Sunday, April 02, 2017

"Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum


Wait just a &%$# minute, Mr. Baum!

You lied to me.

It's been brought to my attention, having read the first four books of the Oz series by L. Frank Baum, that there is an inconsistency about the Wizard. I don't know if he's a slightly wicked man or a derpy, good guy.

In "The Marvelous Land of Oz" (Book 2 of the series), the Wizard conquered Oz by overthrowing King Pastoria (Ozma's dad), snatching up Baby Ozma and handing her over to the evil witch Mombi.

Like, why you gotta go taking babies out of cribs and handing them over to witches?

That's wicked behavior, Mr. Wizard.

But, then wait! The Wizard isn't really a bad dude. The Wizard and Ozma are friends? Apparently they meet each other toward the end of "Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz" (Book 4). She asks him about his adventures as the Wizard of Oz, before she gained control of the throne. He fought off witches to seize control of Oz, and by doing so, he united the four countries of Oz, becoming a hero of the people. No babies were harmed in the making of "Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz."

So, what is it Ozma and Wizard? Are you friends or are you enemies?

What Real Housewives sorcery is this?

Is Dorothy going to have to choose sides? Like, who is she going to go shopping with at the new Emerald City Downtown Mall?

These books, though.

You know I'm going to keep reading them. Just when I thought Baum stepped out of hot-mess territory, I step right in a new pile of steaming crazy.

In the fourth rendezvous in Oz, we find Dorothy and some kid Zeb on their way to a farm. Zeb's just there to pick Dorothy up from the train station. Dorothy's on her way to Uncle Henry, except there's an earthquake and Zeb, Dorothy, along with Jim the horse, Eureka the cat, and their carriage, fall down a fissure in the earth.

And keep falling. It's a pleasant fall, actually. Dorothy and Zeb make comments about how slow they seem to be going down.

It's all very "Alice Adventures in Wonderland."

Seriously. Lewis Carroll published his children's acid trip in 1865. Baum's fourth acid trip wasn't published until 1908.

There's definitely some influence.

Or should we call it peer pressure?

Once they hit land, Jim, the horse, can talk, as can the small kitten, Eureka.

This shocks Zeb, but Dorothy finds talking animals so pedestrian.

What they don't find pedestrian is the land they have, well, landed in. It's full of vegetable people. They are handed over to the vegetable king by a bunch of potatoes, essentially, and a vegetable sorcerer threatens Dorothy and her latest Squad. The Wizard has since joined them. As usual, he's traveling by balloon, but instead of landing on earth, he got sucked down the fissure created by the earthquake.

The vegetable king sentences them to death because apparently it's their fault the earthquakes happened.

The Wizard doesn't like this, so using his "humbug" magic (tricks), he assembles a sword out of pieces he's hiding, and cuts the vegetable sorcerer in half, killing him.

This is when we find that the insides of the people are mere potato.

These people are evil because they're a bunch of carbs.

And so begins the journey of Dorothy and her Squad as they go through a few lands in order to get back home. This isn't Kansas, or Oz, or anywhere we've ever been, Toto -- I mean, Eureka.

That's my next big question. What ever happened to Toto? He hasn't made an appearance since the first book.

He must've asked for a raise.

More money per book!

To keep costs down, Dorothy keeps bringing new animals with her to Oz.

I'd rather have Toto. This cat, this Eureka, is a bit of a diva. She constantly complains about how hungry she is and how she's going to eat the tiny piglets the Wizard keeps in his pocket. She has nothing nice to say. She's a total mean girl.

And Dorothy keeps threatening the cat. "We'll leave you here if you can't behave."

The cat knows Dorothy is fibbing, but she still plays along.

"Meow, fine. Meow," Eureka says, rolling her blue kitten eyes. "You're being such a meowtch, Dorothy."

In this book, we visit the Land of Voe, a lovely, green, hilly kingdom. It's filled with invisible people. Invisible because they eat magic fruit. They do this to hide from the bears.

The bears are also invisible.

But, the invisible people are very nice and give Dorothy and her Squad some nummy goodness for their tum tums. Then, they go off again on their journey.

Next they climb Pyramid Mountain. Here we meet a crazy old man covered in braids. Then, they seek refuge from the land of wooden gargoyles.

The scenes of escape from the gargoyles is actually pretty action-packed. It definitely would've made ladies pee their pinafores in 1908.

After climbing through a tunnel filled with dragons (whose tails are tied up because the momma dragon doesn't trust her baby dragons), Dorothy realizes that Ozma checks in on her with a magical mirror at 4 p.m. every day. By making some obscene hand gesture, Ozma knows to whisk Dorothy away.

And then, after sticking her middle finger up in the air, Dorothy disappears.

Then, Dorothy comes back with a magical belt and takes her Squad back with her to Ozma's palace.

In Oz.

We're finally in Oz, people.

This is when Baum lays out his inconsistencies about the Wizard and Ozma. Apparently, in this book, Ozma and the Wizard are cronies.

Until I read later books, we'll just have to assume Ozma and the Wizard are frenimies.

What "Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz" did, though, was provide some history about the land. It spoke of the four different countries of Oz: Gillikan, Quadling, Winkie, and Munchkin. It spoke how witches took over Oz, but the Wizard kicked them out unifying the entire land of Oz. The Wizard was responsible for building the Emerald City. Then, all the characters from past books -- the ones that matter, anyway -- came to visit.

The book felt like it was supposed to be the last Oz book. It re-introduced all the characters. The Wizard and Ozma are friends. It gave us a short history of Oz. Baum pretty much gave everyone a happy ending, wrapped up any loose ends, patted our bottoms and told us to be on our way.

Eleven more Oz books spilled out of Baum, however, so either he wasn't finished yet, or his publisher told him that he better add more to "The Real Housewives of Oz" or else.

Probably over dinner, where the publisher tried to flip the table on Baum, spilling wine instead, and then stormed out.

Then Baum probably called out after him, "Stop being such a meowtch!"




Saturday, April 01, 2017

"The Circle" by Dave Eggers


I got to see Dave Eggers speak about 13 years ago at Butler University. He was riding the tidal wave of success with the Pulitzer-prize nominated "A Heart-breaking Work of Staggering Genius," and as a young writer, I expected to see a pompous ass that I was going to hate.

It was utterly the opposite.

Instead, he was pleasant and humbled. He spoke about writing, but more so, he introduced me to a nonprofit organization he had started: a place in San Francisco called 826 Valencia -- a place that helped kids in the community with tutoring, writing and publishing.

Each of the seven 826's have a store front that sells quirky knick-knacks. The one in San Fran has the front of a pirate store. There's a Time Travel Mart, a Superhero Store, a Secret Agent Supply Co. and more.

Then, behind a curtain or bookcase is the actual workshop where tables, books, computers, etc. are set up to aid in creation.

It's pure magic. If one were local, it is where I would be spending my time -- I would love to volunteer in a place such as this.

What does this have to do with "The Circle"?

Well, the man knows what he's doing.

This novel is the type of science fiction a science fiction hater could read. Along the river of literary genres, this book merely sticks its fingertips into the sci-fi genre.

And it may be one of the more important books of our time.

It's all kinds of caveat.

It's Google and Facebook beware.

It's the people giving into a tech company so large it could eat up the government without the government even realizing it's been eaten up.

And Eggers isn't tiptoeing around the topic either. The reader is smacked in the face with all the what-ifs and could-bes, while treading water in different scenarios that deal with technological morality.

For a book that's 500 pages long, it's detailed and compulsively readable. 

The Circle is a company that is Google-esque. It's a monster tech company that has merged all the different online tech and social media into one: Yelp, Facebook, Google, Amazon.

And Mae Holland just acquired a job there because she knows Annie -- a friend from college that works at The Circle.

Mae left a crap job at home, moved to San Francisco and starts work in Customer Experience, where she and her other CE workers must keep a median of 98 to 100 for customer feedback for the products provided by The Cirlce. Annie is a fast-talking hot-shot of the company that everyone likes. Her dialogue is quick-witted, filled with snark, and very jarring. She's there for Mae to get used to the job in fits and starts, but is often out of Mae's reach because she's somewhat of a honcho.

Mae is inundated with screens at her workspace. She stumbles through the mindframe that is the Circle worker, offending many in her early days at the company. She finds out that The Circle's campus houses many different buildings, cafeterias, concerts, speakers, parties, games, and dorms. A person who works at The Circle has access to the world without ever leaving the campus.

It's a beautiful juxtaposition. 

Eggers also inundates the reader with detailed description of all the cutting-edge technologies that Mae is introduced to, and instead of losing the reader with the boring ins and outs, Eggers' imagery is so detailed, it's magnetic. 

Does all this technology actually exist?

If it doesn't yet, it could. This is where good science fiction gets scary.

The writer's imagination becomes reality later down the road, for better or for worse.

Let's hope some of Eggers' visions are for the better.

Mae has amazing health coverage, and so she wears a band that navigates all her health data. It's a metal band, a Fitbit on steroids. It would take the Apple Watch down in the WWE arena.

One of her co-workers creates a special chip for children, and once embedded in their skin, the kids become traceable. Kidnappings become a thing of the past.

Mae interacts with touch screens and tablets, but one of the major pieces of technology to show its face in the novel is the SeeChange camera. Its a small camera that can be placed anywhere. The SeeChange cameras will showcase society's actions. By showcasing society's actions, nothing bad will happen because it will be easy to catch.

Crime will go down because who would want to commit an act that's supposed to be a secret?

Secrets are knowledge not being shared.

Shouldn't civilization have access to all knowledge?

Secrets are, therefore, bad.

Eventually, these SeeChange cameras are used to make politicians "go transparent" by wearing them during work. By the end of the novel, more than 90% of politicians have "gone transparent" to showcase that there are no secrets in the work they are doing for the people.

Mae wrestles with the above when its found out that she likes to kayak on her own. This is her chance to be alone with nature, with her thoughts, and to experience life. She doesn't post pictures. She doesn't take video. She doesn't join any groups within the online Circle community that deal with kayaking. When its found out that she kayaks, co-workers are hurt that she wouldn't share this information.

Secrets are selfish. 

Then, one night after an emotional evening with her family and a past boyfriend, she visits the kayaking place she goes to. It's closed, but a kayak is outside the fence. So she takes it for a spin.

And her small crime is caught by a SeeChange camera.

She wrestles with her action by talking to one of the Three Wise Men, and with his help, she realizes that secrets are lies, that privacy is theft. That sharing is caring.

It's like "Sesame Street" gone "1984."

And instead of losing her job, she volunteers to "go transparent" herself.

Mae starts out as a likable character, but the deeper she gets into The Circle, the more I wanted to shake her and tell her to snap out of it, to slap her because of her behavior. But before I could hate her any more, I realized she was just being used as a cautionary tale.

I stopped disliking her and started to feel sorry for her. 

While Mae couldn't escape from what could come of nasty tech empires, of privacy becoming public knowledge, we can learn from her mistakes.

And also hope that a huge tech company, just like SkyNet, doesn't take over the world.


Friday, March 31, 2017

I'm having an identity crisis, Part III

A looong time ago, I made cards. It was this little thing I made into a side business. It was not overly successful. In fact, I still have a lot of the cards that I created.

They come in handy when none of the cards from Meijer or CVS will cut it.

And lately, they really don't cut it.

Card-buying is the worst.

But, really, it's not like my cards closed the gap.

Hence, I still have most of them.

The name of the business is what stuck, though.

This is also my third and final identity.

This one is much easier to process because it's not so much about me, but the service. It's not what I want, but what the client wants. My goal is to make them happy, while also making a little money on the side providing a service.

See: www.fridgeart.net
I know the word refridgerator is spelled wrong
That's not the part that concerns me the most. It's that my little side business has been with me for over 10 years, and that's exactly what it is.

Little.

But I've tried to do a couple of different things with it. First, came the cards. I set up booth space at a few craft fairs, bought a card holder -- one that spins around -- and hoped to sell any card I could.

And while I sold a few, I merely made enough money to buy more supplies and make more cards.


Since the cards weren't always so successful, I widened my reach with photography in general. Portraits to be exact. Since, I've been able to take pictures of families, seniors, and events. I've recently added professional head shots to my portfolio. It's not necessarily my goal to make this into an entire side-career.

For example, I won't do weddings.

I know that's where the money is, but that's also where the stress lives. I would hate to get those pictures wrong. It's not that I couldn't do it. I just don't want to.

Nor would I be happy about giving up an entire Saturday.

And then give up another entire Saturday just to go through the thousands of photos and edit them.

And then give up yet another Saturday to meet up with the happy couple and show them all the photos.

I'm sorry, but I don't feel like reliving your happy day over and over again.

I'd rather just watch the movie "Groundhog Day" and photograph your family.

Then I started sewing
It was one of those things where I wanted to learn how to sew because HGTV brainwashed me into thinking it a valuable skill.

Then, because it's genetic (great grandfather was a tailor, my mom worked at Singer and sewed her own clothes), I realized I wasn't too bad at it, especially for being self-taught.

So, I ventured forth with another leg of the Refridgerator Art brand and created bags.

But not just any bags. No. They had to fit under the umbrella of Refridgerator Art, so I called them Freezer Bags. I opened an Etsy store, I put them in a local store in the neighboring city, and I waited for people to buy what I created.

I reused t-shirts and materials I found at Goodwill or antique shops, and I gave them catchy names. I priced them so they weren't too outrageous. I spent afternoons creating them. I bartered with a friend to have my labels embroidered on white fabric -- and they were amazing because they were stitched versions of my handwriting. Of my logo!

This is great! My cards didn't sell, but these could!

But, no. They didn't

I still have them all.

So far, the only true success has been the photography aspect, and while there are things I could be doing differently to build up my brand and presence, this identity causes the least anxiety out of the three. It's also the one that has made me money.

I continue to rethink how Refridgerator Art can grow, and I believe the future of my little endeavor is where it started designing digital cards and invitations and selling them on Etsy. Since it's considered Refridgerator Art: Design and Photography, it could become a combination of cards, bags, photography, etc.

Heck, I may even re-post the bags for sale.

So, if this one makes the most sense, why is it a part of your anxiety chronicles?
Well, it's the third identity.

Something that's creative, a part of me, and something I'm not willing to part with -- yet still requires time to build.

I've got three identities that require time to build. Each one fights for attention.

I'm a parent, and I need to schedule one-on-one time with each of my three children.

The only thing I've thought of that would help ease my anxiety over all three children is to devote certain days to each.

On Mondays, focus only on anything My Bucket of Parts. On Thursdays, post as The Vade Mecum, both on Twitter and on my website. On Tuesdays, create one thing that I could sell through Refridgerator Art, especially if I'm not taking photographs for people, and build up my little digital card store.

On any other day, when I'm none of those identities, I should focus on the author I want to become, and if that falls under My Bucket of Parts, so be it.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

I'm having an identity crisis, Part II

In struggling with finding a "niche" with My Bucket of Parts, I've had conversations with a fellow blogger that has a strong niche.

He's a daddy blogger. There's a crazy market out there for mommy and daddy bloggers. I even follow a daddy blogger on Facebook -- not for parenting advice, though. His niche is super-specific: He's a single dad. I'm sure his parenting advice and stories are on fleek, but I just use him for his memes.

So, wallowing in my self pity one day about not having readers, my daddy-blogger-friend told me that I already had a niche, that I'm a teacher -- there's my built in audience! I'm a journalism adviser that works with writing and design and photography and the First Amendment. And while this is all nice and true, that's not my only outlet.

I was a writer long before I stepped foot in the classroom. That's where my identity goes to first.

But he made a good point and the seed was planted.

I do have a niche!

While battling with finding readers for My Bucket of Parts, I've been saying to Wifefriend that I want to become the Middle School Journalism Guru!

There are plenty of high school journalism advisers out there that do crazy-amazing things, but, when I look for resources, they're all aimed at high school. Nothing is really out there for junior high or middle school journalism programs.

The reason is: those programs don't really exist.

If anything, they are after school clubs that create the yearbook and work on broadcast projects.

So, if I need anything aimed at middle school, I have to create it myself -- or take high-school oriented content and adapt it.

To take the "I create it myself" one step further, one summer, I sat down and created an entire workbook/textbook that I had printed and handed out to my students. I looked up and down for the best name I could find for it. It needed to be something special, something other.

"The Journalism Manual" wasn't going to cut it.

Somehow I stumbled upon the Latin phrase: vade mecum. It's pronounced vade-y mee-come. It means "a book of ready reference" or "a handbook or guide constantly kept around for consultation."

YES!

And so The Vade Mecum was born, and I've used the book in my classroom for four years now.

Then, it mutated. I started to work in professional development on my own. I started to experiment more in my classroom. I removed the desks and chairs from my room. I started to speak at more conferences.

I realized that the Vade Mecum didn't just have to be the manual I printed.

The Vade Mecum was, for lack of better words, me.

But that sounds amazing! Why should that cause you anxiety?
It's another feather in my identity hat.

I'm not just My Bucket of Parts. I'm also The Vade Mecum, and they can't be combined. One is my teaching personality that can be followed by my school district. The other is my author side.

Some day they may be combined, but not right now.

And so I continue with two identities. This should be fun, right? This should be a place for me to jump back and forth, to switch it up!

But alas, most days I think about both identities and get a bit panicked.

As The Vade Mecum, I could sell some of what I create online for Teachers Pay Teachers. I should be blogging more about teaching, and not just teaching in general, but teaching journalism to middle school students. I should create an Instagram account that's only for my teaching persona and try to show off and be amazing!

The Vade Mecum, like My Bucket of Parts, has accidentally become a brand.

So, I bought a web address for it: www.vademecum.pw.

What's a .pw?

Originally, it was the web address country code for the Pacific island nation of Palau, but for some reason, it was taken away and rebranded to "the professional web."

For $9 a year, I thought it was a cheaper and unique ending to my Vade Mecum experiment.

Now that some money has been put toward it -- like the cost of two Frappuccinos -- I want it to become something.

My daddy blogger friends was right, I do have a niche, and I could do much with it.

It's just...well, how much do I do with it?


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I'm having an identity crisis, Part I


As the saying goes, I feel like I am a jack of all trades, but a master of none. In my little online world, I have created three different identities and each identity calls for action. For the past few months, I've been trying get each one organized in my mind so that they can co-exist nicely, each one placed in a separate box.

My dream: To find a way to make a small side-income with one or all three of these identities. I work with students and get them to create, but the thing is...I also like to create. I don't want to just inspire kids to create.

I want to create, and each identity allows for such.

The logical side of me says: "Focus on just one. That's all you have time for."

But, I already own all three web addresses. And to be dramatic, my hand draped over my forehead, each one is a slice of my soul. To give up on one is to let a part of me die. It will cause the ultimate anxiety.

I know this because summer has started once again, and I've been running from being productive on any of these identities. I've been telling myself "I'm on vacation" and that "I'm giving my brain a break," and while this is all nice and true, ain't nothing going to happen if I keep saying I'm on vacation. The anxiety I begin to feel when I don't sit down and work on something starts to eat away at me.

I begin to do fleeting activities around the house.

You see, when I'm not working on any form of creation, I begin to get stir crazy. The anxiety my body produces starts to eat at my brain. It makes me want to crawl out of my skin. I know the antidote is to sit down and edit, write, design, and produce, but then I look at past work and decide that it all sucks, that I should just give up on everything.

Because really.

What do I have to offer?


There are bloggers out there with a specific niche.
There are single dads who blog. There are moms who blog. There are blogs about food and fitness and DIY projects and design and inspiration and humor and blenders and pop culture and the color red and napkins and dogs and The Museum of Four in the Morning and cats and, and, and...

I scroll through my website and look to see what my niche is: Nothing. My niche is that I have no niche. Like, it's totally liberating. I'm just over here being me. I've decided that my blog is my notebook.

You see, I used to keep a notebook. Constantly. I took that thing with me everywhere. Eventually, it stopped being just words and became something more visual. Then, eventually, I stopped.

You hear from writers that you should always keep a notebook. You should take it with you everywhere. That, if you don't have a notebook, you're not a real writer.

And, whatever.

I recently look through my old notebooks and realized why I don't keep a notebook anymore.

I don't need to.

For some, the notebook is the birth place of ideas. For me, my notebooks were therapy, a place for me to dump all of my dealings with anxiety. Not all the posts were dark and angry, but a lot of them were. I find, when I sit down to write in my notebook, it tends to go back there.

I've dealt with this anxiety order for more than 15 years now. The last thing I need is for it to take over my writing. So, the notebooks had to stop.

Especially if I wanted to consider myself a humorist.

And instead, I pour what I would notebook into this, here, website, and by doing so, it's created a few niches of its own.

Can I say niches? Can the word niche be plural?

So, this is where some of my creative anxiety takes over
One of my identities is solidified here in My Bucket of Parts. The title comes from the toy Mr. Potatohead and his bucket of parts. Through high school and college, I collected Mr. Potatoheads. So, when column space opened up for the college newspaper, I volunteered to write one. I titled it: My Bucket of Parts. That was my sophomore year, and the experience of writing a column was one of the best teachers I could have.

People actually read what I wrote, this I learned. I didn't have a huge following, but people shouted at me on campus a couple of times. They left comments online (when online comments JUST started), and having that audience became addicting.

They weren't reading some newspaper article to get facts, but paragraphs of ramblings written by yours truly.

And so one of my first identities was born.

After leaving college, I kept the name, eventually bought the web address, and worked through various mutations of My Bucket of Parts.

With the help of social media, I'm able to post and update and let people know that it exists. That's what I'm working on now -- getting readers. I know people can make money through social media and blogging, but I just want the people.

Getting a taste of it in college has never left me, and since then, I've been working on building some kind of audience.

And in the midst of that, MBoP has become my landing place for all things creative, it houses my attempts at humor and essay writing, book reviews, pieces of original design, my journey as I attempt to get published, random fiction and more.

So much so, that I feel like it's turned into some brand, and do you know what brands need?

T-shirts! Posters! Coffee Mugs! Stickers!

Things that identify you're a fan of My Bucket of Parts.

A small stage! Speaking events! Books! Magazines!

A store front!

A TV SERIES!

The hard part, this is only one of my identities.

The other two are fighting for creative control.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Nigra knows her highway exits


Right before we leave for an extensive trip, it always seems Nigra needs to go see a doctor. Luckily, on a Saturday morning, we were able to get her in to check out a skin flair-up.

On the way down, we drive I-69, and this is the highway we take to go to both of her doctors.

Like you and me, Miss Nigra also has multiple doctors. For her typical check-ups and routine doctoring, she has a general practitioner that has seen her for all of her 13 years.

That's Dr. Doyle.

And Dr. Doyle's office (which is actually a house-turned-practice) is sort of a family affair. My brother worked there in high school doing the clean-up, help-where-you-can grunt work. I worked there in high school -- eventually, I even helped with minor surgeries during the summer. We were able to get jobs there because my mom has worked there for over 20 years now. Since she worked there, Doyle has been the GP of a ton of my pets while growing up: Tedee, Rudee, Dufee (all miniature poodles we had at the same time), Daisy (our Yorkie, which joined the poodle squad), Tink and Trouble (cats my mom adopted from my brother), along with current members of my mom's fur-tribe Dazzle and Gracie (standard poodles).

My side of the family is not the only one. Wifefriend's family members also take their fur-children to see Dr. Doyle.

Even one of the science teachers in my building takes his cat to see Dr. Doyle.

So you see, Dr. Doyle is within many of my circles.

We speak about him like he's an uncle.

Nigra is a fabulous patient, but for some reason she's not particularly fond of Dr. Doyle. I believe the meanest things he has done to her is take her blood or give her shots, both concerning needles. While nobody likes this, I wouldn't necessarily see a cause for fear.

It could be because he's tall with a very gruff voice. He plays the role of Serious Grandpa. He tells you like it is, which is why we like his medical care. He doesn't try to flair up your bill with unnecessary tests and procedures. He will also explain and answer any questions thoroughly. He takes his time to inform, much to Nigra's chagrin because she's stuck in the room with him for longer than she'd like to be.

When Nigra isn't on top of the examination table, she's stays by Wifefriend's legs. When she was younger, she would shove herself under the chair in the corner.

We were introduced to her other doctor, Dr. Stanley, in a moment of crisis years ago when Nigra came down with pneumonia. For days, while fighting the disease, she stayed at the VCA hospital, in an oxygen chamber. We were able to visit her whenever we wanted, we brought her a few belongings from home, and Dr. Stanley, an Internist (not an intern, but a doctor specializing in internal medicine) became the other doctor in Nigra's life.

We've continued to take Nigra to see Dr. Stanley for different things. She's had surgery at the VCA, and because of the pneumonia, she's definitely clocked in more overnight hours there than at Dr. Doyle's. During the past year, we've visited frequently to monitor her Cushing's Syndrome. They are definitely more invasive at the VCA, and ever the perfect patient, she gives them no trouble.

Which makes us believe, shouldn't she be more nervous at the VCA than at Dr. Doyle's office?

We believe it's because Nigra knows Dr. Stanley helped save her life back from the pneumonia. She will wait by the door until Stanley comes into the room, and she will greet her favorite doctor with kisses.

She does not do this with Dr. Doyle.

It also helps that the staff compliments her, telling her how beautiful she is. You should see her walk through the office. She owns the place. And since she's been going there for years now, she has even become somewhat of an advocate, wanting to calm other puppies that come in, who seem frightened.

Dr. Stanley, even when eight months pregnant, gets down and sits on the floor to visit with Nigra while answering any of our questions.

Nigra hearts Dr. Stanley, and we do too, which brings me back to driving down I-69 to visit either one of these two familiar faces. Usually, with her in the car, she knows that driving down the highway means only one thing -- a doctor's visit.

And as she drives, she knows exactly which one.

The VCA, where Dr. Stanley works, is the first exit on the trip. Nigra moves around the backseat, alternating between which window she wants to look out. Usually in a good mood, she shows no signs of distress when we pull off the highway toward the VCA.

It's when we pass that exit and continue driving that her demeanor shifts. That's what happened on the Saturday morning before spring break. As we kept going, she began to visibly tremble. We told it was going to be OK, but it was no use.

She knows which exit belongs to which doctor, and she lets us know that she's not excited about it.

She knows she's not seeing Dr. Stanley, the doctor who sits on the floor with her even when she's extremely pregnant.

No.

She's headed down to see Dr. Doyle, the one that sounds like Serious Grandpa. The one she doesn't give kisses too, even though he also pats her to tell her she's a good patient.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Fight-or-Flight


ere's the thing about anxiety attacks: I feel like we, as a human race, are ill-equipped to deal with the comforts of modern life.

Are we really meant to go to the grocery store, instead of farming our own food and gathering our own protein? Are we meant to go to the doctor, not because we are ill, but because we want to prevent being ill? Are we really supposed to have computers, where so many answers and connections lie?

There nothing wrong with improving the quality of life, which the above have all done. Yet, with such quality, why do we still fear and panic?

Along the way, with these homo-sapien creature comforts, the truest need for fight or flight, for the most part, has been eliminated.

I can't tell you the last time I looked death in the face because of the summer drought or the winter cold. I am blessed to not know what starvation looks like, and I can write and listen to music in the comfort of a house. I know these are blessings, comforts so many can't afford or don't have, and I try not to take them for granted.

There are times when things may not be going well, or our house isn't perfection, but I stand at the kitchen sink (because life is often talked about while cooking in the kitchen, where I am routinely washing dishes) and I say out loud that we have more than so many, that we are very lucky, and things could be worse.

Knowing this, knowing there's a safety within my life, what should my body do when the chemical response to fleeing or attacking still happens when there's nothing to run from or hit?


It may just be a car that needs to be repaired, my friends, but with someone with an anxiety disorder, the flight-or-flight response yells at me to run like the dickens.

Since it still exists, this fight-or-flight response is now referred to how our body reacts to stress, and that stress is not typically because we're standing in front of our enemy and it's kill or be killed.

No.

Our body pushes out hormones like epinephrine and dopamine and serotonin because we may not stand in the face of danger, like death, but we do stand in the danger of: losing a job, owing an exorbitant amount of money for a repair, cancer, where our next meal is coming from, if we'll have a shelter, what our parents think, home repairs, comparison to others through social media, how a boss spoke to us and other mostly benign apparitions.

For some, this physical response to stress equates sweaty armpits, a little bit of worry, and the tension that singes the lower back. It makes sense because the situation calls for such a response. It is stressful. It may not be fight-or-flight, but it isn't comfortable, either.

For others, our physical responses to the phone ringing, the text message not sent to parents, or the email that says "see me" are physically debilitating. It ignites the response of 'what if' and 'why' and worst case scenarios that would make Stephen King proud.

For those with this disorder, the reason for the anxiety is kind of there, but the body's reaction is a little bit over-dramatic.

Your boss may just want to talk to you about something routine, but that's not what your mind wants you to think. Your mind wants you to believe that your boss is about to yell at you, demean you, and cremate your soul.

I know many that suffer from a nervousness akin to characters in an Edgar Allen Poe story. They, along with me, seem like people from the late-1800's as we suffer from weak nerves, our dispositions paper-thin and frail.

Although this is not really the case, I wonder if that's what people were dealing with when they were plighted by their nerves in the 19th Century. Were they really becoming a character from "Wuthering Heights" or "Jane Eyre" or did they suffer from anxiety?

Did their bodies lose the ability to cope as the modern world began to become more comfortable?

Sometimes I wonder: If I was a pioneer, living off the land, and trying to create a homestead worthy of survival, would I still suffer from generalized anxiety disorder? Or would the grit of life consume my every being?

These are questions that involve research and study, and while I may not, right now, find the time, nor want, to answer those questions with deep academic research, they are questions that constantly come back to me time and time again.

It may, one day, become a topic I research. Until then, the reason my thoughts entwined around the idea of modern day life and fight-or-flight this evening was because of a long week.

A week, like many have, that had its ups. That had its downs.

Yet, as I stood in the kitchen, with no danger in sight, the flood of anxiety tried to creep up my chest and spill into my lungs. It wanted to collapse my breathing and infect my brain.

For a few moments, it almost did. The seams that hold me together were stretched from the exhaustion of keeping it together, but they did not give.

My breathing returned to normal, and I won. My anxiety attacked, but I smacked it down.

My fight-or-flight responses are very much alive today, but it's not because I need to run for my life or defend my homestead. It's because I feel the need to run from myself, while trying to find the strength within myself at the same time.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

You're old when a favorite TV show has a reunion


You know you're getting old when one of your favorite TV shows is on the cover of Entertainment Weekly...as a part of the annual reunion issue.

Like, "The show premiered 20 years ago."

I'm sure, in another 20 years, I'll be watching the show and weeping, crying out that youth is wasted on the young, mourning how all my favorite characters from a TV show I loved all have white hair.

Speaking of white hair, I've noticed a small patch of it in my beard.

But that's neither here nor there.

Those who know me best notified me through Facebook. Although I cancelled the subscription to Entertainment Weekly a while ago, I was able to go online and get a taste of the reunion.

What was the show, you ask?

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Go ahead and laugh, but will your favorite show make the cover of the magazine for the reunion issue?

If that answer is 'yes,' well, my ultimate favorite show is just as good as your ultimate favorite TV show.

So there.

It's vindication that a "silly" show, which aired for seven seasons, has cemented itself as pop culture royalty, at least according to Entertainment Weekly.

There's is the only opinion, here. You can shut your mouth.

Back when it was on, Tuesdays from 8 to 9 p.m. were sacred. You couldn't interrupt me. I yelled at you if you were being too loud. I didn't answer the phone. I didn't leave my seat to go to the bathroom -- I held it for that extra hour. And if I did answer the phone, I blurted something unreasonable and hung up on you.

No one was safe.

Not even Wifefriend back when we were dating. Even she got the wrath of the crazy.

I enjoy spooky things.

For enjoying the horror genre and stories of the supernatural, this show provided a fun way to tell those stories. It did so with the magic of wit, the sass of good dialogue, and just good old-fashioned storytelling.

The show was a metaphor about the "horrors" of being a teenager and growing up. Those horrors showed up as literal monsters and not just emotions, but it mixed humor with scary, and the story arcs lasted episodes, if not full seasons. All of that, with the magic of Joss Whedon's vision helped me get hooked.

It was the first time I was completely obsessed with a TV show, where I was so invested, season finales were torture, weeks of reruns were annoying, and since it was before all the digital technology was readily available, I couldn't watch and re-watch episodes at will.

And when the seasons started coming out on DVD, it was the first time I understood binge-watching.

Sure, I had seen all the episodes before, but it was the first time I got the chance to re-watch them. It was like seeing it for the first time all over again, and I watched multiple episodes in a row until I felt hollow and unhealthy.

If you've ever binged a show, you know what I mean.

All that time could've been spent being productive, but instead, hours were wasted, passively watching the TV.

Four episodes were on each disc, and I if I didn't go through multiple discs, the minimum was definitely four episodes.

But it was more than just passively watching, I was actively engaged. I was mad when characters acted in ways I disapproved. I was happy when things worked out. I laughed at lines like, "He even makes Godot look punctual."

I'm sorry, but a TV series that can get away with mentioning Godot...well...

The title of the show may have been slightly ridiculous, but this show also housed enough panache to throw obscure literary references out there.

I'm sorry, but that's just smart.

Hello? Hey, where are you going?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

She had dewy skin

The sentence she had dewy skin has appeared numerous times in books describing the breathlessly attractive female lead.

To me, this sentence doesn't make sense.

Dewy skin reminds me of my car's windshield in the morning. It's what's experienced on an early spring morning At first, it sounds nice -- the fragrant flowering trees leaving my olfactory senses illuminated with the prospect of warmer afternoons.

Then it takes a turn for the worse.


I open the garage door, and awaiting me is a soaking wet windshield. The large plate of glass is slathered with a layer of moisture squeezed from the air.

Rain from the clouds washes everything clean. It's cool and clean and creates droplets so refreshing, green lily leaves glimmer with these crystalline droplets of cloud water.

Ha ha! When you're out in rain, with no umbrella, on a scorched summer day, whimsy collapses around us as we soak ourselves in a refreshing shower. We sing! We jump up on light posts and dangle, reaching out with our left hand as we gleefully serenade the weather:

"I'm singing in the rain!"

Dew is not so much like this.

This is why dewy skin eludes me.

Dew sticks. It spreads across a windshield in an abudance of wet so thick it looks like ice. We curse at it. We have to scrape it, don't we? It's April, and I have to scrape my windshield.

Wait, that's not ice.

That's just a thick layer of moisture.

Thick.

Moisture and wet should never be described as thick. Water is mostly transparent, therefore it is loose. Free. There's movement. It flows. There are trickles. It dances and glistens.

Not dew.

It slathers.

Do you know what else slathers? Icing. Mud. Creamy lotion.

It does not trickle, nor look fresh, and as I swat the windshield wiper handle to get rid of this layer of nuisane so I can drive, that delicious morning dew -- which is so oft written about -- begins to spear like bird poop as the wipers squeegee back and forth, back and forth, producing a film.

A film.

This dewy finish doesn't go away.

Instead, my wipers create smudge rainbows that I cannot see through. Now, driving is dangerous. I don't have time to wait for my defrost to heat up the glass to evaporate the dew. I'll be scorched by the fire of the car furnace while also being late for work.

And it doesn't matter, because the dew is too thick -- it has a higher evaporation rate than water. It's like waiting for a giant wad of spit to dry.

Since there are no options with dew, I go ahead and ignite the defrost at high temperatures and high speeds so I can drive to work. The heat from the defrost makes me sweat on this mild spring morning, forcing me to roll down the windows to cool off. The sticky dew dribbles in, droplets flying in from the speed of the car, landing on my face.

That's the real dewy finish.

I get that skin finishes can range from matte to dewy; from luminous to effervescent; from sparkling to frothy; from contagious to flaky, but when books, movies, interviews and make-up commercials demand the look of dewy skin from the female masses, I think of my morning windshield.

Slathered with wet.

A wet that smears.

A wet...creamy...smear.

Doesn't that sound beautiful?

Don't you want dewy skin now?

Wet, cream-smeared skin?

"I love the look of your face this morning," exclaims yonder female co-worker to other yonder female co-worker. "There's a film to it. It reminds me of my car's windshield."

"Thank you!" yonder co-worker replies back. "It's L'Oreal's new Cream Smear line. It's really thick, and I can never rub it in entirely."

I just don't believe that a woman's skin should be compared to my car's windshield in the morning.

It's just not very becoming.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Shelties are too smart for you


Shelties are too smart for you.

They're too smart for me, and they're too smart for you.

Commentators during dog shows and websites all say the same thing: Shelites will own you if you don't constantly keep them busy. Like, you can't work. You can't sit on the couch. They must perform agility and be trained at all moments of the day. If you don't give them jobs, they will create their own. If you have small children, your Sheltie will herd them.

The websites make it sound so dire: If you can't give up your life for a Sheltie, then maybe yours is not the best home for one.

I wanted to punch all the Sheltie websites in the throat.

Because I live with two Shelties, and sure they can be high energy at times, but I'm not going to take the small crazy one to agility class when she's afraid of the IKEA children's tunnel we bought.

Just for fun. Like, "Maybe she'll run through it!"

Aaannd...no. She barks at her ball that sits in the middle of the tunnel, instead.

I'm not paying a few hundred dollars

What the websites should've said is how Shelties are too smart for you and me.

Now, I've only lived with two of them, and they're ten years apart, but if these two are an inkling of what other Shelties are like, well, Lord help us all.

It's not like having dogs at all.

They are four-legged toddlers.

And sometimes these four-legged toddlers can be more difficult than children. Children learn to speak and can go everywhere with their parents, and while Shelties may understand an obscene amount of English, then cannot speak it, nor can they go everywhere with us.

And just because they have four legs, Shelties are not typical dogs.

Your Lab may eat everything and anything, and not care about its diet, while your Golden Retriever can just go lay in the corner for the rest of the night and not worry about "going to bed."

Not Nigra, our oldest. She can't just go to bed. We have to put her to bed, but we before we do that, we first need to put Maeve, the youngest, to bed. And Nigra wants to help.

That's just the tip of the iceberg.

Some days, having two Shelties is the best thing in the world. Having intelligent dogs with huge personalities can be so funny that we just laugh hysterically at the nonsense of it all. Shelties bring an effervescent joy to life.

Then, on other days, having two Shelties is insanity because they don't leave us alone. Apparently, in their Bullet Journals, they have these long lists, and if we're not catering to their every whim, so they can check those lists off, they are apt to whine at us or sit right in front of our faces until we make ourselves available to work for them.

There are times when you have to wonder, "Are we working for them?"

I leave one job and come home to another.

So, before you pick up that adorable fluffy Sheltie out of the box and snuggle it, make sure you're ready for the journey that is Sheltiehood.

It's a wonderful journey, but you need to be careful because your Sheltie may be too smart for you.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Letter of Acceptance

The large white envelope hit the kitchen table with the word "Harvard" on the top left corner.

Jared's dad sat down and pushed it closer.

"I see you're beginning to look at colleges?" his dad asked

"Grandpa went there," Jared said. "I thought I'd take a look."

Jared pulled the envelope toward him, lifted the lip and tore into its contents. He dumped out a glossy booklet, bright and inviting. The white steeple of the Memorial Church caught his eye. He tried to envision a young version of his grandfather walking in front of the historic building.

"It's not an easy school to get into," Jared's dad said.

"Thank you for extinguishing my dreams so quickly," Jared snapped.

Jared's dad got up from the table and walked out of the room. Jared, now alone, opened the booklet and flipped through the glossy pages, trying to picture himself surrounded by the renowned edifices of the stately university. He was one of the top students in his class. Getting in wouldn't be such a challenge, he thought, but the cost? He wasn't sure about the price tag for a school like Harvard -- money was going to be the challenge.

"What if there was another school in the New England?" his father said, sitting back down. He presented a photo album of dark blue leather.

"What, like Yale?" Jared said.

"Not quite like Yale," Jared's dad said. He opened the album and flipped through a few pages, stopping at the one he wanted. He rotated the book to face Jared, and then pointed at a black and white photo of a young man, dressed up in a light suit. It was unbuttoned, showing off a vest and slim tie, and his hands were in his pockets. His right leg kicked over his left foot in pride, his white teeth exposed an excessive grin, and he leaned against a sign.

"What's the Academy of Amusing?" Jared asked.

"It's where your grandfather went to college," his dad said. He flipped back a couple of pages to a letter that was stuck inside the album. The cream paper was in almost perfect condition, minus the two creases from being folded and placed in an envelope. At the very top of the letter was an etching of nine different women, all dressed in Grecian robes, striking various poses. Typed across the etching were the words: The Academy of Amusing.

The letter started: "Dear Gregory. It is with great pleasure we extend an invitation to join our tremendous university. Within the walls of the Academy, great efforts are in constant execution to enhance and drive our future creators. We think you would be a great addition to the work we are doing here on campus..."

"But...Grandpa went to Harvard," Jared whispered, looking at the letter.

"Grandpa said he went to Harvard," Jared's dad said. "Where he really went was a school called The Academy of Amusing."

"I don't understand," Jared said. "Why would you all lie about where Grandpa went to school? If he was a lawyer."

"We never said he was a lawyer," his father said, smiling. This had to be a trick. If he were still alive, Jared would've gotten up right then and called his Grandfather. Right now he was stuck in disbelief.

"There was always talk about his work at a firm," Jared said. "Lawyers work at firms."

"Well, yes," Jared's dad said, "and we let you believe that because it was safer, for when you were younger."

"Then, if he wasn't a lawyer, what was he?"

"A muse."

Jared snorted. "A muse? What? He was a Greek god?"

"Not quite," his father said. "He was a muse for architects. It was his job to help feed their creativity. Without him, some of the most interesting buildings around the country wouldn't have been built."

"I don't understand," Jared said. "How do you muse someone?"

"I believe the correct term is amuse," his father said.

"Why did you all lie to me about all this?" Jared asked, opening his hands to the album.

"Because it was your grandfather's dying wish that you apply to the Academy like he did. You see, your grandfather had a strange ability, much like you, that allowed him to become a muse."

Strange ability? His weird dreams?

"But my dreams don't always come true," Jared said.

His father was well attuned to Jared's dreams, and Jared had always thought it strange how accepting his parents were about them, especially when they did come true to them or others around them.

"Not to you or us, but you still see the future -- you just see many other people's futures. People you haven't ever met, just like your grandfather."

Jared opened up to other pages in the photo album to see old pictures of his grandfather, sometimes with a cigarette or pipe, sitting with friends, around great fireplaces and outdoors, all the pictures looked like normal photos -- the type he'd always seen of his grandparents.

"But this all looks so normal," Jared said.

"It is normal."


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Blogpostathoning is hard


eople! This whole Blogpostathon is haaaard. 

Posting new content 40 days in a row is not for the faint of heart, and I should know...because I'm not posting every day.

In fact, I am a couple of weeks behind. Sure, when you go up and read the date it'll say that it was published on March 22, but I've simply jumped into my DeLorean and went back in time.

I'm writing this on April 3.

Go ahead and clutch your pearls.

I'll wait.

I'm an ugly liar. I'm back posting.

I'm not up to date at all.

But at least I'm posting.

This is my third attempt at the Blogpostathon. It all started a few years ago because I wasn't updating my website near enough, so I decided that I would write by the seat of my pants. I would post, for better or worse, and it would make me sit down and update my website on a continual basis. It was my answer to Lent. Instead of giving something up, I decided that I would make myself write.

And for any creative out there that gets it...sometimes it's not fun. Sometimes its extra work. On a day when I just got home from work, sometimes the last thing I want to do is more work.

Like, can't my brain just coast for a while?

The first year, I posted 40 different times, but if you go back and look -- there are a lot of videos and random quotes all made pretty by an app called Notegraphy.

Really, I cheated. I didn't challenge myself near enough.

Then, last year I got so overwhelmed with track and posts and falling behind and I couldn't. I just couldn't. I was out of breath, and I couldn't keep up with my bad self. So, I waved my white flag and called it quits. It was a shameful moment in my creative journey.

This year, with the help of no coaching in my life, I figured it would be the most successful Blogpostathon to date because I was going to have all the extra time!

Except, well, life.

It gets in the way sometimes.

It hasn't stopped me from posting, but it has tripped me up a bit, putting me a little behind.

Eleven days to be exact.

It's almost enough for me to call it quits again, but I have no desire in doing that. My logic is that I have stated that I will create 40 posts in 40 days. I never said I would post every day. I never said one post a day for 40 days. I just said 40 post in 40 days. I may be a tad bit overwhelmed right now, knowing I need to come up with 11 more ideas, but it'll get done.

My philosophy behind the Blogpostathon is similar to the, now, famous National Novel Writing Month that takes place in November. In November, writers are challenged to bust out 50,000 words, which is technically the length of a novel. A novel in one month?

I've attempted it three times, but I've only succeeded twice.

I find NaNoWriMo (which is what it's called) a little easier because when I sit down to write a novel, it's always a continuation. It's also unedited and messy and there is no design and I'm not posting it online for readers.

This Blogpostathon, on the other hand, needs to be fairly polished. It's presented to potential readers, and because I realize that visual content helps grab the reader's attention, I always spend some time designing a little something that goes along with the post.

I design pieces for the post on the website, and then I design an image I can use on Instagram. You see, I made my Instagram account public recently, and to help gather likes and followers and interest, well, I need to have something visual to stun my audience with.

That, and it allows for me to work on my design chops.

Then, I have to go and post on Facebook, as well as my newly created Facebook page that's dedicated to all things My Bucket of Parts (www.facebook.com/mybucketofparts).

This year, the Blogpostathon isn't just about writing. It's about promoting and designing.

It's turned into a public relations gig, too.

I may take up just a tiny chunk of cyberspace with My Bucket of Parts, but I'm getting the most likes I've ever gotten on Instagram by going public.

This alone has fueled my fire to post and design. Not all of it is good, and I know this, but I treat this website like a digital notebook -- it's a place to experiment.

It just so happens that, within this little website, I accidentally created a brand, too. So now I want to do something with this brand. Do I tie it into my photography/design business I run on the side? Is it it's own separate entity? Do I need to start selling things? Who am I? Are you my father?

I feel like I need to start selling t-shirts.

Maybe I will.

Just you wait.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Uncensored


Spooky things have always had a place in my life.

So have mystical things, magical things, unrealistic things.

Those fantastical beasts? I knew where to find them. I knew which shelves they were on. I knew their Dewy number, and I checked them out again and again at the Broad Ripple library.

Fantasy has been just as much a part of my reality as reality.

And this was never to my parents' chagrin.

I grew up in a Catholic home, where I went to a Catholic elementary and junior high. Church was a thing twice a week for me: every Wednesday at school and Sunday (or Saturday night) with family. I had a strong sense of right and wrong. I was a good student, didn't really get into trouble, and loved to read.

Maybe this was why my parents allowed my curiosity for the macabre, and believe me -- the books I checked out from the library's nonfiction section were definitely of the macabre.

You should've seen some of the illustrations in the books about witches. There was dancing, there was a goat man, there were bonfires. I'm sure a pentagram made its way in at some point.

My favorite subjects were about vampires, witches and ghosts. Not the fictional stories, but the books that were devoted to the study of them, the history, where they came from and where they are now. It was through this anthropological interest in the darker side that fueled my story tastes.

I came home with a pile of spooky books, and my parents, my mom especially because she was the one that took me to the library the most, never batted an eye.

I loved a good scary movie, too. In the late 80's and through the 90's, I watched quite a few. It was my one-stop-shop for entertainment. I mean, I made sure to own all the "Scream" movies on VHS. My mom even took me and a friend to see "Scream" on one of our snow days during our sophomore year in high school.

I even wrote one of my AP Comp compare/contrast papers about "Scream" and "Halloween." I had to buy "Halloween" special for that one.

There were many other horror movies I saw and enjoyed.

That and Disney movies. I won't lie. I liked a good Disney movie.

Maybe that's why my parents didn't freak out too much. There was balance in my life.

One of my favorite memories revolves around one of the more epic scary movies I watched with my close-knit group of neighborhood friends.

They were my squad.

One summer, when the TV mini-series of Stephen King's "IT" aired, we all gathered to watch. The first night we all piled into the Churchill's living room to watch it, and the next night, we were in my living room. It premiered when I was 9 in November, so I can't remember if I was 9 when they re-aired it, or if it was later when I was 11 or 12. Regardless, my parents knew we were watching it and this didn't bother them.

Call me sentimental, but when I watched the trailer for the remake of "IT" the other day, it brought back all those childhood memories. I could even relate to the cast. I wore the same clothes as a child of the 80's, I rode my bike with all my cronies, and we investigated around our neighborhood. I was the kid that wore the glasses. You know, skinny and geeky. That was my role.

We just never had to place a restraining order on a demon clown.

Then, in middle school, my love for the macabre found its way through novel form. I read a ton of Beverly Cleary and most of the Boxcar Children, so there was definitely some wholesome reads in my day.

Then I stumbled upon murder books -- I mean -- mysteries, and tales of the supernatural.

Two popular authors existed when I was in middle school, and I bought those paperbacks every chance I got. Sure, I had seen a few Stephen King movies, but I wasn't ready to read his books yet.

I tried "Carrie" since it was one of the shorter novels, but I was not prepared for that beginning shower scene. I put it back on the shelf and kept to what I was used to: "Fear Street" by R.L. Stine and the various novels by Christopher Pike.

R.L. Stine published a book every month. His books were published by Archway Paperbacks and cost less than $5. I went to Glendale Mall a few miles away (I could walk there when I got older) and purchased them each month at B. Dalton. Stine's was the first thriller I had ever read that made my heart beat fast and my palms sweat with nervousness. The book was "Ski Weekend," and it was about a bunch of teenagers that went on a murderous ski weekend.

But there was murder and bad dialogue and I couldn't get enough! Christopher Pike was edgier. I probably shouldn't have read Pike when I was in middle school -- there was definitely some adult situations and language, which is probably why I've continued reading his books. He's still publishing -- or at least, someone is using his name. Pike was also unafraid to dig deeper into the supernatural. Where Stine stuck his toes in, Pike jumped right in. His writing wasn't necessarily the best, but his stories were riveting.

There was a ton of crazy.

And my parents never pulled the books out of my hands.

I'm thankful for that, for them allowing me the chance to choose what I wanted to read and watch, because it also allowed me to censor myself when I knew I wasn't ready for it.

Except that one time my parents took me to see "Sleeping With the Enemy" with Julia Roberts in the theater. And "Pretty Woman." And "Terminator 2: Judgement Day."

Wait a minute. No wonder they didn't censor what I read and was interested in.

They were too busy taking me to see R-rated movies.




Monday, March 20, 2017

Not by egg whites alone


For the past few weekends, I've been working on my fried egg game.

I've been eating things with fried egg on top. The whole purpose is to break the egg yolk and let it drizzle all over, creating a type of sauce.

I've had a fried egg over french fries cooked in duck fat and Parmesan. I've had a fried egg as a component to a hamburger.

The yolk adds a richness that amps up the flavor.

I feel bad for people who only cook with egg whites. Like, I get it. Health or whatever. Even if I get back into some kind of workout groove, I'm not giving up the egg yolk.

It's too versatile.

It's the secret in a decadent egg nog. It's the reason creme brulee is what it is.

I need a sign in my kitchen that says "not by egg whites alone."

Knowing how a yolk can transform whatever it's on, I decided to make something my dad loves. I used to eat it as a kid, and then I decided it was gross, but then, for some reason, I returned to it. I'm not sure where my aversion came from, but I think it goes along with being a bit ageist.

I thought eggs on toast was for old people.

I'm getting older, so apparently it's time to enjoy food like that again.

Soon, I'll be rubbing myself up with Aspercreme and wearing my Life Alert necklace.

The first attempt of the fried egg, I cracked my eggs into the large pan, and I just let them go. I figured it wouldn't take too long, but I waited, and I waited, and I waited. The egg whites on top closest to the yolk dome weren't cooking. They continued to stay translucent.

I didn't want raw egg. I tried flipping them over to make them over-easy, but I mutilated the eggs, and in the process, exposed some of the yolks to the hot pan, cooking them solid.

I placed them over my toast, but it was too late. Too much of the yolk was cooked through. My eggs weren't saucy enough.

It was too dry.

The second week was much of the same. They were saucier, but I had cooked the yolk too long. It was the consistency of a deviled egg.

Why didn't I look up how to cook a fried egg online? People, I can pasteurize my own eggs. I can make mayonnaise from scratch. I can separate egg white and eggs with just the shell.

I mean, how hard is it to fry an egg?

After two attempts and batting zeroes...I realized my answer.

Very.

I needed assistance. I looked up some secrets to the perfect fried egg, and I found the perfect solution to the egg whites on top.

Steam them.

Once most of the egg were cooked and the yolk dome was still runny, I added a tablespoon of water to the pan and covered the eggs, allowing the steam to cook the tops of the eggs.

Two weeks in a row, and I've cooked fried eggs to perfection.

No little over-cooked yolk bits. All sauce.

Some salt and pepper, and a toasted slice of honey wheat bread becomes a decadent brunch.

Eggs on toast aren't for old people.

Not any more.

Now, let's hope I don't start craving prune juice.



Sunday, March 19, 2017

I was informed that Jeremy had half a soul


Author's Note: Typically my Interesting Characters are a chance for me to write about a random fictional personality, an exercise to stretch my writing muscles. Lately, I've been writing about real people that were interesting characters. I may meet a few more down the road, but none of them will be as interesting as Jeremy. 

The main goal for the night was to be as 90's as possible and play a vampire storytelling game. 

Three of us, my friends Beth, Jessie, and I, went to someone's apartment to play. This wasn't just a teen's apartment, sans parents for the evening. This apartment belonged to the teen. There was a sign on the door that said "no parents allowed," and although I was a naive former-Catholic school pupil, going to an apartment whose sole proprietor couldn't rent a car was a bit worrisome. 

The apartment belonged to Maria. She sat in the middle of the living room, sucking down tequila shots complete with lime and salt sans glass. It was just her, the bottle, limes, and a salt shaker. It was more of an incantation performance than simple shots. It was like she had something to prove.

Perched around the room were other teenagers. The only other one I remember was the guy by the window, smoking. It wasn't a cigarette.

My friends and I sat for a few when Maria's boyfriend, Jeremy, materialized. He was a warlock. This is how I could tell: he had long wavy hair past his shoulder, he was shirtless, wore black jeans, and was barefoot.

And because he was shirtless, the power of his pecs called forth my two friends. He beckoned. They stood up and followed.

I was stuck with Maria, and her tequila voodoo, along with the hunchback by the window. To say I was really uncomfortable was beyond an understatement.

Jessie and Beth followed Jeremy to the end of the hallway and they all disappeared, shrouded by the light of the bathroom.

The door closed.

I was all alone.

As an adult, thinking back to this bizarre encounter, how was Maria okay with two girls following her buff shirtless boyfriend? To the bathroom? With the door shut?

Oh yeah, I forgot, tequila voodoo. Maria wasn't all there.

So I waited. And waited. My soul felt soiled as I sat in the dank living room of the ill-behaved as they recreated their own Pleasure Island.

I don't know how long I sat there, but it felt like over an hour.

Then, the bathroom door opened and all three came out.

Now free from their warlock captor, it was time to go. It took awhile for me to convince them, I mean, they didn't get to interact with any of these other people, since they went straight back to the bathroom with shirtless Jeremy.

Doing whatever it is you do with a warlock wearing only black jeans.

I practically had to push them both out, but we left. I wanted to go home. I'd had enough, but we went to McDonald's for a few.

And this is where they told me the shocking news about Jeremy, now that we were safe from his warlock harem. 

What they had discovered while in the bathroom.

"Jeremy has half a soul!" they gasped.

I didn't have the heart to tell them, that after they had abandoned me for over an hour in a living room full of gargoyles, now I also had half a soul.



Saturday, March 18, 2017

From the Introduction of "The Argument Against Amusing" by Namaste Jones


...and because of that, the art of amusing needs to be looked at with an ice cold eye. For millennia, it has been seen that the art of amusing was solely the power of left over magic from the Nine. These original muses from Greek mythology have been heralded as the alpha and omega of amusing. What they began is what we continue. Without our strange abilities and slight magical insights, Creatives around the world couldn't function. They need us. Towers would fall. Science would fail. Stories would go untold.

We, as muses, have decided this and accepted it blindly. Where is the science? Where is the evidence that these magics actually exist? Nothing within the world of amusing has been challenged. It has been and will always be.

Or will it?

Is a muse really doing anything special?

Have these people been wasting their gifts?

Are the bones that are kept within the catacombs of all nine academies really those of the Nine?

I haven't seen them, but was told they were there as I walked the halls of the Academy of Amusing. I was told not to question. I was to have faith, use my ability, and learn to amuse.

My questions continued to bubble to the surface.

In an age where satellites orbit the Earth, I'm beginning to find the strange, archaic and useless profession of amusing difficult to swallow. The pill is bitter, even more so, when my questions are seen as dangerous. My questioning was treated as sacrilegious. I was shushed. I was reprimanded. I was threatened. Then, I was kicked out of the Academy.

This only fueled my resolve. I wanted to know if there could be something else out there that allowed for a Creative to invent, to write, to compose. I wanted the freedom to research where amusing really came from, if a muse's magic really existed, or if it was all folly.

Those who want me silenced have tried to stop me, which fuels my resolve once and for all. If academia feels the need to mute, then what I have discovered must hold considerable weight.

For the first time in the history of amusing, what I have discovered is an argument.

An argument against the very nature of amusing that...