Sunday, May 27, 2018

Coffee With Friends

Yesterday I continued with my The Portland House: A '70s Memoir promotion. This time it was at Mama D's, an intimate local coffee shop in Wales, Wisconsin. Mama D's reached out after a friend tipped them off that I had a new book out and that I was also poet laureate for the Village.

It was a warm day and by the time I started to read, the place was pretty much full. I was so happy with the turnout. One never knows how many people will take the time to drive there, especially on this - a holiday weekend.

There were several friend groups there. Some of my poet colleagues came and brought friends, some folks from my church, Collective MKE, and even a couple of brand new friends who have been itching to get my books.

While I usually get pretty nervous at these things, I had a sense of calm and confidence about this reading. I don't know if it was because it was largely friends there or whether I'm just getting better at this. (Or maybe my writers little helper pill is to credit. LOL)

I read three stories and the crowd seemed engaged and attentive. It was a little tricky with customers entering and the blender whirring up coffee drinks from time to time. But for the most part it was uninterrupted and fun. People laughed when I hoped they would. No one fell asleep.

But the best part was afterward. One woman asked if my book was available on audio book. I told her it wasn't, that it can be cost prohibitive. I think she enjoyed the reading so much, she wanted to hear me tell the whole story, and she isn't the first person to ask the question. I would love to have my books on audio book someday, but I get the ROI thinking too.

In any case I was flattered to know that despite my pre-reading worry about how I would come across was all for naught. People have said again and again that they enjoy my readings.

Another case was a friend who posted that she'd never been to a reading before mine and now she planned to make it to more of them by different authors. Again, a compliment I hadn't expected and one to build my confidence on even more.

So someday I might not dread these things like I sometimes do. As I mentioned to some friends afterward, there are times I even get a bit of a charge out of talking in front of groups. It's totally not who I am, but once I'm up there it's sometimes hard to shut myself up. (Not to mention it takes me 3 days to recover from the buildup and presenting.)

And, finally, I hate to gush, but every time I do an event with any of my books I realize how privileged I am to be able to talk to people who actually buy them. There are a ton of other forms of entertainment that people can spend their dollars on, and I'm lucky to be a small part of any of it. Besides, people say such nice things and all of it bolsters my self confidence and reminds me that while writing is an isolating practice, the rewards are great.

So now, to find another venue to do it all again.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Spectrum Of Adventure

A friend of mine is hiking the Pacific Coast Trail for the next few months. Yes, his plan is to hike the WHOLE thing, all 2600 miles of it. He is doing it to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis Research. He's calling it the Hike for a Cure and he has a Go Fund Me page if you're interested in donating.

But that's not the reason I'm writing. It is to say how much I admire him for following his heart. He essentially put his life on standby to do something he'd have regrets about later in life if he didn't follow through.

And it is pure, 100% adventure.

I am sort of living vicariously through his Video Log (vlog) and his periodic Facebook posts. I've even kicked around the idea of flying out and hiking a section with him for support.

As I've mentioned before, I am working my way through Paddle For A Purpose, a book by Barb Geiger, an author friend of mine. She and her husband committed to paddling the length of the Mississippi River. THAT, my friends, is adventure. A commitment to excitement, danger, risk and a healthy dose of outdoors.

I like to think of myself as adventurous. After all, I've been to the BWCA a dozen times or so, I've fished and camped a fair amount, and even hiked a small peak in the Adirondack Mountains a few years back.

The problem is, on the spectrum, I would fall into the weekend warrior category of adventurers. Adventure has levels of magnitude. Mine have been pretty safe and True adventurists put themselves out there for extended periods, or in extreme conditions. (Think polar explorers, Appalachian Trail hikers, etc.) Most of my adventures pale in comparison.

Oh, there was that time we took a fly in fishing trip. While they were loading the gear, they also loaded on two or three 55 gallon drums of diesel for the generators. If we would have crashed, we would have burned...real good.

So that was sort of adventurous. Being in such a remote location made it feel different too, although we were only one radio call and otter flight away from a hospital, so it was still on the edge of weekend warrior.

I've gone down some rapids in whitewater a few times as well. Once on the wild Menomonee River before I was married, and twice since on much milder trips with our kids. Those trips down the rapids felt as much like adventure as I guess I can ask for.

Anyhow, suddenly I'm aware that my days of adventure have an end date to them. If I'm going to jump out of a plane, hike the Camino, or summit a 13,000 foot peak in Colorado, I'd better get going because I'm not getting any younger.

I'll expect your full support and encouragement as I quit my job and pursue these adventures.

Uh, yeah, just kidding.

Blogging off...

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Writers Talking Writing

Yesterday I spent my afternoon as part of a panel of authors for an AllWriters symposium on how to get published. The panel was comprised of a dozen or so authors, all of whom had been published with traditional small presses. Many of them had multiple books and a few even had multiple books in multiple genres.

The group fielded questions the audience had written and submitted prior to the panel. I was flattered to be a part of it but it also felt a little surreal to me. I still consider myself new to the whole writing thing and like most writers suffer from the self-doubt/self-loathing bug, so facing the music that I might be able to help others still seems like a stretch.

But me and the rest of the panelists did alright. Some of the questions were pointed to specific people based on what they'd published and others were just opened up to the whole panel.

During the question and answer period I found it interesting that my inner extrovert comes out of his shell when I start talking about writing. It is one of my bigger passions right now - even though I'm still new at it, still faking it till I make it - so when I get going, it's hard to stop. Part of it too is that I really want to help people. Like any endeavor, brewing beer, fishing or setting up a GIS system, I love sharing what worked and what didn't. There's nothing to be gained by keeping your success secrets to yourself.

So aside from the fun of networking with other writers - something I can't get enough of - there were pieces of advice.

  • There is no proper discipline for writing. Just doing it is discipline.
  • Don't let the story you think your writing get in the way of the one that is supposed to be written.
  • Don't worry about your audience or yourself. Focus instead on writing a good story.
  • At some point students may outgrow the need for a peer review/critique group. Everyone is different. Do what works for you.
  • Outlines are not essential. Writing the story is. Then, organize it. 
  • Most writers would rather die than present their book in front of a group. (Truth)
  • When writing a trilogy, don't try and sell it as a trilogy. Sell the book you've written and mention that it is part of a trilogy.
It was a great afternoon and fun to see some old friends. I've found that there's always something to be gained by hanging around with peers. 

And this was a good bunch of them.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Chapters In A Book Called Life

Last weekend was a whirlwind. As I mentioned in my last post, my daughter graduated from the University of Minnesota on Sunday. It was a highly emotional day for me, having been a student at the U back in the days before the internet and cell phones. While the past memories and present moments of great, enormous pride swirled around my head throughout the ceremony, it was what happened afterward that was the weirdest thing.

We went out to an early dinner at Hell's Kitchen in Minneapolis. It was a nice wind-down from the chaos and running of the previous two days. From there we dropped Sarah off at her apartment. It was unlike any goodbye I've ever said to a child of mine.

You see, her plan is to stay up in the Twin Cities. Her boyfriend is moving out there from California and they plan to make a life together in Minnesota. This meant I didn't need to move her home. But it also meant, she was changing my life as a parent forever. She would no longer be living in my house for anything more than a "visit."

Which is not a feeling I like.

But the goodbye was weird for her too. She was not only saying goodbye (for a time) to her family, but she now no longer had school to worry about. As a super achiever, I am sure that felt weird for her. As we hugged goodbye, she said "You'll come and visit right?" We assured her we would, as most of my family is up there anyway.

So it was weird all the way around.

The night prior, I gave her the journal I talked about in my last post. She cried as she was opening it, saying "I know what this is." It was an emotional moment for all of us.

The last entry of the journal kind of summed up everything that went into it. I've transcribed it below:


In two days you'll begin a new chapter in your life. These chapters in this journal are all part of a beautiful, wonderful, joyful life you have given to Mom, Ben and myself and the rest of our family. Every time I think of you and Ben, I smile knowing the world has two loving souls who will do their part to make it a better place.

I've said it numerous times in this book - too many to count - but I'll say it again. I am so very proud of all you've become. You are beautiful, caring, thoughtful, funny, courageous and adventurous. Your strong will and independent spirit will carry you far in life. My prayers for you are happiness and contentment as you write the rest of your life story. Always remember that you're my sweetheart.

I love you forever,


So, it appears I've got a new life of my own now and I'm not sure how to deal with it. But somehow I'll manage and I'm sure she will too.

Blogging off...

Sunday, May 13, 2018

It Takes A Village

This weekend we spent with family and friends celebrating our daughter's graduation from the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota.

As part of that celebration, yesterday we all gathered at a local microbrewery in Hudson, Wisconsin. We caravaned up to the cities with our good friends from Milwaukee who have been like an Uncle and Aunt to both of our kids. 

And I can't really put into words how nice it was to look around the crowded open space of Hop and Barrel last night and see everyone so happy. People were making the rounds, talking to different groups of cousins, aunts uncles and of course the grandmother, Nanny. The energy in the room was electric with love and no one really wanted it to end. 

Then, today we went to Mariucci Hockey Arena to watch Sarah walk the stage and enter a new chapter in her life. The keynote speakers, Senator Amy Klobuchar and David Gerbitz, one of the top executives at Pandora music streaming, gave exceptional speeches about the coming generation and the hope that they bring to the world. 

There were several moments during the speeches and ceremonies that I was on the verge of tears. Partly because I'm a sentimental sap, and partly because I want to believe that this generation is our hope. I know that my daughter and son have shown me that their world is vastly different than mine, and in entirely better ways. Diversity, acceptance, globalism, connectedness, and most of all, love.

The weekend was also spent in the company of my dear sister in-law and her two daughters. She lost her mother this past week and had to deal with the difficult combination of grieving and celebrating in the same weekend. A painful reminder that life isn't always great and wonderful.

I think these types of weekends are put into my life to remind me how lucky I am to have the family and support systems I have. Not only that, but how lucky I am to have been granted a chance at a college education and now am able to witness it for my own kids. As the keynote mentioned, we all know how brief life is, so we need to keep in mind what Mary Oliver mentions in her poem, The Summer Day, where she writes:

"Tell me what it is you plan to do
with your one wild, precious life?"

-Mary Oliver


Blogging off...

Thursday, May 10, 2018

An Only One Bestseller

When my daughter was born, I started a journal.* Knowing I loved to write, I was in charge of keeping track of life's little moments of her life that touched me. The journal starts literally within the week she was born. In the early years, my entries were frequent, sometimes many to a page. As she grew older they grew more lengthy and were usually a page in length.

It was my intent that when she turned 18 I would give her the book. Well, at that time, it just didn't feel right. So, I moved the date out to "when she graduates from college."

Well, that date comes this weekend.

The book is full of great moments including:

  • Her first week with us when she was fussing in her bassinet, which she hated.
  • A day out in the back yard when she 3 or 4 and was swinging on the swing, singing away - something she never did. But that day she did. It was magical.
  • The day I took her to Eble Park skating as a 5 year old and for some reason it touched me enough that I had to write about it.
  • The night after Ben was born, I wrote about how she shared her toys with him.
  • One entry was about how she wanted me to say "Mommie's prayer." I told her I didn't know it and could she say it. So she said, "Now I way me down to sweep..."  Slayed me!
  • I wrote about her catching her first musky up north and how proud it made me.

There are a ton of other entries in there. Part of the fun of getting it ready to give to her was looking back on some of these things that I don't even remember.

The whole thing made me realize again how quickly life passes. I am so glad I took the time to put down these fleeting thoughts. I only wish I'd done it more often - though the book is only about 10 pages from being filled.

I often tell people, it is one of the two most important books I'll ever write.

The other is to my son, Ben who I've done the same thing for.

I highly recommend this practice to all you young parents or grandparents out there!

Blogging off...

*The book itself was actually a gift to us from our friend, Jacqui White, when Sarah was born.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Write From The Start

It seems like my writing life is busier than ever lately. It is all good, but I thought I would run down what is going on in part to help those who want to know and in part to help me keep it straight. Ha!

  • The Portland House continues to get good reviews. I love talking to people about it as many of them can relate to the big family thing. It is up to 12 reviews on Amazon, but I am always looking for more, so if you liked it, please let the world know.
  • Work continues on the next book about my high school experience in an all-male, Catholic, military high school in the late '70s. Again, lots of funny stories some of which make me shudder as a parent, but hey, it was a long time ago.
  • Yesterday I sent a book to WCCO radio in Minneapolis in hopes of getting an interview or maybe a plug. A friend of my mom liked the book so much that she sent a text to John Hines one of the radio hosts telling him about it. Figuring that was my lead, I sent him an inquiry. He made no promises, but told me to send him a book. It would be some great exposure.
  • I am also working on a chapbook about my father's life and death. It will be a collection of 25  poems or so. It is a challenging one to put together, but is therapeutic in many ways. More on this as it develops.
  • I have a tentative date for a book signing/reading at Mama D's in Wales. May 26th I will be reading from The Portland House and signing copies afterward. Mama D's is a cool coffee shop in Wales.
  • I had the privilege of having one of my blurbs being on the back cover of Paddle For A Purpose, a paddling adventure memoir by local author, Barbara Geiger. Check it out here.
  • I was also asked by my writing instructor Kathie Giorgio to provide a blurb for the back of her forthcoming book, Today's Moment Of Happiness Despite The News; A Year Of Spontaneous Essays. These blurbs are such an honor to be a part of. Plugging for peers and mentors is a small way of giving back.
  • Not much to report on my forthcoming poetry collection, On A Road. We're in the lull time between acceptance and publication. Still, I am very excited to have it coming out this fall. 
  • I have several pieces out for publication consideration, many of which I feel have a strong chance for publishing. Time will tell.
  • Tomorrow I will do my second poetry reading as Poet Laureate in front of the Village of Wales Board. I have a couple of my favorite poems, one by me, one by Richard Brautigan. It will be great fun. 
  • I have been asked by a friend to discuss her ideas about writing a memoir. I am no expert, but am humbled to be asked. I love talking about my experience to anyone interested in getting into writing.
Photo Credit: Ellen Enriquez

  • Dirty Shirt is up to 42 reviews on Amazon. Thanks to all who left a review!
  • A nonfiction piece and interview of me were both recently posted in Portage Magazine. Check them out Here
  • I have ten more ideas for books and poetry collections, none of which I can take on at this time, but this is a great problem to have.

So, life is good. I still feel like I'm living in a dream. I am incredibly fortunate to have this "second job" and am just happy to be able to share a little of myself with the world.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Artistic Moments

I've been thinking a lot about artistic expression lately. Not personally, although my writing is certainly an extension of my own expression, but more along the lines of seeing it in others and recognizing it for the beauty it is.

This past weekend for example I went to the Jazz Estate in Milwaukee to see a band named Devil Met Contention. They were preceded by a band named Pay the Devil. (I see a theme here.)

Both bands were really good. The folk band that played first took turns with solos from the mandolin to the guy playing the washboard to the guitarist. I love watching live music. But what occurred to me was how everyone in the audience was enjoying themselves in THAT moment. As anywhere a  few clueless folks were obsessed with their phone, but for the most part, people were giving their full attention to the music of the moment. That is what musical art is; notes played into space in this case only to fade out. Its a temporary state of joy.

The same goes for visual art. If you're at an art museum, you're taking in the creative beauty of someone you don't know and it somehow changes you. You walk to the next piece, and you are changed again - in small, maybe insignificant ways, but changed.

And it occurred to me how the appreciation of these arts is such a core human need or pursuit. It separates us from the animals, except those crazy painting elephants. We desire it. We need it. And yet it is always one of the first things cut out of a school budget, a family's expenses, or any other discretionary purchases.

Art gets no respect.

Then, on Monday I was in writing class and a woman who is 70+ years old read from her children's book she is writing. It is a story about a singing flea and it is nothing short of creative genius. And again I was amazed that there were so many other things this woman could be doing after 70, and here she is creating something beautiful, hopefully to one day be enjoyed by children.

It truly is art in another form, knowing no boundaries of age or gender. And the 10 of us crowded around the table were there to appreciate it of our own accord. Meanwhile it changed us in small ways - perhaps giving us ideas or simply a smile and an appreciation for the moment.

Tonight I will attend a play featuring my brother in-law as the lead. I am certain it will be yet another example of being there, in the moment, pummeling the right side of my brain.

Because art takes many forms, and I am of the age where all of it requires my recognition/appreciation.

Blogging off...