Thursday, February 28, 2019

Working At It

So, I've been fairly quietly shopping around my latest poetry collection, Thoughts From A Line At The DMV, to various publishers. I had it out to 14 different small presses in two different forms, a full collection and a pared-down chapbook. A few of the submissions required a "reading fee" and a couple were contests. These are always exciting times once a submission  has been sent, a time of waiting and expectancy.

On Tuesday, I got an email with the subject "Kelsay Books acceptance." Now, it's hard to describe the excitement at seeing an email like that in my inbox. I opened it to opening lines which read:

"Thank you for your excellent poetry submission, Thoughts From A Line At The DMV. We would love to publish your book!"

Well, someone pinch me.

The details are very sketchy at this early stage, but I do know that it should be published sometime in 2019. I also know that Kelsay Books is a highly respected publisher of quality, beautiful books. I am lucky to be working with them. It is dreamlike.

I can say that the book is comprised of 50 poems and they are among some of my best. Many of them have been previously published in magazines and journals, which is always a selling point when marketing a full collection. There is a fair amount of humor, some serious bits and even a few sad ones.

Poetry to me has become my tool for becoming a better nonfiction writer. It forces me to be a minimalist with my words and allows for a whole lot more creativity than straight creative nonfiction. And for a guy who always said he really didn't consider himself a poet, well, I've scrapped that thought. I can't imagine not writing it at some level. It gives me a satisfaction just like my nonfiction does.

That's not to say it's all good. The other night I opened Microsoft Word with the intention of writing a poem and after 15 minutes and two crappy lines, I shut the computer off and went to bed. It just wasn't there.

And the next day I started to fret about "losing my edge," and oh my God, what if I never write another good poem again? The jig is up!

The following evening night I managed to write a heart wrencher that reminded me that everything has a time and a place. We all have our good days and our bad days.

So now I will be publishing my sixth book in 5 years as a writer - granted, four of them are poetry books, so that's kind of cheating. Frankly, I'm kind of at a loss to describe how good this makes me feel. It has boosted my confidence in myself as a writer and a person. None of it is for lack of effort, but I also owe it to my family and an incredible network of creative people around me. The encouragement I get from family and friends, energizes me and keeps me plugging. So, thank you. You know who you are.

At the same time, I'm working hard at it because I know time is short. None of us owns tomorrow, so I want to write like there is none. I still say this is the legacy the death of my brother Rob left to me. We need to live hard, love harder and take each day for the blessing it is.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Home Defined

This past week I received an email from an old neighbor that lived with us on Portland Avenue. He'd somehow come across my book, The Portland House. His letter was complimentary in nature. One of his quotes read,

"We laughed, we teared up, we learned a great deal about your family and our neighborhood."
"Home," then and now. Portland on left, College on right

Additionally it was filled with his own memories of the neighbors we had as well as some of his experience. I remembered most of the neighbors, but his experiences were his own. He went on to say he still lives in the area and thanked me for the look-back.

Then, I was asked to review a forthcoming book of poetry by, Vegetarian Alcoholic Press. The collection was about life in Appalachia. While the collection is well written, the thing that impressed me the most was a line about how the author had started a new life yet kept thinking about "home." One of the stanzas that caught my eye, reads:

"I sailed around the world only to find
that I am now the one left behind,
without an anchor, haunted
and homesick for a home

that no longer exists."

-from Solastalgia, by V.C. McCabe 

I think that description holds true for any of us. Home is both where we are right now and where we came from, not to mention where we will be.

But what jumped out was that we cannot go back. Our home, as it once existed, will never exist again. I realize this every time I drive past the house on Portland. The house is different, the neighborhood is different, the city is different.

Yet it will always be "home" to me. It obviously meant something to my old neighbor, as well. Our sense of home is something no one can take from us. We tend to romanticize it and see past the bad and there is nothing wrong with that. As I sit here in my Waukesha home, I am fully aware that my kids' "home" will soon be under the ownership of someone else. (Don't worry, it's a ways from being on the market. LOL)

So I hold it loosely and look forward to my next home. And I am certain there will be times when I'll be homesick for this "home" that no longer exists.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Running It Down

Things have been active and changing on the writing front these past few months. Winter seems to give me more time to write, submit, edit and stare off into space waiting for the next line. That last part is where I probably spend 50% of my "productive time."

Sometimes it only becomes apparent how many plates I have spinning when I step back and take a look at all that I'm doing. I tend to add things one at a time and before long they add up. Here's a rundown of all things written.

  • I was recently asked to be part of the Program Committee for the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. This committee organizes one of the bigger book conferences in the state. It looks like I'll be part of the Authors in the Schools portion of the committee, but it is also nice to be behind the scenes and have input on how the conference is constructed.
  • I was also asked to be the nonfiction judge for the Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring Contest. This will entail reading a number of manuscripts and picking a winner and some runner ups. It is something I've never done before, but I was honored to be asked. Things like these remind me that I have arrived, to a certain extent.
  • The book about my high school experience continues to move forward. I've slowed on the new content and am focusing on a good edit. I am probably about 60,000 words deep into it. I want to get it ready for my return to an AllWriters workshop. I've taken a couple of sessions off and it has given me time to recharge and focus a little more intently on poetry.
  • Along those lines, I am currently marketing my latest poetry collection to a number of publishers. This is a mix of nervous hopefulness. It is a full collection (about 45 poems) but I am also shopping a smaller version out as a chapbook. We shall see.
  • In the past two weeks I've had 5 different acceptances of my poetry in 5 different journals and magazines. This is about as good as it gets. 
  • The Portland House got a great review from Mary Ann Grossmann in the Saint Paul Pioneer Press today. Check it out here
  • I also had a nonfiction piece accepted by Story News, which is very exciting. This is a pair of parallel stories about racism and hatred in America over the past 50 years. 
  • In March I will be part of a Middle School young writers symposium at Carroll University. My friend Bob Goswitz set it up and I'm fuzzy on details, but it sounds fun!
  • In April I will be one of two featured poets in Portage Wisconsin as part of their Poetry In Portage series. Should be some decent exposure to a new region of the state.
  • I'm still carrying out my duties as Poet Laureate for the Village of Wales, Wisconsin. As part of that, I organize the Poetry Nights at Mama D's Coffee in Wales. We were fortunate to land Wisconsin's newest Poet Laureate, Margaret Rozga as the featured poet this coming Wednesday, February 20th. It should be a packed house!
  • Over the past few months I've read at a couple of Bards Against Hunger events. These feature poets who contributed to the Bards Against Hunger anthology and are designed to raise food and funds for local food shelters. I intend to set up one of these events for Mama D's in Wales for June or July of this year. They are a great cause. Poetry trying to change the world in a small way.
  • I've had a couple of nice emails and reviews about The Portland House from people that used to live in the neighborhood. It is always good to hear feedback about my books and I can't emphasize enough how much an Amazon review helps an author. 
  • I was part of an interview for Brain Hackers last week. They talked to me about my writing process a bit. I'll post a link when it is live.
So, yeah, there's a lot going on at the moment. I love all of it and wouldn't trade it for anything. There are days I feel like I'm running blindfolded through a cornfield though. 

But I will keep plugging.

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Happy To Be Here

So as a few of my last posts allude to, I am powering through this winter trying with all my might to make it through to ice-out so I can get my kayak back in the water and find my zen. It is a grueling stretch of winter for me and my better half. We have each other to laugh through the looming "Winter Storm Warning." so that counts for something.

On Tuesday we got another 8-10 inches or so. I woke up early as I often do the night after a storm and set to work on the driveway and walk. About 3/4 of the way through the process, I twisted wrong and blew out my oblique muscle. It is right below my rib cage on the back side and I knew it was bad when I did it.

I treated it with ice, Naproxen and an Epsom salt bath. It seems slightly better today, but I suspect the healing will take a while.

But the untold benefit of it was that even in my pain, I realize how good my life is and how lucky I am. My wife was nice enough to finish up the shoveling and followed up a time or two as the snow kept falling.

And while I realize this is no fun, I also know it will heal and I will be fine. There's others with chronic pain who will not heal, so I am fortunate. I will take my good health less for granted when I am back to full strength.
Me, being happy.

Also, while winter is bad, it too shall pass. I have a house with a furnace, two cars and all the modern conveniences a person could want. I am content. I absolutely do not take for granted that I am among the top 10% of the richest people in the world. THE WORLD. Most Middle Class Americans are. I work hard and hope I can bless others along the way. But I also know how easily it can be swept away and hope I would still retain my joy and sense of urgency about every day I am given.

The other night I got a random text from my son that simply read; "Goodnight Dad. Love ya!"

My kids seem to know the best times to drop reminders of how much I am loved. I love the fact that they make it a priority, even after not hearing from them for a series of days. We're all busy, but never should be too busy to send a three word text.

I'm one of those guys that can also honestly say I love my job. I work with great people and we all maximize the others' skills. It is energizing to be around young, motivated co-workers.

I don't know why this post went this way. There are days, more and more frequently, when I just look around at everything that life has given me and am incredibly awed by how fortunate I am to be a part of the world today. Oh sure, the times are not perfect - the world is full of problems - but there is a whole lot, a WHOLE lot of beauty, and joy, and positivity and happiness around us as well. And I try and tap into that every chance I can get. Because life is short and negativity is life sucking.

I wonder if these realizations aren't part of some sort of mid-life crisis or something? Or does everyone experience them? I remember I was happy at 30, but I'm not sure I was this wistfully happy about just being granted another day, one at a time. That must come with grey hair and an empty nest.

In any case I'm going to run with it. Because it's February and spring is just around the corner.

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Grinding It Out

Well, it's finally happened. It's that time of year when I am officially done with winter. DONE. We had the most boring super bowl game ever and now with regards to sports, I have nothing to look forward to until next fall's football season. To add to that, the quirkiness of the weather we've had the past few weeks has pushed me right over the edge.

The problem is, we still have 38 days until the official 1st day of spring (March 20th.)

This seems entirely too long, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. When this time of year hits, I fall into my power-through-it mode.

Having said that there are some things I pledge to between now and then to get me through it.


  • Continue to drag myself out of bed in relative darkness, do my stretching, and drink my coffee as I plow through my workdays. Work is good. Well, it's warmer than my house, anyway.

  • Keep over dressing to almost clownish proportions at home on the cold days. This includes rotating through my 4 fleeces, wearing my Stormy Kromer hat at night to keep my head warm and a scarf. Yes, a scarf indoors. Looking good, I am sure. 
  • Skate to work on this godforsaken skating rink that we've been blessed with after the last freezing rain/ice storm. I'm waiting for the first big fall of the season, so stay tuned. 
  • Take my dog for extremely short walks. He looks at me and guilts me into taking him out into near zero weather. Most times we get to the end of the driveway and he stops, looks at me and says "Nah, I think I'm good." We went out on the ice yesterday and he was sliding all over the place. Good for a laugh if nothing else.
  • Drink tea. I don't drink a lot of tea from March to November, but in winter IT HELPS.
  • Take my Vitamin D. Sunshine in a pill. IT HELPS!
  • Stay as busy with activities in writing, poetry and church group activities as I can. They get me out of my chair/scarf/Kromer and keep me intellectually engaged.
  • Salting and shovelling as needed. However I am about three weeks from my give up point where I say, "It'll melt" and quit shovelling altogether. Everyone gets to that point.
  • Keep attending outdoor shows and watching fishing videos. It's hard to believe the lakes will ever thaw, but it happens I'm told. And when it does, I'll fish again. The Milwaukee Musky Expo is next weekend. I'm planning on it.
  • Continue to blog about how much I hate winter. Because, IT HELPS.
  • Keep checking out books from the library. Those late night hours (after it gets dark at 5:00) can make for some serious reading time. Just finished William Kent Krueger's book Thunder Bay and am currently working on Ram Dass' book, Grist for the Mill and, Grounded: Finding God In The World by Dr. Diana Butler Bass and The Sun magazine which I read cover to cover every issue.
  • Finish my binge-watching of Schitt's Creek on Netflix. I should pick a series every winter and plow through it like I've done with this one. Between it and NFL football, it is the sum total of my TV watching.
  • Ski. If we get another decent snowfall I may even cross-country ski one more time. Maybe, yeah. Unless its to cold/rainy/dark/warm/deep. So, maybe.

Before I know it, it will be March 20th. I keep telling myself this and I know it's much longer than that until "real spring" hits but IT HELPS.

Blogging off...

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Home Pet Surgery Meets The Civil War

It has been a strange week of weather round these parts. We started with an 8 inch snowfall last Monday, followed by polar vortex 50 below wind chills mid week followed by 40+ temps for a few days, followed by a freezing rain/ice storm.

I mention it because it is how our discussion began over coffee this morning with my coffee buddies. As I've mentioned, we meet every Thursday, as an informal book study, one that sometimes doesn't get to the book at all. In fact as a preparatory text last night Claude, the guy who kind of rallies folks every Wednesday evening, said that Thursday's discussion would be Chapter 4 which was mandatorily optional. That's sort of how we roll.

For no one reason, I really love this hour of the week. I love the randomness and the deep thinking and the laughter that it brings. It's like scrolling through Twitter for an hour, but way better.

Today's discussion took a winding road. We went from the weird weather to:

One of the guys' books that was beat up and highlighted in complete with worn pages. He said he bought it on Amazon in "Good" condition. We agreed it was good compared to maybe the other books in the basement that this one was in with. That led to,

  • the same guy saying that during the cold weather last week he looked out his window to see his a house burning in his subdivision. That led to,

  • Claude speculating that it was a fire caused by dryer lint. He said you can buy endoscopes to see through dryer vents. That led to,

  • Randy saying that you could probably do home pet surgeries using the endoscopes. That led to,
  • Me saying, "We're only looking for a few polyps, Toby." Which led to,
  • Someone redirecting our attention back to the book. We talked about Monastic life and how people are leaving organized church and religion in record numbers and why was that? Which led to,
  • Each of us speculating about our kids and how we brought them up through the church, but at some point you have to let them go and be themselves and hope that some of it stuck. This led to,
  • Someone else directing us to how the language of this book, written in the '70s was changed in subsequent editions to take out the '70s colloquialisms like the "far outs" and "heavy". This led to,
  • Nick, the guy with the 70s copy saying that he never understood why books written in a dialect needed to be neutered or changed. That they were a reflection from the period. Which led to,
  • Me asking if that is similar to tearing down statues of Robert E. Lee in order to rewrite history. (I was playing devil's advocate). This practically raised a guy out of his chair when he said,
  • Lee, like Benedict Arnold was treasonous and you don't see a lot of Benedict Arnold statues around. His point was that while the statue is gone, the history of both men is still there. It is just not adored of idolized. Which led to,
  • Me mentioning that I'd been to Stone Mountain which has a huge high relief etching on it of Robert E. Lee on it, and how do we erase that? Which led to,
  • Claude saying how he'd melted a camera while photographing something in his foundry one day.

And on and on. 

Stone Mountain - Georgia

It is a caffeine-fueled, philosophical, goofy, challenging, mind-bending, working out of the world's problems, personal issues, political corruption and spiritual growth all rolled up in the name of a book study. 

It's the best hour of the work week. 

Blogging off...

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Cooking 101

Last night as part of my wife's corporate holiday party, we were treated to a cooking class at Braise restaurant in Milwaukee. For those that don't know, my wife works at Purple Door Ice Cream in Milwaukee. It is owned by two of the coolest people going, Lauren and Steve Schultz. Every year as a recognition to their staff, they have a post-holiday party of sorts to recognize the hard work of their staff.

So when it was announced that this year we would be spending the evening in a class where we learned how to cook a couple of appetizers which we would then eat, I was both intrigued and a little mortified.

You see, I'm not much of a cook.

Oh, I can get by and am capable of the basics, but as a rule, it is really not my thing. I can do it, but to me it is drudgery and work. I know it's weird, but it has never been something that "relaxes me" like it does for my wife.

Well, at the class, there were six cooking stations with 3 people to a station and a chef up front doing all the instructing. We were going to make two Asian dishes. 1. Fried Pot Stickers and, 2. Spring Rolls. I was at a station with my wife and her brother and his partner. Somehow they agreed that I should do most of the up front work, as it would be good to learn.

And I know it is completely stupid and unfounded, but I was worried and a little stressed out about it. I didn't want to mess up, and I knew I was beside a couple of amazing cooks (my wife and Jake) and an amazing baker (Mark). Me, well, I do a really good grilled cheese - when I'm not burning it.

Well, thankfully these sessions are extremely well scripted. And, also thankfully, you can drink beer while you're cooking. For starters, all the ingredients were set before us ahead of time, in the amount they were to be used.

Then, he talked us through everything and I had big help from the two cooks to my left. Once I got into the swing of things, the anxiety went down and I actually found it kind of interesting. At the same time, it is very much like art, in that you have to know what goes well with what, as well as a good idea of what the end result will taste (or look) like. At one point he was squeezing limes into a spring roll mix to introduce acid into the mix to do something or other. That's the kind of stuff I wouldn't intuitively do, though could probably learn over time.

We got to eat our dishes and both of them were really, really delicious.

It was a great time with some fun people. I could almost see myself taking to cooking more if I took some more classes in it. I would likely be treading on my wife's territory though, as she sort of takes over a kitchen. I will be completely honest, I was well aware of her cooking savvy when we married and I haven't regretted one minute of it.

Even if it has perhaps squelched my own experimentation with cooking.

And on a related note, it is really cool to see my kids Sarah and Ben both starting to get into cooking in a big way. Ben will actually cook meals at his apartment and sell them to his roommates. It is a win-win for both. Sarah and Sam are also into it including getting a few knives and pans for Christmas gifts, because they like it so much.

Food is the great unifier. And last night I learned it can be a lot of fun.

Blogging off...