June 29, 2007

Fiction Friday: mythical figure

This week's theme: Pick a mythical person or creature (e.g., Santa, Thor, Easter Bunny), and explain through dialogue, essay, or anything else, why they are unhappy with their job or position in life.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Ganymede, and I'll be your sommelier tonight. If you're ordering the braised lamb, I can recommend some excellent vintages from the hills of Crete. If, however, you go with a more traditional goat dish--avoid the entrails tonight; the prophet who disemboweled the goat did not use the cleanest of knives, I'm told--if you go with the traditional goat grill platter, I can offer a rare Savatiano. I say rare because although it is a common varietal, this bottle is actually quite delicious, particularly with the savory flavor of the goat.

And if any of you happens to be involved in casting for the new play downtown, I would just like to add that I'm really an actor and can play any part you like. I've done tragedy and comedy in community theater, and--what's that? Oh, yes, I was the lead in one play... hmm? Well, probably something you haven't heard of... yes, it was a comedy. Yes, I know perhaps some may find it unbecoming for a Trojan prince such as myself to prance around dressed as a harlot, but--now see here, it was a serious role!

Dionysus! That drunkard couldn't act his way out of a toga. And, for someone who claims to know so much about wine, he's a very poor judge of vintage, let me tell you. I don't know why he gets all the girls.

Yes. All right, then. The Savatiano it is. But you may regret not auditioning me. I may not be here next week. I've got a line on a terrific part... yes, certainly, I'll bring over your waiter.

June 28, 2007

Thursday Thirteen (#13): Thirteen pet peeves

Today I'm channeling Andy Rooney. Imagine his nasally voice whining, "Don't you hate it when...." So, in the spirit of that icon of American journalism, I offer thirteen things that really get my goat.
  1. People who think they can ignore rules just because they're in a hurry. I see this as a crossing guard all the time. People pull illegal U-turns, park in the middle of the street, urge their 8-year-old to run across the busy street because they don't want to wait for them to walk the twenty yards to the crosswalk. Dumb. And selfish.
  2. Selfish people. This is a superset of the ignore-the-rules people. Pretty much anyone who thinks they're so special that they don't have to consider other people's feelings, needs, or desires.
  3. Algae. As a homeowner with a pool, algae is the bane of my existence.
  4. Ridiculously large SUVs. Now, I admit there are people who really do need a Tahoe or an Exhibition. People with like nineteen kids. But I know plenty of families that have just two kids who "need" the bigger truck.
  5. Owners of ridiculously large SUVs who complain about gas prices. Well... duh.
  6. W. And, by extension, Cheney and Rove. Back in the early days, I saw a photo of a protest sign that said "pursue a no-CARB diet (no Cheney, no Ashcroft, no Rumsfeld, no Bush... and absolutely no Rice!)" I thought it was pretty funny.
  7. Crowds. While I love people-watching, I hate crowds. It's a fine line.
  8. Busy work, and, by association, self-serving tasks. Have you ever worked on a project where you had documentation requirements which basically existed to meet the requirement of documentation? I was hired to work, people, and I'm spending all my time documenting what I should be working on.
  9. Reclining airline seats. When I fly, I write with my laptop open the entire flight. Halfway through, the person in front of me dumps their seat back, making it a contortionist's challenge for me to type and see the screen at the same time.
  10. Our disposable society. I am appalled at all the disposable packaging in use in the United States. Anyone with a child who gets Christmas or birthday presents knows what I'm talking about. It makes me sick to my stomach to see all the plastic and cardboard and such that exists just to package a piece of junk that breaks and gets thrown out within weeks anyway.
  11. Extending #10: rampant consumerism. Sure, we own a lot of nice things. We have more than one computer in our house, my kids have Gameboys, we have a nice house (with a pool, as I mentioned). But our entire culture is so driven by "buy, buy, buy" that the most ridiculous products can succeed here.
  12. The price of entertainment. Now, when you think about it, $8 for a movie ticket really isn't outrageous considering all the creativity and work and production and shipping and theater maintenance and all that goes into showing it. But $60 for a single ticket to a single basketball game? $200 to take a family of four to a baseball game, and not even get very good seats? All this so the average MLB player's salary can be over $2.5 million a year? Most of them aren't even that good, and quite a few of them go on the disabled list for things like ingrown toenails and deep thigh bruises. This just really chaffs my hide.
  13. Religious zealotry. I don't mind people who have strong faith and spirituality. It creeps me out a little when people do all the "it's God's will" stuff, but hey, that's what they believe and how they live. It's when they push it on the rest of us that I get ticked off. Mostly in politics (see "sanctity of marriage" from righteous homophobes who have been divorced or had affairs; see "sanctity of life" from Christians who gleefully supported bombing Baghdad; see "family values" from people who've been caught with their pants down at the brothel).
What bugs you (besides me, I mean)? Leave a comment and vent.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!
The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

June 27, 2007

haiku wednesday

This week's words are:

negligible hope
I won't resent rejection
envelope returned

This is a new one Karen pointed me to through the Write Stuff forum. Each week, if possible, I will try to create a haiku from the three words provided by 3WW. It might be tough if he picks an eight syllable word, though.

June 26, 2007

happy 40th to me

Officially at the crest of the hill today. I refuse to believe I'm actually over the hill until I hit 41 next year. But... 40 is the new 30, right?

Ten on Tuesday: 10 favorite bands


10 favorite bands of all time
I do enjoy music, but I'm not one of these "this band ROCKS" type of people. That said, here's my top ten, as I feel about it at this moment (check again when I'm in a different mood if you want a different list).

  1. The Who
  2. The Clash
  3. Indigo Girls
  4. Eric Clapton
  5. James Taylor
  6. The Police
  7. Evanescence
  8. Stray Cats
  9. David Bowie
  10. Polemicist
In no particular order.

[edit: Oh my god I can't believe I left Queen off that list. I think they could replace any of those other ten entries.]

June 24, 2007

A huge gym

This is half of the local gym we went to this morning in minneapolis. simply enormous.

[edit: This "gym" was staggeringly huge. In Minneapolis, they have been building these behemoths that can handle hundreds of people at once. This particular gym has only been open three weeks. It's got two indoor basketball courts, four racquetball courts, four squash courts, an indoor climbing wall, an indoor water park, an indoor lap pool, an outdoor water park, an outdoor lap pool, at least 20 stationary bikes, at least 80 stair steppers, at least 40 elliptical trainers, and a free weight/machine area about 10,000 square feet. They have an array of TVs above the weight area that makes it look like a Vegas sports book. The hot tub in the indoor water park area looked like it could easily hold thirty people at once. The locker rooms were like something from a $500-a-day spa with mahogany veneer lockers, an array of 20 sinks, individual shower stalls with doors... this place was crazy huge.]

June 23, 2007

New baby!

Just 11 days old!

June 22, 2007

Fiction Friday: bad news (new entry)

This week's theme: Write the first thing that comes to mind when you read this line: Bad news cures all things.

Mama called it a silver lining. "See that cloud up there," she'd say, pointing off into the distance where it looked like a tornado might drop from the sky any second and gobble up half of Kansas City. "It's a cloud, and it's raining--you can see the lines in the sky where the rain is falling." I'd nod, though I never saw any lines. "That rain cloud has a silver lining. That's why it looks so dark and gray on the outside."

When my ice cream fell off the cone one day, Mama told me that it was God's way of keeping the sugar from rotting my teeth. When I ran over a nail with my bike and the tire popped, Mama said it was God's way of protecting me from falling off a few minutes later. Only God would know what was going to happen next, and He was just protecting me.

We were coming home from church that day, the day the tornado touched down outside Liberty. We heard it on the radio, and Mama thanked God that it was a Sunday and the tornado had come that day and taken the elementary school when the children were in church. Daddy said God was punishing the school board for something they did. I wanted the radio to play more music and stop talking about tornadoes. It was sunny in our town.

Mama sat between me and Daddy in the old truck. She wore her white gloves, and it being so hot and muggy she had on her sun dress with the yellow flowers on it, and her hat with the big rim sat on my lap where I liked to hold it when we drove. Daddy said it got in the way of the mirror if Mama wore it.

It happened quick, a little boy's ball bouncing out into the street. He was a boy who didn't go to church, leastwise not our church, but I think he didn't go to any church. He was dirty, dirt all over his face and his hands and holes in the side of his coverall pants and no shirt. He chased out after the ball, and I saw his eyes in front of the truck, his big dirty brown eyes.

The ambulance came. Some sirens had woke me up, and big, cold hands held my head. I saw the boy's eyes again above me with some dark clouds behind him. It must have got cloudy, I thought. Maybe a tornado picked us up and set us down in Liberty, I thought. Some men picked me up and set me down inside an ambulance. Mama was there, holding a big white thing against her ear.

"Darling," she said, and she looked scared. One of the men said something to her, and she looked less scared. "God looked out for us today," she said. "God sent that boy to save us, you and me" she said.

"Where's Daddy?" I asked her, feeling like someone had taken out my teeth and stuffed my mouth with straw.

"I guess," Mama said, "God had to talk to Daddy, so He took your Daddy away."

"Maybe God forgot to tell Daddy something when we were at church," I said, and I felt the ambulance jerk a bit and then bump around.

Mama laughed, but she had tears in her eyes. "Yes, darling," she said, and when she put her hand on my forehead she moved the towel and I could see a lot of blood. One of the ambulance men touched her arm, and she put the towel back up to her head. "I think," she whispered, "I think God wanted to tell him not to hit you any more."

Fiction Friday: bad news

This week's theme: Write the first thing that comes to mind when you read this line: Bad news cures all things.

I am sorry, folks, but due to travel and work, I am unable to spend even five minutes on Fiction Friday this week. I love the theme, though, and the moment I saw it I thought of two or three good twists on that. I look forward to seeing what you've all written... but it may not be until Monday or Tuesday.

[edit: I guess the above qualifies as "bad news." You're left to your own devices to figure out what things this particular bad news cures.]

[edit: I found the time to make an entry, here.]

June 21, 2007

Forbidden love

I caught these two in a back alley today. It just seems... unnatural.

Thursday Thirteen (#12) : Fun (?) Facts

Today, I offer thirteen facts which, when taken together, paint an interesting picture of the state of the American family's finances. Given the rise in foreclosures in the area where I live and the skyrocketing cost of living including housing, health care, and transportation, it's a wonder families can make ends meet at all.
  1. Fifty percent (50%) of the world lives on $2 a day.
  2. The average American household has a credit card debt of $9,300.
  3. One in three households reports using credit cards for basic living expenses (rent, mortgage, groceries, utilities).
  4. The personal savings rate in 2006 as a percentage of personal income was the lowest in over 70 years: negative one percent (-1%).
  5. Up to 56 million American adults do not have a bank account and therefore are without access to mainstream financial services.
  6. Approximately 46% of African-American households are unbanked.
  7. Approximately one in three Latino households are unbanked.
  8. Those "check cashing" places prey on the unbanked, often taking 50% of the check's value in fees.
  9. In 2005, two million Americans filed for bankruptcy.
  10. Of those two million who filed for bankruptcy in 2005, half were caused by medical care debt.
  11. Over 38 million Americans earn less than the federal "poverty level."
  12. Of those 38 million, half are employed. (Ever heard the term, "working poor"?)
  13. Each year, more than $30 billion in public benefits goes unclaimed or unused, often because of confusion over eligibility or a difficult application process. This is money already allocated and budgeted by federal and state governments but which people don't know they can take advantage of.
And then I offer this last little jab at the current administration in these two "fun facts": Number of American soldiers killed in Iraq since September 11, 2001: 3,533. Number of Osama bin Ladens captured or killed since September 11, 2001: zero. Are we winning yet?

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!
The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

June 19, 2007

a new short story

I've just finished my first draft of a new short story. I would love honest critique from other writers. It's 4,225 words right now, and I want to prune it to 4,000 or fewer before sending it off anywhere. If you have the ability and desire to critique it, please leave me a comment with your email address or email me at peter at peterdudley dot com.

Ten on Tuesday: 10 movies to quote


10 favorite movies to quote
I am not big on quoting movies, but let's see if I can think of any that I like to quote from

  1. It's not a movie, but Cheers. How can you not quote Coach, Woody, and Carla? Even Diane and Sam had some great lines.
    "Coach, we don't want to be bothered." ... "Who does?"
    "You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a guy who once dumped on me."
  2. Pirates of the Caribbean. OK, it's often difficult to quote this in context because I don't hang out with pirates or the damned very often.
    "You cheated!" ... "Pirate."
  3. Monty Python and the Holy Grail. What line don't I quote?
  4. Monty Python's Life of Brian. "Always look on the bright side of life." 'nuff said
  5. This Is Spinal Tap. OK, so it's just one line really. "But... but, this one goes to eleven."
  6. Repo Man. "There's fuckin' room to move as a fry cook. I could be manager in two years. King. God." "The life of a repo man is always intense."
  7. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. OK, a lot of quotes from this movie come to mind from time to time, but I'm too wise to say them out loud.
  8. The Princess Bride. "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
  9. Dirty Harry. "... you've got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"
  10. And, of course, Mary Poppins. Oooh, just too numerous to mention, even outside the songs. Just go here for some memorable ones. Spit spot!
I know there must be other movies I quote from, perhaps without even realizing it. But these have given me certain lines that come to mind often or even come out of my mouth from time to time. These aren't "movies I love to quote" so much as movies that have had lines that stick with you.

June 18, 2007

haiku diner

can't sleep? go on line.
haiku diner -- open late!
now serving breakfast

on a plane all day
room service, email, and blogs

fifteen hundred words
prose at thirty thousand feet
new short story draft

busy tomorrow
i'll finish the story then
don't tell my boss, 'k?

my travel diet:
snickers, coffee, and no sleep
quality suffers

distant siren fades
pale, ghost shadows flicker blue
laptop in dark room

thanks for visiting
haiku diner: never closed!
y'all come back now, hear?

June 16, 2007

Family Hike

I love this new mobile blogging thing. I figured out how easy it is to blog a photo from my phone. Once you set it up, all you do is send the photo to go at blogger dot com and it shows up on your blog. Very cool.

Today we took a walk (not really a "hike" if it's on a paved jogging path, is it?) around the reservoir. Beautiful but windy day. There was a wedding taking place in the grassy area. Beautiful young bride, smiley wedding party in purple (almost a deep wine color but it was really purple). There was also a disownered beagle running away from the two women trying to rescue it and find its rightful owners.

Mobile blogging also has me looking at things a different way, as if everything I see could make an interesting photo. The reality is that it wouldn't, of course, but I realized I'm seeing things in more detail now that I've got this new blogging tool and need some reason to use it.

3,521 and still counting. We also drove past all the crosses on the hillside today. It is staggering if you let it get into your head and into your heart.

June 15, 2007

Fiction Friday: an offer unrefused

This week's theme: Write a story/poem beginning with this line: No one refused her offer.

No one refused her offer. She'd made it a thousand times over the years, her hands submerged in greasy, sudsy dishwater, a dingy red and white dish towel limp on her shoulder. She'd just turned off the tap, and steam patched the bottom half of the kitchen window looking almost like frost on the pane with blackness beyond. A single drip clung to the bottom of the faucet. Every night it held on no more than fourteen seconds before finally letting go.

As she exhaled at the black window, I wondered what she saw out there. What she would write in the diminishing steam with her naked finger if she dared. Behind her at the kitchen table, Dad and Todd and Luke listened not to her but to John Madden expounding on the virtues of a gargantuan left tackle on the Colts' offensive line.

My eyes darted once to the TV to see Peyton Manning throw incomplete. When I looked back, I was almost surprised to see Mom still standing there, now silently scrubbing a pot, her shoulders more slouched than they had been. I wanted to say something, but the world had moved on. Something in the slowness of her arms, the calmness of her breathing made my skin tingle. She really meant it this time. Maybe. That intrepid drop finally let go of the faucet to splash among the unwashed pots. Tonight I hadn't counted the seconds.

Six years ago was the first time she threatened to leave. "Maybe I'll just disappear," she said as she washed the dishes one night. "I bet you'd never notice." Dad stopped chewing his spaghetti just long enough to look at each of us boys and then reply without swallowing or looking, "You go right ahead. Thanks for the offer." Offer. He called it an offer.

At the time, all I knew was confusion. What could I know? I was just seven, barely starting second grade and in awe of my loud, strong, tall father. I could tell my brothers had a moment of doubt, too, and terror coursed through my body. I didn't know whether to cry or protest. What second grader can conceive of a life without his mother? When Luke decided it was a joke, I relaxed and smiled along with them. Mom gazed out into the blackness. Even then I didn't think she was smiling too.

John Madden said something about a field goal, bringing me back to the table where Luke was counting the point differential on the fingers of both hands. He'd be going to Nebraska next fall on scholarship. For a few more minutes I pretended to watch the game while I pushed mashed potatoes around my plate. Mom looked so calm, her slight movements rhythmic in the way tall trees sway in a high breeze.

I stood and gathered my plate and fork. Dad looked up. "Done already?" I nodded. "Aren't you gonna watch the game? Not even halftime yet." I shook my head and mumbled something about trigonometry homework, then waited until they all looked back at the TV.

I stepped up next to Mom and set the plate on the counter. When I looked at her, for the first time I saw--really saw--the creases in the corners of her eyes, exhausted resignation in the corners of her lips. As she looked up at me--I'd finally grown an inch taller than her--I felt not fourteen but eight again, and I fought against the same uncertain terror coursing through my body.

"Thanks, Mom," I whispered to her. She smiled with love and sadness. I hugged her and put my mouth close to her ear so Dad couldn't hear. "For everything." I paused there, wanting to etch the feeling of her warmth into my memory, make indelible the softness of her old sweater, her untoned, feminine arms, the dry oldness of her hair. I thought I felt a slight tremble in her, and as I pulled away, I whispered, "Write to me."

June 14, 2007

Thursday Thirteen (#11) : Disneyland!

Since today is the last day of school, I thought I'd share 13 of my favorite Disneyland memories. Most of these would be from when I was 9 or 11 and went there with my mom, but some are from my adult days.
  1. The Disneyland Railroad
    As a kid, it's always fun to ride any train, particularly a steam train that has neat exhibits along the way like the dinosaurs which is, I think, between Tomorrowland and the main entrance. As a parent, it's a very nice way to cool down and sit for a while, as long as the train is not jam-packed.
  2. Main Street Cinema
    What can I say? I love Steamboat Willie and the other early cartoons in this small, six-screen rotunda. So much more innovative than what you see in today's formula cartoons. They were just fun and crazy, and you could almost feel Walt having fun experimenting with the new technology.
  3. Autopia!
    Still the coolest amusement park ride ever. Where else can a six-year-old drive a race car? Yeah, it's on a track and the speed is regulated, but so what? It was cool before Chevron took it over and before the movie Cars came out, and it's still cool now.
  4. Country Bear Jamboree
    I think I wore out two phonograph needles listening to this soundtrack. I can't remember any of the songs or words now, but I bet when I was 11 I could have sung the entire album, beginning to end.
  5. Jungle Cruise
    Thirty years ago, the animatronics were state of the art. Three years ago, I still enjoyed this ride and pointing out the crocodiles and everything to my six-year-old. They enjoyed it, too, and the line is never that long because people would rather be on the newer rides, I guess.
  6. Haunted Mansion
    I loved loved loved this when I was a kid. Do not take a tired six-year-old into this attraction, though. All poor little Sam wanted was to sit down and maybe have some ice cream or something, but we had our fastpass (whatever it's called) and went in anyway. Three minutes later, I was carrying him out the side exit in terrified tears (him, not me). Still a great ride, though. I loved the ghost sitting between my mom and me when I was nine. I'll never forget that.
  7. Pirates of the Caribbean
    The best time for this ride is when they're having the pirate battle on the water just outside. Everyone watches that, and the line for PotC is almost nonexistent. Unfortunately, that's late and poor little Sam was so tired he slept through the entire ride... twice. It was fun before the movie, and it's still fun.
  8. People watching and photographs
    My first trip there, my mom had bought me my very own Kodak pocket instamatic (remember the 110 film cartridges? do they even make them any more?). Of course, the photos I took were of her, my stepbrother, and my stepfather, and of Disney characters and all that. But today I'm more into people-watching. And no, it's not just scoping out the pretty women when my wife's not looking. Disneyland attracts people from all over the world, and I love to watch them interact with their children, watch how they deal with the lines and the shops and the other people. But I'll never forget that cool, little camera I carried everywhere as a kid.
  9. The parking lot tram
    Before California Adventures, that area and the shopping area outside the main gates of Disneyland were parking. I still remember driving into the lot and seeing Disneyland--particularly the peak of the Matterhorn and the main entrance gates--and the anticipation that only a 9-year-old can feel. Then, as if it couldn't get any better, there was a ride even before you got into the park! The parking lot tram snaked around the lot and carried us to the gates. How cool is that? Today, we take that kind of thing for granted, but back then it was wicked cool to me.
  10. Submarine Voyage
    I'm still not sure why I liked this ride except that it was under water and right next to the monorail station. This made it easy to get to first thing after arriving from the Disneyland Hotel. It was kind of cheesy, as I recall, but what 9-year-old boy doesn't like the idea of riding in a submarine? Especially when I'd watched all those WWII movies on Channel 36's "The Four O'Clock Movie" over the years?
  11. The Matterhorn
    Still a classic, with that roaring yeti and the splash coming through the tunnels. My first roller coaster that was built into a fake mountain. I still think it's much better than Space Mountain, which opened several years after my first visit, and which underwhelmed me after all the hype about how awesome it was going to be.
  12. Adventure Through Inner Space
    This ride I loved for its Vincent Price feel--you were shrinking down to subatomic size, looking at water molecules and even the nucleus of an oxygen atom, I think. The narrator gave the ride a tension that really never existed, but I thought it was a cool ride anyway. Cool to do once, boring to do twice in the same trip.
  13. Eating and shopping
    As an adult, I like to spend ten minutes in one of the stores browsing and not buying anything. The prices are outrageous on everything from breath mints to quality souvenirs. But as a kid, there was little better than having lunch in one of the restaurants or running through the shops full of the neatest stuff imaginable from the funnest day in history.
I can't wait to take the kids back to Disneyland this fall. We've got a week booked some time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so hopefully the crowds will be limited. (Yes, this bad parent is removing his children from school for the week. So sue me.)

One thing I would stay away from is the show in the California Adventure "bug's life" area. It was not much fun, and it terrified both my kids with spitting water at them, noises way too loud, and other things. Not a one of us enjoyed it, and we wished we'd spent our time doing something else. I did like the Mission Tortilla Factory tour. Short and yummy.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!
The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

June 13, 2007

expired permit

The building where my day job takes place has four elevators. Often when I walk into the building, one will open as if I tripped a sensor. Sometimes when I'm leaving, I will push the "down" button and three of the four will appear simultaneously. All four now have issues with the buttons--they all work, but some light up and some don't.

One of the elevators, the one that doubles as the freight elevator and is the only one with a "B" button, does this really amusing thing going up sometimes where it will overshoot your floor by about ten inches, then settle to the proper elevation after a few seconds with the doors open.

Recently I noticed that the permit posted in the elevator has been expired for several months.

Yeah, today feels like that kind of day.

June 12, 2007

Evil Editor Strikes

I admit it. I set myself up to be slapped, and slapped I was. Go here for my draft query letter for "Forced Air" and to see what Evil Editor and the Evil Minions had to say about it.

Submitting a query to EE is like calling in to Doctor Laura. You are willingly going into the lion's den wearing eau de raw steak. But I am happy to say I came out not only alive but having learned a lot more about what it's like to be a raw steak.

Ten on Tuesday: 10 awesome things about me


10 awesome things about me
When I saw this theme, I thought, "That'll be fun." But really, it's not.

  1. I'm humble. I would really rather not try to tell people I'm awesome in any way. Judging from the non-humble people I've met (particularly those who have no cause to brag), being humble would seem to be an awesome trait.
  2. I am in pretty good shape, especially for my age. I can still outrun a lot of guys younger than I am on the soccer field, and I don't look bad (for my age) when I go shirtless (like sometimes I do when I'm out weeding or mowing the lawn and it's over a hundred degrees).
  3. I've had three short stories published and have written (but not yet published) three novels. Don't look for me in the NY Public Library, though. The journals my stories showed up in (Thereby Hangs A Tale, THEMA, and The First Line) don't appear to be indexed by author in their catalog.
  4. I have an electrical engineering degree from the #1 public university in the country.
  5. At my job, the web site I built and maintain helped employees give over $20 million to charities this year. I, of course, donate a small part (a very small part) of that $20 million. But I think that's an awesome thing.
  6. I'm a crossing guard at my kids' elementary school. I've done it four years now (two days a week), and it's actually a lot of fun. I've been nearly run over four times--once I really thought I was going to get hit, possibly killed--and I've saved a kid's life three times. You would think that most people drive slowly through a residential school zone, particularly when there's a crosswalk and it's the time when school is getting out. But, not so. Moms are distracted by whiny kids who forgot their backpacks, or they're on their way to the middle school to pick up their other kids, or they're on their cell phones arranging play dates. So please, when you're picking up or dropping off your kids, obey the traffic laws (don't make up your own rules like so many people fee entitled to do) and watch, watch, watch for kids... they have a tendency to run out at the most inopportune moments.
  7. I've been to ten countries besides the one I live in. I plan on visiting more when the kids are a little older.
  8. My wife and I completed the Avon 3-Day breast cancer walk in 2000 in San Francisco. What a tremendous experience. Sixty miles of walking in three days is not that easy, even if there's someone giving you snacks and drinks every few miles, and cooking your food each night. Still, I enjoy the looks people give me when I tell them I once walked from San Jose to San Francisco.
  9. I don't totally suck at music. As a kid, I played snare in a fife & drum corps (the Nayaug Ancients, which appears to have folded years ago, but who made an album at one time... if you know someone who has it, I'd love to get a scan of the cover art and a copy of the recordings). Then I taught myself guitar; now I can play anything that is labeled by "made easy for guitar" pretty much. And I'm not an atrocious singer. I'm not dumb enough to put myself onto American Idol, but I think I could hold my own at karaoke.
  10. I was once given "the finger" by 10,000 people at once. Dismayed by the awful job the fans were doing at a Cal football game, I ran down and took the mike and tried to lead a cheer. Of course, I had to turn my back to the game to face the other students. While I did, the refs made an awful call and the fans all booed. I thought they were booing my attempt to lead a cheer and said something I regret. I'm lucky I didn't get rolled up.
OK, do you think I'm awesome now? Nah, me neither.

June 11, 2007

powering through it

Each morning I come in to the city for work, I work for an hour and then hit the gym. Many days I am tempted to skip the gym (I'm always tempted to skip the work part of my day, but that rarely works out). After all, I play soccer two or three times a week and I'm in pretty good shape. But most of the time I grit my teeth and power through the laziness and get my butt over to the gym.

Then, while I'm there, every pause in exercise (typically I lift weights, so there are a lot of pauses) gives my Inner Couch Potato an opportunity to speak. "Maybe we can skip this set," he says. Or, "You know, you don't need to do that many reps." Or, "You feel tired. That must be your body telling you to slow down." But I power through it (most of the time) and, after finishing, feel great about the workout.

I realized this morning that writing is often like that. The inner editor or critic pipes up at every pause. The many demands of house, family, work, and daydreaming clamor for attention. And often I give in to those voices when I wouldn't give in to my Inner Couch Potato about exercise. Why is that? Doesn't matter, I suppose. I just need to power through that writing time no matter what.

Easier said than done some days.

June 9, 2007

Congratulations pack 464!

June 8, 2007

Fiction Friday: fatherhood, doctors, and mugs

This week's theme: Write a story/poem about fatherhood with a doctor as the main character and a mug as the key object. Set your story/poem in a garden.

"Time to let Dad go." I reached again for the oversized coffee mug in my sister's trembling hands.

She pulled back from me in reflex, her body more on autopilot than under any conscious control she might muster. "I just can't believe I couldn't do anything for him," she mumbled. I tried hard not to roll my eyes or sigh. Her tear-filled eyes glanced up from the mug, and her gaze locked onto mine. I couldn't imagine she saw much sympathy, or any feeling there. "I'm a doctor, I should have been able to do something."

"Gwen, you're an ER doctor, not an oncologist." I resisted the urge to remind her how many times we'd had this particular conversation. I could count four just since breakfast. "Look, we're losing the light. Let's just get this over with, OK?"

"You know he always liked you better," she whispered, a sniffle punctuating a slight pause between "always" and "liked." "Maybe..."

"Maybe nothing, Gwen. Jesus Christ, just give me the mug."

She shot me a glare like I'd just stabbed her children. "I was going to say," she enunciated at me, "that maybe he told you about the will."

"Oh." I hadn't seen that coming. "I thought you were going to say maybe you couldn't help him because your subconscious wouldn't let you." As the words were tumbling out of my mouth, I realized it was exactly the wrong thing to say. "You know," I tried to recover, "because he always liked me best."

She thrust the mug out at me and held it there in silence, her unblinking glare fixed on my nose. She learned that glare when she was only four and I would sneak her toys away and bury them in the cat's litter box. I wished she would say something. Maybe yell at me. Around us, the thick hedges and lush roses blocked out most of the city noise from the streets beyond. If it were me, I'd have poured the old fool's ashes down the toilet. No, Gwen had to honor all his wishes. Our jerk of a father had stomped on her ever since the divorce, ever since she could talk. It was his disdain for her that drove her to achieve so much more than I ever could. She, an ER doctor. I, a supermarket store manager.

I lifted the mug from her hands and turned to face the roses. I glanced at Gwen, who clearly was waiting for me to say something funeralish. "Dad," I said at the green leaves and pink blossoms, "You tended these roses as a volunteer here, at City Garden, for twenty years. Now you can stay here forever." Slowly, I tipped the mug to the side and watched the smooth, gray-brown ash slip over itself and then fall to the dirt, drifting in an ethereal sort of cloud along the hedgerow.

Gwen heaved a heavy sigh. "That's that, I guess," she said to no one in particular. She turned and strolled along the hedge, and I followed, still holding the mug.

"So," she said as we reached the vined arch exiting to the street, "did he give you the will?"

The truth rattled around my mouth for a bit, but I swallowed it. "No."

"So that means we just split everything up?"

"I guess."

We ambled down the hill, my sneakers scuffing along the scratched and fragmented concrete of the sidewalk, until we got to the bus stop. The eighteen wouldn't arrive for another ten minutes, if it was on time. We sat on the bench in the little bus shelter, and Gwen set her hand on top of mine.

"Dad was a son of a bitch, but really, I totally expected him to carry through on that threat of writing me out of the will." She smiled a bit and looked at me. "I guess he wasn't all bad after all."

I smiled back at her, every bit of me glad that I'd flushed the asshole's ashes down the toilet and that his destructive, hateful will--in which he left everything to me--would be fertilizing the City Park's roses. I squeezed Gwen's hand and said nothing.


You are an ISTJ!

As an ISTJ, you are Intraverted, Sensing, Thinking, and Judging.

This makes your primary focus on Introverted Sensing with Extroverted Thinking.

This is defined as a SJ personality, which is part of Carl Jung's Guardian (Security Seeking) type, and more specifically the Inspector or Duty Fulfiller.

As a weblogger, you may have a dependable form of posting. You may be more likely to be judgmentatal toward others who aren't as dependable. You may get taken advantage of in group situations because you are known as not being able to say no. Because of your respect for facts and information, you may need multiple blogs to keep all of the information sorted in your head.

Thanks to Crimson Wife for the link to the test.

3,504 and counting

Over 3,500 now. That's American soldiers killed in the Iraq war, according to icasualties.org.

Do you feel safer than you did five years ago, before the US invaded Iraq? I certainly don't. In fact, living in earthquake country, I feel significantly less safe than five years ago. At least then I had some hope that the national guard was standing by to help recover and rebuild.

By the way, that guy bin Laden is still out there somewhere.

But I guess none of this is "news" so it doesn't matter.

June 7, 2007

thursday thirteen (#10)

Thirteen of my favorite "Guess The Plot" entries I've submitted to Evil Editor's blog. Evil Editor critiques query letters, and blog readers are given only the title in order to supply a brief potential plot summary. I love doing this because, well, it's fun, but also because it makes me try to conceptualize a premise that could support a novel and then distill it into just three or four sentences. Or it's an opportunity to be humorous. So far I've submitted around 140 GTP entries, about 75% of which Evil Editor found worthy of using. Remember, the titles are from allegedly real books people have written and are trying to get published. I didn't make 'em up.
  1. Blind Side
    Only a quarterback could truly love a left tackle. When the coach finds out just how much his QB Brad loves the left tackle Don--and just how hard Don works at covering Brad's blind side--he considers trading Don for a big tight end.
  2. Less Than Mighty
    During two weeks in drug rehab, Mediocre Mouse comes to realize that he does not need to live up to his older brother's reputation in order to find true love.
  3. From Gray Mists, Returned
    For fifty years librarian Millicent Bottomweather tsk-tsked when patrons claimed they had returned books which clearly they had not. Now, one foggy day in November, hundreds of goblins emerge from the mists to return the thousands of missing books. Will Millicent succeed in collecting their late fees?
  4. The Orphan Pearl
    An albino toddler washes up on the beach after a devastating storm in 1904 Okinawa. An aging fisherman suffers ostracism and prejudice when he raises her as his own child. Can she redeem his memory as an adult by saving the village?
  5. Worse Than Death
    Teenage techno-polkafunk band Steeped In Molasses is known throughout the region as the only band worse than their headbanging classmates, Death. The band nearly breaks up when Roxy wants to improve but Dale thinks they should try the William Hung route to stardom. Can their friendship survive the tension and the vampire drummer?
  6. Loving Yourself With Food
    Mike Daley and tech support phone rep Chi meet when Mike calls in to find out just what the DVD player manual means by "loving yourself with food." Will their language barrier keep them from true love?
  7. Like Running in Dreams
    You know how in a dream, when you really have to get somewhere and you try to run, and it's like slogging through neck-deep molasses? Reading this book is, yeah, kinda like that.
  8. The Zero
    It's 1941 meets Connecticut Yankee meets Ran as a Japanese fighter plane from World War II slips through a time warp and lands amid a Samurai war in fourth century Japan.
  9. A Disorder Peculiar to the Country
    Max Bling wants to spend a quiet weekend away from the busy city. He finds, however, that a sleepy upstate New York village is populated by a group of people with an odd speech impediment . . . and a common history tied to a shallow grave and a woman known only as "Bibibibilanoo."
  10. Eat The Document
    Mark thought he was instructing his secretary to "edit the document." But his faulty experimental speech recognition software has her chewing it up with her cottage cheese and grapefruit for lunch. Hilarity ensues until the two fall in love--she with his quirky instructions, and he with her zany behavior.
  11. Eat, Drink, and Be Married
    Patricia, single and nearing forty, her biological clock ticking like a suicide bomber's watch, begins to dabble in love potions. When she accidentally discovers the secret ingredient by spilling her potion into the pomegranate punch at the PTA's dinner-dance, hilarity ensues.
  12. A Perilous Reunion
    He's a gay prostitute to the rich and powerful. She's a genius ex munitions expert with a passion for social justice. Together, they're fraternal twins who were separated as kids in Houston's foster care system. An accident involving a broken heel, a spilled drink, and a craps table brings them together again. Now no one in Washington is safe.
  13. The Secrets of Harworth Castle
    Harworth Stillwell built a castle using a genius, groundbreaking architectural innovation never before seen and unlikely ever to be repeated. Too bad Harworth is four yeas old and the tide is coming in.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!
The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

June 5, 2007

Ten on Tuesday: 10 jobs


10 occupations you wanted to be when you were young
I'm not sure I ever wanted to be an occupation. But I think I get what the topic means. There are two problems with this topic, though: What is meant by "young," and if "young" means 8 years old then I can't remember anything I wanted to be except retired. So I guess I'll go with that as #1.

  1. Retired. I didn't know what that meant, really, but I knew it could involve an RV, and I thought RVs were wicked cool. I still want to be retired.
  2. Jai-Alai player. I used to watch (and bet on) jai-alai at the old MGM Grand in Vegas. Ricardo, Acosta, Juan, and all the others whose names escape me but whose play I remember. I still have a couple of programs from the late 1970s before they closed the fronton and turned it into convention space. That was a sad, sad day for me. I wanted to learn to play jai-alai so bad that I almost used all my own money to by myself a cesta and looked into where I could take lessons. I'll just say that it's a good thing we all grow up at some point. But I'd still love to have been a player.
  3. Baseball player. I stunk at baseball. I had more strikeouts than putouts. The coach put me at second base my first several years because I couldn't throw all the way to first base from shortstop. Plus, I was short, so I guess he thought I could block the grounders. Now I would still like to be a baseball player. Not because I like baseball (I don't) but because the average salary is over $1 million a year, and it would take me closer to my #1 career choice (see above).
  4. Pilot. This was back in the days when stewardesses were young and hot and slept with the pilots on a regular basis. But it was also back in the days when I was too young and still thought girls were sort of pointless. I just loved all the gadgets in the cockpit and the idea of flying. I really liked those little plastic wings the airlines gave the kids, and I figured pilots got as many of those as they wanted.
  5. Casino Dealer. My mom drove a cab in Vegas when I was young, and I spent a lot of time walking through casinos to get to the movies, or to restaurants, or to the video arcades, or to jai-alai. I was a regular at the craps table by 18 even though I still looked eleven years old. Never won anything but never lost much, either. As a kid, though, I though it was all cool. Now I feel sorry for the dealers because of what they have to put up with from the customers.
  6. Soldier. But not just any soldier. A black-and-white soldier from a WW II movie. Those guys were tough and had integrity and grit, and they always won with courage and aplomb or died trying. And the nurses they hooked up with when they got some injury. Mmm mmm.
  7. President of the United States. Initially, I thought I could be a good one, and flying in your own 747 seemed like a neat idea. Plus, you got to order aircraft carriers around. Later, after my grandmother told me I could never be President because it took a certain kind of person (I was hurt at first, but now that I'm older I understand she meant a power-hungry liar who will stop at nothing to achieve personal gain), I still wanted to be president because the best job in the world is retired president. Big pension, your own enormous library, and your own entourage of secret service people.
  8. Race car driver. What isn't cool about race cars when you're a 10-year-old boy?
  9. Writer. I didn't really realize this was a career until middle school, and by then I was already into computers. But I loved to write as a kid. Although I got my college degree in electrical engineering, my first jobs were in tech writing and I managed to author several articles in industry journals.
  10. Computer programmer. I'm not sure I ever really wanted to be this when I was "young." I wanted a video game system (Intellivision at the time), but my dad got me an Apple ][+. I learned to program it in BASIC and then Pascal and even assembly, writing programs to help run the Dungeons & Dragons games my friends and I spent our time on. I thought I was a nerd until I got to the UC Berkeley school of engineering when I found out what the word truly means. I didn't even know they had AP classes in Pascal until I realized I'd much rather be taking History or English. But I knew that if I switched to History or English, I'd have a much harder time reaching my #1 career goal. Which is why I have been building complex, database driven web applications for the past eight years.

so THAT'S what it's called

This list has apparently been around a very long time, but I did not know most of these terms. I had heard of a MacGuffin, of course, and Deus ex Machina, the "And Plot" and "as you know, Bob." And a few others. But I feel like my writing education improved dramatically after reading it. Highly recommended.

June 1, 2007

lacking momentum

People talk about being at a crossroads at certain points in their lives. But me, I think I live at the crossroads. My entire life seems to be one long debate about where I should focus my energies.

OK, it's clear some things come first: Family and beer, for example. And college football in high definition. But look at my career. Halfway through college, I nearly switched from Electrical Engineering to English. My career arc has taken me in a sort of spirograph from tech writing to programming to marketing back to programming to project management to entrepreneurship to programming to program management. And along the way, I've dabbled in writing fiction (and nonfiction) under the fantasy of some day being able to write as a career.

Back in 2000 when the dot-com bubble was expanding, I turned away from marketing (not entirely but mostly) to focus on web programming because I figured when the bubble burst, I could benefit from having established programming skills. Turns out that was a terribly prudent move. I fairly quickly got a good programming job at a bad company while many marketing people were out pounding the bricks looking for openings. And it was my database skill that hooked me up with my current company, and my web skill that got me my current job. But I find my role shifting dramatically away from programming, and now I'm very confused.

I love my job, my company, my boss, and what I do. What I do makes a difference [pdf]. But it's one of those jobs that can expand itself to take up all your waking moments and all your energy. The number of task forces and committees and boards and advisory councils and such I could join is enormous, and all of them full of interesting people doing meaningful work. And, it looks like there will be a call for that expertise in the future, and not just on the regulatory side. Plus, I get to hobnob with some pretty interesting people in some pretty high places in the corporate, nonprofit, and public sectors.

When I look ahead to my twelve-year personal plan, though, I pause. (Why 12 years, you ask? If you've ever had your youngest child in first grade, you'll understand.) In 12 years do I want to be at the top of this field, an expert among experts? Given that I'd have nearly 20 years experience in the field at that point, it's not unlikely. Or do I really want to be doing something else like living the life of an author in a mountain cabin, writing best sellers? Maybe that's unlikely, maybe not. But I know I can't have two parallel 12-year plans with such disparate outcomes. Especially when family and beer come first.

If you have advice on this question, feel free to share it in the comments.

Writing Update:
I've just fine-tuned and sent off my three short stories that recently boomeranged back to me in their SASEs. Although finding little & literary markets can be time consuming, one benefit is that you get to read a lot of good stuff in the process.