Monthly Archives: February 2012

We’re Getting the Band Back Together!

[Note: Before we commence our regularly scheduled program, let’s have a quick status update. I wrote 220 words for Story Blue tonight after putting the boys down to bed. Wrote 100 words today? Check.]

I had occasion to revisit some “Glory Days” type memories last weekend. I went to check out half of a former band in their new project. (Check them out.) Back in the day, two of these guys- Bryan, the singer, and Todd, the drummer- were bandmates in the appropriate-for-the-90’s-titled “Humble Ego”. I played bass in a most excellent fashion. 🙂

I was the last member to join the group. Todd and Bryan had known each other for years- likewise for Bryan and Brian, the guitar player. (Here’s his music. Enjoy!) My joining the band seemed to be the fulfillment of some unholy prophecy- Bryan and Brian, Todd and Todd. Bizarre.

So I found myself last Friday night in a little hole in the wall place in Auburn, NY, listening to some old bandmates rock out. I never shared exactly the same musical tastes but dug the fact that they were still playing. It got me thinking about my own journey and how I’m pursuing what’s important to me.

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Progress on Story Blue (Story Purple is in Another Blog)

I’ve been slipping a bit. I was starting to let my focus gradually slip from making sure that I wrote everyday. I was thinking about that last night as I was settling down to sleep. So this morning I got up, started the coffee, got Jack situated with a morning cartoon, and turned on my PC. I wrote 137 words on the original story I’ve been working on but haven’t shared yet. (It’s going to be awkward to refer to work on things that you don’t otherwise see. So, in honor of one of my favorite movies, Reservoir Dogs, I’ll refer to each item that is worked on outside my blog as a color.) Story Blue now stands at about 1800 words of content and about 650 words of notes and ideas.

Writing 137 words this morning doesn’t feel like much progress. Reviewing what I’d written before starting this post I almost went back to it and kept going. But I had said to myself as I turned on my PC that I wanted to write at least 100 words and write this quick post. At least 100 words- check. Working on a post about the work- in progress.

100 words was important because I need to reinforce this new behavior- writing on a regular basis, preferably everyday. You can Google “write 100 words everyday” and get an exhaustive list of sites devoted to this idea so I’m not covering any new ground here. I’ve also read that it takes about 3 weeks of repetition to make something a daily habit. So my focus is making writing a habit. 100 words took about 5 minutes and that fit easily into my morning schedule. I’m not saying that this is all the writing I do today. I am saying, “I wrote today.”

That’s the sum of my thoughts this morning. As we are working on this transformative process, don’t overcomplicate it or start some elaborate new process that can’t be sustained. (Hopefully it’s “we” at this point. What kind of change are you working towards?) Focus on executing some step that you can start and finish each day. For me, it’s going to be ensuring that I write at least 100 words every day. The morning would be best but sometimes the many responsibilities that I have will make that difficult. So I will just focus on ensuring that I write everyday. 100 words is a small enough piece that I can produce without disrupting my other responsibilities. I can complete that and say, “I accomplished that today.”

And hey- I wrote another 400 words on top of it! Sweet!

[Note: Perfect timing. As I was editing this, Joseph came downstairs to tell me that he was starving. So cue my departure music as I sign off and go to my other responsibilities. But hey- I wrote today!  -T]

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Superhero Guy vs. Dad Guy

I’m a superhero guy. This is a distinct type of the creature “guy”. There are many other types and sometimes you’ll even see hybrids. The others are probably familiar to you: sports guy, car guy, outdoors guy, business guy, music guy, barfly guy, creepy guy, etc. I don’t knock any other type and actually share some minor characteristics with some of the others. Thirteen years ago I gained another type: Dad guy. But I’ve always been a superhero guy at heart.

If you’ve read other stuff on my blog, you may know that reading is my thing. Early in my reading career, I realized that I could consume my favorite authors’ works much faster than they could create more. Enter the comic book. I discovered them early on and fell in love with them right away. Captain America was, and still is, my all time favorite. (Not too hard to figure out- Steve Rogers, a 4-F runt with heroic character, is transformed by the Super Soldier serum to become the physical hero to match his noble spirit. I was usually one of the smallest kids in the class but full of heroic imagination. If there was ever a character that I truly wanted to be, Cap was it!)

Growing up in Syracuse in the 70’s and 80’s, there was one place to go to for comics: Dream Days. Run by Mike, an aging John Lennon lookalike, Dream Days was the place for comic book lovers. Mike was everything positive that pop culture says about the 60’s: optimistic, community-minded, and welcoming. When my brother Matt was in the hospital for a pretty serious surgical procedure as a young boy, Mike showed up at the hospital with a massive stack of comics for Matt to read while convalescing. I think Mike’s instructions were to read them, enjoy them, bring back what he didn’t want, and get better! Mike seemed to live at the store and the positive experiences talking to him there probably cemented my love of comics.

If my brothers and I had been good or particularly well-deserving of a treat we could sometimes convince our parents to take us to Dream Days. (This was not easy for a lower-middle class family with 4 children. I appreciate that more now than I ever could as a kid.) The only downside to a trip to Dream Days was that our parents were willing to spend about a tenth of the time in the store that we wanted. Walking in, you’d quickly peruse the new comics before poking around the back issues, graphic novels, or anything else you could get your hands on. When given the time warning, you’d quickly circle back to the new rack (unless you discovered some gem in the back issue bins for which you’d need to begin bargaining with Mom or Dad). Carefully picking the handful of comics that you were budgeted you’d then watch as Mike rang up the books on an archaic cash register, slide them into a yellow glossy plastic bag (separate bags for each brother- thanks Mike!) then back to the car for the ride home. Never was there a quieter trip with 4 boys than the return leg home after a stop at Dream Days.

Although I stopped collecting comics as  young adult, I never lost my love of the genre. In recent years I’ve found digital versions of many of my old favorites. I eagerly anticipate the next superhero movie. (Just a few months until The Avengers!) I look forward to dissecting with Matt the triumphs and missteps of the latest adaptations. Still a superhero guy at heart.

As the father of three boys- ages 13, 5 and 3 in February 2012- I’ve been thrilled every time one of them showed an interest in anything heroic. The fact that Hollywood has gotten pretty good at telling good comic book stories has helped. It’s just exciting to share something with your boys that you’ve always loved. Arguably, it’s one of the greatest joys of fatherhood for me so far.

Noodle, the 5 year old, has definitely embraced the superhero motif. Noodle loves Batman, Iron Man, and Captain America. (Clearly he is an intelligent young man with impeccable taste!) It was very quickly after he first got hooked on superheroes- more than a year ago- that my two roles collided. Superhero guy versus Dad guy.

If you’re a Dad, this may be familiar to you. If not, and parenthood is in your future, prepare yourself. These two types have slightly different world views. Superhero guy believes in the incredible, the mythical, the things that inspire us to surpass the limitations that we think constrain us. Dad guy is protective, a teacher, concerned with shaping his children to become good adults. These two types are not mortal enemies- like Cap and the Red Skull- but have different priorities.

These priorities were in conflict when Noodle decided that he was going to learn to fly. It started simply enough. Drawn into the movies and cartoons, he started mimicking the kicks, punches, and heroic poses of his favorite characters. Flying was just a new aspect of his play.

Like any fledgling hero, Noodle started out cautiously. His flight began by launching himself off the ottoman. He had seen enough cartoons and movies to know that, in order to fly forward, he’d have to immediately turn parallel to the ground. So his launches were very immediately followed by belly-flopper style landings on the floor of the den. I credit his persistence because, although he wasn’t seeming to gain much altitude after each initial leap, he continued putting more and more effort into his launches, resulting in harder and harder crashes.

Finally, Dad guy’s partner/nemesis- Mom girl- pointed out that Noodle was in danger of hurting himself. The task of putting a stop to the yet-unsuccessful flying lessons was assigned to Dad guy. Ugh.

This actually caused some hesitation in me. Dad guy understood that it was important to explain to Noodle that he could not, in fact, fly. He was a little squirt and not really hitting the floor that hard but it was only a matter of time before a landing hurt him. But the last thing that superhero guy wanted to do was to drag Noodle into the mundane world. A dilemma.

In the end, Dad guy did his duty. I solemnly informed Noodle that he could not, in fact, fly. But superhero guy kept the spark alive in Noodle’s heart. I just whispered to him that maybe flying wasn’t his power. Why stifle his hopes for greatness? (Besides, the world needs Blue Lightning!)

Red Marvel and Blue Lightning

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Indoor Bobsledding: A Graphic Novel (in one frame)

Image by Matta

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Indoor Bobsledding

For those of you who don’t know me or my family, I’m the oldest of 4 boys. Growing up, this assured that there were always enough of us for almost any activity. Sometimes these activities were healthy and wholesome. Sometimes they were every bit the trouble that you might expect from 4 boys.

The summer before I entered 8th grade, my family moved back into the city of Syracuse. Our parents bought a big Colonial style house with plenty of room for 4 active boys. Our parents both worked full time during the day so the 4 of us took care of ourselves during summer break. It was a little bit of an urban Lord of the Flies only without the pig’s skull. (But with the loincloths. Especially on laundry day.)

We had developed a family routine of moving periodically. The new school that I would be attending that fall would be my fifth different school so the logistics of moving were well rehearsed in our home. For that particular move, I seem to remember not even packing my room but generally throwing stuff- clothes, toys, and books- into boxes the morning that my dad got the rental truck. A month or two later, the mostly-empty boxes were stashed throughout the house- basement to attic. These were the perfect building blocks for summertime fun.

For some reason, we were playing inside that day even though I remember it being very sunny with crisp blue skies. Whether it was simply too hot to venture into the sun or we needed the inside of the house for the activity is irrelevant. My brothers and I are all intelligent and creative so I’d like to think that we were choosing to celebrate winter in August with our choice for the day’s activity: the indoor bobsled.

This particular house could not have been better designed for the indoor bobsled. The house had an entrance right in the middle of the front of the house. A small vestibule opened into the house’s center, a small foyer between a formal dining room on the left and a large living room on the right. Offset just slightly to the right as you entered was a magnificent staircase leading straight up to a landing, then doubling back for a few more steps to the second floor.

This staircase was really the central artery for the home. Broad shining steps of hardwood rose regally towards an unseen second level. The stairs were broad and, when not littered with the castoff toys or books from 4 boys, a straight shot down to the foyer. In short, the perfect track for our August salute to the winter games.

We were well versed in cutting edge games that risk life and limb. Our mother didn’t like violence and, consequently, we grew up without toy guns in our home. Like good Catholics desiring that which was forbidden, we weren’t really satisfied with our competitions without some element of danger. Nothing says “excitement” for a 13 year old like a Weeble Wobble chucked past their head at 60 miles an hour.  I think the indoor bobsledding was really a culmination of a series of increasingly hazardous games we had quietly invented over the years.

As I said, my brothers and I are intelligent. And being intelligent, we all understand the meaning of “Safety First”. So while our games needed an element of risk, there was no reason for us to be reckless. That could just get us in trouble.

We methodically packed Chris, the next oldest after me, into one of our cardboard moving boxes. This was a relatively rare deluxe moving box- not a grocery or liquor store castoff but a large rental truck company box tall enough for any of use to sit entirely unseen inside the box. We had laid the box on its side so Chris climbed down into it. We gathered all of the bedroom and couch pillows as his protection. (We had visited Niagara Falls a couple of years earlier and I think the inspiration for our safety mechanism was inspired by the barrels we’d seen on display there- solid looking steel cylinders with ample padding lining their interiors.) Poised at the top of the stairs, right at the edge of the landing, Chris gave us the thumbs up. I carefully pushed the box forward so that it would slide gracefully down the straight staircase before coming to a graceful stop with Chris securely nestled amongst decorative pillows and Star Wars pillowcases.

Looking back, I don’t think we gave that much thought as to how the ride would end. The bottom of the stairs was probably only about 4 feet from the wall. Although the living room had a wide arch leading in from the foyer, none of us had calculated the likelihood of Chris’ vehicle making a 90 degree turn to the left after reaching terminal velocity.

Over the years, the official story has been that Matt, the number three son, was stationed at the bottom of the stairs ready to stop Chris from rocketing through the plaster walls. The official story also explained that Joey, our youngest brother, darted out across the course, moving from living room to dining room, just as Chris launched. It was all Joey’s fault- if he hadn’t been there, Matt would have stopped the box perfectly and Chris would have successfully mastered the indoor bobsled.

Joey- I am sorry for slandering you all of these years. You did not, in fact, cause the crash. We just weren’t smart enough to wonder how Chris was going to stop. Please accept my forgiveness for besmirching your good name. (Also for the record, I was solely responsible for throwing the length of lead pipe, spear-style, at Matt a few years earlier. That incident resulted in a trip to the emergency room for Matt with, I believe, a number of stitches. Like I said- Lord of the Flies.)

Back to Chris’ launch. The box slid perfectly down the stairs on its back surface. It looked like Chris did reach terminal velocity. Strangely, though, the box did NOT make a 90 degree turn to the left upon reaching the floor. The box DID stand straight up and catapulted Chris head first into the corner of the wall between the foyer and living room. We would have been better off taping the pillows directly to Chris’ head…

There are few jobs less desirable that being the brother that has to request medical attention for a sibling. Especially if the requestor is not injured themselves. As the oldest brother, that unwanted task fell to me that day. As Chris ran around the first floor of the house bleeding like a stuck pig (again, Lord of the Flies) I ran to the wall phone and dialed our mom’s work number- rotary, not touch tone. I waited patiently while the firm’s receptionist located our mother.

“Mom?” There is really no good opener here. “I think that Chris is dying. He broke his head open.”

Mom screamed for an explanation, which was really my first chance to get my alibi into the record, and then announced that she was on her way.

I could opine as to the lethal nature of his injury with confidence as, before I had actually dialed mom’s number, I had made an effort to triage Chris’ injury. My triage consisted of chasing him through the house and up to his bedroom where he had collapsed on his bed. The triage also included me standing over Chris shouting, “Chris- are you okay?” to which Chris responded by rolling his eyes back in his head, moaning, and collapsing backwards in the way that only a 12 year old can do to best portray a death scene. (Chris acknowledged later that he decided to really ham it up and feign unconsciousness. He was very convincing. Especially since he was bleeding so heavily.)

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a head wound but it is really amazing how much even a relatively small cut on the head bleeds. Professional wrestlers get a lot of mileage out of that fact. In Chris’ case, the wound bled enough to leave a trail of red dots in a loop around the first floor, up the stairs, and into Chris’ bedroom. The wound even managed to produce enough blood to form a nice pool beneath him as he gave his finest performance as “Youth Struck Down in His Prime Through His Brothers’ Carelessness”. As I mentioned, the blood really amplified his performance so I was pretty convinced that I was only going to have 2 brothers going forward.

Mom arrived with her boss a few minutes later. They took Chris to the emergency room where he received the requisite stitches. To this day, I believe that he still has the scar on the top of his head and, if the mood strikes him, he’ll put your fingers on the ridge of the scar. (If you know Chris, ask him to let you feel the scar. He should get some thrill out of the experience!)

The expected investigation by our parents highlighted the shockingly inadequate safety methods of our bobsled design as well as the overall poor judgment demonstrated by the otherwise intelligent young men. (C’mon- a 90 degree turn? What were we thinking?) I believe that appropriate punishments were enforced. We quickly came up with the Joey-as-scapegoat story that we stuck to religiously for years. We went on with our quiet pursuit of slightly dangerous games with mostly good results.

My brothers and I have yet another story that bonds us the way that only diehard thrill seekers can understand. For a few shining moments, we chased the demon Speed on the indoor bobsled. (Okay- Chris chased it. But we all helped.)

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