Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Moving Polaroids Part II

I'm seven years old and it's the week of Halloween. This was in the late 70's and schools still had things like costume parties and handed out trick-or-treat candy during the school day. It was my favorite time of year and the costume party was the next day.

I got off the school bus and walked up the long driveway to my house. My father wasn't home from work yet. My mother had left only moments before to handle the night shift, and my grandfather was most likely puttering around the barn or feeding the animals.

I walked over the small culvert pipe bridge with the stream babbling beneath (always, always, always making me think of the Three Billy Goats Gruff), past the springhouse, where the water was ice cold and so pure and fresh it almost tasted as if there was sugar in the water. I walked up the stone steps winding through the rose bushes and trimmed lilacs and up the stairs into the house.

In the kitchen, I slung off my backpack and grabbed some chocolate milk from the fridge and a handful of cookies from the cabinet. I set them on the kitchen table and turned to switch on the tv, and stopped dead in my tracks. My stomach turned to mercury and the hair stood up on the back of my neck and arms.

There was a monster in my kitchen.

Its head was enormous, its four-inch jagged teeth brilliant white rows framed in thick, blood-red lips. A black mustache curled, Dali-esque, at least a foot wide, and eyes the size of grapefruits rested beneath furrowed brows. Its expression was fierce and full of rage and I know I jumped backward, almost falling on my ass in the middle of my own kitchen.

And then I began to giggle.

All alone, in the middle of the kitchen, I laughed so hard that my stomach hurt and my ribs ached. I think if my grandfather or either of my parents had found me there, they'd think I'd gotten into the cough medicine.

My loving mother, during her hours before leaving to work the night shift, had taken an oversized brown grocery bag and created a monster worthy of battling Jason and the Argonauts.

The artwork had been done in felt marker, and the teeth had been colored in heavily with white crayon. The thing was hideous. It was terrible. It was scary and enormous and eclipsed the monsters I'd read in The Wild Thing.

I absolutely loved it.

I took it to school with me the next day and brought home a prize ribbon (oh button your lip... I was seven. ALL the parents did their kids costumes) and I'd like to think that as happy as I was, it gave my mother some pride to know that she truly pulled it off with her creativity.

I inherited my mother's streak of mischief... her slightly twisted sense of humor (all right, all right... so mine's a bit MORE twisted) and her sense of play.

I still have that monster mask... I just wear it on the inside now.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Moving Polaroids

You can see children's faces light up when they get a birthday present or open Christmas gifts. The toys are shiny and novel and keep their attention for a while (unless it's a Wii system, and then apparently it's electronic crack, as it is with my own kids). But over time, most toys are forgotten. Their entertainment value isn't lost, but unless it's a favorite stuffed bed time animal, or a touch-worn blanket, there's usually no emotional attachment.

I look back on my own childhood and remember only a few favorite toys. A red and black Team Murray bicycle. My first Atari system (Megamania ring any bells? Cause that was MY electronic crack as a kid). A Rubik's cube that drove me to the brink of a padded jacket and then made me cheat and break it apart to put it back together again correctly just so I could find some mental peace. And... and... I don't know. I'm sure if I took some time and did a little mini-mediation I could come up with more, but the long and short of it is that any thing material isn't what makes me smile and look back on my childhood with fond memories.

It's the spaces between... it's the things that didn't cost money that are indelibly etched in my mind.

And I'll invite you to do the same. Have a favorite childhood memory? Think for a bit and put yourself back in the moment. What were the little details you thought you'd forgotten? They're there. Let me hear it...

I've got a few moments I'll share with you over the next couple of days, but here's the first...

Eight years old, I'm sitting at the kitchen table, a bowl of Lucky Charms in front of me and Tom and Jerry playing on the black and white 13" tv in the kitchen. My father has already gone off to work and my mother should have been gone too. By this time of morning I should be dressed and waiting at the end of our long driveway, waiting for the screeching brakes of the school bus to announce its presence.

But this morning, my mother is still home. She's standing at the front door, sipping her coffee and smoking a cigarette, while thick heavy flakes drift down from the sky.

My grandfather is already outside, most likely tinkering in the barn or sitting on an overturned 5-gallon water bucket and watching the snow come down too.

I tilt my bowl of cereal, slurping down the last of the milk, turned a robin's egg blue, and turn to my mother... who is smiling at me. She doesn't say anything... just stubs her cigarette out and slips her feet in a pair of my father's work boots. She shrugs on her coat and pulls a knit hat on, then reaches beneath the kitchen sink for a can of Pledge and tells me to get dressed because she'll be back soon.

I watched her through the side window of the kitchen as she made her way toward the barn. The snow was already deep, easily seven inches or so (and looking back, it makes me think that times must have been a bit tighter than I thought... what the hell was my father doing out driving for?) and it took my mother some effort to make her way toward the barn. I had no idea what she was up to, but usually when she got one of those grins on her faces, it was something to look forward to.

I ran to my room, threw on some clothes and raced back downstairs. By the time I pulled on my gloves, hat and boots, my mother was back at the front door, her grin even wider, and she motioned for me to come with her. She withdrew the can of Pledge and coated the sheet from top to bottom. The air was thick with the smell of fake lemons and the metal glistened.

The house where I grew up was a farmhouse over a hundred years old. It was surrounded by cedars and oaks and walnut trees and rolling hills and the valley that everything rested in was bookended by a humongous tin-roofed barn.

My mother, full of mischief, had a 3 foot x eight foot sheet of roofing tin, and she had curled the end up toboggan style, punched two nail holes at the corners and knotted a rope as a harness at the sides.

We trekked out into the snow and stood at the crest of the hill in front of our house. It was a long stretch, leading out about fifteen feet to a four foot berm, and then another ten feet to a deeper drop and continued on for a good forty feet. Mom giggled to herself, sat down on the tin and made me sit Indian style in front of her. It took a few pushes and jerks to get ourselves started, but once we hit the crest of the first hill and gravity took over, to say that we hauled some serious ass would be an understatement.

That slicked roofing tin cut through the snow like it was soft butter, and it only got faster as we forged a path and packed the snow down hard. I think we spent the better part of three hours out there in the cold, playing like children with not a care in the world.

Rosy cheeked and frozen, we finally came inside to warm up. I'm sure I had hot chocolate and my mother had coffee, but I don't truly recall. What I do remember, even is flying down that snowy hillside with my mother, arms raised high as if on a roller coaster, giggling and laughing as the snow drifted down on my face and open mouth. I remember my mother's arms around me.

I remember.

Monday, January 26, 2009

We Now Interrupt this Broadcast...

I've been laying kind of low lately, and I know it.

I've spilled blood, sweat and tears here, so no point in stopping now.

Over the last couple of months, my wife Jennifer was diagnosed with stage II Hodgkins Lymphoma. To say that it has been a whirlwind doesn't do the situation justice. She's been undergoing chemotherapy and this week we'll be getting scans done to check the progression of treatments. There's been huge advances in nausea medication, and overall, that really hasn't been a factor yet. Each time she gets another round of chemo, she has to have an injection the following day to boost her white blood cell count and kick those little guys off their lazy asses into production again. The shots make her bones ache but have been very effective. The main things that have gone down are extreme exhaustion and the various mental side effects that chemo brings along for the ride. Yes... to say it's been a whirlwind doesn't do it justice. It's stage II but it's a very treatable condition and everything the oncologists and specialists have been saying are very promising, though there's roughly another four months worth of treatment involved.

Today just happens to be her birthday.

Jen has started a blog to document what she's going through, and you can check that out by clicking here

She's a very talented and creative interior decorator by trade, handling all matter of accessories, faux and regular painting, furniture, and designing custom murals for both home and commercial use. The murals she's done on several churches, both interior and exterior, are beautiful and amazing work.

On her blog, you'll see that Jen has recently been creating custom knitted hats and scarfs. Her goal is to take this to a point where she can also donate some to children with cancer. So, if there's anyone you know who has been affected by cancer, please spread the link around... never know what karma will bring.

Likewise, my day job is as partner in an ad agency. We handle all manner of creative, both for small companies and Fortune 500s. Logo and brand identity, ad campaigns, brochures, packaging... ahh... if you know someone who might be interested in working with us, go check out our site by clicking here.

Thanks to everyone who stops by. You keep reading... and I'll keep writing.

Tune in tomorrow... next post is "Moving Polaroids" and I think you'll all like it.

be good,

Monday, January 19, 2009

Fresh Tracks

Maybe it's because the words of Epictetus hit a nerve with me. Or because right now I'm jacked up on enough coffee to make a Rhino float.

Or because I recently found my iPod cord, have filled it to the brim with new music and have been (to borrow a phrase often used by Geoff Cooper) felt like I should rock out with my cock out (not literally, you perverts).

Maybe it's because my daughter read this odd little book she found tonight that was amazingly clever with its one liners (this book, of course, followed Alethea Kontis' AlphaOops which, incidentally, if you have kids and you don't have a copy, you should really fix that situation. It's a beautiful and amazing book by a beautiful and amazing person.

Or maybe it's because of recent mental vacations to beaches or mountains... a little zen thought-sauna, so to speak.

Over the last several months, I've been told I have a broken spirit (I disagreed with this). I've heard I was a bit Hemingway-ish (all right, this made me laugh, cause it was right. A little bit.)

But right now, I have to say, I feel fricking great.

I haven't felt this great since I smoked weed on a nude beach in Jamaica, crystal clear waters in front of me, and the sun's rays beaming down.

Crazy thing is, I still can't put my finger on the reason why. It's a multiple choice thing, but I'm not quite sure the reason matters at the moment.

There's still a fecal storm hovering around my house. Still sickness going on with my wife. Still tight finances (hellllloooo economy? Want to get your shit together please?), and emotional turmoil going on, and all of it still weights heavily on my mind.

But right now I just got back from a walk outside. It's freezing. I mean, it's not Wisconsin cold, but it's enough to make your teeth chatter and tears spring at the corners of your eyes. The wind itself has icy fingers that reach up under your clothes and grab you like a pervert on a New York subway. But it snowed today. Not a lot really. It looked like a damn blizzard outside earlier, but overall, it didn't amount to much.

Next door, the cemetery was oddly deserted all day long. No tire tracks from grieving visitors had broken the new snow.

It had been a while since I'd visited the cemetery - unusual for me, as it's always been a place to clear my head... to unburden.

The sky was overcast. The moon had been tucked in safely out of view. But the night still glowed brightly. I laughed at myself, internally hearing the voice of that creepy-ass woman in Poltergeist (Go toward the light!), and continued my way around the headstones. As I crested the hillside, the wind died down, but it still caressed the branches of the oaks, making small white flurries drift down from their heights.

In a place that held the end of people's lives, I looked across the fields and saw the fresh snow and saw a clean slate. Pure. Unbroken.

As I walked around, headphones blasting Nine Inch Nails, The Black Keys, and Lady Sovereign, I made fresh tracks where there were none before. It felt good and right.

I think I'll try to make this a habit.

You should try it... you might like it yourself.

Friday, January 16, 2009

General Updates

I never really read anything by the Greek philosopher Epictetus. He was thought to be born as a slave, lived in Rome for a while, then got exiled to another part of Greece where he lived the rest of his life. His stance was that all natural events are determined by fate and are out of our control. All that's left for us is to just nod our head and accept how things turn out. Any pain comes from not being able to accept what happens.

Anyway, there's a phrase of his that has come up lately.

"If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid with regard to external things."

Lately, this seems like some decent advice, and I think I just may expand my horizons a bit by reading a bit more of Epictetus' wise words.

Thought foolish... hmmm.

And one more as a parting gift:
Whoe'er yields properly to Fate is deemed
Wise among men, and knows the laws of Heaven.

Current Reads:
10 pages away from finishing King's Just After Sunset. REALLY dug the story in there titled "Mute."

Current Work in Progress:
Still cranking away on Samson and Denial and just got through another particularly violent and bloody scene. It will make you cringe. It will make you laugh. It will make you look at broken beer bottles in a different light.

Recent Movies: Eagle Eye. Popcorn action movie with Shia Lebeouf. The plot jumps the shark a bit, but it's a good "what if" situation involving how much technology is affecting our lives.

Juno. Now, I see what all the hub bub was about. Great little story and incredible characters.

Current infatuation:
Being thought foolish and letting go of things.

Current Music: Jaydiohead.

Be good.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

With Rose Colored Glasses: Part II

Dear 2009,

Um... I don't think you were paying attention to these rules. Learn them. Live them. Love them.

Now, carry on and go about your business.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

With Rose Colored Glasses

Well, well, well. Hello 2009. Pull up a rock and sit with me a bit. I realize you and I are just getting to know each other, still in the flirting stage, so to speak, but I think it's important we lay a few ground rules first, just so we're both on the same page.

I'm looking at you with rose colored glasses, and though I'm still nervous about where this is all going, I still have those excited butterflies in my stomach.

#1: My most important rule: You will not be careless with my heart. I refuse to put up with that shit this year.

#2: I can handle a lot of bullshit, but you will promise to provide me with wading boots high enough for me to get through it. If you don't, I will take my marbles and go play in another playground.

#3: I have my goals and objectives for this year and you'll cut me some damn slack once in a while to achieve them.

#4: No more bullshit with anything health related for anyone I know. Refer to Rule #2.

#5: You will also cut my friends some slack in order to achieve their goals. Most of them seem to have had enough shit to deal with lately as it is. If you don't, we shall all gang up on you and beat you with a boat oar.

#6: Economy Shmaponomy. There will be new clients attracted to my business because of our creative approach, our talent, and our all around coolness factor.

#7: Can we stop with the drama? Really? Reallllly? If I could package my surroundings and put it in pitch format, you'd all be watching it on FOX next season as a reality show.

In return for you following these rules, I promise to hold your hand when the mountains turn into valleys. I promise to hold up my end of the bargain and put the work in when I have to. I'll do my best to keep looking at you with rose colored glasses and smile; even when you're not wearing make-up; even when you have bed head hair and are grumpy; even when you act pissed off and don't really mean it.

P.S. Thanks to everyone who got a copy of New Dawn and was really into my short story, Bloodglegum and Lolliknives (you earn an additional two points for saying it was your favorite title of the collection). It was my pleasure. I had a ton of fun writing that bloody little tale, and I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Many thanks to Brian Keene and my other fellow contributors in the collection. I promise you'll be seeing more.

Current Read:
King's Just After Sunset. It's been a long time since I've read anything by King and I'm digging this short story collection. Next up: The Shack, then The Reach, by Nate Kenyon.

Current Music:
Nothing major, but into songs with meaningful lyrics lately.

Current Infatuation:
Subtle moments. Glimpses of things not meant to be seen. ;)

Recent Movies:
The Bucket List. Meaningful, yeah, but extremely difficult to watch in parts if you've ever had a loved one die of cancer. Both Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman come through, and Rob Reiner does his usual kickass job of directing.

Current Work in Progress:
Untitled short about killing Shel Silverstein. (You're gonna like this one, trust me)
Samson and Denial (Shut up Kelli) is back in full force and going well. No hang-ups, no blocks and it's sailing.
Untitled novel; set this one aside for a bit, but picked it back up and found where it needs to go.