Archive | November 2016

Our household’s been hit

…Ugh, with this stupid virus, sickness, whatever you want to call it. Blame the kids. Blame day care. Blame New England for forcing us all inside in stuffy little homes that were built centuries ago. Blame Al Gore. Blame Obama. Blame Trump. Ugh, we’re all miserable.

Son has a fever and wants to be held; Daughter is jealous of her brother and acts wild to get my attention; Dog — she’s not even sick! — got into leftovers I didn’t even know we had; And there are no days off for parents. Mom is at work. Dad is at home, stuffed up, achy. I’m a bit of a baby. I could use a shower, but I’m terrified that a shower will wake one of them up. I need this silence.

That’s about all I got right now. Invoices sent out. Deadlines approaching end of the week. I feel like I did a great job of getting invoices out this year, but December is about administrative stuff: invoices, billing, receipts. It was a good year. Not a very good year, but a good year: Atlantic, Smithsonian, Slate…

Room to improve, as always. Upwards. Maybe a book in 2017? I hope so.

Sorry everyone. That’s all I got today.

Fathers and Christmas

A little over a year ago, a close friend of mine suffered through a rapid descent and death of his father, a man to whom he was very close. This friend, over numerous lunch break cigarettes and happy hour drinks, could talk for hours about his dad: From anecdotes about his accolades as a father to poignant concerns over an aging parent. It is the stories we accumulate over the years that measure the progress of our lives. It is to the fondest to whom we share them.

Indeed, stories are the links that bond us to eternity.

I sat in a pew listening to the celebration of a life of a man I’d met just a few times, but someone whom I felt I knew well. I nodded in agreement when someone cherished a trait they loved so much; I laughed at stories I’d heard before, at specific sayings or platitudes I’d known him to employ.

Someone, I think my friend’s brother, mentioned how much his dad loved Christmas. That he enjoyed dressing up as Santa and giving gifts. That he was always the storyteller, but around Christmas this trait really shined. He’d hold host around a table or a living room, enjoying not only the company, but the season and the sentiment that it brings forth.

At this, I was moved profoundly for particularly strong reasons.

I still hold a fondness to my memories of Christmas, particularly Christmas Eve. Growing up, Christmas Eve was always at our home, and we entertained what seemed like the masses. Grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors all made it to our home on Christmas Eve. It was the day we looked forward to even more than Christmas. It was festive; It was fun. As we got older, we shared in the merriment of drinks and sitting in the same room as the adults. My dad was the ring-leader of this fun.

But somewhere, somehow that stopped. My father became unhappy and we became unhappy. We moved out. Christmas Eve stopped. My parents got divorced and Christmas time became some fractured, fragmented holiday that caused more stress than happiness. We had to travel to two different homes. A holiday that came with so much joy became a holiday that I openly despised.

Part of it was selfish. My wife’s family wanted to be together on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the day after, presents with Grandma at some point. It was all what I used to have but didn’t anymore. It made me sad.

The wound of the divorce and it’s subsequent bitterness has receded a little bit, to where we share Christmas Eve with my family now, both parents invited and sharing the same space for a finite amount of time each December 24th.

But it was in hearing about my friend’s dad and his love for Christmas that made me alter my course last year.

“I want to be remembered for that,” I told my wife, then pregnant with our second child, a son, born in March. “I want to be the guy who loves Christmas. I want to our children to remember their dad as the guy who always had the most fun on Christmas.”

Now, I’m fully on board. There’s no more bitterness about the slow-moving churning unhappiness that eventually came divorce; There’s no more stress about heading to who’s house, when, and didn’t we see these people yesterday?

Death often makes us reconsider the way we’re living. Often, though, there’s little that carries forward other than the faux-resolution that takes place inside a church pew. This, however, was my resolution: To be the father every kid wants during the holiday season.

It’s not even December and the house is decorated with lights and green and red; Stocking are hung, and a countdown clock sits a 28 days. There are snowmen and Santa’s all around.  At two years and eight months, my children don’t know about the magic of Christmas yet, though the older one is learning (and loving it). My rekindled energy for Christmas will hopefully be a catalyst for the rest of their lives.

My dad and my friend’s dad aren’t that dissimilar, in the end. The spirit of Christmas they held in such high regard has been passed down to ensure it’s legacy. I’m happy to keep it going for them both, as I know many more will too.

Get writing, everyone.

Where are the young novelists?

Maybe we don’t need young novelists. Young novelists don’t know anything. Someone in their 20’s might write really well, but there’s an utter lack of experience through which to tell a story. I’m a firm believer that you don’t become a writer writer until you’re 30. You can’t know anything in life until you’ve gone through some serious shit. Let’s face it: Most writers are college educated, which is one of the great paradoxes of our time. Spend a blue whales amount of money to be alone, writing, for a krill’s salary. Then you spend almost as much money on therapy as you did college.

Most writers are educated, meaning they spent the first twenty or so years in some way living off their parents money. They came home from college break to their childhood bedrooms, borrowed $50 if they needed it, came home drunk and slept the day away. But then something happens: Life.

Student loans appear. Rent is due. You lose some friends. You gain new ones. You meet someone. You fall in love. You get your heart broken. You get a job. You have money. You spend it foolishly. All of these things you’ll look back on and realize how insignificant they were.

But that’s not true. As a writer, all of these things that accumulate, the good and the bad, the scary and the safe, they add up. They give us a world-view. They provide us with empathy and strength and courage to write. Sure, you get over these self-proclaimed tragedies.

The girl you loved that broke your heart? Someone new will come along, but the former girlfriend never goes away. She informed you how to grieve, how to recover, how to cope. She taught you how to want and regret and to be lonely. She taught you how to overcome.

The job you lost provided a sense of self-worth and enabled self-reflection. Fuck em. But you’ll get another job and, instead of fucking up in the dozens of ways you fucked up — even if your job and boss sucked — you crush it.

The friends lost and friends gained teach us to let go and embrace change; We watch as some people fade away or get sick or hurt or addicted and we learn empathy and compassion.

This shit doesn’t happen to us when we’re coddled in our childhood bedroom, eating dinner cooked by mom and purchased by someone who asks you for “requests” at the market each Saturday morning. Lessons are learned through adversity and adversity starts for most of us in our 20’s.

We’re facing a Presidential administration that could shape our country for years to come in a way that adversely affects too much people and, incredibly, the health of our planet. Get writing everyone.

Alcohol Lied to Me

Last Sunday night, I stayed up late watching the Patriots play the Seahawks. I probably had my last beer around 10 o’clock (my guess is that the game ended around midnight); I do this, cut myself off at a certain time. Not after an amount of booze, but a time. It’s 10 o’clock, regardless of whether or not I have to be up in the morning for anything special. On weeknights, I’m in bed at 10 o’clock, mostly.

Because of the special circumstance, I allowed myself to stay up later and have a few beers into the night.

I’m 34, pushing 35. I’m a parent of two kids, neither of whom has been alive for longer than two years and three months. That means we wake up early and our entire day-cycle is spent chasing, feeding, changing, negotiating, and giving 100% of our attention outside of ourselves. Shower? Lunch? I guess I forgot. Yes, these are sweatpants and, yes, I know it’s 3:30.

It also means I don’t drink as much — quantity-wise — as I once did. Quality is up, but as far as how much I drink, it’s not much. Maybe I’ll have a solitary beer each night (or a glass of wine or a drink, whatever), but as far as quantity, it’s low comparatively speaking. This entire paragraph seems too much like justifying. If so, go screw. I’m an adult.

After the game, our typical routine came and went. Monday everyone went off to school and the baby stayed home with me to work. No drink that night; Same thing Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Friday, I came home from work at 9 p.m., a time I’d typically have a beer, and, eh, I’m tired. Let’s go to bed.

At this point, my liver is loving me.

Saturday night, we went to this great Middle Eastern restaurant. We go there all the time, but, unfortunately, they’re closing. Not because the food was bad, not because of money. Just don’t want to be in the business anymore. We went for one last blowout and ate like fat kids. It’s BYOB at the restaurant, so we brought a bottle of wine, which we split and finished.

We came home and everyone else went to bed and I watched football and made a couple more drinks. Two.

I woke up in the morning at 6:10 and really felt the booze. Couple glasses of wine, couple heavy-handed drinks did me in. Tough to watch Doc McStuffins at 6 am after that. To her credit, our two-year-old noticed me dozing off and scooped up some M&M’s. That’ll teach me not to drink and leave the Halloween candy out at night.

It was nice to abstain during a football Sunday. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that.

For the record, I didn’t quit drinking. I just thought it’d be beneficial to my body to heed the signs of, “Hey, you should just go to bed tonight. Don’t stay up and have a beer” and “Milk would taste great with this dinner.” Also, and this is just an aside, I was taking a selfie with my son the other day and saw my face and said, “Holy fuck you’re fat!” The holidays are coming (in fact, they’re here). There will be drinking and feasting and conviviality. I don’t need to exacerbate the damage. Some nights of abstaining are warranted before the holiday booze gauntlet begins.

A Happy Friday

Ah, Friday. I work Friday nights, but am home all day with the kids until my wife relieves me and I head out. Plus, I’m only there until 9 p.m., which means I get to watch most of the Celtics beating the Warriors tonight.

I’ll keep this short: Today, home with the kids, I went to one of those indoor play places. You know, slides and bouncy castles and sandboxes. Our daughter loves it. There’s a small little room, I guess you’d call it, for Jack. It’s basically a padded cage so he doesn’t get CTE before he’s six.

While there, I got into a conversation with an older, black woman. She called herself “enamored” with Jack, who is smiling constantly and strong as hell. I jokingly said we’ve been giving him steroids all his life. We continued to talk about life and the world as my children played a few feet away.

She’d traveled from Montgomery, Alabama to California to Germany to New England while he husband was in the military. They settled in New England a couple decades ago. We talked about journalism and the world and shared our collective sigh that we need to “get through these four years.”

She looked less daunted than I did, and it dawned on me that this woman has seen more treacherous roads than I. She talked about growing up in Montgomery and how her grandfather never came home from his shift as a night security guard in Birmingham. They never found out who did it; She talked about a cousin, a business owner, who was murdered because “black people weren’t supposed to own anything.” It made my petty whining seem a bit silly.

As I think about talking with Inez today, I hope my children looked up from their toys and imagination and saw their dad, engaged in a conversation that was both meaningful and deep-reaching with someone who looked very different than he. They will not have recognized a shifting perspective, it will just be their perspective. That’s why I have hope going forward.

On that note, read about Shaka Smart. You’ve had enough politics and civil rights thinking in the last two weeks.

And drink a beer. How about a Sixpoint 5Beans? It’s a Turkish-Inspired porter with cardamom and cacao and coffee. 10% too. Hefty boy but good.

Also, I like Pittsburgh -9 this weekend. They’re not losing three in a row.

 

Excuses, excuses

Lately, I will admit, writing has been hard for me. I’ve kept up with writing every single day, which seems more like a diary day to day. Writing just to write. That isn’t a bad thing, in my opinion. Just because you didn’t have your best mile split or heaviest dead lift or best quiz score doesn’t mean you quit running or the gym or school. You’re still exercising those muscles.

In reality, too, I’ve sold a couple beer articles in the last two weeks and those have been written and are in the process of editing, so nothing is completely lost. But those articles were mindless. They don’t pay that much and I didn’t work too hard to write them.

My favorite part of writing is the research. I love sitting down at the computer for a few hours trying to figure out what comes next and, upon finding it, feeling that certain level of excitement as I click around the internet for resources and additional material. I love the next few days as I send e-mail requests for interviews. These elements of journalism and both unrecognized and necessitate time. I have none of the latter.

Sure, I get an hour or two at nap time, but it comes with the caveat that I have something to do. When nap time comes (never a set time), I try my best to get in front of the computer and do work. But what about when there’s nothing to do? There’s the search for inspiration, for ideas. There’s that. A week goes by. Nothing. Two weeks. Nothing. There’s shit to write about, for sure.

Between two hours a day, tops, at nap time then a part time job that brings me home after 9pm, when does a person write? My wife leaves at 7am. Kids are up by 6am. Could I write from 9:30-midnight? Sure. Show me a parent with enough energy after watching two kids all day then working to come home to more work after work. Then wake up and do it again.I love my kids. I love my family. It’s a strain having them during the day, trying to write, then having my wife come home essentially to a tagging out high five as I walk out the door and she handles the rest.

And we’re still broke. Still struggling to make all ends meet. There’s not much left to cut out of the budget.

I try to take solace in the fact that I’ve had a bit of success — actually, I’ll say I’ve done damn well coming into the journalism game with limited contacts — all while being a stay-at-home dad with two kids. The solace comes when I think about what can be accomplished when they’re out of the house for the day.  All of it: writing freedom, more money seem so far away.

For now, though, it’s still a struggle. I see articles that could have had my byline beneath them. I see stories that could have been my beat. It’s the end of the year, a good one professionally, a great one personally, and a terrible one for current events. All of the words have been written. I have no energy to spare right now.

Thanks for reading.

“About Competition”

By Charles Bukowski

The higher you climb, the greater the pressure

Those who manage to endure learn that the distance between the top and the bottom is obscenely great.

And those who succeed know this secret: There isn’t one.

***

Moving past the election, though I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to comment upon, I’ve been reading a lot. And all over the place. In the past week and a half, I’ve continued reading “Here I am” by Jonathan Safran Foer, which I like, especially now that some semblance of action has begun; Of course, there’s the journalism that is calling for doom and gloom over the next four years; Then, online and print journalism.

We don’t watch much TV these days, with the exception of the Patriots football on Sundays, and college basketball, and the I’m-not-sure-if-its-good This is Us. Our consumption of media is largely print-based.

I forgot, much to my disappointment, how much I enjoyed a book of poetry. It’s not that accessible an art form. In my day, I was reading a lot of poetry and trying my hands at some pretty awful verse. And so when I picked up “American Places,” a collection of poetry, it was enjoyable to be whisked away not only to a different place in the way literature does, but taken on a trip to a person I used to be. I’d read these poems before, been affected by some of them. It was like a short vacation to a place I once knew, a person I once knew.

When you drive to someone’s house for the first time, you’re commute is dictated by a map, or, I guess if we’re in 2016, a cell phone connected to Google Maps. You don’t look around much. You just kind of follow that voice. Turn right. Stay straight for 3.5 miles. Take exit 14. You will arrive to your destination on the right in a quarter mile. We don’t look around. We don’t take in the scenery.

But the second time, you notice certain elements of the trip. There’s the gas station we turned at. There’s the lake he mentioned. Oh, I remember this green house, his house is nearby.

And the third and the fourth time you visit, you don’t need the GPS. You don’t need physical markers. You can look around. You notice the clerk smoking a cigarette by her car at the gas station; You see a red-tailed hawk on the trees by the lake; You take note of the Massaratti in the driveway of the green house.

It’s like that with books. The first time, we care about getting to the end. We, upon a third or fourth reading of anything — poetry, fiction, non-fiction — , can look around the prose and appreciate everything else. Sometimes it’s nice to be lost, and to look around a completely fictional world.