Thursday, October 19, 2017

Life After Portland

My book The Portland House: A 70's Memoir is just a tad more than three months from being released. While that house was instrumental in forming our family, I have lived in about eight other places since then and I thought it would be fun to recount some of these places -as they were as unique from each other and, collectively were as much a part of my life as Portland.

The first place was my first "real" apartment at 7610 Bass Lake Road in Crystal, Minnesota. After I got my first job out of college at a mapping firm in Crystal, a guy I worked with talked me into moving in with him in 1985. I forget what rent was, maybe $375/mo. for each of us. I didn't know Dan too well, but he seemed decent enough, so I took the plunge and moved out of Portland to be closer to work.

Well, the place interviewed much better than it performed. (Like a bad pet.) The worst part was during the winter months. We had one thermostat for the whole 2 BR place, so if I shut my bedroom door at night, it got frosty in my room. I mean nose-nipping cold. Being my first place of my own, I was a fairly private person, so didn't like leaving it open. So, frosty it was.

It was a brutal winter, like most in Minnesota. At one point the pipes in the apartment above us froze because the walls were poorly insulated. So the caretaker of the apartment who lived above us took it upon himself to bust a hole in our wall near the ceiling so he could take a blow torch to the pipes to thaw them out.

This seemed a bit extreme to me as a first time renter.

Anyways, because this caretaker was also an alcoholic slacker, the hole was never fixed (at least not before I moved out the following March).

So, around the holidays we did what most bachelors would do. We strung lights up into the hole for our Christmas bash. I remember one guy commenting that in many countries they would call what we did "Art".

The place was scantily furnished. I know we used my roommate's drafting table as a kitchen table with the intention of upgrading someday. There was a couch and a couple chairs, his TV and my stereo system. I had a twin bed, bookcase and desk and chair. You don't need much more than all of that at that age. Mom gave me some hand me down dishes and silverware, so we made it work.

I remember vividly being home alone near the holidays and shutting the lights out except the Christmas lights, listening to REM and thinking, I made it. I finally got a job in my field and now my own place. I'm living the dream. 

Well, none of it lasted very long. Within 6 months of moving in, my roommate decided he was moving to California and we would have to break lease. This meant losing my security deposit as well as needing to find a new place to live. I've never forgiven the guy for that - nor have I heard from him.

But no one ever forgets their first apartment or dorm and we did have a couple of pretty good kickin' parties there, I'll give the place that. But it was still just a small step above government housing - we had bugs in the bathroom and, well, the thermostat/pipe thing I mentioned. So it was nothing great, but it gave me a taste of life on my own. It also made me never want to have to move back home.

Next time - where I landed after my roommate abandonment.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Word On Words

I was hoping to post about the big musky I caught this weekend but unfortunately it actually never happened so, that's that I guess. Instead I'll give a quick update on all things writing related.

  • I've entered the "quiet period" that my publisher talked about between the initial acceptance and the galley review and final edits. The release date for The Portland House: A 70's Memoir is January 23rd, 2018 so I probably won't hear much for the next 6 or 8 weeks. I am okay with that as it gives me the chance to plan my promotion and marketing a bit. 
  • I did get a couple of nice reviews from the Review Corner blog. I heard about this reviewer on the Paperbacks Plus Facebook page. She confessed she doesn't really read memoir, but was willing to review my poetry. I'll let you read the two reviews Here and Here, but suffice it to say her reviews were encouraging to me as a poet/author. Anytime someone says something like "I don't really read poetry, but I like your poetry," it is extremely reassuring and gratifying. 
  • One of the things I enjoy doing is supporting my colleagues who successfully publish their books. I had the chance today to do just that to my youngest colleague yet, Colleen June Glatzel, who just published her first novel, Hey, Joey Journal. She is not much older than my daughter, Sarah and it is kind of amazing to think that she has her first book out. I will be joining her at the local high school in a few weeks for the Authors in the Schools event, as we talk to students about the writing process.  
  • I recently submitted another chapbook titled, Wading In, for publication consideration to three different small presses. For those of you who don't know, a chapbook is a small collection of usually around 20-30 poems. This submission is a different collection than the On A Road chapbook that is being put on the back burner while I figure out what to do with it. These kinds of side projects are great fun.
  • My work with the next memoir about my Cretin High School experience continues as well. I am still on the fence about whether to fictionalize it or make it another memoir. It is really kind of weird digging up these old high school memories, but the people in my writing group say my experiences are unique and engaging enough that they will appeal to people. 
  • The Portland House book trailer continues to move as well. I've tightened up the voice over script and my musician friend has developed a rough take on the soundtrack. Again, this stuff is the fun part of promotion. 
  • And finally, Humble Apparel Company has asked to keep some of my copies of Dirty Shirt so they can package them with a hat and sweatshirt as part of a BWCA holiday gift pack. They are a great company and I am happy to be part of their offerings.
So, that's pretty much it. All busy, but all good.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Off the Grid - In Pursuit

If you are reading this on Thursday, I am on my way off the grid. It is that time of year again. Muskiefest!

This is the one weekend a year completely dedicated to searching for Esox masquinongy - the largest of the pike species. I wouldn't say it's a weekend I can barely wait for every year, but it really is. If you know me, you know that this is my latest obsession.

This will be my eighth consecutive year going up to the Manitowish Waters area with a couple of buddies, one of whom owns a place up that way and graciously lets us crash for the weekend. I was fortunate enough to catch a muskie up there five consecutive years in a row. These past two years I've been skunked, so am super revved to get one this year. They are the fish of 10,000 casts, so they are hard to come by, but if you don't try, you'll never get one, right?

The occasion falls on the weekend of a couple of significant birthdays as well. My nephew and godson Nick's birthday is Friday the 13th. Then, on Saturday the 14th, it my brother Rob would have turned 54. There is extra incentive on both days to catch a muskie, with Saturday being an especially relevant date.

I sometimes talk about a couple of regrets I have with regards to my brother. One was that we never got up to Canada fishing together. He went on a couple of trips with others and I went on a few with Steve and another guy, but we never went together.

The other regret is that I never got him up to Muskiefest. He would have loved it. Part of it was a space issue and another was a boat issue. But had I to do it over again, I'd make it happen for both this and the Canada trip. I learned the hard way that life is too short to mess around. Get it done.

Knowing those regrets, I am going with two close friends who are like brothers to me. They taught me how to fish muskies and fed my obsession. On top of that, they put up with my constant banter in the boat and while enjoying adult beverages afterward. They let me be me for the weekend and the three of us always to have a ton of laughs. These guys make it all worthwhile and take away the sting of my loss a little bit, especially on this meaningful weekend.

Not to mention, both of them would go the extra mile to see to it that any one of us got a fish.

So, stay tuned and say a little prayer for me. LOL.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Back To School.

In a little less than a month one of my favorite festival comes back to Waukesha. The Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books is a two day gathering of authors, speakers and readers that celebrates books and all they add to our lives. 

In years past I have been a participant on a couple of different author panels centered around a theme. I've really enjoyed these opportunities. Typically we're introduced and then given a series of questions by a moderator. After these panels, we're moved out to the signing area where people can purchase our books. They try and schedule authors who have been published during the year, so this year I did not really qualify. With the release of The Portland House in January of 2018, I hope to be back as a participant again next year.

This year, they are starting a new event where authors go into area schools and talk to students about the writing process, publication, inspirations we might have and answer questions. I will be going with another AllWriters student Colleen Glatzel. She graduated from Waukesha South, the school we'll be going to. Of course, both of my kids graduated from South, so it will be even more relevant for me to be speaking to these young men and women.

I've never done this kind of thing and so I'm not sure what to expect. I've taken questions from the audience at readings, but this is more than that. We are left to kind of wing it I am told, so that makes it easy. One thing is sure, I really enjoy being in a learning environment, so I am really looking forward to being around kids that are there to learn (and a few that likely could care less). 

One person on Facebook even went so far as to say it will be interesting who my colleague and I inspire during our talk.I guess I don't give myself enough credit to say that I could inspire anybody. But writers tend to do that to themselves. I'm just kind of making it up as I go.

My writing instructor began a critique of one of my recent sets of pages and wrote something like,

"Let me begin by congratulating you on your fourth book. That is quite an accomplishment for a guy who started this class just wanting to write stories for his family."

Again, I guess I never thought about it that way. I've stood on the shoulders of my writing colleague giants to get here and maybe I can even help a student who is thinking they'd like to start writing. 

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Words For A Change

Last Saturday I had the chance to participate in an event titled 100 Thousand Poets for Change. It was held at Books and Company in Oconomowoc, a store that has among its offering my book, Dirty Shirt. I was asked to be part of it by a poet friend, Cristina Norcross, founding editor of the online poetry journal, Blue Heron Review. I have long been a fan of her work, and in the past year have seen her at a handful of events.

Anyway, the event was not just local. It was billed as an international event with locations in a bunch of different countries. Knowing that it was happening on the same day across the world was pretty cool. A local musician Jacqueline Nicholson warmed up the event and as a side benefit, donations were accepted and put toward money to buy children's books for the Oconomowoc Public Library. and books! It was a win-win.

The theme for the event was poetry centered around world peace, social justice, environmentalism and healing. People were invited to bring up to three poems focused on any of those four issues. I brought two, one on the environmentalism theme titled, Looking for Muir, which is from my book Written Life. The piece documents a fishing trip I took to a southeastern Wisconsin suburban lake one morning.

The second poem, Reciting From Memory, by the ebook of the same name was centered around the handful of memories I have about my dad and spoke to the healing theme.

I know this gig is not for everybody, but I can't say enough how hearing the work from the other poets moved me. People read work about a better, more peaceful, sustainable world. They talked about pain and change and beauty. They pleaded for social justice in an unjust world. And in a moment of reverence, a couple of poets even paid tribute to Susan Elbe, a well respected local poet who passed away two days prior to the event.

As I was sitting there I was wondering what, if any effect this event could have in the world. Then one poet reminded me that to change the world, we have to change ourselves. And along those lines, it was one of those moments that you sit and reflect, and listen and most of all ignore your phone and your problems for an hour and a half. There is a peace in that.

And as Cristina said, maybe the energy of the evening will go out into the world and change it in some way. I can't argue with that, given all the pockets of negative energy in this day and age. Maybe it all adds up somewhere.

We gotta keep trying anyway.

Blogging off...

Monday, October 2, 2017

Time To Move On

I don't normally post on Mondays, but after hearing of the death of Tom Petty, I felt compelled to speak to it as well as the much, much bigger tragedy in Las Vegas last night.

As you know, this summer marked my Chase the Aging Rockers pursuit. I saw some of the old greats including Roger Waters, The Church, Tommy Tutone, The Suburbs and most recently Stevie Nicks. Time is of the essence with the bands of my earlier generation and we were picking them off one at a time. One of the ones my wife and I hedged on was Tom Petty. This is a perfect example of why sometimes, you just gotta spend the money.

More recently, I blogged about his Zombie Zoo earworm.

I guess I've been a Petty fan since the Damn the Torpedos album. Some of his biggest hits (Refugee, Even the Losers, etc.) weren't favorites of mine - not bad songs, mind you - but I still respected the tune and the songwriting.

As he became more and more mainstream, I kind of lost interest.

When Wildflowers came out I think we bought the CD through the Buy 1 CD get 10 free BMG music service. I wasn't sure what to expect. It marked my giving Tom a second chance.

It was a great album. Perhaps his best, in my opinion. We played it on road trips, we played it while preparing dinner and we played it while painting the living room. So many good songs.

And when he branched out with the Travelling Wilburys, I followed him there too.

I guess it goes on and on, but my point is, that time is so precious - to everyone.

Appreciate each day.

There are 58 people who didn't wake up today because they wanted to see a concert much like the Tom Petty one I talked about going to to. The thought occurred to both my wife and I that we must pursue the aging rockers circuit again soon. Along with that thought though comes the reality that something as tragic as the Las Vegas slaughter could very well happen to us. You never know.

So, hug your kids, call your friends, and tell your significant other you love them. Better yet, do these things every day. Because,

It's time to move on. Time to get going. 
What lies ahead I have no way of knowing.
But under my feet, baby, grass is growing;
It's time to move on, it's time to get going.*

*Lyrics by Tom Petty from Time to Move On (Wildflowers)

Godspeed, Tom Petty.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Best Medicine In Turbulent Times

I am not a golfer.

I usually golf once or twice a year and my game reflects this commitment. It is a little like bowling. I refuse to take either sport too seriously because I just don't do either of them enough. Both are games of high mechanics and have little room for error. And both provide moments that make me feel like I actually know what I'm doing, usually followed by a moment shortly thereafter that reminds me that I really don't have a clue.

Yesterday was my first and likely my last golf outing of 2017. My friend Steve hosts a charity raising event named the GKO for the Greater Krey Opening. As part of it they try and raise funds for cancer research through a scramble golf tournament, raffle and dinner. I've been going to the golf portion for the past three years and the dinner/raffle portion for a few years longer than that.

It's hard to describe how much fun this day is for me. There's something about getting together with a best friend and a few really good friends and chasing a ball around green spaces. The banter in the carts and on the tee boxes and on the greens is worth the price of admission alone.

Now, because this is a "best ball" tournament, every guy on the team has a chance to contribute. This takes the edge off the competitiveness of the game for all of us. Sure we still want to do well and golf our best, but with four guys, someone is always likely to get a good shot.

Usually this guy is not me.

Because there is no pressure to try and outdo one another for a total score, we take it pretty lightly. As a result, the trash talking and grandstanding hits some pretty high levels. And, believe it or not, I am the worst one of the group with this. For me, it's like fishing where I sort of trash talk to the point of annoyance I do it all to get a laugh and keep the guys loose. I think they would agree with me, as we all have a ton of laughs.

Like the time I hit what I thought was a great shot, and said so quite loudly, only to find out that it ended up in the marsh. Or another time when I claimed another shot to be a great one, only to have a teammate make a better one, forcing me to pick up my ball.

We critique each other's style and technique, nit pick our shortcomings and cheer each other on when we do well. It's not all lighthearted put downs, after all we are good friends.

And we laugh and laugh and laugh. The laughter is therapeutic in these turbulent times in our country.

I've always considered golf a "rich man's sport." It is an expensive pastime and that is one of the reasons I don't do a lot of it. That and the fact that it can be so incredibly frustrating.

But this particular day, this tournament with these friends - friends who are like brothers to me - is one I hope to be taking part in for a long long time.

Because I love these guys like family.

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 28, 2017

I Wish I Was There

I have to say a few words about an affliction that I have a love/hate relationship with.

It's ear worms.

If you don't know the affliction by name, it's when a  song gets stuck in your head, sometimes for hours, and you can't get it out. For me it usually repeats a single line of a song over and over. Sometimes it's a catchy lyric and other times it's just annoying. For myself, if you add this affliction on top of a bad case of Pulsatile Tinnitus (think, a whooshing sound in one ear 24/7) and, well, you've got a party in your head that you never wanted to go to.

I mentioned this affliction in Dirty Shirt when we were deep in the quite woods of the BWCA and I was haunted for two whole days by a U2 song, Another Time, Another Place. When it first happened, I kind of welcomed it. It was like having a Walkman (at the time) when we were in the middle of nowhere. After 4 hours, the novelty wore off and I started to go a little insane.

I sometimes wonder if there isn't some subtle message behind what comes to the top of the ear worm playlist. It could be a song triggered by some sort deep seated thought, anxiety or preoccupation.

For example, today the ear worm was, and still is, Wish You Were Here, by Pink Floyd. Do I secretly wish someone was here? Who? If they showed up, would the song stop? It's a great song, but it's been on repeat for 12 hours now, and it can stop anytime. Then, out of nowhere, the song comes up on my iPod which is randomized. It was one of 1223 songs on my iPod and today it manages to come on. What are the odds, and what is it trying to tell me?

Another memorable one was Zombie Zoo, by Tom Petty. This is a silly, crazy song that ran through my head for 2 days while fishing in Canada. Of all the good songs that Tom Petty has made, how did I manage to get his worst song ever stuck in my head. The song speaks of goth girls getting all made up and going dancing at the Zombie Zoo, which may or may not be a real club somewhere. It certainly seemed real in Canada after two days.

Fishing and other quiet activities seem to promote the worm effect. Last time I was up in northern Wisconsin, the B52's song Rock Lobster was stuck in my head, in part because it was played during the previous nights revelry and festivities. And as much as I would never wish that one on anyone, there it was the minute my buddy mentioned it the next morning. And there it stayed.

So, I don't know if there is a cure for this affliction. Sometimes listening to something else will cancel the song out. More often the new song becomes the worm and the old one is forgotten. There is no medication for this problem, of that I'm fairly certain. Maybe I should back off the music a little. Though, who knows, maybe that will only make the problem worse.

If there's someone out there who can fix the problem, I Wish You Were Here.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Writing In Past, Present And Future Tense

With the initial news of my memoir (The Portland House: A 70's Memoir) publication acceptance by Electio Publishing gone by, things are ramping up in the writing realm for me. The publisher reminded me there will be an initial push to get some things in order, then a significant lull in the action and then things will ramp up again a few weeks before the book comes out. (January 23rd, 2017).

But in addition to the current push for the Portland book, as I refer to it, I am looking forward and backward a bit too. A few of the things going on at the moment.

  • I am finishing up the final touches on the Portland manuscript. Specifically, I am tweaking a few things in the Acknowledgements, and making sure things are in order before sending it off to the publisher for their edits.
  • I am also soliciting a few back cover blurbs from fellow authors. These are more difficult to write than you might imagine. You have to summarize the energy and emotion of a book in a few sentences. Some are better than others, but it is the first thing people see when they turn the book over, so they are important.
  • I got a really, really nice email from a gentleman that I met at a Dirty Shirt book signing a few months back at Tribeca GalleryCafe and Books. Here's a little of what he said. "

I finished “Dirty Shirt”, and really enjoyed it. It truly put me in the Boundary Waters, visually and emotionally.I especially connected with a sentence on p125 - “The lonesome, whispering call of the loon occasionally rang out   to remind us that we were mere visitors in this hallowed place”. Well done, my friend.

There's something both humbling and gratifying to hear such feedback from a reader. It is what compels me to keep going.

  • The guys who helped me with the book trailer for Dirty Shirt have rallied and said they would be interested in doing another for The Portland House. To me this is a little like The Blues Brothers. "We're gettin' the band back together!" The trailer is a fun diversion from the intricacies of writing and is a good use of other creative talents. More as it comes together.
  • Work on my next book forges ahead. I am working on a book about Cretin High School which I attended from '76-'79. Lots of stories come out of four years at an all male, Catholic, military high school
  • In addition to all of these things, I continue to get rejections and a few acceptances for some of my poetry that is floating around in literary Purgatory. I submit when I can, write when I can and still look at it as one of my passions.
  • Next Saturday, I will be taking part in the 100,000 Poets for Change reading at Books and Company in Oconomowoc. I will be reading a couple of poems in the open mic portion. It should be a fun event!
So, lots of irons in the fire, and I love it that way. I consider it my other full time job.

I tell people my day job feeds my family and my night job feeds me. 

That about sums it up.

Blogging off..

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Last Of The Aging Rockers - 2017 ed.

Well, we rounded out the summer of chasing aging rock stars recently. About ten days ago, my wife, a friend and I went to Ravinia Festival in Highland Park to see Stevie Nicks. I have been a Stevie fan since I was a kid. One of my first albums ever was Fleetwood Mac's, Rumors LP. There was something captivating about her with her capes, shawls and her witchy demeanor. At the time it didn't hurt that she had the whole 70's hair thing going too. I admit, it was a boy crush. Still is, sorta.

So when we found out she was touring at 69 years old, we figured we'd better see her, because she's no longer on the edge of seventeen. More like the edge of seventy. At the time we purchased tickets, the only ones available for anyone other than a Forbes billionaire were "lawn seats." To add to the issue, these lawn seats are not even within view of the stage. Now there were big screens on stage, but even those were obstructed by trees/sight lines etc.

I don't mean to say I didn't enjoy myself, because it was fantastic. We had a gorgeous fall evening and the sound system they had out amongst the throngs of commoners on the lawn seats was really good. Stevie was in perfect voice, and was amazing even if we never really saw her face. It was a strange concert in that respect, but it was nice having our own portable table and cooler with adult beverages within our reach at any moment.

The Ravinia Festival grounds itself was a cool venue. It is set into a hillside, sort of, but not really like a really small Alpine Valley. But it is the lawn area that really makes it unique. People brought everything from tables with tablecloths to candles and even a few candelabras. It was as much a community music celebration as a concert. None of these other folks could see the stage either and they were all okay with it.

Stevie played a fair number of songs that were unfamiliar to us. We were all there for the greatest hits, and she hit many of those too. The highlight was the finale when she sang Landslide. I'm a big sap for songs like that and ended up in tears as I held my wife's hands. There was something about those lyrics that killed me.

*Well, I've been afraid of changin'
'Cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I'm getting older, too

*Lyrics by Fleetwood Mac

With two kids in college and a now empty nest at home, these lyrics caught me off guard.

All in all, it was an incredibly memorable night.

And that's what seeing the last of the "Aging Rockers" in the Summer of '17 is all about. I can't wait to see what 2018 brings to the stage.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Uncomfortably Numb

I'm finding that, from a health standpoint being over fifty has its challenges and speed bumps. A while back I began having some numbness in my left foot. Then, it started occurring in my right foot a bit too. So I did what any normal person would do and went to the doctor.

Now, I love my doctor - a nice guy, has been my primary physician for a long time - but when I described my issue, it turns out he's not a foot specialist. He could only guess as to what he thought it was. If I really wanted to find out what was going on, I would have to be referred to a foot and ankle specialist.

So my simple trip to the doctor to fix an issue required scheduling another trip to another doctor.

He was nice enough to refer me to the Foot and Ankle Specialists of Wisconsin, a clinic in Pewaukee. I went there and met my doctor who just happens to look like Ben Stein of the show Win Ben Stein's Money fame, among others.

This doctor pokes my foot with some pokey things and does some strength tests and says what I already know. "Yes, there's some loss of feeling, maybe some nerve damage. We should probably schedule you for an EMG with a neurologist.

So my simple trip to the specialist doctor to assess an issue beyond my normal doctor required scheduling another trip to yet another doctor.

Again, this doctor was good enough to refer me to another, more qualified doctor, so I set up an appointment for an EMG, which stands for Electromyography - a big word for I don't know what.

Now, I've described my experience at this appointment in an earlier blog post, so I'll spare you the details. I will say that I did expect to get answers and possible treatments from this doctor so I could move on with my life.

Well, his assessment resulted in a quick description of what he saw, but to get a full assessment and treatment plan, he would refer me...wait for it...wait for it...back to the foot and ankle specialist doctor.

At this point I am beginning to understand why we have a health care crisis in this country. Each of the doctor visits are about $160.00. The neurologist visit was $2300.00. By this time I'm thinking hey, what's a little numbness worth to me?

Anyway, I go back to Ben Stein expecting an assessment and treatment and a get out of health care free card. Well, it was assessed as Tarsal Tunnel and some residual nerve damage from a back injury from 15 years ago. I was prescribed Lyrica as some sort of nerve control agent and told...wait for it...wait for come back and see him in 30 days to see if anything has changed.

At this point Ben Stein is winning my money.

I'm getting cachinged to death here. My Health Savings Account card is smoking and practically generating fraud alerts from frequent use.

All I want is one doctor that can do it all and not bankrupt me in the process.

And, to me, this is what's wrong with the American health care system.

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Living It

Well, the dream just keeps getting better around these parts. On Tuesday of this week I got the email I've been waiting on for the past 3+ weeks. It's one of those you know will take some time, but you want it to come TODAY. When it finally came, I couldn't open it right away, I was so nervous.

Eventually I opened it and found out my publisher accepted my next book for publication! Yes, The Portland House: A 70's Memoir, is really going to happen.

It's hard to put into words the relief one feels when something that has been about five years in the making, comes to life. In addition to relief, there are also moments of exasperation, satisfaction, joy, elation, trepidation, uncertainty and maybe just a hint of post partum depression.

Over the years, you write and toil and work and slurp buckets of coffee and revise and copy/paste and get advice and take out the crap and put in better crap and then take the crap out all together, and when it finally gets done, you push it out of the nest and hope the thing flies. And by the grace of God and the ghost of Kurt Vonnegut if you're lucky enough your publisher gives it a fair shake and maybe offers you a contract.

So it goes...

And I never like to forget who got me here. I need to thank my wife for putting up with my obsessive need for "writing time," as well as her undying support. She is my rock. I also need to thank the entire gang at AllWriters including the instructors and the writers - particularly the Mighty Monday Nighters. They keep me laughing in the maelstrom of bad word choices.

Of course I have to thank my readers. They are my motivation and their comments, reviews, praise and encouragement spur me to keep me doing this thing I love. Writing.

And last but not least, I have to thank my family for putting up with my airing of many of our families stories. I only do it for entertainment value and never to hurt, harm or ridicule any of them. I love them more than anything which is part of what drives me to write memoir.

I don't have much in the way of details yet. I am in the process of reviewing the contract details. (Did I just say that?) The publisher says the book will likely come out in the first quarter of 2018. Lots of things to do prior to that; editing, cover art, launch dates, promotion and maybe some new business cards.

For those of you who don't know, the book is about the home I grew up in with my 5 siblings and our single parent mother during the 70's and early 80's in St. Paul, Minnesota. The stories are laced with humor and all of the chaos and disorder that comes with latchkey kids home alone while Mom is at work.

The story then moves from the house out to the neighborhood and finally to the wider city of St. Paul. I think everyone who lived through the period can agree that it was a different age - when kids were left to run feral until the street lights came on and "helicopter parents" weren't even a thing yet.

I am ecstatic about this book coming out. I've had a few readers say they can't wait either. That is the biggest compliment a fledgling author can get, so I'll take it.

Stay tuned to this blog and my author page for more details as they happen.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 10, 2017

On The Edge Of An Empty Nest.

Well, it's been a exactly a week since we became 9-month-a-year-empty-nesters around here. I got Sarah moved into her apartment in Minnesota last weekend, so this past week it's just been Donna, I and the animals, Toby, Chester and Isabelle. For myself anyway, it has been an interesting transition, mixed in with a fair amount of melancholy.

While I really miss the energy of having kids around, I have quickly adapted to the quiet and solitude of a childless home. It has been 21 years since I've known it and I have to admit, I kinda like it. A few observations about life with just us:

  • One of the unexpected pleasures I've discovered is coming home to a house that was very much the same as I left it. No backpacks laying around, no food containers or dishes on the banister pillar and no coming and going at any hour of the day or night. 
  • At the same time, the other day it was so beautiful out I thought, "I should get Ben out for some golf this weekend." Oh, wait. Those are the moments Ben, Sarah and I have been joking about for years when we said, "Cats in the cradle..."  We have nothing to be sorry for as far as doing things together as a family, because we've done a ton of things. But because time does fly so fast, we will always have regrets about the things we could have done if we'd made more of an effort.
  • Donna pulled into the driveway the other day after work and saw the Santa Fe and immediately thought, "Oh, Ben must be home from school/work." Oh, wait. 
  • Our mornings are downright subdued and calm nowadays. No more shouting up the stairs for either of them to get up and get to school. I'd like to say I miss this, but I really don't. It makes for a much calmer morning. 
  • One or other of the cars is always home. After about a 6 year period of practically having to ask permission or make reservations to use my own car, I finally have full and complete custody again...for the next 9 months, anyway. Excluding holidays, of course. 
  • I do miss having deep conversations about the world with my kids. It is always refreshing to get a young person's perspective on things, and my kids were great at it. 
  • I do not miss, however, my son jumping out from behind doors and scaring the bejeebers out of me. This was a source of great amusement for him and there were times it brought me to my knees in fear. 
  • I must say I also miss hearing their laughter from upstairs as they laugh at the latest dumb YouTube video, meme or online game they are playing. There is a joy in hearing other people's laughter, for sure.
  • I also miss having them around the dinner table. For the past 10 years or so it has pretty much been the only meal we've been able to get together around. It was always our chance to touch base before evening and there were always some good laughs too. When they are home for break, we make an attempt to eat together as much as possible. It is precious time.
So that is the view from one week out. Some good, some bad. The good is growing on me and I hope to get over the bad eventually and move on with our life of two. We both have to examine and fall back on the reasons we fell in love together - it wasn't the kids back then, it was us. And this time alone will be a time of rediscovering who we are and where we've been. 

And that part is exciting. 

Because, in my opinion, we've made a beautiful story.

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Everyone Has One

Like many of you, I love to read. Part of the problem of attempting to be an active writer is that much of my reading time is consumed by writing time. My wife and I have end tables on either side of our bed, and they are always stacked with books. Some in progress, some on deck, and some read that need to be shelved.

I don't often do book reviews as part of my blog, but a book I recently read begs to be talked about a bit.

The book is titled, Two Trees, by Julie Beekman. Julie is a friend and, in case you were wondering, did not put me up to this, nor ask me to review her book. I've really only met her a few times, usually at a writing retreat offered by AllWriters. But I can tell you from those meetings that her laughter and presence can light up a room.

Her book details her young life as an adopted child. The story goes south when her adoptive father dies and her physically and mentally abusive mother raises her and her three step brothers. Without giving it all away, one of her step brothers inflicted their own harm and the other two were no saints either.

The thing about this book is, just when I thought things were going to start turning out better, something more shocking happens. A couple of times I had to stop reading and tell my wife. By listening, she helped me work through the pain of it.

I think the fact that I know Julie made it more difficult to read without being impacted. If it was someone else, I'd still be shocked, but not to the point of being emotionally impacted and upset. Twenty pages into the book I told Julie I just wanted to hug her past right out of her.

None of this is to say that the book is a complete downer. It most certainly is not. Rather, it is a story of redemption, perseverance and the strength of the human spirit. Knowing Julie today is proof of that. Fortunately, she had some angels in her life that helped her work through a lot of her situations. These people serve as glimmers of hope throughout the latter half of the book and kept me reading in the hope that justice would be served.

The book also made me look at my own childhood a bit. We had a fair amount of tragedy in our family in the early years -much of which I was too young to understand at the time- but none of it was abusive. My mother was a hero on the order of Julie, I guess you might say. She pulled us through the tough times and had a few angels herself.

Reading Two Trees reminded me that everyone has a story. Sometimes they are happy, other times they are brutal. Often times they are a mixture of both. But it is who we come out as in the end that matters.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Beautiful Humans

I went back to Minnesota for a few reasons this past weekend. I took Sarah back to college, had a book signing on Friday night and went to the State Fair on Saturday.

It was a whirlwind weekend but one of some really great human connections. I refer to them as such because they are moments of being highly present and listening to peoples' stories. These are the stories and interactions that make me look back and reflect on where I've been, where I am and how my story is inextricably bound to those of others as we fumble our way around on this this huge piece of dirt spinning in the universe.

The moments/interactions were:

  • At the book signing on Friday I was able to talk to some of my readers as we discussed my book and our lives together. When I told one woman about my brother's death from cancer at 47 and how death changed me in ways I'd never expected, she told me her daughter died in a small plane crash at 21 years of age. I was nearly speechless. It reminded me that just when you think you've got the saddest story ever written, someone puts it in perspective for you. And as I've said many times before, these signings remind me that EVERYONE has a story. Everyone has hurt and loss. And everyone needs to work it out, and maybe that night I was part of that equation.

  • At the same book signing I mentioned to the shop owner about my mom's tragic loss of our sister, our dad, her brother, and her mother all in the span of about 6 years. Ironically the owner also lost her father to a traffic accident at age 5 and her mother's sister to suicide shortly thereafter as well as a couple of other extremely tough incidents. Our mothers' lives were almost parallel. Talking to her was like talking to a sibling. Our lives were mirrored. Again, maybe I was there to do more than just sell books that night.

  • After the sale, I went to my mom and sister Pat's apartment with my other sister Jane to have a drink and talk. We ended up talking until 2:15 in the morning. The lion's share of the talk was about the death of our father, our sister and the extremely difficult early years of our family in North St. Paul, Golden Valley and the McDonough government housing projects of St. Paul. As we talked, I found out a number of things I never knew about my dad, my sister's illness and passing, and the circumstances of the night my dad was killed in what was essentially a racial hate crime. While someone might ask, why would we want to rehash these things, I would argue that it is important to all of us to know our history. It is our way of working it out and recognizing how lucky we are to have come out of the whole thing relatively unscathed. And I think it makes us healthier as we work through it as a family. 

  • But the biggest connection of all perhaps happened on Saturday. I went to a Caribou coffee shop in our old neighborhood to write and, yes, I'll admit, to reminisce a little. I sat at a table that had a wobbly leg for 10 minutes until a woman left a more desirable seat. I moved to that spot next to a beautiful African American woman. I minded my own business for an hour as I wrote away. She seemed restless, getting up and down to go to the bathroom, out for a smoke, to the counter to buy a pastry etc. She had a small bag with her and was dressed okay, but because of her restlessness, I'd kind of pegged her as likely homeless. She finally asked me what I did for a living - being curious about my writing. I told her I was in GIS, but liked to write. It led to a 25 minute discussion about everything from my church to her jumping a boxcar to Minnesota from Montana. We talked about her past, my past, what makes us happy, my kids and more. It turns out she was a foster kid and was moved from home to home. She'd recently lost her job and was on a list to get into a shelter in St. Paul somewhere. When I asked her where she lived, she said "the trees, the sky, the water." She told me her name, but said she preferred to go by the name Gypsy. She was 23 years old, incredibly well spoken, intelligent and approachable which was part of the reason I had trouble reconciling her homelessness. Part of me also was fighting with engaging versus shutting the conversation down because of preconceived notions about homelessness, talking to strangers, scammers, etc. But instead, I chose to be present and listen. I am glad I did because her story was beautiful and tragic and rich. She was broken - but not permanently, I felt, and I told her as much. As she got up to leave, I told her I wanted to give her something, and gave her a twenty dollar bill. She said I did not need to do that and that was not what our whole exchange was about. I insisted because I felt I needed to do something. She thanked me, we hugged and we both left. When I got into the van the second song on the radio was Gypsy, by Fleetwood Mac. And I thought, Seriously, God? I can't make this stuff up. He's got a great sense of humor.
I don't tell this last story because I want to be lauded as a good guy, or to puff myself up. It was simply a really cool experience that may not have happened if I had not switched chairs. It definitely would not have happened if I had not engaged and been present for this person, this human, this sister of mine. And both of our lives would have been less rich as a result. It was a great ending to a great weekend of connection. 

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Senior Thoughts

Along the lines of the last post where I had things I wanted to tell my Freshman son before he moved into UW Madison, I have a similar, though different list for my daughter. She will be entering her Senior year at the University of Minnesota and, unlike Ben, will be living in an apartment, not a dorm. So here goes another,

10 Things I'd Like My Senior Year Daughter To Keep In Mind:

  1. Enjoy this year: Yes, there may be graduate school in your future, or maybe not. Whatever the case, it will be different. The experience you have as an undergrad will never happen again, so relish the moments, and make more of them, as you go. 
  2. Try something different: This applies to extracurricular activities or things outside your comfort zone. Because you will not have access to many of the student benefits after this year, take advantage of them and push yourself a bit. Join a bowling club or a fishing club. Do something that you wouldn't do if you had to pay (or pay full price) for it. 
  3. Keep doing what you're doing: Academically you make me and your mom incredibly proud. The Dean's list every semester is fricken amazing (coming from a guy who was on the "other" Dean's list for a while. At the same time, don't beat yourself up if you come up short. No employer I know of ever hired someone based on GPA. I know no one puts more pressure on you than you, but know that your dad is okay with a B. I made an academic career out of them.
  4. Be proud of your Gopherness: There is a long history of Landwehr U of M connections, and you are now very much a part of it. Wear the colors with pride and I would encourage you to go to a few sporting events this last year. It's not your last chance to go, but it is as an undergrad, and they can be a lot of fun. 
  5. Continue to seek out new friendships: One thing that struck me while walking around UW Madison with Ben is the incredible international diversity on campus. Use this as a chance to continue to meet people of different cultures and backgrounds. I feel it makes us better humans. 
  6. Think about a career, but not too much: The time is upon you to start thinking about what's next. A new job, a place to live, etc. It's never too soon to start looking into these things, but not to the detriment of your experience. Go to some on-campus job fairs, take a short seminar on resume writing, network with people in your field. Do all of these things while remembering that the main reason you are there is to study and take advantage of the freedoms enjoyed by being a student.
  7. Don't rule out grad school: Speaking to #1 above, don't rule out graduate school just because you're burned out now. Keep it in the back of your mind. One of my few life regrets at this point is that I never got a masters degree. I still may in my retirement years!
  8. Guide your brother: You've been in this game for 3 years and Ben's just getting started. He will turn to you for advice and guidance, maybe more than you want. Be patient and helpful as he navigates the waters of juggling his academics, work and social life. (I know you'll do this, just reiterating.)
  9. Have fun: Said it before and I'll say it again. College years were some of the best years of my life. Lifelong friendships created, great memories and incredible intellectual opportunities are all to be had. I still love being around people in a learning environment. Throw good friends into it and it is even better.
  10. Know that we love you: We realize that we are a little goofy and crazy when it comes to move-in/move out and gushing about our kids. But it's only because we love you to death and are so incredibly proud of both of you. So, text us when we text you. Heck, surprise us and text us for no reason just to tell us you love us. That kind of thing makes my day. At the same time, understand that we're all busy and if we go a day or three without a text, it's only because we're deep in the crazy of life.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Thoughts Heading Into Move In Day

On Tuesday of this week, we will be moving our son into his dorm room at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He chose Madison after deliberating over UW-Milwaukee, the University of Minnesota and UW-Madison. He said he liked the feel of Madison best and of course we encouraged him to follow his heart. Our kids see things differently and their college choices reflect that.

So, as he goes off, We'll push him out of the nest and hope that the flying lessons we've given him these past 19 years have had some effect. And while I won't tell him to his face, I'd like to tell him some things that he may want to consider these next few months and years.

10 Things I'd Like My College-Bound Son To Keep In Mind:

  1. Enjoy these four years: There will be times of extreme stress and pressure, with exams, work, studies and deadlines, be sure of that. But when I look back, my college years were some of the best of my life. It is a cool time where you're juggling the balance of adult responsibilities without all the burden of full time employment, a mortgage and kids. This is absolutely the reason I took my time in finishing up with my degree. I didn't want it to end.
  2. Open your mind: During your studies you will be exposed to concepts and ideas and theorems that will shape your world view. I can still remember reading Charles Darwin's: On the Order of Species by the Means of Natural Selection, and having it blow my mind. You will come across equally as mind blowing revelations during your college career. At the same time, college is where you go to learn how to learn. Your thirst for knowledge will only be whet after these 4 years. It's just the start. 
  3. Choose your friends wisely: Some of your high school friends will remain your friends for life, some will not. Use your college experience to meet new friends - friends who will accept you for who you are. Friends who you will stay up with till 3:00 AM talking to about the world and family and religion and the cool bands. Some of these will stick and be friends you have for life.
  4. Find out what you love: Don't worry about the life/death decision about declaring a major. College is about figuring out what your passion is - what you could really enjoy doing for the rest of your life. For myself, I knew the moment I finished my first Cartography 101 class that if I could do mapping for a career, I would be very happy. 40 years later, I can still say I love my job. 
  5. Work first, then play: This is a basic tenet for all of life. Getting your work and study commitments done lets you hangout with friends worry and guilt-free. It took me a year of crappy grades before my older brother gave me advice to stay at school and study before I went to work, instead of going straight home and goofing off. It changed my effort level and that impacted my grades for the better. It's funny how I remember Tom's conversation, but that's what it took. I think you're a better student than I ever was, so this will probably be more innate for you.
  6. Get involved: Play intramural sports, march on the capital square (but don't get tazed, dude!), do research, join a school club, go to school plays, volunteer to help organize a dorm event, go to the homecoming football game, fight for a cause, take part in the student snowball fight, become a Writing Fellow,  use the student fitness centers. All of this is part of your 4 year experience. Take advantage of the opportunities in front of you. Just writing about it makes me jealous.
  7. Be yourself: If there's one thing I admire about you and Sarah is your ability to be your own people and not follow the crowd. There will be incredible peer pressure, sometimes to do stupid things. It's my hope that you will pick and choose those who accept you for who you are and the ideals you stand for and disregard the rest. Your real friends accept you for who you are and vice verse.
  8. Be proud of your Badgerness: I remember being proud to be a Gopher and part of a Big Ten school. I hope you will relish in the rivalries of big games with other Big Ten teams. Wear your red and white with pride, but respect those of us in the house in Maroon and Gold - especially when it comes to that dreaded football matchup. Have mercy on us. 
  9. Recognize your earned privilege:  I hope you never forget the statistics that the keynote speaker used regarding your status as an accepted student of UW Madison. You are in one of the top Universities and possibly the top research university in the world. You will be among 45,000 other students as lucky and smart as you. Use this time to grow in knowledge and experience. You are a top percenter for a reason - because you've applied yourself to your schooling amazingly and are incredibly talented. Use your gifts.
  10. No matter what happens, I love the young man you've become. I see it every time you engage with other adults, even the middle-aged, sometimes annoying ones, like me. You listen to people, you react appropriately and are respectful. These simple skills will take you far in life. And as I've said many times before, I don't know what we did to get such good, well-rounded kids, but I thank God for you and your sister every day.

On Wisconsin!

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 17, 2017

It Came As A Shock

Passing the age of 50 mark has its pros and cons, I've found. On the pro side, well, there are some who turn to you for advice or wisdom. If you're lucky younger folks treat you a little better than if you were 30, but not always. And sometimes on those days you look your age, you can even slide in a senior discount despite being 10 years away from retirement age.

That's pretty much where the pros stop.

When it comes to the cons, I have my body to blame. As I said on Facebook this week, after 50, it's pretty much always something. In the past three or four years I've had more nagging, irritating little gitchas with my health than I can count. And perhaps the only thing worse than me enduring them is you having to suffer through hearing about them. So, I will spare you that.

Suffice it to say that the ailments are from head to toe. None are debilitating, but most are reminders that I won't make the cut as a walk-on free agent for the Packers - perhaps ever. At least I won't have to worry about concussions - from football, anyways.

I will tell you about my most recent ailment because I think it's kind of funny.

The past few months I've had a numbness in the pads my left foot. It feels like a sock is scrunched up in my shoe. I can walk okay, but I figured I'd better get it checked out anyways. The last thing I want is someone to find a tumor on my spine after it's too late.

So I go to the Foot and Ankle Specialists clinic in town and end up with a doctor that looks just like Ben Stein of "Win Ben Stein's Money" fame. Once I got by that fact, he poked me with some poking devices and determined that I wasn't lying and yes, there was some numbness in my foot. He referred me to a radiology clinic for what is known as an Electromyogram or EMG.

What this is is a sadistic torture test for people to determine that yes, their is some numbness and loss of feeling in my foot.

This doctor had me lay on a table, and proceeded to poke me with even sharper poking devices including a "dull" poke and a "sharp WTF" needle poker. (WTF is a non-medical acronym, here.)

So after poking my feet and calves, the real fun starts.

The doc tapes some electrodes to my feet and says, "Okay there will be a series of electrical shocks that will increase with intensity."

As it turns out these are WTF electrodes too, designed I'm sure by the same company that designed the "sharp WTF" needle poker thingys.

The shocks start out not so bad, but by the third or fourth one, my leg is jumping like a meth addict at Starbucks. I'm not sure if it's jumping because of reflex or because it hurt like WTF. Then, when he was done shocking that spot, he'd move the electrodes and start shocking me in a new spot. This triggered more jumping legs and colorful internalized language generation. (or, CILG, another non-medical acronym).

This went on for about 20 minutes. I hope it is as close as I ever get to what mentally disturbed people went through with electroshock therapy years ago. Because it sorta sucked. Not unendurable, but kind of annoying. It was like a bully poking you with a needle to the point where you kinda wanted to slug the doctor.

Now, I know this is all necessary and modern science is great and all that, but near as I can tell the only thing it determined is that, yes, I do have some residual nerve damage from a back issue I had 15 years ago. And, no, there's nothing they can do about it.

Despite knowing this, I still have to schedule a follow-up with Dr. Ben Stein who's winning my money.

So, yeah. After 50, it's always something.

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Blues For All

My son and I went to an event called Bluesfest on Friday night. This is a relatively new event -the 11th year this year - held at Nagawaukee Park in Delafield. My friend Eugene Garrison and his band The Blues Harp Jimmie Band even played a set. I missed his time slot, but I've seen them before and they kick it!

My love for the blues goes way, way back to when I was a teenager. I don't know how I fell into them, but I probably owe a little credit to my brother Tom. He always loved Muddy Waters, BB King and a lot of the old greats. From there I took it upon myself and started my own journey of blues discovery.

And I found a few white guys who did it really well, like Eric Clapton, John Hammond, George Thorogood and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Something about the soul they put into the blues moved me to fall in love with the genre.

Then, these guys led me to discover the guys that influenced them. Guys that defined the genre like  Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins, Luther Allison and my personal favorite, John Lee Hooker. Not to be outdone, there are the female greats too like Big Mama Thornton, Etta James, Koko Taylor and Bonnie Raitt.

I can remember staying up late listening to the blues after hours show, hosted by a DJ named Alison after I moved to Milwaukee. I thought it was refreshing that there was a station that could devote a couple of hours to playing good blues, old blues. I guess the station spoke to me at the time because I was still reeling from being away from home for the first time ever. I was living the blues. 

While the Bluesfest event was largely attended by the suburban, white over-50 crowd, I am of the firm opinion that the blues transcend all ages and social classes. Everyone gets blue once in a while. Everyone has a crappy day, a crappy week or a crappy spell in their life. It happens. And while you don't have to be in that bad place at the time, listening to the blues can help you work it out. Or, if not, at least they let you know that you're not alone.

One of the better concerts I went to was to see John Lee Hooker at the Cabooze in Minneapolis. It is a small venue, but John Lee blew the roof off the place. He was well into his sixties when he played and he killed it.

We got there in time to see Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials, a blues group from Chicago. They were really, really good. I'd won free tickets and didn't want to go alone, so Ben agreed to go with me after I promised we'd only stay for an hour or two. When we got there, he mentioned that Blues moves at its own pace, and I think he needed something with just a little more move to it.

Next year, maybe I'll make a night of it.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Electronic Hoarding

There is a running joke around my house about the fact that I can't resist turning down an aging electronic device, particularly laptops.

I think I know where it stems from. As little as eight years ago I didn't have a laptop. I wasn't even really writing at that point because the last thing I wanted to do after looking at a screen all day would be to log on to a desktop computer and stare at a screen at night.

Until I bought a secondhand laptop.

The ability to sit in a comfortable chair and type (or surf the web, as the case often is) was made easy with a second-hand laptop that I purchased from Craigs List for $100.00, or so. It opened new doors.

But, it's been an endless upgrade cycle ever since. Mostly because I am drawn to newer, faster and, well, I'm frugally cheap.

The way it works is that I will buy the kids' two-year old laptops or tablets for $100 when they decide they need newer, shinier machines. Because it never fails that their "old technology" is better than my existing laptop, and so it's always an upgrade for me. And it typically only cost
s me $100, which the kids always happily take to help them out with the purchase of their new machines.

I am a technology hoarder.

So when Ben mentioned that Sarah offered to sell her 2 year old laptop to him for college so she could upgrade, I told him that if he didn't buy it, I would for $100.

To which he said, "What, so you can add it to your Rolodex of laptops? How many do you need?"

He has a point. I currently have 3. I am on Sarah's old HP at the moment, but I have an old working Dell Inspiron and a small 11 inch Acer that is little used that I got as part of a class action lawsuit.

And I have Sarah's old Samsung 8" tablet that works like a dream. For some unknown reason, I was looking forward to upgrading to Ben's Microsoft Surface tablet (For $100), until I learned he planned to keep it as a reading device for college. So why do I need a new tablet if the one I have is working just fine? I have no idea. It's like an addiction. My behavior is erratic when it comes to electronic gadgetry, especially aging technology that has considerable life expectancy to it.

It's a disorder, really. And I need help.

And you know what I've discovered? It's really weird, but you can only type on one screen or device at a time.

But that's not going to stop me from upgrading at the next possible opportunity. (For $100).

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 6, 2017

75,438 Untitled Words

Well, it's done.

Book number two, or four, depending on how you look at it, is finished. I look at it as two, but that's just me.

I'd tell you the title if I knew it myself yet, but I don't yet. I'm still waiting for it to come to me. And, like every word in the book, it will eventually. I feel like I'm zeroing in on it, with the help of friends and family.

A few statistics about the work:

It stands right now at 75,438 words. This might trend downward a bit depending on what a publisher might do to it. My goal once I saw where it was at was to keep it above 75K words. Why? Should that ever be a criteria for how to write? No. But once I hit it I was determined to keep it around that number. Okay, I'm weird.

It also stands at 240 pages - including introduction, acknowledgements, dedication, and page breaks. I'm guessing this may go up as it gets formatted by a publisher. Again, I wanted to keep it above 240 pages for some unknown bad reason. Dirty Shirt formatted came out to 262 pages which is where I think this one might land. I'm a page geek.

At the moment there is an introduction and eighteen chapters. Like everything else, this could change as the publisher sees fit.

The book is broken, figuratively, into three parts - much like Dirty Shirt. I say figuratively because there are not literal page breaks between the three. Read it though, and you'll figure it out.

It took about seven years to write - not continuous, mind you, but on and off. It would be tough to put an exact number on how long it really took if I hadn't been writing Dirty Shirt and poetry and other things at the same time. I have a short attention span.

It's about the house I grew up in with my 5 siblings and our single-parent mother. It is largely built around humor and the love that turned a house into a home.

So, from here I go on to the submittal process. Hopefully my publisher will like it and it will come to fruition in early 2018.

Whatever the case, it's done. And there's something pretty cool about that.

Blogging off...

Thursday, August 3, 2017


My wife posted and interesting question on Facebook the other day. It was simple:

Who inspires you, and why?

Now, I have to admit that Facebook prompts don't usually trigger me to act. There was something a little more provoking about this one though, so I felt compelled to answer. I answered that my mom inspires me. She was faced with a lot of loss and adversity early on in her life and still managed to raise seven of us kids. She is still active in the community as a worker/volunteer and has a great friend group - all of which I think plays an important part in having a healthy senior life.

But there are lots of others that inspire me too. I'll just touch on a few.

Men and women in their forties, fifties and sixties who are actively writing. The same goes for those doing art, or trying to master an instrument. I favor this group for obvious reasons, but I just think it's so cool that people at these stages of life still see themselves as worthy contributors to the art world. 
Granted, most of them are probably doing it because they enjoy it - some with a goal of getting published, but some not. The point is not why they are doing it, the point is that they're doing it despite not having to do it. To me, people like this are the five percenters. They are driven to something bigger than themselves. This is admirable and inspiring.

Foster and adoptive parents. Anyone who is selfless enough to take on someone else's kids, whether short term or permanently, I have great respect for. They make me feel like I'm not doing enough - which is probably true. But they inspire me nonetheless.
Dawes @Pabst Theater
Musicians. Any and all. Tuesday night I saw the band Dawes, and was floored by the amazing talent of each and every member. These guys can sing, song write and, in many cases, play multiple instruments. So I admire them all, mostly because I could never master an instrument. (I may be tone deaf, but that is no excuse.) I took guitar lessons for a few weeks and gave up when my friend gave up. It's one thing I wish I'd kept pursuing. It still might be something I pursue in my retirement. Know any geriatric bands who need a bassist?

High School kids who are taking multiple Advanced Placement courses. The same principle as above applies here. These kids are for the most part not required to take these more difficult courses. But when they do, and they do well in them, well, it's even more impressive. Many of these kids take them because they like to push themselves to excel. Admirable for such a young age.

Bands that keep on rockin' into their 60's and 70's. Lots of people think rock music is for the young and that any rock star over 50 should not be doing it anymore. I beg to differ. I think if you like something, and you're good at it - and many of the old rockers are - go for it. Roger Waters on Saturday was proof, as I suspect Stevie Nicks will be when I see her in September. Why wouldn't you stop doing something you're very passionate about? If you're good, people will follow - because they're fans, but also because they're inspired.

That's just a sampling of people who inspire me.

Who inspires you? Why?

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Comfortably Sung

A few posts back I mentioned that this has kind of become the summer of chasing aging rock stars. There was a realization that many of the rock heroes of my youth were dying off, and so to counter act any grief, I thought I'd try and be proactive and see a few that are in their 60's and 70's before they too kicked the rock bucket.

I knocked a few of them off my list in a single night at Summerfest a few weeks ago, including Soul Asylum, The Suburbs, Tommy Tutone and of course my personal favorite, The Church.

Last night was Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd. Roger is 73 and the band has been broken up almost longer than it was together, but me, my son and my friend Ryan went because we're all fans and thought this might be one of the last chances to see him.

It is tough to put into words how amazing the whole spectacle was. When we got to our nosebleed seats, I was a little upset that there were big speakers hanging in middle of the sight line to the huge screen backdrop for the band. So much of their show is visual that I thought we'd miss so much.

Well, after intermission, they took care of that issue.

Down the center of the arena floor they unfurled a half a dozen huge screens. They projected the power plant image from their Animals album, complete with real smoking chimneys. The screens stayed up for most of the second set and served as a video screen to those of us unfortunate minions in the cheap seats. The imagery and special effects displayed on them was nothing short of astonishing.

Because I'm not terribly familiar with a lot of Roger Waters' recent music, I was hoping he'd play a lot of old stuff. Of course he did and it was, musically, spot on.

There was even a couple of moments where the backup singers, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of the Indie band, Lucius took over the vocals and blew it out of the water. Ben turned to me and said he got goosebumps. I told him I was on the brink of tears.

Roger had his moments as well. It is nothing short of amazing to see a guy 73 years young, strutting around the stage, having a blast and singing songs from 40-50 years ago. He was genuine and appreciative of the reception he received, almost coming to tears himself near the end of the show.


Of course the show got political at times, and while I share many of his current political sentiments, it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the music behind it. Some were offended, some even left, but as he said in an interview, if you know Pink Floyd, you'd have known this was coming. Furthermore, if you don't want to be confronted with controversial images and subjects, go see Katy Perry.

There were Milwaukee kids on the stage for Another Brick in the Wall, Flying Pigs, Floating Dark Side of the Moon orbs, a laser pyramid and three hours of sonic thunder. It was phenomenal.

At the end, Ben and I both agreed that we were now spoiled for concerts for the rest of our lives. Nothing short of a 3D hologram could outdo the lasers, imagery and music of Roger Waters, 2017. And as a purist who loves the music first - and sometimes puts up with the message behind it, second - this was one for the ages. I'm glad I made time for it.

Blogging off...

Set List (Courtesy of

  1. (Pink Floyd song)
    Play Video
  2. (Pink Floyd song)
    Play Video
  3. (Pink Floyd song)
    Play Video
  4. (Pink Floyd song)
    Play Video
  5. (Pink Floyd song)
    Play Video
  6. Play Video
  7. Play Video
  8. Play Video
  9. Play Video
  10. (Pink Floyd song)
    Play Video
  11. (Pink Floyd song)
    Play Video
  12. (Pink Floyd song)
    Play Video
  13. (Pink Floyd song)
    Play Video
  14. Set 2:
  15. (Pink Floyd song)
    Play Video
  16. (Pink Floyd song)
    Play Video
  17. (Pink Floyd song)
    Play Video
  18. (Pink Floyd song)
    Play Video
  19. Play Video
  20. (Pink Floyd song)
    Play Video
  21. (Pink Floyd song)
    Play Video
  22. Encore:
  23. (Pink Floyd song)
    Play Video
  24. (Pink Floyd song)
    Play Video
  25. (Pink Floyd song)