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The Belt of the Gods

June 15, 2016

bolo

My life has been changed forever and it is all due to a new belt. More specifically, an elastic stretchy belt.

I have always worn a belt, for two reasons, mostly. First, my lineage is that of a Texas redneck. We wear leather belts. With big belt buckles We just do. Don’t question it. Besides keeping pants above the waistline I’ve never figured out the real reason. Some men are well shaped and don’t need a belt to hold up the jeans. The Texan belt, I figure, is purely decorative with large, shiny buckle to draw attention to our crotch area.

Texan men even wear belts around our necks. That’s right; instead of a formal men’s long or bow tie, we wear the famous “bolo” tie which is essentially a belt around the neckline with a smaller decorative buckle.

Second, and the most obvious reason, is to cinch our trousers around our hips so they don’t fall down. In my 20’s and 30’s a belt wasn’t really necessary for that purpose. But now as I am now the age of mumblemumble I find that my britches tend to sag due to a curious barrel shape my body has taken in my middle parts. Let’s just say that my 20-something six-pack is now a keg. Therefore, a belt has been an unavoidable and fundamental element to my daily couture.

My belt of choice has been a simple, thin, plain, black, leather belt. It works for work. Discrete. Fashionable. Easy to store. But alas, after a hearty meal or the day following an earnest evening of brew tasting the usual belt setting embraces my waistline with much restraint and groaning protest.

Recently I was introduced to the stretchy belt.

And there was much rejoicing and sounding of trumpets and jamming of saxophones and melting of faces with electric guitar!

Hallelujah! This $20 little piece of elastic braided belt is a gift sent by the gods of growing waistlines. No longer do I have to loosen the leather strip another notch after a Thanksgiving feast. I can cinch it up tight enough to hold up the sinking, slipping britches, and when I sit properly in a chair the elastic flexes so I do not feel that burdensome hip pinch.

It feels good to breathe. It really does. And the remorseful act of sucking in the gut to prevent permanent and indented “belt waist” is a thing of the past. Thank you, gods of the growing waistline, for your generous favor to beer-bellied fellows everywhere!

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Coffee Armageddon

June 14, 2016

Yugo-Keurig

Our coffee machine is busted at work. And guess who’s in charge of coffee. That’s right, yours truly. I had no idea that a coffee-less office could be so uptight. I should have expected it, though. The pure outrage and sinister intimidations I have received from coworkers experiencing caffeine withdrawals is paramount to road rage on an epic scale. Within the last two days since the coffee Armageddon I have been threatened with at least one of the following if I don’t repair the machine or replace it post-haste:

“I hope you step on a Lego!”

“I will dress you as lettuce and feed you to the snails!”

“I will delete your hard drive!”

“I’m gonna rip off your cajones and boil ‘em in motor oil!”

“Listen up you little spazoid, I swear to everything holy that your dead ancestors will cry when they see what I’ve done to you!”

Boy, do they reeeeally want some coffee. But I don’t take any of it personally.

Let me back up and first explain that our office coffeemaker is a Keurig. The Keurig design, though convenient and offers many delicious choices of flavors for single cup pours, turns out to be the Yugo of coffeemakers. If you aren’t familiar with the Yugo, it was a former communist Yugoslavian designed car from the early 1980’s that appeared to have been manufactured at gunpoint. It started as a big hit for economic size, price and fuel efficiency. But it was soon recognized as an unimaginative eyesore and didn’t take more than a simple drive around the block for owners to realize the car was a disastrous and dangerous monstrosity just waiting to break down, fall apart, or worse, blow up at the worst possible moment.

That’s what you get with a Keurig.

The Keurig was designed to be a convenient way to make a single cup of coffee. Oh, but you can only purchase and use the expensive licensed K-cup coffees along with the machine. Oh, and did I mention that the expensive machines are made to be disposable? That’s right, gang. If a Keurig fails or malfunctions (which they often do. Just read the reviews.) there are no repair shops available. Coffee machine repair technicians (and this is a real, honest job, folks) have emphatically stated that the Keurig has no replacement parts, and it is more expensive to repair than to simply replace a Keurig machine. Ergo, they are disposable contraptions.

Which brings me back to my dilemma. No Keurig – no coffee. Also, no manager or CFO around this week to approve a new purchase of another disposable machine. So, I guess I’ll have to endure the sad, pathetic threats of my co-workers for another 3 or 4 days. In the meantime, I’m headed to the 7-Eleven down the block for a nice, cheap cuppa joe.

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Bake Mouth at 450 Degrees

April 26, 2016

Scalding

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has burned the tongue from a hot cup of coffee, or a bite of burger hot off the grill, or maybe a bit of overdone potato. But have you ever scalded your mouth from something steaming hot? I mean fresh outta the oven at 450 degrees?  So hot you can even see the steam rising? Scorched to the point of dripping, ruined flesh?

Uh, me neither.

Oh alright…I did it.

One major problem of extreme hunger is impatience. Any 5pm on a weekday is happy hour somewhere. We had intel that a great new little restaurant just opened up and had a fabulous happy hour prices on delicious food. I’m all about cheap and delicious, so off we went.

I’m a sucker for a delicious dip, so I had to order the cream cheese artichoke heart dip. Prepared fresh and baked at 450 degrees, it went straight from the oven to the table right in front of my hungry, impatient mouth. Ah, dinner time! I knew it was hot, sure. So I blew on it a little, and shoved a chip-full of it right in.

The attempted caress of air used as a stop-gap cooling method didn’t work. Nope. Not at all. With extremely poor etiquette that would cause Miss Manners to blush and glare, I expelled the offensive scorching fragment of hell right back onto my plate. But it was too late. The damage was done. At once I felt hanging chads of flesh clinging to the roof of my mouth. My tongue felt like a summer day on the Sahara. And only mass quantities of ice water soothed the burn.

Dinner wasn’t nearly as delicious after that. But it didn’t stop me from eating it after an appropriate cooling period. I learned my lesson: when the directions say ‘let sit for 5 minutes before eating’, it’s for your own damn protection.

So if this happens to you, feel free to adopt my impromptu methods below to assuage the incinerating oven that is now your mouth.

After the burn:

  1. Let Someone Know

It is important to inform the fellow diners and restaurant employees of the emergency. Do like me and with an open scorching mouth yell, “AAAAAHHH!!! GAHHH DAAANG!!! ‘AAASSS HAAAAAWWWT!!!!”

  1. Apply Ice Water

To begin immediate relief, use copious amounts of ice water. Splash the remaining 10-12 ounces of ice water from your glass inside your gaping mouth. Don’t worry about getting water on your outfit. It will dry. If possible, perhaps through the aid of your dining partner since you now cannot speak, request a trough of ice water be placed in front of you.

  1. Avoid Crunchy Foods

After the burn, it is wise to avoid crunchy foods. Do not eat that tortilla chip that came with your scalding artichoke dip. It is now a shard for which to pierce your sensitive pie hole.

  1. Eat Plenty of Ice Cream

As a form of recompense, ask the restaurant for a dish of delicious, sweet ice cream for desert. At least three scoops. Eat more when you get home. And be sure to stock up because ice cream will be your only meal for the next few days.

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That Time I Forgot to Shower in the Shower

April 14, 2016

shower3

This morning I was a little groggy when I woke up. And when I say ‘groggy’ I mean 1-1/2 sheets to the wind. Yesterday my back decided to seize up on me with a spectacular muscle spasm that ran the length of my back just left of the spine. I was down for the count. Even missed an audition. But these things happen. And I am prepared for when it happens (because it has happened before) with a standby prescription for muscle relaxers (thanks again, doc). I’m pretty sure the instructions on the prescription label say not to take the pills with alcohol, but I try not to pay attention to the pesky directions. So I had a beer with my cyclobenzaprine. Then another beer. Right after that second beer the ‘prine kicked in and I stumbled up the stairs, found my way to the bed, and collapsed on the pillow followed immediately by a bunch of “Zzzzzzzz”.

I can tell you from experience that the muscle relaxers do their job extremely well. While I ignore advice to avoid alcohol (it’s just a ‘guideline’, really, isn’t it?), I certainly do not operate heavy machinery. I sleep the sleep of 10 babies with that tiny little pill.

Evidently I wasn’t too wasted to set the alarm for the usual 5:30 am wake up call. I still needed to get to the old J-O-B this morning, so I smashed the alarm, sat up in bed, and rubbed the sleep off my face. The bathroom is right next to the bed but I remember leaning this way and that way, nearly falling down but somehow managing to remain upright. I turned the water on and stepped in the shower, and the next thing I remember was stepping out and toweling off. All routine. I do this every morning, right?

After dressing and eating a healthy bowl of granola, I’ve got the news on and though, “hmmm, why isn’t my hair drying?” I thought perhaps I may have used some hair conditioner and failed to rinse. I’ve been known to do that before. More than once. But I don’t usually use conditioner. Eh, thought I. Must be humid today.

So then I’m in the car on the way to work and my hair still is combed back on my head. It’s short hair so it dries fast. This shouldn’t happen. I run my hand through my hair and think, “it is a little greasy. Maybe I did use conditioner. But it’s like I didn’t even wash…..”

Then it hits me: IT’S LIKE I DIDN’T EVEN WASH MY HAIR. Or my entire body for that matter.

I then gathered enough recollection to remember the shower scene: I stepped into the shower, spun around a few times to get all wet, stood there with the warm water running down my back for a few minutes, then I turned off the shower and got out. No soap. No shampoo. I may not have been clean, but at least my back spasm was gone and I got some sleep.

So I’m usually the first one to get to work. No one else was around. I ran to the kitchen area, switched on the coffee pot (top priority, of course), looked both ways to be sure no one is there, and I proceeded to dunk my head under the faucet and give a little scrub of the follicles with the hand soap. A quick paper towel dry and my hair is once again springy and poofy, and not looking like a 1960’s greaser. It worked. And no one knew about. Until now. Now you all know, so don’t tell my boss.

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WRESTLE YOUR INNER CRITIC

February 23, 2016

ScreamWhat’s your fear about writing? Are you afraid you’re not creative enough? Afraid, perhaps, that people will think your story is ‘stupid’? Afraid of constant and repetitive rejection that accompanies your novel submissions?

There’s a lot of fear and anxiety inside a writer’s head. And I’m no different. I have a lot of what some writers call, ‘good starts’. But I don’t seem to finish a long-term project. I’m at least halfway through a decent novel, with plenty of scenes planned out and even a great finish in mind. But when I boot up the word processor I look at my story, change a few words, and say to myself, “eh, I’m just not feeling it today” and shut it down.

Why? When I am past the point of no return on a passable first novel and it’s downhill the rest of the way, why do I put on the brakes? Yup, it’s fear.

I’m afraid of a lot of things, including the three things up top. I’m afraid that I will have wasted time finishing something that will never see another set of eyes. I’m afraid of putting it out there and getting the piles of rejection cards. And, frankly, when I try to open my inner creative side, my inner editor just body slams it to the canvass, brushes his hands and sneers over the top of his pretentious spectacles, just daring me to get up.

Well, I can get up. I’ve done it before and sailed past the blockade. Then I stop and do it all over again. An endless cycle. But what can writers do that will consistently get past that big, mean inner editor and doubt monster? Here are a few thoughts:

Walk

Get out of the house and walk. Or even take a stroll on a treadmill. A bit of exercise gets not only the blood flowing, but the creative juices flowing as well. While on your walk, ponder what comes next in your story. Think about ‘what if’ situations. Without that dreaded blank paper or screen in front of you, it’s a good time to let creativity flow.

Freestyle

Forget your story. Only for a while. Start some freewriting where your inner editor is not allowed to take part. This is also a good point to plug your daily pages as directed by Creative guru, Julia Cameron.

Read

Reading can also help free your creativity and get your inner-editor on board. Pull out your favorite author and get into it. Since I mentioned her above, I would also suggest reading any of Julia Cameron’s books about creativity. Her motherly and calm demeanor really puts a reader into a creative mind frame that is great for spilling output onto paper.

Blog it

That’s right, blog about it like I’m doing now. It’s your chance to arise from the canvass, turn on your inner adversary and pile drive HIM to the canvass. Then lock him in a cobra clutch while I transition to a dragon sleeper and put him out of his (and my) misery. I feel much better now. I’m going to write my book.

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5 Useful Motivations for Daily Writing

August 25, 2015

Write Every Day!Fiction writers do not have it easy. Unless you’re Stephen King or John Grisham who are paid advances at the mere hint of a new novel, you are expected to write “on spec”, or on your own volition with no promise of publication or reward. Writers tend to do this anyway because we have an inherent, instinctual, and obsessive need to get our ideas and stories on some kind of media.

So without the promise of a large publishing advance or even a wink that our novels will ever see the space between book covers, we have to find our own motivation for BICHOK (also known as ‘But In Chair, Hands On Keyboard’). Here are five things that can help you BICHOK more frequently:

MORNING PAGES

One of my favorite motivational gurus is Julia Cameron. For years her famous workbook, The Artist’s Way, has been rousing and inspiring writers and artists to do their best work. One of the core activities, whether a writer or other creative type, is to write down a stream of thought longhand on three pages of paper every day. She calls it Morning Pages, but some of us don’t do the hard-core morning routine and simply call it ‘Daily Pages’.

It is meant to provoke and synchronize the day and task at hand. It helps clear the mind and focus on the next task: writing your novel. Morning Pages doesn’t have to be neat. Just write about whatever’s on your mind.

A website has neatly and conveniently created an online space to do Morning Pages. The site is called 750words.com. The concept is that three handwritten pages is about an average of 750 words. Good typers (and slow writers, like me) can log on and do their morning (or daily) pages at their convenience and even save time doing it.

LEAVE YOURSELF A CLIFFHANGER

The rule of thumb for novel writers is to leave each chapter with a cliffhanger in the action so the reader is eager to move on the next chapter. You can do this trick to yourself with your writing. Before you put down your pencil or close your laptop, leave a scene in the middle of your thought. That way you will find that you are motivated to BICHOK the next day to continue to the scenes exciting conclusion.

WRITER REWARDS

Much like Visa rewards, you can set yourself up with a rewards program that provokes and excites you to BICHOK. A reward can be simple like a sweet treat, or a glass of wine or champagne after completing your daily goal. I like to motivate myself with small purchases for finishing a certain number of daily goals with a new pen, or a shiny new journal.

THE WRITER’S SANCTUARY

I find that a weekend holiday to a beach hotel, or a nice B&B is a great getaway for some focused and concentrated writing. However, we can’t have our holiday retreats every day.

A writer should set up his or her own daily writing sanctuary that is welcoming and comfortable. It can be a separate room in the house, but doesn’t need to be. A kitchen table or nook can work fine for some folks. What is important is having a welcoming space with reasonable lighting, a cozy temperature, and an appropriate comfortable chair. Additional elements might include soft background music (Mozart is renowned for helping concentration and opening channels of creativity), or even a window to a beautiful outside setting.

PARTNER UP

Finally, enlist a writing partner. If you have someone with whom you can check in, and even compare daily word counts, you have a great motivator. A little friendly competition can be a good thing that helps each of you put words down and complete a writing project. If you don’t have close friends who write, find a local writer’s club and recruit someone you can join with.

It is important for authors to get the words out of our heads. Having a space to write, and motivation to BICHOK every day will help make happy and satisfied writers. Do what you need to do so that you write every day. If you have other thoughts on daily writing motivation, I welcome them here in the comments.

Now, go write!

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Do You Write With Verve?

August 13, 2015

Verve

Do you write with ‘verve’? Do your readers devour your books with verve?  Do you even know what the heck is verve? Webster defines verve as:

the spirit and enthusiasm animating artistic composition or performance: VIVACITY

Other definitions include “with vigor and spirit or enthusiasm”. Synonyms include ‘zest’, ‘sparkle’, ‘charisma’, ‘brio’, ‘gusto’…and there’s a lot more but I’m running out of room for my point.

Verve is not just a descriptor of performance, but also for the expression of ideas. When you write, you are writing action, thoughts, dialogue, description, all which have to be interpreted by your reader. A reader should be swept away and immersed in the words he or she reads, as if the story is actually happening right now in their imagination.

Using verve in your writing gives the words on your page/screen more life, more animation, more oomph. Take, for instance, the following short but familiar narrative:

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone;
When she came there,
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none

Compare to:

The crusty, wiry-haired old dog whined under the rotting wooden table almost sounding like a whimper. Emma, the last of her nine siblings to survive past the age of 90, patted her old friend on the head, pushed herself upright from her chair, wincing with the painful effects of arthritis, and teetered to the lone cupboard in the corner. If there was any food in the modest but dusty little three-room cottage it may be found there. Emma reached up her gnarled hand, pulled the small handle, and creaked open the cupboard door. She raised herself on her tiptoes to see better, but it was no use. Not a scrap of food was left. She nodded in resigned confirmation, walked back to her chair and patted her old friend on the head again.

Does one or the other have more ‘verve’? Do you notice more animation, brio, or gusto with one narrative over the other? With all due respect to our famous nursery rhymes, the first stanza of Old Mother Hubbard tells a succinct and direct story, but it lacks verve.

The animation and life you put into your writing is what keeps a book in a readers’ hands. Don’t fall into the trap of “then this happened, and then that happened”. I found myself getting sucked into that pitfall when trying to steam ahead and write my story as quickly as possible. But in doing so I found my verve lacking considerably. I have once again found my verve and I hope you do too.