All posts by SonWorshiper

Husband, father, worshiper, gamer, writer, singer, pianist, coffee fiend

10 Surprising Uses for Tidy Cats

Some people are really bad at small talk.

I’m standing in line at the local express store at 10:30 PM… I stopped on the way home to grab some cat litter, some Monsters for the next day, and some what-nots for the kidlets.

A random dude, paying for his things, turns and looks at me with my jug of Tidy Cats in hand. “Whatcha gonna do with that box o’ kitty litter?” he asks, his tone conspiratorial, as if kitty litter is the new gateway drug or the main ingredient in some explosive compound.

Befuddled, I mumble a weak, “uhhh… probably gonna use it for my cats.”

By the time I got to my car, in the rain, I came up with “I can’t go to the beach in this weather, so this is the closest I can get.”

Too little, too late.

In retrospect, I see a missed opportunity! What AM I going to do with all this kitty litter? You don’t know, random guy! You don’t know my life!

10. Matching throw pillows for my love seat. Accessorizing is the key to good decor.

9. Works great on tough stains in the washer. If clay is good for your skin, imagine how good it is for your delicates!

8. Needed a new stand for my router. The scented crystals help spread the wi-fi particles better.

7. Christmas present for the kids! They don’t sell coal in the local stores, and I wanted to get ahead of this year’s shopping.

6. Scours the bathtub clean. Move over, Mr. Clean! Step off, Soft Scrub. This is a job for Tidy Cats.

5. Microwaved litter is the new potpourri. Glade fresh scent strong enough for multiple cats–or the lingering stink of bad Chinese food… which might also be multiple cats.

4. My ill-conceived Tidy Cats protest continues! Take that, capitalists! I’m gonna buy your product and throw it right in the trash! Then I’m gonna go buy more tomorrow and do the same thing! Wait… uh…

3. Who needs dryer sheets? It says fresh scent right on the bottle. This has to work.

2. Staying ahead of the curve with my teens. First, it was eating tide pods, then it was pulling condoms through the nose… the next trend is drinking cat litter, and you saw it here first.

1. You haven’t tried the Tidy Cats diet?  Less calories than bacon bits, cheaper than any decent brand of croutons, and the clumping action means you feel full faster! Watch the pounds come off…

What great, creative options have I missed? Let me know in a comment.

Dear Me by Nichole Nordeman

I bought Nichole Nordeman’s recent album, Every Mile Mattered, as a gift for my wife. We both love her depth and probing questions implied or directly stated in her lyrics from previous albums, so it was an easy decision.

I bought it, but I didn’t actually listen to it. The songs sat on my iPhone and iPad, untouched, although I occasionally placed them in to playlists for Christian music or perhaps nice background music for writing.

I had the latter on shuffle when “Dear Me” came up. It caught my attention–demanded it, really. I stopped what I was doing, googled the lyrics, and felt the message resonate with my being. Her mixture of idealism and sorrow stirred up some old things in the kettle of my heart.

The song captures what I want my faith to look like, and hits me hard because of how often I know I haven’t measured up, how often I believed the convenient party line about God’s blessings for me, instead of the messy and difficult stuff involving loving others sacrificially.

Growing up in church, how many times have I seen the “magic words” of Christian marketing pass like a wave through American middle-class suburban church culture? Whether it’s a WWJD bracelet, or a Prayer of Jabez keychain, or a Purpose-Driven Life merchandise blitz, or some new study or some new worship album or some new website that is the cutting edge of everything God is doing…

How often has the mystery and the transcendent sacred been distilled into the merchandise and the catchy slogan? How often have I gone right along?

When has my faith looked beyond what Christ is and does for me? Do I believe He came so I could live my best life now, or do I believe He called me to live His life in the here and now?

Time and again in Scripture, we see a God who is concerned about the orphan and the widow, the homeless and the prisoner. We see His people judged, not simply because they broke some religious law or strict code, but more often because of how they treated–or ignored–the plight of those less fortunate.

The prophets tell the people of Israel that God is sick of the rituals, the displays of so-called worship, the sacrifices and the religious checklist they maintain. Isaiah 58 is a prime example. “Is this not the fast I have chosen?” God declares, then lists off what He considers real worship: fighting injustice, breaking oppression, feeding the hungry, sheltering the poor, clothing the naked, reaching out to others.

I don’t want to get political here, but maybe if we hear those things and think, “Now we’re getting political,” then it says something about our politics and how they line up with Scripture.

Dear me:

Maybe what you’ve been told to believe about Jesus and what He would or wouldn’t do isn’t the same as what your book says He did.
Maybe there are no magic words in there, but there are life-giving words instead…
Ones that aren’t just meant to bless you, but to extend the blessing to the ones God says He cares about the most.

Letting Go (Short Story)

I slip in the back door, and a scented wave of cinnamon and sugar hits me, an intended welcoming warmth that I don’t feel. I head for the stairs, hoping to make it to my room before—

“You’re back!” Mom’s voice sounds strained, her cheerful tone forced. Like always. “How was the mall?”

I shrug. “Boring.”

She pulls a plate of snickerdoodles off the stovetop. “I made some treats for Sunday school, and thought you might like some of the extras. They’re fresh out of the oven.”

“I’m not that hungry, Mom. There’s half a dozen. Dinner’s in an hour.” I feel like she should be the one thinking about that. Still, I’m not about to turn the offer down, not entirely. I snatch one off the plate and let my teeth sink into the soft, sweet cookie.

She watches me with concern, that same disturbed look she’s been giving me every night for the last few years. “Well,” she says, “I thought… maybe Thomas would like some? They’re his favorite.”

I roll my eyes and set the plate on the counter. “I’m not dealing with this again today. I have homework.” Maybe Dad will eat the other ones, or I’ll just snack on them during school tomorrow.

School… yeah right. Sitting at the dining table with a couple workbooks and an iPad is “school” as much as the first aid kit in the bathroom makes it a hospital. Homeschooling is supposed to be close, intimate… but the way my parents run things, it’s about giving me busy work so they can avoid dealing with me. I’m fine with that—I try to avoid them, too.

“Don’t forget,” Mom yells down the hallway as I make my escape, “we have an appointment with Nick tomorrow.”

I whirl and let loose. “Can we stop pretending that calling Doctor Greene by his first name takes away the fact he’s a shrink you’re making me see because you think I’m crazy?”

Mom lets out that defeated sigh of hers, the one that means she will leave me alone. It’s a stalemate, but I’ll take it.

I walk past Thomas’s room—always empty, always immaculate—and slam my door before flopping onto my bed. Tomorrow’s a big day; I know that’s why they made the appointment. Five years ago, Thomas and I took off on our bikes, and only one of us came home.

* * * * *

“Hello! Good to see you,” Nick says, with a too-white smile and “Happy Holidays” disposition. I don’t mind calling him Nick, even though I’ll argue with my parents about it. To them, and to him, it probably seems cool, a way of relating to the kids he sees. Whatever. It’s all part of the show we’re putting on here. Thirty minutes of fun and entertainment, and the clock starts now.

He’s got two folding chairs in front of his desk, and a love seat in the corner where Mom and Dad could sit together, if Dad ever bothered to show up. I take the one on the left and sink into a slouch, arms crossed, hoodie shading my view.

“Mrs. Talbach,” Nick says in his overly chipper tone. He turns to me, glances at the empty seat, and says, “I’m really glad Thomas could be here today.”

I kick the extra chair aside with a huff. “It’s just me, Nick,” I hiss, “just like the last five times. What are we paying you for again?”

As soon as I say it, Mom’s emotional rubber band snaps—I can feel her burning glare on the back of my neck. “Mind your tone and watch your manners. You’re not paying him for anything—”

“Darci,” Nick says, cutting her off. His tone is solid and firm. “Maybe you’d like a mug of cocoa? Someone at the front desk can help you.”

He takes a seat beside his desk, his eyes on her. He watches in silence, removing any doubt about the directive nature of his suggestion.

I try not to smirk, and I keep my back to Mom until the door clicks shut.

“So,” Nick says, elbows on knees, chin resting on his laced fingers. “Still pushing your mother’s buttons?”

“As much as she pushes mine.”

“You realize your parents have been through a lot, too, don’t you? Today, especially. The memory of the accident hits them as hard as it does you.”

Of course I realize that… but they didn’t see what happened.

Nick glances at the empty chair. “You say that Thomas isn’t with you anymore, but I’m afraid you’re telling me what you think I want to hear. It’s easy to put on an act for the doctor every two weeks, and you’re a smart kid, no doubt about it. Smart enough to figure that out.”

I stare at him from beneath my hood. That’s most of what Dad pays for—Nick and me staring at each other in silence. Maybe that’s part of why he stopped coming.

“You can be honest with me,” Nick says. “No sign of Thomas at all?”

“I let him go. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Move on?”

“Yes, well, you’re a… complex case, in my experience,” Nick replies. His fingers stroke the thick file on the edge of the desk. “In any event, after a traumatic episode, you’re right, it’s important to keep moving forward in life. However, we all want to be sure the direction you’re moving in is healthy. That it leads somewhere better than where you were when we first met.”

Same old speech. “Who’s to say what’s better, Nick?”

“Great question. I think that’s when you benefit most from the perspectives of others—the people who love you, the people you love. Those, like me, who want what’s best for you.”

Out the window, I can see a dozen kids scrambling all over a school playground across the street. Climbing, swinging, chasing, laughing. I miss those days.

Nick leans over and twists the stick; the venetian blinds snap shut. “Tell me about Fairmont Junior High.”

“Sucked.”

“I imagine so, given some of these comics and stories you wrote.” He slides a couple yellowed sheets of paper out from the folder. On one of them, a pair of stick figures fight their way through a school infested with zombies. On another, there’s a list of names titled ‘People I Hope Die.’

I sigh and stare at Nick’s wall of degrees in glossy frames.

Nick points at the comic. “‘Timmy and Tommy Versus the Zombies,’ a tale of twin boys, taking on the mindless horde of cold adults and mean classmates that you had to deal with every day. That’s kind of funny. Maybe a little bit like life?”

When I don’t respond, Nick presses his point. “You drew this, what, a year after he passed away? Do you think maybe you were expressing some feelings you weren’t able to process otherwise?”

I shrug.

“Of course,” Nick continues, “Fairmont had a zero-tolerance policy for anything perceived as threats, so when your teacher found this list, you had to—”

“No! That’s not why we homeschool, okay?”

Nick sits back at the outburst, but gestures for me to elaborate. I’m surprised that came out, but I’m so sick of them worrying about problems and phantoms I’ve already outgrown.

“How do you think it felt,” I say, “being the only kid in middle school with an imaginary friend? Being the kid who freaked out if anyone sat next to him in the cafeteria… Teachers had to keep one desk empty rather than put up with me losing it in the middle of class…”

Nick nods, pretending he knows what it’s like. “That’s why I’m glad we’ve made progress,” he says gently, and gestures at the empty seat. “Some, at least.”

“Whatever. If we made so much progress, what the hell am I doing here?”

“Like I said, you’re complex. There’s still more going on, and I don’t know if you’re ready or willing to address it.”

I shake my head, and my lips curl in frustration. “I’m fine with how things are now. I’m finally fine. I’ve moved on. That’s all I wanted, all I needed. I just wish everybody else would back off and stop trying to tell me what’s best for me.”

“You say that, but—”

“Isn’t it time to go?” I grab the small digital clock he has on his desk—turned away from the patients, of course, but always visible from his chair—and check the time. Ten more minutes. Dammit.

“It’s a sign of progress that you no longer require the additional space and consideration you once expected from everyone,” Nick drones, flipping through records of previous visits. “That’s an important step, but as I review your history, I wonder if we are moving in a healthy direction. One significant concern when dealing with delusions related to trauma is that…”

I’m done with this. My mind shuts down and my eyes wander over the decorations around the room: the dream-catcher some kid made in art class, the framed newspaper story with Nick’s picture, the carved African trickster guy hunched over his flute whose name I can never remember.

“—unable to distinguish,” he continues, “between the real and the imaginary in other parts of life, affecting relationships, job performance—or, in your case, academics—and basic social integration.”

Nick leans forward and gives me his oh-so-caring face. I wonder how many times he practiced that in med school. “What I’m saying is, I can’t just ignore these other symptoms.”

“They’re not symptoms,” I growl. I’m so tired of him and everyone else not listening to what I’m saying about me. “Stop treating me like I have a problem. I had a problem. It’s gone now.”

“You have to want to get well before—”

I fly out of the seat and kick it down behind me. “I am well!”

I had a twin. We did everything together. He got into an accident and died, and that sucks, and nothing’s gonna fix that. I did what I could and let go.

Now I wish they would.

Before Nick can give me another one of his touchy-feely speeches, I storm out the door into the lobby, past Mom and her cup of Swiss Miss, past the secretary’s stupid bulging eyes, past some other waiting mom and her teenage daughter. I leave them all stunned and slam the outer door on my way to the parking lot, slipping my earbuds in. I just want to be alone with the fresh air and my music.

Moments later, Nick leads Mom out the door and checks what I’m doing before continuing his conversation with her. I pause the music on my phone so I can hear, and keep pacing around Mom’s car, eyes on the ground, the perfect image of a distracted teen.

“—following the right approach, Mrs. Talbach. There’s more pain deep inside that he doesn’t want to deal with just yet, and this is his way of coping—or rather, ignoring and suppressing that hurt. Keep on pressing him about why he let go of Thomas.”

“But he gets so angry,” Mom says, her voice quivering like she’s going to cry again. “And he just shuts down whenever I say his name.”

“This is important. It’s going to be a hard road; I won’t lie to you, it’s probably going to be almost as bad as…” He glances at me and leaves the rest unsaid.

The kids on the playground are still shrieking with delight, dashing to and fro. I remember recess with my brother, when we challenged each other to ever-higher climbs and ever-farther jumps off the swings. Always one-upping each other, never afraid of the risks. That, and pranking the teachers in grade school, who never could tell us apart.

“Talk to Jared,” Nick says, referring to Dad. “Please, encourage him to come next time. He’s burying his pain, too. Maybe helping his son will draw both of them out of their shells.”

Mom nods. “I’ll try.”

Can’t wait to see the train wreck tonight when she brings that up.

* * * * *

“I’m not going back, Darci,” Dad shouts. “I tried that psycho-babble bull. We’re throwin’ money at that guy every month, and for what?”

They always think their fights are some kind of secret, something I don’t notice because it happens after dark, behind closed doors. Even quiet voices carry through the vents; shouts come through loud and clear. The doors and walls aren’t nearly as soundproof as their minds.

“Honey,” Mom pleads, “there has to be some way to make things better.” I hear the crack in her voice as she adds, “I can’t lose him too.”

“Wasn’t it that quack’s idea to let the imaginary friend crap run its course in the first place? Then all of a sudden, we’re supposed to stop playing along. Where did that get us, huh?”

Like I’m some garbage video game they’re playing… Push A to expose pain; tap B to speed recovery; use right trigger to unlock closer relationship.

“Doctor Greene says we need to keep talking to Thomas,” Mom insists, her voice ragged. That tone—she’s barely holding together. It’s the threshold before the bubbling pot boils over.

“Darci, he keeps saying Thomas isn’t there anymore.” For once I have the tiny spark of hope that maybe someone believes me. “He’s not doing any of that imaginary crap like before. Maybe we’re only going to make things worse if we press the issue.”

“I can’t pretend that—I won’t accept that he—God, Jared, every time he acts like this, I feel like I’m grieving all over again.”

Dad says nothing. I get where Mom’s coming from, but she doesn’t know what Thomas went through, either.

“So… what do we do?” Mom sounds broken.

“Hell if I know.”

* * * * *

“Let’s talk about that day.” Nick isn’t even trying to go slow today.

“Fine. There’s not much to say. We rode our bikes up the steep hill on Hoffman Street, up to the train tracks. Nobody rides down that hill—it’s crazy. I told Thomas he didn’t have to do it, I told him he won the bet. I chickened out.”

“Is that right?”

“He said it wouldn’t be fair if he didn’t go through with it.”

Nick sits back, giving me a suspicious eye. “What did you say to that?”

I look around the room, trying to focus on anything else. Mom didn’t bother coming in this time. Dad called about some last-minute meeting at the office, so Mom stayed in the car fighting with him over the phone while I checked myself in for my appointment.

Against my will, the memories flash through my mind: my brother lurching forward and pedaling like mad, building up speed before the descent, my hand reaching out as if I could pluck him off the bike from ten feet away. “I didn’t have time to say anything.”

For an instant, I feel the onset of tears, the old hurt like a hand wrapped around my heart, squeezing into a fist. It was my fault. I goaded him into it. He lost control—I should’ve known that would happen—and went into traffic on Garfield Avenue at the bottom of the hill…

“Thomas,” Nick says, “it’s not healthy. All that guilt, all that blame, that crushing burden? You’ve been carrying it too long.”

My eyes drop to that folder on the desk, the name “Thomas Talbach” written in thick black Sharpie. Of course that fat secretary had me booked under the wrong name, the same one on Nick’s file. As he waits for me to answer, Nick taps his fingers on the folder almost like he’s pointing out the mistake everyone keeps making.

Just like how the hospital put the wrong name on the death certificate.

Just like the gravestone.

I don’t need any help. I don’t have any burden to put down. My only problem is I don’t know how to get everyone else to see that.

“My name,” I mutter, “is Timothy.”

Nick locks eyes with me, his face stern, his tone hard. “You need to let go, Thomas.”

“That’s the thing, Nick. I already did.”

 

Delusions and Adventures – Two Open Submission Opportunities

Writer friends and followers:

While there are a host of magazines and collections that often solicit submissions, two recent options caught my eye.

ApparitionLit runs a quarterly open solicitation for submissions of poetry and short fiction, with some appropriately thrilling or mysterious theme. This quarter is “delusion,” but unfortunately, the session is about to close (Feb 28th).

They’re accepting works with a theme of vision from May 15-31, and submission guidelines can be found here.

Find a quiet place, listen to the voices in your head, and write out all your inner pain… easy!

 

 

 

 

 

Since I’ve been focused on preparing my own submission, I failed as a blogger and provided those links far too late for anyone else to benefit. To make up for this heinous misdeed, here is another opportunity for short story submissions:

Rachel Ritchey is organizing a short story contest for adventure fantasy and sci-fi pieces as part of an anthology to raise money for charity. The inspiration for this piece is a cover picture provided with the submission details at the link above.

This contest just opened up today (Feb 26th) and runs until March 16th.

Now my guilty conscience is (somewhat) appeased, and I can get back to working on my own pieces.

1K a Day Achievement Unlocked

Quality writing doesn’t happen by magic or mere desire. Improving any discipline takes a large quantity of effort

For me, this meant 1,000 words a day. Here’s how I got there:

In 2016, out of curiosity and as a bit of personal challenge, I counted the words I wrote all year-long. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” the motivational gurus say. I thought I’d see where I was at before trying to improve. I built a spreadsheet tracker on my iPad and watched the numbers build up over the course of the year. I surpassed 215K, or about 600 words per day on average.

In 2017, I decided I would set a particular goal–something that pushed me past what I had done the year before, but something I could actually manage.

I belonged to a group on Facebook where writers commit to writing 500 words a day, and I’ve seen several sites or groups set their quota around that number. ( 4thewords – a writing game website where I do a lot of my drafts, sets 444 as the daily goal). Jeff Goins is a writer who has built a platform out of encouraging others to write their own 500 words a day. I figured I’d take that and double it because I’m so hardcore! (kidding!)

I declared my goal: 1000 words a day on average. I knew there would be days where I didn’t write a single word, so I added that caveat at the end.

I built a new spreadsheet for 2017 and adjusted the formulas to fit each week and month. I had also started using a Bullet Journal recently, and got sucked into the Pinterest-perfect trackers and spreads I saw online. I decided to make a daily pixelated word count page in my journal, with colors representing how much I did or didn’t write.

Far too much brown in the mix.

Over the course of 2017, I adjusted my expectations here and there… some months had far too many 0 entries or brown squares on my tracker, and I started thinking, “Maybe I’ll hit 300K total… maybe I’ll hit 250K… maybe I can just do better than last year.”

November is National Novel Writing Month, where participants try to write a novel of 50,000 words or more between November 1st and 30th. I knew I would score some significant word count during that month, but it wouldn’t be enough.

Four months out from the new year, I realized that if I wrote at NaNoWriMo pace for the rest of the year (50,000 words in a month), I could meet my goal. That realization was followed by several days of less than 1000 words.

NaNo actually produced some great results for me, coupled with a family journaling project, so I cranked out over 80,000 words in that single month. December slowed down a bit, but I still managed to do more than 1K a day average, and on the 31st, I crossed my finish line with a year-long total of 365,468 words.

Now I’m not claiming those words are quality, but I firmly believe that the key to producing some quality is a quantity of effort. The work creates opportunities for quality to bloom.

It’s like saying “I will spend quality time with my kids.” That doesn’t happen by saying, “Okay bud, we got 10 minutes of real quality time. Go.” It happens by spending frequent time together, which makes room for those few, magical moments to blossom into memories that last.

It’s the same with writing, or so I tell myself. With that in mind, I saw Jeff Goins post about starting the year off with a 500-a-day challenge. Since his influence sparked my original goal, I’ll try his method and commit to writing 500 words every day for at least all of January. They may not all be great words, but that’s not the point.

Happy new year to all of you following or glancing at this in your Facebook / WordPress feed. I hope your 2017 was filled with accomplishments and your 2018 looks promising. What goals are you setting for this year?

A Year of Bullet Journal: Lessons Learned

“This one notebook will make you delete all your productivity apps,” the clickbait headline promised. It came from a writers’ group, so it couldn’t be all bad…

So began my Bullet Journal experience about a year ago.

Side jaunt: What is a Bullet Journal?

A Bullet Journal is a paper brain that never forgets, so that your real one doesn’t have to juggle so many reminders, priorities, and worries. When followed, Ryder Carroll’s system is quick, easy, and efficient at what it’s designed to do: track what you’ve accomplished, record what goes on throughout the day, and assist future planning.

Today’s notes, events, tasks, and questions are recorded as they happen. At the end of the day, unfinished business is evaluated based on “Is this worth my time in the future?” If so, it gets migrated to the next day or scheduled for a later date. Notes about upcoming events feed into the monthly calendar, which also feeds back into the new day to assist with planning one’s schedule and efforts. Notes taken today can also be added to pages set aside for certain projects or areas of responsibility–a page dedicated to writing, perhaps, or to a list of references and rules for a program at the office. The brief few minutes of planning in the morning and reflection in the evening are crucial to making the system work as designed, but other than that, there’s no significant commitment.

As originally designed, it’s minimalist. However, it’s also individualized and customizable. The Bullet Journal website has links to a variety of blogs and videos with advanced options people can incorporate. Some are elaborate and artistic, others are crisp and functional, but all are optional.

Don’t be fooled by Pinterest-perfect pages and Instagram-worthy layouts. No one needs 50 water-based Stabilo pens and mild-liners, nor is a degree in art required. You don’t have to buy a special notebook from a German company or the Bullet Journal site store in order to make the best use of the system… though I do like the dot-grid pages.

Over the course of the year, I went from artistic to… we’ll say “thrifty with my time.”

Pros: The basic system works great at what it’s designed to do.

  • I tracked a bunch of tasks, events, and projects throughout the year–professional work, personal stuff, and random things.
  • I had a personalized schedule that covered my days, month, and year–and it wasn’t tethered to my phone or wi-fi access (I work in a facility where I can’t have those things on hand).
  • I expressed my creative side while keeping the system fast and effective.
  • I can review everything I invested my time in over the last year.
  • More importantly, notes of fond moments and special experiences with my wife and kids bring those memories back.
  • Tracking efforts, habits, and tasks revealed several times when parts of my life went off-course.
  • I invested positive energy into my journal, which fueled me later when I needed it.

Cons: Anything I tried beyond the basics fell apart over time through neglect.

  • For the first half of 2017, I used a bunch of artsy spreads and habit trackers I’d seen online. That turned into more work than it was worth for me.
  • Looking back, I find several pages half-filled with material on particular projects or areas of interest. I didn’t go back to those and put them to use like I thought I would.
  • I had a great many lofty ideas which never came to fruition. “I’m going to read all these books… I’m going to write these other books… I’m going to document my daily word count… I’m going to fill up this list with songs recorded and posted on my Facebook page…”
  • If I wasn’t working at the office, it was easy to ignore the Bullet Journal. My holiday weekends are often blank gaps in my daily entries.

As you might guess from the above lists, the pros far outweigh the cons. In fact, part of the benefit of a journal or tracker system like this is seeing where efforts go half-finished or forgotten, and deciding if those efforts are worth continued investment. I could argue that some of my cons are the system showing me exactly what it’s supposed to about my actual commitments and priorities.

All told, my Bullet Journal experience has been positive. It’s a beneficial tool I will continue using for years to come.

Want information on how to set one up or adapt the system to your needs? Give yourself a Christmas present of better organization and time management. Start here.

A Bright Future

Netflix released Bright starring Will Smith the other day (Dec 22nd), and I found some unexpected free time today where a 2-hour movie could fit.

Vanity Fair reviews Bright here
“Be nice if you could do some of that magic $#!+ right about now…”

The above image comes from Vanity Fair, who are far less flattering in their review than me. I might be biased, wanting a movie like this to work more than I care about whether it deserves a place in a cinematic hall of fame.

Here are my spoiler-free thoughts:

Bright is a good movie–not amazing, not without some obvious faults–and I look forward to more of this fresh setting and novel concept.

I say “novel” because I can’t think of a modern fantasy movie that’s worth its entry fee. In books, video games, and tabletop RPGs, modern fantasy has long been a thing. Shadowrun springs to mind, though Bright lacks the cyberpunk flair.

Pros: Will Smith is Will Smith. He can’t help but shine. I already mentioned the novelty of the setting, but I like that they pointed to a history they didn’t bother to fully explain. It feels more like a real world that way, and the few times they slipped exposition into the dialogue didn’t feel too painful or forced. Bright touches on the expected themes: racism, privilege, tensions between communities and police forces. For the most part, I think it does this believably and effectively. The action is entertaining, a nice mixture of magic and gunfire. Most of all, Bright scratches an itch I didn’t know I had and makes me want another installment without leaving big questions unresolved. It’s almost like a good pilot for a series, and instead, you’ll get another sequel with Will Smith and presumably the rest of the main characters.

Cons: It felt like a really slow build. I didn’t really care about what was happening until a good half-hour in. Some of the “reveals” felt all too obvious and expected. You’re probably going to call a few things as soon as you realize they are part of a subplot, and you’ll be right. I guess it IS fantasy so certain things are going to go the main characters’ way, or else we wouldn’t be reading about them. This is Tolkien in the modern world, not Game of Thrones… not that Tolkien is a bad thing, but I know it’s not what some people want. Somehow our heroes survive fights with creatures that can breeze through LAPD SWAT teams. The villains felt a little hammy and made some really stupid decisions–or failed to take action when they should have. (Kill your foe, don’t gloat.) Finally, either magic is relatively tame unless you have sweet gear, or nobody really unloaded their magic skill… and I have no way of knowing which is the case.

None of that detracted enough to make me regret watching, and I heartily recommend a viewing. However, I’ll caveat that with…

Bright is definitely for mature viewers. Depending on your taste in films, you might balk at the strong language throughout the film, or the frequent graphic violence, although the latter is more tame than what makes it to the big screen. The characters do enter a strip bar at one point and breasts are shown.

My two cents. Your mileage may vary.

If you watched it, what do you think? Let me know how wrong I am in the comments section.

I Feel Attacked

Saw this a while back, after having some conversations with a writer friend from my local group. “Dave,” he said, “one thing I noticed was consistency in spelling. Which things are capitalized and which are not. That sort of thing.”

Guess what’s #1 on Ellen Brock’s list?

D’oh!!

Seriously, though, if you’re self-publishing or working on a manuscript to submit to traditional publishing, here are a lot of pitfalls to avoid.

A Tale Of Two Interviews

I saw this pop up on my Facebook feed today.


Though I didn’t care for all his politics, I enjoyed listening to President Obama as a public speaker. I’m sure some of that credit belongs to good speech writers, but still… I felt like here’s a guy who can make a coherent case for the position he holds, even if I don’t agree with him.

I tried to imagine how this interview might go with the current administration:

“Have you ever read Reinhold Niebuhr?”
“Who?” Trump smirked. “Is that an op-ed guy from some fake news media site? I don’t—“
“He’s a philosopher, Mister President.”
“Oh.” Trump shakes his head. “The thing with those guys is—I mean, it’s great to have people who sit around thinking really deep about stuff, but in business you don’t have time for, you know, I’m going to—what about the human condition and how does it play into—you’re there to win, and be great, and make good deals.”
“Of course,” I respond. “But wouldn’t you say there’s—“
“You know, we have a lot of guys that want to read this or that guy, what does he think about, I don’t know, poverty or diplomacy or whatever. But as a successful businessman, I learned the value of fast action—you just go after it and get it done, which—I think that’s kind of a philosophy of it’s own. Maybe the best philosophy. I wrote a book about it, you know. The Art of the Deal. Have you read it?” 
He flashes a grin. “I’ll turn the tables on you. What do you think of Donald Trump?”
Before I can come up with an appropriate response, he laughs, waves me off with one hand, and goes on. “Not that it really matters. I know how many copies it sold. One of the best books in America, the best. What was your question again?”

To any of my friends on the Right, #sorrynotsorry and I hope some day the President proves me wrong. I look forward to that day like a thirsting man in the desert crawling toward an oasis.

To my friends on the Left, don’t become what you hate about the Right—because there’s a lot of mindless groupthink on your side too.

I long for the return of politics where we can communicate with one another and actually discuss the merits and concerns of any given policy or change. 

I’m beyond tired of party-line foul-atics, where all that matters is your slavish devotion to whatever your party’s gods and goddesses deem correct. “I support this initiative.” Why? “Because it’s what’s best. I saw a piece by (Alex Jones / Rachel Maddow), so I know this is what the country needs.”

Whether it’s Tomi Lahren getting fired on the Right because she disagreed with the party norm about abortion, or people dog-piling something Bill Maher or Jon Stewart says which goes against the flow, tribalism fuels this kind of “politics” instead of thought.
We have had eloquent Presidents in the past, and we can again. Fair point. 

More importantly, we also have been an eloquent, educated, considerate people in the past. We can become that again.

Putting NaNo to Bed

Another November passes, and another National Novel Writing Month comes to a close.

You win a self-inflicted nervous breakdown! Also your manuscript needs infinity revisions.

I’m proud to have put over 50,000 words into my project, but I’m most excited about connecting and re-connecting with writers in my area. Not only did all four regular members of our base writing group dive into the challenge this year, but a WriMo participant from a few years ago jumped in (and won!). On top of that, I met four writers I didn’t know prior to the NaNoWriMo events.

Not everything went perfectly.

I had the privilege once again of serving as a Municipal Liaison for Japan–specifically Okinawa.

We have three stellar individuals on the mainland who managed the bulk of the nation’s participants. On island, our group had a rough start that forced me to develop some guidelines and contingency plans for future NaNo events–stuff you hope you never have to enforce, but you realize should be in place “just in case.” Yay for opportunities to grow and practice interpersonal skills!

The librarian on Kadena is passionate about writing groups–participating and supporting–so we enjoyed an array of Keurig coffee cups and a constant influx of writing resources. (Anyone need a journal? Here’s a stack. Need a book about researching how bodies decompose? I know a great one we might even have here… Stuck in your manuscript? Try playing around with some poetry magnets or story dice.) Who said libraries aren’t cool?

Great participants and a supportive location made my job easy and enjoyable!

My writing felt like a mess more than usual.

In the past, I approached NaNo like a plotter, laying out the overall course of the story with key milestones I knew I needed to hit as well as rough scene ideas documenting who needed to say or do what and for what purpose. That usually works for me, like following a recipe of cake mix. I have a little bit of freedom to substitute ingredients, and I can change plans in the middle if I really want to do so. “I think I’ll turn this into cupcakes instead of using a standard 9 by 13 cake pan. I’ll switch out the oil with applesauce for a healthier option.”

Some people are “pantsers” who sit down with a blank document and go to town, allowing the muse and the characters they’ve created in their minds to develop on paper in whatever way the story unfolds. More power to all of you who can manage that.

This year, I think I fell in the middle of the two–what some NaNo types call “plantser.” I had much less to go on than my last three NaNo drafts. The rough bones of a story arc bounced around in my mind, and I jotted down certain key points at the bottom of my manuscript Word document, but I had nowhere near the detail or preparation of previous efforts. It showed, as I left myself a lot more notes with questions to follow-up on, gaps or plot holes I could see while writing, even basic details like “insert her mom’s name here.”

On the one hand, “plantsing” gave me enough freedom to do as I pleased, changing up the events in the story as I wrote, to fit new ideas and revelations. It also gave me enough signposts as reminders to keep me moving in my intended direction. “Not saying you have to take the left lane onto I-80, but Chicago is far down the interstate in this direction, so you do you.”

I kept distractions to a (relative) minimum.

My favorite author Brandon Sanderson released the next novel in his massive epic fantasy series, The Stormlight Archives. Those books are so good, my non-fantasy-reading wife even loves them. That has been sitting on my iPad for the last three weeks, taunting me, beckoning with one finger crooked. “Just one chapter… that’s all… won’t take long… come on…”

The Netflix Punisher series came out mid-November, and I am a sucker for Jon Bernthal’s amazing combination of brooding / unhinged. Dude is like the stacks of unstable dynamite from my favorite 80s post-apocalyptic games. Sure, you might gain something by searching this, but you probably ought to back out of the fallout shelter slowly and forget what you saw here. (Fans of Wasteland might know what I’m talking about. The rest of you can take pleasure knowing I suck at analogies.)

I watched one episode the night it came out, then forced myself to close the app.

Thor: Ragnarok was a must-see, so I used that as my reward for getting ahead of schedule early. Justice League was going to be a mid-month reward, but I started falling behind and never found a good time to see it. In 20/20 hindsight, given the reviews and images, maybe that wasn’t a bad thing.

My pained smile when someone asks how NaNoWriMo is coming this year. “Yeah… I’m writing words or something…”

The addiction to video games kept its hooks deep in my flesh-husk. While I pulled away from WoW, and only played a couple hours of the intro of Horizon: Zero Dawn – The Frozen Wilds (omg such a great game), the mindless entertainment bug bit hard about three weeks in. For inexplicable reasons, as I looked at the Blizzard launcher on my PC, I realized that I own Diablo III, and I never played through the fifth act expansion, nor have I tried the necromancer class they added long after the game’s release. Easy fix! A few minutes of monster-grinding and loot-grabbing wouldn’t affect my writing too much, right?

In the course of a week, I played through the whole story and raised my overpowered goddess of death to just shy of max level. “Just one more level… just one more quest… just need to kill this one boss…”

Really, with an army of skeletons fighting for me, it just seems unfair.

I’ve put 75,000 words on various projects this month.

I started this year with a goal of writing a thousand words a day. Like many New Year’s resolutions, that lost steam after the first month or two. By about April I recalculated my goal. (500 words wouldn’t be too bad, right?)

In September, I realized if I cracked down and wrote like NaNoWriMo every month until the end of the year, I would make it. That didn’t pan out, though I exceeded my 1K/day goal. After the last month of grinding, I’m sitting at about 320K, with a few different projects clamoring for my attention. (I’ll post about one of them soon, because it has been both fun and valuable to me.)

Not saying those words are great words… but they’re something I can edit, revise, or cut, which is better than a blank page on screen and a bunch of imagined plot lines in my head.

All of that to say, I’m sort of sorry I was gone for the last month (plus), I’m not too worried because I can see how many or how few views come through, but I’m grateful for those of you who care enough to read this and/or support me, even if it’s just asking, “How’s that writing coming?”

Cue the wild-eyed Superman pain-rictus. “Pretty good,” I say through clenched teeth, choking down my self-loathing. “Everything is fine.”