Saturday, July 28, 2018

Righting The Ship

It was an up and down week for me. Wednesday was especially difficult, one of those days you kinda hate yourself, for no good reason, probably. All it takes is a few things to go wrong in succession and suddenly all you've done to be who you are seems insignificant compared to who you are not.

To the point where, when the Nurse Practitioner for your physical exam asks, "Have you had a sense of dread, hopelessness or depressive thoughts in the last week?" and you hesitate for three full seconds before lying and saying "Nope."

Of course these thoughts are stupid and unfounded and a waste of energy, but that doesn't mean they don't happen from time to time. All it takes is someone ridiculing you at work or an eye roll coupled with snide sarcasm to bring you question your worth. You know that it is only an indication of the person's own personal weakness or insecurities, but that doesn't always help.

But because I hate being in that place, I always manage to pull myself out of the self-wallowing mire. I attribute the incidents/funks to being "just a bad day" and try and make the next day better.

So the week finished out much better. It was capped off by a vacation day on Friday where I went fishing - alone. This is always a time for me to regroup, reflect and recharge. There is something about that kayak and fishing on my favorite lake that puts things back to right. The fishing was fantastic which helps.

If you know me, you know material goods don't matter to me. I don't care for the status of "things." But I will say that my kayak is a source of great joy for me. I love everything about it, but mostly the sense of freedom it gives me. It's like a poor man's Harley Davidson.

To make the weekend even better I went kayaking again - with friends this time - on Saturday. A group from our church, Collective MKE went out and kayaked the Fox River. The levels of expertise varied from novices to expert, but one thing was sure, everyone was happy to be there. We enjoyed each other's company, took in the wildlife we saw, and laughed really hard at times.

And it occurred to me that these people are my tribe. They are the ones who have my back. They build me up, encourage me and expect the same from me. I figure, like me, they have days where they hate themselves too. But also like me, they are able to sleep it off and attribute it to a crappy day.

I hesitated to post this, as I like to keep all my posts positive. At the same time though, I think people need to be honest about what they're feeling from time to time. I have great compassion for those who suffer from depression, because I see where they get it. And I give them great credit for working through it or getting help. It's nothing to mess around with. I am fine, but I know others that aren't.

Furthermore, it serves as a reminder to check what you say to people when you go through your day. Bringing people down serves no good purpose. There is a Facebook meme that reads: "Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out." I think that says it well.

I know people hate it when people say things about being blessed, but I can't think of a better way to describe my friend network. I am blessed by the people of Collective MKE and can't imagine doing life without them.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Getting Slammed

Monday night I experienced a first. I attended my first poetry slam. And while I've been to several poetry readings, I've never been to a slam. What's the difference, you ask?

Well, a slam is a competition between poets that have memorized up to a 3 minute long poem, who then perform it. I say perform because vocal inflection and presentation and style all count in the scoring. The closest thing I can compare it to is The Moth which is people getting up and telling a story of up to 5 minutes in length. The audience votes on it and the high scores advance.

The event was held at Mama D's, a coffee shop in Genesee Depot. It consisted of 7 poets competing in 3 different rounds. Each round eliminated a number of people, based on scoring from 3 judges. The first round had seven competitors, the second reduced it to four, and the third round was the best two of the four.

Now, a little aside. I almost signed up for a spot, not really knowing what the requirements were. I'd heard that you didn't need to memorize your work, and I even brought 3 poems. When asked if I wanted to read, I said I would if there was enough time. But after the first poem, I knew that I DID NOT want to get up there. By the third person, I'd concluded that I will probably never perform in a poetry slam.

None of this is to say I didn't enjoy it, because I really did. The poems were compelling and most were very well performed. However, it was my first exposure to snapping by audience members as a sign of appreciation when a particular part was well liked. I'd always heard people talk about it, but didn't think it was a real thing.

Well, it's a thing. Of course, with me being Mr. Self Conscious and probably one of the oldest guys there, I didn't snap at all, despite liking many parts of many of the works. I spend way too much time worrying what people are going to think. I consider this a weakness, but it's also part of my DNA.

The winner of the whole deal was a guy from the Twin Cities who was a poetry Jedi master. He went up against a very talented young female poet who was a close second finisher. In the end he nailed a very long poem about words. It was a fantastic finish to a very fun evening.

So, despite feeling impossibly old amongst the backdrop of a much younger, hip crowd, I would definitely go to another one. Heck, I may even snap.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Techno Discharged

There is simply no way to get away from the technical issues of our day. Between computers and phones and tablets and apps it's always something. 

This weekend it was Donna's turn with her laptop. It's been working great of course, so something new has to happen to upset the apple cart.

The thing was suddenly not charging event though it was plugged in. So, of course the first thing I do is order a new charger cable, because, well that seemed to be the source of the problem.

While we wait for the cable to come in, we discover that the thing actually DOES charge when it is shutdown or in sleep mode. So, I question whether a $25 cord was the right answer anyway. 

Then I go online and see that some people who have had the same issue just uninstalled the battery driver and the problem was fixed. THAT must be the problem then, I think to myself. That night I follow the instructions, uninstall the driver, unplug the computer, take the battery out, put the battery back in, reboot, and...No Joy.

I look up 3 or 4 different iterations of the same thing, try them all, they all fail. This was much of my Saturday evening. If you think your life is boring, come over sometime and I'll kill ya with computer fun around here. 

Anyways, after all the struggling, we still have a computer - with a brand new cord - that will only charge when it is shut down or asleep. Don't be jealous. Don't hate me because my computer is suckier than yours. 

Until I have renewed technological vigor, we are going to work with running the battery down and recharging as needed. 

Because life's too short for this crap.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Back To School

As you may or may not know, my next book is about my high school experience. I'd like to think that my experience was a little different than the average. I went to an all male, Christian, military academy in the late '70s. For those who know, the school is Cretin High which merged with the girls school, Derham Hall, became military optional and was renamed to Cretin Derham Hall.

When I first started to think about what I should write about after The Portland House, my unique high school experience was the first thing to come to mind. I started putting ideas down and as I took them to class/workshop every week, they were well received. This was reassuring as I wasn't sure the strange parameters (male/Christian/military) were enough to carry the story, but found out that my days as a student were filled with just enough boneheaded stories to keep the reader's interest.

But what I've discovered in the process is the teenage high school experience is almost timeless when it comes to peoples' ability to relate. We all are awkward gawky teens, we all learn to drive, we all try and act older than we are and many of us skate at the edge of lawlessness during our teens. These things come along with the undeveloped frontal lobe, whether we like it or not.

So when I brought in a story to writing workshop this week about me and a couple of friends taking a 1970's vintage pedicar for a spin, I thought the piece was just average. But judging from the reaction of the class, it was more than that. In fact, it was the reaction of the class that re-energized me and got me excited about the book. We writers need a fair amount of stroking, even if it is among our own, and Monday provided that.

I saw a meme on Facebook this week that sort of summed it all up nicely. I went as follows:

How to edit your novel:

  1. Buy red pens
  2. Gather beverage of choice
  3. Edit one page
  4. Feel super good
  5. Edit two more pages
  6. Get distracted by literally everything else
  7. Hate book
  8. Set book on fire
  9. Change your name
  10. Move to another country.
I'd say this is about spot on. Right now I'm at point number 4, so I'm happy for the moment.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Science Of Where

I don't often write about my work. Part of it is intentional - a distancing between work and family life, and part is just because people don't dig GIS like I do. Mapping is great, but most people think I sit around making globes all day. It's a bit of voodoo.

But as part of my job my colleagues and I all go out to San Diego for a software users conference every year. It is a gathering of 18,000+ GIS (Geographic Information Systems) professionals where we come together to network and learn about what is coming, software changes and exciting developments. It is an invaluable week, one I look forward to every year. None of this is to mention that I think San Diego is about the best place in the world, climatically. The best.

This year was made even better as Waukesha County was recognized as a Special Achievement in GIS (SAG) Award winner. Every year ESRI, the software company, awards a small percentage of their user base this award. We were last recognized in 2004, so this was a repeat visit for us, which was nice. It made the trip out west even more special.

As part of the recognition, there is an official ceremony where everyone who is interested can get their picture with the owner of the company, Jack Dangermond. Jack is a Forbes billionaire, but you'd never know it if you met him. He is forever humble and seems interested only in helping make the world a better place through the tools and technology of GIS and the people who run it. (He just happened to make a little money along the way, but his passion for making the world a better place is glaringly evident at this conference.)

I take pride in my work and it was good to be recognized. I owe a debt of gratitude to my co-worker, Kim who weathered the winds of change with me around the office when our division was cut in half by a retirement and resignation. She is dependable, supportive and helped me keep my sanity during what I would call the hardest two months of my career, anywhere. Coupled with her and my two new employees Chris and Andrea, I am psyched about where we can take the program.

Otherwise the conference was a whirlwind of technical sessions mixed with vendor meet-ups and networking with peers. This event is always a mixed blessing for me however. The closet extrovert in me rises to the occasion and I absolutely love the time talking and socializing with friends and colleagues. At the same time after it is over I go into hermit mode for 3 days as I try and re-energize after a draining week.

I love/dread it - all of it. Does that make me a bad person? Ha!

Anyway, it was a great week and if all the stars align I will get out there again next year.

Because I LOVE San Diego.

Blogging off...

*(A special shout out goes to my ex-cohorts, Don and Bill who are not pictured but whom played big parts in getting this award.)

Sunday, July 8, 2018

All That Matters

It has been sort of a trying two weeks for me. My mom has been battling some health issues and there have been some tenuous, life stopping moments for all of us.

About two weeks ago she had a small stroke. It was discovered when she was talking to some friends and not making much sense. (I do it all the time but they never call mine strokes, but I digress.) The next day she went into urgent care and was immediately admitted.

Well, those moments when you get a text that reads, "I'm with mom at the hospital..." pretty much stop you in your tracks every time. Reading on, I saw that mom was being treated for a stroke, but was in good spirits and talking coherently. When I called her, she sounded fine. She stumbled for a few words here and there, which was very unlike her. That was the weirdest part. Mom has always been very good in conversation, so to hear her stammer once in a while was, well, strange.

Her vitals progressed well though and she was released a few days later with some meds. We were all assured that with each day that went by without another stroke, her odds of not having another one would get better.

A few days after her release she had a second small stroke.

Again, the text from my sister stopped me in my tracks. Life has a way of closing in on you sometimes and this certainly qualifies as one of those events that causes one to pause.

Once in the hospital the conditions started to cascade along with the various diagnoses. (I'm one that's convinced Doctors are just really good educated guessers, but that's just me.) There was pneumonia, Arterial Fibrillation, low blood pressure, low oxygen and other things. Sometimes these medical things are just weirdly fluid. Fix this and it affects that. Fix that and this changes. Fix the change and a fourth thing comes into the picture.

It was like medical whack a mole for a while.

After a week and a day in the hospital, she was finally convinced to move to Transitional Care. It is an on site facility where they can give patients twice-a-day Physical and Occupational Therapy. The goal is to get them strong enough and rebuild their independent living skills to the point that they can live on their own again.

When I talked to her today, I equated it with being in jail and the only way release is granted is good behavior. She laughed and said, "Exactly!"

Anyway, she sounds better and said she is feeling better. She'll work her way out of the joint, because that's who my mom is.

As we all age, it is important that we remember that all we have is one another to lean on. So be sure and tell people you love them at every chance you get.

It's really all that matters. Love.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Writing Short Sentences

As many of you know, I am serving a term as Poet Laureate for the Village of Wales. This appointment has ramped up things in my poetry circles, which gives me a nice break from all things nonfiction. (Though I continue to do that too.) Here's a breakdown of a little of what's going on poetically.

  • My monthly readings at Wales Village Hall are going well. The group seems to enjoy my work as well as the guest poet I feature each month. I lead off the meeting and the group is respectful and engaging. Lots of laughs too.
  • The monthly poetry nights at Mama D's in Waukesha are underway and we are booked through February of 2019. The first event featured Marilyn Zelke-Windau and was well attended. 
  • The cover for my forthcoming chapbook, On a Road is finished and it is magnificent. I am SO happy with the way it turned out. The team at Unsolicited Press did a terrific job right out of the gate. Can't wait to reveal it later this fall. 
  • The signed poetry book drive is up to over 20 donated books so far. This is a good number, but I hope to more than double it by the time I am done in the fall. If you know of any poets who would like to donate a book that will end up in the Kettle Moraine High School library, please have them contact me. I love to see poets giving back to the world. It's what they do best in both word and deed.
  • There will be another 100,000 Poets For Change event in the greater Milwaukee area this fall. We are looking for dates in late September/Early October. Stay tuned. 
  • Mama D's is hosting a Poetry Slam on July 23rd at their Genesee Depot location. These are typically competitive events where poets memorize their work and compete to be the last one standing. Never been to r competed in one, but it sounds like fun!
  • I am currently seeking a publisher for my next poetry chapbook about my dad. More to come on this as I hear back from the more than eight publishers I sent it to. Fingers crossed!
  • I have a number of poems submitted to magazines and journals around the country as well. I hope to hear from some of these in the coming months.
  • My recent poem, The Guest House was accepted for publication in the Wisconsin Chapbook Against Hunger, organized by Ed Weinstein. This is a great cause. Again, let me know if you'd like to purchase a copy and I'll set you up.
So, as I mentioned things are busy in the small story (poetry) world right now. I love keeping busy with all of it and 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Moving Toward Gratitude

If there's one thing I hate more than moving, it's moving someone else. But I've moved enough to know that you can't do one without expecting a little of the other. You help because you are helped. There will come a day when we move we will be grateful for those that help us move, much like the folks we help move are grateful for us.

I would go as far as to say no one likes moving. So maybe we can help each other hate something for a shorter time. It makes me think of a quote from Michael Perry that I saw earlier this week that reads:

"There is the idea among psychologists that gratitude can be cultivated. Put it out there and it comes back to you." - Michael Perry

I think the same goes for a bit of selflessness now and again. Selflessness cultivates selflessness. I have a friend who helped with a move this past week that is probably the most selfless guy I've ever met. It's a quality I both love and hate. I love it because it reminds me what Jesus was like - or his recommended Modus Operandi. I hate it because I like my selfishness at times. I want to be selfless when it's convenient, on my terms, when my schedule allows.

But watching this guy give and continue to give pushes me to do the same. (Or, if not, to feel guilty for my selfishness again. It's a cycle.)

Anyway, we worked alongside one another for nearly eight hours moving some friends. It was without a doubt the hardest move I've ever done, but I realized the family moving had no other help, so was determined to finish the job. We did it and there was gratitude waiting for me at the end.

Every time I move someone, I am reminded of a few of the bad moves I've made before. If you've helped people move, you know what I'm talking about.

During one move years ago we were literally pulling clothes out of closets and dressers and throwing them in boxes. It was like the person was surprised to see us show up to help them. Either that or the thought that "moving help" meant literally starting with the first box.

It was that move when my wife and I agreed that if you are getting people to help you do a project, be it building a fence, painting or moving, you need to make sure things are ready to rock when they get there. Anything else is just an abuse of their time.

The move this weekend was well packed and ready to go. There was just a ton of stuff. They are a big young family, so it made sense.

Regardless of how much stuff any move has, they are always reminders to me that I need to minimize - especially before a move, but day to day as well. It is my goal not to burden my kids with a garage/basement/attic/storage shed full of crap when I die. How much stuff does an old couple need anyway? Downsize as you go. My mom has done a phenomenal job of that and I plan to do the same.

And my kids will be grateful for that.

Blogging off...