The Truth Behind Social Media

I’ve considered this for a while now. Social media is one of the few things I had done even close to correctly. So much so that my writing group has staged an intervention to get me catching up on other aspects. At the same time though, people whose opinions I respect are very anti-social networking. As an example, the Ice Bucket Challenge.

I understand, people are “wasting” one of the world’s most valuable resources. Several US states are in severe drought right now. Other countries don’t have access to clean water. But then, ALS has historically been underfunded. Drastically. Not to mention, the effects of it are pretty horrific. And I read, write, and watch horror.

Orlando Jones took his challenge to a new level. Raising awareness for the disease, contributing money to the cause, but also using it to raise awareness of the violence that is gripping us at home, in places like Ferguson. Now I’ve been a fan of Orlando Jones for as long as I can remember… MadTV was the first thing I remember seeing him in. But without social networking, I’d not know much of what he has had to say these days. And then man has some brilliant messages dropped between his jokes and behind the scenes photos.

rule32Enter today and I get two very pointed reminders to appreciate the beauty of Rule 32…

Rule 32 – Enjoy the Little Things

The first comes from social media, but let me give some preface to this. Only a few people who it would directly affect know that my wife and I are adopting a rescue dog. We were looking for something to help out with after our Aladdin passed, so took dog food to donate to a shelter. And found a dog. Only one there that fit, but we found her. We were supposed to pick her up tomorrow. An outbreak of kennel cough has pushed the date back to next Saturday. I know it has to be that way, but it’s like we’ve accepted she’s part of the family and it feels weird not having her home.

This morning I was having breakfast and getting ready for work when my phone dinged. A Twitter friend had mentioned me in a tweet. We’ve never met in person, but we have things in common. We’re both writers for one. She was working at a writing conference in New York, brainstorming on a project and had thought about me. She sent the message on Twitter to see how I was doing.

Probably 30 seconds of her day, for someone she hasn’t event met in person. It was enough to give me a smile this morning. Well, that and the thought that my wife is getting doused in ice water today with her team at work. I’m a little twisted like that.

The second came in a more traditional, less interactive way. Through the radio. Which is to say, they were taking callers for someone who could name what the “demons in Evil Dead” were called. How sad would it be if I missed deadites? Good thing I didn’t.

In short, on September 12th I have tickets to take my wife to Evil Dead the Musical. Or at least I will once I go pick them up from the radio station. Though that will be a full weekend. The musical on Friday, Sonic Boom on Saturday (full day puppy duty for my wife, early morning for me and the son as we have the Sound Lounge tickets for the pre-show), and an pet remembrance event at the Dane County Humane Society that Sunday. I may be over-caffeinated by Sunday. And by “may” I mean to say “definitely will be.”

If you read to the end…

I have a challenge for you. It doesn’t involve water, ice or embarrassing videos. It only involves you. I challenge you to be less cynical about what everyone else is doing on social media. There is no inherit good nor evil attached to it. It’s all in what we do with it. So go out there and enjoy the little things.

  • The message from someone you’ve never met in person telling you “Happy Birthday.”
  • A video of a friend dumping ice water on their head… no matter how silly or wasteful it is.
  • That video of a dog playing with a baby deer.
  • Or people singing songs about the living dead…

An Open Letter to Robin Williams and Family

It has been only a day, less than twenty four hours since the news of Robin’s passing had been reported. Social media has exploded since then. People from all walks of life talking about how Robin and his work touched them. And I am no different.

As I had written recently on death, my way is to share stories and memories of the one lost. It is through our memories that we hold on to them. The more painful, abrupt and profound the loss, the more difficult it is to do. To whomever reads this letter, I offer the ways in which the work and life of Robin Williams affected me.

Aladdin

The Disney movie came out when my son was the perfect age. It had a monkey and that funny blue guy in it. Before he was old enough to watch Robin’s stand-up with me, or even understand all the jokes his ad-libs were telling, we laughed at Robin’s humor. Which came into play several years later, by the time we’d already had to replace the VHS tape once.

That day sixteen years ago, walking through the Humane Society, we were faced with walls of dogs that weren’t even close to a match for our family… and one uniquely shaped Black Lab – Australian Shepard mix. He sat calmly in his kennel looking sad and lonely. More so, I felt a connection to him, and bonded to him right away when we took him out for a walk. When we found out his named was Aladdin, the title of my now nearly eight year old son’s favorite movie, it was the lynchpin in the serendipity.

This one role brought me the beginnings of bonding over comedy with my son as well as my best friend for the last sixteen years.

dead-poets_l_7721Dead Poet’s Society

This one dates back even further. It was my first year of college and I was considering if the choice to major in English and minor in Education was a good one. Back in high school, when I’d made this decision, it had seemed like the only correct one. Similar to the way I had – at five years of age – told my parents we should get a dog because I would have one when I moved out anyway, we should get started now. Unlike with that first childhood pet, I’d questioned my choice. A rough semester of nothing but education classes will do that to a guy.

Enter Dead Poet’s Society to answer those questions. John Keating picked up where Susan Erickson, Pat Meyers and Mrs. Olsen had left off. He inspired me from the screen. Had I been sitting in a desk while watching it, I would have stood on top at the end calling out “O Captain, My Captain.” And I have. Several times through my life. I may not be teaching, but that movie didn’t tell me I had to be a teacher. It showed me to find my own walk.

I stand firm in the belief that the movie was about Todd (Ethan Hawke’s character), about his transformation and growth. Neil’s role was nearly as important, but the effect of that was to drive Todd’s change. And John Keating’s. The message wasn’t really about the teacher inspiring them to stand on the desk, but the strength of that first young man to step on the chair… to lift himself to the desk. People can inspire you every day, but the choice is yours to take that first step.

The influence this movie had on me was profound, long-reaching, and still affecting me today. It was one of those things I looked back to when I decided to work seriously at this writing thing.

His Comedy

Back in high school, when I was establishing myself in the arts, we used to recreate stand-up shows. But not just any shows. This was the 80’s, a time of change and flux in comedy. Whoppi Goldberg, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Yakov Shmirnov (whose name I likely butchered)… these were comedians who were finding their own step, their own voice.

I remember distinctly during a partially scripted, interactive skit at the end of my final year in drama of a comedy awards banquet. It was modeled after the one that had been recently shown on television. During one of the bits, I gave an award to one of our dramatic actors for the bravery to modify Shakespeare’s lines on stage with, “Alas, poor Yorrick… steeeeee-rike!” (The bowling stance alone at the end of the line makes this a sight gag.) But it was a direct pull from Williams’ show – Hamlet being my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays.

His brand of comedy, and especially his improv, taught me as much about being funny and making people laugh as any of the masters from the birth of American comedy. Like Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, or Conway and Korman.

His Frankness

Much like Richard Pryor before him, he didn’t hide his addiction issues once he was through them. He worked them into his act. A wise man once taught me to face your fears you had to name them. Identifying them and calling them out was as important to putting them down as the strength to fight them.

When I was thriteen, my grandfather died. The man who passed his last name down to my family. Grampy and Nonna were my favorite relatives. I’d also learned that he wasn’t a perfect man, his death was an effect of one of his imperfections. But he was my grandfather, so that didn’t make me love him any less. Learning another of my heroes had similar demons chasing him reaffirmed for me that anyone can stumble and fall. And that anyone can pick themselves back up again. They just have to take that first step onto the top of the desk.

His Life

I leave this train of thought and memory with this last piece drawn from that drama class so long ago. I cannot remember if this was a direct quote dropped into my speech, or if it was simply inspired by him…

Dramatic acting is easy, comedy is hard. Even clowns can cry.

And with the only blessing I can think of fitting for the man…

O Captain! My Captain!

Can’t Sleep, The Clowns Will Eat Me

zombieland-clownOkay, so this isn’t as bad as it sounds. I actually have no issues with clowns. Any of them. I mean, I’ve a fan of zombie movies and if you’ve even been paying partial attention, those have clowns in them. A lot. Cannibal clowns. You’d think those would be the ones you’re supposed to be afraid of, right?

At the same time I have sleep disorders on my best days. And the last few weeks haven’t been my best days. Tuesdays and Thursdays are becoming the nights where anxiety takes hold because I know I will have trouble sleeping. And I am fully aware that the anxiety makes it almost assured I won’t sleep. Thanks. But last night wasn’t a day starting in the letter T.

Dreams have been waking me up lately. Like up to five times a night. Last night started innocently enough with a scene of being part of a police force strike on a criminal organization’s house. Only they knew we were coming. Lots of folks died. Horribly. And I watched it all.

dark_sci_fi_warrior_soldier_military_weapons_guns_mech_monsters_creatures_art_cities_buildings_battle_war_1920x1080Each time I woke and went back to sleep it got worse. Instead of the mob it was monsters. Zombies would turn to mutants, who would in turn morph to vampires. Eventually it was a mass attack from aliens or elder gods. Possibly both.

Cut to this morning, trying to get ready and out the door to write. Nothing is flowing. I am getting words down, but I had to fight for the 1200 or so I managed. And I know there’s no inspiration for my next story. My plan is to top out at 20 short stories (10 short of my 30 story goal) but around 55k in word count. Which means about 15k in the next 3 days. I was dragging my heels this weekend.

More so, with so many of my stories being ghost story adaptations or urban fantasy in nature, I am noticing a trend. There are a lot of stories dealing with death. So much so, that I am considering a story with the Grim Reaper as the central figure. Sort of a “one story to rule them all” thing. And now my dreams are following suit. Lots of death, and waking up wondering where my dog is.

The best description of this morning comes in the form of a television quote. Specifically one from Pam a couple episodes back in True Blood… “Yeah, kind of like getting kicked in the cooch by a Wallaby, ain’t it?”

Why post about this here? Maybe so I keep writing. Possibly it had something to do with no blog in the past week. Or maybe to serve as a reminder for those facing similar problems in their NaNoWriMo project (or similar deadline driven task). Take some time to process life. Hershel said, “We all have a job to do.” At the same time, the difference between 40,000 words in a month and 55,000 words isn’t that much. Had I been in the middle of a novel and not a collection of short stories, I might have thrown in the towel already.

And that’s not only allowed, but perfectly acceptable.

Getting the Words Out

Today’s blog is partial follow up to my “Good Day” post, and partial writing update. Because that’s what we do, right? Keep writing? I did start a month long project on July 1st.

Today-was-aToday marked the first morning that everyone got up and went back to work. By the time my wife left around 5:45 this morning, I was left in an empty condo. I showered, got dressed, packed up my writing gear and sat in the living room with my boots next to me. I just sat there for about thirty minutes or so. I just took in the feel of the room and said to myself, “Still here.”

Over the course of dealing with the inevitable end, I had held two snippets of line close. The one from Ice Cube was the title for the previous blog. And it was something I’d been asking when I’d get home. Today was a good day had a couple of meanings to it. The obvious was that he did well that day, was moving fairly easily, and other such literal things. It also meant something similar to the song. A bit more depressing, but I take it for what it is.

Which brings me to the second line, which comes from the movie short Danger Word, based off the Devil’s Wake book series by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes. The line (and central part of the video) is, “Still here.” It’s the last thing I whispered to my dog on Thursday. I’ve whispered it to him a few times the last couple weeks. And I said it to myself this morning as I got up to leave and caught myself getting his pills ready for him.

"Still Here" a scene from Danger Word

“Still Here” a scene from Danger Word

I went to the Starbucks due to how late it was getting. Not to mention I had a free drink reward in my app. What I found was I had to sit through a couple songs in my playlist before I could start the next short story. The words didn’t want to flow this morning. Four days off (not counting the writing I did Friday for that Good Day blog post), and I was still gummed up in the creative works.

How do you get through writers block? It’s something I’ve seen covered on the NaNoWriMo site, as well as other author resources websites. But I don’t believe in writers block. I do believe my head wasn’t in the game because it was drawn out of my story too much. So I worked the story through a bit at a time. A dog made it’s way into the apartment in the story. And the words came to me. Which brings me to the third line I have been using a lot the last few weeks.

This one came from The Walking Dead – the show, not the comic. The last season, when everyone was getting sick, people on the show quoted Hershel several times. “We’ve all got a job to do.” That is what I told myself this morning after a couple songs to get my head straight. It’s part of what works for me as a writer. The music is kind of my Pavlovian creative response trigger.

When I first started taking writing seriously and jumped in to NaNoWriMo several years back, I hit a stumbling block. That month my uncle had passed away and I was driving the passenger van from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania with the folks from here. I couldn’t recover from it. I’d lost my voice for several weeks that time. So, I knew this was coming, which is part of what saved me. But honestly there were several things that will make my Camp NaNoWriMo challenge pull through this month.

1. The Format

I am doing an anthology of short stories. I don’t think I can catch up to hit 30 short stories for the month. I will hit 55-60k in short stories for the month though. It also allowed me the flexibility to write what was causing me to get gummed up. To write stories down about my dog, and why it was hitting me so hard. To allow dogs of various fashion to make it into my stories, sometimes popping up without me even realizing it.

2. Routine

I have a routine. I write nearly every day. If I sit down in a coffee shop with my iPod in, my mind slides into that mode without much effort. That makes the days when effort is involved that much easier. It’s like Harry Dresden being able to focus his shield spell better when he has that shield bracelet of his to use as a magical implement.

3. The Words

As an author, I feel words have power. That power can be used for ill or good. I take these quotes, lines and lyrics, and pull them out as the mantra to succeed. And in most cases to remind me what is important. A couple deep breaths with a “still here” at the end brings a center to me when everything else seems a mess.

Put it all together…

These three elements make up the material, somatic and verbal components of the spells that keep me going. The rituals invoking the creative state where my stories pop out of. They allow me to do the job. Because everybody’s got a job to do.

And had I access to these things previously, I’d have one less failed attempt at NaNoWriMo to my name. But then again, it was those failed attempts at the challenge that gave me the skills listed above to get past the obstacles to succeed.

Today Was A Good Day

I’ve been spotty on social media lately. Blogs have been sporratic and usually relating to me documenting my writing challenge this month. My not-so-cryptic “No camping, spending one last day with my best friend” tweet was as bad as it sounded. As we were preparing to leave for the weekend to go camping and to the Ren Faire, we realized the tumor on our dog’s hip was growing really fast. A lot since this past Saturday when the vet told us he had cancer.

But let’s back this train up a bit. Three months ago he was incredibly sick and we thought we were going to lose him. We were able to curb the infections he had going on to bring him back to healthy as a sixteen year old black lab can be. His hips were going, and he had trouble getting up. He did get three more good months with us. When the bump on his hip showed up were were concerned he broke something or dislocated his hip. X-ray showed it to be a tumor with one just as big in his belly.

A tired but content dog

A tired but content dog

I made the call in to a house service that deals only in home euthanasia. You’ve likely seen the photo journal that went viral of a similar service being done for a lab named Dutch in the news. I know I did, and it helped a lot in making the decision. I didn’t want to be the one to call, but I knew I had to be. Aladdin wasn’t in significant pain, but he wasn’t comfortable, and all he could do was sleep, eat and go outside once in a while. It was time, just about the perfect timing, before he started to really suffer.

Note: I cannot reccommend Dr. Hilst (JourneysPet.com) enough. She made his last day comfortable and provides an awesome service I hadn’t even been aware was available three months ago when we thought it would be time.

We’d been spoiling him for the last few weeks to a month. He took a drive by the apartment my son just signed a lease for. We went out for burgers. He was given some of most anything we had for supper on any given night (and we avoided dog unfriendly food because of this). And our son spent the last month or so sleeping downstairs with him since he couldn’t do the steps anymore. Still, that photo journal of Dutch’s last day gave me what I needed to know. We scheduled the vet to come in at 7:00 that night. We had the whole day to spend with him doing all his favorite things he could still do.

Our son stopped in to work for a couple hours to get things in order and get the rest of the day off. I told my parents what was going on and gave them the option to come say goodbye. I asked my mother to call my sister as I couldn’t talk about it on the phone any more. I had to drive over to tell my parents.

They all came to visit, give him pets, and said goodbye. We told stories and laughed. Particularly about the time when he was staying with my parents while we were on vacation and stood at their bedroom door staring in at them. My father told him to just come on in. He then shouted and did a ducking roll off the bed and onto the floor as the dog sprung from four feet to launch onto the bed. I’m pretty sure he stole my fathers spot too.

By why's the rum gone?

But why’s the rum gone?

We dressed him up in his pirate gear, that he hasn’t worn for a while. With the health problems we left it off so it wouldn’t bother him. But he loved his bandanas. Probably five or six years ago after the groomer first put one of those cheap ones on him after a bath he just strutted around with it on, showing it off. After that we started picking him up cool ones. The pirate one was the last one we gave him, and it was by far the coolest. And if he was going out, he’d do it as a pirate.

Aladdin was a fan of burgers, just like Dutch was, but he was a fan of anything I was cooking that night. Particularly he was a fan of steak. I had a package with the two round steaks we had picked up for camping. I made them both, and baked the chicken breast as well. I knew that I’d have to feed my family too. They had the chicken. I made both steaks out to a medium rare with criss-crossed grill marks on it. I sliced the first one up and he inhaled it. Which meant I was totally going to save the second one for a while before cutting that one up for him. He savored the second one a bit more.

My compliments to the chef

My compliments to the chef

I’d considered making a batch of the Snugglepumpkin cupcakes for him. The ones themed from Oberon the Irish Wolfhound from the Kevin Hearne books. I decided against it since I didn’t want him overdoing it. He did eat both steaks after all. Also it gave me more time to spend with him.

We watched television and gave him pets. Robin took him out for a walk around the condo development. The entire time he’d look up and I could tell he was having a great day. All his people were with him, and he craved being around his people. That’s why his boy staying with him in the living room these past weeks was so good for him. He just looked up every now and again with his wide doggie grin.

After the last visitor was gone and he was with us, he napped. He took one last nap with his boy, using him as a pillow. It was the most comfortable sleep he’d had in a while. He didn’t stir much at all and just relaxed into the pets and snoozed. It felt like the best way to spend some comfort time with him. And it was something I think we all needed.

imageThe vet came in and took care of everything for us. She explained the process and even told us where he would be going after leaving us. It was something we’d never had explained to us before and it was kind of a relief.

He had a relaxing end and we were given as much time as we needed to be with him. The vet made a pair of clay paw prints for us (one for my son to take to his new apartment), and left us with instructions to bake them. My son even helped her to take the stretcher out to her car. Aladdin was to big a dog for her to handle alone and her assistant was pregnant and not supposed to be lifting. My son said it felt right, taking him out one last time.

This morning it was quiet in the condo. Once my son fully moves out, the condo will be really quiet. Especially on the nights my wife is in Milwaukee.

I woke up several times during the night. There was something off in the house. A stillness to it. There was one less breath in the condo making the hum of background that made it a home. Soon, there will be another breath gone from the house. This coming Tuesday, when I get home from my writers group to be the only one in the condo, the silence will be deafening.

Back in his rock climbing days

Back in his rock climbing days

Even then, I will have a clay paw print sitting next to a pirate bandana. A reminder that the condo will never be truly empty. That he will never be fully gone. And that no matter what farmer’s field his remains were sprinkled over, I know he is back at that beach in Door County where he loved to go rock climbing. He’s still chasing off the gulls from the shore, splashing through the water. Turning to look back over his shoulder when they were all gone as if to say, “What’s taking you so long? Come on!”

And I will remember that day. It was a good day.

Day 7 and 8… hitting the wall

Day 7 and 8 stories are my real challenge. One of them really isn’t a fully formed story and the other will likely never see the light of day. Though I am keeping the opening line from Day 7 no matter what. It was a terribly good line from a song. One that will likely prompt several stories, or possibly a novel.

Hindsight being the better of my two visual-like senses, next time around I will start collecting improv comedy style prompts earlier in the process. Much earlier than the start of the challenge. It should eliminate running low on inspiration two weeks in.

That said, here is what I have to add to the tally…

Day 7 – Restless Spirits

A story about the lone living heir to a brewing empire. Haunted by his past and ancestors unwilling to keep quiet he turns to the alcohol that gave him his financial independence. As I said above, even if I never work this story into something finished and refined, I will be keeping the opening line: “I can’t drown my demons, they know how to swim.”

Day 8 – Wind In Your Hair

I had nothing to write about. This is a rough week for it all, so I wrote a story that was happening to me. An explanation of why I am a dog person and what that means as we are at the end of my black lab’s sixteen year life. More likely than not, nobody will ever read this piece. At least not while I’m still here.

Going Forward

The next couple days worth of ideas are there. Starting them shouldn’t be a problem now that I snaked out that clog in my creative pipes. Though if my instincts are right, I will be saying goodbye to someone before the month is over. No way of telling what that will do to my voice at the end of the challenge.

But, as Hershel said in the last season of Walking Dead…

“We all have a job to do.”

Week One @NaNoWriMo Insight

Okay, so it is past week one by a couple days. I’m still only through Day 6 on the stories though. Almost half way through my word count, but only 6 completed stories. Which means I’m maintaining my word count (ding) but falling short on a story every day (wah-wah). But there was something that came to me as I was trying to figure out what to write for Day 7.

Before I get into that, for those not following the page tabbed above for the 30 Days & 30 Nights project, here is the next two in the series and their stats.

Day 5 – Bury Me With My Guns On (2658)

Inspired from an insert I read on burial practices in the “wild west.” And a touch from the Bobaflex song. What do you want? It’s in my urban fantasy playlist I use when writing. Besides, who doesn’t like a good cowboy ghost story?

Day 6 – Deep Fried Deep Ones (5864)

This was based off of a real world article. In looking at it, I saw an application into horror. A place I felt I could play with some Lovecraftian stuff. Maybe not strict Lovecraft, but based on the concepts. Give me a break, we’re making this all up as we go along.

The Epiphany

The news piece Day 6 is based on is about a family of American tourists in Greece. They find a rare, 6 tentacle octopus (a hextapus), beat it to death on the rocks, and then cook it. The only reason they cooked it themselves is because the chef at the restaurant refused to. So yeah, a pretty horrible story. One that reinforces all the worst stereotypes of Americans. But its a contemporary story. And I can’t do contemporary.

Back in college we had an assignment to go down to the Kohl’s Grocery Store on campus and write a short story taking place in that location. No problem. Until the professor asked us to present them.

Another guy went before me. He wrote this heart-wrenching piece about a kid who moved to Wisconsin after being born in a third world country. The kid was given instructions to go to the market for food. He was even given a list. And the tale was about the differences in his world as opposed to ours. He picked up corn by the picture on the can (forget that the country he came from didn’t grow corn – or that fresh corn is offered in the produce section). He found the fish tank with the bass in it (I’ll give the benefit of the doubt that he was near a coastal region of his country). After grabbing a fish out of the tank, he beat it to death with the can of corn.

For me, this was still a piece of science fiction, because even in the 80’s parents didn’t send their grade school aged kid to the market alone to do the grocery shopping for the family. Much less if they were just moved into a different country. One that didn’t share a common language with them. The author had an explanation built into the story as for how the boy spoke such wonderful English, but still.

Then its my turn. Right after the GAN (Great American Novelist). I proceed to recite my story about Cthulhu stepping down into Kohl’s. One foot in aisle 4 and one in aisle 7. But, knowing the I.P. issues TSR was having with the Call of Cthulhu folks, I only hit to the fact it is him. You never see he tentacle-laden face. (Old Ones are tall, yo.)

Cthulhu (of course) brings insanity with him. The leprechaun from the box of Lucky Charms rolls off the box, calls out his intent to kill those bastard elves on the Rice Krispies box, and using his magic to summon a machine gun. Snap, Crackle and Pop spring from the box and take off running. And yes, the Lobster Tank (which was what actually resided in that tank) was a casualty as they came spinning around the end of the aisle and into the next.

Things return to normal as the gigantic feet lift up and take off into the sky again, but the store manager is left trying to figure out how those rolls of toilet paper were tossed all around, water from the busted fish tank soaking into them. Or who had cut the Lucky Charms guy as well as the Rice Krispie guys from a box and left them two aisles over. All three of the elves covered in a splattered bottle of ketchup.

What Does This Show?

I will never write the Great American Novel. Some people have that story in them to tell. I have horror in me. Fantasy, science fiction. I look at a bird house and wonder how many pixies live in there. And just what would they think of Pixie Stix? Would they be as horrified by them as I am?

So in future challenges like this, feel free to send me non-speculative fiction ideas. I cannot assure their safety however.

Now that flash fiction contest I am considering entering though. That one would be tough. One of the required elements you are given each round is genre. ;)