Sunday, October 29, 2017

Manic Fall Cleanup Mode

I want to know if anyone else is like this.

You let some things go in your house, usually clutter, or dirt, or a junk drawer or something, and you just let it go. You work around it, you deny it is there, you hate on it and you neglect it. And over time, it becomes one of those things that grates on you every time you encounter it.

Well, I can be really good at that. In fact, I'd even say ignoring unlikeable projects in hopes that they go away is my super power.

To a point.

This latest breaking point started with steam cleaning the carpets in a couple of bedrooms yesterday. Donna was out of town, so it was a good chance to get it done before the holidays. So off to Home Despot I went, rented a cleaner, and in a little over two hours my carpets were clean and I'd returned the cleaner.

The (good) problem this project created was jump starting me on ten other sub projects that carried into today.

So what originally was going to be storing some backyard items for winter became much more. It became:

  • Get rid of some of these boxes I seem to have an affection for, because why do I need a box for a computer that I no longer have?
  • Reorganize the dang basement cistern (yes, we have a cistern - a formerly disorganized cistern at that.) It is a place of centipedes, dirt and probably a sizable concentration of lead dust from our 95 year old house. Been good knowing ya.
  • Put the backyard chairs in the basement cistern now that it is reorganized.
  • Get rid of some more of these dang boxes!
  • Drain the rain barrel and put it in the garage rafters.
  • Take the kayak racks off the Santa Fe. (This makes me extremely sad, BTW.)
  • What? More boxes? Get rid of them.
  • Get rid of these old golf clubs. They were gone within 15 minutes of putting them on the terrace. Somebody's using some old clubs out there now.
  • Ditch some old CD's
  • Finish putting away fishing equipment for the year. (Again, extremely sad.)
  • Okay, do we need this box?
I came away from the whole experience feeling a great sense of satisfaction. So there's that. 

On to the next set of closet skeletons, I guess.

Blogging off...

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Alone In The Woods

I continue to be amazed at how rich my life is because of the people around me. I understand the importance of being plugged into people who are seeking to become better human beings.

A couple of different groups I hang with are studying Brene' Brown's book, Braving The Wilderness. Brene is a research professor who specializes in studying the human condition in the form of empathy, shame and vulnerability.

The guys at my Thursday coffee group are discussing it, one chapter at a time. Another of the groups is called "Jesus and Wine" and it meets monthly to discuss books on faith, spirituality and the human condition. As is the case with this book, it doesn't have to be a Christian-centric book, but because often times faith in a higher power and the health of our culture/humanity are interconnected, these books fit inside a faith based study - in my opinion, anyways.

This Jesus and Wine group met this past Tuesday and the discussion was fantastic. I was convinced to go by my wife and am glad I did.I am only about 1/2 way through the book and am hooked. My wife tends to shove books at me when they've been deemed "really good" by her, and she reads a lot of books, so I trust her judgment.

The underlying premise is that loneliness is a state that many people find themselves in, but that loneliness and being alone are two different things. Without getting bogged down in details, because I'll probably get them wrong anyway, I'll leave it at saying "read the book" because at this point I am hooked.

The biggest question it asks early on is about "fitting in." Did you ever feel like you didn't fit in? With family, or friends, or colleagues or, or, or...?

And I got to thinking of a few times I didn't fit.

The first was as a new student in 4th grade. We had just changed schools and, other than my siblings, I didn't know anyone at the new school. Making a switch to a new school is hard for anyone, but when they are as shy as I was, the difficulty is magnified even more. I remember the first kid who befriended me was Ron Corazzo. We were playground outcasts, but somewhere along the first month of school, he reached out. He introduced me to Ralph Kishel and I started fitting in one person at a time after that. Still, some lonely days leading up to it.

Another that I'd almost forgotten was when I was a freshman in high school. Again, new school, this time with more familiar people than last, but still new surroundings. My sister tells the story that when she was going out one Friday night, I said to her "I wish I had as many friends as you." She said she felt terrible, but only for a second as she skipped out the door. By senior year, I had a well established circle of about 5 really close friends, so it didn't last forever, but a crappy, lonely feeling nonetheless.

I guess the last time I really felt out of place, or left out was, oddly enough, in a Bible study group. Over about a 4 year period, the group went politically rogue to the point where it was apparent that I was the only "liberal" (as much as I hate that word) thinker in the group. After a while, I was on an island in my thinking and so left the group. I probably should have stuck it out, but sometimes the answer to being a lone wolf, is to leave the pack. In my opinion, politics and religion shouldn't mix, but they did and broad based assumptions were made, so I put an end to that the easiest way I knew.

So I am looking forward to the rest of the book. One of the quotes she keeps going back to is from Maya Angelou and reads:

"You are only free when you belong no place - you belong every place - no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great."

-Maya Angelou

As confusing as this quote is, it has great depth, and from what I've read so far, she is planning on laying out a plan for better connection with the world and with ourselves as the book goes on.

Blogging off...

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Temporary Domicile

"Life After Portland" post #2

In my last post, I wrote about the roommate that done me wrong by defaulting on our lease and forcing me to move and surrender my security deposit. He was headed to California and I was headed to the want ads.

Luckily, through a connection at work, a woman's husband set me up with a guy who had a small two bedroom house less than a mile from where I was living. "He's a little strange, quiet and super frugal, but he's a super nice guy." He sounded okay to me. In the dire straits I was in, I could handle quiet and frugal.

So I moved in. I can't remember the address of the place. It was on 54th or 53rd Avenue in Crystal. The house was cozy and Tony (alias) worked a lot of overtime, so wasn't around much. When he was around, he was so quiet that I felt like I had to fill both sides of a conversation in. If you know me, I'm not one much for small talk, so this was kind of exhausting.

During a conversation he'd nod a lot and we'd have several what I call "awkward pauses" where nothing would get said, so I'd start back up with. "So, then..." just to get out of the awkward pause. It felt forced because it was forced. And while I know you can't change an introvert, when you get a couple of them in a room, and one feels like they need to make conversation, well, it gets awkward.

Then, when I thought a conversation was over, I'd walk to another room and when I turned around, sometimes he was standing there. Frankly it scared me every time it happened. More in a surprised kind of way, than fear, but unnerving nonetheless.

The upside to the arrangement was he had a floor to ceiling bookcase full of albums. He gave me free reign to them and I took advantage by recording some of the good ones.

Well, within about 4 months of living there I got laid off from my mapping job a few miles away. I was devastated and didn't know where to turn. When I asked mom if I could move in with her until I found a new place, she said sure, but that I'd have to share a room with my brother, Paul.

After I got my notice at work, I broke the news to Tony that I had lost my job and would probably have to move out. As it turns out, he said we probably wouldn't have worked out as roommates anyway. When I questioned him on it, he said he was looking for someone who could be more of a friend to him. Now, I had a few friend groups at the time, work, church and college and frankly was a little friended out at the time. So I guess it must have come across in some of my rambling monologues disguised as a dialogue that I didn't really need someone else to go and hang out with.

So, for the second time in less than six months I packed up what little dignity I had and moved again. This time it was with Mom and my brother. It wasn't ideal, but it would at least be comfortable again.

Blogging off...

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...