Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Importance Of Friends

It has been a week of reconnecting with friends. On Tuesday I got together with a group of friends I used to work alongside in a writing workshop. We keep in touch on Facebook, and it's been six months or so since we all got together that someone mentioned we should get together over a beer and see what each other is up to.

We gathered at a local microbrewery and talked and laughed about our writing projects, failures and successes and where we were at with our works in progress. The answers ranged from people who had not written since we'd been together last, to those with books coming out or in progress. We respected those who'd gone different directions and praised those who'd stuck with it. Writing is hard work and you can't force it. It comes and goes.

The reason I appreciate this group of friends and love getting together with them is because we can all talk like a bunch of writing geeks and none of us tires of hearing about the others' struggles. We also know we won't be boring them like we might with someone who doesn't appreciate writing, or just doesn't care. We talk about plots, and endings, story arcs and writing block. On Tuesday, we picked up right where we left off 6 months ago. They are a group of friends I am glad to have because they think like me.

Then, yesterday I golfed in my one golf outing of the year, the Greater Krey Open, or GKO. It is a fundraiser for cancer setup by my good friend Steve and his family every year. He lost his brother Pete to cancer about 10 months before I lost my brother Rob to cancer. The tournament is played as a best ball "fun" outing with on the order of 60 golfers or so, I would estimate.

I golfed with the guys I usually golf with and as in past years it was an absolute riot. Our team finished a humiliating 4 over par, which is pretty bad for a scramble, but we didn't care. It was too much fun to be concerned with score. The four of us spend 18 holes laughing at each others' bad shots, cracking jokes about their feeble drives and trash talking about shots so deep in the woods they might have killed a deer.

And at the end of the day, we gather for dinner and beer, and a raffle of prizes. It is a great way to spend a fall day every year, one I've come to look forward to every year.

It occurred to me as the evening ended, how lucky I was to have good friends like these guys. Thinking back to Tuesday, I remembered how great it felt to connect with my writing colleagues.

In some ways I am a horrible friend. Especially when someone spontaneously asks me to do something that doesn't give me enough notice. I am an introvert by nature and need to work up my energy to a friend event. If I don't have a week or two's notice, I will usually decline someone's offer to do something spontaneously. It's a weird habit, but one I can at least acknowledge. I am grateful for those friends who stick it out and keep trying with me. It's not them, it's me.

But if I get enough notice and have planned for the event, I am ALL IN when I get there. I love being around friends for a couple of hours catching up and, most of all, laughing our heads off. I guess that makes me a good friend provided I have advance notice. Like I said, weird.

It is so important to have good friends. Old friends, new friends, casual friends and even virtual social media friends. I have fishing friends, church friends, coffee friends, work friends, friends of friends and friends I only see once a year. They all keep me laughing, they check up on me, ask how I'm doing and rejoice with in my successes. They are one of the most important keys to a happy life, at least in my opinion.

So, to all of my friends out there, Thank You for hanging out with me.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Hallmarkiest of Days

Today is National Daughters Day. I was unaware there was such a thing until I saw it all over Facebook this morning. It sounds a little like a Hallmark Holiday to me, but I'll take any chance to celebrate my daughter, or my son for that matter. (I am looking into whether there is a National Son Day, and if there is, I'll expect a Hallmark card, mom.)

A father/daughter and father/son relationship is incredibly important. Not everyone has a good one to speak of. I am painfully aware of this - due in part to my own experience. No parent has a rule book. We all just make it up as we go. Knowing that I did what I consider my best and, well, now she's on her own, and independent, and I think she's going to be okay.

I will confess that there are a number of moments in my life with her that I will always carry.

1. The ride home in the car in a blinding snowstorm the night after she was born. That was me crying like a big dope, blinded by snow. The weight of joy and love just sort of overtook me.

2. Standing on the dock at a lake up in Hackensack, Minnesota while she caught sunfish after sunfish. Her love of fishing was born on that dock, of that I am convinced.

3. That squeaky violin recital in grade school. Her turn in front of the crowd was as rough as the rest, but absolutely beautiful music to her parents' ears.

4. Watching her play freshman volleyball in high school. She agreed to play because we told her she needed to try a sport. Well, she pretty much hated every minute of every game, but she finished. I give her total credit for that. Some kids are jocks. Some are not. Parenting 101.

5. Seeing her off to prom her junior year. No father is really ready for that and I was no different.

6. Watching her walk for her college graduation. It doesn't get much better than watching your kid graduate from your alma mater.

And with any child, it takes a village. I am grateful to have a family that supported her all along. She had aunts and cousins and almost-aunts that loved her as much as we did. All of that pays dividends when you see what your child has become. All I know is I am a lucky father.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Bookishness


Like my wife, I am one of those people that needs to have two books "in-progress" at all times. Books to me are complete escape, so if I can go to three different "aways" on any given evening, I'm all for it.

My reading interests are a little all over the place at the moment.

My Fiction Escape: I just finished "Copper River" by William Kent Krueger. He writes murder mysteries based in northern Minnesota, so there is a home connection too, which I love. I never thought I'd like mysteries, but I've found his style to be captivating. He not only has a wonderful descriptive style - one I aspire too, but may never achieve - but he has a way with introducing unexpected twists and tying characters together. Add to all of that, the regional appeal and well, I'm glad to have stumbled upon his books. (He has 18 or so, so I certainly have enough to get to, as well.

My Existential Handbook: I keep Thich Nhat Hanh's book, Being Peace around so I can refer
to it on an as needed basis. Thich is a Zen Master, a global spiritual leader and peace activist. His book is a reminder of how much we miss when we forget to be mindful of the present. It talks a lot about breathing and smiling as movements toward happiness.He talks of smiling during an exhale and while it seems odd, to me it's not. It is a little bit of fake it till you make it. We smile when we're happy, so smiling "out of turn" may even have an effect on our outlook or physical help. Call it hocus-pocus or what you will, but it seems to help. If nothing else, the book has taught me to be in the present and to spend less time frantic and filled with worry.

My Religious Read: I've always enjoyed reading books on faith and Christianity. My recent forays have been into some of the edgier authors like Peter Rollins, Brian Zahnd and, most recently, Richard Rohr. I am currently working through Rohr's book, The Universal Christ. A group of friends and I meet at Raised Grain, a local microbrewery, to have a couple of beers and talk about the book. It is heady stuff, and I'm not talking about the beer here. The premise of the book is that God is everywhere and the DNA of God is in everything. More importantly then, if that is true, we need to look at each person we meet as the image of God - somewhere in there, in some cases - and treat them as such. I can't say enough about what I'm learning from his books and his podcasts. He is so wise. This particular book reminds me that while life is important, I am but one small part in the greater cosmos.

My Poetry Book Of The Moment: I am currently working through, We Are Beat, a large anthology by Local Gems Press that I am featured in, among a host of others. Along with this, I am revisiting Benediction and Baseball, by Ed Werstein, a Milwaukee poet. He was featured at a reading I went to the other night and so I thought I'd open his book again. (I'd read it a couple of months ago.) Good stuff by a guy I aspire to write as good as someday.

That's my list for the moment. It changes monthly. I can't say enough about how important books have been to me and my children. They both love to read too. Sarah is heavy into a fantasy series and Ben was last seen reading the Sand County Almanac, which makes me very happy. Such a classic.

What's on your nightstand?

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Just What I Didn't Need


On Monday, another rock star, Ric Ocasek of The Cars, died. Earlier last week, Eddie Money a rock star of my era also died. All of this has caused me some angst, as the death of a rock star does, apparently.

The Cars were my absolute favorite band for years in the early 80's I saw them four times over the years, 1979 to 1984. I idolized those guys. Ric went on to have a pretty successful solo career to, which I followed to a degree. So when I saw the news that he'd passed away I was shocked and saddened. I guess I didn't know he was 75, which is shocking in its own right. But the point is this kind of thing keeps happening and it's a sucker punch to me every time.

After I got through the initial alarm of it, I talked through the meaning of life with my wife and a couple of friends/ I said to my wife, "What's the point if everything in life keeps dying?" Her and I have had a lot of mortality talks lately, for some reason. I think some of it is has to do with having both of the kids out of the house. We've just got each other from day to day now, so we tend to go beneath the surface of each other's angst. Some of it may have to do with having passed the age of 50. And I know some of it has to do with dying rock stars. I mean, why wouldn't it?

My wife and I are joking of course when we speak lightly of death and all that goes with it. Hopefully we'll have another 30 years together, but one never knows. It is a gift to have her to laugh in the face of death, though. It grounds me. We talk about going down in a plane when returning from Europe someday and think to ourselves that "at least we'll be together". There's a lot of truth there.

To continue working out Ric's death, the brevity of life and my own mortality, I reached out to my friend, Pat. He and I go back to grade school and are on the same page spiritually and many other things. I brought up the book of Ecclesiastes to him because it goes on about "There is a season for everything" and he reminded me that we need to remember how God sees us and that should be sufficient. Quit worrying about death and live harder for the here and now. 

So I have to ask, am I going crazy or does everyone over 55 think this way? I hope I have a healthy outlook about it. I can at least laugh about my obsession with it. At the same time it has ramped up the urgency of living each day like it's my last. I've said it before, I need to have coffee with everyone soon, so we can catch up before one of us isn't around anymore. A chance to say, "Hello. How have you been? You feeling good? Take care of yourself."

I'll text you all tomorrow and set a date. If I don't, please know I'm thinking of you and are glad you're in my life.

Blogging off...


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Fixing The World One Cup At A Time

Every Thursday morning I have coffee with 2 or three friends at Cafe De Arts in Waukesha. I look at this time as some of my favorite discussion time every week. It is a group I was invited to years ago by one of the regulars, and thinking it was another myopic Christian men's Bible study, of which I was still in recovery from, I rightfully declined. Within a week, I got another invite after running into another regular of the group at a different coffee shop.

I took this as a sign that maybe I should give it a shot.

Well, suffice it to say it was not at all what I feared. When I first joined, I found out that these guys sometimes did a book study, but with very loose rules to it. If you didn't get to the reading for the week, there was no shame, heck some guys never got around to buying the book. That's about as loose as you can get.
A few Thursday Coffee Guys. -Photo Courtesy of RoostMKE

It is not always a religious book either. We've read books by Buddhists, hippies and recovering evangelicals. Put another way, we are NOT reading the likes of Purpose Driven Life.

Anyway, sometimes it's not a book at all, like the current moment. We are "between books" and just get together to talk, laugh and have coffee. And it is interesting the subjects that come up from week to week.

This week, one of the guys expressed his guilt at having just traveled to Scotland for vacation. He said he was feeling guilty for the "irresponsibility" of the air travel he'd just undertaken in the name of personal entertainment. Now, to be fair, this guy drives a hybrid vehicle that gets 50 miles to the gallon. Despite that he was still feeling guilt because we are all dreadfully aware of all that is going on with the climate and carbon buildup.

It was then that one of us pointed out that a plane burns 17 gallons of fuel a minute. 17 gallons a minute!* I was horrified. How could anyone travel internationally anywhere with a clear conscience I wondered?

Well that led to how we take car travel for granted and that the real problem is too many cars. We noted that in the 70's, a 20 minute ride across town was a lot! A distance that made you think twice, not due in part to gas prices. Now, people think nothing of a 40 minute commute. Daily!

The discussion digressed from there, as they sometimes do and turned to how we all should resort back to ship travel if we're going to go international. It is at least more economical.

I mentioned how the president of ESRI, the software company we use at work, donated enough a few years ago to plant a tree for every person at the conference, thereby offsetting the carbon used to get people there. I thought that was a novel concept.

I told them that I have environmental guilt too, but that now that I've been to London, I have a travelling bug and want to go back to Europe. So, basically, while I feel bad about what it takes to get there, I still want mine. That is the way entitlement feels. I know it and I'm not sure I'm ready to give it up. I am, therefore, the problem. I shoudl ideally bend to my guilt and stay in my neighborhood for the rest of my life. And wow, that is so fun.

So, instead of flying as a tourist or even taking a ship overseas, my friend said I should go to Africa, and plant some trees when I get there. When I asked if I could do it in Scotland or Italy, as I'd rather go there, he said, "They don't need trees. You have to go to Africa."

So that is how the conversations go from serious "How to save the planet" to lightening it up in the name of keeping our sanity. I am at least happy to be among company that thinks at this level. One week we are talking about micro-plastics in our water, the next about the military war machine, and the next about solar arrays that will one day soon will provide 7% of a California city's power need. Not only that, but you can plant crops in the shade of these solar arrays, that could not formerly be grown there because of the sun. Ideas on top of ideas.

I told these guys if we met for coffee every week, we could achieve energy independence and global peace.

And I believe that, if only everyone else in the world would listen.

Blogging off...

*(I later looked it up and it turns out it a 747 burns one gallon a second. One a second! At the same time, when spread over a 500 person plane, it turns out to be more efficient than a car. Well, who knew? I feel slightly better. See the article here.)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Working Up The Food Service Corporate Ladder

In my work in progress book about my days at Cretin High School I talk a little about another job I had at The Lexington Restaurant in St. Paul. The manager of the place at the time, Don Ryan, actually lived across the street from us. His kids were pretty good friends with our family, so pretty much any of us who wanted to work there had a job if we wanted one.

I think it was late in my sophomore year that I applied and got the job as a dishwasher. Dishwashers were also called pearl divers, for some odd reason, but it was pretty much the starting position for any teenager at the place. You could work your way "up" to salad chef, busboy or even waiter if you worked hard and didn't piss off the management too much.

It was hard work, especially on busy Friday nights. Busboys brought in trays stacked with dirty dishes almost faster than you could clear them. There was always two dishwashers and a pot washer. The dishwashers would split duties, one working trays and the "clean end" of dish runs, the other was relegated to the hole, as it was affectionately called. The hole was where all the dirty dishes went and were rinsed and the resulting garbage sent into the garbage disposal.

I worked the hole enough and occasionally pulled some interesting things out of the garbage disposal. Bottle caps, bones and cocktail forks. The best find though was a pair of dentures. Well, it was the bottom ones anyway. It sorta skivved me out to tell you the truth. I can see how it happened though. Probably took them out to eat and wrapped them in a napkin that got shook out to the "hole."

Good times.

I remember the industrial dishwasher that sent dishes out the clean end at about a zillion degrees. We had to quickly stack them and get rid of the rack because another rack was usually right behind it. It  was a little like Lucy and Vivian n the chocolate line. Between the heat and the industrial detergent, my hands peeled, cracked and dried.

But the job taught me a good work ethic. You had to work fast, hard and long hours. Some weeknights they'd stay open till 11:30 or so and after running our last load, we'd go home and try and get 6 hours of sleep before school the next day. It was brutal, didn't help my grades any, but the money was good.

I eventually worked my way up to Salad Chef. It was an upgrade from the heat and garbage of pearl diving, but had stress of it's own. I worked there a few months and then went over to "the dark side" as busboys and waiters were called. The kitchen help always called them that. As a busboy I made great tips, but again, it was stressful. Lots of heavy trays of food and dirty dishes. Then there was the time my armload of soups got caught in the "automatic" doors that were finicky to open and time your walk-through.

My days at the Lexington helped pay my way through Cretin, which was not cheap. And while it taught me that hard work can make you rich(ish), it also taught me that there was no way I wanted to work in the food service industry. It also taught me the value of getting a good education so I wouldn't have to.

The restaurant still stands today. Check out their website here.

And if you should go there, tell them busboy Jim sent ya.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Thoughts From A Cover Reveal

So here is the cover to my forthcoming poetry collection. I can't say enough about how happy I am with it. It is perfect!

For starters I have to give full credit to the artist. His name is W. Jack Savage, a fellow native-Minnesotan now living in California. I have touted his work on my blog before, right here. You should check out his work if you get a chance. He is also a prolific writer and a Vietnam Veteran, making him a hero at many levels, in my eyes.

His artwork has always fascinated me and I am lucky to have a couple print copies that he has sent. One is in my office at work, the other in my home writing office. I'm not sure what you would call his style, but it looks Impressionistic to me, and I've always favored the impressionists. I don't claim to be an art expert or historian, but I know what I like.

I approached him and asked first for some pieces for ideas and secondly for permission to use one for my cover. He was gracious enough to both requests. He sent half a dozen images all with the theme of a line of some sort. I had two that I really liked but ultimately chose this one.

It has been a goal of mine for some time to collaborate with either a graphic artist or fine artist friend of mine with a book, so this fits that goal nicely. The fact that we both hail from Minnesota makes it a little more special as well. His work has appeared on many magazine covers as well, so I am fortunate to be able to share his work as part of my own.

Once I sent the images to the publisher, Kelsay Books it was only a matter of a couple days before they had something back to me. The text alignment on the cover fits with the "line" theme and the back cover blurbs speak to the books content nicely. I'm just so pleased with all of it. Kudos to W. Jack Savage and the team at Kelsay Books for everything.

The book marks my sixth since 2014, with number 7, another chapbook (Genetically Speaking) pending for later this fall on Local Gems Press. It's funny, but what keeps coming to mind through all of this are the lyrics from the Talking Heads' song, Once In A Lifetime:

"And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?"

How, indeed. LOL.

The book is not due out until November, but as I've said before I am so excited about the breadth of poems in this collection. It is my best work. A number of them have been previously published so are road-tested so to speak. When the date becomes firm, I will let people know where it is available as well as where I'll be promoting it with readings. Looking forward to all of it.

Blogging off...

Thursday, September 5, 2019

That First Job

My memoir in progress (MIP) is coming along well. I'm just over 70,000 words into it andI've got the chapters roughed out. Now the hard part of slogging through edits comes into play.

Tenatively titled, Cretin Boy, it is about my teenage years in an all-male, Catholic, military (JROTC) school in the late '70s. The book is not solely about the school, but also about all that comes with being a teenager and all the changes that life brings.

One of those changes of course is a kid's introduction to the working life. Once you hit 15 back then, you were expected to start looking for a part-time job. It was in part to keep you off the street but also a way of teaching you work ethic and helping take the load off of Mom and Dad's need to supplement your income (or lack of it).

In the book I talk about my first job at Tu-Way Car Wash on Cleveland and Randolph in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was a freshman in high school and my brother Tom worked there and got me the job. I think it paid about $3.85 an hour or so, but was decent income for the work.

The job required pumping gas when people drove up to the pump, back in the day when that was the way gas stations worked. Now it's "Do it yo-sef, chump!"

The other part of the job was running the car wash, which was the equivalent of the automated ones you drive into now, except it required some human intervention. Well, there was something wrong with the switch that stopped the upper brushes from spinning. Or maybe it was just me. But it seemed every time I tried to stop the brushes, it didn't work.

This operator error usually meant the car aerial was wrenched to new, ungainly angles, or in some cases snapped off altogether. Aerials were mostly hard mounted to the frame and not nice and flexible like they are today. I'd prefer to call them less-forgiving. In some cases, they could be bent back to their original tilt, but in others, the owner of the station got a phone call the following week.

Of course there were some folks that, if I didn't tell them, didn't notice the aerial pointed toward Shanghai, China, and that was okay with me. I'd rather deal with it after they had some time to cool off and fire a letter to the owner or come back and chew me out the next day.

I didn't much care for the job actually. It seemed like a lot of responsibility to dump on the back of a 15 year-old, especially at the end of the night when you had to reconcile the gallons pumped with the money in the till. I was grateful when track season rolled around and I had the perfect excuse to bail on the job and just practice my high and long jumps.

I figured there would be plenty of work ahead of me later in life, I might as well get one last shot at a life of relative leisure. It didn't last long as I took a job at a restaurant late in my sophomore year.

In any case, there's all of this and many more tales in the book of my days at Tu-Way and Cretin. It's been fun recalling them and I can't wait until it's done.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 1, 2019

August Fondly Remembered

Another August has gone by and the unrest has settled upon me again. This is always a weird time of year for me. If you know me, I am happiest in shorts, a T-Shirt and sandals, so any time that fashion feng-shui is threatened by the dreaded long pants and flannel shirts, well, you're going to get some blowback from me. If you're one of those "I love the cool fall weather" people, we probably can't be friends. It's nothing personal, oh, wait, yes it is.

Don't get me wrong, I love fall as well, all 3 weeks of it. The problem lies immediately following fall. Namely the 'W' word. In my eyes, Fall and Spring are equals, only spring holds the hope of summer following it. Winter, well, I'm going to stop saying it for now.

But as I said, Labor day weekend is the stake in the heart of summer. Around here. the Carroll University students are back in the neighborhood and with it, increased foot and street traffic. I don't mind that so much, in fact in a lot of ways it is nice to have more people around. (Although my dog barks at anything that moves outside, so that gets annoying.

So I am trying to live this season one day at a time, appreciating it for what it is without thinking too much about what lies just a few months ahead. There will be more warm days for a few more weeks, and I am committed to taking advantage of each one, as I can. I'll get out on my bike, walk my dog, and get outdoors as often as I can. Tomorrow there's talk of going for a hike along Lake Michigan, so I look forward to that.

At the same time, I will miss those nights sleeping with three fans blowing and the windows wide open. I'll miss the sun staying up until nearly nine o'clock every night and all the long shadows that come with it. And believe it or not, I'll miss changing my shirt because it's been sweated out over the course of my day.

Back in the day in Minnesota, I had a friend who called me "Beach boy." It was a backhanded nickname he gave me because I was often the shirtless kid trying to soak in the sun when I could. I think there's still part of Beach boy in me.

Unfortunately his season is waning, and I'll be back to "Fleece boy" before too long. Until then, I'm going to take what I can get.

Blogging off...