On Writing/Reading Romance

This past week there has been some dust-ups online concerning authors making statements on their genre. And by dust-ups, we’re talking Battle of the Five Armies. Which has led me to post my feelings on the issue. This may be shooting myself in the foot, but I already have a limp and own a cane.

For those unaware of what I am speaking of, a male author (JA Konrath) made a statement about erotica that offended the current groups of romance and erotic romance authors – the vast majority of which is female. His continued defense of his offensive comments is just fanning the flames. It is being likened to when Nicholas Sparks made the comment about how he wrote “love stories” not “romances.” Two well known authors both marginalizing the genres in which they write. Ones that are notably female-led genres.

Why do I have any opinion at all? Keep in mind I review books on a site known for paranormal romance and urban fantasy titles. I started doing so as a result of comments the owner had on lack of male authors in the genre as well as male reviewers. This has lead to me reading more in the paranormal romance and other romance genres than I had before. So I am an anomaly amid our peers there.

Additionally (as a lesser known characteristic of me), the majority of my writing group writes romance or erotica of some form. One of them almost exclusively contemporary romance. A genre I still don’t read unless it is an assignment for group, but I will dive into that more later. So, my critique comes for a combination of authors writing romance or novels with strong romantic elements in them.

Finally, there’s the “sins” of my youth I still feel as if I am paying for. Out of college I worked two full time jobs – for many years. Typically, around the holidays, one of those would be at the local mall in the Waldenbooks location. I know, I’m dating myself. Spoiler Alert: I’m old.

While working in the book store, we fit into a routine. I spent a lot of time on register, because the long lines didn’t stress me, I was fast on the register and my sleep-deprived brain did well at it. We even had our “sections”. Which almost exclusively meant these were the tasks we would negotiate with other workers. In my instance I had made a vow (that I have since broken) to never touch Magic cards. So, one of the other workers would restock the Magic if I stocked reference titles.

The person who was our science fiction section person was also a romance author. She co-wrote titles with her husband. And (as I now know to be commonplace), they didn’t sell enough to be a full time job for either of them. But she preferred to read scifi, so she was our scifi section person. She couldn’t bring herself to stock the “sophisticates.” At that time that was the euphemism used to describe the nudey mags. While I wasn’t a connoisseur of them, I had not issue popping a bunch in the upper section of the magazine rack. (It helped I am 6’2″.) In exchange, she would stock the romance novels for me.

This isn’t to say that it was my section, but I had no interest in them and couldn’t hold a conversation on them. I was a 22 year old guy who read mostly literature books in college and science ficiton/horror for fun. I held the same prejudices against the genre that the authors above were displaying. Not really that they were “lesser”, but at the very least they were something there was no way I could identify with. They were stories for other people, like the grandmotherly types that came in once a month for what equated to a grocery bag full of Harlequin romances, most in the thin novella sized prints.

What I did right: Though I petitioned to not have to stock the shelves, as the register monkey I dealt with the regulars coming in to get their “pull list.” Note the relation to that with the comic book fan (who have a similar pull list). They were our version of Norm from Cheers. I helped them with a smile and chatted while I rang them up. I listened when they would tell me about passing along the books to their daughters when they were done with them… or at least when they filled up their shelves to overflowing. I would intone that you give gifts to those you care about, you give books to the ones you love.

What I did wrong: I assumed these were stories I wouldn’t get. Somehow I saw them as something that wasn’t for me. The only time I sold those titles to a man was when they were picking them up for their wife/mother. The only time I bought them were as a gift… Nora Roberts for my grandmother, because my mother told me she liked her. I also assumed titles like Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty series were scifi or horror, not erotica.

What I have learned: There is more to Heaven and Earth than what can be explained in your science fiction novels, Zombie Joe. I have come to know that romance authors are some of the hardest working craftspeople you could be lucky to study under. They take their craft, and the business, very seriously. And it shows in their work. At the same time I have come to realize that all believable stories have romantic relationships in them. If you want to write them realistically, talk to the professionals.

The women I have studied under in these years (sometimes at the instance of male mentors in the field), are professional and generally smarter than I am. So I listen when they’re talking about the craft of writing. Or the business of it. Furthermore, were I lucky enough to be publishing a romance novel (though paranormal would likely be the only field I could manage) or an erotica novel, I wouldn’t tarnish the event by diminishing the group of peers that I have just joined.

While Konrath’s faux pas doesn’t put him in the same category as Orson Scott Card with me (of which I will never purchase a book, movie, or even watch/read it for free), I do hold onto the story of it for future use. The memory of it serves as a “what not to do” reminder for me.

To the authors who follow me, read my reviews, chat with me at cons… (especially the majority of which who are ladies) I appreciate every bit of insight you offer me. Even more so when you just hang out and talk books and other such geekly endeavors with me. It almost makes me feel normal. Almost. I may be the middle-aged, white straight dude in the crowd, but I am still an old school gamer from the 70’s. Traditionally we are the socially awkward among the socially awkward.

So thank you.

Returning to My Roots

It’s been a crazy couple of months. Losing a best friend. Gaining a new one. Barreling through the winners tape at the end of a month long challenge. Stumbling, tripping and almost not making it through another. And not blogging.

That’s not to say people have been looking for my blog posts. I don’t think they are. But writing them helps me to work through the muck that I get drug down into from time to time. It’s just kind of what I do. But I’ve lost that. So today I’m coming back to my roots. Putting on the mask of the Storyteller, and just telling a personal story.

Garden Gnomes and the Holidays

Around my family, we come along with themes to our gift giving. If you read my last blog over at WLP, you’ll remember that for me the gift isn’t so much about the gift, but what it says about your knowledge and feelings towards the person you’re giving it to. Sometimes it is just a running gag that rolls out of control, like Jimmy Kimmel’s Christmas prank war with John Krasinski.

45469-funko-pop-duck-dynasty-uncle-si-vinilo-figura-85As an example, my father’s “spirit animal” is a duck. This happened through a series of misadventures involving a Chinatown butcher shop while on a convention trip (shopping for their hospitality room), and an email while working for the county involving a duck nest (and I’m not even joking a little there). Of course this means that he will be given duck related gifts. And has been. For going on more years than I can remember. Last year included a full basket of duck related goodies including an Uncle Si Funko Pop from Duck Dynasty.

With my sister and brother-in-law we change things up every decade or so. A few years back we started a new theme on a whim. I’d picked up the book How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack from the bookstore as a gift. To go along with this, we picked up three garden gnomes; one Travelocity Gnome (the non-speaking one) and two gnomes dressed in Wisconsin Badger jerseys. The idea being that we would give them the book and then hide the three gnomes around the house.

Fast forward to the confused looks at the book before paging through it and laughing. Luckily we were celebrating the holidays at their house (which might be why future years have been at our parents place). The Travelocity Gnome was sitting in the snow just outside the sliding door leading to the deck, looking in at the kitchen. My wife went outside and trudged through the snow to set it up there without opening the door. One of the Badger gnomes was sitting in the cupboard with the coffee mugs, and the other was hidden under the covers in their bed.

During the course of the night my wife asks my sister for a cup of coffee. She readily agrees, starts up the machine and opens the cupboard where the mugs are… and promptly reaches behind the gnome to grab a mug. Nothing. Zero recognition. Robin and I are dumbfounded. So I state that a cup of coffee actually sounds awesome, could I get one too? My sister agrees and asks my brother-in-law to grab her another mug. He goes to the cupboard… and does the exact same thing. When we had them open the door and stare at it, they finally both had it appear like the sailing ship in that painting from the movie Mallrats.

Even after that they don’t notice the bright red hat and deep blue coat sticking out of the snow on the deck. He’s just staring in like he should be narrating some commercial or something. “I’d like a nice spot of tea to warm up my toes.” One of their cats comes up from the basement room, sees the gnome and freaks. Starts hissing and howling at the door. My sister comes over and is consoling her, asking her what’s wrong. Totally missing the gnome the cat is staring straight at. I kid you not.

So the next morning, we expected a call. Someone calling to call me an asshole for hiding a gnome in their bed, something. But no call comes. We let it go for a bit. They don’t have kids, maybe they were sleeping in. Finally we call them. Eventually we lead the conversation around to how they slept. Nothing. No mention of the gnome. When she went back to look for it, the thing was somewhere on the nightstand. I may have questioned how much they drank at Christmas.

Thus the Era of the Gnome begun.

Last year, my brother-in-law was so pleased with himself. He wanted to get back at us for our summer prank on them. While feeding their cats while they were camping one week, Robin and I printed out over 45 pictures of gnomes. We even meme’d up a couple. One laying back in a Burt Reynold’s like fashion was saying “Once you go gnome you never go home.” We taped up and hid them all through the house. I even taped one up near the light fixture in their walk-in closet, telling Robin the horror writer’s adage. People never look up. For the record, it took a while for them to find that one. I had then posted to Facebook. “42 is the magic number.” I figured if they made it to 42 and then stopped, when the next one showed up they’d be really confused.

In relation, he purchase the Travelocity Gnome that has the motion sensing voicebox to it. Basically the talking model of the one that started this whole thing. When we opened it up he was practically dancing with joy. Until I deadpanned to him, “You’re forgetting something.” He looked confused until I reminded him his birthday was the first week of January. So the next salvo was mine.

02607828.interactive.aSince then my sister was given a “perv” gnome for her birthday. He’s opening a trench coat and there’s a bit of an issue with his boxers. Yeah, sick and twisted, but the game has been upped. One must escalate in these things. You can’t simply step down, or phone it in. And yes, I have at least two more rebuttals prepped and ready to go. In the event he ups the game again this Christmas, we won’t even have to wait for shipping before his birthday.

Now another fair question is to ask what happens to all of these ducks and gnomes. Does each house have a place of honor for them? Nope.

Granted our Travelocity Gnome is out by our fireplace along with a concrete traditional gnome (that we may have originally bought for them), a pair of biker gnomes (because… reasons), a plastic zombie gnome because it was cheap and at the costume shop, and a kaiju gnome. I really shouldn’t have to explain that one. My garden zombie had to go back in the library because the puppy kept growling at it. Maybe she will grow to accept it by the fireplace. We shall see.

My sister and brother-in-law have sequestered all of the gnomes (including the solar light globe set we installed in their front yard that first summer of the battle) in their at-home office. My father has a small shrine ala Dia de Muertos on his “desk” in his office. And by office, I mean my old bedroom. And by desk, I mean folding table.

Many people have family they chose as opposed to those they are born with. Some have both. If you are in mine it is usually easy to tell. Smartassed comments and odd pranks/gifts are usually there. Kind of like that first writer’s conference when I brought Mark Henry some Amanda Feral themed cupcakes. Anatomically correct zombie cooch cupcakes. Amanda’s had the toasted coconut decoration, while the Wendy ones had the untoasted coconut decoration but had a mini Twix bar baked inside them. (If you haven’t read the series before, this was genius. Trust me.) ;)

So be it odd cupcakes, chocolate bars with ghost chiles in it, or garden gnomes. Just know it comes from a place of love. And for gods’ sake, return fire!

NaNo Notes: Hitting the Wall

whydowefallAs Alfred famously said to a non-gravel voice Bruce. “Why do we fall, Master Bruce?”

Maybe you’ve hit a wall in your writing. This could be your first shot at NaNoWriMo, or you could be an old hand at it that simply was standing in the wrong spot when the guano life is capable of hit the proverbial fan. This can happen to anyone, and usually does. I’ve hit it now. Twice.

The original time that I hit the wall it was my first attempt at NaNoWriMo. During those years, I had become certified in driving a 15 person passenger van. You don’t need a special licence to drive one, but you do in our state if you’re planning to drive the state employee van pool. Which is why I was going to be driving members of my mother’s rather large family to Pennsylvania for the funeral of her twin sister’s husband. The man that introduced my parents.

Even once I was back from the funeral I couldn’t write. Something in me had broken and I had lost the voices. Also, I couldn’t bring myself to write about death. This could also be the reason why I have resisted ever trying to write zombies again. That first story was a zombie story. I’ve never returned to it. I’m not sure I even kept a copy of the attempt.

This time around it was Camp NaNoWriMo this past July. I’d decided to write a collection of short stories. My goal was to do 30 short stories in 30 days. So, roughly, 1700 words per story. After Day 1 (and a story stretching to just under 5000 words), I knew there would be problems with this goal. I still intended to get 30 stories out of the attempt. My word count would just be high.

The 17th of the month, I had to put my dog down. I won’t reflect too much on it, but you can visit my 13th story for the month written the morning of the 18th on this blog. My 8th story will never see print as well, because it was for my family.

Brick WallI hit the wall. Or, more to the point, the wall hit me. It then backed up, rolling over me again, switched back to drive and hit me one more time before driving off. Once the 13th story was done that morning I didn’t write a single word the next four days. Around 7000 lost words by the “goal.” And when the words came back, they were missing something. An energy and life to them, now dormant.

I possess a truly staggering amount of sleep disorders. Stress is the usual spark for my insomnia. Now add in me being alone in the house for the first time in twenty years. Son moved out, dog is gone, and wife is staying out of town. There were a few nights I didn’t really sleep. And I still don’t sleep well those nights of the week I am alone. I’m not saying this to say, “Look at how awesome I am… I fought through this!” Because I didn’t. I was dragged through it kicking and screaming the whole way.

Writing is a solitary life. None of y’all are getting up with me to get out to the coffee shop at 6 am to start writing every morning. And I know there is nobody in the house at 11 pm on those nights when I am going over my notes. But it was the extended NaNoWriMo community as a whole that lit a fire under my ass and got me writing again. It was that drive that put me into a pair of days topping over 5000 words each to drive my word count over the top.

A while back there was a blog on the NaNoWriMo site about a participant that had been writing in an active war zone while in the marines. She knew it would be impossible to verify the word count by the end of the month, but she was determined to hit the 50,000 words. Her C.O. and unit made it possible for her story to get verified just before midnight on the last day.

While I couldn’t join in with my cabin on word wars due to writing schedules and writing styles (I go for longer jaunts than most of them do), I wasn’t doing direct interaction with them. But I knew they were there. I knew my goal would count against their group word count if I didn’t hit 50,000. They were part of my unit. As were the local NaNoWriMos that I knew I’d be connecting with in a couple of months.

Would it make a difference if I didn’t hit my 50k for the month? Not really. Everyone has to suffer a loss, and those rarely correspond to our schedules. It would have been perfectly fine for me to drop the project and just process it. Nobody would have judged me for not crossing the finish line.

Is all of those last thirteen days of writing good fiction? Probably not. There is likely a lot of crap in there that will be edited out. And that’s assuming that it’s a story worth keeping. At least one of those stories had a dog appear in it, even though I had told myself at the beginning there wouldn’t be – that I needed to write about something else besides animals.

weve-all-got-jobs-to-doAs I stated in previous blogs (and am totally adopting as a mantra), “We all have a job to do.” Scott Wilson (the actor who played Hershel on The Walking Dead) is coming to Comicon here in Wisconsin in February. I think I need that signed on a photo.

For the rest of you, assuming you came here due to hitting your own wall, I give you this. You are not alone. Ours is a solitary job, but that never means you’re alone. If nothing else, going out to a write-in and talking with other writers might stoke the fires. Or could be the validation you need to let this one go. And if you’re in Wisconsin, let me know. I will put my write-in on hold if you want to talk through the crap that tumbled down on you.

If you feel like you need to make it over that finish line, I will sling you over my back like it’s Private Friggin’ Ryan and drag you there kicking and screaming. (Figuratively, that is. I have spinal injuries after all.) If not, I will listen and let you work through not making it. It’s your call but…

You are not alone.

Open Letter to Wisconsin Voters

Now this might be more of a statement on those people I am connected to through social media, but I don’t think so. Sure, there is an overwhelming collection of people picking up the Blue Flag on my feeds. At the same time, I’ve had the Red Flag shoved in my face as well as people lamenting the Two Party System and how it doesn’t work. I think last night shows the truth behind the last of those statements.

Overwhelming numbers in the referendum voted to increase the minimum wage and to take federal money to expand health coverage in this state. Obviously those are the issues the majority of Wisconsin feels strongly on. Which is why I find it so confusing that my state voted in the candidate that has openly stated his opposition to both of those issues. All because there was a bolded red R next to his name. Or due to some “issue group” running an add about “Madison Liberal Mary Burke…” Because of course Madison Liberals are the problem, it says so on our television.

A while ago I was given the advice to not discuss politics, religion or issues on my blog or in social media. That it would alienate potential readers. Honestly, I think that is bullshit. Our lack of discourse as a community is what has led to this division among party lines. Which is why no matter what the issue is,  our government representatives will vote in line with whatever the party leadership tells it to. The party leadership that is bought and sold by people with money. And I don’t mean the middle class or the “Union Mob Bosses.” I’m talking millionaires, billionaires and corporations.

Last night on the national coverage, they threw out the staggering numbers. $100 million dollars spent to win a single gubernatorial election. Not to mention the statistic that was really interesting to me. Of the vast amount of people from the Nixon administration that were sent to prison for corruption back during that term, most (if not all) of the things they were jailed for are now legal. Lends a new view to the “I am not a crook” gag from back then. (Kids, Google it… trust me.)

To lend this back to my purview, look at the dystopian novels that are such a trend – especially in YA today. A small group running the government, trying to oppress and hold down the majority. They are split off into groupings based on the work they do, all of which is being done to the benefit of those in power. The protagonist is the plucky youngster that dares to rise against the power. Are you all practicing your three fingered salute? Because with the direction things are heading, you’ll soon be giving it as the Koch Brothers pick your children in a lottery to fight in a Running Man style reality show for food and basic health care as the prize.

Open your eyes and vote. Don’t vote Democrat. Don’t vote Republican. Vote the issues. If someone has an opposing view don’t open a discussion on politics and issues with “FOUR MORE YEARS! We kicked your ass this election!” Because that is what has gotten us to this point.

If you think $7.15 an hour isn’t a living wage, then consider who is in support of raising it. If you vote for the person that is holding back the bill to increase that, you’re voting against your beliefs.

Freedom of Religion is just that… freedom. It means the government cannot arrest you, seize your property or otherwise oppress you for your religious views. That doesn’t mean that you as an employer can enforce your religious beliefs on reproductive rights on people from other religions. Every other religious belief in the world is protected just like yours is.

And if your party has been dragging its feet and stopping up Congress for 8 years in an attempt to get the sitting President out of office, and you’re not happy with it (as a staggering majority of the American people are not by all the polls), then why would you elect more of those politicians? Seriously.

Do I think Mary Burke was the answer this election cycle? Not 100%. But I do think she’s a better option than Scott Walker. I am an Independent. I vote the issues. And I think that dividing our state to keep them fighting themselves and ignoring the state politicians is a bad platform to stand on. And I voting for a third party candidate will not affect change without changing the current electoral system, which is heavily geared to a two party format.

And you Democrats (or at least those unhappy with Walker and his policies) that stayed home and didn’t vote… You’re the reason this is happening as much as the Republicans that support the Democratic issues but still vote the Party Line. Or to put it into terms that Oliver Queen would deliver… “You’ve failed this state.”

Week Three of the Big Change™

Warning: This post has been building for a while. It’s gonna be a long one. You might want to get a coffee. And maybe a sammich. ;)

Back in the middle of July, we had to say goodbye to Aladdin, our dog for the last sixteen years. A couple weeks after that I was off my self-imposed deadline and it hit me all at once. Hit me even harder than that first Monday morning where I went to get the lunch meat to wrap up Aladdin’s twice a day pills. So I looked for ways to smooth over the rough spots left. In seeing that a shelter in the area was in need of dog food donations, we made plans to stop in at the Pet Smart where they did their adoptions and dropped off a box of canned dog food.

I’ve heard people day you don’t go to the shelter to “just look.” If you go you’re coming home with an animal. I don’t fully believe that. As I said in my stories about Aladdin, had we come one day earlier we would have come home without a dog. He was literally the only dog in the shelter that spoke to me. (To be fair, had one spoken to my son that might have been different.) So while there was a Pomeranian puppy there that my wife thought was cute, she was already being adopted. As we walked down the line there was a fox terrier mix that was being passed up by every person there.

photo (15)When you would go up to her kennel, she would roll on her back for a belly rub, but was so far in the kennel, you couldn’t reach her. She was also shivering at everything, scared beyond simple nervousness. I saw she was in the range of someone not wanting to adopt a “broken” dog. I told my wife to take her out for a little walk while I dropped off the food. Coming out of the kennel she hunched over, tail between her legs.

Ginger was a rescue from a hoarder. For the first year of her life (plus a bit) she was kept in a kennel. She didn’t know how to handle the outside and was scared of loud noises, open spaces, and large groups of people. But behind those frightened eyes there was intelligence and personality. She had the potential to be such a good dog, but she needed someone to take care of her. So we adopted her. This past weekend marked the three week mark of her being in our home.

I was told that none of the people at the shelter, nor her foster family, had ever heard her bark. She didn’t like toys (even though she was only a year and a half old), and to get her to socialize and cuddle you had to close her kennel door. The kennel made her feel safe, so she loved staying there. And while she was crate trained, she wasn’t house trained.

By the second day, once she was out and on the couch with us, she wouldn’t go into her kennel. She did once during an OddCon meeting where everyone had taken all the seats on the furniture. Other than that, she only goes in there while I’m at work. While she is like 90% house trained, it is only really while we are around. We have figured out her “tells”, and she is taking to being trained to wait for outside really well. Which is why she is kept in the kennel during the work day – so she doesn’t have any accidents or get into chewing anything (as she has tried to chew things she shouldn’t while out with us).

photo (7)At night when she starts to get feisty, she will go from the loving, soft-mouthed grabbing onto our hands to wanting a rough-housing. So the fox toy we were saving for Christmas is nearly destroyed at this point. I’ve already bought the replacement for when it is finally done for. She will even race around the condo before coming back to the couch to pounce on it.

Ginger has also found a love for pillows. Her favorites are ones with depressions in the middle of them. Like the rather costly contour pillow my wife bought from her chiropractor for her neck. More than once, she has woken up with a puppy halo as she has wrapped around her head to lay down on it. Which leads to the fact that she sleeps in our room with us. While she would sleep in her kennel (and does during the day), there’s no way for us to hear her if there is a problem, or if she needs to go out in the middle of the night. So she now has her own “pillow” – which is really a small cushy dog bed that mimics the design of the pillow she likes.

And we’ve heard her bark. Only a handful of times, but still. We like having a quiet dog, but it is good to know she can bark when she needs to. It kinda goes along with being a dog. Even a spoiled one. With her own pink Badgers football jersey.

photo (11)This morning (after my breakfast was done since she has to have a taste of what I’m having), she slept on her “pillow” that I moved to the couch in our living room. I turned off the television after watching the season premiere of Sleep Hollow, and in the quiet of the condo that used to be all encompassing, there was the deep, rhythmic breathing of Ginger snoozing on her pillow. It was different than when she first came to us – more comfortable and content. I hated to pick her up and kennel her. But I had to get to work. So I scooped her up and informed her it was time for “Khalisi to go to her castle.” (Yes, there are three dragons in her castle.)

Is she still spooked by the outside? Yup. Loud noises also scare her still. And if she gets spooked, she will run back to the condo and skip doing her “business” until she’s calmed down. Somehow the truck rides she initially loved has gotten her spooked since my wife took her solo for a ride on the interstate to go visit my step-kids and grandchildren. She is a special needs dog. But she’s not broken.

Yes, this has significantly altered my schedule. It has been well over a month since I have been to the Victory. I haven’t written more than a blog post or book review since we adopted her. And the last time I spent a day away on the weekend was Sonic Boom and when I came back she was suddenly afraid of truck rides. So it will likely be a while before I do that again.

photo (10)I am posting this because of how happy we are that we decided to open our home again. Honestly, we didn’t expect to for a while. Once thing I have seen since that disturbed me was the statistics of how many pet owners get new pets, with the prevailing reason being concern over getting a “broken” pet. Ginger has some special needs. We cannot run the vacuum cleaner or garbage disposal while she is in the room, for instance. But she is not broken.

If you are looking for a pet, consider a shelter. Take a look at some of those animals and figure out if their issues are something you can help with. Or, if you are more like me, see if their personality resonates with you. You could very well be saving the life of an animal. And while a hole might be left when they are gone, it is far smaller than what they added while they were here.

Not to mention you might just get a new mascot for your writing group. ;)

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!