My Life Rules: An Attempt To Talk About How Thankful I am Without Sounding Like I’m Bragging

During my recent social media hiatus, one of the biggest things I noticed was how my sarcasm and negativity faded from my online persona. I hadn’t realized how bitter and nasty my online presence had become until I was away from it for a while. This really hit me on Thanksgiving when, instead of chatting about everything going right in my life, I wrote a stupid comment complaining about parade coverage on TV. I dabbled on commenting on it for a bit before just deleting it and staying away from social media for the rest of the day.

So after processing all of that, today I’m ready to talk about how truly thankful I am for a life I never could have imagined for myself. Let’s start with that parade stuff. I didn’t have to work a retail job I hate or, worse, miss a retail paycheck I desperately need. I got to enjoy the day with my family knowing my finances were taken care of. I did a little bit of editing and some novel work, but I did it on the couch in comfy clothes surrounded by family and food and booze. I get paid well to do something I love, something I’m good at, and something that people appreciate me for. I have a robust editing clientele that I adore and I’m working away on novel that is under contract with the same publisher that published my first two novels.  And I get paid for this. and people read these books and tell me how much they like them.

That’s just awesome.

And let’s talk about that family I get to support with all of that dream money. When I couldn’t find the TV feed of the parade I was looking for (the NBC feed, FYI, who I think does the best job and the one I remember most from my childhood) we found a really cool 360 live feed on YouTube that I watched with the kids. They went nuts watching it on the iPad and the desktop and being able to move the camera around and get a 360 view of the parade and the city. I love their excitement and enthusiasm and how smart and energetic they are. They have made me a better person and will continue to do so well into the future I imagine. And while we were fooling around with parades and gadgets, my lovely wife was baking and cooking herself silly in the kitchen, making the house smell delightful. I do not deserve this woman and I am lucky to have her. She is my best friend, my partner in crime, my sounding board, my safety net, my drive to succeed, and the baseball bat upside the head before I ever do anything really stupid.

Later that day we got to spend time with my in-laws who love us and support us and are the main reason our house is as livable as it is. And I’m thankful for our house. It’s not our dream house, but it’s not a nightmare either. We have a great mortgage payment on it that allows me to take some career risks I wouldn’t be able to otherwise, and it’s big enough for all of us to keep us cozy but still provide just enough space to get away from each other when we need to. We have a great neighborhood full of great people in a great location.

The next day I was able to go out and spend a bit of money on silly things like video games and streaming sticks and superhero socks without wondering if we’d still be able to make our mortgage payment. We have a bit of money in savings for emergencies and enough resources between family and friends to ensure no emergency is truly devastating financially. That evening we got to spend time with my family who is always great about taking the kids and giving Becky and I time with each other. Growing up, my parents gave me free reign in the library to read whatever I wanted and encouraged me when I wrote weird little stories they never really got.

So yeah, I’m incredibly blessed. I realize I’m also lucky, but I think crowing about how lucky I am takes away from the effort and sacrifice those around me have made to help give me the great life I have. And if you’re reading this, you’re part of that great group and I’m thankful for all of you. Yes, even you.

The Toxic Swamp Of Masculinity: An Oral History Of My Vasectomy

Untitled Me, after two Valium and gauze applied no place a man ever expects to have gauze applied.

TMI Ahead.

Anyone who has read this blog, or my Facebook feed, or either of my two novels knows that I did not take to fatherhood easily. In fact, with the first two, I took to it VERY poorly at first. So at a certain point, Becky and I began discussing permanent ways to keep our physical love alive without adding any further…souvenirs, if you will.

Once I began researching vasectomies, I was shocked at the toxic swamp of masculine bullshit out there regarding this procedure. So much chest pounding and ponytail dragging about how men were made to procreate and changing that changes a man.

So. Much. Bullshit.

I’ve talked here quite a bit as well about my many, many problems with the modern ideas of masculinity and this stuff just re-enforced all of those feelings. One of the first times I remember being exposed to these ideas, was in an episode of HOME IMPROVEMENT where Tim is in the Urologist’s office talking about this and explaining that his stuff down there was like an amusement park and he didn’t want any of the rides messed with. Barf.

You know what’s masculine? Admitting when you’re tapped out as a father. Admitting that some of the sexual problems you’ve had in the past have nothing to do with the pipes, but are mental blocks due to pregnancy fears. For crying out loud, I managed to stay a virgin until I was 25 almost solely due to the fear of an accidental pregnancy throwing a wrench into my dreams (I realize that just drips with patriarchal stink, but that was the world I knew then). What’s masculine is wanting to use my limited resources, both mentally and financially, to give the three kids I already have the best life possible and the most time with them I can. And wanting to spend more time alone with my wife, who I adore to no end and don’t get to spend enough time with.

I love the kids I have and would not change how my life has turned out so far, but that doesn’t mean I need to keep pushing my luck and not take the proper steps to make it happen. So early this morning I bundled up, drove out to GameStop, waited in line for an hour and a half to get the new NES Classic Edition game system,  and then drove out to the doctor’s office and got the old snip and tug done.

So far everything seems to be recovering fine, and as far as I can tell, my masculinity remains intact. Updates to come if that changes, of course…

Update: Over on Facebook, someone asked me about the procedure itself and, since I hope some day in the future this post is found by someone looking for info and acts as a buffer between the wall of masculine BS, I thought I’d add my comments here as well.

So the procedure itself was really easy. I had no anxiety because I’ve been ready for it for a while. I had the no scalpel version, which I strongly recommend. Honestly, shaving me for the procedure took the most time. The nurse went crazy.

I have an incredibly low tolerance for pain and I barely noticed the procedure. I was also doped up, so go for that option as well if offered. After that, it’s been OK. Pretty achy, but our youngest has a fondness for kicking me hard down there when I’m holding her, so it’s not a unique feeling.

I slept a lot and felt pretty drained. Today I was feeling okay until I decided to run an errand to get a new cable box and feel like every cell between by legs revolted at once with pitchforks and flame throwers. So sleep a lot, stay in bed, and you should be good.

I’m With You

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I voted today and, no, I’m not telling you who I voted for. But as has been the case the last several elections, I voted a mix of right of center and left of center views and realize that as a straight white guy of protestant beliefs, I’m sitting pretty, for the most part, no matter who wins. I have friends and family though, on both sides, that certainly feel differently and that’s what concerns me going forward.

Our political system is broken and the main culprit is fear. So many people are making so much money keeping Americans scared. Scared of losing a child. Scared of losing a job. Scared of the unknown. Scared of not getting what we deserve. Scared of someone else getting what we deserve. Civility is at an all-time low and so is empathy. There are too many echo chambers and not enough melting pots.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We’ve seen time and time again people change positions when it begins to affect someone they love, so it seems like we all would be better served by increasing the pool of people we love. Not just family or friends, but neighbors and strangers. We’ve all got a lot at stake in this country and a representative democracy doesn’t work without feedback from the represented.

Voting is actually one of the least effective tools we have as Americans to make our voice heard so don’t let your voice go silent after the election. Contact your representatives, volunteer for causes you support, donate money to worthy and transparent organizations. I’m not all that great at math, but I think an active 99% is a pretty sure bet to beat even the most highly motivated 1%.

Now go do some good in the world.

View From the Hotel: Murder and Mayhem Milwaukee Edition

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I made it! The drive from Canton to Milwaukee is one of the best there is and the six hours always seem to fly by. The last couple of years I’ve taken to listening to audio books instead of the radio starting with Dennis Lehane’s SHUTTER ISLAND and then Mindy Kaling books the last two years. This year was Jennifer Weiner’s new memoir, HUNGRY HEART and it’s as awesome as I hoped it would be. I like memoirs like this read by the author. I’m eager to check out some of Lawrence Block’s non-fiction he’s narrated as well as Stephen King. But right now I have editing work to do, then some writing to finish, then maybe a shower because I smell like car sweat and Panda Express.

Once again, if you’re close by tomorrow, come and see me and the rest of the Murder and Mayhem Misfits as we do our little dances at the Irish Cultural Heritage Center.

Pumpkins, Deadlines, and Social Media Photos

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Hey there. Soooooooo, that social media hiatus has been great and all it took was a quick look into it today to get this photo and I realized how happy I was to have been away from it lately. As I am still behind on many things (though so much more caught up than I was before) and I really have no desire at this point to jump back into social media any time soon, I will be continuing the hiatus through November until I am fully caught up. I do expect to write something here after I vote next week and I’m sure I will have much to write about the Gilmore Girls revival over Thanksgiving weekend, but my social media interactions will be minimal to non-existent.

If you miss me so much and you’d like to see me in person, I will be in Milwaukee this weekend with a bunch of fine, fine folks for Murder and Mayhem. It’s one of my favorite weekends of the year and I can’t wait to see everyone I’ve sort of been missing.

Related to that photo, I had to go to Facebook and get it from my wife’s page so I could post it here. One thing I’ve noticed during this hiatus is that without the draw of a social media audience, I haven’t really taken any photos of the kids. That makes me kind of sad and something I’ll look to correct this next month.

Happy November, y’all.

Natalie at 2

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I am thoroughly enjoying my social media break and have been quite productive without the lure of all you people sucking me away from my work, but I had to pop in today, on my baby Natalie’s second birthday, to celebrate another one of my amazing children.

I honestly don’t remember either Spenser or Holly turning 2. Having them back-to-back like we did made for a blur of about 3-4 years that I’m not entirely sure actually happened. So it’s nice with Natalie to celebrate these milestones fully cognizant and (mostly) not sleep-deprived.

Happy Birthday, Natalie. I love you so much.

Entering The Cone Of Silence: The 2016 Social Media Hiatus Has Now Commenced

I have a book to finish, books to edit, and several books to read. As such, I will be going dark on social media until the end of the month (or truthfully, more likely through to the end of the election). I will pop in here to drop photos of Natalie’s birthday and the kids at Halloween, but other than that I will be scarce online. I will still be checking email though and that, as always, is the best way to get a hold of me for communication both professional and frivolous. See you in November.

Edit: Today is November 1 and I popped in to social media today, quickly realized it’s still a cesspool and I’m still behind on a bunch of stuff, so I’m extending my hiatus through the end of November.

Everything Is Copy

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Becky and I watched this Nora Ephron documentary the other night and it made me wistful for New York, for a certain type of romantic comedy that was popular in the 90s, and for a type of writing career that doesn’t seem to be possible anymore — one that encompasses essays and short fiction and novels as well as film.

The film was pretty good, though it doesn’t really do much at all with the title and the idea behind it. I’ve always been a big believer in the “everything is copy” style of writing. There are numerous posts in the archives here where I talk about my early career goals of being a newspaper columnists in the vein of a Dave Barry, Erma Bombeck, or Nora Ephron, and a big part of that was was because I wanted to write about my life. Blogging has filled that hole in my soul to a certain extent, but I also find myself putting much of my life into my novels as well. Sometimes it’s actual events (like having my cell phone stolen) but many times it’s emotional inspiration (like career frustrations or parenting struggles).

There’s always a danger in that style of writing of offending or embarrassing those around me, or myself, but it’s the only way I know how to write that sets me apart from my peers. Murder Boy, for example, is a silly story with no real reason to exist apart from it’s intense emotional connection to my life. When I needed character motivation for the random plot events, I dug deep into my own life and my own feelings and put them on the page. So I was happy to see this connection reflected in reviews of the book that commented specifically on the emotional depth of the characters.

As I get older, though, and my life gets more complicated, this gets harder to do. For one, the more people who are involved in my life means more chances to hurt someone with my words, but also, as my life settles out and becomes more and more boring, I find myself less and less inspired to use actual events in my work. Nobody needs another novel about a middle-aged white guy writing about being a middle-aged white guy. I still find myself digging deep into myself for inspiration, but these days it’s more about writing about the horrible things I think about happening to me rather than the horrible things that have actually happened to me.

As I finish up Trigger Switch, I’ve also been outlining and noodling over the next book I want to write. The core circumstances of the book, involving the death of a child, are wholly original and have never happened to me (thank God), but came from my absolute obsession with losing one of my kids. Any time there is a tragedy involving kids, my imagination goes wild and I find myself working through all of the stages of grief as if it had happened to my own kids. I know this isn’t healthy and realized that if I was ever going to fully work through it, I needed to write about it. We’ll see how that works out, but for now it’s been interesting.

Holly at 7

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Seven. How the heck did that happen? I love this little girl with all my heart and hold out hope she might be the reader and writer in the family to carry my legacy. She already grasps sarcasm and irony and I find myself laughing while punishing her quite a bit because I’m so impressed at what she’s able to pull off. Hopefully as she gets older she uses her powers for good. Happy birthday Holly Dolly.

Me At 40

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I took this picture at the New Orleans airport as I prepare to head home from Bouchercon. Every few years the conference falls over my birthday and this was one of those years. It’s also a milestone birthday, which means time to take stock of my life and all of that wonderful nonsense.

This conference says a lot about what’s good in my life at 40. I have two novels published, a life-long dream, that I was promoting at the conference. I have an enjoyable and active freelance editing career as evidence by my meetings with current and former clients and seeing four different books I edited for sale in the book room along with my own novels. During the conference I had dinners and breakfasts and lunches with folks I consider true friends, not just online friends or conference friends. That’s pretty cool. And back at home I have a great family waiting for me to return. I was able to FaceTime with Becky on the kids a few times and they sang Happy Birthday to me on Friday, my actual birthday.

So while my 20s were a deplorable mess, the decade since has been amazing and I arrive at 40 happier than any other point in my life. And there’s still plenty more awesome stuff on the horizon as well.

The only bad part of turning 40 is my body is getting more and more aggressive in it’s battle against the way I treat it. If I’m going to make it another decade to see what life has in store for me by the time I turn 50, I have to be more healthy. I have to eat better and move more and handle my stress better. Luckily I have a great support system around to make that easier and a whole lot to live for going forward.