Tuesday, March 29, 2016

I'm Told It's Like Riding a Bike

I'm beginning to fear that I have forgotten how to write. Something is different. I have spent the last couple of weeks prepping for the A to Z Challenge and pre-writing many of the posts. I have also spent considerable amount of time reading many of my older posts and there is a significant difference between my writing today and the writing I was doing as recently as two years ago.

The humor and sarcasm just isn't coming to me as easily as it did before. My writing feels flat and I'm not sure what to do about it. I have been compiling the book that I want to write this year and have the entire story worked out, but don't want to start the writing until I feel that I have regained that snarky voice that I used to have. I thought that, maybe, I was just out of practice, but I'm beginning to wonder if it's something more. So, I have made a list of things that have changed since I last appreciated the results of my writing.
  • I have moved from Illinois to Indiana.
  • My kids have moved out.
  • I have gotten married.
  • I got a vasectomy.
 Let's examine these separately.

I have moved from Illinois to Indiana. To people outside of the Midwest, it may seem like the Midwest is the Midwest and there really isn't any difference. From Nebraska to Ohio, it's all the same. Well, you could not be more wrong. Well, I guess you "could" be more wrong. If you said eating a dog turd was no different than flying a helicopter that would definitely be more wrong. So, let's just say that your way of thinking is does not align with the facts. You cannot honestly compare a small farming town with inner city Chicago or Cleveland (you really shouldn't compare anything with Cleveland). The personality of the big cities aren't even the same. Davenport, Iowa is nothing like Cincinnati, Ohio. Louisville, Kentucky is considered the 8th largest cultural center in the country. Bet you didn't know that. Omaha has nothing in common with Chicago…and Illinois and Indiana are not the same.

For instance, while Indiana has its issues, Illinois is in a class almost by itself. Do a Google search for the most corrupt states in the country and Illinois is always in the top five. Several polls rank Illinois at the second most corrupt. Usually beaten out only by Arizona. Yes, I was born and raised in the state that had to put 4 out of its last 7 governors in prison. My home state. And I saw it in my county and town as well.

With all this cheating and lying being displayed by my trusted leaders, it's no wonder sarcasm and talking out the side of my mouth came naturally to me. However, now I live in Indiana which has become known as the bigot state since I have moved here. This is thanks to the RFRA Law which was passed last year. Whether someone is for or against this law, the arguments on each side have been blown way out of proportion and it has become one of those issues that causes many people to just avoid discussions about it. Regardless of your stance, a public expression of your opinion will bring a storm of vitriolic condemnation your direction. So, maybe I'm not as loose with my lips fingers as I used to be.

I also went from small town living to living in the big city. Indianapolis is the 13th largest city in the country with over 850,000 people. Since I grew up in the country outside of a town of about 700, that takes some getting used to. It's taking much longer to learn everyone's names than I expected.

Next, my kids have moved out. This is a significant life change. So many of the blog posts I wrote centered around my kids. Plus, they kept me on my toes. They didn't just give me things to write about, they drove me crazy. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. My mind had to be sharp to keep up and make sure they didn't get away with anything. However, I am much better rested now. No more staying up late wondering where they are and coming up with schemes to make their lives miserable. I'll bet they miss me.

I have gotten married. Now, this is a huge life change. I actually met my wife through this blog and every step of our meeting and dating process can be found in some of my earlier posts. However, once we lived in the same state, my writing really slowed down and once we got married, I only posted 5 times in the entire next year. FIVE TIMES! This is from a guy who posted every single day for 3 months straight.
Now, getting married may have slowed me down, but I doubt it it what removed the humor. My wife and I spend a lot of time laughing and the jokes never seem to stop coming. I just wasn't writing for a while. She also sees to it that I get out of the house now and then to have an adventure. I've seen and experienced plenty of things worth writing about.

Last, I got a vasectomy. I actually paid someone to take a scalpel and cut into my ball-sack and root around in there. This was a less than pleasant experience, but it didn't last very long. I was soon back up on my feet, but this was also during the time when I wasn't writing and I wonder if that may have been the moment that something left me.

I know that I am now sterile, but could it be in more way than one? Could he have snipped a nerve that contributes to my funny? Where did my funny even come from? I've heard it said many times that men can only think with their penis. If that's true, it's very possible that this surgery severed the route to my typing fingers and changed everything. The Road to Gonad has been permanently closed.

I feel like I'm on to something, but it will take a little experimentation to test this theory. Stay Tuned.

Monday, March 21, 2016

A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal

I have decided this year to take on a monumental task I have only done once before. I will be participating in the A to Z Challenge on my blog. I last did this in 2013 and (although challenging) I loved it. Plus, it really stretches you as a writer. It forces you to not only come up with content, but you have to write even when you don't feel like it if you plan to complete the challenge.

Basically, the challenge is to post every day in the month of April (except Sundays) with a letter corresponding to the day.

Today, March 21, is intended to be the Theme Reveal day for the challenge and I had to put a lot of thought into this. A few years ago, my blog had many more followers and an impressive amount of daily traffic, but my life took a change and my writing dropped off drastically. I even went almost an entire year without a single post and my fan base dwindled almost as low as Jared Fogle's. I have only started writing again this year and am hoping to start winning my readers back.

I've noticed as I write now that my writing quality has diminished since I have been out of practice. On the other hand, my eating skills have grown to a monumentally impressive level. Writing just doesn't come as easy and since I am planning to write my first book this year, I need to get it back up to where it was. This challenge will keep me on task to make sure I build the writing habit back up again and with my hands busy on the keyboard, they have less time to push doughnuts into my face. This is what guided my choice of theme for the month of April.

My theme is going to center around my favorite topic: ME!

Each day will be a quality that reveals part of who I am. Since I hope to be getting new readers with this challenge and am rebuilding my blogging base, this will be a way to introduce people to the author of this blog. I'm excited to get started.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

It's About Time

I am finally jumping on a task that I have intended to do for years, but for some reason never started. I'm writing a book. A real book with plot, characters and maybe even a conflict or two. I'm finally going to do it. It is #4 on my Bucket List and I probably need to cross something off of it now and then.

One of the many problems with taking on a task of this size is the knowledge that I have never done this before and have no idea what I am doing. When I first started a few weeks ago, all I had was a yearning to finally write a book.
OK. I believe that is step one.  

Unfortunately, I really didn't know what I wanted to write. Over the years, I always thought that when I wrote a book, it would be a collection of stories from my childhood. I have hundreds of stories that would be fun to tell, but that would really just be my blog in book form. I needed a story.
I decided I was going to tackle fiction. That's another step accomplished.  

Obviously, at this rate I wasn't going to get anywhere. So, I really started to spend some time with this. I know I can tell a story well. I've gotten lots of feedback from my blog posts, I just need a longer story. Then, one night lying in bed, it hit me. There is a genre that I am intimately familiar with. I love movies, TV shows and books about the topic. I really think I could give it my own twist. I immediately jumped out of bed to jot down a few ideas. I crashed into the dresser first, but once I stopped the bleeding and convinced my wife I hadn't just been attacked, I jotted down the ideas.

The next day at work, I started building the world of my book in my mind. I even paused now and then to write down some things I didn't want to forget. Since I am a humor writer, the ideas for jokes are coming to me faster than actual plot points. In the world I have created, I can see all sorts of scenarios where the jokes will come easy and I want to include them in the book, but I have no idea yet what the plot will be to make these scenarios happen.

So, I called up a high school friend Jessica Patch, who is now a successful published author and all-around good person, to pick her brain a little. I mainly wanted to know a little about her process. When do you actually start writing? Do you have the whole plot worked out before you start crafting the story? Do you need to know who all your characters already are or can the back story develop in your mind as you're writing? Is this much crying normal? How do you get melted cheese out of your keyboard?

Jessica graciously and expertly shared the answers to all my questions and gave me tips about lots of information I hadn't even considered yet. She recommended a couple of books to help me shape my story structure and offered to be of any future assistance. It was a very productive phone call.

The next day, I couldn't even concentrate on work. The ideas just started flowing. I now know my main characters. I know their families and coworkers and the plot is starting to come together. I can actually see the layout of the small town where this takes place and have begun having conversations with several of the characters in my head. It's exciting and also a little creepy. I have this fictitious existence floating around in my brain that I keep finding myself escaping to. That phone call with Jessica just opened up something in my head.

Now, I feel like it's time to start writing. I just need to break it to my wife that I will be moving south to stay with Jessica's family until the book is completed.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

They're My ME-COLORED Glasses

My wife and I watched an amazing movie a few nights ago and I cannot recommend it enough. The movie "Room" is based on the book of the same name by Emma Donoghue. It wonderfully captures the impact of imagination, sacrifice, human resilience and love.

I'm going to try to do this without giving away any spoilers.
Room tells the story of 5 year old Jack, a boy who was born inside a tiny room and has never been outside of it. He has a television, but has no real concept of the world. He has only interacted with his mother, who has been a prisoner in this room for the last seven years.

Jack is the narrator of the story and the author did an amazing job of showing how Jack views "the world." He doesn't really understand that there is anything outside of the room. Even with his television, he has trouble understanding the concepts of real versus pretend. Many children of his age struggle with this, but he has bigger obstacles to overcome. He often gets angry when his mother tries to explain things to him, because he has no real-world experience to base anything on.

However, the real story is not inside the room. It's all about what happens once they get out. Watching Jack experience the world for the first time. Seeing him struggle with seeing things in three-dimensions that he had only seen on television before. Learning how to interact with other people. Seeing how his imagination is different from other children his age.

However, the scene that keeps replaying in my mind Jack wasn't even in. It revolved around his mother. A person asks her a question about why she made one of the choices that she made while captive. This question made me angry for the mother. It was a legitimate question. I can understand why someone would wonder, but it was asked with a judging tone. All I could think was, "Lady, you weren't there?" She made the best decisions that she could based upon the situation she was in and the knowledge that she had.

I can't help but apply this to real life. How many times have I looked at someone and thought "how could they?"

People's actions, attitudes and words are very, very rarely dictated solely by the circumstances of the present moment. When I see someone doing something that I disagree with, I am only seeing it through my perspective, based on my knowledge, through the lens of my background and experiences, and using my culture, family upbringing and traditions to color how I perceive the situation. We all do this.

I'm not suggesting that there is no right and wrong and that it is all relative, but I am saying that we need to give each other a lot more benefit of the doubt. In the movie, people would often get frustrated with Jack when he would not respond to things in an "appropriate" manner, but there was a very good reason for his behaviors.

When I was teaching, I had a very disruptive student. He was not mean, he was just very loud and seemed to have no concept of other's feelings or taking turns. It was difficult to work with him. Later, I met his family and quickly understood why he did the things he did. It's all he knew. He wasn't being mean or even rude. He was acting in the way that had been modeled for him since birth. He had no idea that his behavior was inappropriate. Just having this perspective made my job easier and I was able to be more understanding with him and help him to adjust to life outside of his home.

These issues don't just occur with "problem" situations. Sometimes, it may be a cultural difference. The Chinese consider looking into the eyes of a person to be extremely rude. In the U.S., we are taught that not looking into the eyes of the person you are talking to is rude. So, often when people of these cultures meet, they think we are being too assertive and we think they aren't paying attention and both sides consider the other rude.

The reason my ex-mother-in-law was so scared of everything was because she was raised by a woman whose father was the chief of police at a very dangerous time and took down a major criminal. Their household received death threats all the time and they lived under fear of arson, kidnapping, and murder. Her fear was learned from a very young age. Other people just deciding that she is a chicken creates barriers instead of relationships.

The complexities of human behavior can not usually be broken down very simply, but we could all try to be a little more understanding. When a person is in disagreement with you (or me) about how to do something, it doesn't mean they're stupid. It just means they have a different mindset and bank of past experiences. We can even apply this to the political process of today.

Regardless of how you feel about any of the candidates running for president, it is not true that all of the followers of __________ are morons. It doesn't mean they are racists, socialists, hate-filled, naive, feminists, or any other labels we may want to apply to them. It just means that they see some qualities in the candidate that ring true for them because of their view of the world.

We are never going to agree with anyone 100% of the time, but we can choose how we react to disagreements and how we treat other people. Maybe if we spent a little more time working on relationships, the world would make more sense. The more we get to know and understand others, the wider our perspective becomes.

Friday, March 11, 2016

At Least I'm Gaining Wisdom

If you think that's bad, you should see Jambi
I love those lists that are designed to make you feel old. The ones that tell you how long it has been since something significant happened. For example, everyone knows that Fuller House is on Netflix now, but did you know it has been 21 years since the last episode of Full House? I mean, the Olson twins are 29 years old now. That's crazy.

January 28, 2016 marked thirty years since the Challenger exploded. Michael Jackson's hair caught on fire all the way back in 1984. It's reminders like this that give credence to the saying 'Time flies'. I am halfway through my forties and remember high school like I just left there this morning. Of course, trauma will do that to a person.

With time flying along at breakneck speed, it is not uncommon for someone to occasionally discover that their entire life resembles the opening scene from the movie Up. It just flies by and suddenly you are much older. And getting older has plenty of new adventures (besides wrinkles and devout attention to lawn serenity) that come along with it.

Now, I don't mind getting older. Wrinkles don't bother me and I welcome graying hair. I've never really been one of the cool kids, so I'm not at all concerned with being considered un-hip by the younger generation, but there is one part I could do without.

I am in pain all the time!

Why does everything hurt? Different pains come and go, but I am never completely pain free. I have two bad shoulders that I've been told will eventually have to have surgery. When one of them is acting up, I can't lift my arm without horrible stabbing pain through half my body. I am getting arthritis everywhere. Not just my hands, but everywhere. Today, I can't make a fist with my left hand. It won't close. For three days this week, I couldn't turn my head to the left. Earlier this week, I shot awake in the middle of the night because it felt like an Asian ceremonial elephant carrying a wedding party had stepped on my knee. It came out of nowhere and my knee was swollen for two days.
My ankle will swell up and get bruised for no reason. I've thrown out my back opening the refrigerator door and I once pulled a muscle in my neck while I was flossing. I need about 10 minutes notice before I get out of bed to give my body time to psych itself up and my legs fall asleep 15 seconds after sitting on the toilet.  I have no idea what is going on, but think it is all tied to my age.
Add these aches and pains to the fact that I have a fairly physical job and I can't help but laugh at how broken I feel. I remember the good old days when I could break my leg jumping out of a moving car and it would be healed before dinner that night. Today, a paper cut is almost guaranteed an infection and will fester up to look like a gunshot wound before I can get it under control.

Sleeping pills combined with painkillers have become my favorite after dinner snack to help me get through the nights and I am beginning to have an opinion on the controversial medical marijuana issue. I don't know what all it's supposed to be good for, but if it would help with all these pains, let's light 'em up. Hopefully, there will be a delivery service within the next few years like there is for pizza.