active than a lot of people much younger than her. She works a part time job, she's part of a book club and a card group, exercises when she feels she needs to lose weight and drives her car. She's smart though and knows her limits. She doesn't like to drive at night, will turn down social events if there's too much walking, and she has learned to say no to anything she's not up for. I think those are rights you get once you hit 80.

Mom continues to cheer the whole family on. Us kids are all in our fifties and sixties, but she still congratulates us, encourages us and gives us advice when we seek it. For example, she keeps asking me how many reviews I have on The Portland House. She tells people they should be leaving reviews and then tells them to buy the paperback because I get a better cut than I do from a Kindle book.

She is 85 and acting as my agent, here.

But, as a parent, I realize that's what you do. You don't ever really stop being a parent and caring about your kid. You cheer them on regardless of how old they are. You say, "Hey, that's my kid up there!" It comes with the territory.

I dedicated my book, The Portland House to my mom because, although she came and went in the book, she was the real hero of the story - of our/my life story. She bucked up when things got tough, then tougher, and she pulled us all through. She could have checked out, or given up. But her pride and resilience and faith pulled her through, with all of us in tow.

She wasn't perfect, but no one is. (Last time I checked, I have a few parenting issues of my own.) We do the best we can though, and she did pretty well given all the adversity and sadness she had to deal with in her younger days.

One last story.

At my St. Paul book signing at SubText books, Mom made it a point to introduce herself to virtually everyone in the place. She is genuinely interested in my friends and readers and how they know me. She then thanked them for coming. It comes back to the pride thing, trying to push me to the top of the book charts. Ha!

So, that is why I appreciate the ability to call my mom and find out what's new in her life. She's been there for all of us through it all.

And we're lucky to have her. Happy 85th Mom!

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Artists In Bloom

It was an art-filled weekend around my community these past few days, and that's always a good thing.

I took Friday off to stay home and write, something I need to do once every couple of months just to maintain my sanity. I hang out at the library and a coffee shop and check out of reality and into my Work In Progress (WIP). It was a productive day and it brought me back down after a high energy week at work.

Then, that evening, I was part of the AllWriters Friday Night Free For All event at Cafe De Arts Roastery in Waukesha. This is a quarterly event sponsored by AllWriters' Workplace and Workshop. The event features 5 readers from inside and outside the studio to read from their WIP or, in some cases from a recent publication or book.

This one had a new twist to it in that it brought in a musician/songwriter named Carter Hunnicut. Carter's mother was a writer and was a mentor to Kathie Giorgio (AllWriters' director) when she was young.

Carter did a great job of explaining the songwriting process and his love for the craft. He's part of a couple of bands and his music is available Here. He and his band, Exposed 4 Heads perform 80's music satire. 

The music was a great addition to the many talented writers who read during the evening, including Kathie Giorgio, Kathrine Yets, Kerry Crowley and myself. There is something so cool about spoken word events. It is live art, performance art in every sense of the word.

If you know me, you know I look back with great fondness to the beat generation for their contributions to poetry and art. But there is also part of me that realizes we cannot go back to those days and that events and communities like this ARE the beats of today. This is our moment to be heard and touch people.

I had a couple of people come up and tell me how my reading had spoken to them. That right there is the reason I do it and enjoy it so much. This is the closest we can get to a beat moment for me. It was a great night.

Then, yesterday, I went to Art In Bloom at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Donna had an extra ticket and asked if I would go with her. She explained to me what it was and while I didn't fully understand what it was, I am so glad I went.

My Personal Choice.
Basically they had area florists and floral artists put together flower and plant arrangements for 46 different works of art at the museum. A sort of ekphrastic art. The arrangements are intended to evoke the essence of the painting they are built around. It was so incredible to see the work these floral artists put into these displays. The works were judged, and as the public, we got to vote on our own favorites. I chose The Wood Gatherer by Le Pere Jacques, a stunning display of flower and wood and beauty.

The rest of them were amazing as well. I have the utmost respect for people with this artistic eye. I have none of it. (Words are my gig.) It reminds me of the immensity of the human brain for creativity and beauty.


Donna and I wandered around and marvelled at some of the other fantastic pieces of art in the museum and even talked of getting a season pass. I really enjoy all art museums and would probably go more if we had a pass.

So, if you get a chance, I would encourage you to support the local arts. Be it spoken word, a musical production, theater, art or some combination of all of these.

It not only supports the local artists, but it will warm your soul. Something we could all use during this unusual spring weather.

Blogging off...


Thursday, April 12, 2018

For Whom The Bell Tolls

Last Saturday night I attended Rob Bell's "Holy Shift" presentation at Turner Hall in downtown Milwaukee. I'd never been to Turner Hall, a magnificent structure currently decked out in twenty first century-haunted house/money pit decor. Bell was accompanied by Peter Rollins another contemporary and perhaps equally controversial spiritual author/scholar.

There are folks who have called Rob Bell some hateful things. His books have been pulled from conservative church bookstores. He was run out of his home church for some of his progressive ideas.

I've read his book, Love Wins and while I'm not crazy about his writing style, I loved his message; a message of Love first, judgement maybe never. Furthermore, listening to his podcasts drove me a little crazy too. Something about his speech pattern. So, needless to say I had low expectations. I went in with a bit of a cynical attitude.

Well, he came out and smashed any doubts I had about his style and message. He told engaging stories for an hour and a half without looking at a single note. His message was about the concept of holiness in the world both its bad manifestations (holier than thou) and its good, everyday manifestations.

The message resonated with me for a number of reasons. As I have mentioned many times, watching my brother get sick and pass away changed my perspective on EVERYTHING. It also increased my sense of clarity about what is important and a recognition of things that are "holy" in life.

These includes moments of conversation with a friend or loved one, natural settings that cause a sense of awe, and even a rock concert or author reading. All of these things can be holy events if you have a sense of connection with the rest of the world and its people around you.

It was the best, most timely message I've had the privilege of being part of in quite some time. Time after time he had me nodding in agreement.

He even brought to light the role our suffering in our anxiety and struggles in life, a theme I can definitely relate to at this point in my life. Lots going on in my life right now. But for a moment at least, Rob Bell helped me understand that it is part of our holy journey. It may not seem like it, but I think what he was saying was that when it passes, we are forever changed and perhaps brought to a better understanding of why it happened, or what role it played.

But for me it was his story telling about moments of holiness that made me say "Yes! I've had that experience." Time after time he had me nodding in agreement.

These events seem random and unscripted at times and maybe the difference is some people recognize them easier than others. Maybe it depends where you are on your journey to an awareness of God. Maybe it's just a case of being awakened by a tragic event. Or maybe its just an appreciation for all of life. I don't know.

But I know I needed the good reminding I got by Bell on Saturday night.

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Water Woes

As any homeowner knows, things never fail one at a time. They cascade like all tragedies, usually in threes. Each failure of course is slightly more expensive than the previous. I am convinced there is no home appliance repair that costs less than $200, with most being much more.

We experienced the start of the great cascade about a month ago. I was sitting in the living room and kept hearing like a high pitched moaning noise coming from the basement. When I went down there I followed the noise until I pinpointed it to the water softener. The box on top of it which controls the on/off cycling was howling like a ghost.

So I did what any homeowner would do. I unplugged it hoping it would reset and repair itself.

No dice.
It's the doohickey valve. That's the problem.

I tried Plan B. Hit it.

Nada.

The unit is 20+ years old and is simply worn out. I know that. I also know that it is likely a $1000.00 outlay.  The significantly cheaper, short term fix is to unplug the howling unit. So I did.

There. Fixed.

Three days later I heard a knocking coming from the basement. I went down again and discovered it was coming from the water heater. When we first moved into this house we heard the same sound, an indication that there is sediment buildup in the water heater.

Now I know that it is likely just coincidence, but what are the chances that just the action of turning the water softener off three days prior would trigger sediment knocking? Nothing works that fast. It is just the dreaded cascade effect.

Well, I figured there is a known fix for the sediment issue, so I YouTube'd it. The video I found stepped me through draining our aging tank. I brought in the hose from the garage, turned the water heater to Pilot and hooked up the hose. Of course when I went to turn off the cold water intake valve, it was corroded open, requiring a Vice Grips to crank it open.

Because nothing is easy with an old house.

I opened up the drain and let the heater drain. I put the end of the hose over a piece of screening by the floor drain because I wanted to see what kind of sediment drained out. Of course, there was no visible evidence of sediment showing up in the screen.

Well, this is odd.

When I looked at the drain outlet on the water heater, it sits about 2" above the bottom of the thing. So, in essence, you would have to have 2+ inches of sediment to get it to start draining out.
"Hey, lets put the bottom drain
not on the bottom."

What genius designed that drainage system?

In any case, I let the entire heater drain out just in case. Then I put the hose back in the garage.

And as I write this blog, the heater is knockin' away.

On to Plan C.

Turn up the music!

Blogging off...


Thursday, April 5, 2018

It Takes A Village

On Monday I was instituted as poet laureate* for the Village of Wales. It marked the last day of Paula Anderson's tenure after a year and nine months.

I showed up at the Village hall and awaited my turn on the agenda. I came after a couple of zoning changes and new business approvals. Being in government, it was a process I was quite familiar with as part of the Parks and Land Use staff at the county.

Before I was brought before the board for approval, they recognized Paula with an appreciative word and after her outgoing poem, they presented her with a cake. The cake was frosted with the words to one of her short poems. Paula was a publisher of a small poetry journal and was one of my first acceptances as someone new to the craft. I always hold folks like that near to my heart. Her and Sarah Sadie, another poet and ex-laureate for the City of Madison, are two of those people.

I was introduced next and invited to speak. I felt extremely welcome and warmed up to the board right away. They seemed to like my work and even laughed at a few of my jokes about my writing and my journey afterward.

And so my tenure is one year and it involves reading at the monthly board meeting as well as some outreach activities. I've plans to do a couple of things including trying to gather signed poetry books for donation to the local high school library. Additionally I plan to help organize the poetry open mic's at Mama D's in Wales once a month.

So, while it is all part of my sub-atomic-micro-fame, it is still a lot of fun. Beats working, anyways.

More on it as it progresses.

Blogging off...

*For those who don't know a poet laureate is charged with increasing awareness and appreciation for poetry.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Shrink Wrapped

It is Easter weekend and we are blessed to have both of our kids home for the weekend. My daughter came down from Minnesota on Thursday because she was done with classes and "needed to get away." Ben was down in Florida until Friday when he was dropped off in Waukesha as his roommates continued on to Madison.

And we have been fortunate to be together as a family for much of the weekend. We had dinner together then watched Pirates of the Caribbean on Friday night - an unexpected surprise having them opt for a night home with family instead of local friends. Then, they got up on Saturday morning to go to coffee with us as an extension of Donna and my Saturday routine. 

Today they will attend church with us and then we will have an early Easter dinner with my brother in-law and his partner. 

The weekend reminds me that these moments are to be treasured. We are all healthy, happy and glad to be with one another. When we gather around a table there is intelligent discussion, gentle teasing and laughter. We talk about our crazy dog and our stupid cat who has taken to watching us as we eat dinner. We discuss the kids' school classes, their friend groups and all the adult responsibilities that they are navigating during their collegiate experience.

They hug us unprovoked at times in part for us, but I think they need it as much as we do.

When we met with old friends to watch the Loyola/Michigan game they interacted with adults in ways that made me proud to call myself their parents. I love being around them and laughing about our lives, both past and present. 

So, I've become a sentimental sap of sorts. But I miss my kids. They are an extension of both of us and I love watching them experience the beauty and nuttiness of day to day life. If I could take this weekend and shrink wrap it to preserve it forever, I would. 

But for now, I'll have to simply savor it and count my blessings.

Happy Easter.

Christ is Risen!

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Guns And Rose'

A couple of nights ago I was part of a reoccurring event called Jesus and Wine. It is a monthly event at the Spring City Wine House in downtown Waukesha. It is the sister event to Jesus and Beer that is held at Bernie's Taproom in Waukesha on the second Tuesday of every month.

Both of these events are intended to open up the dialog to people who are curious about the life of Jesus. I say it in such a broad context because it is attended by everyone from the dechurched, to active church attenders, to people who question God's purpose in their life and our world, to those how have been wounded by the church or other Christians. It is all of these types of people and everything in between.

It has been termed Pub Theology and is a form of that. There is a part of me that likes it just because it is held in such a non-traditional place. Oh, and I like beer, too. The thought is that we are all adults and capable of having a social drink or two while discussing heady topics with people that are asking the same questions. It is church for grown ups.

On Tuesday night the subject was violence in the country and the world. A question sheet is handed out with ten or so talking points. The questions ranged from  asking if God supports war to whether Jesus was a pacifist.

Before the discussion begins each session, the ground rules are laid out. People are asked to be civil, to listen first then react with courtesy. It is the pursuit of dialog not conversion or convincing. We are asked to respect the opinion of others in the hopes that we can carry that respect out into the world when we are done.

We wasted no time jumping into the whole gun argument. And the crowd covered the spectrum from people who had no guns to those that had multiple. The argument was largely that the perception was that guns helped people manage their fear. It is not my place to question whether or not that is a good way to handle their fears, but it was kind of interesting to know.

The NRA got dragged into the conversation and drew some interesting discussion. So did the second amendment. People talked about concealed carry, gun permits and mental health. They talked about how ugly those same topics get on Social Media. Part of the beauty of the Jesus and Wine events is that people are face-to-face instead of some faceless cyber person. The respect factor - seeing someone as a human being just like themselves - takes precedence over a nameless Facebook flaming/trolling.

Being a closet extrovert, I really enjoy going to these events. They make me think and help me to see the perspectives of others - sometimes radically different perspectives at that. I like it because it brings contemporary subjects up in light of our walk as followers of Jesus. I also like it because it is casual and respectful and challenging.

Next month we will be discussing sexuality, so that should be fun. ;-)

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Coffee And A Dragon

This afternoon I had coffee with a Vietnam Veteran. Bob Goswitz served a year overseas in the 196th infantry division in 1971. I consider it an honor to sit with someone of my generation who served in a war that marked my first exposure to military conflict. I was only 10 years old when he served, but I remember watching the news at night and seeing snippets of guys in combat. People have said that the Vietnam War was the first war that kind of came into peoples' living rooms. Well, Bob lived it and was fortunate to be among those who made it back home.

I have an elevated respect for the men and women who served that war. It was a war that should have never happened, certainly not to the level it went. The soldier who returned were never treated as the heroes they were, a travesty in my opinion. It was a contentious time in our country with civil and racial unrest at levels never seen before and the debate about the war was a large part of it.

Anyway, Bob has written a book titled The Dragon Soldier's Good Fortune, due to be released July 21st, 2018. The book is fictional but is based on his experience as a soldier during that time. During our talk he mentioned that originally he was pitching the book as a memoir. Then, his agent asked him what made his memoir unique from the hundreds of other Vietnam memoirs. This caught him off-guard and he began to rethink the framework for his book.

To make his book more unique and appealing, he researched Vietnamese folklore and mythology and found that much of it is based on dragons. He worked a dragon into the story and added a degree of magical-realism to the book. I will be reading an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) of the book to try and give him a review, and I can't wait to dig into it.

He was looking to pick my brain a little on the intricacies of book promotion and I was happy to help. I still say I'm making it up as I go, but have a few years experience so am glad to mentor where I can.

Bob taught special education for thirty-plus years after his duty and has been retired for 11 years. He mentioned how good it was to be able to talk to another guy about writing and publishing. There seems to be a 4:1 ratio of women to men in our writing circles, so to come across someone about your age and fairly new to the writing craft is sort of refreshing.

I look at these meetings - cool people whom I admire and appreciate - as one of the intangibles of the writing life. Bob came to one of my Dirty Shirt reading/signings and has been a fan ever since. Without my books there would be no friendship.

And because of my books, my readers and my writing network, life is that much richer.

Blogging off...