Conundrums

This Sunday night at 6pm in Renton, I do my first (being optimistic) reading from “Learning to Walk” as a benefit for REACH (Renton Ecumenical Association of Churches), an organization (and group of people) I much admire. Also, I’m free in the evenings.

This has been sort of a puzzle, as if I’m reading from a recipe book; no particular section or chapter works particularly well on its own, at least without a set-up, and there’s a lot there anyway. It’s kept me busy, murdering perfectly fine jokes because they lead me down a trail that ends up with a two-hour presentation. I would have to also sing and play the banjo to pull that off, and my banjo skills are minimal.

This is not the only puzzle around here this week, including that I just realized I left chicken in the slow cooker for about 18 hours (it’s still moist and looks fine, but you gotta wonder), and my wife left her iPad on the plane to Austin and so far we don’t know where it is (airlines flying to Austin are a little busy this week, with SXSW taking off).

There are other mysteries of minor sorts, including missing bowls, which John and I solved by buying more ($2 apiece!) and various other missing things, all of which can be attributed to a house that bases most of its organization – using the word loosely, and really inappropriately – on the female part of our trio. She probably knows where the ladle is, etc.

Although she can’t explain why I have now two recycle bins. I’m assuming I brought in the cans one dark night from the street, but even that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Was I on autopilot? What kept me from stealing all the recycle bins on the street?

I’ve kept the extra outside the garage, hoping one of my neighbors might recognize it, but they all look alike, really. Not a lot of individual cans out there. No help from residue on the bottom, either (empty 12-packs of Diet Rite would be me; beer cans somebody else, but these were clean). I need Columbo, or Sherlock, or one of the CSI people.

Other than the above, though, we’ve managed our XX gap as we always do, knowing she’s having Grandma fun and we’re doing a bunch ‘o’ slow cooking, along with marathon conversations and many servings of bananas, which are good sources of potassium and just fun to eat anyway.

But the focus is on Sunday, my primary responsibility not to bore anyone and to practice signing my name so it doesn’t resemble my third-grade penmanship and more my fifth-grade variety.

And then we’re back to finding more local venues for book stuff, and an article coming out regarding the book, and a radio interview, and none of this means much, although exciting. Having lived through the long process of creating an independent film that people seemed to like but still won’t make much noise, I have no fantasies of noise makers.

But it exists, as do I, and John, and I imagine my wife’s iPad, somewhere, along with some questionable chicken-like substance, and I would say OK to all that. And bananas.

A video I made yesterday. No puppets were harmed.

 

Menz to Boyz

John and I drove his mom to the airport yesterday morning, her now-routine spring break/winter break/summer break jaunts to Austin, Texas, where she gets her temporary, not-enough time with his Bixness, our grandson, who fortunately seems to enjoy company.

I have a feeling Grandma is not fixing him breakfast every morning, as I did on my last trip. But she’s probably spending more time on the floor, playing and reading. I did that too, but I have the same feelings about Bix that I did about his mother; hurry up and learn to talk, so we can have conversations. There’s a whole section on string theory we need to cover before kindergarten starts.

Photo Mar 15, 9 23 49 AM

From SeaTac, we headed over to Bellevue for a church retreat at a spectacular center, on Lake Washington with beautiful grounds, although John felt under the weather and we eventually left early, having a casual and mostly separate remainder of the day.

And of course we’re used to this, not just the trips but the companionship. We spend a tremendous amount of time together, proximity alone, and all that’s changed is that we have the car to ourselves. We could take road trips or, considering that the rain has decided to show up (last seen in January, I think), making trips to the grocery store a little drier.

As exhausting as it can be to listen to one of his monologues on the intricacies of Skyrim, and as dull as I can be pretty much all of the time, we coexist peacefully and have fun. Cooking is always an adventure, and we can be snide about his mom’s tendency to leave straws and Q-Tips lying around without hurting her feelings.

There is no backsliding, either. She’s gone so much that we pretty much run the place anyway, which explains a lot, and after 25 years our shorthand is pretty amazing. The other night we pretty much covered the entire Star Trek canon in about four sentences, mostly broken ones. It makes it easy to keep the subject matter flowing.

But mostly? We’re just used to each other. We greet each other in the morning, wander around during the day, with our various jobs, circling each other just to check in constantly, and at night we head off to dreamland with acknowledgments that tomorrow will be another day, quite possibly better.

And then there’s this.

Photo Mar 15, 9 53 52 AM
This is why I have no interest in gambling, by the way. I know where my luck lies, and I’ll leave it at that.

Up For Good

I woke up very early this morning, as has happened lately, and I didn’t want to make any noise, so I skipped the grinder and made some instant coffee. YES I’M OK.

I have a very functional relationship with caffeine, not at all a routine. Most mornings I’ll have a cup, but sometimes not, or not until the afternoon. And sometimes I’ll have two, on rare (big writing day) mornings three.

But it just does what it does. I don’t even care for the taste all that much, even with the Splenda I dump in. It opens my eyes, perks me up, gives me the energy to take the trash downstairs to the can in the garage, which my son insists, gently, but often, that I do.

My son. Who makes his own meals and cleans up his own messes, not to mention taking meticulous care of his cat, constantly cleaning his litter box. And that may be it; he may scoop but not care to carry. He’s a funny guy.

But I don’t mind, not after my coffee, and I’m thinking this sleep issue has more to do with exercise than anything else. After a very erratic autumn, with trips and disruptions, with this book finished and out in the world I thought it was time to buckle down. One long hike down to the beach and back resulted in doing the same thing three days in a row, and I decided on a goal.

Fifty miles of walking. This week. Next week we’ll see.

And goals I don’t take so seriously, not so much. There is either do or don’t do, as Yoda sort of said, and goals just point me in a good direction. I don’t sweat missing them. I do sweat.

It seems dumb and redundant and maybe a little obnoxious to spend much time writing about walking, all things considered, but I appreciate that it still works. The body bounces back, and even that steep climb from sea level up 1000 feet and then sliding down to 600, all 7-plus miles in total, provokes cute little endorphins that don’t mellow me out as much as reassure me, tell me I’m OK, that I’m still capable of the feats of mortal men, even if I huff and puff a little.

Learning to walk is like learning to breathe, and of course some people actually practice that, too. How we became these slug creatures who park our butts in front of glittering screens and not scream with evolutionary rage is a mystery. But I do it as much as anyone.

It’s just that I figured something out once, when I had a lot to figure out, and it has a lot to do with movement. Even walking in circles means you’re going forward, and that’s my direction of choice.

Final

Ink Staining, Still

My blood pressure at my recent physical exam was 122/78. My pulse was 90, but I tend to get a little anxious at times, especially in the morning. The longer I live with my son, in fact, the more I wonder about anxiety and what role it plays in so many things. We live in anxious times.

What was curious was my doctor telling me new standards for blood pressure were now in effect, a little higher (130/90 is considered normal, I believe she said; and it used to be higher than that). Maybe anxiety is the new normal. Me, I’m good.

But things are changing. I still mourn a little “The Daily Dish,” Andrew Sullivan’s prolific blog that posted 50-60 items a day, with back-and-forths, opinions and counters, a perfect site to find out information (on a subscription basis for the past couple of years; I was one of the first subscribers) and make up your own mind. A long, well though-out essay on a current event would be followed by intelligent, coherent dissents until, even if a consensus wasn’t reached, information was. It was a great site, and he gave it up, suddenly and decisively, not for numbers or dollars but because even with a great staff, he was burned out.

I worry about us all being burned out, at least those of us who don’t like being spoon fed click bait and selective news reading. We’re a polarized country for many reasons, mostly because it’s easy. You want to hear just the things you believe? Boy, is there a cable channel for you. Several.

And, oddly enough, given all the predictions, I wonder if we won’t be saved by newspapers. We still run the risk of paid articles, essentially advertising that hides as journalism, but there are old journalism traditions and there are still old journalists, not to mention the new ones creeping out of school every year, hoping there might be work.

Long-form journalism still exists, too, if maybe a dying breed. It costs money for months of reporting, travel, research, and at the end we have 5000 or 10,000 words on a fascinating subject that really has little to do with the price of milk, although in theory it might. But who has the time?

I listened to an interview the other day with a chef who talked about looking back a quarter-century or so, and how amazed we’d be by the money we would be shelling out for Internet access, cable TV, and cell phones, but more importantly the time we’d spend online. We were so busy; how could we squeeze in another (on average) 4-1/2 hours a day online? But we do.

Still, in whatever form they exist, I suspect the paper versions of newspapers will stick around longer than we thought, just as small bookstores seem to be still going, if not thriving. Old habits and all, and we are an aging country. I suspect few under the age of 35, maybe 30, have much memory in terms of reading the things, but that leaves a lot of us who will continue to turn the pages for a few more decades, if possible.

I could teach a seminar, I think, on good Internet practices. They’d involve avoiding any headline that included an exclamation mark. They’d avoid Buzzfeed and Upworthy and any number of link baiters, not to mention to ad whore that goes by the name of The Huffington Post. I’d suggest that people use Facebook to update their friends and family on vacations and growing families, leaving political opinions out of the mix, but good luck with that. Some people see windmills everywhere, and seem either convinced or unconcerned that their commentary persuades no one. We are an unpersuadable people, most of us.

There’s not much I can do about it, except write my little columns about little things, hoping that big things are hiding in the clauses.

I sometimes think I have a wisp of an answer, and then it floats away. Links with context would be one thing. New stories with follow-ups that involve more detail and a variety of opinion. Dismissal of the business model of paid advertising and more subscription-based sources; pick one, pick two, and stick with it.

And drop your cable TV.

Pipe dreams, I tell ya. So I’ll stick with what I can, hoping to stay in touch, and finding a few places for interesting stuff (Jason Kottke, a long-time blogger and designer, gives us six or seven fascinating items every day at kottke.org, and Dave Pell produces a newsletter, delivered to his handy app [or online] most weekdays, in which he covers a lot of bases, more than four, and is worth checking out [nextdraft.com, or look for the app]).

Otherwise, we’re left with the sandwich board people, linking to articles they agree with and the rest of us don’t, or have seen, or know about already.

And newspapers. I’m proud to play my small part, my entertainment section, my stories of life in a slightly slower lane, and hope for the best. And keep turning the pages.

My latest column, covering contagions of all sorts, plus a little weather gloating, is right here, ready to be read. No page turning necessary.

The Hat

A short video/reading from “Learning to Walk.”  I’ll try to remember to add the other videos and sound stuff; I forget some of you don’t follow me on social media.


 

Final

Give Us This Day Our Hefty Bags

Divestment is one of those concepts my brain freezes up on. Like spending money, or yard work. I don’t know when, or how, or when and how it’s appropriate, to stop.

Well, obviously, there’s an end to everything, particularly money, but that’s not my point. Divestment is the best example: Start getting rid of things, and when to stop. I tell people this and I’m not sure they believe me, but if I could secure a few electronic items and some family memory stuff with duct tape, you could remove my roof, turn the house upside down, empty it into a big recycle bin, and I’d be happy.

Maybe save some appliances. Forgot about that. But otherwise, yeah.

Entertainment is the latest. I watched the first episode of the third season of Netflix’s House of Cards, after delving seriously into the first two years when it came out, and you know what? I don’t think so. I think I’m done.

Parks and Recreation, one of the few TV shows to make me laugh out loud, is done. 30 Rock and The Office are long gone. Breaking Bad is finished, and I just can’t see getting into Better Call Saul, as good as it sounds. I may be done with TV. I might watch the last few episodes of Mad Men, just because I’ve stuck with it since day #1. And Louie – can I skip that?

It’s troublesome and not complete, but I still think I’m done.

I begrudge no one their entertainment, television or movies or ballet or opera or music of any sort, or art or public nudity or really anything. We need distractions. I just feel compelled, given the little I watch, to not pick up any new shows.

As far as the house, I’m lost at the moment. I could make dump runs, but I have no van or truck so that involves renting a U-Haul and spending a day (at least) divesting in a very physical sense (meaning I would need help). Yard work is hard enough.

The books. That old water bed downstairs. The broken furniture, the cardboard boxes that need breaking down. Did I mention the books? Divest, divest. I have my work cut out, and there may be no time for TV, and that may be the best idea I’ve had in a while.

Louie

Snatch, Seize, Enjoy

I have time. It’s been a point of contention for me the past four years, not that the hours were horrible but the work was, in the sense that it was mostly mindless, enlivened only by tricks I’d occasionally come up with to make it easier (i.e., tweaking word processing software to give me a break, or at least a feeling of minor accomplishment).

But that was then and this is now. The past six weeks has been a collection of weekends, although I’ve kept busy, marketing and traveling and doing the normal things I do. This cannot hold, not for long, and as frugal as we are, and as much as my wife works, we’ve been through the financial wringer for the past six years and our cushion is gone, our future is questionable, and our bills must be paid. So there’s that.

And it comes down to change, once again the necessity that keeps us growing and living. The persistent change that was a big part of my life beginning nine years ago, when it was crucial, has eased off a bit, and still I sense it. The switching of routines, the impetus to make a different choice here and there.

I spent a few hours over the past couple of days forcing my body to change, taking that 7-plus-mild hike down to the beach, sore each day but manageable. A month of this would do wonders, and by the time the rains return I hope to have a routine that’s not discouraged by wetness.

But I’m entering a new change, one that plays out in so many different ways. Maybe I’ll get an office job to supplement the writing. Maybe my son will do much better without my supervision. Maybe I’ll get better at managing my time.

And maybe nobody needs a 56-year-old who can only write and talk. Those are not exactly rare commodities, even with some learned skill.

But change has always started, with me, in improving my physical condition. This isn’t hard to fathom; feel better, do better. But once again (i.e., it’s in Learning to Walk), it’s doing something hard, because I need practice at hard things, as I suspect we all do.

So I learn new software, and I take long hikes to the beach, and I mow the lawn. I keep up to date on publicity, as little as I understand that, and I noticed that people are also now starting to buy my other books. This is heartening, if meager, as if people are still interested.

And if I can keep people interested, and continue to write, and keep on talking, and walking my long walks, I will have filled my days, not with Scrooge McDuck money but with changing my routine. Which might be as valuable.

Photo Mar 07, 1 15 53 PM

No whales in sight, but a stunning day. And a long walk home.

 

What Goes Down

My grandson, all of 16 months, was recently diagnosed with diabetes type 1, an autoimmune disorder that wreaks havoc on some perfectly normal biological routines. His body is rejecting his own pancreas, as if it were a transplanted organ or that alien creature from that movie I’ll never see again because I sort of hid under my seat. And I was 20 years old.

I don’t want to hide under my seat with Bix, but I did gladly take on the job of short-order cook, conveniently leaving me in the kitchen when the insulin injections were given. It’s not bad, a tiny bit of crying now but easily relieved. It’s just sort of unpleasant for grandpa, not being around so much.

As opposed to Type 2 diabetes, which mostly involves insulin resistance (your body stops reacting to it, or not so much), this is another animal. Some genetics, probably, maybe exposure to a virus, almost certainly just bad luck.

And lots of hope, really. In 10 years we’ll be looking at nothing, either a cure or technology so non-invasive that this middle-schooler won’t even think about it, other than his diet. And his diet, from the beginning, has been as healthy as you could wish  for. I think his dad invented kale.

What they don’t tell you about Type 1, though, particularly with the young ones, is that it’s contagious.

There is in my family, incidentally, a smattering of autoimmune issues with the women, although I’ve seen no signs of anything yet. So there’s that.

But I like to bake. I’m also very nutritionally conscious (i.e., I’m aware of what I put in my mouth. I still put it in there), so I know all about flour. Read the label sometimes. Flour is essentially sugar, and if you’re watching calories and certainly carbs, it’s bad news.

So I still bake, but I mostly give that stuff away. My concern for humanity Is touching.

But watch a toddler, even one raised on kale, and observe what he can and can’t eat, and it has a viral effect. That is, there’s a lot of guilt by empathy.

So everyone in that household in Austin was either sneaking the occasional cookie or abstaining. After a week without much in the way of sugar at all, I came home and celebrated my privacy by opening up a container of my favorite gelato, which I will finish in one setting. First, it’s not that big of a container. Secondly, it’s gelato, which is very fashionable, just like I am.

And I ate about 6 tablespoons. Then threw the rest away. I’m not ruling out buying some more and trying again, but I’ve definitely got the Diabetes Effect. And kale is starting to sound good.

—————

Since September, I’ve taken three fairly long trips, and then I’ve been writing like a maniac, finishing my book. Exercise became a little erratic, then, which happens from time to time before I buckle down and jump back in.  Two or three times a week isn’t bad at all, but I’m used to a daily regimen, at least a few miles outside in whatever weather. It just makes me feel better.

So taking advantage of yet another high ridge of pressure that is keeping western Washington exceptionally mild this winter, I headed off to see the whales.

I didn’t expect to see whales. Whales have their own schedule. But I’d heard that they could sometimes be spotted from the Meadowdale Park Beach, which is close to my house, so I headed in that direction.

It’s 2-1/2 miles to the park, mostly through neighborhoods, and then you enter the forest. A steep, rocky trail is carved between the trees and goes down, down, down about a mile, 1000 feet easily, to reach the beach. So that’s what I did.

I saw no whales, but sometimes you won’t.

And then I went up.

In the past, I usually try to go fast up the trail, huffing a bit, and I’m always proud that within a minute or two after cresting and hitting level ground I’m back to normal breathing.

This time, maybe a little longer. Maybe a little more trudging. Maybe collapsing in a recliner when I got home and taking a nap.

There’s a remarkable amount of data being publicized almost every day it seems about longevity. If you want to live to be over 100, then pick your parents carefully. But good health and a lively existence into your 80s and 90s? Exercise. Other things, but mostly exercise.

So today I think I’ll trudge some more, those 7-plus miles taking me two hours, which I can accept because of the climbing, and if I can do it often enough I’ll be back in a groove. I might even reward myself with ice cream.

But then I catch sight of those little eyes watching me, sticking out his finger voluntarily to get a blood check, 6-7 times a day, and I wonder if I ever really will again. There is more to contagions than passing bugs back and forth. Sometimes you exchange lifestyles, and I wonder if that’s not exactly what happened.

 

Meadowdale trail. Me in 20 years.

Meadowdale trail. Me in 20 years.

The Biz

During my week in Austin, there were lots of times when we played the IMDB game, in which we raced each other to answer a question about a movie. Most of these involved the Muppets, but it was still a game.

These databases and encyclopedia entries are wormholes, twisting time and space until it’s suddenly Thursday and you can’t remember if you fed the cat. Ever. All of us in this family have been caught in this trip, clicking the links that lead to infinity.

But I did see some interesting things, from time to time. Like a film with a budget of over 10 million (peanuts! Peanuts, I tell ya!) that grosses $102,000. Considering that the marketing alone might double the production cost, and you have more than a failure. You have a movie that resembles the picture of Marty McFly’s family he carries in Back to the Future. It’s not all there, not really a movie anymore, not if hardly anyone notices.

And still they make them, and still they exist.

I guess I could make an argument against the inherent worth of a creative effort being judged by butts in the chairs or books bought or widgets sold, but this is where we live.

What I wanted to point out, coming from a person who has written professionally for a lot of years, earning peanuts, even with a fair amount of readers, is that I’m building a lemonade stand here. And most of us do.

I read dreams all the time. I see them on Facebook and blogs and other places where people express what they wish, even humorously and not all that serious. They imagine a book (or, rather a “book deal,” which seems archaic to me, so 20th century) that changes their lives. Instead of maybe hoping it offers a tiny bit of change to other lives, under the best of circumstances.

And still that’s not why we write. It’s just that thing we do.

So as I go about this lemonade adventure, measuring out the sugar and taste testing the tartness,  plastering aggressive promotion all over Facebook and Twitter, annoying friends and friends of friends, I wanted to point out the math.

There is no money to be made here.

Sure, Harper Lee wrote one book nearly 60 years ago, and she was set. I think “To Kill A Mockingbird” has sold upwards over 50 million copies. Even given the pennies she probably received for the first decade or decades, that still was a Lotto win for a first-time author. And there are other stories, and of course famous writers who churn them out, and not-so-famous who still do, all of them making a nice living out of words.

The rest of us? It’s just that thing we do.

If “Learning to Walk” were somehow to sell a million copies, which would place it well in rarefied air and make it a very big deal, I would probably earn 20% of that at this point (that’s assuming the numbers didn’t catch the eye of a major publisher, in which case it might possibly be less, not more). A couple of hundred-thousand dollars isn’t anything to sneeze at, but it’s not rich. And we’re talking a dream here, not anywhere close to reality.

And then we have the stories of the “Twilight” author and various other writers with shaky prose but their fingers on the zeitgeist who do very, very well. Most things are possible, if improbable.

All to say that this obnoxious marketing has nothing to do with money, although at this point it would be nice if it did.

It’s about being able to write some more, that’s all. A very few people make a lot of money, and more power to them, but me? A year from now, if things work out, I might have earned $1000 from royalties. That there is a nice lemonade business, but it’s still sitting out in front of the house with a pitcher full of words, waving at cars.

I told a friend the other day, talking about the frustration of writers doing something unnatural to the breed (marketing), that it’s possible that there are 75,000 people in my little corner of the country and a few other places who know me as a writer, not a person. These people will not, most of them, buy this book. They’re used to reading me in small chunks, and often for free. Same goes for social media.

Same goes for authors you know and love, many of them. They teach, they augment. They don’t get rich, or even close.

This isn’t an apology for trying to get the word out; it would be stupid if I didn’t. Nothing I write will change the world, or even lives. I hope it will amuse and entertain, and if I squeeze my eyes and imagine my bestest imaginings, enough copies will be in circulation that 75,000 readers increases a bit.

In the meantime, I squeeze lemons and wave at cars, as awkward as it is, wondering what happens next, feet firmly on the ground, knowing the truth, wanting only to write it.

LemonadeStand

The Medical Arts

I went in for a physical yesterday, my yearly allowance under my insurance plan, which I take advantage of, seeming like a good idea. I seem to be very healthy, at least if you don’t take periodontal disease into account.

And I wanted to see my doctor of 16 years one last time, just to say goodbye, although that might not be necessary (she’s moving into a new specialty practice, but seeing me isn’t out of the question, so yay).

I sent her a book, considering I wrote a few paragraphs about a moment of conversation that inspired me to start looking backwards, trying to remember what the early days were like. She was pleased.

And at the end of the visit, she gave me a gourd, beautifully painted with the cover of my book.

She does this sort of thing, and amazing paper mache art (remarkably gruesome and scary and wonderful; a bat and something that looks like like Godzilla decorate the hallway shelf in the clinic), and a photographer of stunning skill. As well as the doctor stuff.

Can you hug your doctor? If you’re a man and she’s a woman, and you have a close but professional relationship? I erred on the side of appropriate, but I was tremendously moved.

And it was a quick physical, even the awkward parts, and the lab results are great. Healthy, so far. My liver looks like someone who has never taken a drink, although eventually the years, here and there, of smoking, nothing serious mostly, a few here and there, will add up. Let’s hope that it’s mild and manageable, that exercise helps, and that I have a few years ahead.

—————-

In the coming weeks, marketing will take an upswing, so let me explain. It would be terrific to sell thousands of books, because that’s income and it allows me to focus on writing, rather than working at WalMart (I’m a little anxious at the moment, losing a chunk of non-writing income and wondering what I can do, at 56, to increase the cash flow), but that’s not really the goal, since it’s not really realistic. I’m mostly looking for some name recognition, just a tiny expansion of my audience, so I can see what happens next.

In the meantime, I have a talisman…

Combo