Sunday, April 28, 2019

Paint Versus Prep

Painting is a love/hate thing with me. I love the newness of a freshly painted room, but hate all the work to get there. And for me, the worst part of any painting project is not the actual painting, it's all of the crappy prep work that you have to do before dipping a brush.

We have an upstairs back porch area that is south facing. Because it is poorly insulated and located in the nether regions of the house, the room has always been under-utilized. It started as an empty room, was converted to a sort of game room/movie room for the kids for a bit and most recently served as Ben's hangout room, with his gaming computer taking up much of the space.
Before primer

The room has beautiful tongue-in-groove woodwork on the walls and ceiling. The window panes however were starting to show their age, so we decided to paint. The thought was to spruce up the room and possibly use it as an office for me for my writing. We decided to paint the windows and door frames an off white to brighten the room and give it a new feel.

And then the not-so-fun part begins. Prep.

It starts with a trip to Home Depot for primer.

Because the wood has a coat of polyurethane on it, it required a light sanding before priming it. Then, because I'm a slopper we had to tape it off. Next, all of the shades and hardware needed to be removed. And finally, because there were 50+ years of curtains, valances and blinds hung, there were a couple dozen holes to be filled with wood filler.

This of course requires a second trip to the hardware store for wood filler and more sand paper.


Once it was done, though the meditative part of actually laying down paint began. I don't actually mind the actual painting process. I put on some music and just start painting. I am one of these guys that can't stop until it's finished, so I did one coat on Friday, one on Saturday. When it was done, I am reminded that, like any project, preparation always precedes a job well done. This pertains to house projects, writing, art and pretty much everything.
After primer

And while it's still only primer, I am really happy with the way it is looking. It is exciting to think that we may finally be transforming a part of our house into a more useful space. Maybe it will make me a better writer. (Ha!)

One thing is for sure, it feels good to get it cleaned up.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Leaning Into The Tape

Today marks the twenty fifth day of my National Poetry Writing Month challenge of a writing poem a day. I'd like to say I'm energized and ready to finish strong, but that would be a lie. The theme for these poems is Fatherhood and while it's not been easy, it is nearing the end and it has revealed much. 

It probably doesn't help that I started a week ahead of time in fear of having to miss some days. So technically I have about 32 poems already, but I am determined to finish out the month. The challenge was for April, I do April.

What I like best about the challenge is not knowing what each day's work will bring. Some days are just "meh," producing poems that are just average. But every third day or so, I get a poem that, by my standards, I can hardly believe I've written it. Really, really good. You've got to break a lot of rock to find the gold I guess.

The pressure to create every day, regardless of how tired I am, how busy or how non-creative I'm feeling is a LOT like working out after work. But in some ways, working out is easier because it involves my body and not my mind. At the same time, I've become better at it as I've gone. It has pushed me to try new styles, to mix it up between humor and heart, and to change it up between long and short. 

I've branched out into Father in-law, Stepfather, Godfather and, of course, lots of my own fatherhood experience. The variety has kept my work fresh and as I said, it has revealed things about each of those roles. I've had poems that were happy, angry, sad, introspective, hilarious and playful. It has dredged up emotions from my childhood about each of my fathers and in some ways, was therapeutic. Almost like talking to my dad(s) at times. I seriously don't know what each session is going to turn out. 

As I mentioned, at the end of the challenge, we are invited to submit our collection of 30 poems back to Local Gems Press and from those submissions they will choose a winner for publication and two $100 runner-up winners. I can't wait to step back and look at the collective body of work and organize it for submission. My intent all along is to submit it to other presses if it doesn't pass muster at Local Gems. I think the subject matter is appealing enough for some to warrant a look. But, I've been wrong before.

So that is my April angst at the moment. It is a love/hate affair, but one I'm determined to finish out. No one stops running a marathon at the 22nd mile. 

Because if there's one thing this father is, it's disciplined.

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter 2019

It is Easter Sunday and this is just a short post.

I spent the weekend with my Sarah, her boyfriend Sam and my son Ben. It was a few days of down time, lots of food, laughs and hugs. We reminisced a little, talked about the present and the future a lot. We hung out with friends and family at restaurants and homes. We Skyped relatives in New York which, technical hacks aside, is really a technological miracle of its own if you think about it.

This morning I saw the sunrise with my church family on top of a Drumlin in a nearby park. It was church of the holiest kind.

Photo credit: Roost photography.
So my soul is full with the multitude of things I have to be thankful for. Family, friends, a job I love, a home to share and, not least of all, my faith. I thank God for all of it, as I deserve none of it.

And as my kids return to their distant homes away from home, the house is quiet again and Monday and the requisite rat race looms. But knowing I have such a blessed life makes it so much easier to look toward tomorrow.

Happy Easter to you.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Moving Verses

As you may know, April is National Poetry Month. Or, you may not. But I do.

It is a month that is designed to increase the exposure to and awareness of poetry and it's impact in our world and our culture. There have been a number of events around town, some of which I've been able to attend, some not. There were a couple of events this week that were interesting and inspiring.

The first was a reading by Wisconsin's poet laureate, Margaret Rozga at the New Berlin Public Library. I've gotten to know Peggy over the last few years as we've run into each other through our poetry circles. She and I sit on the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books planning committee, so I've seen more of her lately.

For those who don't know, she was very involved with the Fair Housing Marches that happened in Milwaukee in the late 1960's. These were racially tense times in the city and along with Father Groppi they marched for racial justice, the inspiration for her poetry book, 200 Nights and One Day. James Groppi later left the priesthood and the two married and raised their family.

Her readings were from her new book, Pestiferous Questions, which is historically based as well. Part of her presentation involved soliciting one line per person from the audience to form the basis for a collaborative poem on her theme of Opening Doors. I thought this was a cool exercise to engage the audience in something creative.

Then, last night I was at Mama D's for the monthly poetry night. This one featured Tom Montag, a prolific poet from Fairwater, Wisconsin. Tom has published too many books to count with his most recent book, Seventy At Seventy. I'd only known Tom from Facebook, although he was a gracious contributor to the signed poetry book solicitation I did earlier this year for Kettle Moraine High School as one of my poet laureate initiatives.

Anyway, I am so glad I got to hear some of his work and have come to appreciate his style and stage presence. His words are minimalist but impactful. He is an approachable guy with a list of credits that include having one of his poems inscribed in the Milwaukee Convention Center. It was a great night.

I continue to write a poem a day as part of my National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) challenge. My theme is on fatherhood and as I mentioned, it has been both challenging and revealing. I never know what is going to happen from day to day, but it appears to be all good.

And finally, I found out my forthcoming poetry collection, Thoughts From A Line At The DMV, is due to be released this October, which is about as exciting as it gets!

So, I would challenge you to check a book of poetry out of the library this month. Many people say "Poetry is not for me," to which I say there is something for everyone. You can find mine here.

Blogging off...

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Creativity Under Fire

I am taking part in a 30 day poetry challenge that requires writing a poem a day during April on a particular theme. I chose Fatherhood as my theme, in part because I was curious what it would reveal. Over my life I've had a father, stepfather, father in law, grandfathers, and I've been a godfather and a father myself.

Each of these titles brings its own inspiration for me. I knew the challenge would be difficult, it always is when you're sort of forced to be creative for 30 consecutive days. But what I am finding is that it is revealing and insightful. I sometimes struggle with a piece at the beginning and by the end I am looking at something that I can barely believe I wrote. I think it is a combination of the pressure to produce and the topic of interest that makes for such inspiration.

It has caused me to remember the good, the bad and the difficult in all of my fatherhood/sonship  experiences. While my childhood experience might have been somewhat unique, I know that my story is only one of many. 

I have intentionally chosen not to let my bitterness about the death of my father at such a young age dictate who I am or become a part of me that I wear as a badge. At the same time, I have come to realize it is a glass-dropping story when I tell it to people. But, because it was so long ago, I have shoved it to the corner of nonchalance, a bit. 

The story is what it is. I have a great life and that is as much a credit to my mother, and to a limited extent, my stepfather, as it is to the strength of my family's spirit. She carried us through in his absence, as many other mothers have through divorce or death. We plod on, and I am thankful that my mother didn't give up, was too proud to lean on others for help, and loved us enough to expect the same level of hard work and success from us. And it worked.

As I've said multiple times in the past, everyone has a story. Everyone started with at father. Some know theirs, some never did. Some were shrouded in love, some were abusive. My own had a tragic twist early followed by some years of trial with a stepfather but all of it set the stage for how I wanted to raise my own kids. 

And in the end, I knew what I didn't want for my kids and I also knew that being there, being present and loving them hard, was the best thing I could do.

Now, back to work!

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A Glimpse Into My Softer Side

I went to the Art In Bloom event at the Milwaukee Art Museum today. It has become an annual tradition with Donna and I, one I have come to look forward to. If you're not familiar with the concept, it is gardening clubs and floral shops around the Milwaukee area that put together floral arrangements centered on a work of art at the museum.

My choice as the best in show.
Suffice it to say, there are some stunning displays of creativity from a floral/ekphrastic perspective. This year there were so many great entries. This year we bought a membership because we both love to go to the art museum, but never go more than this once a year. It is my plan to make it more regular.

I say that because as I looked at some of these paintings today, I was again floored by the work in front of me. These artists have a sense for light, shadow, depth, color and dimension. It is nothing short of brilliance. They have skills that a small percentage of the people in the world do. They call them masters for a reason. I am no art snob, but I know beauty when I see it.

My choice for the best display went to the display of Ed Paschke's work done by The Pink Peony. Colorful and eye catching.

But frankly they were all pretty cool. I can't recommend this event enough if you appreciate art at all.  GO!!! It is worth the trip and gives me hope for spring. I will let the photos speak for themselves for the rest of this post.

Another favorite.

Runner up, IMHO.
Blogging off...

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Phone Hostage

Last weekend I woke up and my phone didn't.

It was dead.



The night before, when I tried to access it, it would shut off as quickly as I turned it on. It was behaving badly. Facebook was wonky too. It would open, then close saying "Sorry, Facebook can't start," or some such message of hopelessness.

It was a nearly 4 year old Samsung Galaxy S6. I loved the phone, it rarely gave me problems and despite a battery that died halfway through the day, it worked pretty flawlessly. I had the oldest phone in my family, so was due for an upgrade anyway.

Now, understand that I have a love/hate relationship with these things, more hate than love, frankly. I think as a culture we've created devices of distraction and disconnection. There is a wonderful photo journalism article in The Sun magazine by Gianpaolo La Paglia that captures peoples' obsessions with their phones quite well. I feel that we've gone down a path we can't get back up, but I guess we'll just have to see where it takes us.

Anyway, knowing that my wife and kids are dependent on being able to get hold of me, I went to Best Buy to get a new phone. I am the world's biggest cheapskate so it took my phone being completely useless before I was willing to offer up $850.00 for a new one.

The buying process was about as painful as I feared. When I got there, they told me they were having a BOGO sale, buy one/get one free. This required a trip home to talk to my wife and son about what that meant to us. Ben needed a phone as well, and this looked like a good deal.

When I went back it was the usual hour and a half of typing my information into a slow application, calling ATT support and general jagging around. It is absolutely astounding to me how this process is not easier, but it never is. After that hour and a half of my life that I'll never get back, I walked out of the store with my new Galaxy S10e, and Ben's Galaxy S10 "on order" and due in at the end of the week.

Seems easy enough, right?

So two days later, at work, I'm showing a co-worker a picture of something and I noticed my BRAND NEW screen was cracked. I had a case and screen protector on order, but hadn't received them yet. I was horrified.

After looking closer, I realized it was only scratched. It still made me sick to my stomach knowing I hadn't paid the $40 for an overpriced Best Buy screen protector at the store when I bought the thing.

I then spent the next six hours of my life in obsessive worry and dread about my stupid new phone. After reading online, I saw where sometimes applying a screen protector will cover up a scratch. That night I went to T-Mobile to get a screen protector. They said that they cost $44.00. I knew I had two that were on the way from Amazon for $13.00, so I said I'd wait.

I then told the clerk about my screen and mentioned how fragile these stupid new phones were. She took a look at it and asked if I had removed the protective film on the screen?

The what?

"Yeah, there's a protective film over the screen on the new Galaxys to protect them until you can get a screen protector."

This is the part where I am a man conflicted with both joy and embarrassment. Of course I hadn't removed the plastic film and the film was scratched, not the screen. The phone screen was fine.

I felt about as dumb as a person can be, but even more glaring was my awareness of how this worry had overtaken my life for six hours. What a stupid waste of energy. But, like everything else obsessive with these damn devices, it takes over your life, and I hate that about them.

To finish the sales story, I have been back to Best Buy twice in an attempt to pick up my son's S10, and we still don't have it. More life-sucking from the folks at ATT/Samsung.

I guess the moral of the story is we all have to take a step back and see where we are letting phones take us. This new phone has a "screen time" function, where it tells you how many times you've used it. When I checked, it said I'd had 46 unlocks.

46! in one day, and the day wasn't even over yet.

That is sobering data I could only get from a phone.

My name is Jim, and I'm a phoneaholic.

Blogging off...

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Portaging Without A Canoe

About six months ago, I was invited to be one of the two featured poets at an event called Poetry in Portage (PIP). This is an event that takes place monthly and features two poets, each reading for 30 minutes, followed by an open mic where anyone can read some of their work.

Portage is a city about an hour and a half from Waukesha, just up the road from where I-94 splits with I-39. I saw this as a chance to increase my exposure a bit as well as take a little road trip. If you know me, you know I love road trips, so I told the organizer I would come up and present.

The reading was held at Suzy's Steak and Seafood restaurant. When I got there, I was greeted by the other presenter, Jane McCarty Osypowski and her husband. Later we were joined by a friend of Jane's as well as June Paul, the event coordinator. We had a pre-dinner drink and got to know each other a bit. Jane is also an artist, so admitted that most of her recent artistic endeavors have been with paint, not pen.

Now, I only have steak maybe twice a year, so I thought it would be a nice splurge. I ordered the New York Strip, and it was fabulous! If you're ever in the Portage area, check out Suzy's. A good old surf and turf restaurant.

When it came time to read, we moved to a private room. The crowd was small but appreciative. After a quick introduction and lead-off poem by June Paul, I started the evening off. I read a "greatest hits" list of poems from my four books. The more I do this kind of thing, the more comfortable I get. Near as I could tell, my work was well received.

After my reading, Jane took over and read her work, which was moving and well presented. I always admire these cross-disciplinary artistic types, because it is a skill I don't have. (i.e. my artwork sucks!) . When Jane was done, there was a short open mic where a few poems were read.

Ultimately, I ended up selling a few copies of Written Life, which is always a good thing for any poet. While it is great to have people appreciate your work, its even better if they buy a copy.

At the end of the night, June read an emotional poem about her brother that is dealing with a serious illness. I can certainly relate to the pain of watching a sibling going through difficult health issues. It was a point of connection for us that I hadn't expected when I decided to agree to the poetry event.

These poetry events are often times small affairs, but they are something I will continue to pursue. The new friends I made at this event made the trip worthwhile unto itself. But sharing my work with others and hearing their stories is ultimately the reason behind the whole deal. For a few hours I was thrust out of my geographic bubble into a new arena with strangers who three hours later became friends. It's probably an introvert's nightmare, but I've learned to embrace these opportunities and turn them into lifetime events that I can look back on with fondness.

Because these things make life a little richer.

Blogging off...