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...