Today, my office was a cornucopia of puzzling scents. The basement smelled like popcorn and curly fries (not surprising since the basement houses our lunch room and someone left an uneaten bag from Arby's one one of the tables). The elevators smelled like a combination of body odor and nachos. As bad as you could imagine a cheesy armpit to smell, the elevator was preferable when compared to the rest of the building.
The operations area smelled like poo. This effluent smell varied as you walked from one end of the building to the other; ranging from non-existent to someone-just-passed-gas to chicken-manure. I do not know the cause of the stank; it is an olfactory mystery. Before you assume I was imagining things, I must clarify one bit of trivia. I graduated from a school that had been nicknamed cow-pie high. My nose is attuned to putrid smells of methane, and I was not the only one to notice it. Thankfully the air around my desk was relatively free of derriere.
If there was one surprising haven within the wasteland assaulting aromas, it was the stairwell. The dank and dusty stench that one would expect in a typical stairwell was replaced with what smelled like vanilla hand lotion and chamomile tea. Again, I can not fathom the source of vanilla and chamomile. However, if I could find a way to move my cubicle into the stairwell... I would have done it.
It was about focus.
1. You can't focus on yourself. You need the emotional/material/financial support of others if you want to achieve anything remotely resembling greatness.
2. You can't focus on your competition or your obstacles. The things (or people) that stand in your way are distractions. While it's wise to know your limitations, you can't let it consume your thoughts.
3. You have to focus on the end result. The goal. You can't accomplish your goals if you ignore them.
Of course, the content of my speech was much more colorful and was illustrated by a story about kids playing in the snow and examples to support my three points. I'm sure some of my coworkers are beginning to view me as the office's own motivational speaker.
But I can't just speak those words without putting my own life behind it. I need to achieve some goals.
Recently, I'm finding more people in my life that write. Not just bloggers (which there are a few), but people who write for publication. One of my father-in-law's best friends recently published his first two books. My sister-in-law has a publisher and is waiting for her first novel to be released. Even my friend David is writing full length work (he and a cousin are competing to see who can write a better horror story by Halloween).
Here's my problem. I'm a "wow!" person (nothing to do with World of Warcraft). Jon Acuff talked about wow people on his blog once. Wow people are dreamers who have an endless supply of fantastical ideas, want to share them, but only carry out a small percentage of those ideas. His post is superb and you should read it. I have a couple of dozen story lines in my head. Chunks of plot and dialog. Characters (I promise it's not the voices in my head). There are several ideas (some of them might actually be great) but because of my WOW! personality, maybe one might actually make it onto paper.
I look at how long it took Miriam to finish her book. I did the math for my friend David and estimated he'd have to write an average of 3000 words per day in order to complete his horror story by October 31st. It is so much work. I'm not opposed to hard work. But I put in 9 hours a day at my office. And I need to spend time with my kids and my wife. Update my blogs (and facebook). Keep in touch with my parents in Cheyenne. And...
David and I talked about this about a week ago. To write like I'd really like to (and the way he'd like to write), it would be a full time job. I marvel at those pulp writers who turn out new books on a regular basis. The Dean Koontzs and Stephen Kings; the Tom Clancys and John Grishams of this world. The ammount of work that they have to put in to churn out story after story is staggering.
I don't have the capacity to sit at home and write all day. I do not have the financial flexibility to quit my real job and become a starving artist. But I do have a little time. There are fractions of peace where I can sit and write. (And for the record, my experiment this evening of trying to write at McDonalds while the kids played on the Playland didn't work very well... I got about one page worth written and spent the rest of the time trying to make sure the ogres [older kids] were not flattening my two preschoolers.)
But I do have a little time available to write. So I've set some writing goals for myself. I hesitate to publicize these goals; for those of you who are long time readers of this blog, you will know that previous goals I've posted here haven't turned out so well. (I haven't abandoned them... they're just "in process.")
It's almost as if by speaking of my goals, I am all ready dooming them to failure. But As I mentioned before, I can't focus on my limitations. And it's not about me... it's about my writing. And I need your support - in whatever way you choose to express it.
1. At least two posts per week on this blog.
2. At least two posts per month on What's Inside
3. At least one post per month on My Life in Music
4. 1000 words or more per week for my non-blog writing
I know that in the grand scheme of things, 1000 words a week isn't much. If I'm aiming for a novel length story, it would take me four to five years to finish. But I'm hoping that I can increase my quantity as I find regular success in 1000 words.
How about you? For those of you that write, do you set writing goals? What kind of goals have you set?
Knowing 42 different ways to cook a potato can come in handy. From the time that I moved out of my folks' house in the fall of '99 through early '03 when Bekah and I got married, potatoes were one of the main ingredients in my diet. Mashed, smashed, and hashed (I know of at least 5 different varieties of hash browns). Sliced, diced, chopped, peeled, and cubed. Baked, pan fried, deep fried, barbecued, and eaten raw. Name it. I can cook a fierce potato.
But in my single and independent years, the official mascot of Idaho wasn't the only thing I ate. There were three things that were staples at my house. (four things if you include the crisscut fries from Sharies... smothered with cheese, chives, and bacon... with a side of ranch. But that kinda fits in the 'spud' category, and it technically wasn't at my house.)
My three staple foods:
1. The aforementioned potatoes.
3. Nachos (speaking of Nachos... I have two funny stories about nachos. One that is funny in an embarrassing way and the other is funny in a you had to be there kind of way. I may post a blog about one of those two stories. I'll let you guess which one sees the light of day.)
The upside of such a limited menu is that it made grocery shopping easy. "10 pound sack of potatoes? Check. Pasta? Check. Meat? Check. Cheese? Check. Sauce? Check. Tortilla chips? Check. More cheese? Check. Oooh... Mountain Dew is on sale!"
And the downside? Well... I can't really think of a downside. It might not be healthy, but neither is eating nothing but Subway for a year and look how that turned out for Jared Fogle.
For three and a half years, that is what I ate. Nachos, spaghetti, and potatoes cooked 42 different ways. (although I must admit, it was more like 39 different ways back then... I've learned a few new methods from my wife.)
Why do I bring this up now? With JJ in the hospital, and Bekah staying there with our wee one, I find myself reverting back to my cooking skills of yesteryear. As I make mac & cheese for my older two kids... I make myself a plate of nachos. Tomorrow, I plan on something involving potatoes and a skillet (hopefully the kids will like it).
Someday, I believe scientists are going to discover a judging gene – a little code in the human DNA that makes us say crazy things like “Heathen! You’re drinking coke. Don’t you know all righteous people drink Pepsi?” The difficulty for geneticists in the research and discovery of this judgment gene is it’s abundance. It is a predominant gene. In fact, the existence of this genetic marker is so prevalent that everybody has it. (Except for Michael W Smith – he’s perfect.)
How do you pin point something so wide spread? It’s not like the swine flu (or as they say in Israel: the Mexico flu – pigs not being kosher). There’s no patient zero. Or is there? Remember “it’s the woman’s fault” Adam from the Garden of Eden? And since Adam was (biblically speaking) to pass judgment on another human – he’s a good person to blame for the gene of judgment. Even the name is telling: Adam – Hebrew for ‘man’ and a play on the Hebrew word adamah, which means ‘earth.’ Judging people is a part of mankind’s earthly nature.
We all do it. We can’t help ourselves.
When Jimmy, Shane, T-dog, and I mocked/imitated the ridiculous postures of other drivers along I-5 from the backseat of the church van during our youth group’s road trips… we were judging them. The fact that I still refer to those other drivers ridiculous – over a dozen years later – shows that I’m still judging them. By calling gay guys ‘fags’ or referring to black guys as thugs we’re judging. When Joe Wilson interrupted President Obama’s speech to call him a liar, he was judging. And everybody who has been criticizing Kanye West for his stunt at the VMAs on Sunday is judging him.
What?!?! Did I just name drop the most arrogant person in the music industry? Why yes. Yes I did. And by calling him arrogant, I was judging him. See how easy it is to judge people. Piece of cake isn’t it.
This isn’t a circle of life, this is a chain of condemnation. Joe Wilson judged the president by calling him a liar. President Obama judged Kanye by (allegedly) calling Kanye a jackass. Kanye judged Taylor Swift by saying another nominee deserved the award that Taylor won. Judgment after judgment. We are all a bunch a judgmental individuals claiming a right that isn’t ours.
In the Bible, Jesus tells His followers not to judge people. That verse seems to be a favorite Bible verse for non-Christians. It’s the secular defense against judgmental Christians. Where Christians say “only God can judge me,” atheists say “don’t judge me.” This Biblical command is a universally understood truth: you shouldn’t judge people. Yet, we do it all the time.
Thankfully, this is not an arbitrary command where God says “do it or I’ll spank you.” We’re given the order, but we’re also told why. “By your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” So this isn’t an issue of ‘if’ but ‘when.’ We’re not left to wonder what will happen if we judge people; we’re told what will happen when we do. It’s not that we’re prohibited from judging, but encouraged not to. We are being warned that whatever method used to judge others will be used against us.
So if I say Kanye West is arrogant, aren’t I saying that I am arrogant? Wow. Or when another local blogger called Kanye a “rude bozo”, how does that reflect the person who made that statement?
What such negative judgments are really saying is that the person making the judgment is better than the person being judged. When someone says “Kanye is a rude bozo” I hear that person state “I’m better than Kanye.” What a horrible thing to imply. The truth is that we’re all fallible. We all suck equally. We’re all capable of mistakes.
Kanye West said something incredibly stupid. But I say stupid stuff all the time. The difference between us is he said something stupid in front of an audience of 27 million (according to the Nielsen ratings). My audience is much smaller. But what’s the difference between the impact of our stupidity? Kanye and I both have the power to hurt people with our words, so the amount of people watching doesn’t matter. Just because I have an audience of a couple dozen and he has millions doesn’t make me any better than him.
So be careful how you judge Kanye’s outburst. He’s just as human as you.
And maybe the lesson we need to learn is not to avoid passing judgment, but to change the way we judge. Give people the benefit of doubt. Always look on the bright side of life. Remember that mistakes are often the result of bad choices – not bad character. Don’t assume the worst.
We need to talk about it.
But… but… but…. Talking takes work. It takes effort. Yes. Yes it does. But it’s worth it. Can you imagine what our government could accomplish if they’d just talk about issues rather than arguing and throwing around insults and false accusations? (Remember when Sarah Palin said that her kid and her parents would have to face Obama’s “death panels”?)
Discussion is hard work, but it accomplishes so much more than snap judgments. That’s why Kanye’s appearance on Jay Leno is so significant. It would have been so easy for Leno to say “You were such a jerk. How can you live with yourself?” But that’s not what was said. Leno asked challenging questions without passing judgment.
So maybe scientists won’t discover a gene that makes us prone to being judgmental. But I’m still holding out for scientists to discover the difference between wise old men and crotchety old men. Because, if I had to choose, I’d rather not be grumpy when I get old.
ps. Kudos if you caught the Monty Python reference. Extra kudos if you caught the Hokus Pick reference.
So I've been reading more - or at least attempting to devote more time to the written word. Here's what I've completed over the last couple of weeks...
The Adventures of Slim & Howdy by Kix Brooks & Ronnie Dunn
Brooks & Dunn are known more for their music than they are for their fiction, and there's a reason for that. They are fantastic song writers, but half-baked novelists. Slim & Howdy is not high caliber fiction - and it butchers English grammar. Where the book does succeed is in the art of storytelling. The book is believable as a collection of stories told by cowboys around some campfire. It's all tall tales from start to finish - entertaining enough, but I wouldn't recommend that Brooks & Dunn quit their day jobs. Unfortunately, it's too late for them to take my advice.
The Righteous Men by Sam Bourne
This is a fantastic thriller that plays nicely to religious conspiracies that follows Dan Brown's habit of blending historical and religious studies into a fictional tale. Unlike Brown, Sam Bourne doesn't pass off the fictional as true and doesn't make easily debunkable (and outlandish claims) as an insult to the church. The Righteous Men starts off like any good book - with murder. It doesn't stop there. Through the course of sixty some odd chapters there are another 35 murders, a kidnapping, torture, beatings, and some crazy religious rituals. The story blends ethics in journalism, a quasi-christian cult, an extreme Jewish sect, and an attempt to jump start Jesus' second coming. While it is predictable in parts, it largely keeps you in the dark as to who's really pulling the strings. My only gripe about the book is when the main character (a reporter for the New York Times) drives I-90 through Cd'A. The narrator states that Coeur d'Alene would be a "fascinating stop" because it's home to the Aryan Nations. It's a fail in two counts - 1: the Aryan Nations headquarters wasn't in Cd'A - but in nearby Hayden, and 2: the Aryan Nations had been shut down for 6 years by the time the book was published.
Biggie by Voletta Wallace
Supposedly, this book is Voletta's remembrance of her son the Notorious B.I.G. While it does shed some light on Biggie's life (although viewed through the rose colored glasses of a proud mother), it turns out to be more like Voletta's autobiography. It starts with her childhood in Jamaica, follows her to New York and chronicles her struggles as a single mother, teacher, and cancer survivor. The writing is simplistic, and occasionally harsh. Biggie's mom does reveal some unsurprising details of the life of Christopher Wallace before he became famous (like his fondness for food - says mom Wallace: "The name Biggie, he earned that."), but the narrative leaves out well known chunks of the trouble Biggie committed. She states that Big was out on the streets a lot, but never tells what he was doing. Perhaps this is a mother's naiveté, or it's willful ignorance. I suspect that Voletta is trying to build the most positive legacy possible for her murdered son.
And here's what's in my book stack (to be or in the process of being read)....
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Red by Jack Ketchum
Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell (half finished)
First I must say, my kid is safe. I'm pretty sure they will not be airing the speech in Christian's pre-school class... and even if they did, the speech will be over by the time he gets there. I don't need to worry about opting out my son. But what about everybody else. Is there a valid reason to fear this message of setting goals and working hard?
Well, I've found it - the President's secret agenda. Buried in the Q&A section of the US Department of Education's website, I have found the true evil of this administrations purpose for speaking directly to our children.
Q: What is the speech about?
A: The goal of the speech... is to challenge students to set goals, work hard and stay in school.
There. That's the agenda. Stay in SCHOOL. And what kind of schooling is the president referring to? Public schools - a state funded public institution. Such a socialist. He wants our kids to stay in a socialist educational system. It's a system that takes money from the rich home owners and redistributes it to the poor - most of those students aren't even old enough to pay taxes. And some of those that are old enough don't even have jobs. They are just milking our hard earned tax dollars.
Oh, yes. There is much to fear. Our kids should give up on their dreams now.
And if you think I'm serious, you are probably one of those that are keeping your kids home tomorrow so that they won't be brainwashed by the President.
The real fear is that school budgets are being cut. And there are those out there who believe that schools should be stripped to the barest of academic basics. Kids are not the only ones who should stay in school. Parents need to be there. And so should the community. Please support your schools. It doesn't matter if you have kids enrolled or not. Investing in our schools is investing in the future of this nation. Go out at watch you local high school football team, or buy tickets to a school play. If you have the time - volunteer with a youth program. If you have the resources - donate. These young minds are the greatest resources this nation possesses.
As a refresher, the four options were all things from which I've jumped: a moving vehicle, a plane, a bridge, and a cliff.
Truth #1: The New York Canal passes through Kuna Idaho. There's a spot just outside town that the canal is lined with cliffs on both sides and it is deep enough to dive into (feet first at least) and a boulder lined beach down stream that provided an easy place to swim to/climb out. Steve and Nate used to go there quite a bit, so when I started hanging out with them they took me out cliff diving. The recording studio that they recorded their first few demos was also in Kuna, so the water was rather inviting after a long hot day in the studio. Spending the day recording some fun music with friends, Mexican food at El Gallo Giro for lunch/dinner (aka linner), and capping the day off with a cool swim and jumping off cliffs in the warm summer sun... good times folks. Good times.
Truth #2: Highway 9 didn't always runs straight through Arlington Washington. It used to zig-zag through town and cross the Stillaguamish via West Avenue (which is now a dead end). Before West Ave dead ended, the bridge across the river paralleled a defunct railway bridge. The rail road is no longer in use, but the bridge still stands. On the south side of the river is Arlington Park. It's not much of a park - just a few parking spots, a bathroom, and a couple of picnic tables. But I used to frequent that park. I would climb up the rocks to a ledge under the old Highway 9 bridge and watch the water - it was the perfect place to sit and think. Shane, Nettles, and some of the other guys I used to hang out with like to go there on Sunday afternoons to swim. The water was cool, and the beach was fairly sandy (silty?); due to it's location (just west of where the South Fork Stillaguamish joined the main river) it was a great spot to swim. But the swimming wasn't the main draw... it was the abandoned rail bridge. Below the bridge, the river was deep with a slow current. Perfect bridge to jump off. No risk of being hit by passing traffic, and a relatively safe place to land (splash).
Truth #3: A friend of mine in Boise had some wealthy parents. For his 21st birthday, they paid for him and a friend to go skydiving... heh... just kidding. Never jumped from a plane. However, I have jumped from a moving vehicle. My brother, my dad, and I used to volunteer to work the Marysville Strawberry festival. For a few years, the three of us ran Market in the Park, a vendors fair in Comeford Park. On the final night of the festival, after all (or most) of the vendors had packed up their booths, Aaron and I, along with our friend Milton were cleaning up Comeford Park - loading power cords, traffic cones, and various equipment into the back of Milton's truck. We'd almost finished when we noticed a missed cone. I decided to try my best stunt-man imitation and as Milton cruised through the park, I leaped from the truck bed to retrieve the cone. The landing was not as graceful as I imagined.
So for the two of you that played along in the comments - you guessed correctly. Any one get it wrong?