Sunday, February 25, 2018

Uninterrupted Java

One of my favorite times of the week is Saturday morning. My wife and I have developed a routine of going to a local coffee shop, The Steaming Cup, for coffee. I don't know how it started, it just sort of happened one Saturday a couple of years ago and we thought it seemed like a good thing, so we just kept up with it. We are there with the rest of the regulars almost every week. It's like the TV show Cheers, but with coffee.

I think it started as a kind of "lets go for coffee and talk house projects," way back when and became a ritual. Now it has become a chance for us to catch up with what went on over the week as well as what is in front of us for the coming week. The best part of it is we have each other's undivided attention for an hour and a half. No distractions, no dog, no kids, just us.

The things we talk about cover the gamut. We talk about our kids; when they were little and the cool kids they've become. There are times when talking about them that Donna gets near tears, not out of sadness, but out of love. During our hectic weeks, we don't often get a chance to talk at such an intimate level and sometimes memories get triggered, and that's okay. Our kids have become great young human beings and that's all we can ask for.

And we laugh too. We laugh hard at the insanity that is our life from week to week. A couple of weekends ago we spent 10 minutes setting up a "Home Screen" for her phone, something I assured her would make her life easier. After some quick tips, she was off and running. We laughed that she's spent 2 years without this simple trick to make life a little easier. We also laughed because it's how we roll. We tend to put projects off for months or years and when it finally gets done, we're always hard pressed to figure out why we waited so long.
Running for a refill!

With both of our kids now away at college, this time every weekend has allowed (forced?) us to rediscover who the other person is and why we fell in love nearly 28 years ago. When we were first married, we used to go grocery shopping on Saturday afternoons. Afterwards we went out for pie and coffee at Baker's Square on the East Side of Milwaukee. I used to love those outings for all the same reason. And I realized that these new coffee dates every Saturday at The Steaming Cup stand as a sort of return to those days at Baker's Square.

The time gives us a chance to talk about our worries and concerns as well as our excitement and dreams. Donna is in a class right now about the book "It's Never Too Late to Begin Again" and it was fun talking to her about how it is stretching her as a person - in uncomfortable ways. We talked about her childhood and how it differed from my own, in part because of our parents, but in part because of our personalities.

I'm sure most people don't need this sort of one-on-one time every week. People might say that's what they do at home every night, and that's fine. I only know that it is something I've come to consider precious time. It's US time and it rounds out a crazy week and sets me right before the next one. In fact, if she has to work or something and we can't do coffee, I miss it.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Intersection Of Literature And Theater

So I went to a poetry reading last night. (These are the quotes you don't often hear me sharing in the boat with my fishing buddies but, hey, it's who I am.)

This one was held at Mama D's Coffee shop in Genesee Depot, about 15 minutes from my house. The event recognizes a featured poet, in this case Stephen Anderson an accomplished, prize-winning poet from the Milwaukee area. The way the event runs is the featured poet reads for about 30 minutes and then the microphone is open to anyone else who wants to share their work.

The event is run by Mama D's, with oversight by Paula Anderson, poet laureate for the Village of Wales.

Now, I know poetry is not for everyone. I get that. But I also know there is a lot to be gained from live performance art - which is what this is in every sense of the word. It is the intersection of literature and theater. (And, this goes for book reading/signing events as well.) The poet/author is not only putting their written work out there for people to react to, but they are in a sense performing it as well.

And this is what makes a good poetry/literature reading a great one. If the reader has an engaging stage presence, a commanding voice (or at least in command of their own work), it can make all the difference. In my last blog post I mentioned how I tend to start out my events nervous and choppy. Once I settle in, I can feel the change in my voice, inflection and demeanor. That is when it becomes more like a visceral experience - and a lot of fun.

But I've strayed from my point.

What I wanted to get across is how, if you haven't been to a live reading event ever, or lately, I would encourage you to try one out sometime. They are intimate affairs and can touch upon the human experience in ways that impact you. I look at it as another form of entertainment. I've been to a number of them in support of my writing colleagues and I'll be honest some are better than others. (For the really bad ones, there are even occasions where you beg for mercy, or wish you could vaporize and slide out the heat vent.) The key as an author is reading your audience and knowing when to stop. Like anything, doing it well requires a lot of practice.

Another cool part about this event was meeting a couple of the guys there afterward. They were both about my age or a little older, both male, both poets. We all talked about our work; One of the guys, Robert Nordstrom had a book out, The Sacred Monotony of Breath, and the other was just getting back into writing. One asked where he could get a copy of The Portland House. In turn, I may buy the other guy's poetry book because I liked his readings. It's all about connections.

At the event I was also formally introduced as the new poet laureate for the Village of Wales, effective in April, which was a nice shout out. I am looking forward to what all of that brings into my life.

Anyways, my point is, support local authors and poets. You won't regret it.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Feared More Than Death

Yesterday I celebrated the launch of my latest book, The Portland House. It was a long awaited celebration after the online release of the book on January 23rd. (The publisher wanted lag time to insure that the books made it to me before the launch.)

Now, I've done a ton of these presentations with Dirty Shirt over the past 3.5 years, but I still go into them a bit of a nervous wreck. I've never liked giving speeches or presentations, but as I've been forced into doing them for Dirty Shirt, I've become much better at it. I didn't say more comfortable, but better.

Plus, I'd done the Dirty Shirt spiel a dozen times or more, so could almost recite it in my sleep. But this was a new book and new stories, so I wasn't sure how I'd do.

Before the signing I was tired and nervous. I tried to take a brief nap but it was mostly futile. I did a little yoga (now, there's a picture) and it seemed to help take some of the tension out of my body - always good.

I always use the first 15 minutes of a signing to do a meet and greet. It gets my conversational tone going and sort of serves to warm me up.

So, when I started with my introduction, I was nervous. I thanked a few folks and then gave an intro into the first story. When I started reading, my tempo was choppy and shaky. Within the first minute though, I got my first laugh from the audience.

And everything changed.

There is something about that first laugh, or that first gasp, or that first audience reaction that reminds me that I am okay. It is a reminder that they are listening and genuinely hoping to be entertained. That they are rooting for me. Then, when I get the second and third laughs, I settle in. I'm in the zone and back to breathing natural and reading like I hope to read.

At the end of the last reading, I kind of didn't want it to end - which is totally weird, given my feelings 15 minutes earlier. I do get a bit of a rush by people responding positively to my work. It is humbling and makes me grateful I get to do what I am doing.

To write is a gift, to read and get audience feedback is privilege.

And I am glad I get to do it.

Thank you to each and every one of you who showed up to help me celebrate my work. It meant the world to me.

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Amongst The Shell Casings

With all the pain and hurt of yesterday's high school Valentine's Day massacre, I thought that rather than feed into the rage and sadness that plenty of others are taking care of, I'd share some beauty.

Because, there's nothing beautiful about assault rifles. Mental illness aside, I've never seen an unarmed mentally ill person kill 17 people in a matter of minutes. Maybe I'm missing something, though.

So beauty it is.

Beauty is the 18 month old girl that sits behind us with her mother every Saturday at coffee. She smile melts my heart. Whenever I see such innocence, it restores my faith in humanity - at least momentarily. 

Beauty is serving dinner alongside a few others to 40 adults and children in poverty at a local church. The program is called Coming Together to Get Ahead or CTGA. It is designed to give people opportunities to get training, education, counseling and a hot meal.

Beauty is my wife asking if people could step up and help cover a meal for the Guest House of Milwaukee and getting an immediate response of enough to cover 3 meals. I am convinced that people want to help and are just looking for a conduit to do it through. Changing lives, one meal at a time.

Beauty is a local family I know who have 5 foster kids (8 total kids) and are currently working on adopting 3 of them. Pulling kids out of hopeless situations to help them experience love and safety.

Beauty is my daughter texting me yesterday asking (in her 5 year old voice) "Will you be my balentine?"  Yank my heart out and stomp on it, already.

Beauty is a friend sharing her poetry cards with the world on Random Acts of Poetry and Art (RAPA) on February 20th. She does this on her own dime of her own volition. Solely because she believes in the power of words, art and positivity.

Beauty is a winter sky.

Beauty is hearing my son on WUWM radio every Thursday with his friend Ethan, talking about silly news stories, giving advice to strange questions, etc. Students getting their 60 minutes of fame every week in the name of fun.

Beauty is a number of my author friends donating books to my WLIA Annual Conference silent auction. The money raised from this auction goes to fund student scholarships. With tuitions being off the charts expensive, every little bit helps these kids get through college.

Beauty is hearing an encouraging word about my writing - almost always when I am at a serious point of self-doubt.

Beauty is reading a book like Confessions of a Funeral Director. This author uses his experiences with death to change his perspective on life, living and the "death negative narrative." This book should be required reading for anyone who has dealt with a lot of loss. 

So I would challenge you to find some beautiful moments in every day. A smile from a kid, an encouraging word, a sunset or a great song.

Because we could all use a lot more of it lately.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Writing Roundup

A rundown on all things writing related.

Portland House Giveaway

As part of my Portland House book release, I am running a giveaway contest. I ask people to take a photo of them with the book in a unique place, or even just around the house somewhere. Then, on March 17th, I plan to draw two winners from the entries and send them a signed copy of the book.

I ran the contest with Dirty Shirt and had a lot of fun with it. I look at it as a unique way to engage people with the celebration of launching a book as well as getting a chance at a free book. In this day and age, people are all about selfies and pictures from their phones, so it seems like a good match.

To date, I've had 11 entries and suspect I will get a bunch more after the formal launch parties/book signings I'm having in the coming weeks. (Feb. 17th in Waukesha and March 10th in St. Paul, MN.)

Some of the entries have been from sunny beaches, including Florida and California. Others were taken with pet cats and even a goat. I can't wait to see what else comes in as more people get the book.

On a Road Chapbook

In an interesting and unexpected development, my chapbook On a Road was recently accepted for publication by Unsolicited Press. For those who don't know, and it appears more don't know than do, a chapbook is a collection of less than 25 poems.

This one is a series of poems about a road trip to California that I took with a couple of friends in 1984 when I was just 22 years old. It is styled after, and in homage to, Kerouac's novel, On The Road. I don't know much more than the contract that I signed is being reviewed, but it is certainly exciting news on the heels of The Portland House book release.

Reviews

There is a good chance I will have a review from The Shepherd Express newspaper this week. They typically come out on Thursdays, so look for it wherever you find the Express!

There is also a good chance Mary Ann Grossman from the St. Paul Pioneer Press will be reviewing The Portland House in the next couple of weeks. This is huge visibility for me. I also have inquiries out for a couple of radio interviews, but no word yet. Fingers crossed.

More good news

There is another very exciting development brewing. I can't say much about it until it actually happens, but I will certainly make it known if it does.

A Plea

I am always looking for Amazon reviews. If you've read the book and enjoyed it, I'd love to get a few words on the Amazon site for the book. I am up to four, but for a little perspective, Dirty Shirt has 41 reviews. They help me as an Author and don't take too much effort from readers. It is appreciated!

So, it is all coming together. I am blessed to be where I am with my writing right now. Lots of work, but all good.

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Winter's Lemon

It seems full-on winter has finally arrived. We had a lot of that cold with no snow crap for the first two months, but last weekend we finally got enough of a snowfall to enable a little skiing.

I have been cross country skiing since I was 18 years old. In Minnesota is almost a mandatory skill - or should be, in my opinion.

So this past Sunday, before the Super Bowl, I took a little jaunt on my new skis that I got last year. It was a cold affair, but a beautiful windless day, so I had a blast. I am a fool for speed, so I even blazed the trail on the big sledding hill. I've long purported that I have a zeal for speed that regularly exceeds my ability to control the whole hurtling humanity element.

Well, after such a successful day on the slopes, I was determined to do a little night skiing tonight. I'd done some night skiing probably 15 years ago and enjoyed the quiet and darkness so much I thought I'd recreate it.

A few days ago when I mentioned that I was thinking about going out after work tonight, my wife said, "In the dark?"

"Yep. It's great."

"Do you have a headlamp?"

"Nope, but there's enough light. I've done this before." (The only thing missing was, "Trust me, I'm a professional.")

"Well, don't fall and break a hip or something."

Well, tonight was fun, but there were some moments of clarity and revelation, let me tell you.

For starters either my eyes are getting worse, or it's darker in the winter than it was 15 years ago. Or, maybe both. The hardest thing was keeping in the tracks. My eyes played tricks on me as I drifted in and out once the darkness hit.

It was almost like I could have used a headlamp or something.

Then, on my first challenging downhill I sensed the tracks were a ticket to too much speed, so chose to kind of snowplow it in the middle lane where the skate ski showoffs ski. Well, the middle was fast too. I had it all under complete control until I didn't. I fell in hip breaking fashion and managed to come out unscathed.

It was wicked fun.

I continued on, huffing and puffing to the next challenging downhill. Determined to master the center lane snowplow technique, I opted to go that route again. And 3/4 of the way into it I wiped out hard. This time I fell to my right side and as I was getting up I thought to myself:

Oh, please don't let my phone be crushed. (In case you're wondering, I carry it so I can call 911 when I break a hip.)

It wasn't which made this fall as wickedly fun as the last.

So, I have to do something about this need for speed. I aim to work on my technique of course, but if you're thinking I'd be better off staying home, I can only say it's not happening.

I would rather die from a broken hip from a skiing accident than sit on the sidelines worrying about the inherent dangers of a little bunny hill type XC skiing. I'm not dumb enough to get on downhill skis, maybe ever again, because that would be giving a flamethrower to a pyro. I know my limits.

Plus, for a few minutes, when I stopped among the trees in the darkness the quiet was soul soothing. I'm out there trying to make lemonade out of this lemon called winter.

Blogging off...


Sunday, February 4, 2018

Not So Super Bowly

Super Bowl Sunday is a local day of mourning around this house. With a combined 9 Super Bowl losses between the Vikings, (4) the Bills (4) and the Packers (1) this day has ended badly more than well. 8 of the losses were redeemed in 1997 when the Packers crushed the New England Patriots in SB 31. It was a great day, Brett Favre on his game, Desmond Howard showing up for special teams like he had all year, and even the outcast Andre Bad Moon Rison catching his big TD. We both finally felt what it was like to win it all.

And it was very good.

That glory was short lived when they lost next year by going into Denver over confident and were outplayed by veteran Elway, loser of 3 Super Bowls himself, determined to get his own redemption. I always liked Elway and couldn't help but feel a little happy for him despite the sting of the loss.

Then in Super Bowl 40 when the Packers went from squeaking their way into the playoffs to Super Bowl Cinderellas, We again got to experience the feeling of total victory. For me is was especially redemptive because I've hated the Steelers since they beat the Vikes in the Super Bowl of 75. (I know, I need to get over it.)

So as my various teams were eliminated from the playoffs, (Vikings, Bills) i was left to root for anyone who played the Evil Empire New England Patriots. And I was pulling for Philadelphia until their fan base showed, AGAIN, who they really are. Namely, the worst fans in all of American sports. They treated the Vikings fans like a bunch of hoods and my allegiances shifted on Monday Morning.

I normally root for the underdogs, but the events of that Sunday have changed all that. If anyone knows me, they know that while I like to win, winning with sportsmanship and class will take precedence over the final score every time. I think back to the Vikings playoff loss where a fan threw a whiskey bottle at a ref and cut his head, It made me cringe. I was ashamed to be a part of that fan group. Losers who lose with grace and poise have my allegiance.

So, today I will cross country ski. I will probably watch the game, maybe with the sound turned down. And I will reluctantly root for Tom Brady to win his 15th Super Bowl, based entirely on the actions of a fan base. Plus, I have always thought he's the greatest of all time, and today, regardless of the outcome, he will retain that title.

So, go Patriots. If you have to. I guess...

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Nested

My wife and I are what might be called seasonal empty nesters. We have two kids in college (can you say money drain?) and so for 9 months of the year we are us. Her and I. Me and her.

And our two cats and our dog.

But for the most part, our nest is empty.

We've gotten quite used to it already. Nothing against our kids of course, we love them to death. But sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder. I've noticed a few things that I am kind of getting used to. Things like:


  • I own a car that I'd forgotten I owned. It's a 2004 Hyundai and it's kind of nice being able to take it when I want it and not have to schedule it a week out or sign a rental agreement to drive it. 
  • Along those lines, when I get in this same car, my seat is exactly where I left it. And there are no water bottles left in the cup holders. It's weird, but I like it this way.
  • My phone charger has not been stolen, borrowed or forgotten at a friend's house. 
  • I am sleeping better not worrying what time my kids will come home. Even past 18, as adults, I worried until I heard their door close every night.
  • My internet speed doesn't really suck. I have absolutely no issue with it. Of course I'm not multi-player online gaming on my PC while my phone streams Netflix. The complaints are frequent and editorial during the summer months. 
  • Our weekly trash is about 1/3 of what it used to be. 
  • If the house is cold, we put on more clothes. There are no complaints between us two.
These things said, there are things I genuinely miss.

  • Dinner around the table with my kids was always a time of catch up. How was your day? What's going on in school? What's your week look like?
  • Believe it or not, I kind of miss my son jumping out from behind closed doors or when I open the bathroom door. It's a mean thing to do, but we both always get a laugh from it.
  • I miss their hugs.
  • I really miss their smiles and laughter. Even if it is while they're playing a video game, it is music to me to hear them laugh.
  • I miss their calling me out on things. Sometimes my age shows and they are quick to point it out. I know they mean no harm and it kind of keeps me honest.
  • I miss their wicked senses of humor.
So, there are upsides and downsides to kids in school. Talk to me mid-summer, but there are moments I miss them greatly and moments I want them to be doing exactly what they are doing. 

Living their own lives. 
Making their way in the world.
Adulting. 

Because they are doing great at all three, and I love that about them.

Blogging off...