Sunday, November 18, 2018

Of Chainsaws And Sonnets

Yesterday saw two sides of my life that one might see as polar opposites. Some days I think I have a Jekyll/Hyde persona with regards to my interest or skills. It doesn't make me ashamed of who I am and certainly one side is not better than the other. I just find it funny when both sides happen to occur on the same day or the same week.

I was slated to help a couple of guys cut down some trees yesterday. The trees were dead ash trees, victims of the Emerald Ash Borer, and they were over forty feet tall. I've cut wood with my friend Claude before, so I knew we would be safe and smart about it, but there is always my sense of trepidation and excitement that go with running a chainsaw and a little dangerous tree felling.

So we got to it and focused on the biggest problem tree. Claude had the chains hooked up when I got there and he was trying to take the first of two main trunks. After some key notches were cut and the chains were tightened, the first fell with a great crash, a perfect cut.

While he and Kevin started setting up the second hoist & chain, I started buzzing the felled section into 15" chunks. There is nothing as much fun or as dangerous to a hack like me as running a chainsaw. It is nothing short of a manly adrenaline/testosterone rush. It sounds stereotypical - and probably is - but it makes me feel manly. A real lumberjacky feeling. Which is funny because I work a desk job and most days I'm pushing a mouse and typing a lot.

So, to a white collar dude, this is some cool stuff.

After a few hours of noise, two-stroke exhaust and a lot of back breaking lifting, I had to take off to tend to the other side of my life.

I drove to the Milwaukee Public Library for a poetry reading hosted by the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets. They hold a reading locally every year for those poets who contributed to the annual calendar that they publish and sell.

The event was well attended, largely by the over 50 crowd and was one of quiet attention to each person who got up to read. Each poet was given quiet, appreciative applause at the end of their couple of poems. The poems focused on the "People of Wisconsin," so was applicable to everyone there and, as I said, it was a quiet, cultured affair.

As I sat there though, I was brutally aware of the disparity between the two activities of my day.

Chainsaws and Poetry.

It sounds like a good title for a book.

At the same time, I can appreciate both sides equally. I'm an muskie fisherman and an author. I love football and theater. I cut down trees and soft clap for poetry. I lift weights and do yoga.  (Oops, that might be more information than you needed.)

I'd like to think all of this makes me a little more three dimensional as a guy. I'm not ashamed of any of it. It does give me pause to laugh at the dichotomy of it sometimes though. At the same time, it's who I've become and I ain't apologizing to anyone.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Plugging Away Despite

If you're scoring from home, my presentation on The Portland House today was a slam dunk. There was a good crowd of people, 35 or so. They were engaged and laughed at all of my humor. They asked some great questions and I got great applause. Furthermore, the feedback from the people who came up to me afterward was that they loved my style and my presentation. A couple even said they hope I come back.

So, score this as a win for the author, right?

Well, I managed to sell four books. 

Four. 

If you're still scoring from home, I would have been better served staying at work for the afternoon. It certainly pays better. 

When the talk was over I felt great, because I held their attention for over an hour. No one dozed off and as I said, right until the end they were really engaged. However, unlike the last time I presented at this location, people didn't linger. The place cleared out, I sold my few books and packed up and left.

On my ride home, I'll confess, I felt a little defeated. I started to question why I am trying so hard. I wondered what I am doing wrong to captivate people during a talk, but fall on my face at sales time. 

Of course, I realized this is the old inner critic seeping in again, so I started to try and pull myself out of my funk. I know quite well that I've never been in this writing gig for the money, so I don't know why that bothered me today. I also know that even authors as famous as Michael Perry have had "intimate crowds" where he only sold a handful of books.

What it boils down to are a few core tenets of my choice to write - things that I cannot compromise, or if I do, I'd better be okay with the outcome.

  • I have to remember that I write because I love to write. Publication and books and notoriety are nice, but they were never what drove me to write. I write because I cannot not write. Especially now that I've had some success. I realize it's a gift - albeit at a level that I have to accept - and to ignore a gift is the cardinal sin in any artistic pursuit.

  • I have come to recognize that as much as I claim to dislike public speaking, I actually do get a little rush out of giving an entertaining or informative presentation. The fact that people comment about how well I do means I don't give myself enough credit. (Shocking, I know). The best compliment of all though is my peers, colleagues and spouse telling me that I have a very good stage presence. It is an intangible benefit to my whole writing experience. It is something I used to hate and now, sorta like it. 

  • There are people out there who would love to have my problems. People working on getting their first book published or those struggling to get anything published probably kinda hate me, and certainly don't want to hear me gripe about flat book sales at this week's event. They'd probably kill for the opportunity. So, I need to recognize my good fortune and shut up about it.

  • This whole thing is a marathon, not a sprint. As I work toward the next book, or article or story, I have to remember that, just like my son improving his time in the 50 meter freestyle swim, all I need to focus on is writing my next better story. I do realize I am beginning to develop a body of work and all I need to do is keep doing it better.

  • Help others have my problems. Writing is an isolated practice. By surrounding myself with cool, supportive, creative colleagues who kick me when I need it and rejoice when I need it is yet another tangible benefit of my writing journey. I am grateful for each and every one of them and I am doing my best to help them be successful at the craft. Whether it's with advice, support or occasional short editing, I want them to feel the joy I feel when I get an acceptance or speak to a group and get applause. It makes it all worth it.

  • Like anything, writers have good days and bad days. Today was a mix of both. From hallelujah to this sucks. Move on. Tomorrow will be different.
When I look at the items above and focus on the fun I'm having 95% of the time, I can't feel anything but hope and gratitude. And I'll keep doing what I'm doing until I don't love it anymore, and I don't see that happening anytime soon. If you've been there for me (or other writers/authors) I thank you. You make it worthwhile whether you buy a book or not. 

Because for me it's all about the ride.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Subtle Moments Of Great Brilliance

There is plenty of bad news happening all around us. Fires in California, political vitriol, mass shootings, political lies and posturing, racial tensions spurred by racist groups and individuals, silencing and reprimanding of legitimate media, and so much more.

So I'd like to focus on some moments of gratitude that I've seen in my life in the past week in the hopes you will reflect on some that may be in front of you.

It's simple things like:


  • My son, a sophomore at UW Madison, randomly texting me "Goodnight dad, love you." Four words. The best four words of the day in this case. It only takes a minute to do this for people. I regularly do it to my kids as well. 

  • A half hour phone call with my mom, who's 85. Trust me when I say I don't take this privilege for granted. We talk about what's new in her life, how my kids are doing and what's coming down the road for the holidays. We end every call with "Take care. I love you." I'm 56, but it feels as good saying that as it did at 14.

  • Enjoying going into work as a supervisor of three cool, competent, hard working staff members. I'll be honest, this was a transition I was highly worried about. After the initial three months of chaos and disruption, I am as happy as I've been at my job in 15 years.  

  • A quiet library and three hours to write. To turn on my music, dive into my head and escape all the problems of the world. This is my "television escape" without the TV.

  • Having a guy who's new to the area show up for beers with boys night last Thursday. He stepped into our lives because he'd heard about our church from his daughter. A nice guy on a spiritual journey, looking for more than church was giving him. Looking to meet some friends. Looking for space to share his story. Hopefully he'll come back and will connect with us.

  • Having two different writing colleagues contact me during the week, one for advice, one to say they miss me in class. My communities are many and I appreciate them all.

  • Watching a Vietnam veteran struggle with his emotions while reading from his novel based on his stay of service over 40 years ago. Everyone in this world is fighting a battle. Be kind. 

  • Coffee with my spouse every Saturday morning. We go to a local coffee shop and see all the regulars there every week. The woman lovingly toting her two year old and her infant for an hour of mothering and coffee. 

  • A couple of longtime friends complimenting my poetry chapbook, On a Road. The book was written about them and a road trip we all took. Fond memories of long ago. Supportive words from people I connected with closely for a short period of my young life. Blessings in my long life.

  • Coffee with three close buddies on Thursday mornings. We talk through our lives, the ills of the world, Jesus and his goodness, mechanical engineering, politics and auto maintenance. Sixty minutes of streaming consciousness that helps ground me. 

I hope these simple moments I noticed help you see the beauty and goodness in your own world. If we dwell in negativity, evil and despair it drags us down. Life is short. Don't waste it in worry and nonsense. Look around. Be grateful. Give back. Love.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Honda Astronaut

It happens every ten years or so. We are forced to cross the threshold of a car dealership and begin the process of self-loathing that comes with buying a car.

I hate everything about it.

Everything.

It always starts at the desk of the guy who is selling cars between jobs who I'll call Soulless Steve. I guess that's a little harsh because they might have a shred of a soul left because they want you to say yes, you'll buy a car from them.

And it always ends at the desk of the finance guy who used to sell cars between jobs but then got a raise and a promotion to financial henchman. This guy gave up having a soul as part of the promotional ceremony.

Of course the financial guy had to give us the hard sell on the "extended warranty." A couple of classic lines were:

"Ya know, I read the other day that the space shuttle was programmed with only 500,000 lines of code and that todays cars are programmed with over 100 million lines of code. So, you might want to consider that warranty on those facts alone."

or better yet:

"This right here (Points to stapler), this is your car now. This right here (stacks smartphone on stapler) this is the car you're buying."

Thanks for the kindergarten lesson, dude. Can we go now?

In any case, we didn't budge when the financial guy gave us the threatening scare tactics of why we needed an extended warranty. The only person cheaper and more stubborn than me was my wife sitting next to me. She has no problem hurting feelings.

But to be truthful, this time wasn't as bad as it has been in the past. We got out of the place with a decent trade on our 2004 Santa Fe, and only an up-sell of the exterior/interior coating protection. I say decent trade-in amount, only because we got way less than we would have with a private sale, but $200 more than I thought they would offer us. I consider that a win.

I know it's not right to feel sad when you're trading in a car, especially when you've had as much trouble with it as we have with our Santa Fe over the past 3 years. But I always get a little wispy saying goodbye to an old vehicle.

Being a sentimentalist, why wouldn't I? I tend to think of all the trips we've taken in the car. In the case of the Santa Fe, there were countless trips to New York and Minnesota, a couple of Myrtle Beach trips and even a Boundary Waters trip. It survived two teenage drivers and a couple of fender benders.

It also served to disappoint a few times too, to the tune of hundreds of dollars. We replaced the "Rack" steering twice - a $1300.00 item. The engine light was the cause of multiple trips to fix "sensors" that evidently are made of platinum or some other precious metal. The exhaust is practically new from front to back - multiple hundreds again. The paint is peeling badly on the hood and roof and the tires were showing their wear.

So I guess I'm over my nostalgia after listing that stuff out. I'm super excited to be back in the Honda Family as the three we've owned have been some of the best cars ever. (BTW, the new car is a 2016 Honda CR-V. It is what is called a compact SUV. The car has more bells and whistles than I could ever imagine, including a screen that is as big as my laptop. It should serve to great distraction while driving, I'm sure.

And I drove the thing to work today and needless to say there are enough distractions in this new car to make a person forget they are driving. I may need one of those Space Shuttle programmers to show me how to work half of the electronic wizardry. More on that in a future post perhaps.

Blogging off...




Sunday, November 4, 2018

Books And The People Who Write Them

This weekend was a celebration of one of my favorite literary events of the year. The Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books was held for the ninth year in a row at the University of Wisconsin at Waukesha. Like many of my colleagues, I was fairly involved this year, taking part in three events as well as donating a couple of books to a couple different raffles.

My Friday morning was spent at Waukesha South High School with two other authors, Barb Geiger and Colleen June Glatzel. We held a panel discussion with two class periods of students, one about 60 students in size, the other about 40. We had a series of pre-canned questions that we took turns talking about.

One of the more memorable moments was when Colleen talked about her struggles as a teen and twenty something with some mental health issues. She said the book was a bit of a working out of those issues. I could see a visible reaction from several of the students who seemed both empathetic and compassionate. While Barb and I were the old-timers who still had a good time with the kids, it was Colleen who may have reached them the most completely. A strong personal story does that.

We finished up with a Q&A followed by a raffle of a couple of our signed books. This was my second year talking to students and I can say nothing but good things about the attentiveness and respect we got from most of them. There's always a couple of sleepers, but hey, that's high school I guess.
Signed Book Basket Raffle

Friday night I went to the keynote event featuring the very successful author, Nick Petrie. This guy's the real deal. His success is humbling. Check him out if you like crime fiction.

Saturday was off to the races at the Book Festival. I got there in time to attend the "Great Lakes Water Wars" presentation by Peter Annis. It was a fascinating talk and gave me a much better understanding of freshwater diversions and the surrounding controversies.

At one o'clock, I gave my presentation on "How to Write Nonfiction." If you'd have told me ten years ago that I'd be leading a workshop on that topic I would have laughed you out of the room. I guess I've sort of arrived enough to be able to talk at a certain level about my experience.

Of course I was terrified of getting up in front of people again. Always am. And I did fine. Always do. In fact, I felt super relaxed and really had fun with the 16 or 18 people present. They asked great questions and afterward 4 or 5 came up front to talk a little more.

Rob Goswitz reads from his novel
One of those folks was a playwright, Dianne Sposito from New York who complimented me about my book trailer and thanked me for my authenticity and genuineness. She said the trailer looked professional and made her want to buy the book. Her compliment sort of blew me away because I just get up there and sort of fake it till I make it. I'm just telling my story - telling people what works for me. And, evidently it's helpful to some. I'll take it.

Later in the afternoon I met a nice guy who sought me out. He is a poet from Milwaukee named David Southward. We had a great chat and I bought his chapbook. That is one of the biggest benefits of this conference is the cool people you meet or run into. My closet extrovert was in high gear. I love talking to other writers and sharing stories.

I also introduced to a Vietnam Vet who sought me out for advice on what to do about a memoir he was writing about the war. I hooked him up with my friend Bob Goswitz who I was interviewing later that afternoon. Just another case of the power of connection that the Festival brings to the table.

To finish out the day, I interviewed Bob Goswitz about his novel, The Dragon Soldier's Good Fortune. Bob and I have become good friends over the past couple of years, so this was a complete honor for me. (I've blogged about him before here.) His answers were honest, forthright, insightful and at times emotional. It was proof that the stress and shock of war is a lifelong battle for people. It was a moving hour with a brave man. I only wish it had been held a little earlier in the day so more people could have attended.

I came home from the event mentally tapped, but socially filled. As I said, I love networking with people at these types of things, be it a GIS conference or a writing/book festival or retreat. It is a reunion with old friends mixed with a litany of new acquaintances. It motivates me to write better, write more and become the best writer I can.

So to the organizers, benefactors and volunteers of the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books I would like to say a heartfelt THANK YOU. Your work was well done and appreciated.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Insanity Reset

It has been a four year drought since I managed to get a musky into the boat. This is despite great efforts once a year fishing hard for them for two straight days, and one or two other instances where I tried twice in a season during a second trip up to Pine Forest Lodge.

It is well known that they are hard fish to catch. Outside of sturgeon, in Wisconsin at least, they might be the hardest fish to catch of any species. They are hard to find and sometimes finicky when you do find them. They are the most active in Fall when they start their winter feed, so fishing for them often means cold, windy or rainy conditions. It is the price you pay for pursuing them.

Well, as many of you have seen on Facebook, this fall during what I call Muskyfest, I got one.

Let me preface it by saying that I would probably have zero muskies to my credit without the help of my friends Steve and John. Steve was the guy who initially convinced me to try musky fishing despite my reluctance as what I called myself; a "fair weather fisherman." Any fishing where you needed to bundle up like I'd seen in his pictures with the chance that you might not catch ANY fish, didn't sound appealing. But in 2009, I decided to give it a try.

And I caught one.

And to use a fishing metaphor, I've been hooked ever since. I went on to catch on for the next four years in a row. Then the drought started.

During it, for four years I cast until my arm was like a wet noodle, to no avail.

In fact, after the first day of no fish this year, I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever catch one again. I started to question my commitment to the sport. The old definition of insanity thing came up again and again, namely, "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."

But when this fish hit and the fight started, I realized it was ALL worth it. All of it. But first, the story of the catch.

So we went to one of our two favorite lakes (it's a secret) and after a couple of hours of casting I sort of dropped into my "inattentive reeling" trance. You do this stuff for long enough and it happens, your mind wanders, in this case to the Wisconsin Badger game on the radio in the back of the boat.

Midway through my 486th cast of the day, a fish slammed the lure. I set the hook with a vengeance and said "Fish on!" My two buddies were in their own Badger game trance and were kind of stunned by the statement. "Get the Net!" I said as I fought the beast toward the boat.

Now this time after the strike is something I refer to as 60 seconds of chaos. While I'm wrasslin' the fish, my buddies are getting stuff ready, reeling in their own rods and/or the suckers on bobbers in the back and generally, offering words of advice on what to do.

In other words, it is a one minute, full-on adrenaline rush.

Well, to their credit, they netted the fish. It was a 40+ inch, 15+ pound beauty. After unhooking it and getting a photo of me with it, they released it healthy into the deep to live another day.  These two guys are the ones who have my back whenever it's crunch time. They are the best of friends who know I would do the same for them (and have). Not to mention, they put up with my banter in the boat, which is sorta relentless.

And so, while any trip to the area is a good one - after all this is God's country - it is ALWAYS better to have a fish to my credit. When I first started musky fishing, I got fish for 5 years straight. Then the 4 year drought. Now I'm back on the board. Is it the start of another 5 fish run?

I sure hope so. And I aim to find out next year.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Northern Retreat

My wife made a point of scheduling a two day stay at a cabin in central Wisconsin to enable me to write and her to read. She is brutally aware how important my writing time is to me and she really loves to read, so she found a place online.

The cabin was near Big Flats with the closest town being Hancock. It was a quaint little A Frame cottage in the middle of tall pine trees. It is surrounded by farm land, but you would never know it once you were on this property. The front yard butts up to a wonderful little trout stream that winds through the area.

When I got there, the first thing I noticed was the quiet. Nothing but the trees whispering in the breeze. It is something we never get in the city, so when I hear it - or don't hear anything - it kind of shocks me.

Anyway, the writing started that night and carried on for practically the whole time. Of course I took time out for eating and conversations with Donna, but for the most part it was BIC's. Butts In Chairs. She read and journaled while I worked on four small writing projects and one bigger one.

It was an introvert writers dream.

I took a short break on Monday to do a little trout fishing. This is a sport I do not love. Lots of casting and putzing and snags and messing with moving water. It's super annoying actually. All I wanted to do was catch a trout. Eventually I did, after about 20 minutes of flailing futility. I reaffirmed that I am a born and raised LAKE fisherman.

So, I can't say enough about the value in getting away to do your writing. I could have stayed at home and written and saved myself a couple hundred dollars, but I know I wouldn't have accomplished as much as I did at this cabin. Plus, as a friend pointed out, I was in nature with my loved one.

So there's that.

Today I will be heading back into the pines, further up north, to fish for the elusive Esox (Muskellunge). I won't be doing any writing, but I will definitely be listening for the wind in the pines. That is my jam. I'm an avid outdoorsman, and I can't wait.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Ode To Jack

Today marks the official release of my poetry chapbook On a Road by Unsolicited Press. It was a release planned around this date, as it marks the 49th anniversary of the death of Jack Kerouac, the beat generation author of the classic book, On the Road. The chapbook was written stylistically in part to pay homage to On the Road, but also because it recounts a trip that reminded me of the book.

As I've mentioned before, the chapbook is a series of poems that chronicles a road trip two buddies and I took from Minnesota to California in a rental car in 1984. It was a long strange trip with the destination being a friend's house in suburban Los Angeles.
Jack Kerouac, 3/12/1922 – 10/21/1969

The description of the book explains that it is the story of youths heading west to see what "life in fast lane" was all about. What we discovered was that our Midwestern practicality and sensibilities were not cut out for life in Cali. We came back to Minnesota with great memories but the realization that California living was not our style and likely never would be. Once a midwesterner, always a midwesterner.

I've always had a thing for road trips. It's in my blood, I think. As a kid, it was trips to campgrounds and cabins that I looked forward to most every summer. As high school seniors, we once took a trip to Kentucky for spring break (because it's such a destination!) in my friend Pete's Ford Pinto. And in College, it was spontaneous road trips up to Saint Cloud, Minnesota with my friend Pat that I remember most. There were some disastrous ends to a couple of those trips, both involving Volkswagen Beetles - stories for another time.

After I moved to Wisconsin, my travelling became much more frequent as I had to make trips back to Minnesota for holidays and special occasions. To further complicate matters, I married Donna whose family lives in New York, so there were countless trips cross country for that. Long trips with kids, and Goldfish crackers, and whiteout snowstorms and near-death encounters with falling asleep at the wheel.

Being on the road meant music in different forms over the years. As a boy, it was listening to my stepfather's car radio playing elevator music or the crackle of trying to pull in the distant Viking football game. As a teenager, it was cassette tapes of Jackson Brown's Running on Empty, or George Thorogood's Move It On Over. In college and beyond I moved to CD's of REM and Talking Heads.

Now, as an adult, empty nester, we are travelling as much as anything. In the past week I have gone to Sturgeon Bay, I am currently in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin, as I writer this and am headed to Presque Isle, 5 hours north of the cities next week for musky fishing. As I said, being on the road is in my blood.

But I think the trip out to California may have been the one that whet my appetite for it all. There's something reckless and irresponsible about driving 2000 miles straight through to get to a place. At the same time, I saw so much of the country and ultimately learned something about who I was to become and where I ultimately wanted to live in the process.

So the chapbook tips my hat to Jack Kerouac, but as much as anything it is a series of vignettes about chasing a dream only to find out that the fast life of Southern California in the eighties was only thinly veiled superficiality.

But that doesn't mean I don't like being...On a Road.

Copies will be available from me at all future book signings or via mail. Contact me here.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Churched

A couple of nights ago, my wife and I went and saw The Church for their "Thirty Year" Starfish tour. It was held at Turner Hall in Milwaukee, a creepily beautiful structure across the street from the brand new Fiserv Center, home of the Milwaukee Bucks. Turner is in rough shape, but is a magnificent structure and is a great place to see a show. There isn't a bad seat in the place and acoustically, it is not too bad.

If you know me, you know The Church is my favorite band of all. I've followed them since 1985 or so, and have been fairly loyal over the years. There was a ten year stretch or so, when their music got a little too dark and psychadelic, where I drifted away. In the past 10 years, I came back into the fold and have not been disappointed.

They released Starfish in 1988, and it was a breakout album for them. It had a couple of mega hits on it, including Under the Milky Way. It quickly became one of my favorite LP's and after sharing it with my "girlfriend" at the time, (now wife) it became hers too.

So, much like their Blurred Crusade tour, which I've written about here, this tour became a must-see for both of us.

We were lucky enough to get a seat half way back from the stage with good sight lines. After a decent warmup from a cool band named, Rose of the West, The Church came on and worked their way through Starfish, from start to finish.

It was fantastic. A roll-back of all the great hits of those '80s so many years ago.

At intermission I went up and bought a print painted by the bassist and lead singer Steve Kilbey, who is an accomplished painter and poet as well. I absolutely love it and it will hang in my office as a reminder of that night.

These guys are getting old, so I don't know how many more tours they have in them.

I hope to be a part of them though.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 14, 2018

At The Old, Local-Team-Participant, Postseason, Free TV Ball Game

Well, the Brewers are deep into the postseason and I'm starting to get jazzed about it. This makes me the kind of fan that most everyone hates, and I'm okay with it.

Baseball has never been my sport.

I should qualify that as regular season, televised baseball, by a team that is just mediocre, has never been my thing.

I am one of those people that won't watch a game on TV unless it is a playoff game. That doesn't mean I can't enjoy a live game, because when I am at the park I am totally into the game. I understand the strategy and do enjoy the energy of a good rally and the struggle of a pitching duel. I am all in for the home team, if only for that three hours a season.

But ever since the Minnesota Twins got into and won the '87 and '91 series, I've been a postseason fan...as long as someone I care about is in it. Namely, the Brewers or Twins.

Part of this is because, for years and years, the Twins were average to outright bad. To see them get into the playoffs was something I thought I'd never see. Then to see them advance and eventually win was nothing short of miraculous. I can remember sitting on pins and needles for every pitch in some of the tighter games against the Tigers and Cardinals back in '87. Somehow the energy of the moment gets to me, no matter what the sport, especially if there is something huge on the line.

This postseason has been broadcast strictly on FS1 or MLB Network, so I haven't seen a game. I am one of those that refuses to pay for cable TV or a streaming service to watch a game. But I am not a sitter. I get antsy after an hour and have trouble watching a slow moving game where a single batter can foul off balls for 5 minutes straight. Does that make me unAmerican? Probably.

 Furthermore this is the case with baseball. My formula for when I will watch televised baseball is simple:


  1. If it is postseason
  2. A team I care about
  3. On local Television
Yesterday, the first locally broadcast game was on and I watched most of it. It pulled me in, just like the Twins did in '87/'91.

As I said at the beginning, I am the kind of fan most baseball fans (and all cable TV folks) hate.And I'm totally okay with that. 

Go Brewers!!!

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Other People's Vacation Pictures

I am busy with some forthcoming travel and visitors, so don't have much time to post. But there is part of me that can't stop thinking about our trip to London, so I thought I would post a few of my favorite pictures of the trip.

Marble Arch

Tower of London and Crown Jewels

Tower Bridge

Buckingham Palace

Bath Abbey

Abbey Road Zebra Crosswalk

Houses of Parliment

St. Paul's Cathedral

London from atop St. Paul's Cathedral
Queen Elizabeth Statue @ Buckingham Palace

Best Ale Ever

Westminster Abbey

Stonehenge (dates to 3000 BC)

Windsor Palace

It was an amazing trip. I want to go back. But for now, I'm...

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 7, 2018

One For The Road

Two weeks from today is the formal release of my poetry chapbook titled, On a Road by Unsolicited Press. It is a little hard to believe that this is my fifth published book, albeit just a 30 page chapbook. It is also my second published book of 2018. It's easy for us writers who struggle with self esteem issues to discount ourselves, but, all things aside, I am still pretty happy with the direction of my writing.

On a Road, is a travelogue of a sorts that tracks a trip I took from Minnesota to California in 1984 with two friends in a rental car, a 40 hour drive one way. I felt the trip had elements of Jack Kerouac's classic novel, On the Road, so my goal was to write these vignettes stylistically similar to Kerouac's book. I even went so far as to give my friends the names of characters in the book. It was originally designed as a 3 poem series, but when a fellow poet, Mary Jo Balistreri encouraged me to tell the whole story, I decided to write the rest of it.

It is also done in complete reverence for and out of total respect for the genius of Jack Kerouac. I remember reading his novel and thinking it was the most unconventional book I'd ever read, but also one that changed the way I looked at literature.

I do have to mention that On a Road is a little different than my other books. I was young and crazy and doing all the irresponsible things that a 23 year old does. Like memoir, I am putting myself out there, at least the myself of my past, if that makes sense. I lived it, I can't change it, but it was part of who I was at the time. On the other hand, the trip was a lot of fun and obviously the memories have held.

The book comes out on October 21st which is the anniversary of Kerouac's death (10/21/69). It is currently available for presale at the Unsolicited Press website. And I fully realize the cover price is steep at $16.00, so I want to give people a couple of options:

  1. The eBook is only $4.99
  2. I will have personalized copies for sale at all of my readings or the next time I see you for $9.99 which is my cost. 
I've always been a person who likes road trips and this was the biggest I've ever taken. I invite you to come along...on a road/

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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Death, Taxes and Dentistry

So I went to the dentist today, perhaps my least favorite activity of all time, with the exception maybe of visiting the DMV. Every time I go, I notice something a little different, probably attributable to my high anxiety level.

Now, none of these fears are founded in any real reasoning. The truth is, I was traumatized as a kid by Dr. Whipple (True name, can't make this stuff up.) who didn't really believe in Novocaine. Being a kid, I did not know of Novocaine, so I just assumed every trip to the dentist involved a high speed drill and a trip through the ceiling. I just figured it was the price you pay for eating Quisp and Captain Crunch for breakfast every morning. I have a mouth full of metal to prove it.

So when I get there the hygienist - who was very nice and personable, by the way (It's not them, it's me.) tells me I'm due for a full set of X-Rays. She gives me a pair of spit sunglasses that remind me of bad Oakley glasses. Because if you're not humbled by the forthcoming pain, well, at least you look ridiculous while it's happening.

She then proceeds to put the equivalent of cooking tongs in my mouth and asks that I clamp down and sit still. I sit there with the bear trap in my mouth as she steps out of the room to avoid the radioactive blast that is being shot at my face. (Goodbye cavities, hello nasal cancer!)

She then removes the cooking tongs and moves them 1/2 inch to the left, signals to me to bite down, which I do. Exit room. Radioactive blast. Cancer growth fertilizer. Repeat.

This goes on for about 18 photos. It was like the radiation Paparazzi.

Then the nice hygienist (I mean it when I say it. So sweet. She means no harm, I'm sure.) grabs what feels like a coat hanger and starts picking away at my plaque for a bit.

Squirt of water.

Spit into the suction thing.

Pick again. Repeat 8 times.

I begin pondering if this is why CroMagnon man died out. Bad dentition caused by poor hygiene.

Then comes the polishing DRILL. I realize it's battery operated and just a polisher, but it always brings back memories of the Great Dr. Whipple. Brace yourself, son.

The polisher actually tickles more than it hurts so is a big nothing. It is followed by a flossing to go with the one I did this morning and the one from last night. (I'm an obsessive flosser, credit to the Great Dr. Whipple whose techniques scared me straight.)

When she's done, the Dentist comes in and after greeting me starts flicking through my x-rays like Instagram photos, evidently looking for the mother-of-all-cracks, that glorious Crown candidate that will get him further on his way to that Caribbean Cruise he's working on.

After spending all of 14 seconds looking in my mouth and reestablishing a "watch" on #14 and #22 - which I can only take to mean there's something expensive in my future - he tells me that everything looks great, no cavities.

Overall, dentists visits aren't what they used to be. The experience is much more pleasant. And I do apologize to all the dentists, hygienists and dental assistants in my life. It's nothing personal really!

But the beautiful thing is, I get to do this all again in 6 months. Well, maybe not the cooking tongs thing, but all the rest.

In the meantime, pass the Captain Crunch!

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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Looking For The Light

Finding Joy in Turbulent Times

In a country that sometimes seems like it is coming apart at the seems, it is important to keep one's eyes wide open for moments of light and joy. Every day has some, if you look hard enough. Here are a few of my own from the past week.

  1. Talking to my son or daughter on the phone and just hearing their voice. They're only 60 and 300 miles away, but I miss them like its 3000 miles.
  2. Having a church home that is literally a church in a home and a church family that is like a family.
  3. A kind word on Facebook. A week ago a friend complimented me and I've stashed the words away to call upon when I need a lift. It doesn't take much to help someone out, so be generous with kind words. 
  4. Having a team of coworkers that are competent, respectful and fun to work with. It makes going into work easy
  5.  A couple of friends who have two boys had their third baby this week. A girl! 
  6. It's refreshing to see the outpouring of support people have had for women who have experienced sexual assault after the bravery of Dr. Ford this week. Let the investigation reveal what it may, it does not reduce the wounds others have had brought to the surface by the events of the week. 
  7. I'm not a big baseball fan - barely one at all. But I have to admit it is a little exciting to see the Brewers actually poised to be playing in October. If they make it past the first round, I might even start watching. Yep, I'm a bandwagoneer and proud of it.
  8. A framed print I bought in London gives me a little happiness every time I look at it. A trigger of great memories.
  9. Laughing with my golfing buddies so hard I thought I might choke. These guys are like brothers to me and we razz each other so much it's ridiculous. We keep each other loose and humble as we drive golf balls deep into the forest or the creeks. I'd take a bullet for these guys.
  10. Re-hashing stories of London with my wife and our friends. It was a trip that brought us closer together and gives a shared experience that we will never lose.
So, as the days get shorter and current events get ugly and the dreaded W seasons approaches, I encourage you to look for moments of lightness and laughter. If you can't find any, make some. The world needs it more than ever.

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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Highest of the Highlights

This past Tuesday we returned from our London vacation. There were simply too many good things to recount in a single or even multiple blog posts. It was phenomenal. And because I know how painful it can be to sit through other peoples' vacation pictures and stories, I thought I'd give a synopses of the high points. In no particular order, here's what I remember as moments I will never forget.

  1. Sitting in the Quire at Westminster Abbey for Evensong.  We made it a point to get to the evensong service at 3:00 on Sunday. We were 8th or 9th in line, so when it came time to be seated, we asked if we could sit in the quire section. (They spell it funny, but it's probably more correct than choir.) The attendant said sure and seated us in the front row. We were feet from the boys and adults doing the singing. It was an absolutely spiritual experience. The music echoed off the walls of history as we sat there thinking of the possible nobles and royalty that may have sat in our same seats. As a religious person, this one was top of the list.
  2. Tower of London/Crown Jewels. I am a bit of a history slouch, so to hear some of the history that took place at this old castle/fort was eye opening. To hear that men and women accused of being traitors were dragged up to tower hill and publicly beheaded was shocking. 
  3. Stonehenge. There is just something mystical and cool about this site and I can't explain why it meant so much to me to be there. The site goes back to 3100 BC, so there's that. When we got there the winds were pretty steady at about 30 MPH. It was chilly, but I couldn't get enough.
  4. Roman Baths: As part of the Stonehenge Tour, we also got to spend about 4 hours in Bath. It is a small town about 2 hours from London and is the site of an ancient Roman Bath set on the site of a mineral spring. This place was built in around 35 BC, so was not as old as Stonehenge, but provided its own mystique. To walk on rocks that the ancient Romans had before the days of Christ, was pretty cool. After the tour was done, we actually got to sample some of the spring water. I may have increased my life span by a few years, who knows?
  5. St. Paul's Chapel: This building, like so much of London's archictecture was over-the-top beautiful. Stunning building inside and out. We climbed the 528+ steps to the top lookout platform. The view of London was worth every step.
  6. Abbey Road: In a goofy side-trip we went to the crosswalk where the Beatles shot the Abbey Road album cover. Pop culture is not near as important as ancient culture, but it was a fun diversion from the many tours and museums we saw.
As I mentioned, there were too many good things to cover in one post. It was our first time abroad and it whet our appetite for more. On a related note, I can't say enough about the London Transit system. We found a train/subway that took us wherever we wanted to go and we were never more than a 20 minute walk from anything. 

I love London!

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Intangibles

One of the unexpected benefits of my affair with this writing thing has been the events and the cool people I have met along the way. This includes peers, colleagues, readers, proprietors and fans. 

For example, at my reading last Wednesday, I was part of a panel that involved a good friend (Julie) and someone I'd never met (Connie). Both of these women had difficult (and, at times, unimaginably horrific) childhoods. Had I not chosen to follow my writing muse about 9 years ago, I would never have met them and my life would be that much less rich. 

Furthermore, the store proprietor, Lisa, is a great light and a beautiful person. She is all-in for promoting local and national authors. 

So, during the panel discussion, Lisa asked an interesting question of us. I can't quote it verbatim, but it was something like "What, if any, are the intangible benefits of writing your memoir?"

I started by mentioning the time a gentleman told me that he loved to go up to the Boundary Waters every year and he also had a brother who died of cancer. We ended up having coffee and talking as I signed a book he was buying for a friend. Add to that any number of the emails or book reviews I've received, and those are the feel-goods that I hadn't planned on when I wrote the book.

Julie mentioned that the book represented the end of a long road of therapy for her. The writing of it alone was therapy - getting it out into the open. She also mentioned that when the first person told her they'd purchased the book, she sort of panicked. The reality of her story being out there for the whole world to see, caused her some internal angst - at least initially.  She eventually got over it and has come to realize that it was a story that needed to be told.

I mentioned that I shared that feeling of concern that my words will harm someone, when that is never my intent. Many of my stories are humorous, but are not written to make anyone look bad. They are for entertainment only. But the downside of memoir is that it's all out there. Part of the process is dealing with the fact that you think your story is worth being told. 

Lisa asked a couple of other great questions and the three of us answered as compelled and enjoyed hearing what the others had to say. The audience was engaged and rapt which made the evening so much more than just a simple book signing. It was more like an intimate gathering of people showing up to talk listen and share. The night itself was one of those intangibles that Lisa was asking about. 

And I was privileged to be a part of it.

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Fan Mail

I had a really cool thing happen at my panel discussion/reading last night at Books and Company. At the signing portion, a woman approached me and introduced herself. She said she was a 5th grade school teacher and that as part of her English class she told the kids about the authors that were going to be at the bookstore. She told them a bit about each author and our books.

Then, she told them to write letters to each of us, which she then brought to the reading and gave to each of us. She mentioned that one girl even wanted to be my friend (according to the letter.)

I thought the whole idea was great. It was humbling and touched my heart. I then told her I would write each of them back. I also mentioned my own series of 4th grade stories that I've blogged about here before. I plan to send her the scans of those stories so maybe she can read them to her class.

It was a neat exchange and one of the many intangible benefits of being a writer. The event was a roaring success and reminded me again how lucky I am to be doing what I'm doing. The closet extrovert in me loves those events and I can't wait for the next one.

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Sunday, September 9, 2018

Rage: Blinded By The Light

Try as I might to be upbeat and positive, yesterday was not my best day ever.

I had the greatest of intentions to get a lot done, but every time I started something it was thwarted.

It started with my usual routine of going to the Public Library and trying to write and catch up with some other tasks. Well, the WiFi wasn't working - at least on my computer, or my phone - so after struggling with it for 10 minutes I packed up my laptop and headed home. Argh! My time would be better spent on chores and errands, I figured.

I had a piece of art I wanted framed, so I went to Target. Of course the size was odd and there were no frames to be found. Argh!

I know, I'll by local and help a local merchant out. So I drove to the  shop in downtown Waukesha.  Upon arriving, I found a sign on the door saying, "I'm up the street changing out some art, call me at 555-1234." Well, being in a hurry, I thought I'd check back after going to Home Despot (sic) to rent a carpet cleaner.

So I go to Home Despot to rent a carpet shampooer to do a few rooms in my house. When I get it home and start it up, it appeared to be leaking a little out the back. Thinking it was just a minor leak, I continued on. As it went, the leak seemed to get worse. I was determined to finish though, so toughed it out and finished in about 3 hours. When I went to clean it up, I found a hose that was fully unhooked behind the receiving container. Argh!

When I took it back, I let the clerk know that the thing was a source of great angst. He was nice enough to refund me 1/2 the cost of the rental, which frankly I thought was a bit cheap. I thanked him anyway and left.

I went back to the frame shop thinking the owner must be done by now. Instead, I see a sign that says "We're closed. Please try back again," despite allegedly being open until 6:00. Argh! There were a few choice words muttered under my breath at the sight of this sign, and they might have even been harsher than Argh. Needless to say I won't try back at that store again and I encourage no one else to. Ever.

At this point in my day of frustration I'm seeing a trend, so I thought I needed a win.

So I took on a project involving hanging a new LED work light above my workbench to replace the fluorescent light that had gone bad. After removing the old light I literally had the new light up and working in 15 minutes.

Hallelujah!

Victory!

My work here is done.

It was the only thing that went right all day, so I basked in the glow of those LED tubes and might even have said a prayer of thanks for something actually going right.

Some days are like that. If you need me, I'll be in the basement.

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Thursday, September 6, 2018

Fortune Takes Many Forms

I was a little too young to fight in Vietnam. I think my older brother might have had a draft card, but I can't recall for sure. I remember hearing that our neighbor a few doors down was caught at the draft office trying to burn draft cards, but again, details are sketchy.

I do remember seeing snippets of video on the nightly news. Soldiers walking through swamps with guns, Huey helicopters and battle scenes. They say it was the first war to come into peoples' living rooms...every night.

I also remember a protest march going from West to East down Summit Avenue sometime in '71 or so. I didn't understand enough to grasp what the marchers were marching for, but it seemed weird to protest something that we were supposed to be trying to "win," if that's what you call bringing a war to an end.

As the years have gone by, I've gained a deep respect for the veterans of Vietnam. These guys were put into an unjust, unwinnable war and when we withdrew from South Vietnam, many of them came home to angry, disrespectful crowds.

Along those lines, my wife read a powerful Instagram post by Elizabeth Gilbert yesterday about the War vs. the Protest. Check it out here

Well, a writer friend of mine just wrote a book about his experience in the war. And while it is fictionalized, it gave me a good taste of what it was like being an unwanted stranger in a strange land. The book is titled "The Dragon Soldier's Good Fortune," by Bob Goswitz. It is a worthy read and I highly recommend it.

Anyway, last week Bob held his book launch at Books and Company in Oconomowoc. During it he mentioned he hadn't really talked or written about it in 45 years. But he thought it was a story that needed to be told, so he started writing. Many years later, he finished and had it published.

His launch reading and talk was riveting. A couple of times during it though, he had to stop because he was getting emotional. It goes to sho
w you that wartime experiences have long lasting effects, and this was no different. I was also humbled to see my blurb for his book made it into the print copy.

Bob and I go back a few years as he's followed my writing successes fairly closely. We've had coffee once and I will be interviewing him at the Southeastern Wisconsin Festival of Books in November. I am fortunate to know him and am super excited for his book release. I am also looking forward to hearing more about his story and his life.

Bob's book is available here.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't thank all the Vietnam Vets out there for their service. So, thank you!

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Sunday, September 2, 2018

Cabin Speed

It is Labor Day weekend. I sort of love/hate those words.

This is the weekend we typically end up as a family at a cabin up in Mercer. This year, it is just the two of us with our friends Steve and Jill, hanging out in Mount Morris at another friend's rental cabin.

Things are moving at "cabin speed," as expected. The days are long and full of flip flops, good books, adult beverages and the occasional nap. Of course there is fishing, and lots of it. Lots of little Bass in the boat, and just as many lost at retrieve.

And while I'm obviously not totally off the grid, I wanted to post because this end of Summer is always hard for me. I know there are warm days ahead yet, but the cold days loom heavily as well. So I will finish off this mini-vacation the best I know. At cabin speed.

But as I am here, a couple of my extended family are at cabins of their own. My brother is up in Mercer at Pine Forest Lodge with his daughter. He is pursuing the "big one" again, that we all know is in that lake somewhere, but mostly he is doing it to "get away." Get away from time and social demands of home.

Get away to cabin time. Where listening to the blue jays and loons is considered productive time.

Meanwhile my sister is up on Lake Winnibigoshish in Minnesota. Again, us Landwehrs have a thing for cabins in August. I know mom would be at one too if she was feeling a little better. My brother Tom is talking of taking her to Duluth and Grand Marais. It's hard to keep her down.

This trip again reminds me how important it to slow down and breathe.

So that's what I'm going to do right now.

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Inspiration I Never Asked For

So, seven years ago today I lost a brother after a long battle with cancer. He left behind a wife and two beautiful daughters as well as friends and a family that loved him. His legacy for me was to live life with a sense of urgency.

Our time is short.

Love hard.

Forgive often.

Don't waste your days.

Things don't matter, people do.

His death also inspired much reflection and, as a result, some poetry. Here are a few that I've written about him and his life.


The Closer Side of Heaven*

You’re on the closer side of heaven
a lower stratosphere place
for the young ones
the strong ones
who can still climb.


I wonder what it’s like
on that closer side of heaven
near to God
but still near to us
left down here to wait it out.


Is it beautiful and stunning
this closer side of heaven?
Better than any earthly day
on the farther side
of our earth?

I await your reply.



One Cast*                                                                               

My daughter wanted to catch a Musky
With her dad
Our family has a long fishing tradition
Her uncles Tom, Rob, and Paul all had a Musky
But only one
And she wanted to be part of it -
The Musky part

Now, Rob was in heaven
God called him there to help scout Smallmouth
Because He was having trouble Himself
Rob knew he could be a big help
But when he heard about Sarah,
He said to God, “Here’s the deal…
I’ll help you, if you help her.”

Then Rob said, “One cast.”

God dropped his jaw.
“But you know that just doesn’t happen.”
Rob wouldn’t budge
“One cast.”
“They’re the fish of 10,000 casts,” God argued.
“I caught a seven smallmouth yesterday…” Rob said.
“But she’s using the wrong line and no leader!”
“One cast.”

On the first cast
The wrong lure
Thrown with the wrong rod
Using the wrong line
And no leader (wrong again)
Hit the water with a splash
And immediately erupted
With heavenly Musky thunder.

Rob turned to God and winked.


What’s Happening?*

The passion of people
The color of fall
The love of a dog
The artist in the art
The smell of the rain
The hug of a child
The majesty of a sunset
The joy in the music
The smile of a wife
The death of a brother
The brevity of life
The power of God


This is my midlife



Spider Lake*

The memory replays over and over
as I desperately attempt to relive it or
reanimate it in some way.
A night at the cabin up north
fishing with my brother
small boat, minnows, a cooler with beers.
Fishing what we termed the “Dead Sea”
we cast, talk, laugh like schoolboys
until we can’t anymore – only one fish.
We bait our hooks with hope, tip our beers
and share stories of life back home, work,
the joys and struggles of young fatherhood.
He takes a moment to point out
the beauty of the water’s mirrored surface
and says quietly, “Life is good.”
We bare our souls to one another
and smoke cheap covert cigars
to the soundtrack wail of the loons.
Fishbone clouds, scarlet sunset, his laughter
these are what I recall – what I must remember –
about that night – fishing with my brother.

-because he’s gone.
*From Reciting From Memory

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