My Blogging Neighborhood

This may not be the world’s longest post but it may be the most important one I’ve written in a while.

I had a list of things I wanted to talk about but I put them all aside for the day.

Every now and then I do a little reflecting. There was a time I doubt I could even spell that word but now I find myself doing it all the time.

Call it older and wiser or maybe my brain is getting weird. On the other hand maybe I still have some of the hospital drugs floating inside me. But I’m going with weird.

Weird is the new cool, by the way.

I wanted to take a moment and talk about my blog, or better yet, the people I’ve met because of it.

My goal when I started this thing was to entertain and have fun. I’m pretty sure all of us have the same goals. Some of you are teachers and when it comes to the craft of writing you are the best. Others are entertainers doing your best to make us smile and make our day a little brighter.

For that we thank you.

I am a sociable person, just ask my buddy Jo. By the way, Jo loves a shout out but she never comments. Don’t let her shyness fool you.

When I started my blog I figured my topics would be the most important thing. After all if I couldn’t write anything good nobody would read it.

Somewhere along the way I made an interesting discovery: I was wrong.

As I mentioned I am a social person. Place me in a crowded room and chances are I’ll find my way in the middle of it. I guess it’s the Irish in me. We tend to be a little loud.

But the joy of this blog is you. Sure, I need to write the good stuff and do my best to create interesting topics but I have discovered the true good stuff is talking to my fellow bloggers.

A good laugh, a serious talk, you name it. The true joy is the unexpected and pleasant surprise of the friends I have made.

In a way it reminds me of an old fashion neighborhood where I walk out to collect my morning paper. Humor me. Let’s pretend it’s 1986.

I wave at K.M. Allan as she desperately searches for her morning paper. She can never find it, by the way. I want to help but it’s so much fun watching the search.

Speaking of K.M. she always drops by during taco night. Weird.

As my rambling slows to an end I would like to add one final thought:

We all need a reason to write our blogs and for me the reason is you. It’s an awesome way to meet people from all over the world and because of that we have created the world’s coolest neighborhood.

Many of us dream of that special neighborhood to call home and this is pretty close to that dream.

Thanks everyone!!!!!

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

Aunt Dot – Part 2

A while ago I wrote a little piece about my great-aunt Dot, her special vodka and her cold dead hand.

coffin

I was happy to read the comments that followed and the requests for other stories containing dear Aunt Dot.

At first I couldn’t think of any. Most of her years were spent as a nurse in Eastern Washington. It was during the later years of her life that she moved to my hometown in Western Washington.

 

Pictures, Trucks and Parties

One day I was thumbing through an old family album when a picture stirred a memory. A group of relatives stood in front of an old truck parked in a familiar park.

I noticed several pictures of that same day and before long another memory of Aunt Dot came into focus.

I was knee deep in high-school. Sixteen, maybe seventeen. It was late spring. May, I believe. Or possible June at the latest.

Somebody came up with an idea of a family reunion on my grandmother’s side.

 

The Grand Arrival

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Note: Aunt Dot was not Lucille Ball but when I think back this is how I see her.

It was a typical get together I’m sure many of you have experienced. There were relatives I knew, combined with those I barely knew. The usual comments – My how you’ve grown/you look just like you dad – followed by uncomfortable silence wondering what else to say.

Aunt Dot’s arrival consisted of the usual fan fair. She was second in line in a family of ten. Admired by some, scared by all. And then there was me.

For those reading this for the first time she adored me. To this day it’s still a mystery.

Her husband’s, past and present, were in attendance. As for her special vodka, keep in mind this was at least a year before I had my first taste.

The reunion was like any other. Grownups rehashed old memories. Little kids played and I discovered a distant cousin who had the most beautiful eyes I ever saw.

As the hashing and rehashing rolled along a tiny wrinkle came our way.

 

Beautiful eyes, Vodka and tiny glasses

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Nobody knew when it happened but when her older sister Emma shouted the news that Aunt Dot was missing her husbands, past and present, along the rest of us sprang into action.

Her eight sisters and one brother called out her name. Her nieces and nephews searched behind trees and bushes.

And I?

Did I mentioned the cousin with the beautiful eyes?

Aunt Dot’s love affair with vodka had a long family history. My earliest memory came as a child when we were her guests at a fancy restaurant. I was confused with her choice of beverage. Water in a tiny glass. My confusion grew as her face turned red and her laughter increased. At times, I noticed, she’d laugh at things that weren’t funny.

 

Aunt Dot and the grass stains

The search party ended not long after it began when my grandmother calmly called out – ‘Oh, here she is!’

With the help of her husbands, my vodka smelling great-aunt was pulled up a grassy hill that she had earlier rolled down.

Uninjured but a tad sleepy and a tad green from the grass stains she was gently placed in the back of my grandfather’s truck on top of an old mattress.

As for me?

Needless to say, I never saw my beautiful cousin again. I wonder if she thinks of me.    

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Happy Friday Everyone!!!

The First Draft Decision

My Troubled Kid

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All of us approach draft one in our own way. It’s like meeting someone for the first time. Some of us tip-toe through the introduction while others are eager to jump right in.

A few weeks ago I received good news from a friend that she had completed draft one. It only took her six weeks and a few bumpy roads consisting of minor scrapes and bruises and the occasional trip to the emergency room.

Other than that it was a marvelous success.

I replied to her with the proper congratulatory e-mail full of smiley faces and pretend hugs. The day got worse when another writer notified me of her first draft completion as well.

This one outdid the first one. Five weeks and not an injury in sight.

 

And then there was me

trouble 4

With the completion of book one I ventured on to book two. In my mess of notes I had several story ideas in front of me. I knew I could only choose one. Unlike a few who can write two novels at the same time I’m a one novel writing kind of guy.

 I took my time with the choice I would make. As you know writing a novel is a long process. It is a relationship and as with any relationship it’s wise not to jump in before giving it some serious thought.

I narrowed it down to two choices. It didn’t take long before I saw something.

 

Good vs. Clumsy as hell

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Of my two choices one of my ideas was somewhat easy in terms of first draft. The puzzle was laid out. The pieces in place and the dots easily connected. I could see the beginning, middle and end as easy as I could see the leaves falling off a nearby tree.

I would finish it in five weeks. Six tops. Maybe a month if the path was smooth. I could contact my two showoff friends and do a little boasting myself.

Then there was my second option. The puzzle not so clear. The dots not so bright and the storyline not the smoothest of travels.

But something caught my eye.

 

My Kids

In many ways our stories are our kids. We pay attention to those we worry about the most. We’re happy for the good, responsible one but sometimes we secretly admire the bad one. They have no borders, have zero time management skills and are probably incapable of lying no matter how bad you wish they sometimes would.

So there I stood. My two choices in front me. To my right my one kid had it all. He had friends, a job and no trouble on the horizon. He also paid off his car.

And to my left stood my trouble. She loved the dangerous crowd. She invited loose ends and she was always bumming a ride. To make matters worse I’m pretty sure she was dating the drummer.

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Good God, my kid is the bad girl.

 

The choice was easy

As I separated the pages in front of me I saw my fingers pull certain pages close while pushing others away. Before I knew it I was placing the good kid in a folder promising him not to worry.

I gave my troubled kid a long look. She was full of plot holes, she wasn’t clear what she wanted and she didn’t know where she wanted to go.

But there was something else that drew me to her.   

 

Just like me

Unlike my first kid who clearly took after his mother, the troubled one was all me. She had a good heart, a decent soul and was always forgetting to call if she was running late.

But I knew she meant well.

As I collected my notes and placed her in front of me I knew we’d figure this out. She was a mess and we had a lot of work to do but she was my mess.

So now I wonder: Am I drawn to troubled stories that remind me of the worst I have to offer? Slightly mixed up, hopelessly lost and a laugh that is way too loud.

Probably.

But who cares. Life is short and sometimes a loud laugh is the only music in town.

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SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

American Football

football

For my non-American friends football is soccer and when I think about it, it makes a lot of sense.

You have a foot. You have a ball. You take that foot and you kick that ball. The next thing you know you’re analyzing the situation and after a moment or two you’re yelling at the top of your lungs – “I invented Football!’

It probably didn’t happen that way but since I’m in the pretending mood I’ll say it did.

 

An Odd Shaped Thing

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Out here in the states we have our own football. The ball is a really weird shape. You do not kick it, you do however tuck it under your arm and you run really fast until a dude and six of his friends pummel you to the ground.

When you try to stand chances are pretty high you’ll forget your name, what team you play for and any chance of spelling CAT will be a pipe dream.

Oh and one more thing: Two minutes later you’ll do it again.

 

A Typical College Football Town

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I live in a football town. It is a college town where the players play for free. They are given scholarships and a dream that someday, if they’re good enough, they will play for pay in the NFL and if that happens millions of dollars awaits.

Our team is known as the Oregon Ducks. Green and yellow everywhere.

I originally came from the state of Washington, home of the Washington Huskies and the Seattle Seahawks. This makes me a Husky fan. It also makes my life a constant danger. You see, out here Oregon fans hate the Huskies therefore all of us Washington transplants must hide our allegiance in our hall closet.  

 

Green and Yellow Galore

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Out here there are two types of football fans: Those who love it and those who could care less. 

During the fall my neighborhood is littered with yellow and green flags. The cars are decorated with fuzzy thingy’s of equal color. It’s really fun when it rains. They stick everywhere.

Bumper stickers, shirts, hats and lots of happy or sad people are everywhere. Depending of course on the final score.

Sometimes I secretly envy the ones who could care less. When your emotions rely on an 18 to 22 year old chances are there is something clinically wrong with you.

 

My Heart Belongs in Alabama

I live ten minutes from the stadium but I have never been to a game. Call me cheap or a Saturday couch potato and you are probably right.

But one day, five years ago, a good friend talked me into traveling south to the great state of Alabama where 110,000 football lovers await.

I had such a great time I did it again two years later.

On a side note: I could have done without the constant singing of Sweet Home Alabama from the beginning of the game to the end but that’s another blog post.

 

We’re a tad weird

NCAA Football: UCLA at Oregon

 

Americans are a silly bunch. Our President can cheat on his wife and all is forgiven. Our Government can rob us blind and we slap them on the wrist but if you mess with the game we love you my friend have crossed the line.

For my friends who live far away come on out and enjoy our game. Be sure to plug your ears and get ready to eat a lot and to be on the safe side, root for the home team.

Oh and one more thing: If you come to Oregon be sure to bundle up. We play rain or shine. Usually rain.

 

Happy Friday Everyone!!!!

Giving and Receiving Negative Feedback – The things I learned

mumbo

When I think back to the early stages of my work negative feedback had no place in my home. Trust me, you wouldn’t find a welcome mat anywhere.

How can they not love this, I would shout. My work is solid! Perfect! An outstanding piece of first draft mumbo jumbo!

Yes, I was one of those. I also cried a lot in my crib.

 

I am Mozart!

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Being under the illusion that all of my first drafts were glorious it is now clear that the beginner version of me was headed straight into a concrete wall minus a helmet.

The other problem I had was watching the wonderful movie Amadeus one to many times.  If Mozart could nail it in one try why not I?

Yes. I was comparing my writing to Mozart’s genius. Jokes are welcomed.

 

How can you hate me?

Around this time I belonged to an on-line critique group. I had yet to submit my work as I was enjoying the early stages of critiquing others but when the time came to submit a story you can guess my surprise when the comments rolled in.

Convinced nobody ‘got it’ I moved on and added other stories along the same line, convinced again that this was a one-time thing.

 

Speak up, I can’t hear you

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Listening is a skill. Sure, we all listen but not all of us apply what we hear. With that in mind it didn’t take long for me to realize I had a lot to learn in the listening department.

As time went on and my visions of being the writing version of Mozart evaporated, I came to the conclusion that if one was to survive this art known as writing your tail off one had to perfect their listening skills when bad feedback occurred.

As I slowly learned the art of handling a tough critique I learned something just as valuable: How to give one as well.

 

Applying tough love

For as hard as it can be to receive, it can be equally as hard to give. I’m pretty sure empathy had a lot to do with it. Who wants hurt feelings?

But a writer needs to know if something doesn’t work and I knew a writer had to listen the same way I did. Good old tough love.

The most important lesson I learned when giving negative feedback was the beginning of their work. The writer is nervous. They want to hear the feedback but at the same time they don’t.

One of the tricks I learned from the experts was to open with a positive. I would point out an excellent piece in the early part of their work and highlight it. I explained how it stood out and moved the story forward.

From there I would gradually go to the center of their story where I felt it needed the most work and slowly end my feedback on a positive note.

 

I don’t want to hurt you

I’ve had a lot of success with this technique mainly because it was used on me. Hearing something positive at the beginning loosened me up and gave me a feeling of trust especially later when things were pointed out that needed lots of work.

As we all know writing is tough and receiving a tough critique is not a pleasant way to spend our day. Sometimes I wonder which is harder: Giving a tough critique or receiving one.

In the end it’s another step in the right direction.

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SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

My Time Capsule

College football is my favorite sport and at the end of the year my favorite game is in full bloom.

While watching my favorite team get pummeled in their playoff matchup I figured now was the time to busy myself up.

Since I was the alone in the house I had two choices: 1) Continue to moan and groan at my team or 2) Find a distraction.

I have a drawer below my desk that desperately needs cleaning. It’s one of those junk drawers that I’ll bet most of you have.

With the TV in my man’s den playing and my team continuing to lose I opened the drawer and went to work.

I had no idea the treasure I would find.

 

Picture 1

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As you can see it’s a pretty average looking drawer.

 

Picture 2

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Ignore Flash and his photo bombing antics.

 

Picture 3

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In my house we call this mess a glorified mess.

 

Picture 4

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Just before I went to work I came upon an old metal box that I made in high school. I forgot it was there. Curious, I opened it.

 

Picture 5

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Old notes, mysterious jewelry and a handful of odds and ends littered the inside. As I began to put it back something told me to dig a little further.

 

Picture 6

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At the very bottom I came upon a piece of paper. The moment I saw the title the goal of cleaning out the drawer vanished. As you can see the title was simple and straightforward: Goals for 1989, January 2nd.

Curious at this magical little piece of a time capsule I took it out and carefully inspected each goal. Now, for your viewing pleasure, I thought it would be fun to share them with you.

 

Make College Top Priority: Goal achieved.

Get the best grades that I can: I was a happy B and C student. I was who I was.

Move away to college – Eastern or Oregon: I was living in my hometown of Burlington, Washington. I was already accepted at Eastern Washington University but I had my eye on a little college in Southern Oregon.

Working hard at one thing can make me the best: I distracted easily. In fact I still do. Ohhhh…..a puppy video!!!!!

Work hard on exercising: Goal achieved.

Keep a strong friendship with Susanne: Who the hell was Susanne?

Write more often to Stacey: Who the hell was Stacy?

Work hard at Sears: Happy I didn’t make Sears my career.

Ask more questions to teachers: Not sure I lived up to that one. Who needs that kind of attention?

Read and write more: Goal achieved!!!

Put full effort in everything I do: Probably didn’t happen. Key word is everything.

Keep Positive: Pretty sure I had a few down days. You’ve got to give me that.

Grow up: I’m still telling myself that.

Life must began now: I think I used the wrong began. 

Take on responsibilities: Does binge watching late night HBO count? I was really good at that.

Realize my potential and what I want out of life: That was a pretty good goal and one that I think I finally figured out.

So there you have it. A little piece of me on the second of January, 1989. Looking back it was a huge year for me and in many ways the decisions I made that year brought me to where I am today.

It’s amazing, don’t you think, of all the goals we make and how some of them take us to where we need to be. Now if I can just figure out who Susanne and Stacy were my day would be complete.

 

Happy Friday Everyone!!!!

Writing a novel is a fascinating experience

Novel 1

For about a month my writing routine has not exactly been on par. Sure, I’ve had my moments but they have been few and extremely far in between.

The last week of November I did what I could to keep ahead of things but I knew I would be thrown off once the operation arrived. When my prediction came true I wasn’t surprised but I was still annoyed.

 

My Messed up Head

novel 2

The pain pills, the rehab and the adjustments of living with a freshly new knee messed up my concentration on a high level. For a while I couldn’t turn on that switch that I had grown used to.

It wasn’t the case of desire, in fact it had more to do with the cupboard being bare. But something strange occurred last week and it made me wonder if writing is as solitary as we think.

 

My Messed up Novel

My current work had a giant plot hole. For months I have worked and reworked it. At times I thought I had it but in the end it became nothing more than false celebration.

For a while I tried working around it figuring this plot hole mess would heal on its own. When that didn’t work I’d spent hours failing to fix it wondering if I chose the wrong story to tell.

When the operation arrived I put everything aside. I knew the energy and the drive of dealing with my story’s mess would create more harm than good. But on the day after Christmas I forced myself to sit down in my old familiar writing spot and try again.

 

Weird Happenings

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I have always thought that writing a novel can be just as entertaining as the novel itself and on that particular December 26th morning my thoughts held true.

I drew out a map of the novel pointing out the pluses and minuses. Suddenly, with ease, the giant plot hole from hell appeared to have solved itself.

Unlike before, my characters found their place, the story-line eased a few degrees to the left while an unknown side character filled in the blanks.

Side character? Blank Filling? What the hell is going on?

Did the characters meet at a Portland Starbucks while I was under the knife? Or did they choose the hospital cafeteria to work out the details?

Did I mention the cafeterias outstanding cheeseburger?

 

Time to go to work

Now I have a story I can write. My confidence is real. Not an ounce of doubt in site. But no matter how good it feels I can’t help but wonder.

How did the story fix itself without yours truly at the wheel?

If I’ve said it before I’ve said it a thousand times: Writing a novel is a fascinating experience.

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR, FRIENDS!!!!

I hope 2019 is the best for all of us.

Happy New Year 2019 with colorful fireworks
Happy New Year 2019 with colorful fireworks