Monthly Archives: April 2015

Endorse ’em All

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I hate election time.  It’s not the partisan fighting and mud slinging and political ads that simply bash the opponent because there’s nothing positive to say about their candidate.  Okay, that’s not enjoyable either.  But my complaint is about the signs everyone has to put up to endorse everyone for everything.  It’s bright, it’s colorful, it’s garbage on sticks.

It used to be that people might put one sign up in their yard to endorse one person they were passionate about (or related to) about winning a specific election.  It would be a sign you would casually notice as you drove by and that would be it.  Half a block farther down the road you’d completely forget you’d even seen it.  But now, the signs seem to be four times as big as they ever were, completely blocking your view of traffic coming through the intersection.

And they’re never set up alone.  As I was driving yesterday, I was amazed how completely full yards, on-ramps and street corners were with clutters of these signs.  There were clumps of ten or twenty or more piled up together with no rhyme or reason.  Or common sense…

I drove past one house yesterday with signs promoting both candidates running for the same office.  Yep…endorse everyone and that way you can ensure that you’re on the winning team, right?

Then, glancing through the herds of signs, I feel like I’m getting old… The names of the candidates just don’t seem right when they sound like the names of high schoolers.  Am I really supposed to vote for Nikki for judge?  Or Justin for sheriff?

I know these signs go up everywhere around the country.  I just never remember seeing anywhere near this many anywhere else that I’ve lived.  Signs in every yard screaming out the names of candidates for school council, coroner, judge, comptroller, and who knows what else.  I don’t actually read them because honestly…?  I just don’t care.  All of these signs have reached a level of insanity that I just don’t understand.  I mean, if I had this many signs up in my yard, I’d never be able to mow the lawn.  Wait…hmmmm…

Friday Dreaming

I dream a lot. I always have. And, when I’m not able to spend as much time writing as I l’d like, or apparently need to, my brain kicks the dreaming into complete overdrive.

I don’t usually mind it as I love where my sleeping mind takes me. I don’t try to analyze the dreams or figure out how they relate to my waking world. I don’t want them to have symbolic meaning, I just want to enjoy them. Heck, when I find foods or drinks that cause me even more vivid dreams (i.e. Doritos and apple juice – give it a shot) I don’t avoid them. Not at all…

There are stretches when I’ll dream a ton and be exhausted no matter how much sleep I get, but oh well… It’s a small price to pay. It’s worth it even if you can never explain the power of your dreams to another person. As soon as you try, they start to just sound silly.

I don’t know if it relates to dreaming or not, but the part of my mind that’s focused on writing – on storytelling- is usually kicked into high gear as well. And it seems to be on a fairly set timer too. Even though I’m still working on my second novel, my mind thinks I’ve had enough time to finish and has jumped ahead to another story. One that I’m excited about but can’t work on yet. So I’ll have to settle for scribbling down some notes about it and hold off. It happened like this with the first novel too. Apparently im supposed to take about 4 months less to write them.

What ever happened to the days when rich people were true patrons of the arts? When they would take some creative person and pay their way through life, allowing them to focus on their artistic endeavors? Did that die out? Or was that only for painters and sculptors anyway…? I’m just saying, I’ll wear a jacket with your name on it while I’m writing in the coffee shop, or a hat with your family crest if that’s what it takes…

But I just need to find more time to write, to go along with what counts as ‘real’ work. Because I have no worries at all about writer’s block. I’m more concerned about having time to get all of the stories out before I get too backed up.

Or maybe if I get too far behind, I’ll start to see the movie version in my dreams before the book even comes out. Shudder…

Have, Have Not

Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve been curious about the breakdown between two groups living there – the ‘have’s and the ‘have-not’s.  And maybe trying to figure that out here, the strange balance – the strange dynamic between the two – here in Fayette County has completely thrown me off.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Fayette County, it’s the poorest of the counties in Pennsylvania.  It has more than its share of natural beauty spread across its land, but not the most fair breakdown of assets…

I’ve been a homeowner elsewhere (well, a condo/townhouse owner anyway).  Those were in different states and they always ended by being sold – and hopefully sold fairly quickly- when I moved to yet another state.  And, while these moves may have occurred for opportunities that presented themselves, those opportunities presented at the wrong times from a real estate market perspective.  Ugh.

Here in Pennsylvania, it’s just been about renting.  But house hunting has always been kind of fun and interesting anywhere else that I’ve lived so I expected that same situation here.  Finding the different neighborhoods, figuring out which is the ‘good’ side of town and which is the ‘bad’, places that are the best drives from the best places to go, areas that just feel wrong and, eventually, one that feels right.  But here in Fayette County…?  I just feel discombobulated.

Everything seems to overlap.  There aren’t many actual neighborhoods.  Not like I’m used to anyway.  There are some developments, but very few have a homey feel.  Most were obviously thrown up (Freudian slip?) quickly, on new roads that were built too narrow and are already disintegrating under the weight of passing construction vehicles.  And what ever happened to sidewalks?

Even these developments they are building seem to have been placed only based on what land was still available within city limits.  One of these areas that I recent checked out required a drive down a narrow alleyway followed by a winding congested hill, just to get to the entry to the property.  Hidden is one thing, trapped is another.  And if your first visit makes you feel claustrophobic, what would living there feel like?

There really aren’t many middle-class homes here though.  Some contractor or construction company has been putting up 3000+ square ft. houses of brick that look like office buildings.  If I had a friend who moved into one and invited me over, I’d pull up and think I’d typed the wrong address into the GPS and accidentally arrived at the dentist.  Around here it seems to be mobile home park, mobile home park, structure that should be condemned , huge monstrosity, repeat. And every nice home for sale in this area is massively overpriced and sits on the market for over a year in the hopes that the right sucker will eventually come along.

I’m not sure how necessary those types of homes might be around here though.  It’s far too common to see a falling down shack with a huge new Humvee or a sixty-thousand dollar tricked out pickup truck parked out front.  It reminds me of a couple of friends I had in high school who owned $300 cars with $3500 stereos inside.  It’s all about priorities.  And I’ve yet to find anyone here with the priority of building a nice neighborhood in a nice area that’s easy to drive to, isn’t surrounded by houses with bullet holes, used car dealerships with less than six cars on their “lots”, and isn’t within walking distance of a dollar store.  Somebody who’s priority is to build a great place to live that isn’t too small, isn’t too big, and doesn’t  need a sign out front stating that it’s not a business so please don’t just walk in.

And laying out in front of this house?  A sidewalk.

Shhh… Let’s Talk

Before saying anything else this morning, I want to say ‘Thank You!’.  In such a short amount of time, so many of you have come out to check out the site and read what I’ve been babbling about.  And I definitely appreciate it!

Today, as I’m typing this, we’re closing in on our 8000th view.  Wow…thank you.  It’s so much more fun to write when people are reading!

That said, you’re definitely a quiet bunch.  Considering that I read a few different blogs on a regular basis and have hardly ever commented, I’m not exactly one to talk.  But I’m curious…  Curious about what you like, what you don’t, what you want to read more about, and what different perspectives you’re bringing with you.

So even if you’d like to enter a note telling me where you’re from – VA, KY, PA, CA, etc – I’d be curious to know and see what different areas are being represented and are coming here to read.

Just thought I’d throw that out there.  Again, thank you for reading.  Its been fun to see you all show up and I really appreciate you taking the time.

Talk later!

Entering Fayette County

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I don’t work in Fayette County.  Never have.  When I first moved here I worked in a county to the north.  Now, I’m working in the county to the south which just happens to be across the state line as well.

When I used to return to Fayette County each day from the north, I’d be greeted by a bright sign, located in a prominent position, welcoming me back home.  On one side of the sign, there was a man in revolutionary attire standing proud, towering over the rest of the sign at nearly twice the size.  He had one hand resting on top of the sign in a show of gentle possession, of pride.

The sign was bright, colorful and far more impressive than the usual signs you see when you cross county borders.  More so even than most signs announcing that you’ve arrived in a new state.

Shown above isn’t this sign.  Instead, this is the version of the sign that greets me now as I return home each day from the south.  It’s missing the revolutionary man, missing the name of the county itself, and the ‘named in honor of’ section is cracked.  Rather than being placed in a prominent position, it’s located around the curve of a 2-lane road, set off the road a bit and hidden behind some trees.  But, despite the risk to life and limb involved in finding a place to stop, take a picture, and get back into the road without the benefit of seeing oncoming traffic coming around the curve, I stopped to get a picture.  Because that’s just the kind of guy I was the other day.

Unfortunately, this sign pretty much represents the way that I look at the county.  It’s full of good intentions, was once shiny and new,  but has been left to its own devices for too long without a little tender loving care.  Beautiful old stone homes from the 1700’s have been added onto with cracked vinyl siding and plastic sheeting over the windows.  Everything made of metal has been left to rust without thought of replacement.  And good ol’ Mr. LaFayette hasn’t even been replaced to look over the county that was given his name.

An area filled with good intentions has been refilled with forgetfulness and neglect.  Unless you’re coming in from the Pittsburgh area on the 4-lane highway.  Then they’re proud to see you arrive.  At least until you turn back around and head back to Pittsburgh.  Then, they’ll only give you the view of Mr. LaFayette’s backside to send you on your way…

Spring Saturday in Fayette County

It’s been a beautiful day here in Fayette County.  Temperatures are in the mid 70’s, there’s plenty of sun and there are only a few wispy clouds in the sky overhead.

The neighbors are jiggling their way around their yards on expensive riding mowers, each machine capable of finishing the job in about fifteen minutes – twenty or twenty-five if you account for the slower passes made to attempt to impress the people who are driving by.  But anyone driving by is just another one of our neighbors, as the roads that pass through here don’t actually go anywhere.  But they like to pretend that their expensive machines are grabbing the jealous eyes of strangers and eye each passing car with slow moving enthusiasm anyway.

The garbage that settled under the snow of winter and then revealed itself along the sides of all the roads and highways with the warmer spring temperatures, has finally been picked up by a mixture of county employees and random volunteers the county has been pleading for.  Now it’s all put away in hundreds of large black trash bags that watch over you as you pass along your way down the highways.  At some point these bags will be picked up – I can only assume – and we can enjoy the grass and flowers and trees for a couple of weeks before the soda cans, paint buckets, fast food wrappers and random unwanted shoes take back the stretches that belong to them for the other 50 weeks left in the year.

There’s a miniature land mover parked 50 yards out in front of the house, tilted precariously to the side where the creek runs under the road.  It dug its hole on Wednesday and has been sitting in the sun ever since then taking what must be a well deserved break, dirt caked onto its sides, caution tape fluttering in the breeze around it, and only one good shove away from dropping down into the hole it created for some unknown purpose days ago.  It’s tempting me, but I think I can manage to stay away today.  Though if it’s still there after work on Monday, I just might wander over to see if the keys were left inside.

But, overall, it’s a beautiful day here in Fayette County.  The birds are singing, the bees are buzzing and Graham’s napping under the car to enjoy the shade.  Beautiful.  Even if I still have my own mowing yet to do…

The Life of a Novel

I’m old school.  I’ll admit it.

I like to read actual books, turning paper pages.  And I like to handwrite the rough drafts of my stories or novels.  There’s something that just feels more tangible about it that way.   I don’t think I’ll ever own a Kindle and I don’t think I’ll be found writing in a coffee shop on a laptop rather than a legal pad.   It’s just the way I am.

There’s also something intimate about loaning someone a book.  Handing off pages of printed words that made an impact on you in some way and believing that it will impact that other  individual as well.  Though loaning a book isn’t always loaning.  Taking it from your bookshelf and setting it into another pair of hands never comes with the expectation of receiving it back.  And that’s okay with me.  As long as it gets read and passed on to people who will appreciate the story and the passion that’s behind it, that’s all that really matters.

That being said, I once loaned a book to a friend, knowing that she would really enjoy it.  A few months later when I had a few people over for dinner, she slipped a book onto the shelf, telling me that she was returning what I’d loaned to her.  I didn’t think anything of it until I caught a glimpse of it on the shelf sometime later.

I joked about having never seen it before (because it was a different printing of the same book that I had loaned her), but she was insistent.  Enough so that I could tell how uncomfortable she felt about it, so I let it drop.  I wanted to tell her that she didn’t have to replace it if she’d lost it, that loaning a book is a potential gift in my mind, but instead I played dumb for the sake of her feelings and slid the brand new copy back onto the shelf,

What you do want back though is any copy of your own writing that you loan out.  Trusting another individual to read a rough draft of what you have in progress is a difficult thing – at least it is for me – and is something only for a very select few.  I once loaned a copy of what was my novel-in-progress to a girlfriend, letting her in to that extremely select and treasured group.  It was a hundred pages of computer paper printed single-spaced, put in plastic sleeves and held together in a white binder.  Yes, I remember it vividly.  It was quickly read and I received wonderful feedback – the kind you can only receive from someone who is passionate about reading your work and wants the best for it – wanting the warts removed and the story to sing.  And this copy stayed with her while I made all of the revisions on the computer.

Months went by and I didn’t get it back.  I didn’t give it any thought.   More months went by and…yep, you’ve probably already guessed…  We broke up.  Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, right?

I didn’t care about getting my shirts back, or CD’s or DVDs, or anything silly like that.  But the novel, my inner thoughts, two years of my blood put to paper…?  That was something that I didn’t want out there somewhere completely lost to me.  More months went by.  Awkward conversations occurred, then civil conversations occurred, but still the novel wasn’t returned.  Christmas came around and I hoped it might be returned as a present, but it didn’t find its way to my tree.  The months continued to pass and it was never able to find its way home.

In the spring we talked and she told me that she had thrown it out.  And, as much as that hurt, I wondered.  Wondered if it was true, wondered if that was something she was capable of doing, wondered if there was a part of her that might have valued it enough that she had wanted to keep it as a memento instead.

I’d like to think that it’s in a box under her bead, or packed away in her closet.  At best maybe it’s in a drawer in her bedside table, at worst maybe under boxes of tangled Christmas tree lights in her garage.

But if not, and it’s truly piled under tons of garbage in a trash heap somewhere, at least I can hold on to this…  The pages are all in plastic sheets, so that story will live on forever…..

Fayette County Casual

Fayette County, Day 693 (give or take…):  Still no Bigfoot sighting.  Sheesh…if all of those late-night/weekend cable shows were right and we have so many running around our woods, you’d think I would have seen one hitch-hiking on one of the county roads by now, wouldn’t you?  Yeah, I do drive pretty fast, but still…

The past week was pretty wet and rainy – perfect weather for footprints to be squished down into the mud, but the only prints I saw, or dealt with were Graham’s.  And that meant muddy, furry paws that I had to quickly try to clean off before he dashed back into the house.  And I’m proud to say that I was successful almost every time.

Even though Fayette County is tucked down in the southwest corner of PA, it seems to be in the middle to me.  The middle, in between everything else that’s around here.  When I first moved to the area, I worked an hour north of here in Pittsburgh.  Now, I’m working for a company that’s located in the exact opposite direction, south across the border into West Virginia.  So maybe it’s just my personal perspective as I leave each day – at least five days a week plus the occasional Saturday trips back up to Pittsburgh – but Fayette County just has the feel of a place that’s somewhere in the middle and isn’t a destination in itself.

In Pittsburgh, casual means everyone wears black and gold – the colors of the Pirates, the Steelers or the Penguins.  You wear that or you stand out dramatically.  In West Virginia, it’s the blue and gold of WVU.  In Fayette County it’s…well…  I guess it’s a little of everything.  And maybe that’s why I don’t get it.  Here they might be fans of either WVU or Pitt, they might go watch a Pirates game on the weeknight at the Boston Beanery, where the television sits under a hanging Red Sox hat.  Then you’ll see girls wearing pink Steelers shirts with the number ‘9’ on the back in the mall and guys wearing camouflage McCutchen Pirates jerseys out at one of the local restaurants.  Even plenty of baby blue Penguins jerseys pass you by when you’re out and about.  It’s just an odd combination of fan colors compared to what you’ll see in one of the cities across the county line just a short drive away.  Especially when they’re wearing them to work with a pair of shorts and some flip flops.  I’ve just never been in an area quite that casual.

Granted, on casual Fridays I’m pulling out a comfortable pair of jeans myself.  But I’ll also put on a decent shirt.  One that buttons up.  Then, if one of the Bigfoot hunting crews comes around and wants to interview me on camera, I’ll be looking my best…

Brought To You By The Letter 7

Maybe I’m being foolish, but I worry.  I’m usually a very easygoing guy (if anything ever happens where TV news crews roll out to interview my neighbors, they’ll say ‘He seemed so nice and quiet’.  Though they’ll probably add that ‘He did go on long walks with that cat though.  That seemed weird…’.  But, as usual, I digress.

I love finding new authors and original voices.  While I may occasionally find myself to be jealous of the commercial success of an author or two, I believe in supporting people who have the skills to bring stories to life with the written word.  I’m just afraid that we might find their numbers decreasing as less people grow up with childhoods that are interesting.  Or where they actually do anything at all.

Okay, I’ll admit that I have a cell phone.  And a tablet.  And a computer.  And cable television at home…  But I had none of those things growing up (unless you count a Tandy computer from Radio Shack without color or any redeeming qualities whatsoever so I definitely don’t).  Without those, I read (even going to the local library on a regular basis), and played baseball and football and soccer with my friends.

During the summer months we’d be dashing outside as soon as we woke up and barely saw the inside of a house during daylight hours.  We learned the hard way not to attack bee’s nests with an aerosol can.  I came millimeters away from shooting a bottle rocket up Lindsey’s nose when I was surprised to discover that the lighter we’d found actually did have a little bit of fluid left inside.  We launched walnuts that dropped out of the trees in our yards out into the rest of the neighborhood using tennis rackets.  We built dangerous forts with heavy, rusted and sharp-edged metal sheets that had been abandoned by a failed manufacturing company.  We may not have been the smartest in some of the things that we did, but we all have plenty of stories to tell.  One hour of watching cartoons on a Saturday morning followed up with a “get out of the house” decree ensured that we’d find our own entertainment.

Differences are great and no one has to have a childhood like mine.  But memorizing the broadcast schedule of every televised cartoon doesn’t make a kid a genius.  Being able to quote every episode of every Disney, Disney Jr. or Nick Jr. shows isn’t a sign of brilliance.  Being able to pull up brightly colored apps on electronic devices isn’t a learning game.  Not when these same little wonders are going to school at a later age than we used to, haven’t even started to read or write, and can’t tell a letter from a number.

I’m not trying to judge.  They’ll learn.  They’ll grow up and do whatever grown ups do.  But if they’re not kicked off their devices and kicked out the door to see what the real world is really like, they might not have much of anything interesting to say to the rest of us.  With very few crazy experiences and too little imagination to make any up, I can’t see them forming the next generation of writers.

But, lest you think I’m a complete book vs. TV snob, I’ll end with a quote from a TV character you might know…

“And that’s what really grinds my gears…”

 

 

 

Out And About

I need to get out more.

Not just for my own well being, for fun, or for a vacation or anything like that.  It’s for my writing.  When I put it like that, it just sounds like a big excuse for going somewhere, doesn’t it?

But…because the characters in my novels aren’t going to be living and interacting with each other right here where I’m living and working, it’s important that I accurately describe the places where their stories take place.  And, though I’ve moved around a lot, and had the opportunity to see a large number of unique areas, it helps to have a refresher on the details that I haven’t seen in far too long.  At least in my mind – justification made.

Fortunately I do have a writer’s memory and everything from the past seems to stick in some part of my mind – even the parts that I’d probably prefer to forget.  It’s all there to be pulled out, either when it’s needed, or to show up unwanted.  They’re all usable in writing though.  But there’s just something about actually being there in some of those places you remember and experiencing them again that can inspire on a whole other level.

The last time I went back to the town that I called home as I grew up, I took a number of pictures from around the area.  Places that I saw most every day as I was going to school and wishing my way out of that town are now more important than ever and valuable for me to be able to picture again.  It’s small town America.  It’s Midwestern values and main streets.  And many things that are part of that town would fit for different locales in future scenes.  And taking in as many details as possible, and refreshing all of those memories, can only help for years to come.

It’s not just home though, but everywhere that I’ve been.  I can vividly remember sitting by the edge of Lake Cadillac, watching the fireworks explode over the still water on a particular fourth of July.  I can picture my last game at Wrigley Field and watching the Cubs lose in extra innings as I sat in damp clothes caused by a half hour rain delay.  I can feel the breeze as I walk around Lake Harriet on a late summer day, and hear the sounds of bicyclists as they called out to pass on the left as we would follow the trail.  They’re great places and great memories I can always draw upon.  But I’d still like to go back and experience things again to completely freshen up the memory.

Either that or check out Vegas, the coast of Maine, London or the Caribbean…  Places I’ve yet to see.  I don’t think I have any future scenes from a planned novel going on anyplace like that though. Hmm…maybe it has nothing to do with writing after all.  Maybe I just need a vacation.

But for now, Graham wants to go outside.  So we’ll take a walk down to the creek and wander over to the edge of the woods.  And I’ll take in the warm air, the cool breeze, the smell of fresh-cut grass and the sight of the setting sun and the rising moon as they pass each other in the sky.  And I’m sure there are plenty of places in the novel for things like that…