New Game

Cleaned out a junk drawer, shined my pressure cooker, de-grimed the microwave, got dogfood, took down & put out the tree, then ate dinner out of a bag & bottle.

Well, Loyal Reader, it wasn’t a surprise. No. Not really a surprise at all. I am none the less disappointed. In myself. 

Yes, I have let the dust settle a bit too comfortably on this journal. After my fury (or furiousness) of thinkings and writings and postings, I took a sabbatical. And didn’t come back.

I said that I’d post weekly, but I fell into my old pattern of doing the thinking, the coming up with ideas and the starts in my head without the actual writing. Much disappointment. But I said that already.

So, like the little kitten who chases the laser for fun, I need something to chase.  Another challenge. This time an easier one, but still specific and measurable. Like a game. A game I can win! 

Here’s my plan for this year. I’m going to take and mess up a picture and write something. Every week. A photo prompt and a post. I’m not going to necessarily write about the picture, not that I won’t. And sometimes you will scratch your head, puzzling over the relationship between the post and the pic. That’s part of it. (Thanks Matt, who claims to read this blog, but I think he does not.)

Anyway, it’s a little game. Just a little trick to make myself do what I want. Yes. I’m really that lazy. 

Anything to win.

Week #1, done! Purr. 

What I Learned Writing Every. Stinking. Day for A Year

A Doc and The Beast in writing repose.

Okay, Loyal Reader. It is day 366–why didn’t anyone tell me that I chose a long year for my quest?–the end of the line.

Quick recap, my 2016 New Year’s Resolution was to write and publish a blog post every (single. stinking.) day for the entire year. I allotted myself no excuses, no blackout days and no get out of jail free cards. I (wisely) made no resolve about quality. It was a production resolution. Daily production, irrespective of word counts or topic areas.

One year later, the results are in. Since January 1, 2016, I published 358 posts, filling in 98% of the year. Per my weak platform-provided analytics, 5,800 visitors read 9,500 pages. The Onion and Vox must be shaking in their boots and looking over their shoulders with competitive concern </sacrcasm>.

But, so what? To what end? In thinking about it–since that’s what I do–I found that this challenge provided a plethora of lessons. I’m breaking down my learnings into four categories: doing, creating, sharing, growing.

Doing: What I learned about process

Publishing every. stinking. day requires alot of process. The ideation process is accelerated to grab any straw of an idea. This sounds harder, and while sometimes it was harder, there were thousands of prompts in front of me all of the time. It’s in the recognition of them. No idea is too weak. I saw dust particles in the sunshine and wrote a post. The comfort of warm blankets was good for a few hundred words as was the initial warm breaths of spring.

I wrote about people I saw walking down the street, making up stories about the man with the cake, the woman in orange, the tuba players, the equine fanciers. Pop and politics were occasionally fertile, but I didn’t want to write “me-too” posts so these were sometimes more challenging.

After a few months I came up with a set of categories to help me understand what I wrote about–it provided a structure that I could pop thinkings into and speed them ahead. 

I had a running notepad of ideas and fragments that I’d mine and I occasionally found an almost completed post, I wrote about that here. Using the notepad was clutch when writing on the subway.

Two more process learnings. 

First, photo editing takes a lot of time. Alot. Speaking of time, if I was very conservative I spent 90 minutes per post (and I know that it was not unusual from start to finish to spend a few hours), I spent weeks writing this year.  

Second, I am so friggin’ lucky for the support of The Spouse. The Spouse would look at me furiously typing and say, “I got dinner,” or “Are you having luck on your post?” and never a disparaging remark about my daily (and frequently nightly) embrace of my keyboard. Total, unequivocal support. That’s how shit happens. 

Creating: What I learned about writing

Writing. Wow. I guess after the more than the one-hundred thousand words that I shared this year, I can call myself a writer. I started to think of myself as a writer after a few weeks. I started thinking about writing itself and in a few more I was thinking about how I wrote.

I enjoyed putting together a post with a clever title–many times I rewrote the title, and I often hoped that you, Loyal Reader, would get my little references in the title. Or in the photo. Or, for those of you who look at code, in the alt-text describing the photo. The post is more than the words and sentences and paragraphs. It’s the wrapper, too.

I would often fight with my inner editor. The editor who knows exactly what a complete sentence looks like. The editor who questions the use of dashes over commas. The editor that battles the writer who might be striving for a specific rhythm or an irregularity in syntax. The hubris of the author can cause confusion for the reader. Or so says The Editor. It’s like my personal version of The Narrator and Tyler Durden.

Most importantly, I learned that my writing takes its own course. Everyone writes differently, and I didn’t know how I wrote. 

Thinking about it, I found that I get an idea, and it drags me along. I realized that I wrote an allegory after I reread it. Sometimes I start with an allegory, but the story takes its own shape. 

I can’t know how a post is going to end until it actually ends. There is no master plan. It’s organic. And, so sometimes, it stinks.

I can get things out of order, because the stream of words switchback and I write something else. So I’ll move a paragraph around. 

Less frequently, I’ll find a few paragraphs at the end that don’t belong. I added something in the middle that diverged from where I was going. I have deleted thousands of words that belonged in a different post, for a different time or a different mood. When a post is done, it’s done. If it needs more it nags me until it’s satisfied that it’s complete.

I know I am the writer. I really do. But I know, too, that what I’m writing is more revealed than reasoned. 

I own it. It’s from me.

Sharing: What I learned about you, my Loyal Reader

Oh, Loyal Reader, you have been a great teacher, too. Sometimes you tell me directly and sometimes I infer.

Bottom line, it’s really is all about you. I mean that in a good way. 

I have learned what you care about, which is humanity and making connections. You like my vignettes much more than I do. You infuse them with life and invest your hearts in my made up characters. I love you for that.

You also really care the most about personal things. Things that really happened. You have given me much love and support, and have turned sometimes to me for support. I like that. We’re here for each other.

Growing: What I learned about me

I realized that being authentic was more important to me than showing off. Showing off is publishing every day and doing what I said, even if I was cheating by posting twice in one day and backdating. 

After a few months in, I decided that missing a day or two (or eight) was better than faking it. I confessed to you, my Loyal Reader, and you, as is your way, didn’t care. Or forgave me. It’s okay either way.

I always said that I was undisciplined. Lazy. Couldn’t stick to anything. But after writing hundreds of posts, writing every day and sometimes forcing myself to hit publish, I can’t say that that is true.I guess this project never bored me. 

Sorry if I bored you.

Finally, and I am really almost done, I learned that I want people to read my work. I would obsessively look at how many people looked at a post, lapping up any likes, and super proud when an editor featured my post.

But, the other thing is, ultimately, I don’t care. I wrote for months before I started telling people my resolution. I wrote every day. And you didn’t know. 

I say that I write for you, my Loyal Reader, but that is a lie. I write for me. Because I am a writer. That’s what I most really and definitely learned.

That’s The Lessons Folks

Phew. I did it. I am proud. And I am taking a little break. Let me know what you think. And I’ll be thinking and sharing and writing more in the New Year!

xoxo
Doc Think

26.198 (Post #357)

A boy. On a hill. Wearing skis and a Washington Football Team jacket.

I can see the finish line. It’s just ahead. Just one day more, cue Les Miserables.

Tomorrow I’m going to post about what I’ve learned this past year (like the irrelevance in teasing you, my Loyal Reader). My retrospective, if you will. Today, though, I’m going to be prospective. What am I going to do?

You see, last year at this time, I resolved to write and publish. Every. Stinking. Day. For the entirety of 2016. This has taken up a good hunk of my life. Like 44 waking days over the course of the year.

So, what’s next? 

Well, one thing for sure is I will not publish a post every stinking day. But you likely already knew that. So let’s say I commit to publishing weekly. That is a decrease of 600%. (To be honest, I kind of made up that number. I don’t feel like doing real math. It might be a higher percentage decrease. See what I mean? Higher decrease?) 

When I started this challenge, I said that I wanted to produce as well as consume. Now, I want more balance. I want to read more quality writing. Read more books. Read more long form, more New Yorker. Oh, and read zero celebrity you-won’t-believe-where-they-are-today posts. I’m also cutting back on fake news. Just kidding there.

Third, I am going to use a bunch of my brain-space as we remake a hunk of this, our 103 year old, house. It’s going to be a big project. Even huge. It may kill me. It may have me killing The Spouse. I hope not. This will require extreme effort. But I’ve seen others succeed. We can do this. I’m going to set out a goal right now, no family bloodshed on the house thing. There, I said it.

Last, I realized that I’ve slacked off on volunteering my time and talents. We have a cool town here, and in addition to buying local, I need to do more to contribute local. It was easy when The Boys were in school. There were plenty of things that needed doing and plenty of people asking. I’m going to do some asking and then get about some doing.

Pretty much all of the above is ripe for future thinkings (that’s my code for posts). I expect that I’ll be incohate, insulted, insipid, inspired, inept, intrigued and infatuated. Not all at the same time, though. More spread out. Maybe some overlap. Maybe also some adjectives that are not as alliterative. Maybe. I’ll keep you posted.

Anyway, I’m poised and ready to start a new year. Sadly, for me, I’ll be spending a lot less time with you, my Loyal Reader. But I hope our time will still be good for you. Fingers crossed. 

I Scream, You?

Sample wares from an ancient ice cream truck.

One spring, an ice cream man posted up just past our school, just after the dismissal bell. It was an excellent move. The kids would line up with their quarters and nickels and dimes for an orange push-up, the coned nutty-buddy and the rectangular ice cream covered in a topping and served on a stick.

I wanted to eat ice cream on the way home from school, too. Mom did not agree. She thought it was too close to dinner time–school getting out at 3 pm and plates on the table pretty religiously by 5 pm. Plus, she was thrifty. She was not one to waste a penny on overpriced convenience food when she could get an entire box of frozen treats for the price of the two ice creams for me and My Sib.

We pleaded as little kids do. I’m sure we made the normal arguments of “all the other kids,” which was likely followed by a standard parental response about the wisdom of following them off of a cliff. We likely then went to bargaining, promising to do extra chores or offering a sacrifice to be named later. Not super effective. Mom was not easily moved. Check that. Mom NEVER changed her mind. She considered equivocation a huge weakness. Actually more like an unrecoverable error. We tried anyway.

Plan B? Ask Dad. Now this was the reasonable guy. He was open to begging, especially when it came to seven-year-old me. I fancied myself persuasive. But, as it turned out, there was no way that Dad would overturn Mom for an after school treat. Our childish desire to eat ice cream did not tip the scales. Nope. Not at all. Yet, it was really too much for us to walk past that white truck with the entire school partaking of sweet frozen ambrosia.

Next option? Thievery. 

We didn’t have any money, but Mom did. Over the course of a week or so, we pilfered coins out of her wallet. We cased the truck, selecting then reselecting then returning to our original goodie of choice. The day arrived. We were going to put our plan into action. After school. 

I don’t know how My Sib felt, but I felt like a grown up. I held my coins tightly in my fist as I waited my turn. The bigger kids jumped in front of me. I was a little lost in the crowd. My Sib was a year older. She found our way to the window. I felt rushed. The paper wrapped ice cream was in my hand and my money gone without me fully savoring the experience. But, there was the ice cream. 

I had selected the ice cream sundae cup. There was a little bowl full of very hard, very frozen ice cream with equally hard and equally frozen strawberries around the edges and halfway down the container. I had a small, thick, flat wooden spatula for a spoon. It could dig into the tundra. My Sib had the cone with the chocolate and nut crown. We had a little less than a fifteen minute walk home to eat the evidence of our crime. 

I think we were nervous. I don’t think we particularly enjoyed the ice creams, but were thrilled at our most clever execution of our plan. We talked about what we would get next time. We had to dump the wrappers. I’m pretty sure we just threw them on the ground. Litterers, too. 

We were not without pride when we walked into the house, after defying all the rules. We procured the cash, bought and consumed the forbidden contraband. Well done, small people, we thought. But, you know what pride goest before. 

Dad and Mom called us into the kitchen. We were not alerted to any danger. They were relaxed. Mom asked how school was. I went on and on about my day. I figured the more I said, the further we were away from the events we were hiding. I soon got into sharing about my reading group or spelling words or flash card math. Dad smiled at us and asked, “So how was the ice cream?”

Without missing a beat, I grinned and nodded and said, “It was GOOD!” My Sib snapped her head in my direction. My little hand lifted to cover my mouth that was now wide in horror. How did he know?!? The next few minutes are a blur. A combination of super slo-mo with everyone talking in that slowdowned way and a flurry of sped up words and fluttering hands and washed faces and off to our rooms. There were tears of humiliation and guilt. Especially when it was explained to us that we stole from our mother. That’s on the same level as drowning kittens, copying off someone’s test or lying right to Jesus’ face. 

This was the worst thing I had ever done. And my lack of discretion under cross examination made me the goat in My Sib’s eyes. Not a good partner in crime. I was pretty much the worst. I felt so sorry for myself, for being so awful, that I cried and cried in my room in the most dramatic fashion. I think my mother came to my room to recommend that I cease and desist with the theatrics. 

We were told that there would be no dinner, and that we needed to go straight to bed. They relented, and we ate dinner in our pajamas. You can be sure I cleaned my plate as I ate in silence, my stomach in knots. My Sib whispered to me that I was forgiven. We went to sleep. I don’t think I dreamed about ice cream that night. 

Parents must have complained because the truck soon disappeared, never to taunt or tempt the second and third graders at Norman Rockwell Elementary School again. I’ll never know if my parents called. They may have, but they were tricksy. They knew things. They were superhuman. They were out of my league. 

Turns out that it was easy to bust us. We both had ice cream all over our faces. No napkins. A flaw in the henious plot. I overheard my Dad telling the story to my uncle. Still, they were good.

Anyway, that’s why I don’t lie. I’m just not any good at it. But I still eat ice cream in a little cup. I pay for it with my own money. And sometimes I eat ice cream for dinner. I’m grown, now. 

A Closed Loop

The Air and Space Museum at night. From the Mall side.

“The museum is closed,” said the disembodied voice broadcast from the ceiling. I tossed my 3D glasses into the big box as I passed through the exit doors. I walked underneath the electronic gate, a sentry that would beep or screech or burp an alarm if the encoded goggles were still in my pocket.

I was close to holding on to them to set the alarm off. But I had the use the restroom. I found the recycling bin, past the guard station, and dropped my empty beer bottle into its mouth. No popcorn or raisenettes in the museum theatre, but a choice of beers and a hard cider. Weird. But I was on a mission. 

The cavernous voice reminded me, again, about the closed museum. I headed toward the bathrooms. That is until I was stopped by a crisply white-shirted museum officer. There was a shiny ribbon along the seam of her trousers, and she had a shiny plastic badge above her crisp white breast pocket. “The museum is closed.” I nodded. 

“Yup, just need to use the facilities,” I grinned and pointed at them, just nine or ten yards ahead. 

“The museum is closed.” She pointed solemnly the down escalator like the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. The speakers from the ceiling backed her up, “The museum is closed.”

“I just can’t…” I started, but she just looked at me without mercy and pointed with a hint of “no exception” dripping from her pointing finger. “Is there one underneath here?” She silently nodded, her directive arm like a street sign. I stepped onto the moving stairs, away from the closest relief station. 

I stepped off the escalator and turned around. To see a long line snaking its way from the door. The museum is closed, except for the long line for the bathroom. And the other long line for the next screening of the movie. Didn’t seem closed to me. I was walking to find the end of the line as the regular refrain “The museum is closed” played across the PA system. I was shocked by the sudden vibration from my left back pocket. The sound from my phone was still muted from the show. “Hey,” I said after seeing The Big Guy’s image.

“You just walked by us. I’m going to punch someone if we don’t leave now.”

“I need to use the bathroom and there’s a ridiculous line.” (The museum is closed.)

“No seriously. Someone will be punched by me if I stand here another minute.” He was serious. 

“Where you at? We’re gonna need to stop somewhere else, you know.”

(The museum is closed.) “That’s fine. Just turn around. I can see you.” I couldn’t see him, even though I strained to see around the crowd of people who were not getting the message, either. Despite the near monkish chant, “the museum is closed.” I wished it rhymed. Then I saw him on his phone and put mine back in my pocket.

There was another museum cop standing a few feet away from him, offering the news that the museum was closed. “Wait, so are you saying that the museum is closed?” I couldn’t tell if the cop was ignoring or unaware of the sarcasm. 

“The museum is closed,” he replied. (The museum is closed.) I think that this was not the first part of their exchange, and I could feel The Big Guy getting riled. 

“You can’t go there, unless you get in line for those IMAX tickets. The door is there.” He pointed. These folks sure did point a lot. 

“But I want to go there,” I pointed to the exit on the other side. The side much closer to where I parked. 

“The museum is closed.” 

“So I can’t use that other exit?” (The museum is closed.) We were walking to my preferred exit. 

“The museum is closed.” I was starting to understand that punching feeling.

“We can’t leave through that other side?” I was going to scream if I heard that stupid overhead call and response.

“You can go out that way. The museum is closed.”

The Big Guy couldn’t hold himself back, “So the museum is like, closed!??!” The museum police put his hand on his club. (The museum is closed.) He repeated his line, the one about the museum being closed as we rushed each other out of that nightmare.

As we walked past the last of the guard gauntlet, the final line of defense said, “Have a good night,” and I thought that the Big Guy was going to kiss him. Instead he thanked him for not telling us that the museum was closed as we pushed out the door into the fresh, cool night air where we all asked each other the most important question. You know what we asked. It was funny, now.

Nooooooo!

 Two cinnamon rolls. Did you ever notice how Princess Leia's hair looked like two cinnamon rolls on the sides of her head? Just in the first movie.

The theatre was crowded for the opening night of Star Wars. The auditorium was big, but the only available seats were in the first five rows. When the lights went down, we needed to throw our heads over the back of the seats to take in the monster screen. After reading the famous scrawl–you know a long time ago, far away galaxy–the blank screen was slowly, and most impressively, filled by an enormous space freighter. The subwoofers emitted low rumbles as the ship took over all of the space above my thrown back head. It was thrilling. But that wasn’t the most breathtaking.

No. It was the moment when Luke and Han “rescued” Leia and she realized they didn’t have an escape plan. When she grabbed Luke’s blaster and blew through a grate to create an exit, covered herself to get to the chute and led her “rescuers” out of their foolhardy self-trap.

She took charge. She just needed to be released. God, I was totally in love with her. From that moment.

A few movies later a masked operative came into the bad guys’ lair to rescue Han Solo. I’ll never forget the reveal–it was Leia. Whuh? Really? Her? Yay! Here’s my favorite hero. The brave, competent hero who a few scenes later strangled her captor. Yeah, she killed that enormous muther-fukcing slug. With her wits. And her bare hands. Baller.

While Star Wars doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test (there’s not a single scene in any of the first three movies in which two female characters have a conversation about anything at all besides men), it was a liberating experience. Princess Leia was a hero in her own right.

In a Rolling Stone interview last month, Carrie Fisher said

I like Princess Leia. I like how she was feisty. I like how she killed Jabba the Hutt. That’s my favorite thing she did.

Carrie Fisher, who was Princess Leia. Carrie Fisher whose jilted bride character carried a rocket launcher to off her former fiancé Jake Blues, this was after she set explosives to blow up his apartment. Carrie Fisher whose gal pal to Sally who met Harry would not put up with that horrid wagon wheel in her house. Carrie Fisher who brilliantly reprised her role of Leia, but this time as a rebel general and a heartbroken mom.

Carrie Fisher who was funny and honest. Who was a terrific author and one of the best script savers in Hollywood. Carrie Fisher who told us all about her struggles with addiction, depression and being bipolar with authenticity and wit.

I liked Carrie Fisher. I liked how she was feisty. I like how she killed Jabba the Hutt. But the favorite thing she did? She blasted a path by showing us what it’s like to be herself. She worked on a script for me to embrace myself at all of my ages. I am sorry that she left us so soon. I would have liked to see her as an old lady.

Peace, General. And thanks.

Bowl Game

A bowl of beef bibimbap, with veggies. There's a pair of chopsticks and some red sauce on the side.

Shopping on Christmas Eve has different flavors. Some pick up a last item or two–like the roast for the main event. Some frantically pace and pounce because they didn’t shop and are without inspiration. They will likely settle for anything within budget. Then there are those who are simply celebrating the season.

The market was crowded with all of those people, and more. Strollers blocked walking space and the bar counters were lined with people having a drink. The cafe tables lining the walls and tucked in underused nooks were mostly filled. A big man was seated at one of the tables. He moved with great deliberation, slowly pulling his bowl closer to the edge of the table. He stopped to check the progress. He pulled it just a little closer.

He was likely six foot five or six foot six if he were standing. His head was rectangular, not a definite point to his chin, but he had one. While he was big, he wasn’t heavy. In his youth he may have been athletic. But his youth was decades behind him now.

He still had some hair on his head, and it wasn’t white. It was a sandy brown that made him appear younger. His hair should have been white, or gone. His gold framed aviator glasses held thick lenses. If you looked at his eyes through the bottom bifocal, they were magnified to bug level. He was wearing a button down plaid shirt. It wasn’t flannel and the plaid wasn’t wild. He had a camel colored ribbed sweater vest neatly buttoned over his midsection.

He wheeled in a little closer to the table. The armrests of his chair hit the tabletop, keeping him a little further away than he wanted to be. He pulled his bowl a closer. His hand trembled just a little bit when he picked up his spoon. He carefully aimed the spoon into the bowl. He leaned in to meet the spoon with his mouth. Some of the rice missed his mouth.

A woman with a dark, wavy bob maneuvered through the holiday crush of humanity. She had a lidded bowl between her hands, her pinky finger hooked around a bottle of spring water and two pairs of chopsticks wedged between the bottle and her ring finger. She was unhurried and without stress, unlike every other person in the market. She wore a holiday cardigan that was not ugly but that was a little warm for the day. It swung open offering people a glimpse of an “H” with an arrow and her checked politics. She wore smart walking shoes that didn’t look like walking shoes.

She used to hike with him when she was a girl. They’d go for long walks along the stream. Most Saturday’s they’d be in his boat, doing the morning fishing. Their discussions were mostly practical. Sometimes there’d be a lesson for her. His rule? If you want to eat it you have to clean it. He’d shown her how. When it wasn’t summer, she might tell him about school. He’d listen more than talk. She grew up and went away, but still walked with him and fished with him when she was in town.

She brought the lidded bowl to the table and took off the lid. It was pretty hot. She moved his bowl away from him. She pulled napkins from her bag and nestled one under his chin, draped over the top button of his shirt. He slowly moved his tremoring hand to his chest, where he methodically tamped the napkin flat. She blew across the soup in the spoon and moved it toward him. She looked into the lower part of the lenses of his glasses, her right eye asking a question. He nodded ever so slightly, his mouth starting to open. She put the spoon near his mouth and he tasted the soup. He nodded more definitely. It was good like she said it would be.

Now he was in her town. She put the spoon down as they sat next to each other surrounded by the frantic bustle of holiday. They were both content, to sit with each other as if they were on a small boat in the middle of the lake sharing the silence and enjoying time with each other. Later, she would stand behind his chair and push, and they would take their walk.