Monday, August 20, 2007

Happy, Humble, Famous or Rich.

I'm a bit of an Uncle Kracker fan, and think that, from beginning to end, his disc, "No Stranger To Shame," is a pretty good overall musical effort. Maybe a couple hiccups here and there, but fun music with a unique sound, and an occasional message thrown in.

At the end of the disc, he's got a hidden track called, "After School Special," a rap about how he grew up as a dumb school kid and followed his dream, transforming into a millionaire recording artist.

About halfway through the song, there's a verse in which the Voice of Wisdom is talking to Uncle Kracker, describing what his life became when he started getting some money and fame, and the choices he had to make. Every time I hear these lyrics, they make me stop and think:

How many times must I give you your options?
Happy...Humble...Famous...or Rich.
You only get two and only you can pick!

Not the easiest selection to make, is it?...if you only get two.

The two that I imagine most people would be drawn to first would be Happy and Rich. Everyone wants to be Happy, and hey, Rich is always cool, too, right? Many people couldn't care less about Fame, but then there's that other one...Humble. If you're Happy and Rich, then according to those lyrics, you'll be lacking in Humility. Which I can only assume would mean that the people around you would think of you as an arrogant asshole. Not that you would care, because you'd have your Happiness, right? But since you're not Famous, the people you surround yourself with most often would be family and close friends. And do you really want them having that opinion of you?

Let's try to pick two more: the ever-popular cliché, Rich and Famous. Robin Leach made a living showcasing their lifestyles. But as two shining examples, I give you...Britney Spears. And Michael Vick. They're both Rich and Famous. But are either of them Happy lately? Or Humble? (how 'bout stooopid? or crazy?)

I would very quickly dismiss Rich and Famous. I've gotta work some Happy in there somehow. Which means my options have been diminished greatly. I'm left with Happy and Humble, Happy and Famous, or Happy and Rich.

I don't want to be Famous. I don't think I'd handle it well. And it matters to me what family and friends think of me. So I guess I need a dose of Humble to counteract any assholeness that may occur. My options have apparently been set...Happy, and Humble. One thing I sort of assume as a given is that if you're Happy, you're not faced with too many financial worries and struggles. So while you may not be Rich, you're probably doing pretty well. And that's good enough for me.

Who's got some other combination of two of the four that you'd choose? And what led you to make your decision on those two? Share some different perspectives.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have to Humbly drive to the corner convenience store and buy a Powerball ticket. Because winning $245 million on Wednesday night would make me, umm...Happy.

"Sometimes I feel like somethin' is gone here,
somethin' is wrong here, I don't belong here.
Sometimes I feel like a stranger in town,
and I've lost what I've found.
It'll all turn around."
—Uncle Kracker, "In A Little While"

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Writing's On The Wall...But Can You Read It?

I was skimming one of Mark Cuban's blog entries the other day, and found myself nodding my head, totally able to relate.

Of course, I do this often when I read his blog, because Cuban and I have so many similarities: We've got approximately the same net worth, give or take about nine zeros. He owns a basketball team; I own a basketball. He's the co-founder of HDNet; I enjoy surfing the Net. He's a technological genius; I own a basketball.

If you haven't already clicked over to it, the title of his blog post was, "I Forgot How To Write!" where he lamented his bad fortune when he was forced to take notes longhand—that's right, pen and paper style—in a meeting because he didn't have anything with a keyboard near him.

Relying so heavily on PDAs and laptops and other devices with keypads, Cuban literally found it difficult to scribble one letter after another.

While I don't have as many funky gadgets as he does, I've been in exactly the same boat when trying to write cursive letters. Obviously, a keyboard is my first option, both at work and at home, but I don't have a laptop (yet), so I'm not exactly mobile in that regard.

For as many years as I can remember, when I put pen to paper, I almost always print. I'm one of those people with the small-caps style of printing, and I'm pretty happy with my printing. It's always legible, looks pretty neat most of the time, and I can move the pen across the paper at a decent clip.

There are times, however, when cursive writing is the path best attempted, if you've got pages of stuff to write, for instance. And every time I try to write, instead of print, I fumble my way through the letters, improvising on some strokes, cheating on others and generally getting a rather sloppy page. Sometimes it's downright hideous. It didn't used to be so bad. (and, no, the handwriting sample isn't mine. I was too lazy to write one out, take a photo, crop it and upload I just searched for one instead.)

A buddy and I started using the small caps printing style way back in middle school, so I haven't had a lot of practice with cursive writing since then. Some, but not a lot. And lately...even less than that. And it shows.

I'm not saying I want to go back and re-learn cursive writing and practice it until my pages flow. I'll always opt for a keyboard, and for the small caps. But to quote Mr. Cuban, "I forgot how to write!" So sad.

My mom's got nearly flawless penmanship, and if you were ever to get a handwritten letter from her, you'd think you just opened to page 36 in a penmanship textbook. It's that good. And when my dad reaches for a pen, he produces really cool-looking small caps. I used to be able to do both of them fairly well, but I liked the look of the small caps a lot better, so I stuck with that.

And I've found that the skill I haven't used for so many years, has nearly disappeared. Maybe I need to enroll in an elementary class this fall.

But I don't think I'd fit in the desk.

"Letter writing is the only device for
combining solitude with good company."
—Lord Byron

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Don't Expect Frost, or Kipling. Or Seuss.

It's Sunday...time for a Squib!
This is truly a "squib" of a topic, but I really wanted to bring that header back to my blog. It's been gone for far too many Sundays. Who knows when it may show its face again? I'm hoping for next Sunday, but that might be optimistic.

And I wanted to give a blog entry like this a try. Here's the backstory: Scattered across the Internets, I've discovered some bloggers and other creative sites that boast samples of "Spam Haiku," or poetry created totally out of spam subject lines or body copy. I always thought that was a clever idea. So I gathered all of my spam subject lines and wrote them out into a list, and thought I might try to rearrange them into something resembling a poem. (no rhyming, unless I get lucky...and no syllable counting, at least for this experiment. while haiku might be a more inspired way to display spam, I'm too lazy to count three lines of five, seven and five syllables. consider this spam freeverse, if you will.)

Each line of the poem was a spam subject line...unedited, uncensored, untouched. And minimal punctuation. I feel like freaking e.e. cummings. Except, you know, with spam. And bad.

Hello, my dearest friend
How things looking
Feeling cold inside out
Things getting better
Time for change
Have u heard that
These positions will help you reach your peak
Think i can help you with this
You have to get your horse going
Good girls love bad boys
Is this right
What are your thoughts
U know what i think
Hey man, stop throwing away your money
Stop waiting
Gloria sent you a! Greeting
Did you get this, buddy
She will love you more than any other guy
Great stuff. Love it
Bet this is the one
Make her worship you
We provide you a real advantage to turn her on
Go magnify yourselves atlantica
At loneliness in moorefield
Don't get left behind
If you go for the sun
Help is on the way
Can you help
Thx for all ur help
Hope you can make better
Can't wait anymore
The death of the bicycle has had a tremendous effect on blackman
The definition of Freudian slip
For this sahara
lowly tape recorder
Saw them all
In supermarket
%START_WORD a coffeyville
This is great. Count on it
You've received a postcard from a School mate!
But he's loyal to George Bush, and that's key
I know I'll take flack for it — but I liked it
Crazy stuff
When will this finish

— • — • —

Uhh...I'm guessing this will finish right about here. I think I've figured out the reason why others have used the haiku format for this. Because after seventeen syllables it gets pretty damn boring.

Spam poetry is best taken in small doses. Or doses at all. I apologize for wasting your valuable Sunday minutes.

Here's a haiku to finish up:

No regrets. Great choice
Just wanted to drop a line
Ladies will love you

"To be nobody but yourself in a world
which is doing its best day and night
to make you like everybody else
means to fight the hardest battle
which any human being can fight and
never stop fighting."
—e.e. cummings

Thursday, August 09, 2007

It's Like Plastic Gold!

You know what’s almost more fun than using a free Barnes & Noble gift card?

Sometimes...not using it.

I recently received one of these cards, which, in my eyes, always looks more attractive than a gold brick or the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. I mean...don’t people realize that this thin rectangular card entitles the owner to...*gasp!* books?

Could there be anything better? I think not.

Anyway, the day after I received the card, I had a trip scheduled to Green Bay for a different purpose, so I stowed the card in my wallet to have at the ready in the event that I stopped to browse. Who was I kidding?...I purposely left my entire afternoon free so I’d have several uninterrupted hours.

Those gift cards never last too long in my possession, and during my time at the bookstore, I found a small semi load of books that I’d love to add to my collection.

As I wandered the aisles, though, a thought crossed my mind and the more I pondered it, the smarter it started to sound.

I had another excursion planned the very next day down to Milwaukee, where they build some of the Barneses a little bigger. So I decided to to keep my gift card securely tucked in my back pocket, and would hit the road a couple hours earlier than planned the next day to do some more book browsing.

As I walked out the door of the Green Bay store, I thought to myself, “All that picking and planning over which books to buy, salivating over this one and that...and now I get to do it all again tomorrow, too!”

I was stretching the value of my gift without too much effort. Granted, I didn’t have any new books in my hands, but the idea of new books was still fresh and real.

The next day I walked into my idea of heaven on earth and began my routine all over again...checking the bargain shelves, wandering among the classics, perusing the tables set out specifically for “great summer reads” to see what knowledgeable book people are recommending.

And then, according to plan, I made my way over to the “Writing/Reference” section, and knew that this is where I would surrender my gift card in exchange for books on the writing craft.

Many of my gift cards are spent in this section, and my bookshelves overflow with volumes on creativity and fiction writing and tips on writing memoirs and how to overcome writer’s block.

You know those writers you read about who spend more time reading about writing than they actually do writing? That would be yours truly.

I selected a book dedicated to getting you writing and keeping you writing, another that called itself a writer’s portable therapist (no jokes from the peanut gallery about how I should have opted for the unabridged encyclopedic version instead), a small volume by Ray Bradbury with his thoughts on the writing life, and an entertaining dictionary of sorts called, “Word Nerd.”

As I placed my four books on the counter by the saleslady, she shuffled through them and gave me a smile, saying, “These look like some fun books!”

I quietly remarked about it being one of my favorite subjects.

And as she rang me up and tried to sell me on becoming a book club member (which she did; guess that means I’ll have to spend more time at Barnes!), she commented, “Well, when you’re a famous writer you’ll have to come back here and do a reading for us.”

That line made me laugh, and I said, “It’s a date. I’ll mark it on my calendar.”

So now I’ve got my first gig. All I’ve got to take care of is the “getting famous” part.

Hmm...does anyone know any good books on how to write?

“When you write down your life,
every page should contain something
no one has ever heard about.”
—Elias Canetti

Monday, August 06, 2007

Drunken Strangers: A WWYD Quiz

So I'm driving along the lakeshore on my way home a few nights back, and the moon is about as full and as bright as I've seen it in a long, long time. If you don't already know this about me, I'm mesmerized by the moon and the stars. I hope to one day own lakefront (seafront?) property on the Sea of Tranquility.

Seeing it shimmering off of Lake Michigan, I decided to try my luck at some nighttime photography, already resigned to the fact that I don't have the skills...and perhaps not the camera...necessary to figure out the correct camera settings to capture on a memory card what I'm absorbing in person.

(want proof? completely embarrassing sample of "moonlit lake" appears to the right. I promise there's a lake out there somewhere. you just can't, umm, see it. this image is sooo not copyrighted. please, go ahead...steal it. and replace it with a better one.)

I pulled into a wayside along the lake, and snapped a few shots, fooling around with the camera's scene modes and its manual settings, adding the flash for a few shots to get the weeds and rocks along the shore in a couple of the photos. Not expecting much, but finished with my experiment, I turned to walk back to my car, and noticed someone else in the parking lot, maybe 50 feet to my right.

As I got to my car door, that someone spoke up: "Sir...excuse me, sir, could you help me?" asked a middle-aged woman walking slowly in my direction.

"Um, what do you need?" I replied.

"Could you help me find my Saturn?"

(after just having the moon on my brain for the last 15 minutes, I thought maybe she was an extraterrestrial trying to find her way to her home planet.)

"Could you..." **stumble — shuffling of feet — more with the stumbling** "...I'm drunk. I'm sorry, I'm drunk. My car. It's a Saturn."

"Uhh. Where did you leave it?"

"Well, I was just walking down there, and I thought I left it here and was in the right place, but now I can't seem to find it," was her answer. [sober ed. note: the "down there" to which she was referring is a trail that runs along the lakeshore, several feet from the waysides and rest stops along the highway.]

"Did you check the other waysides?" There was another one a short walk up the trail.

"I thought I did, but...maybe I'm just mixed up," she said.

Unsure of where her car was, or if she was even wandering the correct Great Lake, I decided that she was not going to get in my car, or else I might not get her out without her passing out, puking, or worse...stabbing me in the neck with her car keys and driving off without leaving a trace of evidence.

I could envision the headlines already, after investigators checked the SD card in my camera for clues: "Amateur Photographer, Unable to Comprehend f-stops, Ends Life Under Fuzzy Glow of Moonlight."

"Sorry, but I don't think I can help you," I told the woman.

"Thaaanks, dude!" was her sarcastic reply as she stepped almost immediately to her left and stumbled back toward the trail.

I got in my car and pulled out onto the road, and drove to the wayside about a quarter mile away. Sure enough, there in the parking lot was a gray Saturn, with Indiana license plates.

Having a bit of fun with this adventure, I drove back to where I'd originally found Ms. Stumbledrunk, not sure what action I'd take, but at least hoping to inform her where her car was located. She was nowhere in sight, however, and I wasn't feeling generous enough to go hiking the trail looking for her.

And as I slowly circled the parking lot, I thought it was probably best that I didn't find her. She wasn't in any shape to walk, much less drive.

So that's where the story ended, and I didn't make any more wayside pit stops on my drive home.

I hope she found her way back to Saturn, and enjoyed the view of the moon along the way.

— • — • —

Here's the quiz part: What Would You Do? How much help would you have given this stumbling drunk stranger? Which one of the following would mostly likely have been your response:

"Lady, go sleep it off on the grass. You'll find your car when you sober up."

— or —

"Sure, get in. I have nothing better to do than drive around aimlessly, chauffeuring some drunk who barely knows what planet she's on, much less what planet she's from."

— or —

"Do you happen to have a tripod handy? And......if I go with an f2.8 and a shutter speed of maybe 1/4 of a second, will that give me at least a couple ripples on the lake when I open this up in Photoshop?"

"The scientific theory that I like best
is that the rings of Saturn are composed
entirely of lost airline luggage."
—Mark Russell

Saturday, August 04, 2007

How To Meet Someone New

Sometimes I long for the days of being 5 years old, when life was simple and making new friends took all of about two minutes.

A couple Saturdays ago I rode along with my parents and my niece, Grace, to the EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, where we’d be meeting my sister and brother-in-law later in the day.

We found a shade tree just outside the grounds and set up some chairs to watch the nonstop aerial shows the dozens of planes were putting on.

It didn’t take long, and Gracie was getting to know the lady next to us who was also enjoying the shade and the air show.

Then, during one of a few scheduled bathroom breaks in which Grandma and Gracie were gone, a little girl and her younger brother came to sit down about three feet away from me, the girl setting up a fold-out lounge chair and commenting to no one in particular, “I think I’ll”

I smiled at her but didn’t say anything, and turned back to watch the planes, anxious to see Grace’s reaction when she came back to our spot in the shade.

And sure enough, it didn’t disappoint. Uncles and grandparents and new older lady friends are all well and good, but other little kids are always much more important to little kids.

Gracie was in full jabber mode as she walked with Grandma, but when she saw the two newcomers to my left, the conversation ceased and she stopped in her tracks to survey the situation.

I was sprawled out on the grass with my legs extended, and she came and stood alongside me, her feet tucked under my right leg, silent and staring for about a minute. Then, she stepped over my legs and stood and stared some more. Another minute or so, and she sat down on the ground and nestled against my arm, still observing, but also safely resting against “familiar territory.”

A couple minutes later, she scooted along the ground to move closer to her peers, and I was no longer necessary. I’d served my purpose as a couple-stage buffer, but now Grace felt brave enough to invite herself into the conversation that the girl and her brother were having, nodding and saying, “yeah,” and “mm hmm.”

When a plane came in for a landing along the runway nearest to us, the little girl said out loud, “Wow, that’s a biiigg plane!!” and Gracie answered back with, “Yeahhh, that is a big one!” and voila!...a new friend was made, and the conversation continued.

With a little bit of eavesdropping on my part, I was entertained for a good hour with some very random snippets of getting-to-know-you conversation.

“I’m 5,” said Grace. “How old are you?”

“I’m 4, and a haaalf!” replied the girl.

“Well I’m older than you.”

“I know.”

“You look like you’re 3.”

“No, I doh-uuun’t.” (don’t you just love it how little kids can take a one-syllable word and stretch it out into a really long two?)

On the EAA grounds, some smoke bombs were being set off as planes flew by to give the effect of a wartime demonstration, and that also became a topic of conversation.

“Are you scared of the bombs and the smoke out there? I’m not,” said Grace.

“I’m not, either,” answered the little girl.

“Do you like shrimp?” asked Grace.

I didn’t hear the answer to that one. And did I mention these bytes of conversation were, um, random? Yeah.

During a short lull of silence, the girl blurted out, “I’m Bailey!!”

“That’s your name? My name’s Grace.”

The rest of their time together was spent running races to see who was faster, and sharing grapes. And when Bailey had to leave, the older people once again became a little more interesting.

I like to think I learned a little something about interpersonal communication skills, and might have to test it out among the older crowd in a barroom environment.

“I’m 38, how old are you? You look like you’re 3.”

And of course the one to catch 'em off guard: “Do you like shrimp?”

Think that’ll get me a phone number?

“He had occasional flashes of silence
that made his conversation
perfectly delightful.”
—Sydney Smith

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

No Gifts, Please

A year ago today, I sat down with a bunch of jumbled ideas in my head, connected a few dots, filled in a few holes and and knitted together my very first blog entry. I've been told, and I'm not sure that I can disagree, that the first one still qualifies as my best effort to date. Considering I've written, what...nine posts in the last year? (give or take one or two)...I didn't give myself much of a chance to top that intro, did I?

I've read many different blogs over the past several years, and have seen some of them mention their one- or two- or five-year blogiversaries. I wasn't sure if I was going to do the same when mine came around, because let's be's been a rather unceremonious year. (which is why, when I went searching for a pic to add to this post, I immediately chose the badly drawn slice of cake instead of a high-res photo of a perfectly baked, immaculately frosted whole. I don't deserve it.)

When I signed up for my Blogger account, I did it with a few layers of uncertainty as to whether I'd keep it up. A year later, I can say I stuck with it...sort of. I've had the occasional flurry of two or three posts in a week, but for the most part it's been once a week, or worse.

Turns out...and this is the part that I'm still trying to process..."blog" is a verb. (fuckin' action words.)

And here I thought a blog was just something to have to make you look cool so you could say things like, "Hey, go check out my blog." or "I really tell it like it is on my blog." or "They cancelled my blog!!"

Not true. You actually have to work at a blog. You've gotta, um, blog. (see? I told you it was a verb.)

I tried to coerce myself when the new year rolled around to pay more attention to this thing. I set goals. And quickly dismissed them. I gave myself pep talks: "blahblahblah post more often blahblahblah write better blahblahblah getcher ass off that damn couch blah. blah blah.

I spent (and spend) more time reading other people's blogs than working on my own. And in an odd twist, I found myself reading more and more blogs about...blogging. Trying to find a spark or a tip or an "aha!!" to get me motivated.

I read just about everywhere that most good bloggers use, or should use, WordPress. So my neurotic self immediately concluded, "I might not be a good blogger, but if I start using WordPress...ohhhh boy, I'll be more motivated and my blog will be cooler and I'm gonna get better before the ink on my registration page is even dry." This actually stuck in my head for longer than I care to admit. You'll notice, however, that my blogiversary has passed and I've still got a Blogger address. Because I sorta stepped outside myself, shook some sense into myself and said, "Dude!! First concentrate on the blogging part of it...then, if you get a handle on that, then you can go where the cool people blog." (apparently, I spoke to myself using lots of italics.)

The bottom line to this big long one-year-inspired rant is that I enjoy coming here. I'd miss it if I deleted it. I'd just like to discipline myself to come here on a slightly more consistent basis.

It's not that I'm gonna make a big pile of money if I start posting four times a week, and I'm not going to suddenly draw in hundreds upon hundreds of new readers. But there's something satisfying, often therapeutic, about the writing process.

A blog is a unique animal. You can come here, post a few words and a link, and call it a day. If you're feeling particularly whiny, but not particularly motivated, you can log in, say, "My feet hurt. Time for some new shoes." and hit Publish. Done. Or, you can go the route that I seem to take most often, which is to ramble for six or seven thousand words, not knowing when to quit. You can say "fuck" whenever you want, and not worry about censors. That doesn't go over too well in a community newspaper column. (not that I've tried.) And I don't care what anyone's a great word. A versatile word. A powerful word.

I have no idea what my second year will hold, but I hope it delivers more words. And who knows?...maybe for my second blogiversary, I'll announce that I'm moving to WordPress. Meanwhile, I'll try to heed the mantra I learned many many years ago, from one of my favorite teachers: Just write. Just write. Just write.

"Anyone who says he wants to be
a writer and isn't writing, doesn't."
—Ernest Hemingway