Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Fury At Flip Flops In February

Tuesday afternoon in Central New York was delightfully glorious. Okay, maybe glorious is too strong a word, but sunny and in the high forties at the end of February is always a bonus. Being so nice out, my kids wanted to play outside, so I pulled a chair out on the porch and let them play while I read. Normally, I'd try to write because I do some of my best work in the fresh air, but today I decided to read instead. At one point my son announced that someone was coming down the street and they were on a hoverboard. I looked up in hopes that it was an actual hoverboard and was disappointed to see that it was a mother, son and dog walking down the street. I was crestfallen that it wasn't a real hoverboard and was about to go back to reading when I noticed something through my squinted eyes that awoke my Hulk-like rage. The mother was wearing flip-flops.

I tweeted about it immediately:

I didn't realize it at the time, but it seems I've expressed this opinion across my many social networks multiple times. Enough for one of my friends to notice and tweet back at me. I was going to launch into a twitter rant, but decided to write about it instead. 

It's not flip-flops that enrage me. I love them. I like wearing them. But I've always been a little off put by them. I used to blanch at the Berkenstocks and Tevas of my salad days. I was slightly more comfortable with slides and only came over to flip-flops-when appropriate-recently. Even now, I will eschew from flip-flops the majority of time. But there are a lot of people that don't and I dub them "flip-flop people." 

It's "flip-flop people" that raise my ire. I know, this goes against my goalie theory of life (I don't want to stand in anyone's way of reaching their goal of enjoyment and happiness) but there is something about flip-flop people that bother me. You know the kind, the denizens of Hobbiton that feel they can wear flip-flops no matter what the conditions? And it's rarely more than a cry of "Look at me! Look at me!" or more to the point "Look at my feet! Look at my feet!" They are never feet you want to look at. Ever.

Look, I get it. I do. Shoes are so hard. They are so much work. Even loafers and slip-ons. 

Plus, people wouldn't get to ask you to tell them the story of the intricate tattoo you had done. 

Or compliment how good your pedicure looks. 

Or listen to you go on and on about you being a beach person (even though you live hundreds of miles from any real beach) or a summer person. 

Or how comfortable they are. 

We get it. We're looking at you. You have our attention. Is that what you wanted?

Sorry, I'm rage writing at this point. 

I'll end with this. If I see you in public and it's below 70 degrees, if you are wearing flip-flops, I am judging you.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Rose By Any Other Name

Safe spaces. Weird and loathed expression that's been in the news and on the Internet a lot lately. The word carries tons of scorn and straight up fury with a certain portion of the population. I'm not going to lie, I didn't entirely disagree with them. However, over the weekend I got to thinking about the expression and decided to write a little about it. So, Sunday, at 10:15, after everyone had settled down to sleep after a busy birthday extravaganza for my son, I sat down to write while sipping a root beer float. As a writer, I realize that I should be sipping a scotch or whiskey or bourbon or absinthe, but my poison is root beet and vanilla ice cream.

I am part of a group text, as many of us are these days. It's a small group of my co-workers. A group that I've become pretty good friends with over the years and the group text is a nice distraction from the minutiae of everyday life,  be it professional or personal. My wife thinks it's funny, calling them my "boyfriends" and that it's nothing but "stupid pictures and dick jokes." The group text began as an extension of our lunches together and has been going on for three years now. Today, one sent this meme out to the group:

One of my friends commented that he'd been "triggered" and needed a "safe space" and that got me thinking. A vigorous conversation followed in relation to the meme among my friends. I abstained, not because of a lack of opinion but I was preoccupied with real life. However, I was thinking about it, letting the comment roll over in my head far more than the meme itself and came to a conclusion after thinking about it for much of the afternoon.

We've ALWAYS had safe spaces.

Really. Think about it. From what I read, safe spaces are places where people can go to talk about their experiences in a place where they fell safe and without judgement. These are places we can relax and not be afraid of who we are and what we say without feeling uncomfortable, anxious or challenged about what we think or believe. Places we can get support, love and walk away feeling a little better about ourselves. Folks, we've always had them-we just called them something else.

The neighborhood bar. Lunch. The lodge. The club. The coffee klatch. Bible study. The book club. Ladies night. Poker night. Bowling. The barbershop. The kitchen table. The rec room. The garage. The parlor. The knitting circle. I think you get the point. But that expression safe space really sets people off, for some reason. So I thought some more about it, focusing on the anger and scorn people had over the expression "safe space."

Many of the institutions listed above are the creation of white, heterosexual men. And before you think it or say it, I know not all of them, but the majority of them are and I noticed that the loudest critics concerning safe spaces are white, heterosexual men. Men that excluded anyone "not like them" when they created these institutions, so people decided to created their own institutions where they could feel comfortable and safe that are now derided and dismissed by the same people that created them in the first place. Men angry that something was being taken from them that wasn't their's in the first place. Hmmm...that sounds familiar, doesn't it?

So, look, if you are one of those people that get triggered by the expression safe space, just think of it as a man cave and move on to the next stupid thing you are going to get angry about that you really shouldn't be angry about. Or maybe you get angry about something you really should be angry about. Like guns. Or a woman's right to choose being taken from her. Or how shitty a show THIS IS US actually is.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Earning Turns

This past Saturday morning, I took my kids skiing for the first time. Scratch that, I didn't take my kids skiing but took them for ski lessons. I can't ski anymore. Scratch that, I don't actually know if I can ski anymore, I just know that physically I am unable to ski. A laundry list of wears and tears on my pudgy forty-five year old body have me terrified of strapping seventy-two inches of fiberglass to my feet and doing real damage to the fragile ecosystem that is my body. I was filled with a deep melancholy as I stood at the bottom of the hill watching my two little shadowed blobs "pizza and french fry" (or snowplow as we called it) their way down the "bunny hill," realizing that I was probably never going to feel that again in my life. Then my son, my sweet little boy, looked up having completed a twelve foot stretch of french fries followed by three feet of pizza and called out to me, waving wildly with all the pride in the world that he was doing a scary, dangerous thing without his daddy-and loving it-chased that melancholy away.

The joy both of my kids were feeling was palpable in the car afterwards as they babbled on and on about their runs. Both frantically asking, "Did you see me?" while waiting for me to confirm that I did and asking follow up questions as to why they had done something. My daughter, ever the mother hen, staying with he brother while obviously grasping the activity and reveling in telling me how she skied past the teacher while my son explained to me why he kept falling down. And that joy made me feel better, made me okay with having to give up something I loved so much.

I love skiing. Fell in love with it in 1987, when at the suggestion of my friends, I joined ski club my freshman year of high school. It was formative to me as a person. I was a pretty unexceptional high school student. I hadn't embraced my love of writing and was listless. I was a pisspoor athlete and, at best, an apathetic student. I was too wrapped up in some kind of social checklist that I couldn't possibly attain rather than trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be. When I joined ski club, I found something that I just loved. I couldn't articulate it then and I'm not even sure I could now, I just knew there was something appealing about it. There is a version of me, in some parallel universe, that is living in a garage in Kazakhstan, following some endless winter around the world in some attempt to "earn my turns."

However, I exist in this universe, with this version of me, busted up as it is. So all I'm left is the memories. And they are great memories. Memories of glory and shame, humiliation and triumph. I met my first real girlfriend at ski club. I made life long friends skiing. I learned that I could learn how to do things I never thought I could. I realized there was a daring streak in me, willing to move outside my comfort zone. These memories still play in my head as little movies, snippets of what I loved so much and thirty years later they are getting a sequel in my kids. Maybe it's finally time to put words to paper, like I've always wanted to about that time in my life.

As if the fates were paying attention, when I got home that afternoon, one of the stations was playing a marathon of filmmaker Warren Miller's films and it nudged me towards writing even more. So I settled down at our kitchen peninsula and snuck some words in. Much of this was written during this marathon while I should've been painting one of our bathrooms. The words and memories nudged my closer to my "90s ski epic" I've been talking about writing for years.

It's the memories and a series of short online conversations with former fellow 315er and YA/MG author Aaron Starmer that led to the original story idea, called FRESH TRACKS. I want to write a YA story that takes place in the 90s, has a 90s teen comedy vibe to it but follows the rules of an epic fantasy. It might be too ambitious a project (a problem of mine if there ever was one) and it might be unsalable. But I want to write it. It's been back and front burnered multiple times over the last few years as I struggled with what it was and what I wanted it to be. There's a parallel to my life that I'm just realizing and I'm itching to write it. For now, I have to finish GIRL IN THE PICTURE first. I'm not the kind of writer than can work on more than one project at the same time. I realize that if I have any intention of making a career of this, that will have to change but for now, it'll do and I'll have to earn my turns any way I can.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Writing, Yes. Fame & Fortune, Maybe So.

While cycling through my morning reading of my favorite blogs and online news outlets, I came across a post by my friend Brian Fay and it got me thinking. I spent a good portion of the last few days writing this post, spending an inordinate amount of time starting it, trying to figure out what I wanted to say about his post. I want to talk about writing, but I couldn't exactly figure out what I was trying to say. It's been a while since I've actually written a blog entry about writing. It could be because I'm actually writing and that's always good news. But Brian's post had the wheels turning and I decided to write. And boy did I write.

Now, if there is an approximate to a writing guru in my life, it's Brian. We met at a teacher's writing institute in Cortland, NY. Brian was a facilitator and I was a participant. It was one of the most amazing experiences in my life. It made me a better teacher and a better writer. It was the closest thing to my "dream writing summer" I've ever experienced. Three weeks where I did nothing but write for at least three hours a day. No kids. No wife. No distractions. Just three hours of me, a laptop and a pair of ear buds with Billy Joel in my ear. (Billy Joel was a phase that summer. I can't explain it but Billy Joel-Live at Shea Stadium was played ad naseum for those three weeks.)

We worked, wrote, shared, ate and listened. I had the misfortune of following the SCSD version of Maya Angelou, Viola, during one of our extravaganzas where we shared our work with one another. Viola is a stunning storyteller with a hypnotic voice that still warms my heart almost four years later. It was here that I met and worked with Brian, a ridiculously talented writer that humbled me and an active blogger.

I love reading his posts. They are insightful. They are inspirational. they are soothing. They get me thinking about writing and teaching, sometimes independently, sometimes at the same time. And it was the latest post that got me thinking. Actually, it was one sentence in the post that moved me to write this time:

Let me tell you two things this isn't going to be about: getting published or getting rich.

It stuck in my head for a while and took some time to wrap my brain around so I could synthesize it and write something about it.

If you've read my blog, you know that my aspirations of becoming a published author aren't a secret. Hell, if you've met me in public, it's likely that you know this about me. I've dreamed my whole life about it. From my earliest days of dreaming that someday I'd be the head writer for the Marvel run of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero to the arrogant boasts of the twenty-one year old me telling everyone in the Wegmans' Grocery Back room that'd I'd be on the New York Times Bestseller list by the time I was twenty-six. Well, I'm now on the precipice of 45, so that obviously didn't happen. I'm not here to lament, as I have in the past, about my failed dream. I'm here responding to Brian's post.

This isn't a rebuttal, because I 100% agree with what he said in his post. You have to "write for you" first and it's absolutely right to say, "Don't even consider anyone else." These are wise words, especially to a neophyte. Hell, they are wise words to any writer. It's the first step and sometimes it's the millionth step. I've been writing forever. Since high school. (Obviously!) Looking back, I wish that I'd been more diligent, both about the craft and hanging on to what I wrote. (If I'd only met Kelly Chandler-Olcott earlier to convince me of the worth of sturdy, old school composition notebooks!) You always write for yourself. But then what? And that becomes the interesting question.

I pursue that question daily. Am I not enough of an audience? Why do I feel compelled to get published?

I don't know. I just know that it's something I want. And maybe that's enough. But it can't be that simple can it?

Is it validation?



I can't say for sure. But I know for sure it's something I want.

It's not to be rich, though that'd be nice for sure. I don't think it's to be famous. I think that would be exciting for a week then get old.

Maybe I feel like I both deserve and need to be heard. But that comes back to ego, doesn't it?

Other people manage to write without the compulsion of being compensated or published. Brian does and I think he's a vastly more talented writer than I am. My friends Mark, Sara and Jen are at least my equals, though likely it's my own ego downplaying their writing talents to make myself feel good. My buddy Neil has been vastly more disciplined and equally as talented in his blogging with no intention of trying to become rich or famous (though I say that without certainty...maybe he does). Each of them is, however, satisfied just writing for themselves. But for me, it's not enough I guess. I share this dream with Mike Winchell, an amazingly talented writing and editor well on his way to fulfilling his dream. We went to high school together, though we never met. (Easy to do in a building with 3,000 people in it.) Yet we've become brothers in arms thanks to the internet. I'm rambling a bit and maybe because I don't have a satisfactory answer to why I want so badly to be published. In the end, I guess it just boils down to the fact that I just do...and maybe that's enough of a reason for me. And maybe it's not reason enough for someone else. In the end it doesn't matter the reason, I suppose. All I know is that in the end I write because I simply can't not write.

So as Brian says, "Do the work."

Let's go write.