Dear Journal: When I Was 25…

IMG_1182Dear Journal,

I used to take more risks. My big excuse these days is, “I’m not 25 anymore,” as if being 25 was a magical time when nothing was impossible. Of course hindsight is 20/20, and when I was actually 25 I took one big risk, but one that paid off big time. Other than that I played it safe, I kept my head down, and I did what was expected of me.

When I was 25 I was starting over again from scratch, like a cake that needs to be given time before it can rise. But I was impatient, and I wanted what I wanted right then, and it didn’t matter who else was around, who else had opinions, because it was all about me. Maybe all 25-year olds are selfish, but it was a good selfish for me. It was a good selfish for the people around me too, even though I wasn’t thinking of them at the time.

When I was 25 I was living in Tennessee, waiting to write the “Great American Novel,” and hoping I was able to pass by Krispy Kreme without buying a dozen donuts. It was always difficult, that last part. Writing the Great American Novel was a given for me back then, even though I hadn’t ever written a novel before, because I had all kinds of self-esteem. I have absolutely no idea where it came from, but I should have hung on to it tighter.

But I’m not 25 anymore, as I like to say on occasion these days, which is both a good and a bad thing. Because 25 wasn’t even 25, not when seen through the hourglass of time gone by, that sand trickling down like rain drops. I haven’t taken a big risk in a while, but I’m older now, and risks were never all they were cracked up to be anyway.

Maybe I have one more big risk in me before I hit 40, or maybe I don’t, but I know I have to stop using “25” as an excuse to be stagnant now. Because even 25 wasn’t 25.


“Now we are 10.”

10561527_10206438781953324_195592007939548333_n10 years ago today Heidi went into labor. It was our first labor, but we had some idea what to expect. We had gone to the birthing class, where we were surrounded by other first-time parents who were also trying to prepare themselves for the inevitable — birth. I’m not sure what the rest of those parents who were there would say today, but I remember thinking that there was so much to process and to filter that I had no idea where to begin.

I still have no idea.

I do remember this day 10 years ago though. I got the call while I was teaching. The kids were ready too. I prepared them for it all year up to that point, letting them know that when the time came I would be gone. That day I was grading their presentations when the phone rang and they all were locked onto every single syllable I said. Of course they had a pool going on when the kid would come, and I could see one of the girls in the back grinning from ear to ear. I think she had the 27th.

Anyway, from there it was a hop, skip, and a jump back here to pick up my wife, who was already counting the time between contractions. She was always so efficient. See, that class wasn’t a waste of time after all. We took our time getting up to Cooperstown because the road conditions aren’t usually great this time of year, and it was no different that year. Besides, we knew we had plenty of time before the kid would really make its appearance 4437_1153224235916_3207247_ninto the world. Everyone knows that your first usually takes the longest time. At least we hoped so, at least on the drive there.

It would take all night, until 6:28 the next morning, before our little bundle of Joy (Alexa Joy, that is) finally emerged alertly into the bright lights of this harsh world. She made me believe in love at first sight. I still can’t believe that was 10 years ago. It seems like just yesterday at times, and at others I can’t even remember what the world was like before she was in it. 10 years ago I got the job that will be with me for the rest of my life, a job that comes with the ultimate responsibility and the emotional toll that can’t help but join in along the way.

Thinking back on that night, when we were on our way to Cooperstown, the final night we would be just husband and wife, before we would be labeled parents forever, I was just hoping that Heidi wouldn’t feel too much pain. I was trying to transfer my sense of peace and calmness to her, because it had been a tumultuous pregnancy where pretty much everything that could happen did. And yet we had been oh so lucky that we had even gotten to that point. It was an arduous journey just to make it down that road. But the light at the end of the tunnel was so brilliant.

And she still is. 10 years later.

Happy birthday, my little angel.


Wake From Dreaming

“There are some who dream, some who realize those dreams, and some who never wake from dreaming.” ~Theodicus

The very first poem I ever wrote was about dreams, how they were the subconscious’ way of identifying the inefficiencies in ourselves and giving us notice. Of course, we don’t always remember our dreams so sometimes it is wasted effort. It was a simplistic poem, based as it was on something that cannot be measured, and the form was four-line stanzas that rhymed in turn.

But it was my first. You always remember your first, right?

The most recent poem I wrote was about Catholic constrictions, how the church isn’t catering to its new constituents, instead choosing to lean on form and ancient religious constructs beyond all measure. It had no rhyme scheme, although every once in a while a natural sort of rhyme appeared from thin air. That’s my favorite kind anymore, although some can write entire poems without it sounding forced. I am not those people. But I am content with who I am and the words that flow through me.

Then last night I was at a poetry reading and I’ve taken to sharing a piece of prose before my second round of poems. The one I shared last night was very well received, and I was hard pressed to figure out why. It’s because I talked about love — lost love — but a love that was fresh at the time and so full of promise. That’s what we connect with, and it’s why love poetry is still all the rage even in our society that promises flammable marriages and quickie divorces.

So, on the spur of the moment, I shared a poem called “Breathe Me” after my bit of prose, not willing to lose the connection I had forged through common experience and sympathy. And it resonated, the idea that we are two souls fighting for a place in a crowded world full of desperate souls, and that’s what solidifies love — not how we choose, or even who we choose — whether or not we are desperate enough to give the other soul a chance. It’s a heartbreaking poem with a hopeful ending. Which is all I can give, you know?

And I dreamed last night. I dreamed of the silence in my own head when I was up there ready to start, that moment stretching out forever, a companionable feeling that didn’t feel empty in the least. I dreamed of the noise of dozens of hands clapping interspersed with the clinking of silverware on china, a sort of ritualistic providence, an assurance that my words were not in vain.

But I can’t help but look back to that first poem, even though by now I’ve realized how futile it is to try and capture the essence of dreams, if not for solace at least for a baseline. It’s where I started from, and even though I would never share it with another person now, I recognize it as my younger self crying out for an acceptance that took an eternity in coming, but one that is so sweet now.

And it’s no longer lost in dreams. Because I’m tired of sleeping.


300 Writing Prompts: #128

“What is a sure-fire way to distract you from the task at hand?”

  1. Tell me a Philadelphia sports team isn’t good. It doesn’t matter which sports team, I will argue to the death about them and their prowess. Yes, even the 76ers. Even if I have to go back to the “glory days” I will find some way to tell you just how wrong you are.
  2. Ask me what books I’m currently reading. On average I have some 3 1/2 books I’m reading at the same time. Generally these books are based on my self-imposed hierarchy of how interesting they are to me at any given time. Sometimes they flip-flop back and forth between interest level depending on how fast or slow the author goes.
  3. One of my favorite songs is on. I don’t listen to the radio so the odds of one of my favorite songs appearing on my iPod’s display are much better than if I trusted it to a true kind of fate. But if one of those songs does happen to start playing (Britney Spears’ “Circus” comes to mind) I have to drop everything, sing it at the top of my lungs, and dance with wild abandon (like a stork on parade).
  4. The amazing vibrating phone. I am totally addicted to my phone, so if I don’t want to keep checking it every second for new status updates from my “friends,” or for text messages from my friends, or for some ridiculously funny memes from my “friends” about a cat who can haz cheezburger, I have to place it out of my reach. And even then sometimes it doesn’t work. Maybe hiding it from myself…
  5. I feel a binge watch coming on. Netflix is the devil. Honestly. Because when I find a show I like it’s way too easy to just let the next one come on right after the first one has finished. And then to let the one after that just keep the party going. What happened to the days when we had to wait a week before seeing the next episode. Fuller House, I’m coming for you on Friday.

As I get older it has become much easier to distract me from what I’m doing, except for when I’m writing. That’s pretty much the only way to guarantee I will stick on task and focus with an iron will. Maybe that’s because writing is and has always been my top priority even when I had no others. Perhaps it’s because writing has always been there for me. Or maybe it’s just that I know if I don’t get down my thoughts right away they will disappear into the ether, never to be found again.

Regardless, if we ever meet and you want me to drop a particular topic, there’s your list right up there. Just beware my wrath if you say the Eagles suck.


Stuff I Do Good

PositivesI could probably come up with a really long list of my deficiencies. After all, I was programmed to focus more on possibilities for improvement than on things I already had down pat. Isn’t that how it always is? We spend our time trying to deal with our negatives so we don’t take time to accentuate the positives.

I know the things at which I excel, but the only times I really think about them is when I’m writing a cover letter or reprising my resume. And even then it takes me a dog’s age to figure out how to explain them without seeming full of myself. That’s my biggest fear, I think, that if I talk about my positives I will go too far because I’m not used to it.

But I’m thinking about them now, after all this time, trying to measure them in terms of what I bring to the table, not in terms of how many things I bring to the table because we’re having a contest. There is no contest, and there is no winner. There’s just me and this silence while I think of how to put them down. A list is always handy.

  1. I’m a good listener. This isn’t really me saying it. It’s more the combination of others telling me this over and over through the years and my own determination to make sure others feel heard and understood. I know how it feels when I think people aren’t listening to me, so I’m empathetic to others in that sense.
  2. I’m a good worker. It doesn’t matter what the job is, or how boring it is, or how unfulfilling it may be to me personally, I take my work seriously. I can’t imagine doing a half-assed job, and I can’t understand people who live their lives to waste as much time as possible.
  3. I have a good memory. Although as I get older my memory seems to have taken a left turn, usually I still can get it straight if I think on it long enough. I never took notes in school because I would always remember the information so long as I was paying attention to the instructor.
  4. I’m a good writer. While I don’t think I’m in league with the classic writers in fiction, or poetry, I think I’m solid. I cover my bases, I love figurative language, and I know how to use it for effect. For years the only thing I could say positive about myself was that I was a good writer, and I think it’s still true.
  5. I’m a good friend. Being a good friend isn’t about just listening. It’s also about taking it all and giving advice when it’s needed. I take time out for my friends because they’re important to me, every single one. I subscribe wholeheartedly to the notion that friends are the family we choose for ourselves.
  6. I’m good with crowds. The more people the merrier. I like being the center of attention because it doesn’t make me nervous. I don’t think it is a coincidence that I teach others because it gives me a platform from which to pontificate. But just because I’m good with crowds doesn’t mean I want to be in them all the time.
  7. I’m a good father. I struggled with my idea of what I would be like as a father, and sometimes I still do, but I have a much better handle on it now than I did during those first days. But my key goal as a father is to make sure my children are taken care of, physically and emotionally. I’m doing my best in both respects, every single day.

I was going to also say that I have a good sense of humor, but I think my wife would disagree, and quite loudly too. She would probably tell you that I’m hit or miss when it comes to jokes, so I’ll exclude that one. What I will say in parting, though, is that the title to this blog entry is a tribute to Derek Zoolander. Who likes to do stuff good too.


That Bryan Adams Feeling

“Give it to me straight from the heart. Tell me we can make another start. You know I’ll never go as long as I know it’s comin’ straight from the heart.” ~Bryan Adams

76c4ebafaed5ae433ba9c536d5f380b8I used to love Bryan Adams. There was just something cool about the way he stood there holding a guitar that was simply undeniable. Combine that with the cool rasp in his voice, and he was every man, yet better than every man. While others were lining up to see Bruce Springsteen I was dying for a ticket to a Bryan Adams show. He was the poor man’s Springsteen, but he was better than Springsteen at the same time.

I’m not from Jersey. That’s not sacrilege.

But that was long ago, my love for Bryan Adams tied up and twisted with his soundtrack anthems, attached like Siamese twins to his lyrics that touched a place in my soul that I hadn’t known existed. It was a subtle bromance… because he never knew it existed. And I never got to see him live, even though he came through town every couple of years like clockwork in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Maybe it was because there was always someone else to see, someone who cost more money so I had to save up, and Bryan Adams was the odd man out. Whatever it was, it remains one of my regrets.

I still get that Bryan Adams feeling, you know, the one that makes me want to light out for the territory with my guitar slung across my shoulder like a hunting rifle. He was cool without being cool — that hair, those jeans. I would have liked to be a fly on the wall the first time he met Springsteen, the sizing up one of the other. That would have been awesome to witness because the Bryan Adams of the late ’80s and early ’90s wouldn’t have taken anything from anyone. He was coolness personified, and life was good.

And sure, it’s been a couple decades since Bryan Adams was truly cool, even in Canada. And yeah, it’s been a little bit since he’s graced a soundtrack of any significance. But he’s on tour again, and I’m committed to getting tickets and to finally seeing the man who made me wish I had been around for the summer of ’69. I hear he’s still as raspy as ever, that he still plays a mean guitar, and that his crowds have gotten mellower over the years.

It’s about time I get to check that off my shallow pail list. You wanna come?


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