Tuesday, January 1, 2019

What I learned 2018

Life, it has been said, goes on.

Despite our hopes and dreams that it slows down so that we can get a firmer grasp on what's going on around us, it just continues on inexorably towards wherever the hell it is going. We hope to steer it, to guide it, and maybe some of us do manage to get a handle on the thing but then that could all be angles and Photoshop. Most of us are just along for the ride, holding on to what we can while we watch our lives play out before us like a quiet little independent film that lacks plot and direction and is desperate need of comic relief. And a romantic subplot would be nice too.

I thought I would enter this year on a steady path, well, steadier path, but life has other plans as it usually does. Don't get me wrong, I am on plan it's just that I figured it would look different when I got here. But then we all do that, don't we? If you've read these before, you know to me that the New Year isn't resolutions but reassessment and recalculation. This day isn't magic, but it is a convenient milestone that can be used for measurement. This year I got to where I figured I would, but something about here still doesn't feel right. Like maybe I'm focusing on the wrong things.

And that which you aren't changing you're choosing. 

Change is is said, is inevitable. The trick is, as I've said before, is that when you can you need to make changes on your schedule and not have them thrust upon you. So while I could wait and see what happens, that's not always prudent. I also need to start prep for what comes next, because chance favors the prepared. (I stole that one from a Steven Segal movie, seriously). I have some things I need to polish, practice and study to help me out career-wise, some other things I need to get at to improve my health, and I need to sit my ass down and finish what I started with the latest first draft of a story I was trying to put together. An actual to do list if you will.

Every year I implore those around me to do something, anything, to get started on the path to...somewhere. This year I ask again, but this year I'm going to suggest a focus. That you take an honest sit down with yourself and figure out where you want to be in six months, in a year and in five years. And then write it down and figure out the steps between where you are now and where you just figured out where you want to be. It may take some adjustments...running marathons take practice, platinum selling music artists usually take a whole year and doctorates in nuclear physics a touch longer, but just figure out what is between here and where your destination lies. Lay out the path, look the steps that you can control. Research a bit, and figure it out. If nothing else it will put your idea in the proper perspective. 

Then execute. Seriously.

Let me give you an example. I wanted to write a book. So I sat down and I figured out what the story was about. Then I figured out how the story got from A to B, and from B to C and so on, a whole outline. Then fleshed out the characters, their motivations, how they thought. Then I went back and figured out how they got from B to B1 to C because I forgot some things. Then I started writing, sometimes just filling in fillers when I hit snag. This is the first draft not the final product. This means I've started, which is a milestone in and of itself.  True, this time while writing I got stuck on one conversation at a crucial part of the story that I know at this point I've rewritten 20 times, but that's my fault. Instead of treating it like a first draft I erred. But I can correct that. But at least I'm moving forward.

And are we moving forward is the question we all need to ask ourselves.

Sit down, maybe over a few days and figure out what you want to do. Travel? Move? Become a motivational speaker? A new career? Start your own business? Great, whatever it is that will enrich your life that's your aim. The first steps are usually simple: a budget, a resume polish, housing search or reading up on an industry. Then commit to the idea for two weeks or so. That time period is not overly long but long enough to get a few things done. Then execute, see if your plan is manageable. See if you're serious. And even if along the way you change your mind, or circumstances change and you have re-assess, you'll be doing so from a better position than you're in right now.  You will have started.

All you need to do is start. And when you falter, as you probably will, to not stop.

My thoughts...

What looks good to you isn't always what's good for you.

Sometimes all we really need is a quiet nudge to get started. You can give yourself the nudge.

Eat when you're hungry, not because it's time. And eat until you're full, not until all the food is gone.

Distractions can end you if you're not careful.

Real friendships don't end, even after they cease to be day-to-day.

There is no path, good or bad, there is only the journey and the steps you take.

Just because someone is in charge doesn't mean they know what they're doing.
- Okay, this one I did not learn this year, I've known it for a long time. This year has just re-affirmed it.

A good meal with good friends is worth more than you can imagine.

I need to clean my house more often.

Everyone has their own demons. Don't assume your demons can whup their demons.

If you work on yourself, the rest will work itself out.

You don't always win. But you never stop giving your all.

Love is eternal. It not always demonstrative, but it's always there. And don't you forget it.


Monday, December 31, 2018

And now onto the Playoffs...

Ramblings Post #361
My brother was never big on sports as a kid. He played baseball, tennis and a little golf but I always felt like these were more social things than an honest interest in the sport itself. It wasn't until he found the metaphor of sports: that no matter what just happened you have to get ready for what's about to happen, that seemed spur his interest. He's still no more than a casual fan mind you, but sport is universal. My dad doesn't really follow sports either. Go figure. 

They fired Marvin Lewis. Quite frankly I'm stunned.

Marv was the NFL's real Rasputin, not one of the countless old Lions coaches. The wily veteran signal caller somehow survived for 16 seasons in Cincinnati. Each year he'd seemed to get them ready, then something would happen - injury, strength of schedule or just the ball bouncing the wrong way at the wrong time. They'd impress, then whiff when it counted at crunch time. But each year, after each disappointment, Marv would be back on the sidelines. He was like the wind or whatever that thing in the foil in the back of your fridge is, it's just always there. I don't even remember the time before Marv. Why would they do this?

Good Ol' Marv

Okay, he just had three losing seasons. So? And this one was particularly bad after starting the season 4-1. Injuries I tells ya, injuries! He had five winning seasons before this. And so he never won a playoff game, not once in 16 years. Hell, he had six 10+ win seasons in those same 16 years and the Bengals practice outside in December! But the old NFL isn't the new NFL. I mean the Steelers went 9-6 this year and there was talk about getting rid of Tomlin. A coach who has won Superbowl twice. I mean damn, what's a brother got to do? And if someone as good as that is under scrutiny, it would be kind of hard to justify keeping Marv on the payroll. Pfft.

I don't know though. The NFL's black Monday has left a lot of open space. Like eight teams. It's not like he's a bad coach,per se, although the hiring of Hue Jackson gets him a side-eye. I do  think it would crazy though if he ended up a HC at one of the many openings and ends up winning a Super Bowl somewhere else.

You gave up on him too soon!

Marv, don't let them get you down. Let me buy you drink. Some Glenfiddich? 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Oh, to be a Cowboy

Ramblings Post #360 
Sport. There is just something about it. All cultures indulge in sport in one form or another and somewhere along the way we become invested. The "game" becomes part of lives. If you live in the Southern US, there are people who have never attended the university but will root for their team. I'm certain it happens other places as well. The game gives us purpose, thrills us, connects us. And then your team goes on a bad streak and like karma has picked you our personally to get kicked.

It's like the Dallas Cowboys don't want me to be happy.

If you read this, you know I am a Dallas Cowboy fan. Period. No, I didn't wear an Emmitt Smith jersey to my last job interview, quote Troy Aikman with regularity or get my suits from the Michael Irvin collection but I am faithful through the good seasons and the bad. I am so invested that a loss depresses me for quite some time afterwards. After the loss last Sunday I actually turned off my TV and didn't turn it back on until Monday when I got in from work. For the record, I watched the Amazing World of Gumball (seriously watch it, it's not really for kids) and then like fifteen minutes Monday Night Football but was just too disgusted with football in general.

On positive football news, my fantasy squad is in the finals of my office pool. I am quite frankly shocked.

But back to my problem children, the Dallas Cowboys. I wasn't crazy about them early in the season, rolling with the idea of no number one receiver. No, that's a wrong way to say it. I thought that was stupid. A good football team is balanced with elements of run and pass to both sides, a game strategy that creates a multi dimensional chess game where the defensive coordinator is calculating the probabilities every play to see if he can limit or stop what the offense might be trying to do on this play. A one dimensional team that is all run or all pass reduces that match-up to one on par with checkers, or maybe even just high card. We can't hang on season on high card.

If nothing else the trade for Amari Cooper at least made the defenses take the extra man out of the box, a move which allows the run game operate. That the offensive coordinator has still gone entire quarters this season with putting the ball in Elliot's hands still astounds me. But then that's just the Cowboys for you. They love the pass. They draft a hell of a running  back but let's see if we can get Dak to throw some passes. Short passes, but passes.

And oddly, what a lot of people don't seem to see is that Dak's rookie season benefited greatly from the presence of Tomy Romo, whose time in the broadcast booth these last two seasons has proved his gridiron acumen is immense. I'm certain that Tony guided Dak through the first season, teaching him new ways to look at film, calling out little cues others might miss, pointing out tendencies from the sidelines and guiding him to a 13-3 rookie season. That element has been missing since since Tony went to broadcast. But that showed that Dak has proved he has all the pieces with the right guidance, the current staff just doesn't know how to use it.  If the 'boys leadership were smart, they'd hire Romo in the off-season (if his TV contract allows) to come back and tutor their QB. Or if I was Dak I would look into it myself. Because under Garrett and Linehan, he's going to be wasted and end up a "could have been."

This Cowboys team is loaded wth talent which has hid a number of deficiencies in play design, play calling, and game strategy. They are really only a few plays or a minor change of concept from being a real Superbowl contender, instead of just one that us die-hards like to believe they are. And they honestly need a re-commitment to their offensive line, which through time and injury has diminished as of late. As much as I want to win, I also don't think anything less than a Brown's like bad season will get Jones to decouple his hopes from Garrett. Jones is still looking to prove even now, twenty five years later, that he can build a champion with Jimmy. For all our sake Jerry, let it go.

Now, if we don't beat the Bucs...I'm not even going to go there.

Barkeep. A nice cold beer.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

And sometimes you just don't...

Ramblings Post #359
I am a creator. I create stuff. I've dabbled in painting and making music, I have video games I want to design and I salivate over architecture and design. But my real passion is writing. Poetry, short stories, etc, the putting of pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) has excited me longer than I remember. I have a lot ideas in my head. A lot of them fade before I can get them out, bring them to life and explore them. But it is so great when I can. I kind of hope everyone has something like that that they can do for themselves.



I did not complete the write a novel in thirty days project for the first time in three years. It is disheartening. I don't feel good about that.

Okay, I wasn't very happy with the title I gave it either, so maybe that was it. Probably not though.

If you're unaware, for the past three years I've taken part in an online contest/program to write a book of fifty thousand plus words in the month of November.  The previous two times I participated I was able to put something together, really projects that had lingered for years in my head, finally taking the time outlining and plotting them properly, then committing to writing everyday. Because I tend to think about a lot of things, this contest/program helps me work on my focus. Two years ago I managed a good first draft of a semi-autobiographical story of life in Atlanta for a group of middle aged black guys who didn't deal drugs (Wow!) and last year I put together a good first draft of a alternative history story that involved airship racing in the early 60s. This year was supposed to be the first draft of the first book of my always evolving sci-fi epic. Planets, spaceships, battles, intrigue, betrayals, heartbreak, triumph, all that. I thought that I had the first book properly plotted, had structured it to lay out the keys to the next few books in the series, had my main characters mostly developed but flexible, and then one thing led to another, it all went for naught and there I was planning twenty thousand word weekends.

As one famous author put it, "the only way to write is ass in chair." I did not keep my ass in a chair. Fifty thousand words is just over sixteen hundred words a day, which is a lot or little depending on your point of view.  To honest, there have been days before when the words just flow and sixteen hundred words is a warm-up and then there are days where you just aren't feeling it and if you can get five hundred words you've climbed a mountain. The trick was to just keep writing through the five hundred (or two hundred) word days until the good days come back. I did not do that this time.

This month was wonky. Way too many other things happened which encouraged too many not writing days. There were the bowling nights, the extended eating out with friends sessions, general I haven't seen the sun in two days fatigue, a brief bout of illness, and extensive process changes at work. By the time I sat down to write my brain had turned to mush.

And when I was inspired, instead of moving the story forward I got stuck, on building character relationships in small intimate scenes that weren't in my outline or figuring out planetary logistics that could be cleaned up later or crafting authentic background people who might die in the next chapter. Which is great. In the second or third draft! The goal of the writing month was to finish, get it all on paper, which would then allow you to go back to fix, expand and polish. But pressed for time I still found myself writing and re-writing conversations to give side characters dimensions, adding in scenes that I realized were missing or trying to shoehorn in what I thought were great bits of prose. Oh, I've written this great speech that my protagonist is supposed to overhear that will inspire them to do this other great thing later, but the scene its a part of doesn't work since I made those other changes, so,  what I need to do is build a completely new scene around THAT speech. Note: That is not how you finish writing a damn book. I know I have to just rewrite the whole piece like that speech doesn't exist and move on so I can be done. Done is the important thing. Because revision is easy by comparison. Not much easier, but easier. It was great speech though. An inspiring get off your ass you don't know how good you got it sort of speech. Trash now.

That I didn't finish in the time I allotted myself or that the program is over is now irrelevant. I will finish this book. Admittedly my changes do make for a stronger read but that wasn't the place for them. I need to get my self-discipline back. Tighten up as they used to say.

I need to tighten up a lot.

Barkeep. Apple juice. No, just the apple juice, no whiskey in it. Seriously. I am not kidding!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Wanderation.

Ramblings Post #358
Wander. Don't let the road hold you for it is the path most traveled. Venture. Go forth into the hills and woods where the path is untrod. Past the brush and the streams and see what is really out there. You may even find a new destination.
 
Well that was interesting.

I'm revisiting this medium, because reasons. Okay, that is one thing I do like about this next generation, 'because reasons' is a bonafide answer to a question. Pointed, weirdly definitive but also properly vague. Because reasons.

I'll admit I cheated on this blog with Tumblr. That was a exercise in simplicity. Instead of fully expressive cogent sentences that forced me to think and put my thoughts into a coherent order, you could and were actually encouraged to just click a button or three and copy someone else's thoughts or ideas or pretty pictures and assume them as your own. It was easy but unfulfilling. Lots of great content out there, but it's just digitally window shopping life. No, it's just digitally window shopping other people's comments about life. Ugh. I did occasionally add the small thought to someone else's picture, a bit of philosophy if you will, but those additions were few and far between. Tumblr is, well, was an interesting place. From the mundane to the extreme. But I'm fairly certain that policy changes are going to drive away a bulk of their user-base. It's like they'd never heard of Pintrest.


That is about it.

It's winter, and it's cold and I don't like it. But I hate heating bills in the hundreds of dollars even more. Aargh.

Barkeep. Warm cider. With a lil' taste in it. You know. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

All good things...

When I read the articles about Stan Lee, I kept wondering why most of them didn't take the time to explain why this modern day P.T. Barnum who made himself out to be a literary Edison was so racially sensitive. Maybe it's because he was Jewish, and had adopted the name Stan Lee because he wanted to save his real name for when he wrote the great American novel.

Stan's passing is tragic. I remember sometime ago reading something, on twitter or someplace, about how one day we'd watch a Marvel film and there wouldn't be a cameo. That's when it would hit you, because the films now almost need a cameo. I hope that they'll continue in some fashion - maybe for Spider-man movies it's advert on a passing bus with Stan's face - or his portrait in an embassy or the UN in the background of the next Black Panther film. Something. I'm just saying, it's an idea.

Damn. I must be getting old.

With great power, comes great responsibility...