Thursday, November 29, 2018

Writing For My Life

I have taken a session off at the writing studio I have been involved in for the past 9 years or so. I was a little burnt and just needed to take some time to write new material and rest. Like any hobby or pastime, I think you can get into a rut and I just needed to break things up a bit.

That doesn't mean that there are a not a lot of things going on in my writing circles, because there are. I don't sit still well, so have been working on new things, promoting, submitting and networking. 

Here are a few things happening.

  • On December 9th I'll be reading my poem Guest House at the Bards Against Hunger reading at Good Harvest in Waukesha. This event charges a $5.00 admission or two food items which goes to the Waukesha Food Pantry. The collection of poetry, all about hunger and poverty will be for sale at the event as well. Very happy to be included in it. 
  • I was asked to do a guest blog for a website focused on art in the country of Georgia. My first post is here, with more to come as I feel led. This is a great chance to get a little international exposure, so I'm glad I followed through. (I was referred by the owner of Paperbacks Plus in North Saint Paul, MN.) 
  • I will be taking part in an interview by Brainhackers.com in mid-December. They solicited me for a 15 minute interview on their website. I've sent them the Portland House book, so we will be discussing it, the writing process and more. 
  • I will be in St. Paul Minnesota on December 13th with friend and colleague, Barb Geiger talking about our outdoor paddling memoirs. I love this little bookstore and it is always good to go back home and see friends and family. 
  • I have a couple of entries into contests that I am extremely hopeful about. The contests are paying, but I'm in them as much for the notoriety they might bring. So, fingers crossed.
  • I also have several other poems and nonfiction pieces submitted that I am waiting to hear about. 
So, despite not being enrolled, I'm still hard at the writing thing. Life is good.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Minneapolis, Madison, Me And Mom

Well, another Thanksgiving holiday is in the books. Ours was spent with family and friends in differing numbers over the course of the last three days. It was relaxing and recharging. It was laughing until my stomach hurt, kid hugs and amazing conversations with everyone.

It was a time of quality moments with my wife and two grown kids, albeit fleeting at times.

And as I sat there listening to them talk about their lives, their encounters, their worries and anxieties, I realized they've arrived, and in a sense, so have we. They have begun adulthood -for real adulthood, not the "I'm 18" adulthood. The one where they are shopping for groceries and calling their mom for advice on what spices to put in their homemade chicken dumpling soup.

It is funny because I can remember those very moments when I was in their place so many years ago. I remember shopping for groceries and wondering if the green bananas I was buying would ripen okay or should I skip them that week and wait for better looking ones next week.

My daughter bought a used Kia Rio from us and she was tasked with taking the title to the DMV to get it transferred. She also has to line up insurance for the car. Both of these are adult tasks that we would love to help her with, but know that those are the things that make you an adult. These are sometimes the hard things, but they need to be done and are part of cutting the cord.

We listened to our son describe the habits of some of his roommates that drive him a little crazy. He claims to pick up the slack for some of the more slovenly guys in his apartment. (Sounds like a parent, to me. LOL)  He is beginning to realize that it takes so little work to take care of your own dirty dishes, clothes etc., but not everyone at that age is as aware of that. Getting along with others in a living space is a taste of Adulting 101.

They are both back in their separate cities now, Madison and Minneapolis. Both of these places are dear to my heart, especially now, knowing they are home to my kids. The house is quiet and clean again. But frankly I miss my son flopping into the recliner with one leg over the arm and checking his phone while we talk about music or sports or whatever. I miss my daughter sitting on the couch with her legs pulled up under her watching a movie on Netflix with her boyfriend, me and Donna.

And I realize our lives are travelling in different different, though slightly parallel trajectories. Our kids are setting the stage for the rest of their lives in the hopes of happiness and fulfillment.

Meanwhile we are gently pushing them out of the nest and beginning new phases of our lives, as well. Phases of finishing strong, of creativity and love, of having a sense of purpose and calling.

And while there are days of melancholy sadness like yesterday, where for no reason, I felt on the edge of tears a dozen times, (I can't explain why) I also know they will be fine. They are beautiful, compassionate, loving individuals who make the world a better place. I'd like to say we set the stage for that at some level, but also know it was a bit of dumb luck mixed with God's grace.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Nineteen Eighty Something

It was a zillion years ago, but my brothers and I used to have a sort of tradition on Thanksgiving eve. After dinner was over the three or four of us would go out to a local tavern and shoot pool. Sometimes it was the Grand Tavern (aka the old O'Connell's, on Grand Avenue) other times it was the Spot Bar. I also remember one time we ended up at the Highland Tap (aka the Highland Trap) which was a 3.2 joint serving only 3.2% beer and wine. A neighbor guy we'd grown up with was tending bar and thought it was cool to see the Landwehr boys all together.

When we got there Paul and Rob would say hi to the locals, with Tom and me just along for the ride. We'd put quarters on the table and in the jukebox and spend a couple hours critiquing each others' shots, as brothers are prone to do. We were usually still in our Thanksgiving clothes, so were looking as spanky as we probably could.

And as weird as the tradition sounds, I can remember thinking that I would always remember these spontaneous trips on a sacred family holiday. There was something unifying and connecting between the brothers on these once a year outings. We were all beginning our careers and finding our way in the world, so this was a good chance to get below the surface a little and have some fun while doing it. Between all the backslapping, storytelling and laughter, it was a nice addendum to the pleasantries we'd all shared with the rest of the family earlier.

Sure it felt a little dirty going to a bar on what should be a family holiday, but if you went with family, well, wasn't that sort of the point? None of us had kids at the time and the three youngest of us were still single, so it seemed like a normal thing to do. The important thing was we were together, solving world problems and enjoying each others' company, if only for a couple hours.

I realize these brotherly gatherings were not the Norman Rockwell painting we all dream of as our Thanksgiving celebrations. At the same time, I don't know that I would change the way we did them. I love my whole family and the bonds between me and my brothers are forged of memories that span from fishing and camping, to growing our families together, to hanging out on Thanksgiving shooting a little stick for fun.

And this Thanksgiving I'm especially grateful for them.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Gobbling off...

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Of Chainsaws And Sonnets

Yesterday saw two sides of my life that one might see as polar opposites. Some days I think I have a Jekyll/Hyde persona with regards to my interest or skills. It doesn't make me ashamed of who I am and certainly one side is not better than the other. I just find it funny when both sides happen to occur on the same day or the same week.

I was slated to help a couple of guys cut down some trees yesterday. The trees were dead ash trees, victims of the Emerald Ash Borer, and they were over forty feet tall. I've cut wood with my friend Claude before, so I knew we would be safe and smart about it, but there is always my sense of trepidation and excitement that go with running a chainsaw and a little dangerous tree felling.

So we got to it and focused on the biggest problem tree. Claude had the chains hooked up when I got there and he was trying to take the first of two main trunks. After some key notches were cut and the chains were tightened, the first fell with a great crash, a perfect cut.

While he and Kevin started setting up the second hoist & chain, I started buzzing the felled section into 15" chunks. There is nothing as much fun or as dangerous to a hack like me as running a chainsaw. It is nothing short of a manly adrenaline/testosterone rush. It sounds stereotypical - and probably is - but it makes me feel manly. A real lumberjacky feeling. Which is funny because I work a desk job and most days I'm pushing a mouse and typing a lot.

So, to a white collar dude, this is some cool stuff.

After a few hours of noise, two-stroke exhaust and a lot of back breaking lifting, I had to take off to tend to the other side of my life.

I drove to the Milwaukee Public Library for a poetry reading hosted by the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets. They hold a reading locally every year for those poets who contributed to the annual calendar that they publish and sell.

The event was well attended, largely by the over 50 crowd and was one of quiet attention to each person who got up to read. Each poet was given quiet, appreciative applause at the end of their couple of poems. The poems focused on the "People of Wisconsin," so was applicable to everyone there and, as I said, it was a quiet, cultured affair.

As I sat there though, I was brutally aware of the disparity between the two activities of my day.

Chainsaws and Poetry.

It sounds like a good title for a book.

At the same time, I can appreciate both sides equally. I'm an muskie fisherman and an author. I love football and theater. I cut down trees and soft clap for poetry. I lift weights and do yoga.  (Oops, that might be more information than you needed.)

I'd like to think all of this makes me a little more three dimensional as a guy. I'm not ashamed of any of it. It does give me pause to laugh at the dichotomy of it sometimes though. At the same time, it's who I've become and I ain't apologizing to anyone.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Plugging Away Despite

If you're scoring from home, my presentation on The Portland House today was a slam dunk. There was a good crowd of people, 35 or so. They were engaged and laughed at all of my humor. They asked some great questions and I got great applause. Furthermore, the feedback from the people who came up to me afterward was that they loved my style and my presentation. A couple even said they hope I come back.

So, score this as a win for the author, right?

Well, I managed to sell four books. 

Four. 

If you're still scoring from home, I would have been better served staying at work for the afternoon. It certainly pays better. 

When the talk was over I felt great, because I held their attention for over an hour. No one dozed off and as I said, right until the end they were really engaged. However, unlike the last time I presented at this location, people didn't linger. The place cleared out, I sold my few books and packed up and left.

On my ride home, I'll confess, I felt a little defeated. I started to question why I am trying so hard. I wondered what I am doing wrong to captivate people during a talk, but fall on my face at sales time. 

Of course, I realized this is the old inner critic seeping in again, so I started to try and pull myself out of my funk. I know quite well that I've never been in this writing gig for the money, so I don't know why that bothered me today. I also know that even authors as famous as Michael Perry have had "intimate crowds" where he only sold a handful of books.

What it boils down to are a few core tenets of my choice to write - things that I cannot compromise, or if I do, I'd better be okay with the outcome.

  • I have to remember that I write because I love to write. Publication and books and notoriety are nice, but they were never what drove me to write. I write because I cannot not write. Especially now that I've had some success. I realize it's a gift - albeit at a level that I have to accept - and to ignore a gift is the cardinal sin in any artistic pursuit.

  • I have come to recognize that as much as I claim to dislike public speaking, I actually do get a little rush out of giving an entertaining or informative presentation. The fact that people comment about how well I do means I don't give myself enough credit. (Shocking, I know). The best compliment of all though is my peers, colleagues and spouse telling me that I have a very good stage presence. It is an intangible benefit to my whole writing experience. It is something I used to hate and now, sorta like it. 

  • There are people out there who would love to have my problems. People working on getting their first book published or those struggling to get anything published probably kinda hate me, and certainly don't want to hear me gripe about flat book sales at this week's event. They'd probably kill for the opportunity. So, I need to recognize my good fortune and shut up about it.

  • This whole thing is a marathon, not a sprint. As I work toward the next book, or article or story, I have to remember that, just like my son improving his time in the 50 meter freestyle swim, all I need to focus on is writing my next better story. I do realize I am beginning to develop a body of work and all I need to do is keep doing it better.

  • Help others have my problems. Writing is an isolated practice. By surrounding myself with cool, supportive, creative colleagues who kick me when I need it and rejoice when I need it is yet another tangible benefit of my writing journey. I am grateful for each and every one of them and I am doing my best to help them be successful at the craft. Whether it's with advice, support or occasional short editing, I want them to feel the joy I feel when I get an acceptance or speak to a group and get applause. It makes it all worth it.

  • Like anything, writers have good days and bad days. Today was a mix of both. From hallelujah to this sucks. Move on. Tomorrow will be different.
When I look at the items above and focus on the fun I'm having 95% of the time, I can't feel anything but hope and gratitude. And I'll keep doing what I'm doing until I don't love it anymore, and I don't see that happening anytime soon. If you've been there for me (or other writers/authors) I thank you. You make it worthwhile whether you buy a book or not. 

Because for me it's all about the ride.

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Subtle Moments Of Great Brilliance

There is plenty of bad news happening all around us. Fires in California, political vitriol, mass shootings, political lies and posturing, racial tensions spurred by racist groups and individuals, silencing and reprimanding of legitimate media, and so much more.

So I'd like to focus on some moments of gratitude that I've seen in my life in the past week in the hopes you will reflect on some that may be in front of you.

It's simple things like:


  • My son, a sophomore at UW Madison, randomly texting me "Goodnight dad, love you." Four words. The best four words of the day in this case. It only takes a minute to do this for people. I regularly do it to my kids as well. 

  • A half hour phone call with my mom, who's 85. Trust me when I say I don't take this privilege for granted. We talk about what's new in her life, how my kids are doing and what's coming down the road for the holidays. We end every call with "Take care. I love you." I'm 56, but it feels as good saying that as it did at 14.

  • Enjoying going into work as a supervisor of three cool, competent, hard working staff members. I'll be honest, this was a transition I was highly worried about. After the initial three months of chaos and disruption, I am as happy as I've been at my job in 15 years.  

  • A quiet library and three hours to write. To turn on my music, dive into my head and escape all the problems of the world. This is my "television escape" without the TV.

  • Having a guy who's new to the area show up for beers with boys night last Thursday. He stepped into our lives because he'd heard about our church from his daughter. A nice guy on a spiritual journey, looking for more than church was giving him. Looking to meet some friends. Looking for space to share his story. Hopefully he'll come back and will connect with us.

  • Having two different writing colleagues contact me during the week, one for advice, one to say they miss me in class. My communities are many and I appreciate them all.

  • Watching a Vietnam veteran struggle with his emotions while reading from his novel based on his stay of service over 40 years ago. Everyone in this world is fighting a battle. Be kind. 

  • Coffee with my spouse every Saturday morning. We go to a local coffee shop and see all the regulars there every week. The woman lovingly toting her two year old and her infant for an hour of mothering and coffee. 

  • A couple of longtime friends complimenting my poetry chapbook, On a Road. The book was written about them and a road trip we all took. Fond memories of long ago. Supportive words from people I connected with closely for a short period of my young life. Blessings in my long life.

  • Coffee with three close buddies on Thursday mornings. We talk through our lives, the ills of the world, Jesus and his goodness, mechanical engineering, politics and auto maintenance. Sixty minutes of streaming consciousness that helps ground me. 

I hope these simple moments I noticed help you see the beauty and goodness in your own world. If we dwell in negativity, evil and despair it drags us down. Life is short. Don't waste it in worry and nonsense. Look around. Be grateful. Give back. Love.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Honda Astronaut

It happens every ten years or so. We are forced to cross the threshold of a car dealership and begin the process of self-loathing that comes with buying a car.

I hate everything about it.

Everything.

It always starts at the desk of the guy who is selling cars between jobs who I'll call Soulless Steve. I guess that's a little harsh because they might have a shred of a soul left because they want you to say yes, you'll buy a car from them.

And it always ends at the desk of the finance guy who used to sell cars between jobs but then got a raise and a promotion to financial henchman. This guy gave up having a soul as part of the promotional ceremony.

Of course the financial guy had to give us the hard sell on the "extended warranty." A couple of classic lines were:

"Ya know, I read the other day that the space shuttle was programmed with only 500,000 lines of code and that todays cars are programmed with over 100 million lines of code. So, you might want to consider that warranty on those facts alone."

or better yet:

"This right here (Points to stapler), this is your car now. This right here (stacks smartphone on stapler) this is the car you're buying."

Thanks for the kindergarten lesson, dude. Can we go now?

In any case, we didn't budge when the financial guy gave us the threatening scare tactics of why we needed an extended warranty. The only person cheaper and more stubborn than me was my wife sitting next to me. She has no problem hurting feelings.

But to be truthful, this time wasn't as bad as it has been in the past. We got out of the place with a decent trade on our 2004 Santa Fe, and only an up-sell of the exterior/interior coating protection. I say decent trade-in amount, only because we got way less than we would have with a private sale, but $200 more than I thought they would offer us. I consider that a win.

I know it's not right to feel sad when you're trading in a car, especially when you've had as much trouble with it as we have with our Santa Fe over the past 3 years. But I always get a little wispy saying goodbye to an old vehicle.

Being a sentimentalist, why wouldn't I? I tend to think of all the trips we've taken in the car. In the case of the Santa Fe, there were countless trips to New York and Minnesota, a couple of Myrtle Beach trips and even a Boundary Waters trip. It survived two teenage drivers and a couple of fender benders.

It also served to disappoint a few times too, to the tune of hundreds of dollars. We replaced the "Rack" steering twice - a $1300.00 item. The engine light was the cause of multiple trips to fix "sensors" that evidently are made of platinum or some other precious metal. The exhaust is practically new from front to back - multiple hundreds again. The paint is peeling badly on the hood and roof and the tires were showing their wear.

So I guess I'm over my nostalgia after listing that stuff out. I'm super excited to be back in the Honda Family as the three we've owned have been some of the best cars ever. (BTW, the new car is a 2016 Honda CR-V. It is what is called a compact SUV. The car has more bells and whistles than I could ever imagine, including a screen that is as big as my laptop. It should serve to great distraction while driving, I'm sure.

And I drove the thing to work today and needless to say there are enough distractions in this new car to make a person forget they are driving. I may need one of those Space Shuttle programmers to show me how to work half of the electronic wizardry. More on that in a future post perhaps.

Blogging off...




Sunday, November 4, 2018

Books And The People Who Write Them

This weekend was a celebration of one of my favorite literary events of the year. The Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books was held for the ninth year in a row at the University of Wisconsin at Waukesha. Like many of my colleagues, I was fairly involved this year, taking part in three events as well as donating a couple of books to a couple different raffles.

My Friday morning was spent at Waukesha South High School with two other authors, Barb Geiger and Colleen June Glatzel. We held a panel discussion with two class periods of students, one about 60 students in size, the other about 40. We had a series of pre-canned questions that we took turns talking about.

One of the more memorable moments was when Colleen talked about her struggles as a teen and twenty something with some mental health issues. She said the book was a bit of a working out of those issues. I could see a visible reaction from several of the students who seemed both empathetic and compassionate. While Barb and I were the old-timers who still had a good time with the kids, it was Colleen who may have reached them the most completely. A strong personal story does that.

We finished up with a Q&A followed by a raffle of a couple of our signed books. This was my second year talking to students and I can say nothing but good things about the attentiveness and respect we got from most of them. There's always a couple of sleepers, but hey, that's high school I guess.
Signed Book Basket Raffle

Friday night I went to the keynote event featuring the very successful author, Nick Petrie. This guy's the real deal. His success is humbling. Check him out if you like crime fiction.

Saturday was off to the races at the Book Festival. I got there in time to attend the "Great Lakes Water Wars" presentation by Peter Annis. It was a fascinating talk and gave me a much better understanding of freshwater diversions and the surrounding controversies.

At one o'clock, I gave my presentation on "How to Write Nonfiction." If you'd have told me ten years ago that I'd be leading a workshop on that topic I would have laughed you out of the room. I guess I've sort of arrived enough to be able to talk at a certain level about my experience.

Of course I was terrified of getting up in front of people again. Always am. And I did fine. Always do. In fact, I felt super relaxed and really had fun with the 16 or 18 people present. They asked great questions and afterward 4 or 5 came up front to talk a little more.

Rob Goswitz reads from his novel
One of those folks was a playwright, Dianne Sposito from New York who complimented me about my book trailer and thanked me for my authenticity and genuineness. She said the trailer looked professional and made her want to buy the book. Her compliment sort of blew me away because I just get up there and sort of fake it till I make it. I'm just telling my story - telling people what works for me. And, evidently it's helpful to some. I'll take it.

Later in the afternoon I met a nice guy who sought me out. He is a poet from Milwaukee named David Southward. We had a great chat and I bought his chapbook. That is one of the biggest benefits of this conference is the cool people you meet or run into. My closet extrovert was in high gear. I love talking to other writers and sharing stories.

I also introduced to a Vietnam Vet who sought me out for advice on what to do about a memoir he was writing about the war. I hooked him up with my friend Bob Goswitz who I was interviewing later that afternoon. Just another case of the power of connection that the Festival brings to the table.

To finish out the day, I interviewed Bob Goswitz about his novel, The Dragon Soldier's Good Fortune. Bob and I have become good friends over the past couple of years, so this was a complete honor for me. (I've blogged about him before here.) His answers were honest, forthright, insightful and at times emotional. It was proof that the stress and shock of war is a lifelong battle for people. It was a moving hour with a brave man. I only wish it had been held a little earlier in the day so more people could have attended.

I came home from the event mentally tapped, but socially filled. As I said, I love networking with people at these types of things, be it a GIS conference or a writing/book festival or retreat. It is a reunion with old friends mixed with a litany of new acquaintances. It motivates me to write better, write more and become the best writer I can.

So to the organizers, benefactors and volunteers of the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books I would like to say a heartfelt THANK YOU. Your work was well done and appreciated.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Insanity Reset

It has been a four year drought since I managed to get a musky into the boat. This is despite great efforts once a year fishing hard for them for two straight days, and one or two other instances where I tried twice in a season during a second trip up to Pine Forest Lodge.

It is well known that they are hard fish to catch. Outside of sturgeon, in Wisconsin at least, they might be the hardest fish to catch of any species. They are hard to find and sometimes finicky when you do find them. They are the most active in Fall when they start their winter feed, so fishing for them often means cold, windy or rainy conditions. It is the price you pay for pursuing them.

Well, as many of you have seen on Facebook, this fall during what I call Muskyfest, I got one.

Let me preface it by saying that I would probably have zero muskies to my credit without the help of my friends Steve and John. Steve was the guy who initially convinced me to try musky fishing despite my reluctance as what I called myself; a "fair weather fisherman." Any fishing where you needed to bundle up like I'd seen in his pictures with the chance that you might not catch ANY fish, didn't sound appealing. But in 2009, I decided to give it a try.

And I caught one.

And to use a fishing metaphor, I've been hooked ever since. I went on to catch on for the next four years in a row. Then the drought started.

During it, for four years I cast until my arm was like a wet noodle, to no avail.

In fact, after the first day of no fish this year, I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever catch one again. I started to question my commitment to the sport. The old definition of insanity thing came up again and again, namely, "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."

But when this fish hit and the fight started, I realized it was ALL worth it. All of it. But first, the story of the catch.

So we went to one of our two favorite lakes (it's a secret) and after a couple of hours of casting I sort of dropped into my "inattentive reeling" trance. You do this stuff for long enough and it happens, your mind wanders, in this case to the Wisconsin Badger game on the radio in the back of the boat.

Midway through my 486th cast of the day, a fish slammed the lure. I set the hook with a vengeance and said "Fish on!" My two buddies were in their own Badger game trance and were kind of stunned by the statement. "Get the Net!" I said as I fought the beast toward the boat.

Now this time after the strike is something I refer to as 60 seconds of chaos. While I'm wrasslin' the fish, my buddies are getting stuff ready, reeling in their own rods and/or the suckers on bobbers in the back and generally, offering words of advice on what to do.

In other words, it is a one minute, full-on adrenaline rush.

Well, to their credit, they netted the fish. It was a 40+ inch, 15+ pound beauty. After unhooking it and getting a photo of me with it, they released it healthy into the deep to live another day.  These two guys are the ones who have my back whenever it's crunch time. They are the best of friends who know I would do the same for them (and have). Not to mention, they put up with my banter in the boat, which is sorta relentless.

And so, while any trip to the area is a good one - after all this is God's country - it is ALWAYS better to have a fish to my credit. When I first started musky fishing, I got fish for 5 years straight. Then the 4 year drought. Now I'm back on the board. Is it the start of another 5 fish run?

I sure hope so. And I aim to find out next year.

Blogging off...