Monday, January 2, 2017

When it was 2016 it was a very _____ year.

Memes take an idea and turn it into an obsession.

The most prominent example currently would be "2016 was a horrible year". Although, most of the expressions of that thought have been a lot more extreme.

However, as I consider my own 2016 I know that it was not the horrible year that many people are making it out to be. Sure, a lot of celebrities died and for many of them I was hit in the feels. However, unlike their family, it did not have a major impact on my life. Just like the many other people who died in 2016 that I didn't hear about because they weren't famous. Their deaths did little to affect my life.

I don't mean to belittle their deaths. Those deaths impacted someone and John Donne's classic poem would have me believe that each loss diminishes mankind. However, did they have a strong negative effect on my well-being? No. For me, 2015 was far worse than 2016. In 2015 I lost two close family members. Those had far greater impact than all the celebrity deaths of 2016.

Look at the children. My children know little about the deaths of Gene Wilder, Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, or Prince. Why? I didn't tell them. I didn't tell them because I knew they wouldn't care. Their year was completely unaffected by the death of famous people. Shouldn't my year be the same way?

I mean, what are the important things that actually impacted my year? Can I judge the year by those? Yes, yes I can. I was healthy most of the year. I got to participate in my favorite hobby multiple times and had a blast doing so. My family was healthy. I was fed, I was clothed. I had friends who supported me in my goals. I actually achieved many goals.

All in all, 2016 was, for me, a good year. Not a great year, but definitely a good year.

I'm going into 2017 with a clear picture in my head. People are going to die. More celebrities will pass away. It happens. It will be heartbreaking. Things will happen in politics that I won't agree with. There will be sickness. There will be hard times. There will be laughter. There will be health. There will be family. There will be love.

I'm under no illusion that 2017 has to be better than 2016. I don't know what it will hold. There are bad times on the horizon. There always are. However, my 2017 won't be judged by those moments. It will be judged by all the happy moments in between. I'm hoping to make a lot of them. I have a lot of goals after all.

So Happy New Year everyone!

And my condolences to everyone who lost someone important to them in 2016.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Personal Growth

I struggle, like many people, with maintaining long term change. My wife is a wonderful example of long term change. This year she stopped drinking Pepsi. It was difficult for her. Really difficult. Yesterday, she impressed me when she admitted she finally felt like she was done drinking soda.

I am proud of her.

I am less proud of myself. Stepping on a scale recently I discovered I had gained ten pounds. My scale is old, electronic, and unreliable. I couldn't believe my new high weight was 10 pounds over my old high weight. I wanted to believe that my unreliable scale was being unreliable. However, I couldn't deny the fact that my dress pants no longer fit. My wife tells me to buy new pants. I want the old pants to fit. It's time to lose the weight.

It is important I start with a few key statements. My weight loss goal is not about me trying to match a visual image that society says is appealing. It is about health. I want to maintain numbers that research suggests lead to a longer more active life. Those are two things I want. Live longer. Be active.

More immediately, I want to increase my stamina so I can exert myself for longer periods without feeling out of breath. A few weeks ago I played a couple of games of Ultimate Frisbee. I had an immense about of fun. I was also unable to keep up the pace that I wanted to. After a few minutes I was slowing down to a walk and letting my teammates do the legwork. I wish I hadn't had to do that. It will also help me with theatre. Being able to sing and dance at the same time is a valuable ability.

This is not the first time I have attempted to lose some weight and get in better shape. Obviously, previous attempts haven't been entirely successful. Why? I have a problem. On new projects I push myself too hard, burn out quickly, and end projects prematurely before there is lasting change. I want things to be different this time. A different ending requires a different beginning.

There are two things I am doing differently. First, I am keeping a detailed record of my progress. My wife used a calendar pinned on the bedroom wall to mark each day she went without soda. It is now in her bullet journal. I am copying that. I don't have a bullet journal and I was too lazy (not an auspicious beginning) to print my own calendar pages. Instead, I am using the existing Chick-Fil-A calendar we have in the kitchen.

Each day I will write down the basic exercises I did that day including how many of each I did. On Sunday mornings I will weigh myself and mark that down on the calendar as well. Also, I will try on my dress pants. That's not getting recorded on the calendar.

Second, I am starting slow. On August 13th I did 10 push-ups. Then I marked it on the calendar. I could have done more. I chose not to. Slow beginnings. I took Sunday off. I don't work out on Sunday's except for the occasional casual stroll. I marked that on the calendar too.

The real work began on Monday, August 15th. I did 10 push-ups first thing in the morning. Then I marked it on the calendar. I kept that up every day of Week One. Then I reached Saturday. Saturday's are different.

The thing is slow starts are well and good to get you back in the habit of physical activity, but grow requires going a little farther. Humans, in general, can do more than we think we are capable off. My Saturday routine is based off of ideas from this video. Saturday is the day I push myself.

I do not go to the Navy Seal extreme. It is not the day I do 100 pull-ups. There is no goal to be military ready. I am not going crazy, but each Saturday I do more than I did the other days of the week. I push myself a little farther. Then I write it down, and I total up my activity. The first Saturday I did 19 push-ups instead of 10. If you're counting that is 69 push-ups total.

That was Week 1. Each new week has two goals. 1. Add. 2. Increase.

1. Add

Each week I add a new exercise. Week 2 I added sit-ups (20). I was enthusiastic so I added jumping jacks (30) as well. Week 3 I added pull-ups (2). That's not a typo. This week I have added hanging forward knee tucks (10). I still need to add stretching into the routine and wish I had done it earlier. I am not sure what I will add after that. Planks are a possibility or pike position leg lifts. Burpees will never be a possibility.

I managing these additional exercises by not doing them all at once. I do them throughout the day, making opportunities as needed. Push-ups are first thing in the morning immediately after rolling out of bed. Pull-ups shortly after. Jumping jacks are generally in the afternoon. Sit-ups are usually the last exercise I do. That, of course, is risky because it means they are the exercise most likely to be skipped. However, keeping a written record is a great incentive to not miss a day (I missed one day).

The benefit of this method is that I don't have to set aside a portion of my day for exercise. Two minutes are easier to come by than an uninterrupted half hour or more. Also, it keeps my body active throughout the day. This is helpful when I sit for long periods of time. I have read some articles that say this helps the body burn more calories throughout the day. If that's true maybe those pants will fit sooner than I had hoped.

2. Increase

Each week I increase the number of reps I do for each exercise. Push-ups have risen from 10-->15-->20-->21. I will continue to increase push-ups by one each week until I reach 30 push-ups. Then I might add sets. We'll see. Sit-ups, jumping jacks, and pull-ups have all similarly increased. Pull-ups went to a whopping three!

As a last note, except on rare occasions I do not note my outdoor activities (walking, inline skating, swimming, etc.). I don't completely know why I don't include these. Most likely I don't want to take the effort to quantify them. Do I note how long I walked/skated/swam? How far? Mostly, I don't care. Walking has never been a problem. I like to walk. So, I don't track it.

I don't expect to increase and add for forever. Eventually I will run out of exercises I can easily do around the house. At that point I'll stop adding. I won't increase forever either. Eventually I'll hit a point where I am highly satisfied with how much I am doing to keep in shape. Then I'll strive to maintain that.

That is my plan. I will try and keep you updated on how well it is working.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

I met a man

Somewhen during the nebulous time between Friday and Saturday I met a man. I did not learn his name; it never seemed important. I know almost nothing about him, even after I had the chance to spend several hours in his presence. Let me tell you what I remember.

He was a large man, easily six feet with some inches to spare, and a soldier's physique. His head was covered in rough black hair. It's texture and color was more memorable than it's style, as I struggle to recall whether he kept it short or wore it long. I do remember that he had the same coarse black hair on his face, forming a neatly trimmed beard except on his cheeks. Like me.

If I had to guess, I would say he was in his late 40's or more likely his early 50's. Like his name I did not ask. It never seemed important.

This man was not a kind man. He was not a cruel man. He was quick with a sarcastic comment or a cutting truth, and he often had jokes that were more crude than funny. I feel that he tolerated my presence, but did not welcome it. The feeling was mutual. I was not there by choice.

Our early time together has been quickly forgotten, that is how little impact it had on me. I could not tell you where we met or why. It never seemed important. Our last moments were spent driving to a destination he would not tell me. It was a secret. We rode in his truck. He had given me the opportunity to drive his other truck with trailer attached. I declined, too scared to drive an unknown road alone. He almost left while I was making my decision, and at the last second I climbed aboard his truck and settled into the back seat. The trailer was left behind.

The front passenger seat was occupied by the man's wife. I caught a glimpse of her, but we didn't speak a single word to each other. She never acknowledged my presence; I never acknowledged hers. That is all the attention I paid her. It never seemed important. The man steered his truck effortlessly. We did not ride the paved highways. He took us through bumpy fields, unerringly finding passageways through fences and forests, changing his course only when we passed through a gate and entered a new field. Then he would adjust our course directly to the next gate on our journey.

Inside I worried about the damage we were doing to the fields and how the landowner's felt about our presence on their property. We never saw anyone. Out loud I asked how he found this back way to our destination. He answered, but his words eluded me and I never discovered the origins of his shortcut. I imagined that it took countless trips exploring the boundaries of grains and greenery until he found the way from each field to the next.

We reached our final destination. A small gravel covered clearing amidst a ring of trees. The only sign of civilization was the transmission tower at the clearings edge that carried power lines away from us in both directions. The man immediately began preparing food to the hungry masses; he promised they would arrive. The location seemed an unlikely one for a random visit; I never doubted him. As he worked others arrived and set up their trucks as well and began their own preparations. As he worked the man told me of all the foods he could supply if he had his truck and trailer. However, without his trailer things were different. He could still serve food, but the menu would be limited. Nevertheless, they would manage. Despite these words, I could hear his disappointment in me and I was disappointed in myself.

About this time the somewhen became more solidly Saturday and my deep sleep became half-sleep. My waking mind had the realization that the dream was ending. This was a familiar experience. However, this time it was accompanied by another feeling. I realized that when I woke up the man would disappear. He would ceased to exist. His life, such as it was, would end forever. And I felt sad.

I felt sad for the loss of a man who had shown me no special kindness and done me no favors. I felt sad for the loss of a man who had little to recommend himself to me or others. I felt sad because he would disappear and I was the only one who had ever known him.

I am still unsure how I managed it, dreams our not ours to control, but I forced myself back into sleep and continued with this man a little longer, giving him life for a few precious minutes, and enjoying his company until I inevitably woke. The dream and the man ended.

He was not real; he was a creation of my mind. In the full light of day the ending of the dream was not such a major loss. It shouldn't have seemed important, but it was important. Important enough that I felt the need to share this story. I have no grand meaning that I want to tell you. No message, no moral. Take from my experience what you will. If you take nothing, I will not be offended. The experience was mine, not yours.

I will not spend my days grieving for the dream man, or hoping that I dream of him again. There are more important things to occupy my mind. But I will remember him for a while. Most importantly, I will remember the feeling of loss I had once upon a dream.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Day in the Kitchen

At times it is difficult to focus on the positive. I want to be positive, but I have all these rants burning inside me. I want to rant.

I will refrain. Instead of venting my frustrations with yardwork I will write about my day. Today was spent cooking. So here is a journal of my day by food.

1. The morning meal was breakfast burritoes. My family doesn't usually do big breakfasts, but we made an exception on Sunday's this year because our church schedule interferes with lunch. A big breakfast helps to compensate for that and carry the children through.

Breakfast burritoes consisted of eggs, bacon, cheese, Cholula hot sauce, and tortillas. When I was a child (and into college) I would cook with pre-cooked flour tortillas. However, several years ago my wife discovered raw flour tortillas. You just peel them apart and throw them on to a hot pan. They are fantastic. Usually our burritoes would include fried potatoes, but our spuds were not in good shape. Also, I always forget the potatoes.

2. Ale rolls. This is one of the many recipes from my new baking book. I have been meaning to make this recipe for a while, but I don't drink and the recipe calls for a good ale. I asked some friends in the past and finally got around to purchasing a bottle. I went with Newcastle.

My daughter watched Kid's Baking Championship last night. Now she wants to be a baker. I had her help me with this, talking her through my limited baking knowledge as we worked. She helped gather the ingredients and put them in the bowl. However, she didn't like how it felt on her hands and went to eat instead of kneading.

I have to say that the ale stinks. There's definitely a reason I don't drink. When the bread rolls were baking my wife said it made the house smell like a brewery. I don't know if that is true; I've never been to a brewery. However, the entire house did smell like the ale for the first few minutes of cooking.

My daughter did come back for punching the dough down (she was looking forward to it) and my wife helped teach her to shape them. The end product was a roll with a crusty outside and a soft inside. The rolls were good, but the ale didn't add any noticeable taste. For me that's a bad thing. A special ingredient should have had a more noticeable impact. I won't be making them again. I have better options available.

3. Oatmeal cookies. On a shopping trip recently I bought some Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies. Disappointing. I guess your taste buds can't go back to childhood. That experience lead me to make my own oatmeal cookies.

Again, I enlisted my daughter's aid. I had intended to have her make them herself, while I watched. I have trouble letting go off control in he kitchen. However, she did make a good portion of them so that is a victory for both of us.

Since I hadn't planned on making these today I wasn't ready with ingredients. I found a recipe promising me the chewy cookies I desired and started making them. However, I soon found that we didn't have enough brown sugar. And I learned that I can adapt. I've been making cookies and other things enough that I changed sugar types and amounts without blinking.

Then as my daughter was adding the vanilla we discovered we had a fraction of the of the vanilla needed. I almost decided to just forgo the vanilla, but double-checked the pantry in case we had more. We didn't. However, we did have Almond Extract. I grabbed it and after both my daughter and I gave it a sniff we approved it for the dough. A taste a moment later indicated I made the correct choice. It blended perfectly.

We finished the dough and then I talked to my daughter about mix-ins, trying to teach her that this is where you make recipes your own. My wife and I were trying to steer her toward cranberry walnut, but she chose raisin walnut. Also, the other half batch was chocolate chip because apparently today is chocolate chip cookie day.

My wife agreed. The Almond Extract was the right choice and the sugar changes worked out well. The cookies were fantastic and I think I have the first recipe that is mine. True, it is an adaptation of someone's recipe, but it is so similar to so many cookie recipes out there I don't mind.

4. Pork tenderloin. Ending my day grilling makes me happy. The biggest problem was the length of the tenderloins. It made it hard to get the ends cooked evenly with the middle. I was satisfied with the end result and now there is extra tenderloin for lunches.

I think the two main takeaways to today are this:

A. I am becoming a capable, adaptable cook. I can adapt recipes and cook without them if I need to. My understanding of food has increased dramatically over the last decade.

B. I have control issues in the kitchen. Serious control issues. I would rather be alone in the kitchen than working with others. That is something for me to work on, because if my daughter's reaction is anything to go on I'll be working with people in the kitchen for a long time to come.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

What Friends Are For

On Friday, 22 April 2016 I sat down with a group of friends. We were upstairs in the rehearsal room of the Orpheum Theatre. I was setting up chairs while my friends arrived. There were five of them, who haven't given me permission to mention them in this post, so they shall remain anonymous. Three males, one who described himself as barely conscious, and two females were gathered to do me a huge favor.

They were there to read my stage play to me.

My friends are saints. They volunteered time out of their busy schedule to support me in one of my endeavors. The quintet showed no reservation, which is remarkable. Multiple of them later confessed that they had some concerns, but they had the good grace not to mention them beforehand. Their concerns were understandable. I've read amateur literature before. It can be painful. Incredibly painful. They were aware of that.

What made it worse for them is that they weren't going to be reading it in the privacy of their own homes where they could read at their own pace or even give up if it became too much. They weren't going to have time to consider their responses and script a response to spare my feelings. No, they were going to be reading it to my face. They were going to have my full attention.

A lot of pressure.

They showed up anyway. As a thank you I brought them water, Oreo cookies, M&M candies, and Cheez-It Crackers. I actually felt bad about that. I prefer to reward people with homemade food. My Friday was incredibly busy though. Work, library, vocal practice. There was probably something else I've already forgotten. End result, no time for homemade deliciousness.

Let me be honest, my friends tackled my play with enthusiasm. They laughed as they read it. At times because the work was humorous (even though I hadn't intentionally written in humor). At other times they laughed at phrases I had used. It wasn't malicious laughter, but it still let me know where the language needed to be tweaked.

It wasn't near as painful as I thought it was going to be. It wasn't perfect. The dialogue was wooden in several places, especially for one of the characters and it had nothing to do with my friend's acting ability.

Here's the kicker though. After they finished reading the play they began discussing it. As a matter of course, I made them discuss it while I listened as a non-participant. There conversation was fascinating. Thrilling. They talked about the character's and their motivations. They discussed parts that they loved. They argued about it.

My friend's saw depth in the characters that I hadn't intended, but I knew I could build upon. Their enthusiasm could not be faked. They had risked their evening to read my work and it had not been the painful experience it could have been.

It was even more enjoyable when I joined the conversation. I would talk about the characters and they would disagree with me. My work was taking on a life of its own in their heads. It was the type of analysis that I used to have in college classes about great works of literature. And we were having it about something I had created. Then the evening was over and we bid each other goodbye, with many of them looking forward to what would happen next.

The reason I am writing this post is this: That night was the most life-affirming moment of my life. I want to be a writer. I do. But I don't want to be just another amateur writing amateurish prose that will never see the light of day. I want to be a success. That night, I realized I could. I have the ability, all I need is to put in the time.

That night I was so happy. I barely slept because I was already revising in my head. I was planning the next steps. My friends had given me that excitement.

And that's what friends are for.




P.S.--The next steps are these:

1. Revise. I'm almost through revising Act 2. At this pace it will take me five weeks total to complete the revision. Hopefully I'll be done by May 31st. However, I know that this revision includes substantial expansion to the last scene, adding a new scene in the middle of the show, and then adjusting the rest of the scenes to accommodate the new information. Plus, I'm adding depth to two of the characters. Lot of work, while still trying to keep all the qualities of the first draft that made my friends fall in love with the piece (and yes, many of them confessed to loving the piece). Joygasm!
2. Second stage of feedback. This won't be a reading. I will be sending the new version of the script to the people who were at the reading, along with a select group of other people. They'll send me feedback directly. Okay, I might do another reading, but probably not.
3. Revise, again. Hopefully this will be a shorter revision as I'll be dealing with smaller issues. Hopefully.
4. The big part! Convince my friends to actually stage the show as a Work-In-Progress. Invite a small audience to come see it, discuss it, and provide me with feedback. Scary, but probably quite insightful for me.
5. Revise again.
6. Shop it. There's a writing contest in August I want to have it ready for. I hope it is, but it's tall order. We'll see what happens.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Progress

I have been making progress in my writing. I will not list the areas of my life where I am not making progress. That would just be depressing. Writing though! There is progress there.

The biggest bit of progress is that I finished my second first draft of the play I am writing. No, that was not a typo. It really does say second first draft.

Why?

I can write on the computer. In fact, the novel that I am supposed to be finishing was written on the computer. However, the play's format made writing directly on the computer obnoxious. It was time consuming. Instead, I chose to write it in a black notebook by hand. The upside was that I didn't need to worry about format. In fact, I actually wrote in long strings with out any spaces between. That included character names, stage directions, dialogue. Just all running together. It was a good way to save paper! The second upside was that I could write anywhere and know exactly where I was picking up from. And all my notes were there too. Super convenient. I have these black notebooks now for all my current writing projects, four in total plus a book for general writing exercises and brainstorming.

Long story longer: My first draft was finished in the notebook. Then, I copied it from the notebook to the computer. It was a time consuming process and not a lot of fun. Fortunately, I finished the hand-written portion just before Spring Break. When I transcribed it from the notebook to the computer I also made changes. There were a lot of major changes, but there were still changes. So, my first first draft was in the notebook. The changes I made aren't really big enough to warrant calling the electronic file a second draft, so instead it is my second first draft.

Moving on. I submitted my play to several friends who I trust to give me good feedback, including my father. He turned around and gave me feedback the next day. He echoed some advice I had received from several people: do a reading so you can hear it in other people's voices. I just happen to have some people I've worked with who had said the same thing AND said they wanted to help. So I contacted them.

After a few more contacts and conversation I have a reading of one of my written works this Friday. It will just be the small group, no audience. But it's exciting. I'll take my little black notebook and just listen and take notes. It's a major step towards my success as a writer and it makes me grateful to know such wonderful people. I am also beginning to realize that writing is a double-side coin. The writing itself is often a solitary activity. You write alone. However, the success of my work is dependent upon the people I can get to work with me to make it better.

It's nice to have something to look forward to at the start of a new week.

And that's progress.



















Sunday, January 31, 2016

Christmas Carols

I think I get it. I mean, like most people, I want to assume that I get it. However, I don't really "get" it. Why do people have such a problem with Christmas Carols? I love Christmas carols, especially the old classics. It is one of my favorite things about the winter season.

I know I'm not the only one who loves Christmas carols, so it surprises me when people start complaining about how early Christmas carols are getting played and how quickly they tire of them. This year I was cast in "A Christmas Carol". It put me in the holiday spirit fairly early so I started to listen to Christmas carols a few weeks earlier than I might have otherwise (we're talking about before Thanksgiving). It made me happy. Other people, not so much.

It seems that most people want their Christmas carols for a limited time or they will become "sick of them." This confuses me, because they can listen to the same inane, generic pop songs on their playlist over and over for twelve months of the year. Give them anything approaching a full month of Christmas carols and they start to go insane as if they are being put upon. It just doesn't make sense to me.

But it does. And so here is what I think is going on. There are two issues at stake.

1. When Christmas carols first start playing people begin to think of the stress of holiday shopping. It's an early reminder of the increasing commercialization of the holiday. People don't really object to the music, they object to how the pressures of Christmas are reaching back earlier and earlier in the year. This is also why Christmas music becomes more enjoyable (for some) as Christmas approaches. As they get into the spirit of giving, get their shopping done, and decrease their stress the Christmas music is less threatening and more reminiscent of the positive emotions of the season.

2. Christmas is something to look forward to when the days are getting shorter and colder. Christmas carols help remind us of that. It's a comfort. However, after Christmas is over the weather is still cold, the days are still dark, and the Christmas carols are now reminding us of a day that has gone by, not one that is rapidly approaching. Christmas carols become associated with the cold and the snow. That's depressing for many people. So what do they do? Wish the Christmas carols would go away.

There might be other reasons. There's also the reasons we tell ourselves when we're hiding from the truth. I don't have all the answers. I just know I love Christmas music. In December or May, it doesn't matter. And I hope that maybe someday you'll learn to love it that much too.