November, No NaBlo

Grizzly

3800 feet up in El Dorado County.  Taken a few weeks ago, when the deciduous species among the evergreens were just beginning to display their autumn color.

It’s Halloween this week, and that can only mean one thing:  The annual start of NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo.

As much as I’ve enjoyed writing this blog, I’m not going to kid myself into thinking that I have it in me to write a novel.  I made a few very halfhearted (quarterhearted?  eighthhearted?) attempts in that direction in the halcyon days of my youth, which I always quickly abandoned due to a combination of lack of imagination, paucity of ambition and plain old horrible writing.  So good luck to the NaNoWriMo crew, and may the fruits of your labor not languish in your sock drawer or molder in the slush pile.

Having said no to the novel, what does that leave me with?  Well, there’s always memoir (everyone has a story, right?), but I’ve already written one of those.  Poetry?  I’ve dabbled in doggerel since the age of ten and, well, my poetry just plain sucks.  In the immortal words of A.E. Housman, “it gives a chap the belly-ache.”

That pretty much leaves me with blogging, among the few media other than Tweets and Facebook posts that one can get away with doing badly.  Doing it really badly may even yield the reward of many comments.  You may not wish to read such comments prior to imbibing in a pint or two, but there you are.

I have participated in NaBloPoMo thrice.  Each time resulted in at least a modicum of satisfaction (just for finishing, if nothing else).  One must respect the achievement of those who finish the marathon, even if in last place.  I’m far too old to be a millennial who was raised on trophies for participation alone.  Still, as Dr. Phil intoned during a recent episode of his show, the law student who graduates last in his or her class is still called an attorney.  (I have a few issues with that one, but okay.)

The above notwithstanding, there are only so many times one can make an effort as intense as that required by NaBloPoMo without going cross-eyed at the thought of doing it yet again.  If further excuses are needed, I will cite preparation for an upcoming Scrabble tournament in Arizona and hours at work that seem to grow longer and longer by the week.  Daily blogging was certainly a lot easier when I was unemployed.  Nothing against NaBlo, but I am a lot happier being employed, thank you.

It seems a compromise is in order.  While I will definitely not be blogging daily during November, I will endeavor to post at least weekly.

I figure that if my attention is diverted elsewhere, at least I can write about it.

 

Help! My Parents are Stuck in 1995!

iPhone

We made another weekend run down to the Central Valley because my mother needed me to help her with some paperwork related to her stockholdings.  Buying and selling stocks has been a hobby of hers since back in her working days.  My parents have now been retired for twenty years, leaving Mom with plenty of time to pursue her fascination with Wall Street.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, my parents didn’t own a computer and didn’t subscribe to a newspaper (unless you include running out for bagels on Sunday morning and hauling home a doorstop-sized New York Times).  My mother listened to the stock reports on the radio and, every so often, would have my father drive her to the public library, where she’d pore over the latest Wall Street Journal.

Nowadays, Mom turns on the TV at 5:00 pm every weekday (unless my parents are out to dinner at Red Lobster) to watch the stock reports on one of the five over-the-air stations that can be pulled in out on the rangeland.  My parents live in the country, don’t receive cable, and once tried to install a dish antenna on the roof of their house but quickly removed and returned it when they couldn’t get it to work properly.  They still don’t subscribe to a newspaper, but they do own a PC.  Dial-up connection, of course.  Remember those?  Ooooooweeeeeeaaaaahhhhshhhhhhhhhhhh… You’ve got mail!

Yep, my parents are stuck in 1995.

About half the time that I call my parents, I am unable to get through because Dad is online, looking at pictures of old cars and checking out the for sale ads (his own Model A Ford sits in the garage).  When I see him, he rails about the scourge of internet abbreviations and about how people don’t know how to spell anymore.  Meanwhile, Mom is listening to conservative talk radio in the kitchen.  When I see her, she bemoans the atrocious grammar of the broadcast personalities and those participating in the call-in shows alike.

My father, who is 81 years old and had never used a computer until he was retired for several years, knows how to Google search terms, send and receive email, contact me via IM (exceedingly rare) and place bids on eBay.  Each afternoon (after his daily TV dose of theater and opera goes off the air at 1:00), he logs onto AOL and checks my mother’s stocks.  Back east on Wall Street, the market has just closed for the day.  He scribbles the prices and progress of each of her stockholdings (XYZ 128.16 +1/8) on a sheet of paper, after which he hunts down my mother (likely tending her roses out front or watering a fruit tree out back) and provides her with the results.  Mom then transposes this information into neat columns in her stock notebook.  I am impressed with the detail (“See?  This is the PE ratio.  I am watching this one reeeeaaaalllly closely.”), which looks for all the world like a Stone Age version of an Excel spreadsheet.  I am tempted to make a bad Fred Flintstone joke here, but you know, poor Mom.

My mother assures me that she knows how to look up her stocks online without any assistance, thank you, but that she lets my father do it because he’s online anyway and, goodness knows, he sure doesn’t do anything else around here.  She then proceeds to gripe about how he goes to bed early, sleeps until 10 every day, and then takes two hours to get ready and have his cereal with blueberries, which he finishes just in time for his theater and opera show.  Meanwhile, she tells me, she herself couldn’t possibly sleep past 7:30 or 8, at which time she gets up and does all the work around the house with no help at all from peacefully snoring Dad.  I did not exactly ingratiate myself to her when I offered that I plan to do exactly the same when I retire and that I, too, do nothing around the house.  My wife enthusiastically vouched for the veracity of my assertion.  Like father, like son, hey?

My mother has an armload of college degrees and has always been a smart cookie.  Her investments are about as conservative as her politics, but she does make money.  Not a lot, mind you, but the quarterly dividend checks roll in and when the stock goes up just the right amount, she’ll make a stop at her discount brokerage house on the way to Food Maxx and place an order to sell that sucker.  Capital gains tax?  Just a part of the game, son, just a part of the game.

“What’s your strategy?” they ask Mom at the brokerage, marveling at her many small victories.  “I have no strategy!” she snaps back.  The trick, she assures me, is patience.  Like a cat, you stay real quiet and wait for just the right moment and then… Pounce!

Let’s just say that I am seriously impressed with Mom.  What I find particularly amazing about my mother’s investments is that most people spend money on their hobbies, but she makes money from hers.  Whether you’re into golf or sewing or travel or collecting things (or, in my own case, attending Scrabble tournaments), it’s always a money pit.  It would be wonderful if one day I, too, manage to find a formula for doing something I enjoy and have the checks roll into my mailbox every three months or so.

Nah, ain’t happening.  I’d rather sleep until ten like Dad.

Dial-up modem notwithstanding, my parents do have cell phones.  They each have their little TracPhone, which Dad likes to hang on his belt when he goes out, while Mom keeps hers tucked in her purse.  My sisters and I find those two cell numbers mighty convenient for times when Dad is online again and we just have to tell Mom something right now.  All three of us know that if the house phone is busy, you call Dad’s cell, which may be plugged in to charge somewhere, so if there’s no answer you proceed to calling Mom’s cell.  My father even knows how to navigate his little black and white screen to key in his contacts.  It took my parents years to advance to this stage, so I suppose I should be grateful that they’re not still stuck on a plain black wall phone and no “answering machine.”  Really, Mom, you know it’s called voicemail, right?  My wife reminds me that rolling one’s eyes is impolite, mister.

Of course, my parents still don’t text.  Even their funky TracPhones have that capability, but my parents are just not interested.  Texting leaves Mom cold.  If she can’t see my face, at least she wants to hear my voice.  I guess I should be flattered, but oy, Mom, it’s a pain in my tokhes when I need to tell you one little thing and can’t without getting on the phone with you for an hour.  I don’t always have an hour, Mom.  What?  You don’t have an hour for your old mother?  Not when I’m at work, Mom!  Not when I’m at the supermarket, Mom!  Not when I’m barreling down the 99 and I know I’m about to hit that dead spot between Nicolaus and Natomas.  The upshot is that you lose out on a lot of stuff that might bring a smile to your face and make your day.  To date, my arguments have been unsuccessful.

Mom and Dad have now become accustomed to the way it is when my wife and I are visiting.  Most of the time, we have our iPhones out.  It’s not like we’re texting all the time or anything, but we keep one eye on email and my wife is aware when someone posts a comment on her Facebook status.

My phone buzzes.  “What was that?” Mom asks.  I have a new follower on my blog, I tell her.  Ohhh, she says sweetly, do you still do that?  Barely, I tell her.  These days, I only have time to post on Sundays.  But do you still have a lot of followers?  I don’t feel like explaining that followers don’t just go away; you have to be really boring for them to take the time to go into their WordPress Dashboards and unfollow you.  It’s okay, Mom, I wish I could say.  I’m so glad that you don’t really understand about this stuff and that you don’t read my blog because I write about you quite a lot and some of the things that have come out of my fingers would make the hair stand up on your graying head.

My father’s eyes dart back and forth between my wife’s purple phone and my orange one.  And he sighs.  Maybe we’ll have to come into the 21st century eventually, he offers.  “I really, really wish you would!” I reply.  It’s not that expensive anymore, I tell him.  The prices have come way down from when Apple first came out with this.  Dad is very good about keeping his TracPhone charged, but should I tell him about wifi and 4G?  He is impressed when Mom asks me for the address and phone number of one of my cousin’s ex-wives and it takes me about 30 seconds to locate the information on my phone.  “It’s really quite useful,” I say of my iPhone.  I want to tell Mom that she can tap an icon and see the latest prices of her stocks, but I bite my lip and refrain.

If my parents are to take the plunge off the deep end, I know it will have to be Dad first.  I wonder whether we should just get it over with and buy them a pair of iPhones with protective covers in some cutesy his ‘n hers colors.  Wouldn’t it be great if I could text Dad “good morning” every day?

I know, Dad, not before 10 a.m.

How to Know When You’re a “Real” Writer

I never cease to be amazed by the well-intentioned misinformation about writers and writing that I read online.  Occasionally, I am amused, but far more often, I just want to scream. What frustrates me most is knowing that some readers are going to believe this crap.  I suppose the bottom line is that one cannot know what it’s like to be a writer until one has experienced it for one’s self.  And, like everything else in life, everyone experiences writing differently.

The following are among the common clichés about writing that tick me off royally:

A “real” writer writes because he or she cannot not write. Don’t be a writer unless you have to. If you can do anything else, do that instead.  This view makes writing seem like a disease, and a painful one at that — a fate worse than death that any sane individual will assiduously avoid.  Anyone who would actually choose to be a writer is seriously loco en la cabeza.  This view is dismissive of those of us who write for the sheer joy of it, not out of some obsessive-compulsive tendency that, if unchecked, may yield to drooling madness.  It makes us seem as if we are all on Xanax.  Geez!  Oh, and by the way, we writers generally do lots of other things in addition to writing.  Heroic things like raising children and running things (companies, soup kitchens, marathons, away).  Which brings us to…

A “real” writer writes as a full-time job. However, writing part-time can be a lovely hobby.  Grrrr!  Hobby, my ass.  A lot of us get up early in the morning to write before work and then burn the midnight oil to write again before we get a few hours of sleep.  Rinse and repeat.  We don’t do this out of compulsion, we do so because we derive pleasure of seeing our black words on a white page and because we believe it’s important work.  Oh, I see, it’s still a lovely hobby because we don’t get paid for it, right?  Which brings us to…

A “real” writer gets paid for his or her work and makes a living at it. So, literary merit is judged solely in terms of dollars, pounds and euros?  A writer is one who writes.  Period.  A 15 year old girl who scribbles poems in the margins of her algebra homework notebook is just as much a writer as Stephen King.  If you think I’m full of it, read this.  It is well known that some of the greatest artists in history toiled in obscurity for years, reaping negligible financial benefits from their work within their lifetimes.  Oh, and by the way, neither William Carlos Williams nor Lewis Carroll was a writer because the former was paid to be a doctor and the latter to be a mathematician.  I do understand that you must pigeonhole me into a classification based on what I do to earn a paycheck because your little pea brain will explode otherwise.  I feel sorry for you.

A “real” writer has been published and has his or her work on a shelf in Barnes & Noble or the public library. Ah, looks as if we’re back to the small minds club again.  Folks in this category are kissin’ cousins of those who believe that microbes don’t exist because they can’t be seen with the naked eye.  Fortunately, there’s a thing called the microscope these days.  Look through that lens and, along with the amoebae, you will see things like blogs, self-published books for sale on Amazon and the contents of my hard drive (which I really ought to back up again considering the extent of my recent drivel, er, output).

A “real” writer is a misunderstood, tortured soul who oozes his or her pain and misery onto the page. You have to love this one.  Yes, and we all wear berets and sit in cafés with our notebooks while we smoke unfiltered French cigarettes and sip from goblets of vin rouge.  I’m not saying I haven’t penned a line or two alongside a latte at Starbucks, but my habitual mode of writing is on my laptop perched precariously on a TV tray or scratched hurriedly onto a lined yellow pad during my lunch break at work.  Believe it or not, not all writers pursue the craft as a means of discount psychotherapy.  At times, of course, writing may serendipitously have such a side effect.  Generally, however, our work is a product of creativity, craftsmanship and lots of practice, not tortured verbal bleeding.  Which brings us to…

Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. While I appreciate the lovely rhyme, I believe my fellow writers would agree that the mathematics of this proposition varies wildly among individuals and may be gravely affected by the weather, the fight we had with our kid, the vet bill and what we had for breakfast.  Some days we feel like slaves in the word mines, while on other days, the words flow like water and le mot juste appears unbidden.  Those are the days that we thank God we are writers and know that it’s the most worthwhile endeavor on earth.

To my fellow bloggers: Each of you, every last one, is a writer.  To let anyone tell you otherwise is to diminish yourself unfairly.

The Refrigerator Rules

refrigerator rules

I usually don’t write much about what goes on at work.  This is partly out of self-protection, as I was previously unemployed for a year and would prefer not to walk down that road again anytime soon.  But it’s also partly out of a desire to achieve what in current HR lingo is known as “work/life balance.”  In other words, I work enough hours that when it comes to blogging on my day off, I’d really rather talk about something else.

More often than not, that “something else” ends up being my extended family.  However, I recently discovered that there are limits to what one may write on this subject without causing, well, let us say “discord” and “domestic discomfort.”  In other words, I got in trouble for reporting certain things that I subsequently had to remove.  And since I find it rather boring to discuss the weather (my readers suffering through a snowy winter on the East Coast will have my hide for reporting that it was 78°F here in sunny California today) or the rising price of petrol, I’m pretty much left with tales of my working life.

I’ll start this rodeo by reporting on the six cardinal sins posted on our refrigerator at work.  I realize that the photo above only goes up to number 5, but notice that two different items are labeled as number 3.  Whoever made this sign must be long gone from our workplace, as I work with a bunch of super sharp data savvy people, while the sign maker obviously can’t count.

1. Please do not eat or drink foods that do not belong to you. If you didn’t bring it, don’t take it!  It is nothing short of painful that this rule should have to be spelled out in a workplace that is presumably populated by adults.  This rule signals, loudly and clearly, that at some point someone had stolen someone else’s lunch.  We may never know whether this occurred merely due to lack of sufficient will power to resist someone’s tasty leftovers (as opposed to, say, a boring old PB&J), or perhaps due to a gnawing hunger accompanied by lack of a lunch pail or money to purchase a meal at the café downstairs.  I tend to doubt that it was the latter situation that prompted Rule #1, as we all receive a fairly decent pay envelope each and every month.  If I am wrong about this, however, please see me and I will gladly share my carrots, spinach and tofu with you.  As for the miscreant with the lack of self-control issue, may I take a moment to remind you of a little ditty we learned in kindergarten?  It went something like this:  “I won’t take it, it’s not mine… I’ll have my coworker’s Lean Cuisine some other time.”

2. Do not leave food in the refrigerator to rot and smell. If you brought it and didn’t eat it, throw it away.  I did not fully appreciate the importance of this rule until it was my unit’s turn to clean the kitchen last month.  On refrigerator cleanout day, it is customary to send out an email to all staff members letting them know of the time of day at which unlabeled food will be removed to the counter and then discarded if not picked up by the end of the day.  I had forgotten that I had a water bottle full of almond milk in the refrigerator, my weekly supply to top off my morning mug of tea.  As I was held up by a meeting, when I arrived at the kitchen to join the cleaning crew, I found my bottle sitting on the counter.  I guess I should locate an indelible black marker and clearly indicate my name on my bottle:  PROPERTY OF THE RESIDENT VEGAN.  DO NOT TOUCH OR THE TOFU MONSTER WILL GET YOU.  I won’t get into graphic descriptions of some of the science projects we removed from the refrigerator.  (Shudder)  My own contribution to our little cleanup project was scrubbing out the microwaves.  Oh, and I should mention that we found ourselves without any cleaning materials.  I wet some paper towels in the sink and proceeded to scrub away as best I could.  The larger of the two microwaves wasn’t too bad.  The roof of the smaller one, however, had brown baked-on goo to be dealt with.  As hard as I scrubbed, I couldn’t remove it.  My best guess is that this crud is the projectile remains of someone’s delectable frozen entrée from, oh, 2008 or so.  Something tells me that, long after I retire or die, the phantom brown goo will remain.  And this is a microwave oven in which dozens of employees heat their lunches daily.  Ewww.

3. Do not bring “Costco” size containers. They take up too much space.  Single serving size only, please.  For the benefit of my readers outside the United States, I will explain that Costco is a giant warehouse store that specializes in selling food and household products in industrial sizes appropriate for feeding, say, the entire school or football team or even the population of some of the smaller towns around here.  Considering that one of these packages can easily occupy an entire shelf, of which each of our two refrigerators has only three, I can see the reason for this rule.  I can’t imagine why anyone would want to bring one of these monstrosities to work, unless perhaps they plan to eat out of that lasagna pan every day from now until Christmas.  I would venture to say that no one is likely to fess up to this particular indiscretion and that, should such a package appear in the refrigerator, it would be unlikely to have anyone’s name written on it.  No worries, though.  This rule breaker will be caught on the very next refrigerator cleanout day when the unlabeled package will be unceremoniously evicted from its frosty domain.  You can be sure that we’ll all be watching that counter to find out who comes to claim it.  Remember, the price of anonymity is consignment to the trash bin at 5 p.m.

4. Do not leave foods uncovered. This is especially important when the food has a strong odor.  Better yet, try not to bring foods that may have a strong odor such as garlic or onions.  This is also good advice for your breath during the workday.  I seldom leave anything other than my little bottle of almond milk in the refrigerator.  However, every so often, I find that I have made a bit too much lunch and leave my (tightly-sealed) Rubbermaid container in the fridge for finishing the next day.  Ultimately, however, I plead guilty to this sin, as I am in the habit of liberally seasoning my food with garlic and hot salsa.  I must admit that many of the foods that we vegans tend to have on our regular menus (things like mushrooms, eggplant and carrots) are rather bland.  Palatability is greatly increased by the application of liberal doses of the spicy stuff.  So even if my closed plastic containers do not stink up the entire refrigerator, I probably walk about with dragon breath all afternoon.  Maybe all morning, too, as I have been known to season my breakfast, as well.  I totally love tofu, but — bland, bland, bland.  One day soon I promise to start using that roll of Breath Savers that has been sitting forlornly in my desk drawer for months now.  In the meantime, I’ll try not to breathe on you.

5. If your container leaks or spills in the refrigerator, clean the spill. This reminds me of a sign that was seen around a place where I was employed several decades ago.  It read “Your mother does not work here.  Clean up after yourself.”  The irony was that some entire families worked in that establishment, so it was entirely possible that your mother did indeed work there.  Not that she had any intention of cleaning up after you, of course.  I hope I haven’t inadvertently violated this rule at any point, but my guess is that I will do so sooner or later.  Some of us (I am a prime example) are totally oblivious and unlikely to notice even if we do spill.  And if we do notice a spill, we will likely think it was the result of leakage from someone else’s lunch.

6. Do not look through your coworkers’ food to see what they brought. Generally, those who want to know what I brought for lunch (often due to the delicious smell wafting from the microwave) take the straightforward approach and just ask.  I’m always happy to relate the details of each can that I lovingly opened and dumped into the plastic container now spinning about on High, releasing who knows what kinds of carcinogens in the process.  As the rule states, rummaging around in the refrigerator is a practice greatly frowned upon, as it may appear that you are you going shopping in preparation for violating Rule #1.  Don’t be so curious, George.

I’m sure glad that the anonymous rule poster at least finished up by saying thanks.  With exclamation points, no less.

What lists of rules are posted at your workplace?  Does eating lunch at work involve refrigerator thieves and microwave slobs?  Tell us all about it!

One Lovely Blog Award

One Lovely Blog Tree

I’d like to start out this Thanksgiving week by giving thanks to fellow blogger Mindyminix for nominating me for the One Lovely Blog Award.  This is such an honor, Mindy, and I greatly appreciate your generosity.

Mindy, I should add, is the pride of Missouri, the “Show Me State” and indeed, she has shown us all how this blogging thing is done!  While the murder of Mike Brown by police and the resulting unrest in Ferguson over the summer has largely passed from the public consciousness, I would encourage you, dear readers, to head over to Mindy’s blog and learn about the continued effects of that disaster on Missourians. A tragedy of this caliber is a bit like a death in the family:  After a while, the visitors and the casseroles stop coming and the immediate family is left to suffer alone in its grief while the rest of the world forgets about what happened.

The rules for accepting the One Lovely Blog Award are as follows:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you.
  2. Tell us seven things about yourself.
  3. Post a One Lovely Blog badge in the post or on your blog.
  4. Nominate seven other bloggers you admire.

Seven things about myself:

  1. I was four years old when I wrote my first short story. I would hear adults engage in talk about World War II and watched lots of westerns on TV with my grandpa, so it should come as no surprise that I titled it “Indian Ranger War II.”
  2. My wife and I live in the parsonage of a church. My mother-in-law is the minister.
  3. My wife and I are both iced tea fanatics. We each go through about a gallon per day. I can’t drink mine without lemon juice.
  4. I miss the ocean. Why can’t there be any good jobs in Pismo or Narragansett?
  5. My wife and I have 19 nieces and nephews between us, plus a rapidly mounting number of grands. There are usually one or two of them around here somewhere. They keep us young.
  6. I am a certified Scrabble fanatic. I used to play in highly competitive regional tournaments, but I don’t anymore, primarily due to a lack of money. I have played in an email Scrabble league continuously for well over a decade.  (Want to join?  Ask me how!)  Now, of course, we have cell phones, so I play Words With… uh, well, Strangers.
  7. I’ve been to London. I’ve also been to France. No, you can’t see my underpants.

Blog nominations:

And now, without further ado, I hereby nominate the following delightful blogs for the One Lovely Blog Award (says he, doing a very poor impression of Julie Andrews singing “these are a few of my favorite blogs”):

  1. rachelmankowitz – The ongoing saga of the antics and adventures of rescue dogs Cricket and Butterfly. Although I have never been a dog person, Rachel has demonstrated to me that our canine friends can teach us more than a few lessons about life and love.
  2. Too Many Spiders – I’m so tempted to go wisecracking about the itsy bitsy spider or along came a spider and sat down beside her (I have a two year old grandniece, so sue me), but I’ll just say that Ms. Spider generously shares her wealth of wisdom with us, whether it’s about television or chess or history or religion or life on Staten Island. Oh, and she just recently gave birth to her eighth child. Among the best reads online, in my humble opinion.
  3. Movin’ It With Michelle – Retired from the Army and working in the health professions, Michelle has two daughters, runs marathons and nurtures a deep passion for cooking. When she posts photos of her amazing culinary creations, you will want to lick the screen.
  4. Brooklyn Doodle – Although this blogger hasn’t published many posts lately, I look forward to her next installment. It’s all about a bike ride, a café, a few extra napkins and pulling out a marker for some impromptu drawing. This art teacher creates beautiful artwork on paper napkins.  Well worth checking out.
  5. Drinking Tips for Teens – This Canadian has a sharp wit and a unique perspective on the everyday. And maybe I’m just a teensy bit envious that the man is on National Public Radio.
  6. Troubleface Mom – Another blogger who doesn’t post nearly enough. Perhaps you can leave some comments on her blog to encourage her to write more regularly. I enjoy her applications of her faith to daily life as well as the chronicles of her journey with an autistic son.
  7. Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane Blog – When a blogger has more than 11,000 followers, it’s hard not to sit up and notice. Raising children with a diverse spectrum of disabilities places one precisely at the intersection of the tragic and the comic. Check out her blog and see for yourself.

Now we’re off to a short, three-day workweek preceding the Thanksgiving holiday.  I hope everyone is looking forward to food and family as much as I am.  And here’s a special shout out to my fellow vegans.  This can be a tough holiday spent with our meat-eating brethren.  Don’t forget to post up your stories!

NaBloPoMo 2014 Logo

NaNoPoblano

Lessons of NaBloPoMo

My father likes to say that everyone is capable of being an author because we all have at least one story to tell:  Our own.

I think he’s right, and that over time, we develop a script to explain our lives.  It could go something like this:  “I grew up in a small town, I got married right out of high school, we had kids, I worked in the local factory.”  Or, in my case, “I grew up as a misfit, attended a lot of college, bounced around from job to job, married at the age of forty and ended up unemployed a lot of the time.”

The lens we tend to see ourselves through is composed not so much of our experiences as it is of the life script we have carefully developed.  It’s as if we constantly fear that someone will angrily demand “explain yourself!” and that we need to have a reasonable sounding script all wrapped up and ready to go.  The faithfulness of that script to historical truth can vary a great deal from one person to another.

Many bloggers have remarked that their posts all start to sound the same after a while, and that it can sometimes be difficult to even remember whether they have already told a particular story or not.  I can definitely relate.  I have come to realize that everything I write is filtered through the lens of my life script.

Participating in NaBloPoMo has helped me to understand how difficult it is to come up with something interesting to write about every day, something that doesn’t sound like a rehash of the same thing I already wrote yesterday and the day before that.  Some days, I feel like an old grandpa buttonholing anyone who will listen with “Did I ever tell you about the time that…” (conveniently forgetting that I just told the same story five minutes ago).  It’s as if I’ve become a parody of myself, stuck in a time warp à la Ground Hog Day.

Others may be smarter than I am, more witty than I am or more well-read than I am.  For them, writing daily may be a lot easier than it is for me.  And perhaps they even manage to break loose from their life story lenses and write from fresh perspectives that don’t look like day-old bread.

For me, however, writing every day is hard.  I’ve already written about my long daily commute to work.  Haven’t I already discussed my amazingly cute grandniece enough times?  Should I write about the challenges of being a vegan again?  I fear that anything I write about will bore me as much as it will bore you.

For now, I’ll just say that I’m glad that it’s Friday. that the weekend is upon us, and that I’ll be splitting the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend between my wife’s family and my own.  Hopefully, we’ll get to spend time with everyone, and celebrate my father’s 81st birthday as well.  After that, it will be December and we’ll begin our long, slow slide into Christmas.

But the best thing of all is that there is only one more week left in NaBloPoMo, after which I can breathe a sigh of relief and go back to being a weekend warrior.

I can hardly wait.

NaBloPoMo 2014 Logo

NaNoPoblano

Blog Hop

To the person who recently left a comment asking me to participate in a blog hop:

I am not really sure what a blog hop is.  I’ve been a fan of the Danny and the Juniors tune “At the Hop” for decades now, but I get the general impression that this has nothing to do with a high school dance.  My little grandniece likes to prance through the living room yelling “Hop, hop, hop!”  Just watching this from the couch exhausts me, but again, I have a feeling that this blog hop thing has nothing to do with physical fitness.

I am guessing that this blog hop is some sort of connect-the-dots event in which participants “hop” from one specified URL to the next.  I don’t know whether the hoppers visiting my blog are supposed to read my latest post or leave a comment or spray paint “Kilroy was here” on my About page.

You did ask whether I am “really” located in California (no, actually I’ve been pulling your leg all this time, I’m really in the Aleutian Islands), so I suppose this must be a critical factor.  Perhaps, with a nod to Oscar Wilde, I should have titled this post “The Importance of Being Californian.”  Are you attempting a tour of the fifty states?  If so, I should think that finding a California blog would not be that difficult.  Rhode Island or North Dakota, maybe, but not California.

Then again, you did mention that the last two bloggers whom you queried failed to respond.  This would tend to indicate that it is not as easy as one might think to secure a willing Californian participant.  Of course, many bloggers do not indicate their physical locations for safety or privacy reasons, so it could be difficult to ascertain whether your favorite blogger is actually from California or not.  I am guessing that the title of my blog was a dead giveaway.

I could not help but notice that you were reduced to pleading, hopefully not upon your knees.  “Save us,” you piteously mewed.  Such shameless begging makes me feel particularly bad to be the blogger who causes you to “strike out,” the third California blogger to give you the cold shoulder by failing to respond.

Please don’t think me ungrateful.  I truly appreciate each and every one of my readers and I am deeply honored that you take time out of your busy week to peruse the drivel that I regularly dish out in this space.  I do my best to return the favor by reading as many of your blogs as I am able to fit into my equally busy week.  I try to help anyone who asks, particularly new bloggers who need a boost in comments or request advice on what techniques I have found to work and what has fallen flat.  I believe in giving folks a hand up and I believe in doing what I can to improve this blogosphere that we inhabit.

However, I do ask that you have pity on me.  We are right in the middle of NaBloPoMo, for heaven’s sake.  I am doing my best to keep my commitment to post daily during this annual event, even though I work a full-time job, spend two hours per day commuting and attempt to participate in a full life with the many members of our extended family who live nearby.  Although I was able to compose a few posts in advance, I prefer to write with an immediacy that is only available by describing what is on my mind at any given moment.  I do take time to write a few longer posts on the weekends, but during the week I have to catch as catch can, writing during my lunch breaks, on my phone in the car and even in the middle of the night when I suddenly wake up with an inspiration.  This is quite a change for one who is accustomed to posting once weekly, adding notes from day to day or sitting down of a Saturday and writing the entire post from beginning to end in a single session.

So please don’t think that I am a latter day Scrooge, a Grinch with a heart two sizes too small who serves up double decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwiches with arsenic sauce.  It’s just that your event has fallen victim to bad timing.  By all means, ask me again after NaBloPoMo.

At that time, it will be my pleasure to put on a smile, click on your link, and assist you with your blog hop.

Whatever that is.

NaBloPoMo 2014 Logo

NaNoPoblano

Speed Blogging

Several weeks ago, I informed my wife that I would not be participating in NaBloPoMo this year.  Last year, I was able to write daily for an entire month because I was unemployed and didn’t have a lot else to do.  You can only prepare so many job application essays before you drive yourself crazy, and NaBloPoMo seemed like a perfect opportunity to improve my writing skills.  I knew that, if nothing else, it would be a “butt in chair” exercise that would get me into the habit of pounding out something every 24 hours, even if I didn’t particularly feel like it and didn’t think I had anything worthwhile to share with my audience.

As expected, a number of my posts took inanity to a new level and no doubt inspired a good deal of eye rolling among my readers.  Fortunately for me, the month of November always presents some ready-made topics, such as the change in the weather, the family foibles surrounding Thanksgiving and the arrival of the holiday season.  I held forth on the challenges of being a vegan on Turkey Day, waxed nostalgic on the occasion of my father’s eightieth birthday and described the river of emotions that resulted from spending time with my one year old grandniece (and hence, Elmo and Abby Cadabby as well) on a nearly daily basis.  NaBloPoMo was also when I began writing about homelessness in earnest, following my first month of living in the church parsonage and seeing the needy arriving regularly at our door in search of succor and sustenance.

It was a great feeling to proudly paste the NaBloPoMo logo at the end of each post and an even greater feeling when December 1 rolled around and I realized that I had risen to the challenge and succeeded.  I felt amply rewarded when A Map of California was featured in the NaBloPoMo section of WordPress’ Recommended Blogs page for months on end.

This year, of course, is different.  After nearly twelve months of unemployment, I was finally hired by state government in mid-September.  I have been blessed with a job I truly enjoy, one of the best bosses I have ever had and a rather interesting daily commute.  As grateful as I am, it doesn’t leave me much free time for writing.  I’ve been doing my best to post once weekly, but even that can be a stretch sometimes.  So writing every day for a month is, as I related to my wife, out of the question.

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I regretted my decision.  One of my favorite things about NaBloPoMo is that it makes me feel a part of something big.  Look at all the other bloggers around the world who are pounding away at their keyboards at the same time that I am!  I want to be a member of that club.

I soon realized that there is only one possible way that, with a little luck, I might be able to pull this off.  The idea I came up with is “speed blogging.”  At work, I have an hour lunch break every day.  Now, an hour isn’t much time to think of a good topic, develop a decent thesis and flesh it out with appropriate arguments and witty examples (while eating a soy cream cheese and olive sandwich and a banana).  But I figure that if I keep my posts short and concentrate on my day-to-day experiences rather than on huge issues that require hours of research, I might be able to push myself through.

And so, faithful readers, please wish me good luck as we embark on this adventure together.

Okay, hour’s up.  I have to get back to work now.

NaBloPoMo 2014 Logo

NaNoPoblano

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Today I would like to express special thanks to The Art Bag Lady for nominating A Map of California for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award!  I am extremely flattered and humbled by this kind gesture.

The Rules

Acceptance of this nomination requires the following:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to his or her blog.
  • Display the Very Inspiring Blogger Award badge (and these rules) on your blog.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award, and add a comment to each of their blogs, mentioning the nomination.

7 Facts About Myself

  1. I only wear long-sleeved shirts.  I can’t stand the sleeveless/short-sleeved ones.
  2. I have attended three high schools and six colleges; I hold two university degrees.
  3. Growing up, my favorite color was green.  Now, however, my favorite color is orange.
  4. Currently, my favorite food is garlic-flavored hummus with pimento-stuffed green olives, served on toast.  Next week it will be something else.
  5. I have played in 41 officially sanctioned Scrabble tournaments (8 with the Word Games Player Organization and 33 with the National Scrabble Players Association).  WGPO says I am currently in 470th place.  I don’t know my NASPA ranking because my membership dues are not paid up because I have no money because I am unemployed.
  6. I speak French, but not very well.  I know just enough Spanish to get myself in trouble.
  7. I have been working on a memoir of my childhood for years.  It is now about 90% complete.

Blog Nominations

I regret that I am unable to include several very talented bloggers who have gone inactive or whose blogs seem to have disappeared.  Here’s to you The Gratetudenist, A Rich Full Life in Spite of It, Little Bird’s Dad and A Clown on Fire.  I miss you guys.

I hereby nominate the following wonderful bloggers for the well-deserved honor of the Very Inspiring Blogger Award:

  1. Too Many Spiders – The pride of Staten Island!  She has seven children and her eighth is due any time now.  She shops and cooks with finesse to feed all those kids on one income.  She’ll argue philosophy with you and destroy you across a chess board.  She is raising her kids Catholic because her husband is Catholic.  Somewhere deep inside, however, she is Jewish.  Watch out, Bill DeBlasio.  Spider for Mayor!
  2. Movin’ It With Michelle – I don’t cook and I don’t run.  Many days I can barely walk.  So I have nothing but admiration for Michelle.  She is a gourmet cook, she runs marathons, she is raising two daughters and she is a professional histologist!  If you’ve ever wanted to have it all and do it all, Michelle is your role model.
  3. Gotta Find a Home – As readers of A Map of California know, helping the homeless is often on my mind.  Everyone has his or her own take on why people become homeless and how to solve the problem.  Dennis Cardiff, however, shows us the homeless as individuals, allowing each one he befriends to tell his or her unique story in his or her own words.  Riveting!
  4. Rachelmankowitz: The Cricket Pages – Follow this blog for a while and you will find that Rachel’s two furry white poodles, Cricket and Butterfly, have licked and pawed their way into your heart. Even if you’re not a dog person, it’s hard not to get caught up in the stories of the two rescue pups who changed Rachel’s life forever.
  5. Brooklyn Doodle – Mary displays her drawing talent on napkins in cafés all over Brooklyn.  Get to know this teacher and photographer who creates museum-worthy pieces in her spare time.  Grab a cup of tea, relax and enjoy.
  6. ~ L to the Aura ~ – I found Laura’s blog because we are both vegans, but stayed to read her thoughts on building sustainably, making green choices and living a compassionate life.  Her advocacy for women and girls didn’t hurt either.
  7. Dirtnkids – Shannon homeschools four kids, has a bird watching life list and a keyhole garden, and presses her own soybeans to make tofu.  She inspires me with possibilities.
  8. Ox the Punx – Sociologist Alex V. Barnard has opened my eyes to the incredible waste of food here in the United States.  His posts on working in a food bank and dumpster diving will make you think about those who do not know where their next meal is coming from.  I look forward to the publication of his book on freganism.
  9. Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane Blog – My own problems seem small when I read about what this blogger has been through.  I particularly enjoy the stories about her deaf daughter, such as the one about the PTSD flashback she had at an amusement park and the one about the time she asked her pediatrician to turn her into a boy.
  10. TED Blog – I didn’t know anything about TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talks until I ran across this blog a few months ago.  If the marketplace of ideas that is the internet had to be narrowed down to a single location, I think this might be it.  This is a place to obtain inspiration on nearly any conceivable topic, from the world of the future, to comedy to terrorism to education to multiculturalism to the emotional lives of cats and dogs.  If you don’t believe me, check it out.
  11. Violet’s Veg*n e-Comics – I am impressed by this talented author and artist who is dedicated to making learning about food and the ethical treatment of animals fun for children.  Her work is a thing of beauty.
  12. A Napper’s Companion – John Coleman, whom I hear has just published his third book, waxes poetic about everything from world events to breast feeding to travel to the joys of being a parent and grandparent to, well, poetry.  I was shocked to discover that this guy is a Lutheran pastor!  If you check out Erie, Pennsylvania’s finest, tell him Uncle Guac sent you.
  13. Oops, I Said Vagina…Again – This blog is so funny that the author must have already received at least a dozen nominations for this award and certainly doesn’t need another.  Too bad, Vagina, you’re getting one from me!  Will someone get this funny lady on Jimmy Fallon, please?  Or at least the Ellen show or something?  The last time I nominated Vagina for an award, one of my readers emailed me to ask how on earth I could like “that blog” so much.  Such foul language, oh my!  Well, if you don’t like certain four-letter words, stay away.  Otherwise, you’ll have a grand time reveling in this wife and mother’s prose and videos.  And you’ll laugh your ass off.
  14. Gustatori – I’ve been living in California for 20 years now, but Tori’s restaurant blog is like a little taste of home.  If it’s worthwhile eating and it’s in New York or Philly, she’s probably been there and done that.  Great photos, too.
  15. Southernblondevegan – New blogger Sarah Argo caught my attention with the luscious photos on her home page.  Those kiwis make me drool!  If you’ve ever wondered whether being a vegan is expensive or how vegans get their protein, iron and calcium or even what would possess anyone to want to adopt a vegan diet, stop by Sarah’s blog and find out what it’s all about.

Thanks again, Art Bag Lady!

Now, with all these nominations going around, would someone please tell me how the hell you actually win one of these awards?

 

On Blogging About Homelessness

I’m not a news junkie, I don’t have a Facebook feed and my favorite flavor of ice cream is not Heavenly Hashtag.  In some respects, I feel as if I embody my generation’s version of my parents’ refusal to text message.

Blogging is the medium for which I feel affinity, both in the writing and in the reading.  I find myself exposed to many more viewpoints in the blogosphere than are presented to me by CNN or Fox News.  I try to remain at least minimally conversant with the issues of the day, which seem to change every few seconds, not unlike the electronic billboard at Shaw and Blackstone in Fresno that flips through a half dozen ads before the light turns green.  The Malaysia Airlines twin tragedies —  the plane that vanished in the Indian Ocean and the one that was shot down over Ukraine.  Missiles and murders in Gaza and the West Bank.  The execution of James Foley.  The drought here in California.

Mike Brown.

And yes, even the hullaballoo over the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, as petty as that may seem in comparison to the above.

In reading the comments on a blog post about the tragedy in Ferguson, I sat up and noticed when one commenter accused another of wanting a soapbox rather than a discussion.  After thinking about this, I realized that both are essential elements of good blogging.  At least for myself, I know I want both a soapbox and a discussion.  Yes, I appreciate the opportunity to report on events as seen through my own eyes and the partiality of my own filters.  The best part, however, is the discussion that ensues, the comments that challenge me, encourage me to stretch my thought processes and help me to see contrasting viewpoints and approaches that I could never begin to imagine on my own.

I like to think that my commenters help me to improve my writing in that they encourage me to consider multiple angles rather than merely committing my raw thoughts to pixels.  While inflammatory remarks do have their place in the pantheon of rhetoric, my commenters provide appropriate checks and balances that often cause me to pause and use the backspace key more than I did, say, a year ago.  They give me a reason to take time out to think about how my words will affect those who read them.

Nevertheless, I am sometimes way off base, and I am grateful to my commenters for setting me straight.  At times, my shortcoming is in the realm of making assumptions that may not be apparent to readers.  My understanding of how something works may be very different from your understanding of how it works, particularly if, although brought together by the digital world, we are widely separated by culture and geography.

I think about readers like Belle, who have, in my opinion, provided some of the most insightful comments in this space.  In her comment yesterday, for example, she asks why I haven’t pursued various enumerated avenues in my efforts to rejoin the workforce.  In an “I could have had a V8!” moment, I had to smack my forehead at the realization that there is so much back story that I have never adequately explained.  I have fallen victim to the fallacy of assuming that everyone else knows what I know.

And then there are the blessings bestowed upon me by fellow chroniclers such as The Art Bag Lady, who yesterday went toe to toe with me on her own blog.  She pointed out a number of my prejudices in writing about homelessness, including conflicting opinions that I have expressed and things that I can’t possible appreciate, never having been homeless myself.  Aside from being deeply honored by her lengthy critique, I genuinely appreciate the opportunity to benefit from insights born of working with the homeless regularly and of actually having been homeless, both of which are outside of my personal experience.

I think also of Dennis Cardiff’s blog, Gotta Find a Home, which consists almost exclusively of transcriptions of his conversations with the homeless of his Canadian city.  In at least one respect, Dennis has succeeded where I have failed.  He is an excellent listener; he allows the homeless to tell their stories in their own words.  By contrast, I don’t spend a lot of time just listening to the homeless individuals whom we serve through our ministry in this community.  They come to the door of the parsonage seeking help with a particular need, and I enjoy doing whatever I can to help fill that need.  Biblically, I believe this is called “standing in the gap.”  Ezek. 22:30  I have to laugh, because this is such a “male” thing.  It seems we always want to solve someone’s problems rather than taking time to just listen.  A lot of us men only feel satisfied when we have actually done something, taken some sort of affirmative action.  Unlike many of the women in our lives, we tend to forget that being a listening ear is an action, too.  And that sometimes it is exactly what is needed.

So here in the parsonage, we make some sandwiches, pack canned food and pasta into grocery bags and start thinking about places to stay the night and residential treatment programs and who needs a ride to where.  But dare I suggest that such pat solutions close more doors than they open?

Just as blogging provides us with a forum (a soapbox and a discussion), so does lending an understanding ear and a sympathetic shoulder provide an empowering forum to the homeless.  Listening more and speaking less provides a voice to the voiceless.  It makes the invisible visible. And it allows them to tell the rest of the world about the abuse they suffered as children, the odds that have been stacked against them from the very beginning, and the lack of viable choices that has pervaded their entire lives.

And perhaps I would be less prone, as The Art Bag Lady points out, to alternate between empathy and irritation if I were to stop telling it as I see it and allow the homeless to tell it like it really is.  If for once I would just shut up and listen.