Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Week's Worth By Thursday

I am having one of those weird weeks where everything is beautiful to me. 

And I am pretty sure this is not normal.

Monday brought another week of writing class, which in all honesty makes every Monday more bearable. I am a total writing geek and I don't know how to explain this group to you any better than to say that they are an eclectic mix of crazy geniuses. One woman finished her novel this week and when we heard the ending, we shot her down. It wasn't in a critical way, but rather a, "Nope, you can't end it that way" way. This is what we do to people. We tell them how to be better. A better writer, a better editor, and eventually a better author. 

In that same class, another guy said he was leaving the class to go onto the "book writing" class on Thursday night. While I'll miss his time travel science fiction, I applaud that he is taking his work to the next level.  He is one of those writers you just know will make it someday. His writing is precise and engaging. Good for him.

Tuesday was just okay.

Wednesday was Purple Door Ice Cream's employee holiday party. It is the anti-corporate party in that they get pizza and beer and rent out a few lanes at the Landmark Lanes which is the coolest bowling venue in Milwaukee. I love bowling even though I'm not very good. It goes back to my days of going out after working as a busboy/dishwasher in high school. There was a .99 cent bowling deal we used to hit until the wee hours of the morning. 

Anyway, the best part of this night is just talking to and laughing with people, some of whom I only see once a year. The owners of Purple Door are such a cool couple, so we all have a great time. As it tuns out, one of Donna's co workers went to Visitation High School in St. Paul. Vis as we called it was the sister school of St. Thomas, the competing military high school to my own, Cretin. Anyhow it was fun to talk old days in St. Paul with her. 

And today started with the boys and our coffee and philosophy hour at 6:45 AM. Like the writing group on Mondays, this group is often times the best part of my Thursdays. Deep and sometimes superficial discussions zig and zag and you know what? I'm just glad to be there soaking it all in. (Like I said this whole "everything is beautiful" thing is getting out of control.)

Through each day of the week, I've been pressed to come up with a poem to meet my Tupelo Press 30/30 challenge which has put me into contact with some beautifully gifted writers. These people lift one another up, encourage and laugh when it is called for.

Finally, tonight ended with watching my son in another swim meet. He was assigned to do the 100 yard backstroke and I could tell he was nervous and dreading it a bit. But you know what? He nailed it. A way better performance than a month ago. I was so proud because it was, well, beautiful.

Now tomorrow night we're making sandwiches at our house for the guys at the Guest House (beautiful again) and then on Saturday I get to serve those same guys breakfast, deliver the sandwiches and then have coffee with my wife (more beauty.)

I should likely see a doctor about the condition, because it's January and I'm supposed to be in a deep winter funk right now. It seems I'm in the opposite.

So at the risk of looking like Roberto Benigni, I'd better just ask if you're looking for the beauty in each day? And then I'd better be...

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Playoff Postpartum

Well, with the Packers again soundly out of the Super Bowl hunt, I can sit back and watch the playoffs and the big game without caring who wins anything. (I have my favorites and I do care, but ultimately, I don't care.) The game last week (vs. Arizona) was a thriller and as bummed as I have been in years past, this was no big deal. They weren't worthy of a championship, that much is sure, but they played their hearts out, so no shame.

With football winding down, I have found other things to keep myself busy. For instance, this past week I got to watch my son swim at his third swim meet. In addition to that I had the duties of keeping time on one of the lanes. They have "backup" timers in each lane in case the electronic scoreboard and touch pads malfunction.

As benign as this sounds, it was fairly stressful at times in part because the races were so close together. In any case, I only messed up once thereby negating my qualification for the 2018 Olympics. Ben did great again and I can't seem to get over how proud I am of him for his effort and perseverance this season. No complaining and 100% effort.

Of course winter is providing more than ample time to write. I'm 24 days into the poetry challenge and while it has been nothing but fun, I had a couple of other fun writing things happen yesterday as well.

I realize there's a day for everything these days, but yesterday was National Handwriting Day. A website called HandwrittenWork.com had a call for submissions of peoples writing samples with one stipulation - that it be in longhand. I do most of my writing on my laptop these days, but occasionally I write in notebooks, so I thought I would submit something just for fun. Well, they accepted it saying it was exactly the kind of thing they were looking for. So I have two poems up there now, Huffy (a 30/30 poem) and Remnants (new). Kind of cool.

Then, within an hour of hearing about that acceptance, I got an email saying another poem had been accepted for publication in a David Bowie Memorial Anthology. The poem is titled "Not So Major Tom" and the title is the only reference to David Bowie in it. But they liked it enough to include. It should be coming out around Easter. Again, kind of cool, and super humbling to be in such a great tribute. All of the sales proceeds are being donated to cancer research in Bowie's honor. So, his legacy lives on.

I've got a half dozen other submissions out there pending right now too. (Fingers crossed.) Additionally, I'm still enrolled in the Monday Night Allwriters Workshop. This group is so fun and includes everything from a few of people writing fiction, to a couple of women memoir writers. and even a woman writing a thematic cookbook. We have a ton of laughs every Monday and we keep each other focused and motivated. I love them.

January closes out this week, and I for one will welcome February with open arms.

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 21, 2016

January's Momentary Thaw

Well, the cold snap finally broke yesterday. We had a few days of below zero crap, though it was nothing like two years ago when we were polar-vortexed for a couple of weeks. I was saying on Facebook yesterday where eighteen degrees never felt so good. While that may seem funny, I was being absolutely truthful. I walked home from work in those temps and it was like a dream. On Tuesday I walked to work when it was six below (of my own accord) and nearly lost a few fingertips on the way.

When things are that cold, being outside is work. Getting ready for going out in it is work. Sleeping in a 96 year-old house in it is even a little work. (My furnace hates me.) I love being outside in most any weather, but when it gets to that point it takes the fun out it altogether.

And so when it gets back up into the double digits, well, life in southeastern Wisconsin is pretty dang good. I won't be getting the grill out just yet, but any day I can walk to work without wearing my hood, is a good day. 

I also noticed it's still light out for an hour or so after work. The days are getting slightly longer with each passing week. Today was the first day when I thought, yes, I think I'm going to make it to spring. Of course we have all of February and March to get through, but hey, don't bring me down. I still look back to the non-December we had with essentially no snow until after Christmas as being as the best thing that's happened in a while - for me anyway. Not a winter fan. 

The forecast for the next several days has temps in the twenties and thirties, which again, I will take. I will take them, embrace them and never gripe about 36 and cloudy again. Ever. Until next November.

So goes my annual winter weather rant. It seems every winter I have at least one post where I lament about the craptastic winters we get in this part of the country, so I guess this is that post. I can't wait for longer days.

Blogging off...


Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Face of Change

It was the week David Bowie died.

On the day it happened, I put "Ch-ch-changes" on my Facebook wall. It had just come on the radio, and it summed up my thoughts at the moment. I was never a huge David Bowie fan, but many, many of his songs were part of my childhood in the 70's and 80's. And it struck me at the time that here was another change. Another rock star that I once thought was eternally young and invincible, was not gone. Another change in my life that I hadn't expected and, in this case, really didn't like.

But I realize life is all about change. As we took my daughter Sarah back to college after her winter break, I was stricken by how different, how changed, the University of Minnesota campus is. There are new buildings, new road configurations, new ways of studying (e.g. digital books, etc.) and new course offerings - some even online.
Three Generations

At the same time, my daughter was walking, sometimes literally, in my footsteps as a student at the U. And it occurred to me that the old saying "The more things change, the more they stay the same," couldn't be more true. Sure it seemed like just yesterday that I was a student there, but this is her time. Her experience will be the same, but completely different. Her interests are entirely different than mine, but yet her struggles with classes, tests and defining what she wants to do are all things that I had to sort through.

We also saw another change in that my mom moved into a new place with my eldest sister. She was living with my other sister Jane who is looking to sell her house, so mom moved in with sister Pat. The interesting thing is, it's in the same complex that she was in before she moved in with Jane. In fact it's right next door. The more things change...

As we were driving up to Minnesota with Sarah, I reached over and grabbed Donna's hand and said, "Don't you miss those days of driving to Minnesota when you had to hurdle the front seat to open a package of goldfish or a juice box for the kids?" Of course she said no, but the point of the matter is that was a phase in our life that seemed so hard, yet we just kind of rolled with it. She followed it up with the reminder that in a few years we won't be driving our kids to college either, which made me incredibly sad for a moment.

And, in the words of a band of another lost rocker last year, (Gary Richrath) we'll Roll with the Changes.

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Reflections at Halfway

Tomorrow marks the midway point in my Tupelo Press 30/30 challenge. If you missed it, I am writing a poem a day for 30 days as a way to raise money for a non-profit literary press. The month is screaming past me but I must say, it has far exceeded my expectations. Going in, I didn't quite know what to expect. I knew there would be just a whole lot of writing and time channeling my words, but I've learned so much along the way too.

I've learned:

...that choosing not to do something because it looks hard is a cop out that might deny you a once in a lifetime experience. My first thought when I heard about this challenge was that it sounded like a lot of work and why would I want that pressure? At the same time though, there was something niggling at me whispering "just do it". So I did.

...that even on days when you're tapped out, if you sit down and grind it out, you can get something that may look like crap, indeed may be crap, but is at a minimum, a first draft for maybe something much greater.

...that if I make a commitment to something, I get sorta edgy when other things cut into the time I've set aside for that task. I actually look forward to the hour and a half I get to devote to writing these every night. I think this qualifies me as a sadist or a nut job, but who has time to think about such things?

...to look for new ways to format my work. Poetry styles vary from writer to writer, but like most poets I get tired of the same old thing (and I think people get tired of seeing things the same old way.) Besides, I think it stretches your creative muscles to push yourself to new things.

...that the other people going through the challenge are my biggest allies most days. We have a group chat message group on Facebook where we frequently go to throw stuff around and have tantrums. It's a bit like the psych ward some days, but I've grown to like going there every once in a while and throwing stuff around with the rest of the maniacs.

...that having a couple of close confidants makes most things better. I've hooked up with a couple from the group and we've talked through ideas, shared what we've liked about each others' works and just boosted each other up. It's a lot like the other room, just smaller, and we don't throw things.

...that feeling guilty because "I'm not writing nonfiction" is a stupid thought. My writing instructor once said that writing poetry makes you a better overall writer too. The more I write poetry, the more I've found this to be true. Description and plot is just as important in a 27 line poem as a 2500 word short story.

So, with a little over two weeks remaining, I'll press on. When things get bad or the block sets in, I'll go to the screaming room and throw stuff.

But for now, I'll be...

Blogging off

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Force Is With Us

I might have been the last person alive to see the new Star Wars movie last night. I went with my son, Ben, as my wife is out of town with some friends for the weekend. I've wanted to see this movie since it came out three weeks ago, but I am one of those who hates to fight crowds, so waited until the hype was over with.

Let me start by saying the movie was utterly amazing. I had lots of apprehension going in about them "wrecking" the movie. At the same time, everyone I'd talked to said it was true to the story and I wouldn't be disappointed.

Always curious what others think of a movie, I came out of the theater and, before I could ask, Ben said "Dad, that was AWESOME." And it was. There were star ship battle scenes where I was riveted to my seat, gripping the armrest. Plus, they pulled in many of the old characters and kept true to the story and history of the series. Great graphics, soundtrack and plot twists too.

But the takeaway for me was being able to spend a night with my son. Just guys watching a great movie about good over evil. As our kids get older, I look for these opportunities more and more, as I know as they get older, these chances to connect will decrease. Sports events, movies, plays and outdoor activities are such great connection points for us, so I try and savor each and every one.

And so when my daughter came up to me this afternoon and asked "So, what did you think of the movie?" I stopped what I was doing to engage with her for fifteen minutes on what we thought of the characters, plot and future speculations. Again, these exchanges are rarer with each passing day, so I jump on them when I can and relish the dialog.

Part of our discussion focused on what we thought the next movie would bring. We kicked around ideas about the "change in the guard" of the characters, the potential relational hookups, and what we'd heard online about the speculation. I know it is stupid to look at a cultural event so insignificant as a movie as meaningful in a family relationship, but when it connects me to both of my kids, well, I guess the Force is with me.

I would recommend seeing it if you haven't.

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Send Hot Meals

Lots going on at the moment and lots pending too, so I'll try and hit the high points.

  • My wife left for Las Vegas today, so I am Mr. Mom'ing it for the next four days. In a little known tidbit, that is precisely how this blog started so many years ago. When Donna went to Guatemala on a mission trip for church I started blogging about the trials and tribulations of single parenting. My domain was actually mrmomforaweek.blogspot.com The domain was renamed to writerjimlandwehr.com but the original posts are still there from those days.
  • With the absence of my wife, comes the requisite eating of meals over the sink, often from the pot they were cooked in or wrapped in a napkin. (Actually, I made Spiede sandwiches tonight and they turned out quite tasty, thanks in large part to my wife who had everything ready.) Also the running of the dishwasher every third day, and making of the bed only the day she returns. (Maybe Saturday too, because that's cleaning day and, well, I have some standards.)
  • Actually, I kid. This job is nothing like it was 7-8 years ago. Now, my biggest worry is whether I'll be able to wake my 17 year old in time for school. They have grown to become pretty good foragers/hunters/gatherers. Self sufficiency is a skill they put into overdrive when Mom leaves - me included. I do okay and Donna and I have admitted how it's good for both of us to be away from each other for a time, now and then. 
  • Donna and I went and saw the musical Guys on Ice last night. It was hilariously well done. I haven't had that much fun at a play in quite some time. The scene is an ice shanty in Door County, WI where two guys are ice fishing. I'd highly recommend it regardless of whether you like to fish or not. Everyone in the audience loved it. (It might be best understood by people from the northern Midwest, ya know, eh?)
  • I am seven days into my Tupelo Press 30/30 poetry challenge and am happy to report I'm having a blast with it. It is work, no doubt, but I really enjoy the pressure of coming up with something creative every day. Even on those days when I don't feel creative enough for a haiku, I have to come up with something in order to keep up. It has brought some great poems forth as well as a few clunkers. That's true of any writing process. Part of the fun.
  • I plan on going to the Star Wars VII movie on Saturday with Ben. I am one of the last holdouts, but I definitely want to see it in the theaters. I remember vividly going to the first one with my friends Pat and Pete when we were Juniors in high school. We ended up catching the last bus back from the Roseville four theaters, but I remember being awed by the movie. Great special effects (for the time) and a fantastic plot.
  • Along those same lines I just finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir. Good story line, lots of action, but way too much technospeak in my opinion. (Some people may like this, this is only my opinion.) He could have lopped off 100 pages and still had a great book. I'd recommend it though, and have heard that the movie is very good too. 
  • Tomorrow marks the 11th anniversary of AllWriters Workplace and Workshop and they are having a reading/celebration. I will be there signing my books. Come on out and hear some great writers.
  • I have a guest post on the Sundown Press Blog. Check it out if you get a chance, Right Here.
That's all for now. Back to my 30/30 poem challenge!

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Closing Out - Ringing In

Some thoughts after another memorable Christmas and an eleven day break from work.


  • Family is still first. We made the trip to St. Paul over Christmas and, as always, had a warm family get together on Christmas Eve. It seemed slightly less chaotic than in years past, with the focus not as much on gifts, but on getting together, eating, laughing and sharing. Christmas to me will always be about Christmas Eve, more than Day, and this traditional gathering is why.
  • Church. Before we went to the family Christmas we went to Hennepin United Methodist Church for service. This has kind of become our "out of town" church for the holidays. It is a beautiful structure and the massive pipe organ is worth the price of admission. It was so nice to be with our kids, their cousins and my sister in-law.
  • New traditions. On Christmas Day, we and our kids opened our gifts to each each other at the hotel we were staying in. The Homewood Suites is more like a small apartment, with a kitchen and large living area, so it became our home for Christmas. After gifts we lounged around and watched a Star Wars movie. It was our own new tradition, perhaps.
  • Wisconsin Family. We spent the 26th at my brother in-law Mark and his partner Jake's place for dinner. Jake makes a homemade pasta that is phenomenal and going there and spending time with them has become a tradition we've come to enjoy very much.
  • Quiet New Years. With our daughter out of town and Ben at a friend's party, Donna and I stayed home and watched Selma. A quiet evening and a great movie. New Years has become a night I don't much want to venture out.
  • Writing. In between festivities I have had hours and hours to devote to writing and submitting. It has been incredibly productive for me and while some might think of it as work, it is therapeutic for me. I'll miss it as I return to work tomorrow.
  • Good Friends. To finish out the break, we had dinner with another couple and their three children last night. We love their kids and enjoyed the time we had with them at dinnertime. After their kids were in bed us adults had some great discussions into the later hours of the night. It was so nice to have a mix of deep philosophical banter and belly laughs - sometimes in the same sentence. 
Looking forward to 2016 and all the growth, fun and healing it will bring.

Blogging off...