Category Archives: Writing

Five Houses

My first house was snug, and shiny.  We arrived with empty arms.  We left a few years later cradling a toddler and dreams of more.

My second house was large, and promising.  We made it a home and grew a family.  And grew apart.  Several years later I left with a broken heart and a broken family.

My third house was a renovation.  It started with tears and welcomed love.  It was my shelter in a storm of transition.  I left two years later, my heart soaring for a new beginning and a new family.

My fourth house was idyllic, and pristine at the start.  We exploded into it with passion and fury.  It was a struggle to endure and more so to let go.  I left three years later with a broken heart and another broken family.

My fifth house is a blank slate.  It starts with tears and my arms wide empty.  I hope it fills with love.

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Pretty in Ink

A couple threads of unrelated mental floss have recently intermingled in my brain.  On the one hand is the dissection of comedy at the hand of Steven Kaplan’s book “The Hidden Tools of Comedy”.  One of the concepts the book explores is that of the non-hero who, lacking sufficient skills to succeed, struggles against adversity but never gives up hope.  Lacking skills can be something as simple as not having the necessary knowledge to navigate a given situation like not being aware of something that’s plain as day to the audience but hidden from the poor chump in the story.  Mixed with that is a fictional piece I was working on which asks the question if you could go back and change certain aspects of your life, would you?  I think back to the various situations in my childhood that essentially fulfill all the requirements of a proper comedy, and left me mortified in the moment.  Little things like the time I walked into the plate-glass window at a mall that I was certain was an automated sliding door or the time I walked into the non-automated sliding screen door at my aunt’s house that I was certain was nothing but an open doorway.  In both instances I felt like a proper idiot at the time, lacking both the minimal perception to avoid the collision and the dignified grace to recover from it.  So I panicked.  Like any good introvert, I would rather peel off my toenails with pliers then draw unwanted attention to myself.  Had I been a quick thinking extrovert I might have hopped quickly to my feet, bowed with exaggerated flare and declared “tah-dahhhh” with a flourish of jazz-hands.  Instead I tried to swallow my head with my shoulders and quickly fled the scene trying to pretend as if nothing awkward had just occurred.  Of course after the horror had subsided it’s hard to deny the comedy of the situation.  What must I have looked like on the other side of that plate-glass window at the moment of impact?  I envision a pigeon, drunk on pyracantha berries, running into the bedroom window with a face flattening thud.  Do I wish I could have avoided that bit of theater?  Absolutely.  Would I chose to have those events expunged from my memory?  I’m not so sure.  These become defining moments in our past to be groaned about with friends over a beer or commiserated about with a therapist over a lumpy couch.  They add precious flaws to our developing personality.  They instill us with compassion for the foibles of others.  They make us more vigilant about plate-glass windows.

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That got me thinking of other moments I endured during adolescence that fit the bill of a non-hero struggling against adversity, lacking sufficient skills to succeed but never giving up hope.  One such event occurred just before my senior year of high school.  It was summer vacation and I was nursing some sort of stomach bug.  I had been popping chewable Peptos so I was feeling ok.  When we got back from the doctor I remembered that some of my swim team friends, including a girl I had a crush on, were doing the summer league around the corner from my home and they had a swim meet that afternoon.  School had been out for about a month, and while I can’t say absence made the heart grow fonder in this case, it did at least make my heart grow bolder.   With a dose of this uncharacteristic boldness percolating in my system I worked up my courage, and made the short trip to the pool.  The smell of chlorine brought forth a wave of nostalgic memories and my stomach flip-flopped with memories of meets past, nervous energy and lingering intestinal issues.  I took a deep breath and waded into the assembled teammates.  I did my best to be charming and in good spirits as I worked my way through the crowd.  I had a good visit overall, even getting some quality time to talk one on one with the girl of my dreams.  I returned home feeling pretty jazzed about the outing.  The euphoria, however, was short-lived.  Upon my next trip to the bathroom I looked in the mirror and discovered, to my horror, that the Pepto-Bismol had turned my lips bright pink all over.  Not just a little color around the corners of my mouth, but full on clown-faced pink lips.  Pink lips and no one says a word.  Numerous hours and conversations and not a single person was kind enough to point this out to me.

At the time I remember obsessing about the envisioned aftermath and how I was certain to be the target of everlasting jokes and insults for the remainder of my high school career.   It doesn’t take long though to realize that this type of embarrassment doesn’t last forever.  I could have faced far more embarrassing moments (and I have a few that I may or may not share), and a minor one such as this is quickly replaced by the next snafu that someone else will inevitably make.  Put in perspective the sting faded as summer rolled on.  In hindsight though, as a moment of my life, I wouldn’t give it up for the world.  Not only does it provide a great retrospective chuckle, but it was an instance of rare bravery that I am still proud of to this day.  That same introverted nature that would rather remove toenails then attract attention is not one to generally wade boldly into a crowd of people, friends or not.  This was an exception to be celebrated despite the outcome.  And so it is with many of our memories of embarrassing moments.  Each story offers insight into some significant aspect of ourselves.  Something we did.  Something we learned.  Something that changed.  If you removed every embarrassing thing you ever did in your life what would your past look like?

Another quote from Kaplan’s book is “Drama helps us dream about what we could be, but comedy helps us live with who we are.”  These memories keep us grounded by our imperfection and keep us hopeful from hardships endured.    Humor is vital for maintaining our happiness and keeping our sanity in a constantly crazy world.  So while we aspire to sophisticated greatness and unbridled bravery remember to smile at the painfully playful memories that made us who we are, bright pink lips and all.

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In Printed

I may not be a fan of New Years resolutions,  but it is a good time to dust off the ol’ bucket list.  One of the top items on my bucket list is to be credited both as writer and illustrator of my own published piece; likely a children’s book but who knows, illustrated spy dramas may become all the rage.  I’ve always thought that this would be the ultimate creative outlet for me despite what all publishers and submissions guidelines may say to the contrary.  They make it repeatedly clear that writers should steer clear of submitting artwork since they have their own collection of darling in-house artists to choose from.  To which I say “you’re not the boss of me.  I play by my own set of rules.  I write my own rulebook complete with illustrations drawn by yours truly.” To which they reply with resounding silence or a short, mildly polite rejection “Thank you for not following our submission guidelines.  Have a nice day”.

It would seem I need to be more professional in my approach.  I need to prove to them that I can offer value on both sides of the creative playing field.  I often wonder if they initially rejected the Wimpy Kid books because of submission guidelines or suggested Jeff Kinney’s clever stick drawings be redone by an in-house illustrator who previously specialized in cover art for trashy romance novels.  Now eleven books later with Mr. Kinney’s ability to essentially print money any time he needs a new boat, or a house in the Hamptons I’m pretty sure he’s given full creative freedom despite the fact that Greg and the rest of the crew bear no resemblance to Fabio or his bodice bosom counterparts.

Now a secondary bucket list item which is closely tied to the first is to read in print any reference to me or my creations with the phrase “wildly popular”.  There’s just something about that expression that tickles my sensibilities; “wildly popular”.  Not “mildly popular” or “really quite popular” but “wildly popular”.  It’s as if “scathing report” and “inflammatory remark” had a love child from an angry bout of make-up sex resulting in “wildly popular”.   I’m not sure if that’s better than going viral but it sounds a great deal more sanitary.

I am not under the delusion that everything I write or draw is solid gold masterworks worthy of worship.  This is still all a work in progress and the rants and ramblings contained herein are merely an exercise in creative expression.  My 5 views in a week is not “wildly popular” by any metric.  The ice cream man can achieve 5 followers by cruising the park on a mild spring day.  No, I may be just screaming into the void (which is slightly preferable to pissing into the wind and still more sanitary then going viral) but I can dream that one day the numbers will pick up and the small handful of views today will snowball into a wildly popular number,… like maybe 16 for instance.  And then, once I have my “wildly popular” blog to shove in the publishers’ faces they will have no choice but to bow to my demands and happily offer me a three book publishing deal for my series “Clifford the Big Red Spy Dog”.  Until that happens, I resolve for the New Year to either get at least one piece of fiction or two articles published by the end of the year,… or reach 16 followers, whichever comes first.

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Motivation

Someone asked me what my primary motivation in life was. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that directly. I know for some it’s as simple as faith. For others it can come from inspiration born of tragedy; an inner artistic voice that cries out to be free; a drive to be better than a sibling or to rise above the means of your parents. I don’t ththrowback_thursday1_largeink any of these really apply to me. It’s like I’m missing a compelling back story that would account for where I am today and lay out everything I have yet to accomplish.   The answer that I came up with is something more indirect. I love watching kids playing the games I’ve made or see people read comic strips I’ve drawn. At home this extends to just watching my kids thrive and be happy. Knowing that something I do can positively affect someone is the most satisfying motivation for me. Then I wonder, as I do about everything, is that enough? Is that a real motivation? How does that help me when I have no timelines or deadlines? I think I have trouble inspiring myself with the indirect motivation that maybe someone will someday see this something I’m spending hours on and appreciate my creation. It should be more internal shouldn’t it? Or maybe more transcendent? More inspired? More soulful? Like others with an artistic voice I should want to create simply for the sake of creating. The mere act of creation should bring me peace and joy. Nirvana. Lacking that how does one change their primary motivation,… or improve upon an existing one? Maybe I need to focus on the “positive affect” and keep that as a mantra whenever it comes time to draw. Maybe I need to find motivation to find a better motivation.

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The Path We Chose

I walk along the path at the edge of the park.throwback_thursday1_large

It is a day of spring warmed grass and flower scented breezes. Assorted couples and strangers gather in their favorite spots within the fields and wooded hills. Pleasant conversation giggles in the air adding warmth to the cuddle of sunlight.

But I walk along the path at the edge of the park.

It is a path like any other. It has direction and destination. Precisely paved walls stand in strong contrast to the rambling bushes and the vine-covered fences that encircle the park; Quiet isolation accented by chirps and peeps of creatures, who too prefer the solitude. Daily I make my way along this path, glimpsing full view of the beautiful park that lies beyond the walls. I often slow to consider the park; sipping in the green soaked air or sampling the tickle of warm reflections. On other occasions I notice it not at all, and pay little attention to where my feet take me. Such distractions can even lead me astray and point me in the direction of a different path; the path that leads into the heart of the park itself.

But I walk along the path at the edge of the park.

I share the same powder blue sky and drift of white clouds that they do. The playful wind that brushes their hair and sets their kites soaring is the same wind that ruffles the leaves at my feet. Yet doubt still holds firm that my experience is in some way filtered by the lacy shadows covering my path. I imagine the feel of the fields on my bare feet and the crush of grass against my napping body,… the cool damp earth soaking into my back, the fiery glow of sunlight dancing on my closed eyes.

But I walk along the path at the edge of the park.

It is a path I know well. I know its direction. I know its destination. I know it will not lead me astray. I know it will not lead me through the heart of the park itself. In my dreams however truer passions emerge. Temptation provokes thoughts of the heart itself. The beauty that I behold within the park makes promises to my soul. Each night I envision crossing over the threshold of the park and being consumed by a shiver of happiness. I see every wish my heart has held suddenly realized before me. Mixed with the intoxication of night’s romance my heart cannot help but swell with the possibilities my dreams offer. I embrace the clutch of emotions and nightly promise to seek out the possibilities and explore the park from within.

But I walk along the path at the edge of the park.

Daylight melts my resolve and reason replaces romance. I try to convince myself that dreams are best left in the slumbering shadows of night and that passionate expectations cannot be realized in the heart of a simple park. I start to believe that I cannot risk disappointment dissolving the inspiration I hold so dearly to; it is the untainted view of the park that enriches my daily walk along the path I have chosen. I reason that promises of a sweeter existence will forever keep me reaching for my dreams. I am convinced I am doing the right thing as another piece of my soul begins to wither.

And still I walk along the path at the edge of the park.

 

FIN.

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10 Sexy Secrets for Outside the Bedroom

No, not really. However in this age of blogging bloat this is the type of topic that gets most of the blogging buzz; pithy lists and scandalous secrets. The once Wild West of the internet, where you need only hang out your shingle, has become an overpopulated strip mall struggling against urban blight.

I’m certainly not the first to be lured by the promise of expressive freedom, putting my voice out there for all the digital world to hear. While this notion of blogging is quite romantic in theory, in practice the sad reality is the expressive freedom you signed up for is little more than a message in a bottle; perhaps some lonely soul in China will find it one day and use it to practice their English skills but more often than not entries will remain undiscovered and unread.   If you think about it the number of available blogs out there is staggering. The amount of content created over the course of a week is overwhelming. Even if one were to narrow down their search to specific blog topic or theme there’d still be thousands of posts to page through. There are blogs about moms, kittens and geeks. There are blogs about how to blog. Hell, I even typed in “robot monkey” at random and got three blog results!

Like any start up business the biggest challenge of blogging seems to be luring people through the virtual front door and then sufficiently dazzling them so that they’ll return again on their own volition. In addition to the more technical strategies involving meta tags, search rankings (SEO), and a robot monkey strike force sent to disable the competition, the majority of this task comes down to shameless self-promotion like posting links and references on Facebook, creating a buzz among friends and family, and joining the blog community, commenting on other people’s sites in hopes that they return the favor in kind; Anything you can do just to get your name out there and, as my friend suggested, be a good “net citizen” (sorry robot monkeys, maybe next time).

Originally publications would handle the battle for viewership and then we the writers would battle for a small slice of their printed page. Nowadays we may cheer for the liberation of removing the publisher as middle man until we realize this drops the hard fought battle for viewership squarely on our shoulders. And this battle is not like a new NBC comedy pilot hoping to win market shares over “The Big Bang Theory”, this more like Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl competing against the actual Super Bowl,… if the Puppy Bowl was reenacted with sock puppets, filmed on your iPhone 3 and posted to YouTube.   The other inherent problem with this new battlefield perspective is that it even if we “win” it becomes increasingly difficult to define success.

What is the measure of a successful blog? Is it the number of views on a post? The number of subscriptions? The number of comments? Do numbers even matter? Does a singer busking on the street corner count success by the coin drop or the one person that mindfully changes course to cross the singer’s corner each morning? If that singer filled a coffee house with fanatic fans would that be more meaningful? What if she filled a stadium?

I recently came across a post from one of the daddy blogs (full post here) that I was checking out as someone who’d “made it”. As an excellent example of “the grass is always greener” this post perfectly illustrated the potential side effects of my perceived success; trolls. These are not the fictional trolls of Tolkien that I could go on about in far too much nerdy detail, this is referring to the online rat bastards that are the polar opposite of good net citizens. These are the individuals that like to leave the literary equivalent of a flaming bag of poo in someone’s comment section only to delight in the resulting shit storm that’s unleashed. Now I should say that other than the comments I intentionally solicited, my current count for valid non-spam comments is exactly one. I would often comment about how much I wish I had more comments. To me it seemed like a decent measure of success to not only have someone read a post but to be moved enough to share their thoughts. Apparently that doesn’t hold true when the comments turn vile. In the beginning a writer has only to contend with his own internal voices of doubt, which are hard enough to filter out. Once we add an external voice of scathing criticism I would imagine it becomes more difficult to press on with confidence much less a glowing feeling of success.

I wrote once about internal motivations and about how true artists supposedly create art for “art’s sake”. This is not a motivation I can cling to. While I do like the process of creating something I know that this comes from the anticipation that someone with eventually see it and appreciate it if not fully enjoy it. Like the question of whether a tree will make a sound if no one is around to hear it, does a post hold any meaning if no one is around to enjoy it? I prefer the way another inspirational writer put it, stating that if we do not create “we are keeping our gifts from the world”. This works better for me probably due to the “Jewish mom guilt” vibe, but the principle is important. We do not create for the random troll who think flaming bags of poo is their gift to the world, we are creating for the people who are open to finding creative expression all around them and will appreciate what we produce. So while I’m still unsure how to measure any endgame success (though it will be telling to see how many hits a bogus title gets me), I will be content for now to continue tossing bottles into the virtual ocean and hoping that one is occasionally rescued.  People need something to read while they recover from the latest top ten sex secrets.

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