My Laughing Place

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Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree

Been 11 months since I came home but it hasn’t been an easy time.

That is because my return wasn’t the choice I wanted to make, it was the one I had to make. I remember thinking about what to do and realizing that if I sent want, need and had to into a room there wasn’t room for all of them to come out.

It wasn’t much of a fight. Want fought hard but need and had to beat the snot of out want and I left knowing that I would pay a price for my choices.

Wasn’t a surprise or a question just a matter of how long it would take for me to pay back whatever it was I borrowed from the bank of life.

Joshua Tree National Park

The drive out to Texas took three days but that was because I wasn’t in a rush but the way back was different.

I pushed hard to get back and drove close to 1,5oo miles in two days.

Did it because I knew that the faster I got back the sooner I could start putting the pieces together so that I could get life back on track. Pushed hard enough that two hours after I arrived I threw up.

Wiped my lips, washed my face and thought about how I had almost taken a detour to Joshua Tree National Park.

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Queen Valley sunset NPS Photo by Robb Hannawacker

Been a long time since I had visited Joshua Tree and part of me thought it would be a good rest stop. There is something about the park that catches my breath and quiets my mind.

Maybe it is the stark beauty of the desert and the endless miles of empty that make that possible, not really sure.

Was part way there when Sunday Morning Coming Down played on my radio and I had this feeling that if I went it was going to turn into a much longer detour than I anticipated.

So I kept driving and figured that somewhere along the way I’d find a place to visit and time to quiet my head but I never did get to that place.

Maybe it was because I knew that I couldn’t really relax until I took care of the things that were waiting.

Months later I look back and think about all of the battles that have taken place between now and then. Think about how some of them involved family and people I never expected to do as they did and wonder what if anything I am supposed to take from it all.

Was already independent and willing to do what I needed to do but maybe I required another lesson or maybe it was all just random coincidence.

Doesn’t really matter because the end result was I walked away feeling like I still had relatively few people if any to rely upon.

My Laughing Place

Might be anger and frustration talking, that happens when a man doesn’t get a chance to visit his laughing place.

I think it is about time for me to visit mine, might not be the Oasis of Mara and that is ok because I have a few. Just need a hint of a moment to catch my breath and then quick as a wink I’ll slip away and be there.

And after that visit we’ll bring back  want, need and had to for a second visit and we’ll see if this time there isn’t a different outcome than last.

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Oasis of Mara
NPS Photo by Robb Hannawacker

moonshine My Laughing Place

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A Course Correction

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Sometimes I look at that picture and imagine I am riding my horse…out of town.

Most of the time the soundtrack in my mind plays music from a Western like The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.  But sometimes it’s different, sometimes I see myself boarding a ship and sailing off for parts unknown.

Either way it is because it is a course correction and my life will never be the same.

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
The Road Not Taken By Robert Frost

If you ask me if it was a conscious change I’ll want to say yes but if I take a moment to think about it I am not really sure if that is true.

Nor do I know if it really matters whether I started the process consciously or subconsciously because either way I chose the road less traveled and that enabled me to look at something like Hanging Out With Hairy as having potential to be something more than just words on a page.

Initially it was just a story that I was playing with because it provided a bigger challenge than just writing a simple post and then it turned into something else.

A chunk of a tale that could be expanded, manipulated and massaged into the kind of story that others might want to read.

*****

It is funny in the interesting and peculiar sense of the word to see how our vision of life changes as we age. Ignore the visions I used to have of myself as a pro athlete and think about the boy who thought about becoming a sports writer and watch as that dream is let go.

Let go because by plan, dumb luck or a combination of both I start selling advertising. It doesn’t take long for me to realize I am good at it and the financial rewards put more in my pocket than I ever could have imagined.

Jack no longer dreams of becoming a writer because now his pockets and bank accounts are filled with cash and he hears and sees stories about successful sales people.

They don’t just make lots of money–they become CEOs.

That sounds like it could be a worthwhile endeavor. That sounds like it might be worth chasing because even if you don’t make CEO you might still make lots of money and be able to buy the house of your dreams, take vacations that you never thought possible and drive cars that you only saw in movies.

But somewhere in the midst of all this the change in thinking starts. Maybe it is back in 2004 when the first blog was opened up and a certain Shmata Queen told the boy she thought he was a talented writer.

Maybe that is when the thought first started bouncing around inside, pin balling from one place to the next.

Recession Leads To Depression

One day I expect to see history books talk about the second Great Depression in the U.S. Today they refer to it as a Great Recession but the only great thing about it was how effective it was at leading to depression.

Because when I got rocked by the wave that hit so many others it forced major life changes that were so significant I still feel the aftershocks now.

And maybe, just maybe in the years to come I’ll look back at that time and be in a position where I smile and talk about it as having led to good stories as well as being the blunt instrument that forced the course correction to not only continue but to do so in a far more conscious and active manner.

Somewhere during the time that followed that recession I went back to not just calling myself a writer but thinking of myself as one too.

It led to full time work that paid better than I had imagined it would and made me recognize that if I wanted to I could find a way to earn again as if I was in sales but to do so as a writer.

The realization brought a huge smile to my face and still does but there is a difference between now and then.

Because in the time that passed I figured out what I want and what I need. That enabled me to recognize I don’t need to earn as I once did to be happy.

And though it might sound contradictory acknowledging that has always made me believe that I will earn as I once did.

But even if I don’t I am going to continue walking down this road less traveled because it really has made all the difference and there is no going back to where I was.

There is only moving ahead to see what kind of life this course correction provides.

When Dad Bloggers Howl At The Moon

 howling at the moon  When Dad Bloggers Howl At The Moon

It sounded like six shots in the night. Six different moments laid one next to the other, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop…pop.

Was that what I heard or was it a car back firing?

Seconds before I finished an episode of Sons of Anarchy, number 11 in season 6. Maybe the violence in the show affected my interpretation of a car backfiring but somehow I doubt it.

Safe neighborhood or not sometimes things happen and six shots if that is what they were is not indicative of danger but still I made a quick loop of the house and checked the place out.

The 22 pounds of sleeping mutt led me to believe no one was close because he loves to bark when anyone approaches but still it made me think, reminded me of the Reaper video that so many have shown on Facebook.

I watched that Reaper chase people and wondered why no one turned upon it. Wondered if I am the crazy one for thinking about standing my ground and not being chased in that manner.

Friday afternoon another boy put my son in a headlock and refused to let go. It took two elbows to the ribs for the kid to release him. The situation was handled and my son pulled himself out of it, but I still wrote the other father.

He apologized for the behavior of his son and I told mine that we would let it go.

“It is not a problem until it is.”

“What does that mean dad?”

“It means we give him the chance to show that it was just a silly misunderstanding because that is what I think it was.”

“What do I do if he does it again?”

“You defend yourself and you make it clear that there are severe consequences for his laying his hands upon you. No one is allowed to do that. You asked him to let go and he didn’t. He is lucky nothing worse happened.”

When Dad Bloggers Howl At The Moon

When I was in 8th grade I would have been horrified if my father had gotten involved the way I did. It would have made things worse for me which is precisely why I hesitated to get involved here.

But the headlock happened on the Friday and the things that led up to it took place on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday was the culmination of misbehavior.

Thirty-two years after my entry into 8th grade it was ok for me to insert myself. The response I got from the other dad was appropriate and I really do feel comfortable with it but I still needed to make sure my son knew we have his back and that he is to defend himself.

I don’t want it to be with his fists but there are times when it is appropriate.

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”
― Dr. Seuss

It is too bad the good doctor isn’t here for I would like to speak with him. I would love to sit down and talk to him about creating. I would love to speak with him about his process, his ideas and his thoughts.

I would like to talk to him about writing children’s books and his time as a political cartoonist. I would like to tell him how much that quote above resonates with me because right now life feels complicated.

It feels more challenging than normal and yet it feels easier. It is a contradiction I feel inside, which I suppose fits with complicated questions and simple answers.

These moments that pass in which I wonder and worry are accompanied by a sense of everything working out provided I just let go and have faith. It reminds me of kayaking down a river. I don’t know where or when I am going to put to shore but I know the boat will carry me and as long as I keep my eyes open I should be able to steer around most of the rocks and tree roots.

Maybe I don’t have as much control as I might like but I can be the captain of this ship or conductor of the train and avoid the wreckage.

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”
― Stephen King

The Jewish New Year approaches, soon it will be Rosh Hashanah and perhaps this is part of why I feel unsettled. It happens around this time of year, reaches back into my childhood.

I first started exploring it in blogging when I was part of my first group blog. Every year I think about it and the impact of my actions. I suspect if I really dug into what I have written about time of year I would see an evolution in my thought, or so I hope.

It would be good to see growth.

Last year I wrote How Often Do You Really Face Your Fears?

Many of the things I talked about there still reside inside my mind. I still wonder how many people will go to shul because they fear not to go. I wonder how many will go because of community and how many understand what they say.

At some point I’ll have another discussion with friends about Unetaneh Tokef and ask again if they know the words in English.

“On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted.”

The purpose isn’t to demean or diminish those who do. I figure if nothing else this is a good time for introspection. Time to shine a light on the darker corners of my mind and see what I find.

Running With The Moon

I am not howling at the moon, now, I am running with it. If there are wolves around I am not worried because they are either part of my pack or smart enough to mind their own business.

Still don’t know what those noises were but I can assure you they aren’t part of one of my stories, there is no fiction here.

A few more days until the chagim, the holidays start and we get to see what the new year rolls out. A few more days until the children and I have another discussion. My guess is they’ll see the video again in Hebrew school and that will be a starting point for another discussion.

I am good with that. It is good for them to think and to be asked why they think as they do.  Thinking is important.

Some of my favorite moments come from these conversations.

It is after midnight here, time for bed. I hope that other boy follows through on his promise.

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Writing, Music & Breakfast Sandwiches

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Paul Simon is singing about him and Julio doing their thing at the school yard but I am day dreaming about the Hamilton Beach 25475A Breakfast Sandwich Maker.

No, that is not an affiliate link but maybe it should be.

Doesn’t really matter because unless all 9,982 of you decide to buy one I won’t earn enough to take my dear Shmata Queen out for more than a beer.

But I can’t think about that because I am too busy thinking about how if I had one of those sandwich makers I’d be in the kitchen now making a midnight snack. My headphones would be on and I’d be taking advantage of Amazon prime music (listening to Jim Croce now) while I cooked up something special.

Man, oh man, I shouldn’t be able to smell something so tasty when I can’t make it but then again I have the sort of imagination that makes it easy for me to picture almost anything.

To quote the boss in Tunnel of Love:

“There’s a crazy mirror showing us both in 5-D
I’m laughing at you you’re laughing at me
There’s a room of shadows that gets so dark brother
It’s easy for two people to lose each other in this tunnel of love”

Don’t bother trying to make sense of the free form ramblings of a middle aged man after midnight because if you do you might fall down that rabbit hole that Alice got lost in.

Speaking of lost, I lost it today with the kids.

The Angry Father

I rarely yell at the kids, in large part because they are good and it is not needed. But there are moments where my eyes narrow and I find myself losing patience.

It is the usual sort of thing, kids being kids and add that to my having less tolerance for the normal shenanigans it isn’t hard to see their pressing my buttons might lead me to make the windows shake.

Actually I haven’t ever made the windows shake by yelling but a truck passed by tonight while I was reading them the riot act and I took credit for making the windows shake.

Told the kids I was tired of being ignored, tired of feeling like they don’t care about clutter and unwilling to let them live like sloths.

Daughter rolled her eyes at me and I took the book she was reading out of her hands and threw it on the floor. Not my finest moment but I won’t have the eye rolling nor is she allowed to show that kind of disrespect in general.

The kids know if we are talking I better see eyes looking at me and not at phones or iPods.

It is important to me they learn proper manners. I do my best not to talk to them while staring at my phone, the courtesy should flow both directions.

Blogging And Game Playing

Been a part of multiple conversations with various people about how to increase traffic, what sort of metrics are meaningful and exchanging ideas about blogging in general.

Lately these conversations want to make me tear my hair out because an old curmudgeon like me likes blogging because I enjoy writing/storytelling.

While I have done things to monetize the blog, reviews, giveaways and sponsored posts among others I have never played the game as hard as I could.

I haven’t devoted the energy I could to hitting the conferences, reaching out to sponsors and making friends with the right people. I just don’t want to play the game. I like doing this on my terms and when opportunities come my way I am happy to take advantage of them if they make sense but I don’t have the desire to engage in the nonsense I see elsewhere.

Not saying those who do are bad  people. Many of them are very good people and I like them because they are the same person on and off blog. But there are others who just aren’t.

Transition time is taking a lot of energy and focus and forcing me to spend it elsewhere and I am ok with that.

The Courage to Change

If I had known about the sandwich maker when I was in Texas I probably would have bought it. I would have made myself breakfast sandwiches for lunch and dinner too.

Course I did it sometimes without the sandwich maker so you might argue I don’t really need it but I might suggest I want it as a time saver. Our time is limited and I can hear that tick tocking so I pay attention to finding ways to maximize my ability to focus on the key areas.

I love to eat, probably more than I should but right now I could use the few extra minutes it takes to cook those sandwiches by hand. Course if it is healthier to cook by hand it might be worth not spending the money on it.

Then again I don’t have any cash to devote to it so it doesn’t matter.

It is an interesting time because in some ways I am as a poor as I have ever been, cash reserves are rapidly fading but remember the two things I said here:

I am not a fucking tree and I don’t have to stay rooted to things that don’t help me live the kind of life that makes my heart full and my soul sing.

and

in some ways I am more me than ever before.

That means in a short time if I really want to buy that sandwich maker it won’t be a question because this moment in time is like the period where the caterpillar snoozes in his cocoon.

Won’t be long before I’ll break free, spread my wings and take flight.

Listen carefully and tell me if you hear that Yawp.

That’s me.

Dad Blogging With Bob Dylan

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Not so long ago I asked What Happens When Nothing In Your Life Goes As You Planned It To but I never thought that so much could have changed and yet stay the same.

Midnight is moments away and Bob Dylan is singing “Lay Lady Lay” and I am lost in the lyrics.

“Stay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile
Why wait any longer for the world to begin
You can have your cake and eat it too
Why wait any longer for the one you love
When he’s standing in front of you.”

For a moment I hear the echoes of Dylan singing about having your cake and eating it too and I wonder if it is possible or a pipe dream to have such a thing.

If my children asked about it would I tell them it is possible but improbable? Would I push them to rope the moon and reach for the stars or to stay grounded?

Maybe I would speak with them about Dad’s Barbaric Yawp. Maybe I would tell them about what once was, what never was and what could be.

Perhaps would tell them about when I decided time was a bitch and when I realized I wasn’t going to accept that I didn’t like how life had turned out.

Sooner or later we’ll have that conversation and if my gut proves true I will say to them I am not a fucking tree and I don’t have to stay rooted to things that don’t help me live the kind of life that makes my heart full and my soul sing.

It is an important life lesson. They need to understand the difference between being capable of holding still during a storm and the ability to move. Because when we talk about the ability to do what is required it doesn’t mean taking a beating to prove you are tougher than the next person.

I want them to be smarter than I am. I don’t want my thick head and stubborn nature to keep them from seeing the value in rolling with the punches and making changes.

Dad Blogging With Bob Dylan

“May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.”

It has been almost 11 years since I stood next to Bob Dylan at that birthday party and thought about how odd it was to find myself standing next to a little man in a knit sailor’s cap who was and is considered to be a legendary writer and musician.

I hadn’t moved along far enough on my own journey to have thought to ask him about writing. I don’t know that I would have and not because I was intimidated because I wasn’t but because it wasn’t an appropriate setting for him.

But looking back I doubt I would have asked the kind of questions I would want answers to now. I hadn’t accepted that I had made some mistakes and needed to engage in some significant course correction.

I didn’t call myself a writer then. I didn’t think of myself as a storyteller or creative spirit. I was a father with young children who was focused on trying to earn as much as I could so that I could take care of my family.

Life hadn’t taught me yet how finite time is and the importance of focusing on building a career that would fill my heart and make my soul sing. Some of you will read these words and roll your eyes at, back then I would have.

But not anymore.

Now my eyes are wide open and I see things I couldn’t. I know things I didn’t and I am a million miles away from who I was and yet in some ways I am more me than ever before.

Bob Dylan’s music morphs into Johnny Cash’s cover of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and I am stunned by the beauty of the lyrics while simultaneously thinking about how to write such a song.

This is what I am supposed to do. I am supposed to write. I am supposed to tell stories. I am supposed to create.

It is not a revelation any more but every time I have this feeling I smile and I think about my children and my ole as their father.

“Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

My job isn’t to just raise them and teach them right from wrong. It is to give them the confidence, the courage and the strength to experiment.

It is to help them stand tall when they feel weak and to put a hand on their shoulder when they are worried and say that what matters in life are the moments.

To remind them of the importance to do their best to spend those moments with people they care and love about but to also remember that sometimes you can find these moments on your own too.

There is beauty and joy in solitude as well as with a companion.

Joy and s0rrow are two faces of the same coin but only a fool doesn’t look for joy in the journey.

The beauty of having lived a little bit is that you begin to understand and appreciate the world in a way you can’t when you are younger. After you have loved and lost and then loved again you see the world with different eyes.

If you haven’t done these things. If you haven’t lived a bit you might see this as being a commentary about relationships but if you have you might understand it differently.

You might also see it as thoughts about inventing and reinventing yourself.

Maybe both are true or maybe neither. The joy of life is finding meaning for yourself and not for others.