Chez Shaffner

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"Am I Gone? Is that for real?"

As Keryn and I stood in the parking lot of a Walgreens in Buffalo, she pointed across the street. "Does that say 'am I gone' funeral home? Is that for real?"

It did, and out came my trusty Elph. Amigone Funeral Home, apparently a chain around these parts. I can’t help but chuckle looking at this picture, which is why I’m sharing it with you today.

I struggle mightily with the intersection of levity and death, and always have, feeling a certain discomfort at dark humor. Apparently Western New Yorkers don’t share that struggle.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Seeking Inspiration in Buffalo (?!?)

As I write today’s short entry, I find myself sitting in a hotel room in Buffalo, New York. Usually when I travel someplace that isn’t on everyone’s desired destinations list, I have work to do. Typically, I would be spending my lunch hour plotting the afternoon requirements gathering session and strategizing forthcoming deliverables. Instead, this trip I’m a tagalong (in other words, a moocher, not to be confused with the tasty Girl Scout Cookie). I’m here to write and provide Keryn with dinner-time companionship. The road can be a lonely place.

I’m listening to the soundtrack from Garden State (which kicks ass, by the way, especially track three), drinking Mountain Dew, and typing furiously. While the housekeeper stripped the bed a few minutes ago, I sat at the desk, finishing up the latest Normal Guy/Girl blog entry about Buffalo. After I finish today’s obligatory personal blog entry (Outlook keeps chirping at me!), I’m turning my attention to my novel.

As usual, I’m editing. In a wonderful twist, however, the thirty pages I’m red-lining today did not exist last Tuesday.

Actually, those thirty pages aren’t entirely new. One chapter existed before, drafted more than a year ago, but last week I re-wrote the whole thing from scratch, referring to the old draft purely for concepts. One or two sentences might have survived, but I really couldn’t say for sure. The resemblance is slender.

It is official: I’m in love with my novel again. And if I accomplish nothing else in the next three months, I will find out what happens to Billy Jones, whether he gets the girl and escapes Memphis (ME) unharmed.

You see, I’m flying without an outline. More than that, it would be fair to say I don’t have the faintest clue how the story ends. As the working days pass, I keep surprising myself. For example: midway through the chapter I’m editing today, I put two people in bed who were never supposed to end up in bed. It kind of just happened…the way it often does in real life. They’re totally wrong for each other, and putting them together throws all kinds of kinks into the plot. It is inevitable that Charlie will ditch Stacy within forty pages—he’s not looking for commitment—and that’s going to devastate any chance Billy has with Stacy’s friend Ginny. But there was no other way. Cheap beer and strong pot and a hot tub: craziness ensues.

When the story goes and goes without having to think through each step: that’s when I feel I’ve really found it. The feeling doesn’t always last long. Sometimes it’s fifteen minutes. Other times, two full hours. And in the rarest of cases, like last Wednesday night, it starts at eight p.m. and ends at four a.m., not because it wants to, but because my head crashes with exhaustion and bounces off the keyboard, my nose writing six pages of "jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj..." before I wake and groggily push the computer aside.

When those words pour out, it’s an amazing feeling. It’s the feeling I remember from my youth, when I didn’t have such a loud-mouth internal censor. Back then, I went wherever my characters took me, and I had a great time. Now I find it much harder to let go.

Hold on... Was that a twitch in my hand? It might be inspiration. I’d better go. Billy’s getting ready for his first date with Ginny...


Friday, September 22, 2006

Buffalo Reading List

As readers of The Thrilling Travels of Normal Guy and Girl already know, I am heading on an extravagant journey. Beginning Sunday at 4:55, when I board the US Airways flight from Logan to Buffalo-Niagara, and culminating in an AirTran flight from Rochester to Logan next Friday, I will spend the next week exploring Western New York.

During this trip, I expect to spend a lot of time in isolation. As Keryn journeys from high school to high school to college fair to high school, I will undoubtedly find myself alone in the reclined passenger seat of her rental car.

Sure, I am planning some sight-seeing adventures, including a self-guided tour of downtown Buffalo, a sunset tour of Niagara Falls, and whatever I find Rochester has to offer (research into that answer is planned for this afternoon).

However, I think there's some reading to be done.

I hesitate to admit this, but my reading rate fluctuates widely. Over the last five years, I have experienced six-month stretches where I averaged better than one book per week, and I have experienced six-month stretches where I've been lucky to get through The New Yorker every week. Sure, there are always online literary magazines and stories read in various online workshops, but sometimes I fall down on the job...

So here it is, the list of books I plan to read in Buffalo / Rochester:

Mutual Holdings by my friend Susan DiPlacido.
Old School by Tobias Wolff
What Should I Do With My Life by Po Bronson

I can't imagine getting through all three next week, but just in case, I'm also bringing On Beauty by Zadie Smith, which I was supposed to read last month for a book club. (Shame on me; Daphne, I'm sorry.)

And of course, if I really run out of reading material, there's always On Unrequited Love and Serial Killers...

(Tell me honestly, does the working title suck?)


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Writing Contests and Powerpuff Girls

As those of you who have read my biography know, I have been in and out of the writing world the last few years. My re-introduction has been very pleasant so far, with one of my pieces appearing two weeks ago in The Beat and a slew of pieces going out for consideration in the last two weeks. My fingers are crossed.

I have also been looking into a variety of contests. It may not be surprising that the deadlines are fast and furious through the fall, especially when you include those publications staffed primarily by students.

Many contests are straight-forward, their guidelines providing little more than a general format (fiction, creative non-fiction) and word count (500, 1000, 5000). But I recently came across a fun one, which I just have to post here. Not because I want to encourage competition, of course, but because it's FUN.

edifice WRECKED is a fantastic publication, very professional in layout and content, and typically playing host to a wonderful selection of short stories, flash fiction, and poetry from many brilliant authors, some of whom I've had the good fortune to work with through various online workshops, including Zoetrope Virtual Studio.

Here are the basics... For full details, check out the official contest guidelines.

Due Date: Sept 30th
Word Count: 600 words
Theme: Halloween

The Catch: You have to use the following six phrases (in no particular order) as seven of those six hundred words...

  • Buttercup
  • Rainbow
  • Baby Lotion
  • Sunflower
  • Rastafarian
  • Brackish

How about that selection of words? Hot damn, got to assemble some incredibly random ideas to pull those together.

I am ashamed to admit that upon reading the list, I immediately thought of the Powerpuff Girls. Last week, I was roped into a game of Cranium with my girlfriend's sisters. Ker and I cleaned up, despite our (my) weakness at charades. Enter "Cadoo," a free throw-in from the KB Toys dude at the mall. A Cranium clone, targeted to a younger audience. Against our better judgment, we opted to try it.

The questions were easy. The three ladies got questions such as: "Spell this word backwards -- morning." The turn passed to me, and I drew a trivia question: "Which is the smartest Powerpuff Girl?" Huh?!? Who the hell are Powerpuff Girls? The choices were Blossom, Buttercup, and Bubbles. I guessed Buttercup, which was wrong (the answer, for those of you who may need this datum in the future, is Blossom).

But I digress... I am looking forward to writing this contest entry! And I'm pretty sure it won't have anything to do with children's cartoons...


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

On Revising.. and revising.. and revising again...

For six hours yesterday, I revised something whose oldest draft has three years' dust on its pages. Some sentences in that piece have been re-written twenty times, and none have escaped the red pen. If any sentences today resemble their first-draft form, it is the result of being revised and re-revised into that state.

I thought I had trimmed every darling, slashed all extraneous words, tightened my phrasing, and sharpened my adjectives. Ha!

Again and again, I have fleshed out my characters, added details to stengthen thin scenes, subtracted details to make long scenes read more smoothly, until I was sure I was done. Nope.

I have run the spell-check two dozen times, at a minimum, and chosen to "ignore once" the same incidences of poetic license forty times over. Those squiggly green lines in Microsoft Word drive me crazy.

Entire characters have been deleted and new ones added in their stead. The antagonist's name has changed four times. Thanks to my indecision on that key point, I have learned find & replace is far from fool-proof; I'm still redacting references to his former monikers.

Two reams of multi-purpose paper have been recycled on account of these measly 7,000 words.

The story has been revised to stand alone, revised to be a novel chapter, and revised again to stand alone.

In its pages, my humble protagonist, has eaten lunch. No--breakfast. No--lunch. No--breakfast AND lunch. No--breakfast. No--cut the eating. Who wants to read about scrambled eggs, anyway.

The story has worn five different titles.

In older forms, it was workshopped, submitted, and rejected. The Playboy rejection slip, approximately the size of a postcard, is my favorite.

Three years after its first incarnation, I think it's close to done. Or, perhaps more precisely, I'm ready to set it aside for a least two weeks.

You know it's bad when Nature taunts you, as she did yesterday afternoon. As summer spat its last gasps, we were blessed with Mostly Sunny, Eighty Degrees. Down to the swimming pool I went, a pile of drafts in tow. This story, marred already by a first round of edits in red ink, sat atop the stack.

Being a Tuesday in September and all, the pool was empty. I selected my deck chair, laid beach towels across the vinyl, shed my flips, and pulled the papers from my messenger bag. I donned ear-buds and scrolled through the iPod menu. Música... Álbumes... I chose Sea Change by Beck, which I haven't heard in about a year.

At that instant, a gust of wind swirled through the courtyard. The loose pages of my draft riffled away, across the patio, toward the pool. I stomped three sheets, secured the pile.

Reluctantly, I peered over my shoulder toward the swimming pool. Atop the turqouise water floated twenty pages. Whether I had planned an afternoon swim or not, I was going in the water.

Fortunately, and somewhat to my surprise, the toner held up to chlorinated water. I stuck the damp pages to a vacant deck chair and laid one of my beach towels across them. An hour later, they were crispy, misshapen, but readable. Even those red marks from the prior round of edits remained.

I took them in my hands, gripping tightly, and read through again, each sentence twice, redlining anything that made me stumble, scratch my chin, or look toward the sky. Last night, those nits and redactions flowed through my fingers. Once more, I printed those pages, and loaded them into the binder labeled "final draft." It's about time.

If I think too long about how many hours I have spent on these 7,000 words alone, the word "depressing" comes to mind. But that's the nature of the craft. Is the story better today than it was yesterday? Yes. Is it better than it was 30 months ago (!) when it first fell victim to reviewers critique? Hell yes. Is it Playboy material? Unlikely. Perhaps another round of revisions is necessary...

For now, that next round will have to wait. I rose this morning at 7:45am and sat down to my keyboard to write the next revision-worthy episode.

For any writers out there, while I was adding links to key pieces of the above rant, I came across the following interesting blog about "killing your darlings". She makes some great points!


Monday, September 18, 2006

The Johnnie Walker Experience

L to R: Jeff J., Mark H., Ben C., The Author

Friday night, we headed to the Cyclorama in Boston's South End for the Johnnie Walker Experience, a special event where each attendee has the privilege of sampling each of the five colors, including the pricey Blue. I have received email invitations to these events once or twice a year since I graduated college, but never considered attending. About a month ago, my buddy Ben C. emailed a few of us to see if we were intereseted. Why not? I figured. All thse years deleting those emails, maybe it was time to see what it was all about.

The line coiled down the block. The event was slated to start at 6:30pm and we were on the RSVP list (not that it mattered, so far as I could tell). Ben told us to be there about 30 minutes early, but 50 whisky-drinkers (no "e" in Scotch Whisky, I guess) were already there when we arrived.

A cadre of women wearing short-black skirts, most of whom have never considered ordering a glass of whisky in their lives, checked us in on Tablet PCs. Upon completing a short survey on our drinking habits, we were presented with gold tokens, which entitled us to a complimentary drink at the bar. A long wait and two plates of crudités later, we had drinks in our hands (only Red and Black, the two most inexpensive varieties, were available at the bar).

They summoned us to the presentation room.

The Cyclorama, for what it's worth, is one of the more unusual buildings I've ever been inside. Part of the Boston Center for the Arts complex, it hosts a wide variety of events, ranging from art exhibits to political rallies. (The Johnnie Walker event is one of several alcohol-related events, including a Belgian beer fest in October that Ben C. is pushing hard). As the name implies, the building is circular. Red-brick walls, glass ceiling, exposed ductwork. It is an impressive space...with an interesting story.

Benches were arranged in four sections, with a square opening at the center of the room. In front of each seat in the crowd sat the drinks (except the Gold and Blue varieties), each shot glass placed on a colored circle indicating the label.

Huge video screens flashed with seemingly irrelevant images (rainforests, glaciers, Porsches, male/female models) and the potent sound system blasted a dramatic score.

Into the center of the circle bounded our presenter, a thirty-something woman in a business suit, bearing a tall glass of blended scotch.

Rather than bore you with the detailed recounting, let me summarize what I learned:

  • Black is your "every day whisky"
  • Red is all about FUN (and, judging from the video, fun = race cars, fast motorcycles, and bicycle racing)
  • Gold is about celebration, the champagne of whiskys. Best served like revenge.
  • Green is our presenter's "flask whiskey" (which she clarified with an anecdote involving snow, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, a pewter flask, and some question about whether she was clothed at the time)
  • If your date is a real boozehound, they also market Green as an eau de toilette. (We were all asked to splash some on our hands, rub them together, and pat out necks. Some of us opted out.)
  • Blue is expensive (you can tell because they served it in a snifter, très chic), perfect for special occasions such as: "a marriage, a birth, a divorce." (I kid you not).
As with any tasting event, it was little more than a looooong commercial.

But we are sophisticated Gen Y urban professionals.

We spit in the face of advertisement.

We will not be swayed by flash and a thumping beats.

We are free thinkers.

On the way out, we deposited the JW collateral in a nearby trash bin. We took a left onto Berkeley and strolled toward a great restaurant, our hunger piqued by two hours drinking scotch.

The waiter approached; we ordered four glasses of Johnnie Walker Black and ginger ale.


Fantasy Football Terrifies Me

Everything about fantasy football intimidates me: the complexity of the scoring, the needing to pay attention to every game on the board, the ruthless trash-talking amongst friends, the constant monitoring of injury reports, the estimable risk of losing control and becoming obsessed.

For years, I have heard my friends talk about their fantasy teams and leagues and quietly stepped away, since the conversation did not pertain to me. One of my friends partipates in a league that has a physical draft in NYC, where all the fantasy owners fly in to be physically present for the draft. One friend establishes an annual fantasy budget; this year's allowance was set at $700. That's a lot of money, if you ask me, and I'm kind of a spendthrift.

Several weeks back, I made the mistake of mentioning off-hand to Ben S., one of my fantasy-obsessed friends, that I had never participated in a fantasy league. I made the further mistake of implying that I never participated because I had never been invited. Why I felt it necessary to make him feel guilty, I don't quite know.

After Week One, Ben s. decided to start a new low-stress league. Low stress because it has only six owners, which means everybody has good players. Various rumors permeated our group of friends as to Ben's motivation for launching this league, but the general consensus is that his existing teams aren't very strong and he wanted another chance at winning. In our new league, with its selection of less-experienced owners such as myself, he thinks he has an advantage.

Last Wednesday, I scheduled an hour for this draft. Keryn napped on the couch while I sat at the computer, picking players I hate from teams I hate. Some of my choices may have been suspect, though nobody said anything snide in the chat area. I was expecting somebody to say "a kicker in the first round?!? Shaffner, are you a @*&%!#@ IDIOT?" But they let it go, content that I wasn't going to compete for the "trophy."

(FYI: I didn't actually take a kicker in the first round. Even I knew that was dumb. You should wait until at least the 2nd round...)

I made my picks, including most of the players I had "pre-drafted" the day before, when I should have been working on my novel or updating this blog...

(Incidentally, blog fodder was one of Ben's selling points when I showed some hesitation at joining the league. I think he may be right, though there are already way too many fantasy blogs out there... I promise no more than one short posting a week, honestly...)

I am lucky to have a girlfriend who likes football, because we sat in front of the TV for three hours of it yesterday. Sure enough, I found myself saying things like "If the Bears can hold out, I'll get 10 points for the shutout, yeah!" and "68 receiving yards, that's 7 points, could be worse" and "Nice, Peyton threw for 400, my receivers must have had a great day!"

In esssence, as I sat on the couch, I felt fantasy seizing control over my brain and eating away at my soul. Was I really celebrating that Reggie Wayne (IND) had 135 yards receiving and cursing that he couldn't have caught one of the touchdowns? Those words of encouragement for Eli Manning, were they coming out of my mouth? In the sobering light of Monday morning, I am afraid of who I'm becoming and what this league will do to me...

For the record, here was my starting lineup yesterday:
QB Eli Manning (NYG)
RB Reggie Bush (NOR)
RB Brian Westbrook (PHI)
WR Reggie Wayne (IND)
WR Marvin Harrison (IND)
WR Keenan McCardell (SD)
TE Tony Gonzalez (KC)
K Stephen Gostkowski (NE)
DEF Chicago

Not awful, but not great...

I'll be back later today with something not related to football... :)


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

José González at Avalon (Boston)

The stage is crowded. Drum set, two large synthesizers, electric guitar and bass resting in their cradles, eight microphone stands, speakers upon speakers. The stage promises bombast. It promises noise.

Two spotlights train on a single man, seated at the front of the stage, acoustic guitar on his right knee. Plucking the bass line with his thumb, thumping the percussion with the heel of his palm, delivering melody in the confluence of his voice and reverberating strings. An orchestra emerges from those two simple instruments: intense and rich, better than bombast, more powerful than noise.

The lone musician is José González, and I came to Avalon tonight to see him. The thin crowd milling about near the stage twenty minutes before his set is here for the same reason. Over the next hour, hundreds more will arrive, eschewing the opening act for the headliner, Zero 7, of which José González is also a current member. Shame on them for missing his act, though the sparseness allows me an unobstructed view from twenty feet.

A few months ago I bought The Chillout Sessions 2006, by Ministry of Sound. (As of this writing, Amazon has only 5 copies left, so I recommend buying now, if you're into downtempo). José González's version of "Heartbeats" is the opening track--you may have heard it an advertisement for the Sony Bravia. That track alone made me hesitate when perusing the events calendar at yesterday. After listening to Mr. González's myspace profile, I decided it was worth $17 to see him live.

For ten seconds between songs he tunes his guitar; even that sounds beautiful. "Slow Moves" is especially awe-inspiring: close your eyes and your brain paints a picture of a three-piece band, open them and find only José González, squeezing more sound from that guitar than you believe possible. Later, after Zero 7 launches its high energy, synth-rich set, one where thrilling electric guitar solos are sometimes wrought through the pounding of keys, José González emerges from the wings. He takes his place again and sings "Futures," the band's current single. It works. Alternating lead vocals between the bounding, skipping, and enthusiasticSia Furler to the quiet intensity of José González, Zero 7 strikes a lovely balance.

See them together if you can, or find a way to see José González on his ongoing solo tour. It was worth a lot more than $17 to me…


More Ole Miss Football...

Keryn has posted a response to yesterday's blog over at our shared blogging project. Check it out:

Be back later with a recap of the José González and Zero-7 show I saw last night at Avalon.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Much Needed Injection of Football: Part Two

Yesterday I warned you to expect another football article, this one tackling the Ole Miss vs. Missouri show-down on Saturday. Well, better a day late than never at all…

We had big plans for our Saturday. The sun was shining, it was rumored the air temperature would touch eighty by mid-afternoon, and the swimming pool in my building remained open for business (two more weeks before they mark the official end of summer). Therefore, lounging on lawn chairs while listening to our iPods in preparation for the Ben Harper concert later that night was definitely in play.

So was shopping. Keryn has some struggles finding shoes in her size (5½) and I proposed a trip across town to the DSW in Downtown Crossing. (Because that’s the kind of new age, sensitive guy I am).

Finally, there was the issue of food. In fact, we were five steps from the door, en route to our old standby, The Trident (which I have written about before and will surely write about again), when Keryn decided to check her email one last time. We were expecting a message from an out-of-town friend about whether she’d be able to meet up with us later that night.

"What’s FSN?" she asked.

"Fox Sports Net," I said. "Why?"

"Do you get that station?"

"Of course," I said.

She looked at me with her big brown eyes; I readied myself for a bomb. But how many megatons could she drop on me, if FSN was involved? Dance team competitions and the like seem much more ESPN2.

"The Ole Miss game is on," she said.

"Okay," I said.

"We might have to watch it." She winced, as if she were asking me to scrub the toilet bowl.

I pretended to be hurt, conflicted by the Sophie’s Choice she was presenting me. Gee, watch football or shop for shoes? Faux-reluctantly, I agreed. (Because that’s the kind of new age, sensitive guy I am.)

Two days in a row with football? Two days in a row with football, at my girlfriend’s request? I almost couldn’t contain myself. But I had to act unenthused.

"Sure, I guess that’s okay," I said, flatly, before lumbering over to take the choice seat on the couch and grabbing the remote. "But since we don’t have any food in the house, I suppose we’ll have to order pizza..."

(By the way, Mizzou manhandled Ole Miss, 34-7. It wasn’t pretty.)

From now on I’ll be looking to find when they are televised again, so I can "accidentally" leave the page open on my computer for her to see...


Monday, September 11, 2006

A Much Needed Injection of Football: Part One

Although I have watched football from the couch almost every weekend since Fall 1986, I am ashamed to admit I have never attended an NFL game.

As for college, Harvard Stadium and the Yale Bowl are legitimate venues, and The Game has a fairly legitimate tailgate, at least according to this article. But through the last few years, as I heard stories from friends who went to school in the Big 10 or SEC, I began to develop something of a complex.

To give you some idea, according to Sports Illustrated, the tailgate at my girlfriend’s alma mater is the #3 must-do college event. That fact alone is enough to make me feel pretty nervous about dragging her along with me to The Game this year… Since it’s at home, though, we don’t have much choice. I will probably house a few boarders on my living room floor, and it would raise some eyebrows if I opted against joining them in Allston.

To get ourselves into the football spirit, Keryn and I went to the Bentley College home opener on Friday night. I had never watched a Division II game (Harvard is I-AA, which some find surprising), and had no idea what to expect. I knew, from intrepid googling, that Bentley was in the Division II playoffs as recently as 2004 and had knocked off #18 East Stroudsburg the week before, in something of a stunner. The opponent on 9/8/2006: Southern Connecticut State (which, by the way, somehow gets truncated to “Southern”).

We arrived fifteen minutes before game time and bypassed the $5 gate when Keryn flashed her “staff” card. The concession of choice seemed to be the doughboy, as dozens of kids filed past us with confectioners sugar decorating their blue and yellow sweatshirts. I have something of a weakness for confectioners sugar…and the fried dough isn’t bad, either… But it seemed the entire student body was waiting in line for the complimentary meal.

When I told a friend that we went to the game, he asked me what stadium they played in. “Stadium?” I said. “No, that’s not the word for it.”

The field was absolutely beautiful—brand new Field Turf (the artificial surface that looks like grass). Flanking the field were two sets of aluminum bleachers. I thought back to some of the big games under the lights in Bucksport… If I had to guess, I’d say that my high school “stadium” was approximately the same size.

It was a fun game, though Bentley ultimately lost by six. The strangest thing was that, during the first quarter, while all those students were lining up for free fried dough, we could actually hear the players on the sidelines. Not just when they were yelling “pass” or “run” to alert their defense what was happening, but even their thataboys when players returned to the sidelines. It was strange, a little unsettling, though we were both pleased at the clarity with which we could enjoy the crunching of shoulder pads and the cracking of helmets.

By the second quarter, the crowd filled in and dashed the intimacy we had shared when the players on the field outnumbered the fans in the stands. According to the above article, attendance was 3,400. That’s a respectable number. The crowd had a great vibe, though the most animated fan of all was this young girl, no older than eight years, B painted on her face, pom-poms in her hand, who insisted on bounding up and down the stairs every two minutes. I’ll tell you, her every step reverberated straight into my ass…

I learned a few things from this trip:

  • College students look REALLY young(and make me feel really old)
  • Get your fried dough before half-time, because they close up shop after two quarters
  • Division II football is good, clean fun
  • I’m not going to be embarrassed by the Harvard tailgate: even if we can’t touch The Grove at Ole Miss, we still do all right for ourselves…

Coming up later today… Ole Miss vs. Mizzou, on TV…


Saturday, September 09, 2006

Flash Fiction Live @ The Beat

Some exciting news today: my flash fiction story "A Friendly Game of I-Never" went live this morning at The Beat!

The editors at The Beat accepted my piece back on January 5, 2005. At the time, they were revamping the look and feel of the site and migrating to new servers... Sadly, my story was lost in the shuffle. My bio was added to the Contributors page, but the story was never posted.

21 months later, I realized I should follow up with the editors.

The Beat has a great site, and I'm very proud to be listed alongside so many great writers. Check it out and make sure to add your comments (there or here).


Friday, September 08, 2006

Pictures with Rob Zombie!

Okay, that’s a dirty, stinking lie. I still haven’t gotten the full story from DT yet, but there was some kind of glitch and the tickets didn’t pan out. Bummer…

In other news, it’s Friday.

That doesn’t have quite the same ring as it did two weeks ago, but there is still something magical about that word, Friday… We are going to see the Bentley football game tonight. I’ve never watched a Division II game, and I’m looking forward to it.

Last night’s Steelers-Dolphins game certainly rallied my football spirit. Glad to see Miami lose, since Sports Illustrated projected them to win the AFC East. A bunch of baloney, if you ask me!


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Productive Weeks Are Fine, But Bring Me the Weekend

I am still adjusting to my new lifestyle. Probably I’ll just about settle into a workable routine when it becomes time to find a “real” job again.

On Tuesday I was out of bed and at my desk by 7:45am, cranking away. Two hours on the blogs, two hours working on a few flash fiction pieces I hadn’t thought about in a year, four hours on the creative non-fiction essay I have been honing for the last three weeks, three hours rewriting Chapters 3 and 5 of my in-progress novel… When all was said and done, I was pedal-to-the-metal for fifteen hours, with a brief interruption around midday to throw some weights around.

Yesterday was devoted to my novel. I’ll be thrilled to tears if I ever can stop revising this particular section… I am excited to tackle some entirely new chapters this weekend and into next week. Somehow I need to get Billy (my protagonist) through a painful conversation with the girl (Ginny) he’s pined for since age five. And then I need to figure out who the bad guy is going to be in this epic. Figuring that out is one of the many things that stalled my first attempt at finishing this thing… I’m keeping my fingers crossed for better luck this time around.

Today has been less productive. I did manage to squeeze in 2.5 miles on the treadmill during the lunch hour, which is something. Have had a tough time getting my fingers to cooperate today, though --- they aren’t particularly talkative after two days yammering on about Billy Jones and Ginny Doogan. So I have switched gears to the always exciting re-organization of my files. It has meant that I’ve had the chance to skim a whole bunch of fragments I’ve written over the last three years. I even enjoyed a few lines here and there…

Switching gears... the weekend is looking pretty busy!

TONIGHT I’m supposed to have front-row seats at the Godsmack / Rob Zombie show at the Tweeter Center, courtesy of my buddy DT. He called yesterday after winning the tickets by being caller number seven to a local radio station. I was more than happy to jump at the chance. Free tickets, you know… As part of the prize package, we’re supposed to meet the band before the show. Will give a full report tomorrow.

FRIDAY we’re hitting the Bentley College home opener. Keryn started working there in August and she’s a huge football fan (that happens when you go to college in the SEC). This will be the first time I’ve watched football with her, and it should be interesting. She has a thing for violent sports, you see… But that’s a story for another day.

SATURDAY brings us to see Ben Harper @ the Bank of America Pavilion. Should be a great show. (Had better be, after the challenges I had getting these tickets. It’s a long story you don’t want to hear, but I have nothing good to say about American Express Membership Rewards and their relationship with Ticketmaster…)

Later that night, with any luck, we’ll meet up with an old friend from grade school.

SUNDAY I'm sitting my ass on the couch and watching football... I'm in a suicide pool again this year, after two years in a row being eliminated Week One. I'm not going to jinx my pick by writing it here, but I have to admit a lull in my confidence.

That’s it for now. Sorry today’s posting is so boring! I promise excitement galore in the morning. Unless WAAF never gets these tickets into DT’s hands (he just told me he’s having a tough time reaching their promotions department), in which case you can expect a lot of complaining…


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Today's Steady Progress

Today has been productive.

It would be fair to say that the reality of my situation did not strike me until today. After a morning hard at writing and lunch break at the gym, I looked at my cell phone to see whether messages awaited: someone from the office asking about an upcoming meeting, a client wondering about a presentation, a boss wanting a comprehensive update on the budgetary situation…. Instead my cell phone told me the time and date.

The feeling of true freedom is confusing. I don’t know that I’ve ever known it before today.

Normally there is at least the potential of something to keep you in line, but for me there is no one but myself. Of course, Keryn is there to keep me in check, but only if I get out of control. She is not concerned with my daily comings and goings…

I awoke at 7:30am and was seated at my desk soon thereafter. For two hours I updated my blogs. Then I headed to the gym. The 10:30am crowd is interesting: mostly retirees, trust fund babies, and college students. I wish the trainers made themselves more accessible; I find it difficult to request a spot.

Through the afternoon I worked on an essay I’ve been writing about my relationship with Keryn. I’m planning to submit it to a few contests this month. It is hard to write about myself so truthfully; thinly veiled fiction presents no challenge at all.

After several cups of tea I switch to my novel. This chapter has been revised twenty times before today, but the red-lined changes are valid and true. I am weary of this chapter although I know it to be one of the keys to my novel’s success. My frustration stems from a conception of the chapter’s perfection when it was an early draft. Though I pare it down and build it up each time readers comment, it remains a tragedy for my internal editor, who still believes the very first version was perfect.

In the evening I switch back to the essay. “Revisiting Histories,” it’s called. I emailed my final draft to Keryn this evening and she read it within the hour. She told me she almost cried, and this is a compliment I can hardly take. I think through the difficult words of the essay and smile.
“Is it good? Is it really?”

I cannot repeat it here, but I will tell you how it begins…

“From Boston we follow Route 1 through Lynn and Saugus and connect with I-95 a few exits before much of the traffic cuts toward Gloucester. Thirty minutes later, we pass the New Hampshire liquor and lottery warehouses and the infamous Hampton Tolls; traffic is blessedly thin, and I’m glad we left when we did.”

Tomorrow I am planning another full day. Instead of weights I will run along the Charles River. And I will finish revising a chapter of my novel. With luck I will accomplish more. Doubtless, I will spend too many hours at the keyboard.


Old Records

When I was young, my mother had a record player in the living room and an odd selection of records; my favorite album from her collection was Neil Diamond, Hot August Night. My youth, though, was solidly rooted in the cassette tape. Christmas morning ‘83 I tore wrapping paper from Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler. Ten years later Santa switched me over to the CD player (my first CDs: Black Sabbath and George Thorogood---yes, I know that’s a little strange).

I never owned an LP. Records seemed awfully clunky; at that age, even the eight-track player at my grandparents’ house seemed technologically advanced by comparison. Still, there was something about the fancy jackets, the variations in the inner sleeves, the snap-crackle sound of the albums my mother put on at Christmas time…

The camp on China Lake boasts a record player. Designed to look like an antique, the built-in CD player and FM tuner betray the truth. Unfortunately, the selection of records was not exactly extensive when the summer began. Other than a pile of scratched up Johnny Cash 45s and a few show tunes, there wasn’t much to listen to. Still, the scratchy rasp of those few records became a familiar soundtrack to our July 4th holiday.

Back in my Boston apartment, I lugged my dirty laundry down to the basement. In addition to washers and dryers, our basement provides access to the dumpster for items too large for the trash chutes located on each floor. Outside the "trash room" people sometimes leave more challenging items (refrigerators, ranges, and dishwashers) and those discarded items that might be somebody else’s treasure (some examples: bookcases, desk chairs, and armoires). This particular day the booty was a large box of LPs…

I spent ten minutes leafing through the records, an eclectic collection, to say the least. Between Abbey Road and Magical Mystery Tour were the Dartmouth Glee Club and Rite of Spring; between My Fair Lady and Hair (Original Casts, both) stood Jim Nabors and The Doors; between CSNY’s Déjà Vu and Neil Young’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere stood Vic Damone and Nat King Cole.

My initial reaction was shock. What were the odds that just hours after returning from camp I would find these records in my basement?

I smiled at all the good things this discovery meant:

  1. It was a great set of records according to any scale,
  2. I would definitely score major bonus points with Keryn’s family… and brownie points certainly never hurt...

Skepticism came next. What was wrong with the records? Something had to be wrong for someone to just throw them away. I mean, you could sell this collection on eBay and make a solid $300 (of course, that's chump change to most of the folks who live in my building). I pulled Abbey Road from the sleeve. It was immaculate, almost as if it had never been played. I spot-checked another five or six records and found they were all in mint condition. I seized the box in my arms and lugged it upstairs.

Up at camp, those records were well received. We put on Revolver; it sounded like new. We played things we would never normally listen to, and I realized how different records are from CDs. I found myself studying them, looking with nostalgia at records pressed when my mother was in grade school. Keryn’s seventeen-year-old sister picked out seventies’ classic rock, Keryn put on Harry Belafonte Calypso, and her mother requested Johnny Mathis. Meanwhile, I fell in love with Foreigner’s “4”, and realized that The Doors is one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard. I may not like having to flip the record after twenty-five minutes, but the scratch of the needle was a pleasant change from the silent perfection of my iPod.

Now I’m home, listening to Let It Be on CD. It isn’t the same.