Archive for the Life Lessons Category

With Apologies to Nicolaus

Posted in Life Lessons on March 20, 2016 by redeemingthewizard

Recently things have been pretty hectic.  Before that they were, well, depressing.  Or depressed.  Or just Winter.  Take your pick I suppose.  It was my own 3 shades of gray without any of the bestselling juicy bits.  In any case, regardless of the name you want to use for it, I slept a lot.  I also did a fair bit of Netflix & Chill during that time.  (I don’t know what everybody is going on about that either; it’s kinda boring just sitting there on the couch gorging on a giant bowl of microwave popcorn that, despite the serving size recommendations, you know you will finish by yourself…) Long story (3 months of Winter long) short (see note on sleeping all the time above), things have progressed to hectic.

Some of that would be the general hubbub of Spring. Birds, bees, rabbits, dogs, cats, cows all in some state of twitterpation, and/or frolicking in the newly re-discovered warmth of the sun.  It can be a racket for sure…

Another generous portion of that would be the not-insignificant backlog of things that I didn’t ‘get around to doing’ the prior few months.  Which brings us to the hectic that is currently rushing about me these days.  All caught up?  Good.

If depression makes me want to sleep and disengage, hectic chaos can cause similar feelings only without the imagined narcolepsy.  Back to Netflix & Popcorn again.  Or beer.  Or cookies.  Or just the damn dough because I like to bake with alcohol and it’s really just killing two birds with one stone that way…

I digress.

Hectic feels like a tornado.  Or rather, because that’s far too life threatening, dramatic and grand, Hectic feels like a merry-go-round that you would ever so dearly like to get off.  Getting whipped around and around, and it’s not slowing down, and your stomach is getting ready to make it’s own efforts to counter the spin however spectacularly ineffective it may be, and there’s very little you can do about it because you’re busy keeping arms and legs inside the vehicle until it’s come to a complete stop.  In short: you feel out of control.

That last bit is the hard part.  Feeling out of control.  Feeling swept along on something that’s inducing astronaut training level G-forces into my gut while Henry (you know the big kid on the playground) really puts his back into keeping things going around, primarily because he’s really only got one job that’s appreciated at recess and, truth be told, he’s secretly a bit of a perfectionist.

That’s what hectic feels like to me.

Now the other morning in the bathroom while getting ready for work (I’m not going to lie; I do some of my best thinking in the shower), and I had this thought.  It started ricochetting around my head like a bullet in one of those spaghetti westerns.  You know the ones where the shot careened off every available surface to finally it hits the target dead center much to everyone (particularly the targets) amazement? Yeah.  Like that.

The thought was this;  Copernicus seriously messed with everyones Cosmological World View.

To paraphrase K.J. Rowling; “I solemnly swear that I am getting to a blasted point.”  No.  Really.  I am.

Copernicus (by way of a quick review) was the chap who spoke up suggesting that the Earth revolved around the Sun made a bit more sense of the way things worked in the heavens than the previously accepted Earth is the center of everything view point.

It all came down to perspective.  Standing on the Earth, it doesn’t feel like it’s moving but we see the sun and the moon and the stars all getting about their days and nights around us.  Copernicus observed some very subtle motions that tipped him off to the idea of a different set of movements for the Earth (and therefor us as passengers) around the solar system.

Back to point.  So what if I’m not spinning on the merry-go-round?  What if it’s spinning around me?  (And yes, I am aware of the irony of that rather blatant Anti-Copernican statement).

I remember attempting to deal with Merry-go-round’s moving at Henry velocity by staring at the battered and scuffed diamond plate floor of the ride.  Inspecting the weld points where the bars had been welded to it’s once shiny surface.  It was moving with me at my speed and spinning through all this just like I was and didn’t prompt my stomach to rebel quite as quickly as the blur of screaming, cheering faces that were whirling past.

This raised the following question; so what if I’m not spinning in hectic chaos, but it’s spinning around me?  I’m the man in the center of my own little storm.  And the center of each storm hold an eye of calm.

Bullseye.

Just like that, I went from being twirled about on an out of control merry-go-round to being calmly at the center of my own personal whirlwind.   And if I’m standing there, feet on the ground, then its suddenly so much easier to be calm and at peace.  Storms come and go.  Winds blow and howl then turn gentle and fresh.

What’s important is the realization that this is happening around me, not too me.

Armed with my newly adjusted worldview, hectic is just a strong breeze messing up my hair and tugging at my shirt tails.

I got this.

Dreams that drive away sleep

Posted in Life Lessons on December 14, 2015 by redeemingthewizard

I awoke from my dream crying because I had heard my father’s voice.

As I lay there in the dark, not bothering to wipe away the hot trickles that I knew were dampening and cooling on my pillow, I was suddenly reminded of a passage from Henri Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer.

        “He is sitting among the poor covered with wounds.  The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again.  But he unbinds one at a time and binds it up again, saying to himself, “Perhaps I shall be needed; if so I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.”

In my dream I had been traveling abroad by myself and was playing with a ball near a garden while remembering words of comfort for travelers.  “If you find that you have nothing left and must set out on new roads, know that many have gone before you and paved the road ahead.  You are in good company.”  The ball bounced into the bushes and I went to retrieve it, only to pass two women, one very old and the other clearly her daughter.  Their familiar faces tugged at me and, taking my ball, I followed them, sensing family was suddenly near.  And there on a terrace, I was washed away by what felt like a memory; my father sitting with my sister and her husband with others gathered around and they were singing together.  I heard his voice lifted in happy song, not as an event but a memory so powerful that took me back to a moment—to the exclusion of every other sense.  I woke with his voice lingering in my ears.

It’s been a little less than year and a half since he passed.  And for the most part, the tears have dried up.  In part because life continues to flow. It builds and we are too small and too thin to hold back the river as it moves gently, inexorably forward.  My son has finished his first year of high school.  I’ve moved to yet another portion of the country.  I taught my boy to drive a car.  Once again I’ve stretched relationships taunt over distance; both time and miles.  Some snapped, some frayed but others held, resonating with different sounds in this new configuration.  Time, like the mighty Mississippi has continued to roll along taking us to new places with slow, steady progress.

Yet, in the middle of the night, I felt rent.  Like the morning light revealing the furrows cut clean through a yard as flash floods worked at night.  The efforts to repair my yard had been in vain and insignificant in the face of powers and forces much greater than I.

It was here that the words of the dream came back to me, that there have been many who have passed this way before me.  Many who have suffered sudden loss; to violence, to time, to a poor decision. Though grief feels like a road never seen before, it is well paved from the footsteps of thousands who have walked it first.

Dreams are funny things, and ask five person to interpret one and you will have  have six interpretations when you are done.  I don’t know what Freud or anyone else would say about dreams of balls, gardens, family and song, but I know this; I am wounded.   Like an old injury flared to life that I thought in my past, moving up river and into my history.

My loss cuts deeply, seemingly as fresh as year ago, so I set to the task of binding my wound.  Again.  Painfully aware in this moment, that I will most likely bind it again sometime in the future.  This wound (like all grief) is slow to heal and deceptive in its progress.  Like a injury to the leg that feels hale, whole and useful till moved just so and suddenly drops us to our knee, or lays us face first in the dust.  Again.

These words are for me.  They are my binding.  They are the effort and time I take for myself, to re-bind this wound.  You are free to make of them what you wish, but I use them to remind myself that I am not alone.  That contrary to the way it feels, grieving is a path we will all traverse and while we may not see our fellow travelers in that moment through watery vision, they are most certainly present around us.  I bind my wound today because I may be called upon to help another bind theirs on this journey.

This is not magic. To give and to serve another human being, to be ready to lend what aid I’m able, does not obliterate my own pain or fears or failings.  It most certainly does not make it ‘all better.’  If I am called to help it will be on the same wounded limb that I have just re-bandaged.  It will be through the pain of that wound.  It will be with shiny, wet cheeks.

Because I miss my dad.

The Disaster Beard

Posted in Life Lessons on December 10, 2012 by redeemingthewizard

700 Words a Day Postmortem

Posted in Life Lessons on December 4, 2012 by redeemingthewizard
A year ago last week, I set about a pretty grand design.  I wanted to write 700 word each day.  For a full year.  I didn’t know if I could do it.  I’d never imagined writing 255,000 words in succession.  Thanksgiving 2011 was my start and, now that it’s over, I thought I’d put down some thoughts on the experience.

The Data
First, I should go over the numbers themselves (those of you who find that kind of measurement boring can skip a bit further down).  I tend to like this kind of thing because when you can look at the data, you can see all kinds of things about your work when it’s done, and I can now say that empirically.  Total words written for the year; 102,380.  For those keeping score at home that well under half of the total goal.  Hmmm…  What happened there?  Back to the logs for a quick review shows that by March I was trailing by about a weeks worth of writing.  By April, 12 days.  …and then it all went to hell.  When the wall came, I was at 91K, over the next 8 months, I managed about 11K, or an average of 1300 words per month.  Final feelings on all this minutia are that I now have a new personal best.  102,380 plus 1is the new goal for number of words I can composed in a year.

Who – On Having an Audience
Early on, I chose to involve friends in this project.  I’d ask them for 3 words, and then run with that to compose my 700 words.  Usually I’d ask for whatever came to mind, and if I was feeling cocky, I’d ask for the genre/setting as well.  This created a nice piece of accountability for me in that I had told someone I was going to write and also a nice bit of affirmation in that I got to share what I wrote as well (because, hey, I’m more than happy to hear the words “Nice!  I really liked that!” as often as friends want to tell it to me.  Some would call that whoring for attention, but I like to call it being Highly Susceptible to Positive Feedback.  I should note here that my skills at writing marketing emails at work improved dramatically during this exercise.)

In choosing to write for a specific audience, a very real and personal presence in my life, I was able to focus on pouring a good deal of intention into what I was working on and found that, ‘drafting’ vignettes, or scenes, or (sometimes things that might have bordered on a short story) for someone I knew was very rewarding.  There is of course a danger to that as well.  If the connection with that particular audience fades or is disrupted, it can be a disruptive event for the writing.  To do it again, I think I would find a writing group to share with (even if that meant making my own).  Having the specific people to write ‘for/to’ in my head when I’m composing is fun & helpful, but to constantly rely on one or two people for that reader/response connection didn’t serve me well in the long run.  My new advice; crowdsourcing is entertaining and quick, but don’t become dependent on it.

What – Topics and methods
Having no grand novel that was simply hanging around the birth canal of my imagination waiting for the opportunity to be pushed out into a brave new world, I opted for writing exercises.  Three words; random, unrelated, and the more creative the better.  I consider my vocabulary to be very well rounded, but I did enjoy having to go and look up a new word to make sure that I used it correctly in what I was writing.  I quickly added a forth ‘bonus’ category; genre/setting.  In the course of the year, I wrote 1st person, 3rd person, fairy tales, spicy tales, zombie apocalypse, Steam Punk, Noir, and some rather endearing boy meets girl something-or-other.  One of my initial postulations about this kind of a project was that, if you write 250,000 words and you can’t find content you can publish in there, you probably missed something…

The writing exercise turned out be be a double-edged sword, at least for me.  I was able to do all kinds of creative and interesting things with three odd words and a goal of >700 words.  I could quit at 721, or it could roll onwards up to 2,300.  Sometimes I would take 3 words for 3 consecutive days and try and bring the new words into the continuation of what had already started the day before.  Unfortunately, when it came to writing longer pieces, pieces of sustained length (say the 30k needed to even crack into the novel arena), I was at a loss.  Starter exercises did not prepare me for the continued work of building a series of scenes that came together to form a story of any kind.  It was easy to jump from idea to idea like a dragonfly in the summer morning, without settling down to do the harder work of writing a connected and woven story that tells a tale.  Here, I’m my own worst enemy, discarding ideas before I even try them and being overwhelmed by the ‘entirety’ of the story.  I’ve had three ideas that I quite enjoyed (and still do as bits of them parade about my head before bed each night), but the act of sitting down and attempting to write the sustained story of what happened to these characters, overwhelms me and I find myself shutting down before I even begin.  Lesson learned; don’t get locked into one way of doing things; even if it plays to your strengths.  The point of all this is to grow in my ability to write.

Where, When & How
Having a place to write has proven to be very important.  I’m not convinced I need a single magical place to work, but I have found that I can’t do it just anywhere.  Well, I can, but I’m most productive in my bedroom, and at my local Starbucks.  It needs to be a distraction free environment.  That’s actually the key factor.  My Starbucks has failed me on many an occasion when it was crowded and bustling with a holiday weekend or some other cause.  My bedroom has failed me on occasions when the bed was just too soft…  There is something very important about having a place to go; a place that is for my writing.  I’m sure I could refine my selections in doing this again, but I’ve been pretty happy with my two places so far.

As an aside, I did learn that travel and writing don’t go well together for me.  Business trips and vacations were such a departure from any kind of schedule for me that I found myself unable to sit and focus on writing when I did have time available to write.  I have a new understanding as to why so many famous writers were such creatures of habit and even homebodies.  I need to know when I’m going to be writing.  I have to plan for it and prepare myself.  That’s step one.  As one of my writer friends is oft to say when she quotes Adair Lara, “Putting ass to chair” is the other step…

I’ve written in the mornings, during the day, and in the evenings.  I feel that each has it’s place.  I’m sharpest in the AM, able to make leaps from one idea to another and linking creative baubles into strings of whimsy with alarming ease.  The distraction of the clock is usually the downside of the AM.  10 minutes till I need to head to work and I just hit full speed on an idea.  Nothing like watching a train of though derail as it comes to a crashing halt.  

Evenings are free of any real interruptions for me most days.  The night owl in me loves the opportunity to burn the candle late, but there is a cost to that, and days on end of such behavior seems to increase how good the bed feels when I sit down to write at 11 PM.  I’m also not at my sharpest.  The grindstone of the day has more often than not, blunted the edge of my intellect.  That’s not to say there isn’t something good that comes out of being tired.  Things I would fret over or worry about the wording for, or how to make the idea pop, just get left behind in the tired and I push onward.  Inevitably, when I read over things the next day, I found very little I wanted to change.  Being tired helped me push past age old trap of “perfect is the enemy of the good.”  Editing is always for after you have something written, not during.

In Conclusion
This was a grand experiment for me.  Did it go as I had hoped?  Not quite.  When things hit the skids, lost traction and clipped a couple of telephone poles in April, I spent a good portion of the summer cursing my inability to put my ass in any chair to string even the most meager sentences together.  I did have moments of energy into the fall.  Ideas that bubbled up and I found myself eager again to write them down.  I knew it wasn’t over yet, but I felt like I was off-roading in a ’62 Buick most of the time.  Ponderously unfit for the terrain and doing as much damage to the car as the scenery around me.  Having passed the deadline of Thanksgiving, I can look back and say that it wasn’t as bad as it felt at the time.  I wrote more in the last year than I did all 4 years in college!  I set a new personal best.  I know what I do well, and how to get started writing.  I also know what I need to work on.  Hard earned truths I can take with me moving forward.  

So, without further ado I announce:

December 1, 2012 to November 30, 2013.
700 words a day. 245000 words.  (Allowing for 5 weeks of travel.)
I’m gonna blow my previous record out of the water!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and write a quick piece involving Moist Scrumptious Buffalo.

Revolver: a non-movie review

Posted in Life Lessons on April 14, 2012 by redeemingthewizard

‘Stach-arific

Posted in Life Lessons on February 19, 2012 by redeemingthewizard
As you may or may not have noticed, I’ve been growing a mustache. In the grand scheme of things, this really isn’t anything new. I’ve worn a goatee on and off again for years (for those more technically minded, I’m sported a goatee AND a mustache traditionally referred to as a Van Dyke). I’ll be up front about this; I think facial hair is to the male face what hair barrettes are to women’s hair. Which is to say a frivolous accessory that can, nay should, be played with, changed, styled and explored in all it’s various incarnations.

As an example, I will share that since college, I’ve attempted to grow a full beard on 2 separate occasions. For those who witnessed these ill fated and egregious efforts, I can only tender my apologies and offer to assist with the counseling necessary to recover from wounds, I fear, time will never heal. While I’ve been able to grow a mustache and a Van Dyke since around college time, the sum total of facial hairs on the rest of my face can be measured in double digits. That’s for both cheeks. Long and thin may work for America’s Next Super Model, as a facial hair plan, it has a tendency to cause people around you to spontaneously utter the words, “O Lord, no…” regardless of religious affiliation.

Back in January, I began to consider what it would look like to just let it grow. This was not an unlimited proposition as I knew that the day of reckoning was coming (February 22nd to be exact). As an experiment, this fell right in line with my “If you can grow it, play with it” belief. So, from a tightly trimmed Van Dyke on New Years weekend, I let loose the reins and decided to see where things were to go. Well, the went to CVS.

Three weeks in, was growing tired of eating my mustache. Normally, this was the signpost to “turn back now” when it came to growing things out. The annoyance of cleaning the ol’ Soup Strainer and the disgusting feeling of biting down on a hair (particularly one still attached to me–ouchie) had been enough. Unwilling to turn back a near 4 weeks from my goal, I began my search for a magical solution. A powerful tool that would end the curse of eating Kudzu Mustache with each meal. At first the search was in vain, as if the old stories of salvation were nothing more than folk lore from a time when people made their own soap (and I’m not talking about lylac-oatmeal-hibiscus-glycerine-home-crafters here people). Then, on the bottom shelf of the shaving good section in a CVS I found the salvation I was seeking. One item, just one SKU, but that was all I needed. I left in possession of my very own tube of Mustache Wax. My world was about to change.

For the uninitiated, Mustache Wax is a paste that works like hair gel for your facial hair. I have no idea if I’m using it right, but applying a bit of it right after the shower allows me to use the tiny comb that came with my beard trimmer and render the Soup Strainer a thing of the past. What’s more, a week after I purchased it revealed an entirely new facet of my facial hair; the Handlebar. My mind raced with the potential that this new discovery provided. Suddenly February might come too soon. This would prove interesting indeed.

This is why we can’t have flying cars…

Posted in Life Lessons on January 15, 2012 by redeemingthewizard
The other day at the mall, my son and I went to see the new Tintin movie. It was the day after Christmas and by the time we emerged from the matinee, mall traffic was in full force. While attempting to leave the loop road around the mall, I had stopped in the line of traffic preparing to make a left and exit the chaos that was only going to build in post Christmas return-o-shop-again-o-thon. As I was positioned right before one of the entrances to a prominent parking area, I had left about a 2 car gap to allow other drivers to turn in and cross our lane of traffic as we weren’t going anywhere till the light turned green.

Suddenly a minivan rockets past me and jams themselves into the our lane, cutting me off, jumping ahead of a line of at least 30 other cars, and blocking the turning space I had left for other drivers. Despite my son being next to me, I swore. Loudly.

I took several minutes after the light turned green (and proceeded to watch this driver cut off two additional folks in an effort to get where they wanted to go) trying to wrap my head around this drivers behavior and suddenly exclaimed; “This is why we can’t have flying cars.” My son looked at me, imitating my best over the glasses ‘wanna run that by me again look?’ So I set about explaining myself.

Given the number of accidents that occur on a daily basis in NJ alone (having had my own fender bender recently) would indicate that we have not quite masters two -dimensional travel, and that the idea of adding a third dimension (from which to be cut off, side swiped and/or blind-sided by would appear to be a poor choice akin to handing keys to a lambroghini to a 15 year old in downtown Boston as the entrance exam to drivers training. Nothing good will come of this…

“So?” you might ask. And you would probably round out this particular line of questioning with “What?” Well, I think about fantasy and Science fiction. A lot. One of the things that I feel is important in either genre is that the characters make sense. That they interact with their world in a way that is cohesive and congruent with the world itself. It’s all fine and dandy go along writing about the year 2763 and the race across Neau New York City in that fancy Hover Car you just boosted from the floating parking garage, but what I need to know as you rocket across the United Neighborhoods of Brooklyn on your way to the Staten Aqua-domes to stop the doomsday device on New Years Eve, WHAT ABOUT THE JACKASSERY OF OTHER DRIVERS IN HOLIDAY TRAFFIC? Am I to assume that everyone’s driving nicie-nice in their hover cars? Are you? I smell Mary Sue…

Context becomes the king of all this. If people are still the kind of people that build doomsday devices and hide them in low-rent segments of dilapidated Aqua-domes, then people are still going to be the kind of people that cut you off in traffic because they are doing their nails, talking on the holoprojectors, have just spilled Neo-Classic Coke in their laps, or are just generally self-centered, self-absorbed pricks. The fatalities from mid-air collisions would pale in comparison to the deaths from raining chunks of Dodge EZGildes, and Daewoo Solargliders on the general population below. Property damage alone would bankrupt the insurance industry.

I like a good action story set the far flung future, but you better be prepared to let me know that you’ve covered the details; that despite being made of hero material, our protagonists (and the larger society in general) are prepared to deal with the rest of the jerks that survived the great tofu famine of 2598…