Archives for September 2011

Adventures In Blogging

Allow me to disabuse you of the notion that I know a damn thing about blog design because I don’t. Ok, ok, that isn’t entirely accurate because I know a lot of things but what I don’t know is how to make that code sing for me. What I know is just enough HTML and CSS to be dangerous.

It is knowledge gained through 7.5 years of blogging. More than a few hours have been spent tinkering with things that I probably should have left alone. More than a few moments have found me smacking my forehead and cursing my curiosity and need to push the envelope.

That is because I am really good at breaking the damn blog. That is because I think that I should be able to just point, click and cut my way to building a beautiful blog.

Tonight I spent a chunk of time trying to figure out how to make this Digg Digg plugin look right but I don’t think that I have it quite as I would like it to look. It makes me think of the dancers in the video below:

Watch it and you’ll see the “star” Matt travel around the world so that he can dance with the people he encounters. If you watch it closely you’ll see that while the people are dancing with Matt most of them are doing their own thing. That is cool. I like individuality. I respect that and certainly practice that in life. Now let’s circle back and tie it into the blog.

I need all of the elements on this blog to work together. I need them to be a team. I them to do as Coach Taylor instructs, “Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.” But that is not happening. My team is filled with too many individuals and not enough team players. So now I have to figure out how to fix that.

Now I need to sit down and figure out if maybe it is isn’t time to pay for a premium theme. This blog is important to me for a whole host of reasons. This blog isn’t just a cybersandbox for writing. It is a platform that has helped me find work. It is a platform that I want to use to find more work and to help me promote the books I am going to write.

So it is time to get a bit more serious again. It is time to take another step in my adventure and figure out what I want and what I need. It is time to figure out what it costs to get what I need and see if that includes what I want. And that my friends is what I am going to do.

In the interim I am also going to provide you with a list of recent posts because you know that you don’t want to miss any of Uncle Jack’s work.

And now if you will excuse me I need to go sleep. My folks are in cleveland and I just know that any moment they are going to call to tell me that the river burst into flames.  I probably should repeat that for the 17 long time readers, they are in cleveland. Yes, cleveland and strangely enough the world hasn’t ended…yet.

My Stairway To Heaven

There is a reason why you shouldn’t try to send email while walking down a flight of stairs. It is the same reason why your mother told you not to run with the scissors in your hand or a lollipop in your mouth.

But sometimes safety and circumstances coincide as the oddest of bedfellows and you don’t do as your mother taught you. Sometimes you find yourself wandering through a house wondering if the owner paid a designer for the monstrosities you are looking at or if it is their own bad taste.

You can’t help but wonder if the real reason that dead Italian masters are dead is because their concept of cool was so awful they were hung by an angry mob or if they were graced with the kiss of death as a result of old age.

Had it not been so awful you would have been watching your step. Instead your smartphone made you fumble and you walked right into her. Or maybe it is more accurate to say that you almost knocked her down a flight of stairs. You can’t forget how wide her eyes got when she almost fell or how thankful you were that she didn’t.

The people down below told her that you threw your phone so that you could catch her. They said that you wrapped her up in your right arm and that it almost looked like something you would see in a ballet.

That made you laugh. You aren’t suave, debonair or graceful. Later on she told you that the first thing she noticed was that your arms were really solid, but you never would have guessed she had noticed. Not after that look or the way she yelled at you for being careless.

When you let her go she walked the stairs past you and never looked back. You know because you stared at her the entire time. At first it was because you felt foolish and tongue tied. A mumbled apology was ignored, but her legs weren’t…at least not by you.

You remembered thinking that you would have to be blind, dead or gay not to imagine what it would be like to have them wrapped around you. She walked away while your mind raced for the kind of snappy line that would get her attention.

You needed something that wouldn’t make you seem like a stalker, sound like a fool or make her feel threatened in any way.

"Come, Sit, Tell Me About America..." (#1 of 2 - a set)

 

Later on you sat on the bench outside and wondered if this was real life or a dream. It was all too easy to picture a flash mob materializing out of the thin air and dancing around that bench you were sitting on. Upon second thought you had this image of being the bad guy in a Aretha Franklin video. It was all too easy to see her and her backup singers pointing their fingers at you.

Reality sets in and you remember that you aren’t a hero nor are you a villain. You are just a regular guy and maybe that is enough. Maybe you are over thinking it all, spending too much time trying to be someone else when what you really need to do is just be you.

So you wander back over to the house that wants to be a museum and rejoin the fundraiser. She is standing in the hallway talking to another woman but when you make eye contact she doesn’t look away.

“My name is Jack and I am really sorry about what happened. I would really like to buy you a cup of coffee and I promise not to spill it on you or trip you.”
This story was based upon the following prompt: What did the images mean to you?

Past submissions are listed below

Spit Or Swallow

Tornado and Lightning

There are three dogs and two children in this house which is probably why I am wearing headphones. There are three dogs and two children who a few minutes gave me a collective look of sad eyes and promised that the shrieking would end.

I gave them all my best glare and silently wondered if my father didn’t have an advantage in this area- his eyes are a piercing blue. When he is angry those suckers don’t look at you, they look through you. Told the kids that I have a few minutes left of work and suggested that they grab the 3DS, computer or Wii for a few. Grabbed the dogs and sent them outside with a promise to kick their butts if they barked for more than a moment.

My son looked at me and asked why I suggested he use the computer instead of taking time to read a book and I responded with, “you need to learn how to type faster.” He nodded his head and I reiterated that faster means accurate. That typing bit is one of the many differences between his childhood and my own. I wasn’t really required to type papers until I got into college. There were a few in high school, but for the most part the old Smith-Corona and I dated casually.

And we move on.

There are a few of you going through my archives. You are digging through bits and pieces of flotsam and jetsam. Some of the posts you have stumbled upon make me cringe. They were written long ago and are simply bad. Others bring a smile to my face. LA Story is one of my favorite movies. There is a lot going on there. This  quote still gets my attention for a variety of reasons

Harris: “I’ve been thinking about myself and I think I can become the kind of person that’s worth you staying for. First of all, I’m a man who can cry. Now it’s true, it’s usually when I’ve hurt myself, but it’s a start. You see I know there is something that would make you stay, I know it. I know there is some move I can make, the right word, attitude, plan. But these are all just tricks, just things I would think up and try. So let’s forgo that.
Let’s assume that whatever that thing is, that whatever it is that would make you stay has already occurred, that it has happened and that my hand has already gone down your throat and grabbed your heart and squoze it.”

Speaking of quotes that I love I grabbed one from Gladiator that never ceases to make me want to stand up and fight.

“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

I love that. Love how someone used Hero of the Day in this video they did with clips from the movie. If you wish to know me than you must know this movie. Even now when I go to play ball I make a point to reach down, grab a handful of dirt and rub it between my hands.

“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.”
George Bernard Shaw

We’re sitting at the dinner table.  My son isn’t happy with the meal and I have explained that he can eat it or go hungry. He looks at me and I tell him it is time to make a decision. He takes a bite and immediately frowns.  Time stands still for a moment and I hear my own father telling me to spit it out or swallow it. I am about to say the same to my son and then I wonder if it is appropriate. I think to myself that he better not know that expression yet- he is almost 11. That is far too young.

His sister looks at me and asks why I am shaking my head and I tell her not to worry about it. Why am I caught up worrying about this nonsense is the question that she should have asked but of course she can’t hear my thoughts. That is good because if she could and she did ask me such a question I might have to wreak havoc upon the school. That little girl is only seven and she really shouldn’t know of this. If this were a different post I would rant about the need to let our children be children.

That George Bernard Shaw quote is one of my favorites and one that I want to frame. It is one that my kids should be able to say that dad loves. It is tied into the whole idea of living your dream and not dreaming your life away.

In the end I remind myself to do as Churchill says, Never Give Up and so I won’t.

Timing & Time Management

Life is nothing but a series of moments in time set against the backdrop of the people who share them.My goal is put myself in a position to savor and enjoy as much of that as possible. It is part of why I stopped wearing a watch. Those are the words I shared in a comment on my friend Kaarina’s post about time. Go read it, she makes some really good points.

Me? I am stuck in a moment that I can’t quite slip out of. I am lost in thought about a friend whose nine month old son died suddenly and another who lost her mother and sister this month. I am lost in thought about Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and these words stick with me

“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 tranquillity and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted.

The children ask me about this. They ask me for my thoughts and look up at me with wide eyed innocence wondering what I will say. The dark haired beauty wraps her hands around my bicep, “abba, make a muscle for me.” I smile and flex. She tells me that I am strong, but not stronger than G-d and then immediately looks into my eyes to see what sort of reaction I provide.

I tell her to go check the other muscle and then I lift her up and listen to her giggle. ‘There are two things that I want you and your brother to remember about this time of year.”  I pause for emphasis and then continue, “now is when you think about what kind of person you are and what kind you want to be.”

“You need to be good because it is the right thing to do and not because you are afraid of getting punished.” She nods her head and her brother finishes my thoughts for me, explains to her that we are responsible for our actions and for determining our future.

“Why did the baby die?” She must have overheard a conversation because I certainly didn’t tell her. “I don’t know. Sometimes there aren’t answers”

+++++

I am working hard to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves because life is short and I can’t stomach the idea of missing out on them. I am working on my writing and trying to assemble the pieces of a story that I see in my head. Pieces that remind me that The Rules Of Blogging are things that I have applied to it or maybe the story is something that I have applied to blogging.

And I remind myself that this moment that I am living in now is so very short and it is my obligation to push harder to do the things that I want to do and live the life I want to live.  That wacky Shmata Queen has been lurking around here and though she doesn’t comment she knows that I harp on certain things. She knows that when I play ball I love to rebound. Rebounding isn’t about height, speed or strength- it is about effort. It is about desire. It is about who is willing to run one step further and that is why basketball can be used as a metaphor for life.

+++++

There is a rhyme and a reason to why I use this joint to suss out my thoughts and declutter my mind. It is not because I can be a moody bastard or for anything other than because it helps me manage my time. And the way that it does that is by providing me with a venue in which I can determine what is most important to me. It provides a platform for me to speak to myself first in words that cannot be ignored. Read through these posts and you’ll see me illustrate how the past few years have had a bunch of rough spots. I don’t sugar coat it. While there have been great moments of joy there has been misery too.

This is where I call myself to the carpet and demand that I chart a new course based on what makes me happiest. This is where I start to map it out and that my friends is how I manage my time. I know where it is I am trying to go and what it is I am trying to do. Better to try to get there and fail than not to try at all.

And to my fellow MOTs I want to wish you all a Shana Tova Umetukah. May 5772 bring you all that you hope for and desire.

Would You Read This Story Part 3

Based upon tremendous reader feedback here is the sequel to Would You Read This Story and Would You Read This Story Part 2.

Hanging Out With Hairy

Inside the car I remembered that I hate commuting. The fact that it would have taken me just as long to get to the beach as it did to travel to the office was immaterial. Normally I would have spent the ride plotting ways to prick “Big Ed.” The precious minutes of beach time that I was wasting would have been devoted to thinking about how many different ways I could call Harold, “Hairy.”

Did I mention that at times I can be juvenile, selfish and spiteful. Not my finer traits, but hey, at least I am aware of them.

This time was different. Instead of plotting my silly revenge, enjoying music or listening to the ridiculous rantings of the anonymous talk show callers I was lost in a place that I wasn’t so sure I wanted to revisit. I was back in the past. It was a bit like walking into my garage. There were all sorts of treasures inside and a bunch of junk that I probably should get rid of, but never had.

I have always liked thinking of my memory as being a big garage or warehouse full of stuff. It works for me. There is something appealing about it. Whenever I need to remember something I simply walk into the garage and find the box it is located in. The problem is that like my real garage those boxes are not only dusty but they sometimes include items that I didn’t expect to find.

Back when I was married the garage was my refuge. It was my cave, my domain and all who entered it understood that it was dangerous to screw with things without my approval. Not surprisingly the ex thought that different rules applied to her. Although to be fair I learned long ago that once a woman starts sleeping with you she assumes certain liberties, like trying to convince you that Laura Ashley sheets are cool for the master bedroom.

My internal monologue was disrupted by the squealing by a loud thump, thump, thump coming from the car next to me. If you want to piss me off it is always wise to play your stereo at levels loud enough to make the windows shake. I have said more than once that if I am ever involved in a road rage incident it is going to be because of that.

The noise got my attention and I made a point of looking around to see where it was coming from. There was a large SUV in front of me that seemed to be the culprit. Sometimes it is hard to tell. The noise is so loud that it could just as easily be coming from the side or behind.

The license plate frame on the SUV said something about being a proud student of Grapevine Community College. The G.C.C. administration should be proud of this sort of representation. It really says something. Then again, I am a part time writing instructor there so maybe I should be more charitable with how I think of the students.

The writing gig isn’t bad. For the past ten years or so I teach one or two creative writing courses each semester. In the beginning I wasn’t so sure about it. They didn’t have an existing curriculum so I had to develop one on my own. That was supposedly going to lead to my earning more but I am not really sure that ever happened.

That first year I taught by Braille. It was a lot of touch, feel and react. I wouldn’t advise doing it that way. The department chair made a point of instructing me not to do it that way. He gave me a lot of good advice that I ignored. Sometimes my issue with authority causes trouble for me.

But we got through it. Over time I developed a teaching style and I found that I was pretty good at it. Most of my students were truly interested in learning so it made it easier to engage them. And of course it didn’t hurt that quite a few were relatively attractive women.

On a side note let me mention that you don’t want to tell woman that she is relatively good looking. It is the kind of remark that creates a minefield that no man wants to walk through. It is not that different from being asked if a particular item of clothing makes her look fat.

Say that she is relatively good looking and she will set you up for a verbal beating. You can almost guarantee that it will be an interrogation of what and who she is relatively good looking compared to. If you suffer from the same fits of stupidity that afflict me it will lead you to saying that she is far more attractive than a hippo or warthog.

You’ll say it with a big smile that you think she’ll find endearing and then after she has eviscerated you’ll wonder why you didn’t just save time by hitting yourself in the head with a hammer.

In case you are wondering I sometimes use that as part of my lecture. The students enjoy laughing at my expense. It is not unusual for the women to laugh the hardest or tell me that I should know better. I smile and shrug my shoulders. The guys usually like this too. After class a few of them will come and share their own war stories with me.

I like to try and use these kinds of stories because they work well as ice breakers. Get the class to laugh. Get them interested and engaged and it becomes far more interesting to everyone.

Not everyone appreciates these tales. Every class is filled with at least one person who doesn’t appreciate a self deprecating sense of humor. Did I mention that they are usually female. Is this coincidence? I think not. That leads to another useful safety tip for the men.  Don’t try to use that last line or any derivation of it in class. You’ll do great with the women who likes to hang out with the boys.

But invariably you’ll upset one or more who will decide that you are sexist and in need of being reported to whatever authority they think will screw you the hardest.

Ok, I admit it, I am a bit bitter and irked with the fairer sex. But I have a good reason, really, I do. I can tell you her name, her sizes. Yes, I said sizes, shoe, pants, panties, bra, blouse, whatever. I don’t give a damn whether you think that is cool, weird or what.

I can tell you how tall she is, her weight, what color her eyes are and a million other details. It has been years and I haven’t forgotten what she smells like or how it feels to kiss her. Years later and sometimes when I close my eyes I still see her looking back at me.

Years later and I can’t forget. The last time I saw her we kissed each other goodbye and headed off to our cars.

But I am not going to go there. It took a long time to put it aside. It took a long time to accept that the life I thought we were going to share wasn’t going to happen. Took a long time to convince myself that I couldn’t just wait around, that maybe love wasn’t enough.

And until the girls decided to have lunch with me that was ok. I was ok. Until that little bit about her being single I was ok.

I’ll say one thing for being distracted, it made the time in the car go by like it was nothing. Of course the downside to that was that I hadn’t spent any time thinking about an idea for my next assignment. And now I had all of five minutes to try to come up with one.