HW: Ghosts

Grama’s ghost drifts by.
She wears her smile and gray curls.
Does my Grama live?

Ghosts are everywhere. Not the apparitions in Disney’s Haunted Mansion or the pellucid warriors floating above Hogwarts, but the twins of loved ones and colleagues from our past. I saw my grandmother’s ghost in Raley’s just the other day.

That’s her on the left. She was my rock before CC and I were wed. Wise and loving, I wish I’d been a better student before she passed in 2005. Her life lessons are eternal: be kind; be patient; things work out the way they do for a reason. Maybe if I had listened, I would have been with my mom when she died in 2008.

Regret is forever, people.

So I turned around in the store, and there’s a lady with my grandmother’s hairstyle and coloring, plus she’s about the same height. It was my grandmother for a millisecond, followed by the pain of remembering that she’d been dead for more than a decade. But, oh, that millisecond was sweet.

Therein lies the contradictory nature of mourning. When we see the doubles of our loved ones, or their drifting ghosts in the haiku above, we feel the pain of loss. The rough part is that sharp pain is love, morphed from the experience and mourning. We forget that sometimes.

And for what it’s worth, Elizabeth Taylor is my mother’s ghost. I can’t watch Liz’s movies without thinking of Mom because she was a beauty, too. I miss my mom and grandmother very much.

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Tahoe

For our subscribers, a quick blog post on this morning’s bonus podcast from the shores of Lake Tahoe. CC and I talked about our mutual memories and, being writers, we go from Mark Twain to the Godfather Part II.

We made a couple of boo-boo’s (being amateurs):

  • The elevation of Lake Tahoe is 6,224 feet, still making it one of the highest alpine lake in the world.
  • The MS Dixie departed from Zephyr Cove, Nevada, as does the MS Dixie II.

Pictures of our adventure can be found here. Thanks for listening!

Here’s the Podcast.

Drowning in Kool-Aid

“The phrase can…used…to indicate that one has embraced a particular philosophy or perspective.
Alice: Hey, did you hear that Joe is working on the Nader campaign?
Bob: Yeah, he really drank the Kool-Aid on that one.”

Reference: Urban Dictionary

This post will be outside my comfort zone as I usually don’t talk about work. Listeners of “The CC and JT Amateur Hour” know we’re public servants in Carson City, so extrapolating our bosses is a short leap. I learned a difficult life lesson recently, and maybe someone will read this post and learn that lesson without my struggle. At the very least I’m documenting my experience for the next time, whenever that is.

I’ve been drinking the above flavor of Kool-Aid all my life, especially when I was in the Air Force. Total immersion was not only expected, but we took an oath to drink the contents of whatever mugs and steins that were placed in front of us. After my service, I entered private and public employment where the devotion to the mission varied by office. Last February, I was pulled into an office where, yep, the level of the Kool-Aid was up by my nose. I accepted a promotion in the same office a few months later and took the dive into the deep end of the pool.

I should have known better because my diabetes was already acting up before failing upwards. But it was my dream job, gosh darn it (I shout into the silent abyss!). Years paying my dues were finally rewarded, and I was working with fantastic people and doing important work. Ah, but for my poor pancreas. I’d been living with self-inflicted diabetes type two for years, so I should have been smarter. Of course, if I’d been that smart years ago, I wouldn’t be a T2 in the first place.

You can see when I made the decision to take a transfer and demotion. My doctor wants my daily blood sugar readings (BSRs) between those two green bars (140-160). My move to healthier circumstances was not met with widespread approval and understanding by the office Kool-Aid makers, but I had no choice. I want to keep my feet a little while longer.

Life Lesson: be smarter than me. Do not tax your pancreas, and if you do, make better decisions about your lifestyle than I did. You’ll save yourselves hours of physical and mental misery if you do.

(Check out our Podcast page for more fun! And subscribe below to get updates!)

Earthquake!

Never a boring podcast. Well, that probably not always true, but this one had a 4.0 earthquake while we were discussing our thoughts on the “Flawed Protagonist.” Can you hear the house shake? If that’s not enough, Darth, Superman, and Batman stop by, so to speak.

Seriously, “Love and Death” is my favorite of the books I’ve written, and it is free today, April 25 and tomorrow, April 26 if you’re so inclined (it’s always free on KU).

Have a listen to our podcast and let us know what you think. Take care. Peace out!

HW: Lilacs

Lilacs in the trash,
Cold tears wet the black plastic.
They twist-tie their past.

(Here’s the long explainer behind Haiku Wednesday. tl;dr? Just roll with it.)

I was crooning along with my favorite Bonnie Raitt song, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” when CC took off her noise-dampening headphones and asked why I like sad songs. Well, the songs are slow enough for me to understand the words, but really they speak to my romantic soul. I like what we in the writing trade call the “HEA” stories (happily ever after), while at the same time knowing that not all love stories are happy ones.

This particular haiku is not a stinker, in my opinion, but the coda of what must have been a relationship made of smiles and flowers. Alas, not even lilacs could save the protagonist from the inevitable tears of a broken heart. Maybe, just maybe, they’ve started the act of closure and moving on by tying up the garbage bag and throwing away the trash.

Technical notes: Most folks probably would have gone with roses, but gosh, that symbolism is such a cliché. And I changed the gender in this draft from “she” to “they” because everyone cries when their heart is broken. We just don’t see some of their tears.

(Check out our Podcast page for more fun! And subscribe below to get updates!)

Da Cubs

Character, they say, is something you build when you lose. I’m a Cubs fan. I’ve been building character for over thirty years…with one notable exception.

My love/hate relationship with the Windy City Northsiders began when Cassidy and I were first married and living in the far-off land known as Sarpy County. While we had much in common, we had big gaps in learning how to live with each other. I was a moderate baseball fan and CC had heard of baseball. We randomly turned on WGN out of Chicago and were fascinated by the loud broadcaster with the booming voice who wore glasses with lens the size of big screen televisions.

CC and I bonded over the Cubs (and a newborn daughter) when they had their flash-in-the-pan success of the mid-Eighties, only to lose to the monochromatic San Diego Padres and their two-dimensional first baseman Steve Garvey (I’m not bitter!). The Cubs wouldn’t have any kind of real success for decades after (aside from a peak here and there). Life changed when the Ricketts bought the team, sunk real money into the dilapidated facilities, and brought in two success-makers named Theo and Joe.

In 2016, CC and I were lucky enough to go Cubs Spring Training, and we saw t-shirts that said, “Just One Before I Die,” referring to a World Series championship, something the Northsiders hadn’t won since (sigh) 1908. Walking the concreate pathways around Sloan Park in Mesa, I felt the palatable certainty that this was our year. The team made a loud noise in 2015 but fell short of the final round. From everything we saw and felt at Sloan, I could believe it we might win it all.

Our team spent most of 2016 in first place of the National League Central, but being a Cubs fan, we know nothing is certain and there’d been so much disappointment (“character building”). No fingernail was safe from chewing between April and October.

I’ll cut to the chase and, yes, the Cubs did break the 108-year curse in seven games (and extra innings!) with the seventh game possibly being the greatest game in World Series history.

As this is a writing blog, I’m guess I’m trying to say that while many writers are blessed with instant success, most of us are in this for the long haul. Like the Cubs in their World Series year, the best path to success is hard work, calling on experts to fill in the gaps, have faith in yourself and your play on the field, and build collaboration where you can, like I have with CC. Fame and fortune may not be guaranteed, but you’ll know you did your absolute best over the long season.

As for the Chicago Cubs after that magical 2016 season, well, I wish there were more pennants and trophies and such, but truthfully, I don’t care. I got my one World Series before I died.

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Podcast: Reality

Quick note to let our subscribers know there is a brand new writers podcast for your listening enjoyment. CC and I chat about how we writers shape the Universe within our books, and we use two of our favorite movies that show the rewards and risks of maybe going too far.

Are we right or are we full of crap? We hope you give us a listen to “The Sunshine of the Matrix” and let us know what you think. Thank you much!

Listen on Anchor
Listen on Spotify

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Podcast: For the Birds

Quick shot to let followers know that CC and I just posted a hilarious podcast (funny only to ourselves, of course). We sing and laugh about birds and cats and bedtime and 1970s soft rock icons. Yes, really, we sing!

No talk about writing in this one, but we had fun, anyway. Click here or on that podcast link at the top of the page. Thanks much!

Haiku Wednesday: Mickey’s Mouth

Steamboat Willie ate
Steve Rogers, Up, Leia, Bart.
Merchandised Heroes.

March 2020. The pilot light was barely lit under my Coleman creative furnace. My public life was scattered in all directions, from the federal government’s homicidal indifference to COVID to the Governor’s state-wide lockdown to me being drafted (literally) into a new job. My comfort zone was gone, and I like my comfort zones.

I also like writing, especially as an escape, so I tried to cheat on the writing thing, turning to haikus in hopes of creating one hundred such poems for a possible book. That project died after twenty-something works because I could not focus, and my year of literary floundering would continue. The book thing may still happen, but for now, I’ll post those haikus here for a series called “Haiku Wednesday.”

Haikus are fascinating technical works with all the visuals and versions, and I like the discipline and challenge of sticking to a particular stanza (5-7-5 syllables). The problem is I struggle with those limitations sometimes, and those poems just plain suck as a result. The above is one of those stinkers.

My disillusionment is obvious. Walt’s House is not the congenial, happy place as I thought it was when I was a kid. And “Mickey’s Mouth” suffers from a bad cadence, a bad choice of words, and a bad mood at the time of creation (world falling apart, poor little me, blah blah blah). I’m sticking it out here because the cacophony reminds me of March 2020.

One technical note: I hope you picked up on the use of “Steamboat Willie” as Mickey was known when he was featured in the eponymous 1928 cartoon. A more innocent creature all those decades ago. Since then, “Steve Rogers” is the Marvel acquisition, “Up” refers to Pixar Studios, “Leia” is the Star Wars franchise, and “Bart” is a headliner on the Disney Plus channel.

A hundred years later, I think we can all agree the Mouse who Roared is quite the ravenous commercial carnivore.

Fear

Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

The mantra is from the Dune books by Frank Herbert. A treatise on the environment, as a teenager I interpreted Dune as the danger of politicians who view themselves as gods, for good and bad, Atreides and Harkonnen. We’ve seen a lot of this in recent history. 

Fear is primal and constant. Cowardice is the fear of injury or death (emotional or physical). Prejudice is the irrational fear of other people and their beliefs. Nervousness is the fear of unknown consequences. Stress can be the fear of failure or being discovered for our true selves. These and other emotions may not be something we can easily talk about, perhaps because of the American “cowboy culture” of putting on a brave face in our daily tsunami of woes and troubles. Or the Christian belief that we were born to suffer, yet we must and should carry on, no matter what (or so they say). 

Life is not easy, no matter your philosophy, and some of us prioritize “self-sufficiency” over the “helping hand up” when Life hits the fan. After all, grown-ups are supposed to have all the answers, right? But 2020 was a constant struggle with fastballs from every direction. I learned (again) there’s no shame in asking for help, and that there is less shame in making difficult decisions to pull ourselves from the brink of damage. I made one such move recently to leave what I thought was my dream job, but in reality affected my health. The decision was not right or wrong, but what was best for me, I suppose.

For writers, defining on paper that line between courage and fear is our bread and butter. If our characters were consumed by one or the other, they would be two-dimensional creatures not worthy of our readers’ time and energy. We have a mandate to make our people realistic and interesting, and we can do this by exposing their higher angels and inner demons. Putting Life on paper is both our highest calling and our most imperfect task. 

My small bit of advice, then: no matter the genre, no matter the time period, no matter the situation, focus first on your characters’ internal struggles as they survive and surpass (if they do). The pauper who would be a prince, the matchstick girl who becomes the queen, or the tadpole who rules an underwater empire. Or the street urchin who finds a safe home every night with their own little nuclear family. 

Plot is emotion, both in prose and life, and our fears can inspire us to be more than we are. Be brave enough to ask for help, be fearless in your writing, and you may be surprised by how strong you really are.

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