Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Writing #1

Short post today as I'm working on finishing a short story that I'm going to try to place in a quarterly.  One of my readers will recognize it - it's a fictionalized version of a leisurely evening I spent in a park in the West End of Henrico County with a close friend of mine whose name begins with "R."

I've been more productive with my fiction recently as a result of a wonderful class I've been taking from the talented, kind, insightful, brilliant Valley Haggard, who maintains her own blog at http://www.valleyhaggard.com/.  If you're interested in writing, especially writing from your own experience, I recommend you check out her Creative Nonfiction class as it's a great sort of splash of ice water for the mind.

For me it's been especially helpful in getting to the really difficult things that I need to be honest about in order to tell my stories in an interesting way, the things that you don't want to write about because you're afraid that it will reveal something about yourself that you'd rather conceal.  But I think mostly the point of writing classes is to create a structure in which you know you'll be writing once a week and doing it with other people who can give you fresh ideas and encouragement.

So check out Valley's site, and sign up for one of her classes if you can; it's a great experience and you'll get a lot out of it.

Hopefully I can finish the R story tomorrow and get back to writing more substantive posts.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Football #1

I have a lot of readers who don't like football and who don't watch any sports on television at all other than cultural holiday-type events such as the Super Bowl and the Olympics, and from time to time they will ask me some version of the question "What is good about sports exactly?"

That's a hard question to answer because a lot of what's good about sports is pretty ephemeral.  And very often when someone is asking you that questions, they are not asking you that question from a position of neutrality; they have concrete experiences in their background against which they are going to weigh your answer.  Experiences like the ones that Jonathan Martin endured at the hands of Richie Incognito in the Miami Dolphins locker room.

If you're lucky enough to be unfamiliar with this story, here are the basics: a successful, wealthy player named Richie Incognito carried out a campaign of systematic bullying and abuse of a lesser player on his team named Jonathan Martin.  Martin did his best to tolerate the abuse, but after Incognito organized a "practical joke" of convincing the rest of the team to refuse to sit with Martin at lunch in response to some mistake Martin had made on the field, Martin's emotional state prompted him (thank goodness) to check himself into a hospital to be treated for an undisclosed psychiatric condition.

These stories, even more than stories about NFL players with post-concussion syndrome or baseball players using steroids to gain an unfair advantage, make life very hard on those of us who love sports and think they can be a positive force in people's lives.  That's doubly true because, while the Dolphins organization has condemned Incognito's treatment of Martin, many football players believe that it is appropriate and even beneficial to treat teammates in this way.

This attitude unfortunately trickles down throughout sports even to the very lowest youth levels.  Parents and coaches bully and berate kids and tolerate bullying of weaker kids by stronger ones.  Many of them profess to believe that this makes the kids better at sports, but it doesn't.  It's just an excuse bullies use to try to avoid being called on their behavior.  In fact, this type of bullying can prevent kids from learning the most important lessons sports can teach.

Last Tuesday I played goalkeeper for a soccer team that needed a win over a superior team to advance to the spring tournament in a Richmond amateur soccer league.  They were much better overall but our guys outplayed them in the first half and we went into halftime up 4-2.  They made some adjustments at halftime and in the second half they came storming back.

If I had played adequately, we probably would have hung on to win, but I made several mistakes and we lost 6-4.  On the sideline my teammates were quietly encouraging, thanking me for my effort.  We all knew I hadn't played well enough.  There was no need to needle me about it.

Over the course of the next several days I had to put the performance behind me.  The most important job of a goalkeeper isn't to stop goals, it's to have a poor performance and let your team down, but walk off the field with your head up and get ready for the next game.  Having an important job means that if you screw up, it hurts.  But it's not the end of the world.  It's a lot easier to learn that lesson when the people around you are helping and supporting you instead of piling on and making it worse.

So if you point to something like this and say "this is why I wouldn't want my son/daughter playing team sports," I unfortunately don't have a rebuttal.  That makes sense to me.  I hope one day we can get this crap out of sports so we can all play together and have fun.

Your assignment is to find someone who's down and help them up so they can try again.

I had a reader complain that she doesn't like the assignments because she doesn't like to be told what to do, so whatever I say to do it makes her want to do the opposite.  For people like that here's an auxilliary assignment - spend thirty minutes thinking of all the things you're doing to screw up your kids and stunt their growth until you become so irritated and anxious that you snap at your spouse for doing something completely innocuous.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Attention #1


This week I made a stew called Green Bay Booyah which has short ribs and chicken in it.  It’s really fantastic, especially the third day which is what I’m consuming (sadly) the last of now.  If you have a Cook’s Illustrated online membership (or are willing to sign up for one) then you can find it here:  


It’s kind of expensive for a stew recipe but it makes a ton of food.  

Your assignment today is long, so pay attention.

Before you do whatever exercise it is you do tomorrow, go get a writing journal of some kind, preferably handwritten but electronic is fine, open it up and write today’s date at the top of a page and then below the date write “Thursday Attention Exercise.”  Close the journal and put it away.  Go perform your daily exercise.  

While you are exercising, pay attention to your attention; that is, when your mind fixes on something, simply try to notice that your attention is on it.  Do this for your entire exercise period.  When you return home, go to the journal and make a list (as comprehensive as possible, but don’t get wound up about trying to remember everything), of all the things you paid attention to while you were exercising.  Don’t edit anything out even if it’s embarrassing or weird or disturbing.  Just write a list of what you paid attention to.When you are done with your list, read it aloud to yourself.  At the end of your reading, try to choose the one thing you think you paid attention to the most during the exercise period.

During your next writing period, write a piece about that one thing.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Birth #1

There comes a point, fairly early it seems, when you're writing a stay-at-home dad blog and you realize you're going to have to begin a post with a clause like "Once when my wife and I were in birth class together" and you panic because there is no way, with apologies to all the people who wrote the clause before I did, to write that clause without sounding like a James Spader-level douche.

The first problem I guess is the idea that you're in "birth class" together.  You are in a classroom together.  But it's your wife who's in birth class - you're confronting your art anxiety, or your abandonment issues, or your commitment issues, or whatever douchey bullshit you decided you were going to freak out about while your wife was preparing to grow a new human brain inside of her and then bring it forth and feed it and nurture it into a human being.

The pregnancy phase is a time when you become acutely aware of your own shortcomings as a man.  Since you have no persistent connection with the reality of the baby, the pregnancy presents itself as "Wow, my wife has been acting pretty strange for the last forty-so weeks, HOLY SHIT A KID!" which is not conducive to being any kind of adequate partner to someone who actually realizes on a gut level (AIW, FS) that there is a baby coming and that the two of you are going to have to take care of it until it gets into a car and drives away.  And then you still have to take care of it if it decides to drive back.

Yet things happen when you're in birth class together, and sometimes you have to start stories that way.  Unfortunately I don't remember what story I'm going to tell.  I got off on birth.  I guess I'll just bitch about laundry for a few paragraphs and then call it a day.

I realized for the first time today that despite the fact that yes, you do separate by color (and I do!), you also have to make a some sort of effort to wash clothes on a "first in, first out" basis if you are ever going to tolerate more than a one- or two-day overhang in the laundry.  Otherwise older clothes jump the line and you have important garments people need regularly languishing in the bottom of some hamper without anyone knowing where they are.

My beautiful, patient wife is probably clawing her hair our over this because I'm sure she's been telling me this for 20 years, but for some reason it took me until age 37 to actually notice the way my approach sort of conditions everyone in the house to have the same dysfunctional relationship with laundry I do.

Now the question is, am I actually going to do anything about it?  Hopefully so, but I'll keep you updated Dear Reader; I know you're anxious to know more salacious details about the primitive laundry habits of the suburban male.

Your assignment is to thank your wife for providing you with the glorious gift of fatherhood, preferably not in a sarcastic voice while your five year-old is cackling in your bed at 9 p.m. and trying to rub his genitals on your iPad.