Sunday, January 29, 2017

An Author's To Do List

As you probably know by now, I am well into the writing of my second nonfiction book. It is a memoir about my boyhood home in St. Paul, Minnesota in the 1970's and early 80's. I am 220 pages into it and am hoping to finish it by year end 2017. It is at the "I hate everything about this book" stage right now for me as an author who is clearly too close to it. Everyone in my writing group loves it and keeps cheering me on as I sulk away threatening to send it to its room for six months like I did with Dirty Shirt. 

I'm really trying to avoid doing that and I plan to keep plugging onward with it, but that doesn't mean that I can't think about what's next or what else I want to work on. 

Knowing this is how I feel, I've compiled a list of books I want to write before I'm dead and gone. 

Here is that list:
Books I Still Want to Write
  • A (posthumously) Co-Authored Book. My uncle Jack wrote a couple of books in his day and never had any luck getting either of them published. I've read both and would like to take one of them and rewrite every other chapter and try and get it published. This would fulfill his dream of wanting to get published and would help me in some strange way connect with his past. I never knew him very well, but I can certainly relate to his love for the craft.

  • A Far Out Science Fiction Book. I love to read science fiction (Isaac Asimov, Michael Crichton)  and sometimes wonder if I'd be any good at writing a sci-fi novel. I've written a couple of short stories that are loosely based in science fiction, but haven't had much success in getting them published. (Maybe this is a sign from God.) It may be a ways out, once I'm done with the nonfiction/co-authored thing, but it is on my mind.

  • A Collection of Short Stories. My writing instructor has a couple of these collections published and I've always thought it was a cool thing. Now, I have a grand total of about six short stories that I've ever written, none of which have garnered much interest from publishers, so there is work to be done for sure. But I think it would be a nice way to diversify myself as a writer.

  • A Collection of Road Trip Stories. As a family, we've taken a number of cool trips over the years. Places like the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Colorado Rockies, Poconos Mountains, New York City, Mexico, Disneyland and many more. I think it would be fun to pull out pictures and write a story about each trip. Will get to this down the road - so to speak.

  • A Poetry Chapbook. A chapbook, for those unfamiliar, is smaller than a collection. Written Life and Reciting from Memory are more along the lines of collections. I currently have one out there that I am trying to get published. They aren't huge money makers, but hey, if I was in this for the money, I wouldn't be writing poetry at all. None of my writing is about the money.

  • A Book of Letters. My wife and I met through letters back and forth in the late 80's. I'd like to put them together into a book of some sorts - possibly with some editing for the sake of my children. Ha!

  • A Book About My Faith Journey. Coming from a Catholic background, my journey to where I am now has been a fascinating one of discovery, revelation, self-examination and enlightenment. Everyone has a journey to or away from God, so I would think there would be some moments that most people could relate to somewhere in such an account. 
Those are just a few of the stories still in my head. I figure if I get to half of these before I kick, I'll be happy. Heck if I finish the one I'm working on I'll be happy. Gotta shoot for the sky though. 

What books would you write, given the chance?

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Something From Nothing

The creative process continues to amaze me. (Eight years ago, I would have said I don't have a creative process, barely a creative gene in me. I've come to change that self-criticism.)

I came to this (recurring) realization last night as I sat going between the vitriol that is Facebook politics and staring at the white space of a blank Microsoft Word document. I kept flipping back between the two until I finally shut Facebook and focused on writing a bit of poetry.

I've been trying to write a poem a day in January, and it hasn't worked out to quite that yet. In fact, I'm at 13, which works out to exactly one every two days. This is what happens when you don't have a "real" deadline must-meet goal hanging over your head. This challenge was to be on my terms, and well, I hit 50% and I am alright with that.

Anyways, so once I shut down the social media cesspool, I started writing a poem about my house. Now, I've written a few poems about my house already, so right out of the gate I thought this was a rehashed idea. After some struggling and shuffling of words and compiling a total of eight lines, I deleted the whole mess.

And I thought to myself, well that was a waste of fifteen minutes.

Then, I opened up a new document and proceeded to write a fairly touching poem about my wife and our marriage and somehow tied it into outer space. I had no intention of tying it into space, but I think it started with mentioning galaxy at some point. Then, for some reason the space metaphors (something most people don't talk about in every day conversation) kept coming to me. Try as I might to control the poem, it sort of wrote itself. When I was done, I looked at it and thought, dang, that's not half bad, right there.

So there I was an hour later with something satisfying sitting before me when I'd almost given up out of frustration. It just goes to show you that if you put your butt in the chair and work hard enough, good things will happen. Granted it's not a done product yet, but it's a good start.

This process works again and again for me. It's almost become expected to sit and glare at the great pixelled whiteness for a time before I get started. Then after a couple false starts it seems to start flowing. And frankly my blog keeps me limber - so to speak. It challenges me to write at least twice a week, Pick a topic, put my butt in the chair and hammer away until it's done.

Just like this.

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Championship Style Disappointment

I am sitting here watching the Falcons first carve up my Packers through the air, and now, with a comfortable lead, grind them down with the running game. It was 24-0 at halftime and, judging from the way things were going, over at halftime as well. It hasn't gotten any better at 37-7 well into the third quarter. I now have the sound turned down (it helps) and am obviously doing other things.

This is what kills me about being a football fan. You follow a team all year, experience the ups and downs - like the Packers slumping, then nearly "running the table" - only to have them kick you in the privates in the NFC Championship. One game from the BIG ONE!

Now, people will say, "You should be glad you're there - look at our team, we're sitting at home." Well, that helps but getting to the NFC Championship and forgetting that you have to win to get to the Super Bowl is kind of like going to prom in your jeans and a t-shirt. You look bad.

And believe me, I've had lots of practice at this -both as a Viking and Packer fan. Too many to count. I mean a first round playoff loss I can understand. Happens every year with one or the other of those two teams. But these NFC Championship games hurt. A few come to mind going way back.

  • The Roger Staubach/Drew Pearson Hail Mary pass. I was just a kid, but that was my first real taste of Championship style disappointment. I should have quit following football then. LOL.
  • Cowboys/Packers NFC Championship. The Cowboys dogged the Packers for years in the mid 90's. Just too good. Eventually the Packers surpassed them in 96 and went on to win it all.
  • The Gary Anderson missed Field Goal loss to the Atlanta Falcons in '98. Seriously, not since the days of Fran Tarkenton did I feel like they had all the pieces to win a Superbowl as they had in 98. Randall Cunningham was so cool! That loss might have been the biggest disappointment of all my years as a Vikings fan.
  • Packers/49ers Terrell Owens catch. Those games that end on a last second score are heart wrenching.
  • Vikings/Giants 41-0 game. The Giants won it all including the coin toss.
  • The Packers/Giants ice bowl. Brett Favre - Interception. Enough said.
  • Vikings/Saints. Brett Favre - Interception. I see a trend.
  • Packers/Seattle. In my mind the biggest playoff meltdown in NFL history. To lose after being ahead by 25 is pretty inexcusable.
There's a few more in there, but these are the highly memorable and disappointing ones. Add today's drubbing (it's currently 44-15) to the heap and well, it's a wonder I watch at all.

Wait till next year!

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Vintage Pastimes

Last Sunday I was getting a bad case of cabin fever before the start of the Packer playoff game against the Cowboys. I was tempted to try out the new skis, despite the probable poor conditions at Lapham Peak, a park that boasts a small system of trails where the snow base is man-made. The park is a 20 minute drive from home, and I wasn't sure I wanted to commit to what might be a disappointing experience.

So, instead I went skating.

We have a park near us that constructs a rink every winter. It is not huge, but I knew it doesn't take much to tire out this 55 year old skater, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

I was trying to determine the age of my hockey skate and I narrowed them down to being about forty years old. When I googled them, one eBay site labelled them as "Vintage Bauer Big Chief Skates." I'm the proud owner of "vintage," I guess. I think I got them in about 1977 and, because I never skated more than a few times a year, I never saw the reason to upgrade. If I couldn't justify an upgrade 20 years ago, I really can't justify one now. So, I'll just keep sharpening them and hope for the best.
Vintage Big Chiefs

Not wanting to appear to be a creeper at the rink, I vowed that if any kids were out there, or even families, I would just keep driving on by. (I worry about how it looks - even though I just want to skate!)

When I got there, there was some other lonely white male adult who was slogging around the rink. (And I do mean slogging. I'm no Gordie Howe, but I wasn't this guy either. LOL.)

Once I got my skates on he was just finishing up. He said, "It's all yours, young man." Us old guys call each other that as a form of compliment. Hey, it helps.

I started out going round and round counter clockwise. Shaky at first, but eventually got into a pretty good rhythm. After too many laps to count, I took a break. Then I started out going clockwise. I discovered that I am a much better clockwise skate. I was trying to figure out why and realized it's because I was always a left handed hockey player. The balance of a stick always made me a better counter clockwise skater, I guess. It was a weird revelation.

I skated for probably an hour or so, stopping to tighten my skates three times during the course. It brought back such great memories of skating with my high school buddies at Como Lake in St. Paul. They always made a speed skating track at the lake, as well as a hockey rink complete with boards and a warming house.

And I remembered my stepfather skating with me there once on a Saturday. When I mentioned I was thinking about going, he said he'd like to go, so he dug his skates out of storage and off we went. He let me drive his Datsun F-10 (probably because he'd had a few drinks) which had a manual transmission. I managed to shimmy-and-shake it to a grinding halt on a couple of occasions as we laughed our heads off around the traffic circle by Como's pavilion.

He skated well for an old guy (probably late 40's at the time) with his hands in his pockets and a cigarette in his lips. And as stupid and piddly as it was it meant something to me that he would come along and do something he probably hadn't done in 20+ years himself. He mentioned the event several times over the years, so I have a feeling it meant something to him as well.

My point is that while going skating alone at 55 because your kids are older or not around might seem odd, it should not keep a guy from doing what he likes. I do it for the workout and to ward off the winter blues as much as anything. If that makes me am odd duck, well, quack quack. See ya on the ice!

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 15, 2017

An Entertaining System

This afternoon I will sit down and watch another Playoff Packer game - one of my favorite winter pleasures, especially if they play well and win.

It's what I will be watching it on that is a little funny. If you know my family, you know that TV is not a high priority. It's barely a thing, actually.

I remember when HD flat screens came out, and I'm not talking the kind that you hang on your wall, I'm talking about tube TV's that had a flat screen instead of curved. Well, we had an old 25" Magnavox that had a curved screen and we were VERY late to the party in upgrading to the flat screen HD TV that we currently still use. We tend to drag our feet on upgrades around here until something breaks, especially something that we don't use much.

So we bought our 300 LB tube-based HDTV in part because our in-laws had the same model and we loved the picture. At the time it was the waning technology with "hang on your wall" thin TV's on the cusp of getting big. We bought it and a surround sound system to go with it. We loved the setup, but did not like the cable bill we were burdened with every month.

We fixed that by cutting the cord - so to speak.

It was interesting to see how much our TV viewing dropped off when we were left with just network TV. I can comfortably say that after today's football games, the TV might not get turned on until next Sunday when the next games are on. It's how we roll. The commercials kill me and it seems they come on about every 6 minutes and who needs that?

Anyways, my co workers and I were talking about TV technology and most of us spoke matter-of-factly about 40 or 50" flat screen TV's with Apple TV, Roku, soundbars, blue tooth and frickin' ice machines. I've found that in no matter what setting you are in, you can talk to people for an hour about this or that setup until it makes your head spin (and sometimes triggering your greed or envy if left unchecked.)

Well, all the while I was laughing to myself a little because here is my setup.

  1. The core of my entertainment system is a 32" 300 pound Phillips HDTV from 2001. The picture is still pretty good, but I'm pretty sure it's just 720p not 1080i (Technospeak for resolution.) 
  2. This is augmented by a Yamaha entertainment center, also from 2001 has a 5 channel speaker system OF WHICH only 2 channels still work (Center and one rear speaker). 
  3. This entertainment system also is rigged so that to play the sound through the TV you need to put the input mode to Aux2 and the TV sound needs to be turned down because it creates a nauseating echo effect. This adjustment requires two different remotes and an MIT technical student to figure out the few times we use it.
  4. We have a Roku box that is the coolest thing since the invention of the cell phone, but during the move of the TV from one spot to another, the HDMI cable got ripped out of the port for the TV thereby making it not work. Sigh. So now, the Roku box requires that the TV input be set to AV2 and the receiver to be set to oh, I don't know, Alpha Bravo Niner, I think. If you want to listen to FM, the antenna for that is laying on the floor and the reception is bad, so go read a book or something. And if you want to watch a DVD, well, it's probably easier to just use your dang laptop.
  5. Leaf Antenna^^^
  6. Because we cut the cable cord, we now use a Leaf antenna. This is a great little device but only when you hang it in a most prominent place. It doesn't do well behind pictures or on the floor behind a couch. Ours is hung from a curtain rod, because we like to keep it classy. Don't judge and don't be jealous. Besides, my cable bill last month was...oh wait, there was none.
So you're probably thinking, boy, I sure wish the Landwehr's would invite us over for the game sometime, right?  Well, you know you're always welcome. Just don't get in the way of the Leaf antenna and be prepared to sit in our new experience know as "not-all-the-way-around-sound."

Go Packers and pass the chips!

Blogging off...

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Half Winter

I'm not sure exactly where we are in regards to the length of the winter season, but I'm going to call it the halfway point, for lack of a better gauge and not wanting to count days. Based on that declaration, I thought I'd give a quick assessment of how it's going - because you may recall an apprehensive post a few weeks ago about the coming cold and darkness.

In a nutshell, so far so good.

We have had a fair amount of rain recently and little to no snow. At this point, even the snow on the ground is almost all gone. This is a mixed blessing for me. I just happened to get new Cross Country Skis for Christmas so I would like a chance to use them. I joked when I got them that everyone could put away their snow blowers for the year. I was just joking, but so since that time all we've had is either rain or warm enough weather to melt it.

At the same time, I hate shoveling/snow blowing it, so I am okay with it not being here at all.

So it is a dilemma. Suffice it to say that I'll be totally okay with whatever happens from hereon out - snow or no snow.

Another reason I'm okay with the snow being gone is that it creates less problems for walking/driving.

Having said that, I have to admit that, yes, I fell yesterday. I know I shouldn't laugh because falls can be really bad - maybe even kill a guy. But whenever I fall, and it's usually once or twice a winter, I cannot but think of how funny it must be to the casual observer. Especially given my height.

Yesterday the sidewalks were all clear except for occasional patches of ice. Well, I took it easy over those patches and was almost to work when I went to change the song on my iPod and I hit a patch and went down in a heap. My hand hit pretty hard, but nothing else really was affected. My iPod went skittering away, and I got up as fast as I went down because I never want people to see me on my arse flailing about.

I think it was two years ago when I took a big time fall and messed up some tendons in my hand that didn't heal until spring. So, like I said, I know it's not a laughing matter, but I laugh when it happens anyway.

Today was slick too, but I was prepared and wore my Yak Trax. They look funny but so does a guy landing on his butt.

And so with my new found attitude, I'm just taking winter as a time to slow down a bit - to read more, write more and enjoy the good days (anything above 20 degrees) and tolerate the crappy ones (those 2 degree with -18 windchills.) Because, like my friend Paul said, there's not much I can do about it. Being pissed off about it doesn't help any.

So, let it snow. Or not. Don't care.

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Words With Friends

A couple of nights ago was the quarterly AllWriters' Friday Night Free For All event at Cafe De Arts in Waukesha. The event features students of the writing studio reading their work in front of an audience. They read from a bunch of different genres and styles including, Poetry, Memoir, Fiction, Short Story and Novel. And while I live the reading part, sometimes I get as much enjoyment out of the half hour before and half hour afterward talking to other writers.

It's the closet extrovert in me.

I enjoyed talking to Lila about her soon to be released book about her brother that she wrote using HIS point of view - something I've never seen too much before in memoir. She conducted interviews with him for much of it and it sounded like a fascinating way to write a book. She has worked hard getting her book finished and published and I am super excited to see it come to fruition.

And I loved talking to Jocelyn, the newest member of the Mighty Monday Nighters group that I workshop with every week. She has a great fiction story going which is loosely based on some of her family. Her husband was there and is working on some writing of his own. He gave me some great advice he'd heard about struggling with being tired of looking at your manuscript. He said that he'd heard that was sometimes an indication that you are done with it and need to start refining it.

I wanted to hear what everyone in the room was working on. (Who am I, anyway?)

I relished catching up with Deb who is working on both fiction and memoir. Her book is done and is a cool story about a freeway princess/prophet. I'll leave it at that. I always say that I can't even think in the dimensions of some of these fiction writers. They have attributes I wish I had. (Or maybe I do, and they're just untapped.)

It was great talking to David, an author who just published his book about his online dating experience in his 50's. He is reading East of Eden by Steinbeck and was saying how rich Steinbeck's description is in everything. We joked about how our description is two dimensional comparatively.

I had the opportunity to buy and get my writing instructor's second book personalized. It was recently released and is a mystery based in a fictional town in Wisconsin called Devlin's Crossing. I try and make it a point to attend all of my colleagues' book signings, as they usually make mine. Plus, I think it is so cool to say "Hey, I know this guy/woman! And he/she's a dang good writer!" Writers supporting writers.

It was fun talking to two of my fellow Monday Nighters, Ellen and Paul about how we should get together more often to brainstorm ideas and encourage each other. (Wait, I'm an introvert and I instigated this idea? What the heck?)

Couldn't get enough talking to Carrie about her work in progress. She's written a great book about shape shifters and is working on her second. She was brutally honest saying she's spending much more time watching TV than writing. Hey, writers need downtime too!

I felt bad I didn't get to talk more to Barb who is working on a book about a Kayak trip down the Mississippi. A great person, a huge supporter of my writing and a fellow water adventurist to boot. What's not to like about talking to her?

I wanted to talk more to the kid, Andre, who showed up after finding the event online. He's "interested" in writing and decided to show up to see what it's like. I wanted to yell, "YES! Write! It is good! You'll love it!" There is a certain creep factor to being that excited though, so I just said I hope he gets involved in a group.

And none of this includes the 15 other people I didn't get the chance to talk to. I wanted to talk to them all! People are so interesting and there is nothing that excites me more than talking about the writing process with all of it's joys, struggles, successes and failures.

The realist in me understands that the downside to an event like this is I need three day of isolation to recover. That is what I have been doing, because tomorrow I get to hang with the Mighty Monday Nighters and do it all over again. I am a lucky man.

Blogging off...

BTW, if you would like to know anything more or purchase any of these books, they're all available Here. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Good Things Happen In Threes

We are in the midst of a bit of a deep freeze here in the Upper Midwest - not unusual for January, just unlikeable. It's the kind of weather where your car never really warms up and your dog who gets walked every night of his life looks at you like he'd like to go out even though you know he would make it about 40 feet and want to turn around.

Despite the frigid weather, it has been a weird week in a strange way.

New Years is always a time where I take stock of a lot of things in life. Sometimes I try and shake up my routine, but other times I just work on shaping my outlook. It keeps me sane in the darkness. This week has helped in some way because of a few small incidents or pinholes of light for lack of a better term.

The first happened a couple of days ago on Facebook. A friend of mine made a conscious effort to send out good messages about people close to him in his life. He did his mom and some of his friends which included me. I've only met this guy once, but we've been Facebook friends for quite a while. Despite only meeting once, he said some really flattering things about me.

Anyway, I thought it was such a positive, productive use of this monstrous time-suck we call social media that it caused me to pause. Why can't there be more of this and less political or derogatory mudslinging on the various social media outlets? Why is it that we as humans in our interactions always tend to spiral downward over time?

While I fully understand what he did was a very personal act and everyone feels better when they are complimented, it just caused me to wonder what the world would be like if we got more of that kind of thing on a daily basis. We carry enough baggage around without being reminded of it. What if we focused on each other's positive - and only the positive? What would the world look like - how different? I'd like to think I am doing my small part in this by keeping my Facebook posts positive. It's not for everybody, but it's my policy and I'm sticking with it. There's enough negative energy in the world, I don't want to be part of it.

So the second thing that happened is much less significant, but also happened on Facebook. I saw the following meme on a friend's page.* (Courtesy of Wholesome Memes)
I don't know why it struck me, but it kind of gave me a sense of hope. That and the fact that if we all do our part, we're bound to see more goodness around us, even if it is just the fruit of our own doing. We are living in strange times, and I think the best defense against it is to keep from adding to the bad and maybe double down by doing some good. It's probably optimistically myopic, but again, it's going to be my policy.

The final thing struck me during coffee with my Thursday buddies at Cafe De Arts. We are working through a book by Peter Rollins titled The Orthodox Heretic. (Got that edgy title that this group is known for studying. LOL) It is a book of modern day parables. These parables all have an interesting and challenging spin on them. 

The one we read for today was on accepting people for who they are, as ugly as that is sometimes. It went on about how, often times, we will do that as long as they adhere to our decorum of behavior, courtesies, etc. It was very challenging and spurred some really good conversation. As the three of us talked about it I thought to myself, here are two guys who are among the people in my circles that need to work on this THE LEAST of anyone I know, They are extremely good guys, very welcoming and would give you the shirt of their back. And yet they were being convicted of how they should be doing more. 

Again, for some reason this was encouraging and gave me some hope. Is everyone working on things as heady and positive as this? No. But I aim to keep at it as part of my policy. 

Because in 2017, I ain't planting no weeds. We've got enough of those.

Blogging off...

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Resolute Adjustments

Now that we've put 2016 to rest for good, I'm choosing to look to the coming year for what it promises to bring. We talked at church today a bit about how our actions, routines, thoughts and reactions shape what our realities become. Depending on what fuel we're throwing into the fire, we can change the outcome. Knowing this there are some things I want to do, and do better, in 2017. Here is a short list - not resolutions mind you - just adjustments or wants.

  • I want less social media. There's only one person who can fix this problem, and I know who it is. Nothing against any of my Facebook friends, but frankly, we've been spending way too much time together lately. 
  • I want to read books again. I've been trying to read more these past few weeks and I am realizing how much I miss it. For me it is complete escape and fantasy - a bit like the movies. It will also help me be a better writer - you can't do one without the other. The ability to have more time to read should be a direct by product of the previous bullet.
  • I want to be an better instigator. I admit one fault I have is that I rarely organize or instigate a get together. If asked, I'll usually go, but I'm not good at asking. I want to get better at asking, because that's what friends do.
  • I want to listen better. It's funny but now that I've addressed my hearing issues, I've found that it is only half the problem. You can't hear when you're not listening. Now my goal is to do that better too. This is especially true for those closest to me, my wife and my kids. It is a re-training process, but one I want to work on.
  • I want to give more freely. Gifting has never been a strength of mine and I want to get better at it and think of people more consistently. When I give, I am always blessed as the giver - not that that should be my goal - but I need to remember it when I'm waffling on whether to give a gift or not.
  • I want to write more first drafts using pen and paper, and less with my laptop. This is a simple change that can make for better writing - for me at least. The transcribing of the written draft into MS Word allows me to do my first edits in the process.
  • I want to better see peoples talents and beauty before I start counting their faults. Everyone has
    something good to offer the world and I aim to find it more consistently.
I intend to make 2017 a better year and this is just a few ways that will help. I hope you all have a great year too!

Blogging off...