Archives for April 2012

How To Become a Better Writer In Three Easy Steps

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

There are terrors in the night and I am one of them. You don’t want to know what I do, where I go or who I do it with/to. That is because your freedom and safety is based upon the work of hard men who aren’t afraid to do what needs to be done.

That headline promises to make you a better writer in three easy steps but I am not sure that I believe it. I want to believe it because I want to become a better writer. I need to believe it because belief is a key element in making that happen, but I am not sure that it is as simple as three easy steps.

You see I wrote that headline for me and not for you. I did it because lately I feel like I have become a one trick pony. Most of my stories follow a formula and I don’t like that. I want to be better than that. Every time I read the posts and and stories over here I roll my eyes.

That is not to say that some of it isn’t good because it is. I feel like my writing is improving. I am making progress. I really liked these last three posts:

They aren’t perfect but I see progress and that makes me happy. Still I feel like I keep hitting the bag in the same place and that concerns me. I want to be good in a variety of styles, not just one. And if I can push myself up the ladder a little bit than I will reach for great.

Failure

I played two hours of ball tonight and lost every game I played in. That rarely happens. Most of the time my team wins, but not tonight. We lost 7 games. We lost 7 games because I played poorly and my teammates didn’t play as a team.

It drives me crazy. We normally win because we play smarter than the other guys. We normally win because I have figured out how to use limited talent to take over the game. Some of the guys have begun to ask me why my teams don’t lose. They don’t see the connection yet. They haven’t figured out the angles.

But I have. I see the game differently than they do. I know what I need to do to make us win.

Nothing Comes Easy

It is not entirely fair nor true to say that nothing comes easy. Writing is easy for me but that doesn’t mean that it is always good or that these posts work the way that I want to. Often they don’t, but I don’t give up. I keep pushing.

That is part of why my team usually wins. I don’t quit on the play and I try to play with guys who do the same. We aren’t winning because our talent is so much better than the other teams. We win because we gut it out and work harder.

It is what I try to do here. It is why I write so many posts and update this blog so frequently. I figure that if I write enough my words will begin to come together more easily and they’ll sing the song I want them to sing.

Music

Music is my constant companion. My inspiration, my salvation, my sunshine and my field of dreams. Here is a quick snapshot of what I have been listening to this evening.

  • Something In The Way She Moves- James Taylor
  • Born To Run- Bruce Springsteen
  • Visions of Paradise- Mick Jagger
  • I Can Love You Like That- John Michael Montgomery
  • A View To A Kill- Duran Duran
  • Theme from Harry’s Game- Clannad
  • Texas Flood- Stevie Ray Vaughn

There was more than that, there is always more than that. I can’t think of a time where music isn’t on my mind. I can’t think of a moment where it doesn’t give me an idea or move me.

Dancing

I am watching Christopher Walken dance in Weapon of Choice and thinking about how I wish that I was a better dancer or at least able to be less self conscious about it. I dance with the children all the time and I do it with reckless abandon.

There is great joy in dancing and my children radiate it. When I let go and let my body move I tell more stories but these are tales without words.

Words, Writers and Writing

Dancing makes me think of writing because when I am at my best the words flow from my fingertips onto the keyboard. I don’t think about what I am doing or second guess myself. I simply write. I just write with reckless abandon and no regard for whether they work well.

I want to dance as easily as I write and I want my wo i rds to move you to dance.

So that is why I keep pushing and pulling, tugging and yelling. That is why I post more frequently than five bloggers put together.  I do it because the only way I know how to improve is to work at it.

But don’t think that just because I have some natural talent I don’t wish that I really could become a better writer in three easy steps.

The Best Bloggers Are Storytellers Part 2

The best bloggers are storytellers. I wrote that last summer and I still believe it to be true. It is part of why I visit bloggers over and over and over again.

Mind you, that is an incomplete list and I can guarantee that I have unintentionally offended some people by not including them in a link or list. I am sorry for that. I know that it hurts not to be included and to feel like you have been looked over.


Bradburyonwriting

I know because I have felt it, feel it and have written about it. People have egos and sometimes they are bruised. Sometimes they are humbled. I know because life has humbled me…repeatedly. I know, I am not supposed to complain. I am not supposed to be angry, upset, frustrated or anything but happy because it could be worse. And I know that some of you want to know if I still know how to write funny posts.

I Am Funnier Than You Are

The answer is yes, I still write funny posts. I am still funnier than you are and Richard Dawson is still dead. Ok, that last line was a secret message that only one person will understand.

You are not really supposed to do that in blog posts, write secret messages to other people. That confuses the readers or so I once heard. I figure most of you are smart enough to move on and not worry about who I am exchanging secret messages with.

Somewhere there is a reader who is angry now because I said I am funnier than they are and I haven’t told any jokes yet. I also know that they aren’t Canadian because everyone knows that they are too nice to get angry, or maybe I should say they are too polite to tell me they are angry.

Good people those Canadians, they never stop smiling, even when I make fun of their currency and call it Monopoly money. Nor do they get upset when I ask them what it is like to have pet Polar bears.

TheJackB

See that link up above? It is for my Facebook fan page. If you aren’t a fan you should be. One day there might be prizes. The Oatmeal says that I shouldn’t beg you to like my page.

But what does he know. Dude is named after a cereal and he has a million more fans than I do. The Bloggess has a scary monkey named Copernicus and a book. She has a freaking book. Speaking of scary and books, Scary Mommy has a book.

I don’t have a book…yet.

I am working on it.

Really, you can see some of it here.

People

Some people love my story and some hate it. I am not worried about those that dislike it. It would be great if they did, but  I can’t help them not having taste. Or maybe I can’t help their having taste, hell I can’t figure it out.

The good news is that my friend Sandi has that covered for us. When you get frustrated you need to come here. Feel better? I know I do.

You see I feel better because even though aspects of life suck right now I am on top of changing things. I am working on a story about a boy who lives under a staircase and has magical powers he calls the force.

He has no family and very few friends and is required to fight a bunch of other kids to the death. In between fighting the kids he has to destroy a magic ring, fight off vampires, werewolves and a bunch of zombies from Band camp.

Along the way he’ll be befriended by a scarecrow, lion and some exceptionally intelligent flying monkeys. I might have them all sing and dance. I just need a catchy song and dance act. Maybe they’ll do the Time Warp.

On a semi related note, I found a video of a flash mob doing The Time Warp. I don’t know about you but I am getting tired of these flash mobs. All I want to do is get in and get out of the mall with no fan fare and I would if it wasn’t for these fercockteh flash mob dancers.

Yeah, I am the rude guy who told the fat, uncoordinated man that Lady Gaga and him don’t mix well. Or maybe I was the guy who told those dumb kids that I hate The Sound of Music. I am going to remake the movie and in my version the Germans win.

Storytelling

Stop taking this blogging thing so seriously and just write. Tell us a story with a beginning, middle and an end. Tell us about your dreams and how you are going to make them come true. Here is an example:

I am Jack and I want to become a full time novelist. If things go the way I want I am going to become quite wealthy. I’ll own a private jet, have a yacht and build a secluded island paradise or maybe not.

What about you? What are your dreams?

This is part of Just Write .

Sweep The Leg

sweeptheleg

Sweep the leg is the sort of pop culture reference that makes my generation smile. The boys and I use it both in jest and without, but I never thought that it would be used at my daughter’s soccer game.

That not just because the dark eyed beauty is 7.75 going on 30. It is because the league is for 8 and 9 year-old girls. It is supposed to be a place where the girls can have fun, learn how to be a part of a team and get the kind of exercise that video games can’t provide.

Most of the time the games really are nothing but fun, competitive but fun. But yesterday things got ugly. Yesterday the coach on the other team told his girls to sweep the leg.

Ok, I didn’t hear him say that but his team of pig tailed cut throats was out for blood. They pushed, kicked, shoved and tripped our girls with reckless abandon and unabashed enthusiasm.

The Enforcer

If you know me in real life you know that I play a very aggressive game on the field/court. I like the contact and I don’t mind banging into people or being hit. It is part of the game. So I told the girls to defend themselves. I told them that they were not to try and hurt the other team but that they couldn’t allow themselves to just be pushed around.

And then two of our girls went down hard and parents got angry. I did too. It was unnecessary.

I reiterated again that we weren’t there to retaliate but that we weren’t punching bags either.

In the interim things started to get ugly. The parents from the other team started trash talking and their coach told us to “get over it.” Words were exchanged and I began to wonder if things were going to wind up in a very dark place.

That made me very angry. There is no reason for that kind of talk or behavior, especially at a soccer game for kids.

The First Punch

I heard two of the fathers on their side start talking about who on our side needed to get their asses kicked and  I positioned myself just behind them. One of the other dads from my daughter’s team wandered over and told me that he thought I should stay out of it.

I laughed and told him that I wasn’t going to throw the first punch, but I wasn’t going to let them do it either. He said it wasn’t worth getting hurt and I told him that my kids weren’t going to witness a meaningless brawl on the side of the field.

He asked me how I would stop it and I told him that if necessary I would sweep the leg.

And Then What Happened

He laughed and I asked him to stay with me just in case something happened.  “I am not as big as you are and I don’t want to get hurt.” I shook my head at him and explained that it was unlikely he would. All we needed to do was stand in between the angry parties and calm would be maintained.

The coach for the other team turned and glared at us. “Your team is on the field coach, I think they need your attention. They are much cuter than we are. Maybe you should tell them to try kicking the ball and not our girls.”

My less than eager “peacekeeper” told me that I was doing a hell of a job of maintaining order. I smiled and said that some people just need a reminder that others are watching them.

In The End

The whistle blew and the game ended without fists flying. Several of our girls were in tears and there were still very angry parents buzzing about the edges of the field. More words were exchanged between them but fortunately nothing happened.

One of the moms on the other side made a crack about our girls being wimpy and I responded by telling her that nobody likes the mean girl and that mean moms are liked even less because junior high ended a long time ago. I wasn’t surprised to discover that she was the coach’s wife.

It really was a sad experience and a sad commentary about a lot of things. It is just a game.  My daughter is unaware of what happened between the parents on the sidelines so I am grateful for that.

Sometimes people are just peachy.

The Rhythm Of Life

I couldn’t decide if the lady in front of me was a professional body builder or if she had once been a “he.” Nor could I find a courteous way to let them know that I don’t care what their gender is or their sexual orientation but was curious anyway.

We were seated inside a coffee shop on Ventura Boulevard. She was wearing a dress, had long black hair, bright red lipstick and was wearing a pair of Ray-Bans. Over to the right I listened to some guy try to impress the girl he walked in with and laughed at the ridiculous things he said.

I probably shouldn’t have laughed because I have been known to tell a tale or two myself.

He reminded me a bit of a peacock and I might have muttered something about how Marlon Perkins should have been there next to me.

The rebuilt Sherman Oaks Galleria, opened in 2002

The rebuilt Sherman Oaks Galleria, opened in 2002 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every city and every home has its own rhythm of life but the Valley is the one that I know best. I remember the old Galleria and even if I didn’t all I would have to do is turn on Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Commando or a million other movies and they would transport me back in time.

I was a teenager when Valley Girl became a hit. I remember some of my cousins calling me to ask if I knew that “Encino” was famous. I thought it was kind of cool but it didn’t make much of a difference in my life until I was in college and even then it was relatively minor.

Can’t say that I remember too many of the girls speaking like Moon Unit does in the song, but there are definite elements of “truth” in it.

Now I look back at it and wonder if my children will try to tease me about it in the same way that my sisters and I used to tease our parents about their old yearbook pictures.

Maybe they’ll watch those John Hughes films that we never get tired of and roll their eyes.

Sunrise, Sunset

I don’t feel old nor do I think of myself as being anything but that guy I was between 19-25. It is true right, that reflection in the mirror isn’t quite right but that is only because I am looking at one of those wacky funhouse mirrors.

And these children of mine can’t really be this big already.  Every time I go watch them play soccer or basketball I marvel over how big they have gotten. And when they challenge me to a race or wrestling match I always take them up on it.

Dad has a serious competitive streak and he doesn’t like to lose, but one day they will be faster.

That moment fills me with hope, pride and dread. I want them to be better in every way but I am not nearly old enough to be ready to concede the athletic side of the fence to them. I accept that I can’t do what I did at 20 but I refuse to let go of the rest. Not now, not yet.

That Couple

I am still drinking my iced mocha. It is 183 degrees in the shade so I am nursing this sucker. The mystery lady in front of me keeps shifting in her seat and I keep looking around the place to see who else is in there with us.

There is a guy behind me that is talking far too loudly on his cellphone. I am not interested in listening to his conversation so I turn around and make eye contact with him.

Initially he glares at me but I don’t stop staring and he looks away first. A small smirk washes across my lips and I think of Marlon Perkins talking about the fight to be the alpha male.

There is an older guy standing at the front door. He dressed in charcoal slacks, dress shoes and a button down shirt. Salt and pepper hair help to camouflage the glasses propped on his head.

I wonder why who he is waiting for and why he is dressed up. It may not be summer but it sure feels like it. A woman walks in and I can tell that she is looking for someone.

She wanders over to the man and I can see her say something to him and I realize they are on a blind date. She is not dressed up like he is but it is clear she spent time perfecting her look.

They wander over to order drinks and he lets her walk in front of him. I watch his eyes roll up and down her body and he smiles. It took just a moment for him to decide that he is happy.

She finishes ordering her drink and steps aside so that he can order his.  Now the roles are reversed and she is the one checking him out. I don’t see her react one way or another. She is a better poker player than he is.

While they wait for their order to be filled they stand in front of my table exchanging small talk. I watch and listen, their proximity to my table not providing many choices in the matter.

Their drinks are ready and they walk away. Moments later I finish mine and walk out the back door.

The rhythm of life continues.

This post is part of YeahWrite#54.

The Problem With Public School

“Jack, you can’t send your children to public school. It is not like it was when we were kids. The schools were good then, but now they aren’t. They are scary places where gangs roam the halls, kids get high and there is sex in the bathrooms.”

That is not an exact quote, but it is pretty damn close. At least I think it is, but who knows what I really remember from the days before my son entered kindergarten. What I know for certain is that more than one person said it to me and at the time I agreed with it…in concept that is.

That was before we made the decision to sell the house and search for greener pastures. Of course that first house was never supposed to be anything more than a starter home. I was making a boatload of money then but decided that the smarter move was to buy a smaller place just in case things changed.

I figured that it would help protect us and that if things happened and income changed dramatically we would be protected. Well, things happened. 9-11 happened. The recession happened. The housing market exploded. I changed jobs. My partner stopped taking his pills and went crazy (that is a true story, not exaggerated) and I had to adjust the plan.

oodnata

That house was great, albeit small, but the neighborhood school wasn’t good enough. Not enough parental involvement, too many kids who didn’t go to preschool and a host of other reasons were enough to push us in a different direction.

Private school.

I was a public school kid and had never thought about private school for my children, but things change and we adapt. There wasn’t as much money in my wallet as there had been but there was enough and education is of paramount importance. So we sent Little Jack off to private school and marveled over the education he received.

Time passed and he was joined by his little sister. It certainly wasn’t any easier but I just tightened my belt and fought harder to find ways to make it happen. In between I wrote posts about the struggle to keep it going and searched for alternatives, but didn’t like the options.

The housing market was still crazy and though I had plenty of equity it wasn’t enough to get us into a house that offered bettered opportunity, or so I thought. Since the overwhelming majority of the family lived in town we didn’t want to leave. Two sets of grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins- all here.

But things happen and you have to adapt.

Middle School Approaches

The boy who at birth weighed an even eight pounds is more than ten times that now and almost finished with 5th grade. Middle school starts in 6th grade. Decisions have to be made.

His current school only goes through sixth grade so at best he has one more year there. But the thing is that I don’t know that I have the cash to keep it up. Not to mention that I have his sister to think about too.

I want her to get as much as he has gotten. I want her to have the same opportunities. I want to be fair. But I am not sure that I can make that happen and the guilt weighs upon my conscience.

There are decisions to be made and I don’t really know what will happen/.

A couple of good contracts and all is good. A couple of deals and I can put them both through another year but I don’t know if that makes sense. I am tired of fighting this battle year after year.

If I was a boxer and private school were my foe I would have a winning record, but I would be battered, bloodied and bruised. And for what?

Good Public Schools Exist

Good public schools exist but if you don’t live in the district there aren’t any guarantees that you will get in. It is a lottery and though the odds may be better than the state lotto there aren’t any guarantees.

We can move but…

Good public schools drive up the price of homes in the area. Rents are affected too.

I ask myself what I would do if money were no object and I have an answer but it doesn’t make me happy…