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Okay, so I’ll admit I hadn’t really jumped on board with all of the challenges that seem to have exploded over the internet in the past few years. All this bandwagon stuff, and whatnot. So I wasn’t dumping ice water all over myself back in 2015 even when it seemed like everyone else was. There’s miles of video to prove it. I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten behind any quick moving movement like that before.

Until now. My best friend was participating in what is called the “Love Your Spouse” challenge, in which you post a photo of you and your spouse once a day for seven days. The photos can be from anywhere and from any time period, so long as they show both of you. Some people do it differently and take photos specifically for the challenge, while others have pictures that include them and their spouse, but aren’t necessarily just the two of them.

For me I felt like if I was going to do it I was going to plumb the depths of photos we have of ourselves (most of which I begged to have her take the shot with me — bad hair days be damned). So that’s what I did, and every day so far I’ve stayed true to one thing and one thing only. Does the photo encapsulate who we are as a couple in some way? If it did then I included it.

Today is Day 6 of the seven-day challenge, and I’m quite proud of the 6 photos I’ve chosen so far to represent us. I’m so proud of them that I decided I don’t just want to post them to Facebook and see how many likes they get. I want to display them out here, in a medium of my choosing, in my own world, and so that you (my dear subscribers) can observe them as well. I’m including my motivations for each one as well. Oh, and I’m sorry you won’t get to see photo #7, but I decided I do want an up-to-date photo of us for that one, so I’ll be taking it first thing tomorrow. You know, if it’s a good hair day…

Bruzzy's Reception

Photo #1. 2002. We had just met the year before — online — and I had just moved to upstate New York. One of the first things I did was to accompany this lovely lady to a wedding. It reminds me of when everything was still fresh and new. Look at our smiles. It’s one of my favorites.

Before Rob's Wedding (2)

Photo #2. 2012. I fast forwarded to 10 years later, and to another wedding. We were in Philadelphia getting ready for my oldest friend’s wedding. I was a groomsman — the first and only time I had such an honor — but my wife stole the show. I forgot how much I loved this dress, but that smile is eternal.

Ireland Pictures 067

Photo #3. 2003. Here’s to jumping around in time, but this one spoke to me. Glendalough, Ireland. These ruins of ancient monks’ quarters were breathtaking to behold, and I would have never seen them if not for the planning of my wife. Married less than a week, we enjoyed our honeymoon on the Emerald Isle, a place I have always wanted to go. I wish we could go back.

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Photo #4. 2013. I don’t even remember what we were dancing to here, but my wife reminds me that apparently this was her “wedding dress” for a few weddings we were invited to over the course of a few years. Don’t be fooled. I have no rhythm, but she dances with me anyway. That’s love.

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Photo #5. 2012. Somehow I feel like this was 2011 instead, but my phone said 2012, so I’m going to go with it. My wife doesn’t like to take photos with her glasses on, so I decided to try it on for size. I couldn’t see a thing, so I just directed my smile toward the blob I thought was the phone. I think it came out okay.

Grad Party Day Pictures 032

Photo #6. 2003. This picture was taken two days before our wedding, two days before we would embark on our Irish honeymoon journey. I believe my mother took it. It was at my undergraduate graduation, a wild endeavor that was supported 110% by this lovely lady here. It’s fitting for the challenge because even though she wasn’t quite my spouse in this picture, she was.

Sam

50,171 Words

50000

Writing a book is like raising a child. Both require care in order to grow and flourish. Both are labors of love that are rewarded by tangible results in the end. Each book I finish becomes one more child who has grown up and is now out there in the world on its own, making its way, influencing others along the way. It’s a daunting situation, but a fulfilling one at the same time.

With that being said, 50,000 words is a threshold I’ve only hit twice before when writing fiction, so it’s still the gold standard to me. When that word counter ticks from 49,999 to 50,000 something in me rejoices. It celebrates a milestone that I am not guaranteed I will ever reach again. I am humbled in the presence of so many words that, while spawned from my brain, represent so much more than the sum of their parts.

That was 171 words ago, at least as it relates to my latest novel. I still only have a working title, and I’m still only about 2/3rds of the way through the drafting process on it, but it’s looking more and more like a viable book. It has my writing style stamped securely on it even now. It has my character progressions down. And it is driven more by character emotion and interaction than anything else.

In fact, I wasn’t even watching the word counter when I passed that magical number, when I breezed right on by 50,000. I was focused on the impending meeting between my protagonist and her estranged father. I was lost in the world I created, but that also created me in this moment, when my characters are real, and I’m just as clueless as to what they’re going to say next as my reader will be once it’s published. That’s exhilarating in a way that I can’t even describe. You just have to live it.

So yes, 50,171 words, and counting. And I’ve never felt so alive.

Sam

Snapshot Stories #3


My wife is not someone who likes to have her picture taken often. I’m not quite sure why. She is a stunningly beautiful woman. But maybe I’m a bit biased. Regardless, I generally have to cajole her into taking photos with or without me. Usually I can use the kids as an excuse to get her on film. I knew the kids would be good for something eventually.

But sometimes — rarely, mind you — she acquiesces to a request from me to get a photo of her. She gladly wore my Ethiopian cross around her neck for a photo op once, and she good-naturedly allows me to post her photo here when I’m writing a blog that includes her. I am blessed for those moments.

The photo above was easier to obtain from her than many in the past because I didn’t even ask to get a shot of her face. I have always loved the contrast in our skin tones, hers ghostly white and mine a mottled brown. It’s stark, and I’ve always thought the perfect blending of tones when we’re side by side, in each other’s arms, or even “just” holding hands.

I realized we have rarely photographed ourselves holding hands, so what better opportunity than on a date? I can recall the number of actual dates we’ve had because they’ve been so few, and yet all were also so special. We didn’t have the traditional courtship so our dating life pre-marriage was rather spotty. We had our first child within three years of getting married so the in-between times are really what we had. So we’re making up for lost time.

We went out to eat a couple of months ago at a place I had never been to before. It’s called “Bite,” and it’s in Utica, so we met at lunch and drove down there to sample the food. The ambience of the place just begs for a photography session, and I took several pictures while we were inside.

This one is my favorite, though, because it shows the contrast I spoke of earlier, drastic against the dark wood of the table and the shadows our hand holding produced in its wake.

Sam

A Shame About Ray

35d89ef31a7ce78465b52eb1c3560f71There’s this guy. I’m going to call him Ray. I try to avoid Ray like the plague. It’s not me being unfair, or judgmental, or anything. It’s just that Ray is one of those guys who just can’t stop talking, who can’t sense that I have places to be and things to do. So he prattles on and on about nothing at all. Seriously, the guy goes around in circles with his stories, like a dog chasing his tail. He likes to talk to me because:

  1. We’re both black, and
  2. He (tangentially) knows my wife

So I’m guessing he feels some kind of connection with me, like we’re deep soul brothers or something. But the feeling is not mutual. Because every single time I see Ray means I’m going to be tied up for at least 20 minutes, unless I’m rude and cut him off before he really gets ramped up. I hadn’t seen him in a while, though, before today, but he was kind enough to enlighten me on the fact that he was:

  1. In jail for a while, and
  2. Fighting the system

He nodded at me when he said that last part. “Know what I mean, brother?” he said, but it wasn’t a question. With a nod of his head he told me that he put us in the same boat. I assume it’s because I was nodding along with him by that point. I only nod when I’m trying to move the conversation along. The nod means, “Yes, I know what you’re saying, and I feel your pain.” I had no real clue what he was saying, and I didn’t feel his pain, but my nod did.

And I wonder if Ray’s worked hard on getting his story down because it was pretty tightly woven together this time. Maybe he’s had time to think about it. Besides, the system was getting him down, but he seems to have risen above it all. At least that’s what he told me. They did a psych evaluation, and he passed with flying colors. Yeah, he’s feeling the best he’s ever felt.

He does seem to be lacking in finding a real way to change the cycle…

But it’s a shame about Ray, really. Because the last time I saw him, about a year ago, he had the same rhetoric, and the same goals, and the same sense that he was about to turn the system on its ear. He’s not lacking in self-esteem or positive energy. He does seem to be lacking in finding a real way to change the cycle that he’s been in since I’ve known him.

It’s not just about Ray, though. It’s about all of us, fighting against the status quo, trying to find a way to get past it all, to forge new paths that have yet to be beaten into the forests of our minds. Ray makes me feel uncomfortable not because he’s a lost soul swimming in a fish bowl, but because he reminds me that I’m just as lost, only in my own way. He reminds me of a stark reality that I try not to think about.

And he makes me think about it. So it’s a shame about Ray, but it’s a shame about all of us too, fighting our inner demons, or letting them have free reign. At least Ray is honest about the struggle. It’s real.

Sam

Chocolate-CityI’m starting to get used to writing short fiction again, and I’m reminded of why I’ve always loved it so much in the first place. Short fiction is a chance to get down and dirty with characters, with plots, and with the development of both, without getting too attached because I know they’re going to be gone soon. If I want to kill them off I can without too much thought of consequence, unlike what goes on when I write novels.

However, there are limitations to short fiction that are obvious as well. Because I don’t get to know my characters quite as much I’m not as invested in them. These days my short stories only last as long as the situation that I’ve set up lasts, not until the characters die or a resolution is achieved.

Once I wrote a short fictive piece about a man at a New Year’s Eve party who suddenly realizes that public holidays and functions are merely constructs, and he’s struck by how meaningless most of life becomes when you look at it that way. The entire story takes place inside of his head, and exists only in the battle between what he’s known and what he’s finally figured out.

I like that short story because it proves a story can live through its use of metaphor and inner conflict. I decided I want to do something like that again with this one. I’ll remind you of the rules regarding the Flash Fiction Challenge…

  1. Each entry has to follow a set prompt
  2. Each entry has to be 1,000 words or fewer
  3. Each entry has to be written specifically for this challenge

Topic: Chocolate.


It’s been ten years since I took a bite of chocolate, since I let it magnificently melt in my mouth and slide sinfully down my throat for the final time, so I can look back at it with an objective eye. I can be around a Snickers bar now and not salivate obsessively over it, and not beg its owner for just a little bite, and not offer my body in exchange for a hit of the good stuff.

If there was a 12-step group for chocolate lovers I would probably have been its first member, dutifully standing up in front of my cacao loving peers and proclaiming that I have a problem. That’s what we call it these days when an obsession interferes with our normal lives, driving us from the ranks of those who love something to those who are in love with something. It’s no different from any other addiction, not from nicotine, or alcohol, or sex. Chocolate, to me, was all those things rolled into one.

So I had to quit. Cold turkey.

I knew that slowly weaning myself off the good stuff was never going to work for me. It’s a slippery slope when it comes to addiction because it’s easy to say all the right things, and even to believe them, but when it comes to putting them into practice the addiction simply calls out. And we answer. I had tried for years to quit, had told myself I was going to cut back. But cutting back was difficult when it was in the house. Living by myself was the real killer because there was no one there to keep me to my promise. If the chocolate was in my apartment I was going to devour it. I was going to keep going back to the beast and sucking the marrow off of its bones.

So I did quit, and I did it on a Sunday in August, when the temperature was eighty-five, just hot enough for M&Ms to melt in my hand, tattooing me with sweet circles of chocolatey goodness that I always licked clean after. But on that day I didn’t have M&Ms. All I had was my willpower, which had never been enough before, but I knew something had to change. I had read all of the documentation. I had seen all the articles. Chocolate was a cruel task master that had turned me into its slave. It was time I broke free of the shackles that had claimed me so long ago.

But my friends weren’t supportive. They looked at me like I was a little slow on the uptake. They were of the opinion that chocolate can’t be evil because chocolate is so heavenly. It’s obvious they were never tempted to over-indulge. Some people don’t have addictive personalities, so they could never understand mine, and my friends were this way. Eventually they learned to refrain from eating chocolate around me, from indulging in their chocolate drinks, and from discussing the glory of the chocolate infused lifestyles they chose to live.

I began to get the chocolate sweats, the nervous shaking of my hands and arms that indicated that I was going cold turkey. I had counted on the nerves, but not the extent to which they disturbed my life. I had to call out sick from the office, and I imagined my cubicle cold and sterile, waiting for me to return and claim it from oblivion. But I also thought of the chocolate I had stored in my bottom drawer for emergencies. I had missed it on my sweep through, when I first decided to just eliminate chocolate from my diet, to crush its hold over me.

The drawer was my final temptation, the final hurdle I would have to leap before I could legitimately lay claim to being sober. My sister helped me bag up all the chocolate at my apartment, and I have to say she was appalled at the sheer volume that dominated such a small space. I had two giant bags of Snickers, a case of M&Ms, a chocolate cake I had just baked the night before, two huge tubs of mint chocolate chip ice cream in the freezer, and an 8-pack of Oreos in my kitchen. The rest of the apartment was no slouch in that department either. In the end she helped me lug seven trash bags worth of chocolate to the local food kitchen. Even they were surprised that it all came from one solitary individual.

That was ten years ago, though, and even though it was quite the process that counts as ancient history now. Sometimes I eat out with friends, and they order something with chocolate in it, but I’m not moved to tears anymore. I’m not hanging on the edge of my seat drooling all over them. I no longer get the chocolate sweats, and I taped off my bottom drawer at work ages ago so even it doesn’t draw me in like it did. I still go to the 12-step meetings in my mind, introducing myself about once a month to the addicts still living in my brain.

I’m happy to admit that chocolate is no longer the anchor weighing me down. I no longer feel so much pain from the force separation. Just like other addicts, though, I’ll never truly be over the addiction. I just need to stay vigilant, to keep my life goals in mind, and none of them include eating a pound of chocolate a day and hating myself for it afterwards. But damn, it sure would be nice to have a 3 Musketeers bar. Or twenty.

Sam

wpid-wp-1396113803624Someone once said something along the lines of “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness,” and that phrase has been the sum of my life’s journey so far. If there was one thing that encapsulates the way I want to react to others, it has been this. That’s because I’m one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet.

I generally wear my heart on my sleeve, and I give people the benefit of the doubt more often than not. But others take that as weakness, that I won’t stand up for myself when the time comes for mobilization, that I can’t embrace a cause and wring the hell out of it. Incorrect.

Don’t get me wrong. There are tons of people out there in the world who truly are weak when it comes to confrontation, who won’t stand up for themselves when they know they’re right, and who, for whatever reasons, let people walk all over them. I just don’t happen to be one of those people.

My ready smile and my attention to congeniality don’t automatically place me in that category. I can be kind and strong at the same time. It’s a talent, perhaps. Regardless, I really do value being kind. I want people to come away from meeting me thinking about how nice I am. Of course that also means I work hard to make sure I’m showing the real me at all times too.

There’s nothing like meeting someone, they put on the full court press, and you feel like you’ve met a kindred spirit. Then you find out later that they were pulling the wool over your eyes. That is THEIR strength — being fake. I used to be one of those people, but I’ve worked hard on showing the real me on first sight anymore. I don’t care if that makes me seem vulnerable. WE are all vulnerable in some way, shape, or form. I’d rather be vulnerable in showing my kindness, just so long as it’s also understood that I’m not weak.

Why am I so adamant about not being weak? Because people walk all over those who appear weak. It’s like survival of the fittest or something. If you’re weak the strong ones eat your liver and stomp all over your bruised and battered body. Being kind is not a weakness. It’s one of the biggest strengths you can have. Because it means you can sympathize and empathize with others. I would have it no other way. And even if it is taken for weakness, I can usually prove otherwise very quickly. Being kind is a gift. I’m glad I possess it.

Sam

bathroom-boys-sign-men-hiBoys are fickle creatures. Some are intent on being masculine. Others are really sensitive. And still more are both masculine and sensitive at different times. That’s the glory of the human male, that there really are no generalizations that hold up across the board. But when you’re a 10 years old girl all boys are the same.

Recently, I had a conversation with Lexi about boys, but I’m not really sure I got through to her about the nature of relationships with boys, and how they change as you get older. Or… maybe she got through to me.


Me: Did you have a good time at your summer class this week?
Lexi: Yeah. I met so many new people, and I made a new friend too!
Me: Is your new friend a girl or a boy?
Lexi: Well duh. It’s a girl.
Me: How come it’s “duh”? How would I know your new friend was a girl?
Lexi: Because… the boys and the girls were in separate groups.
Me: How would I know that?
Lexi: Well, because girls think differently than boys, so we only worked with girls.
Me: How do girls think differently than boys?
Lexi: Uh, well, you know. Girls are more about, uh, I don’t know.
Me: So you’re assuming girls think differently because your teacher separated you from the boys, or is it something else?
Lexi: Well, boys are just different. They’re all into trucks and stuff. I like drawing and painting.
Me: A lot of boys like drawing and painting. And a lot of them aren’t into trucks either.
Lexi: You know what I mean!
Me: I know you’re making general statements about an entire group. You like Minecraft, don’t you?
Lexi: Yeah.
Me: Well, a lot of girls like Minecraft, but the toys are usually in the boy section of the store. And the clothes are usually in the boy section of the store.
Lexi: So.
Me: So… think about it. People are individuals. Just because you like Minecraft doesn’t make me think you’re a boy. It helps me know you’re an individual.
Lexi: But boys like to joke around all the time.
Me: Some boys do, but as you get older you’ll see that not all boys are like that. And people change. You’re going to change. Someday you’re probably going to start liking boys.
Lexi: I like some boys now. I have some boys who are my friends.
Me: No, I mean you’re going to start liking boys, like your mother likes me.
Lexi: Mom loves you.
Me: Exactly.
Lexi: Ewwwww. I’m never going to like a boy like that.
Me: Never say never. Yikes, now I sound just like Justin Bieber.
Lexi: Who’s Justin Bieber?
Me: Not important. My point is that you never know what’s going to happen in the future.
Lexi: Well, I can say it now, and it’s going to be true forever. I’m never going to like a boy like that.
Me: We’ll talk again in 10 years.
Lexi: We can’t talk again tomorrow?
Me: Not what I meant. I just meant things change. When I was your age I never thought I’d like a girl either. Now look at me.
Lexi: But I’m not you.
Me: I know. That’s obvious. I’m just saying things might change.
Lexi: Yeah. Everything else will change. I am never going to like a boy.
Me: If you say so.
Lexi: Now you’re just making fun of me.
Me: Yes. Yes I am.
Lexi: Hmph.

Sam

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