That cursed groundhog

I’m not here to comment on seeing or not seeing a shadow. Let’s just put that out there right away.

However, if you’re an American, then you probably know about Groundhog Day. It’s a day completely dedicated to tracking the reactions of an animal that most people run over with their pickup trucks on some forgotten and dangerous back road. Cynical way to look at things? Sure, but it’s the truth, is it not?

Other than Groundhog Day, groundhogs – as a collective species – get a pretty raw deal. For starters, they occasionally go by the nickname of ‘whistle pig’. What does that even mean? They’re not pigs and for the life of me, I don’t recall one ever whistling when I interviewed them by their burrow. Just a lot of clicks and growls was all I got. Where the whistling comes from, I am unaware.

Then there are the other names like, the woodchuck or the ‘land beaver’. Woodchuck could actually make sense. They have gnarly-looking teeth which gives rise to the notion that they do bite and chuck wood. But ‘land beaver’? That sounds like an insult to me. They don’t even make dams, they actually break things. By tunneling holes through the ground and eating up valuable produce, groundhogs destroy much of what they come into contact with. So the idea that they build dams on land is just preposterous. If anything, they are a farmer’s worst enemy. Aside from cow tippers.

And then there’s that woodchuck phrase thingy. Remember that annoying tongue twister when you were a kid? ‘How much wood could a woodchuck, chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?’ Yeah, I wanted to punch all the kids who taunted me with it. Why? Well, because they were without braces or retainers and could actually speak that obnoxious little verse. Me on the other hand? No, I was fully decked out. And by the time I had good teeth, that little phrase was out of style. I know because when you’re 16 and mocking little 3rd graders who have headgear – you understand how feeble you really are.

But let’s get to the main point of this post: Groundhog Day. All things considered above, you’d think that we’re trying to give ‘Phil’ a break by giving him an entire day. Something for him to celebrate and write home about. But when you think of it from the animal’s perspective, it’s actually a day that’s cursed. Why? Well, look at the facts:

1. Farmers hate them.
2. People run them over frequently with their cars. And usually leave their bodies to be picked on by crows (Sorry, that was graphic).
3. They have bad nicknames.
4. They instigate young children to ridicule other young children over a ridiculous phrase – thus, causing irrevocable harm to the child’s psyche.
5. They smell (probably…I mean, they’re underground most of the time and dirt smells bad).
6. And lastly, nearly every other known predator in the Midwest feasts upon them – wolves, coyotes, snakes, hawks, owls, eagles, falcons, bears, even dogs and cats will kill them! Yikes.

So, as you can see, groundhogs have a hard enough time as it is. Now complicate that even further with this – we give the groundhog a day that can (potentially) dictate the next six weeks of weather for us.

Oh, snap.

The entire Northern Hemisphere waits on baited breath for Punxsy Phil to see or not see his shadow. And if he runs back to his burrow upon seeing that shadow, then we know we’re in for it. But if he doesn’t, then our faith is restored in Mother Nature (and Phil, by default).

That’s a lot of pressure though. Everybody is already after him and now he’s got the fate of all weather upon his shoulders? Ugh. That’s gotta be the icing on the “crap cake” for this little guy.

That being said, I feel for ya, Phil. And all the other ‘Phil’s’ out there. Life dealt you a tough hand, but you play it well. And if it were up to me, I’d take the burden of Groundhog Day from you. And I’d replace it with something like, “Groundhog Month”. That way, we could raise awareness for all those negligent drivers out there who just so happen to clip you or someone like you on the side of the road. “Slow down, it’s Groundhog Month” or “Pretend there’s fog, save a hog”. Sound appealing? I think it has potential.

As for all those other things though? Well, I can’t speak for farmers or any of the apex predators listed, but it’d be a step in the right direction. Because nobody should be afraid of their shadow. Least of all a celebrity like you, Phil.

And now for something semi-hilarious

This weather, for starters.

It’s actually not funny anymore when you observe what old Mother Nature has been up to lately. It’s just straight up dangerous. In fact, when I wake up in the morning, I think to myself: “I wonder how cold it’s gonna be today.” Thoughts of food, breakfast, or peeing come second. And I don’t want to move from the space I’m in. I want to stay in bed and remain at a comfortable temperature.

So I pick up my phone and check the weather. Locally, it’s below zero. Regionally, it’s just about zero. And across the nation, it varies but the consensus remains the same: it’s frickin’ cold; just around zero. And it’s predominantly below zero with wind chill no matter where you are. I also notice that schools are closing. Some have even kept students indoors for the night. Steak-um’s for lunch yesterday, kiddies? Well, you got’em again today! I’m sure the kids are digging the massive sleepover, but the teachers? Yeah, probably not so much.

In Atlanta, folks have been stuck on highways for as long as 24 hours; gas run out and going nowhere. One individual left his car and walked 4 miles to the airport, leaving his rental in the sea of cars stuck in the second ice age. Again, wow! Very impressive. If it were uphill, then I’d be even more impressed.

And when I turn on my computer, I see that the top 5 trending items for the day are:
1. Amanda Bynes
2. X-Men movie sequel
3. Justin Bieber mugshot
4. Puppy commercial Super Bowl
5. Justin Bieber vacation girl

Nothing catches my interest so I log out and go about my day. All the while making certain that I don’t wear less than three shirts and two pairs of pants. Remembering, it’s frickin’ cold out there.

But here’s the semi-hilarious part of this post: around 9 pm, I get a phone call from family asking me if I saw the state of the union address.

“What’s that, you say? That was tonight?”

“Yes, did you see it?”

“No. I did not.”

How embarrassing. Regardless of where your political stance lies, it’s hard to believe that the “unnamed Justin Bieber vacation girl” trended higher than the state of the union. What’s more, those other things trended higher on my radar. That’s the really embarrassing part and I’m ashamed to admit that. It’s not even semi-hilarious when I think about it. It’s just sad. Sad that I didn’t seek out something else. And sadder still that I allowed myself to think that there was nothing else out there. Frick.

So here’s hoping that you weren’t like me the other day. Here’s hoping that when you awoke, you did something like this: “Wow, it’s still frickin’ cold out but hey, it’s the state of the union address tonight. I should probably watch that. If nothing else, so I have an idea of what other people may be talking about tomorrow and not be in the dark about really important stuff.”

Yes, that’s much better.

Top 5 New Year’s Resolutions

Sometimes it’s better to spell things out. Especially when it comes to making goals. That way you actually have your aspirations in writing and can refer back as necessary. As for me, I’ve always enjoyed making lists. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve liked to make tangible evidence of my hopes and dreams. On paper, that is. Ironically, I’ve never made New Year’s resolutions really stick. I think it’s because I never did very well historically. Here’s a brief history lesson on why:

1990 (age 6): Take plane to North Pole to look for Santa (didn’t get past the front door; in fact, the thought of flying in a plane terrified me)
2001 (age 16): Drive parent’s lawnmower before getting an actual driver’s license (my father shunned me from riding our family lawnmower so I waited an extra 6 months before getting my driver’s license, out of spite. Eventually I rode the lawnmower and wrecked it within the first 2 rides. Not cool.)
2007 (age 22): Don’t live in Ohio because I want to live on the coast (moved to Cleveland two months after college and have lived there ever since – not that it’s a bad thing, just sayin’ it wasn’t what I had originally intended).
2009 (age 24): Learn to play guitar (I dabbled in Star Spangled Banner but never got past Hot Cross Buns. Bummer.)
2013 (age 28): Don’t get injured playing baseball, stay in my bowling league, buy a house, don’t lose money in Texas Hold’em, learn how to cook rather than just use a crock pot all the time, etc. (as you may guess, none of this came to fruition….)

So yes, most of my New Years’ resolutions have never been truly realized. But on the plus side, I’ve accomplished much from year to year: publishing two books, getting engaged, starting a writer’s group, traveling across many states via plane (which I hate), among others. In light of this, I’ve decided to keep things simple this year on the resolutions.
Here’s a top 5:
5. Don’t make too many big goals…in fact, don’t make any that require the intervention of so many others beyond your sphere of control. Pray, hope, and believe instead.
4. Make one meal that doesn’t involve a crock pot. And eat it regardless of how it tastes. Then maybe throw it out if it’s awful.
3. Remind yourself that you can drive a lawnmower now. At turtle or even bunny speed. Both are equally dangerous and you’ve done both in your day.
2. Don’t take guitar lessons…again. Seriously.
1. Just keep writing. Eventually, your next book will find its way out of you.

I think those are rather realistic for the new year. Short, sweet, and to the point without too much stress involved. That’s what any resolution should be anyway, right? What are yours this year (if you have any)? Perhaps start with something small and go from there. And even if you haven’t ever made a resolution before, this could be a fine year to start; regardless of your situation.

Here’s to 2014.

Pardon me – how is your day going, social media?

This month could be the death of me. In the midst of NaNoWriMo, seeking representation, and starting other endeavors, November is primed to stretch me in ways I never knew possible. Sleep has taken on the identity of both enemy and friend. My keyboard looks like a cruel form of punishment rather than a tool of the trade. I find myself staring at treadmills and free weights like they are lustful objects. Anything that could distract me from the work at hand would be a welcome escape.

And yet, here I am. Typing, blogging…ugh. I know I have to keep going and that’s that.

As an added bonus (and it’s a big one), I have a steady income and a home. I can wake up and not feel the sting of inaccessible internet or other crucial resources. I have a computer, fridge and a fancy Starbucks card to buy that tea I love so dearly. It’s these kinds of things that help me keep my motivation. A little gusto to keep the wind in my sails. And when I’m really bored, I check out Facebook, WordPress or Twitter to see what’s happening ‘out there’. When that’s done, I’m back to it and away I go. But when the day’s over, I try to relax. That, by and large, is a good feeling.

In light of this, I started something new. I began to ask myself a question. Not a tough one, but a crucial one nonetheless: how bad are things really? You know, if I had to make a list of horrible things that happen to me and those that are positive, what would that look like exactly?

You may imagine this being an external discussion: “Josh, just how bad is your life? Honestly?” To which I usually reply, “Not that bad, I guess?” To which my separate personality responds, “Yes, that’s right.” By this point, I stop the conversation entirely. Because let’s be honest, any continued dialogue would be unhealthy.

Like most people, I used to enjoy media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. When they were new, they were exciting. People flocked to these things like they were giving away free food and drinks. And now, more than half the world has at least one of the above accounts and checks theirs daily. Crazy thought, is it not?

But what started out as fun has really taken a turn, I’d say. What’s Facebook like nowadays? People post their inner emotions every five minutes – and they aren’t normally the types of emotions you’d want to read or hear. “The world sucks”; “I hate everything”; “My test was stupid”; “Why are drivers so stupid”, etc. and etc. Reading these kinds of things all day, every day, is not good for your brain. Think about it this way – if I eat cupcakes or fast food every day, I’ll become unhealthy. My energy level may go through extreme highs and lows but ultimately, I’ll be weak, dreary and tired. My diet will be off and I will suffer the consequences of my choice food. But that’s what I’m filling myself with: crap.

Now, consider the same thing as it pertains to the brain. If I read depressing, angst-ridden, angry messages every morning then how might I feel? Or even think? All those angry posts I read will get embedded deep in my noggin, which could lead to me acting out in a similar way. And even if I don’t act on them, I may begin to form the opinion that yes, everybody must be pissed off and the world sucks. Ok, yikes.

If there were a program for tracking the overall mood of Facebook globally, based on certain key indicators in status updates, I’d be curious to see the results. Would people be more upset? Or would they be more happy? One can speculate, but I’m inclined to believe the former. Facebook, Twitter, etc. – they are more like sounding boards for the mistreated rather than a handy socializing tool. Don’t think so? Go to your page right now and read the top five or 10 posts in your news feed. I’m sure you’ll find what I’m talking about very quickly.

So what’s a person to do? Be a rebel and delete all forms of social media accounts? I know some that go that route. Maybe that’s you? If so, then don’t be afraid to unplug. It could be very helpful. But if you don’t feel that obsessed, and are just tired of the same old, same old, then consider another alternative: being mindful of what you are allowing yourself to read. This goes for more than just status updates. What am I filling my head with? What am I deciding to allow in my brain for further processing? It may not seem like an important concept, but it really is. I can’t stress that enough. Try it for a day. Try it for a week. Heck, just do it. So many people give up at the first sign of duress and then wonder why things never change. What’s the downside to actually trying though?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

Oh Agent, where art thou?

As the hunt for agent representation continues, I find myself on the short end of the stick. There’s plenty more growing pains to be had and this past week and a half was no exception. For starters, I decided to open my field of agents to include not only narrative, but pop culture, humor, young adult and essay. All of this within the confines of non-fiction. Why? Well, my manuscript covers each of those topics. And the amount of rejection letters I’ve been receiving haven’t exactly lifted my spirits. So why not broaden the scope and see what I find, right?

The first order of business was taking my inquires to agentquery.com. It’s the premier site for searching literary agents. Think of it as the Match.com for aspiring writers. You can scroll through hundreds of agent profiles, sorted by specialization, and as a bonus, you don’t have to look at some creepy picture that may or may not be the person in the profile (I would assume that any other Internet daters can relate).

So away I went. Searching, spelunking, looking, etc.

By expanding my criteria, I discovered several potentials who were interested in all 4 or 5 of my aforementioned list. So I wrote their names down, jotted some notes about their agency, and went to the agency website.

From there, it was a crapshoot. Let me explain: You are essentially trying to impress someone you’ve never met before; that’s first and foremost and can seem to be a little daunting. I’ve already gotten my feet so I feel less intimidated by the notion or the rejection that may follow but still, it’s tough trying to visualize just what you want to say via an email or a snail mail message. Do I boast about my writing prowess? How great the idea is? Or do I write a very formal, stuffy letter? Much of my research on the topic tells me to do two things:
1) Write with your personality and style that the book presents
2) Don’t get too casual (in other words, no “hey, what’s up?”)

Agents are professionals, after all. This is important to remember but easy to forget. Yes, you want to form a partnership that can assist you with your book idea, but you aren’t exchanging pleasantries at a house party either.

As I journeyed on, I found another interesting truth – not every agent is where he says he is. As it were, people can change jobs and positions rather regularly in this world, so be sure to follow through and check that the agent is still with the agency before you start crafting a letter. The yellow pages may say they’re with Super Great Literary Agents R Us, but if you try to contact them via their website, you discover that the agent has left the nest. Or found another place to land. And what’s more, if they’ve moved, then they may have changed their focus altogether too; no longer working on fantasy or fiction, but self-help books instead. Weird, right? Why yes, this was quite frustrating. The agent world is looking as fickle as a teenage girl, I thought.

Thankfully, not all agents were like this. I can’t speak for them all, of course. But wouldn’t you know it – there were plenty that fit the bill.

When this happened, I got discourage but I stuck to the original formula: find an agent by topic and then do the background check. When I found a few that were legit, I decided to dig even further. If there were indeed still at the same agency and still had the same interests as what I sought them out for, I decided to look at their past clients. This would seem like a very logical and natural thing to do next, but I can assure you that it was not. For after searching for a good hour, sifting through the muck, it’s rather easy to pass up this crucial step. Who have they represented in the past? What’s their track record look like? Are they established or not very established? And ultimately, which are you looking for? It might be a good idea to try and strike rapport with an agent who has less clients so you can have more hands-on attention. Once again, there’s no perfect candidate but it’s crucial to call upon these questions once you begin engaging a potential agent to represent you.

Additionally, I read interviews and blog posts that the agents wrote. One such agent, who will remain anonymous, gave a very engaging interview that was eye opening and insightful. He talked of the ebb and flow of the business, the need to be reactive to the market (what’s trending) and how to recognize a good idea when it comes to his table. A delicate thing to discern, but that’s what this is all about. Taking some chances, right? But still managing to not get caught up in those who may only have 15 minutes of success.

Reading what the agent writes is beneficial in that it allows you, the writer, to get a personal peek at what the agent is looking for. What’s their style? How are they communicating? And do they sound like someone you may want to pursue a relationship with? Tough to do, yes, but it’s one step closer to potentially building a partnership. And it’s one step closer than where you’d be if all you were doing was sending out generic letters with no sense of personalization.

And if it helps, develop a personal tracking system. I’m all about trying to keep my head on straight so I devised a small chart to keep my things in order. You don’t want to be sending out the same letter to the same person three months later so keep tabs on who you’ve been in contact with. I would suggest the following table:

Name of Agent / Agency / Criteria / Sent? / Response

Simple and effective. The first two columns are easy to fill out and you can track sent and response dates with little trouble, but try to focus on what the agent wants in a cover letter or sample too. For example, many agents only want a cover letter. Some want snail mail while some only want email. Others desire a page of your work to accompany the letter. The list goes on, but be sure to see what’s required before you make grand plans about creating the perfect “agent snare” for your book idea. And if you’re viewing it as a snare then you should probably reevaluate your methods for contacting an agent and start at square one again. Just saying.

But that’s where I’m at. It’s been a little more than 2 weeks into this quest and I’ve learned my fair share already. Are there are other methods for bettering one’s agent search? Yes, I’m sure there are (outside of driving to the front step of a building, camping out and outright stalking your person of interest), but those are things I’m looking forward to uncovering. In the meantime, back to it.

The first rejection letter

IMG_0538

Nearly a month ago, I made a decision to leave my full-time job and really go after this writing thing. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved stories. Not just hearing them, but telling them too. And now, I’m trying to make this passion of mine a reality.

Anyone who knows me personally, or follows this blog, or is fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to have picked up one of my recent works, understands that I’ve tried my hand at self-publishing. I’ve published two books in the last two years – all within the realm of self-publishing – and I’ve learned a great deal from the experience. Some good and some bad. But what it’s taught me is that you have to be serious about a dream. Sure, it comes from within, but you have to be disciplined with that inner feeling. Otherwise it’s wasted. Wasted time and wasted energy.

I can certainly say that I got absorbed in the hype of self-publishing. This is not to say that self-publishing is a bad thing. No, do not hear me wrong on this. There were so many great stories about writers who began their careers in self-publishing so naturally I wanted to do the same. The recent craze involving Hugh Howey’s new sci-fi series, Wool, makes me think that there is a place for self-publishing success. That someone can, and will, be successful at self-publishing if they are ambitious enough and know how to tackle the marketplace.

But that’s Hugh Howey’s story. Not mine. I have since resolved to try another route: to go beyond self-publishing and find representation from an agency. Though I may return to my roots someday, I feel like this is the road I’m headed on. And to my benefit, I will have the opportunity to republish and reprint my original works on a larger scale if I choose to do so. What’s more, I can further learn how the industry works and how it truly functions. That, I’m sure, will be an ongoing process. One that I’m looking forward to with much anticipation.

IMG_0539

In the spirit of that new road I’m on, I’ve decided to share my first rejection letter. What I’ve attached is the image of my first email query letter. To those who are unfamiliar, the query letter is intended as a means to gain interest for your work. If you’re a writer looking to get a book deal, you would address one to a writing agent or agency, all in the hopes that they will be interested enough to back you and your manuscript. You could call it an open solicitation to sell your book and yourself. Believe in it. Own it. Because if you don’t, then nobody else will either.

I removed the names of the parties involved, as well as their contact info, as I don’t want to be responsible for a lawsuit (that would be bad). I just want this to be a good reminder that all things take time. Not every hit will be a homerun, but I’ve seen homeruns hit before so I know they’re possible. I also want to make mention that by no means is this a “I’ll show you” moment to the agent. I would hope that anyone reading this will be encouraged to keep moving forward because I’m sure I’ll get more of these rejection letters in the future. I can only hope that they’ll be as cordial as this one was. Nobody likes being told their idea is crap. That could require some counseling. In some ways, it feels like I lost my prom date. Which is fine because there are plenty of fish in the sea. Interestingly enough, the book I’m soliciting is about being single (a larger dose of irony, if I do say so).

So to wrap up, this is the new journey I’m on; a road to representation and more publications. A friend of mine recently told me that every failed attempt is another step towards inevitable success. That’s a great way to survey the landscape of one’s own life. We usually hear about the success stories and momentary triumphs, but we easily forget how many missed shots there were in the lead up to that final breakthrough. This letter, marked up with my notes and my thoughts, is just one of those stories. From here, I’ll just need to keep stepping and see where it goes from there.

Writers vs. Authors – ok, go.

When someone asks me what I do for a living, I usually say, “Do you have a couple minutes to let me explain?” It’s not that I’m a raving narcissist and just want to hear myself talk (sometimes), it’s just that I’ve always tripped up on how to describe my life as a writer/author. It’s not helpful that I’m relatively new to this gig either. After six years of working in insurance, you’d think I’d be an expert at selling myself. But in all honesty, the reverse is true.

Why is that?

I suppose the biggest hang up I have is knowing what follows my answer. “Oh, you’re a writer, are you? Well, what exactly do you write?”

That’s a toughie right there. That question can be as broad or as specific as it can get. For if you present yourself as a writer, then people may assume that you’re actively writing. You could be a technical writer for a large company or you could be a beat writer for a local newspaper. You could also be an aspiring author who is looking to make a career out of telling great stories (that one sounds the most appealing to me…). But if you say you’re an author, then people have the perception that you’re established in the publication world. And when that happens, you have to describe just what it is you’ve spent your time writing about. Be it something totally irrelevant or totally absurd to the ears of a questioning acquaintance.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be engaged in both of these conversations. So I know a little something about how this show plays out. When I say I’m a writer, people ask what it is I choose to write about. So I give the answer that I write all sorts of things – experience-based satire, fiction, fantasy, and other fun stuff like that. Depending on what nerve you hit, the other party may probe a little further. “Satire, eh? What kind of satire?” or “So you’re into fantasy stuff? What types?” And from there, the conversation becomes give and take. You share a bit about why you choose to write about those topics while the other person tells you why that topic interests them so greatly. I find this to be very enjoyable. I learn a little to a lot about the person I’m talking to and in turn, they learn a little bit of something about me. Not a bad outing, I’d say.

But what happens when I say I’m an author? Well, I get some rather mixed reactions….

“An author, huh? How successful are you?”
“So you say you’re an author? How many books have you sold?”
or my favorite….
“You don’t look like an author. Shouldn’t you have a big beard or something?”

I’ve discovered the unfortunate truth (and you should too) that people love to address social status when presented with the opportunity to do so. And why wouldn’t they? The term “author” gives the implication of established credit. That you’ve “made it” somehow in your profession. In order for you to be an author, you must have published something significant. No one goes throwing around the term “author” unless he feels like he’s accomplished something, lest he be labeled a fool for doing so. And thus, these are the reactions one can receive for being so bold.

So what do you say when addressed with such inquiries? Well, to answer each of those above questions in order, here are some of my responses:

“Very.”
“More than I can count.”
and…
“I can’t grow effective facial hair but I’m hoping to do so one day, thank you.”

I’ve made certain to rehearse each of those for each situation. It’s the preparation that makes all the difference, I assure you.

But in all seriousness, I’ve published two books to date and therefore take great pride in saying that I’m an author. On the flipside of that statement, I love to write about just about anything so I’d rather not pigeonhole myself in the guise of a particular genre (which just so happen to be short story satire). I plan on writing fictional short stories and I’m dabbling in some fantasy and mystery ideas too. So if I’m smart about it, and recognize that every person I talk to from here on out is a potential reader, I’ll be sure to mention that I’m a writer, first and foremost. That makes the most sense to me anyway. Perhaps one day when I have several more works in the marketplace and I’ve gotten more specialized, I can start talking about being an author. But until that day comes, I’ll stick to being a writer. The more interest I can gain, the better and I’m convinced that if you’re a good enough writer, then you can write about anything and be good at it.

Even without the hefty beard.

Being “Busy”

I’m thinking of writing a short book on the concept of being “busy”. Its meaning, its over usage in American culture, and its reason for being a thorn in my side for many, many years. It’s not just me either that being overly busy affects. No, everybody I meet has a way of telling me they’re “busy” in one form or another. Can you relate? I’m sure you’re heard them before too:

“Things are just crazy right now.”
“I’m backed up with a lot of stuff.”
“My days are so hectic. I can’t even remember what day it is.”

If you were to unpack each of these sentences, you could deduce the following truths about the person or persons who gave you these statements: that life is out of of control for this person and they cannot foresee a time of rest in sight. Would that be at least semi-accurate? We’ve all felt some measure of chaos in our life – that’s for certain – so to hear this kind of response is not unheard of. In fact, I have probably given the same answers at one point or another.

Taking this idea a step further, when else might you hear these statements? Maybe after asking the person when their schedule is free? Or when they can “hang out” with you and others? Yes, I’m sure you have. If you read between the lines, you can deduce the following as well: this person does not have a good way of saying “yo, I just don’t have time for you right now.”

Ugh. I really get tired of hearing that excuse, personally. It really gets under my skin. And I’m sure it gets under other people’s skin too. Who likes being told that they’re unimportant? Or that they do not warrant the time or the effort from another person? Last I checked, nobody. But each party will smile, nod their heads, and come to some odd agreement that this exchange of pleasantries is quite alright.

Well, that kind of chatter just isn’t “alright” with me. I loathe it. I despise it. Heck, I don’t like hearing it. What’s the problem with just being honest with somebody else? What are we afraid of? Plenty of things, it seems. People are always more afraid than what they let on. And one of our biggest “afraid moments” is the fear of being discovered for a phony. Despite all the ranting about owning a busy life and a hectic schedule, we fear being uncovered as some poser. That our public image as a go-getter or a semi-important figure will be distorted by a few extra minutes put someplace else. So in order to keep that facade up, we hide our true selves beneath the most common (and detremental) of common phrases: “I’m just too busy for that.”

Ugh. I hate typing the phrase as it is!

But even in the midst of being “busy”, we must also be wary of the overcommitter. You know, the one person who claims that he or she can be at an event, at a specific time, but fails to be there nearly every turn of the bend. I’m sure you can think of a few in your own world. These people aren’t necessarily bad or inherently spiteful, they just feel the necessity to always be accommodating. But in doing so, they overcommit and they end up letting down somebody in the process. And when they do let another party down, it can become strikingly evident as to who falls where on their general list of priorities.

For me, I’ve done this quite a few times as well. I overcommit to a project or a gathering and within a short period of time, I realize the error of my ways. Unfortunately, it almost always comes too late in the game. And I’m done in.

But alas, there is hope for the “busy” person and the overcommitter: be honest. It’s just as simple as that. And yet, it’s also that difficult.

I was challenged by a buddy to try and go a week without telling a half-truth or a little white lie. I think I lasted about half a day until I was sunk. I hope that’s not overly shocking to anyone. Try doing that yourself and see how far you get. If you make it more than a day, then I would say congratulations. And if you can make it a whole week, then you’d make an even greater case study on the subject.

But what does this all mean? Are we all liars, cheats, and phonies? Well, not exactly. I’m referring to some very specific circumstances and so, I do not want this to be taken out of context. None of us want to be labeled as liars, cheats or phonies so why not try and be that 100%? Tough gig to run these days, I’ll admit, but think of the benefits. For example, no fear of exposure. In an angst-ridden world, wouldn’t that be a relief? No hiding away parts of ourselves in little black boxes, coveting the very things that make us feel weak or powerless. Instead, we wouldn’t have those boxes – we’d have treasures of other people’s lives. Instead of saying “I’m too busy”, we say, “I’d be interested in giving my time, but please understand that I have priorities too.” I sounded it out and it takes less than 2 extra breaths to work that all in there. That doesn’t sound too hard, now does it?

I’m sure that some folks may read this and say, “Whoa, who slighted you lately to inspire this post?” And that would be a perfectly reasonable question, so here’s my response: myself. For so many years, I’ve told myself that I’m “too busy” to really go after a career in writing. “There are so many things I need to do first”, I’d say. Or “I don’t think it’d be possible with the way my schedule works”. These, among other equally frustrating self-doubts, kept me anchored down, below the surface and without a means to come up for air and breathe. On that same note, I kept overcommitting myself. “I’ll tackle this project first and then I’ll get to what I really want to do” or “That event is just too much, I need at least a month of planning for that until I can get back to my passion.”

You can see how a few words of self-justification can keep a person fixated on the problem without ever having sight of the solution. Eventually, if we are able, we must break free of this mirage and set sail for better harbors. Not safer harbors, like the saying goes – just the sort of harbor that you’re meant to anchor down on. That’s what freeing one’s self of being “busy” looks like. You’ll always have things to keep you busy, but it should never be for so long that you forget what’s truly important or where you’r headed.

For me, that important thing was a pursuit of writing. Ironically, the things which kept me busy, that I thought were life-giving, kept me from being me. It’s an interesting revelation if you can ever get to that place of personal solace. Don’t get me wrong though. I certainly didn’t wake up one morning going “Wow, I see the light” and everything changed in tune, but I did have enough epiphanies to see my own truth: that what blocks our futures (what blocks our vision) are “busy” things. And our justifications for staying busy are merely the politically correct ways we say, “Hey, I’ll get to that later” or when it’s most convenient for me.

So what is yours then? How do you stay busy and moreover, how do you tell others that you are? That’s as good a question as any and could just be enough to write a short book about.

When you’re hit by a baseball…

…it usually hurts.

It don’t really matter who you are. The brief impact, the sudden abrasion against your skin, the force of a round object against you – all of these events are unwanted experiences for your body. And yet, if you play baseball, you’re bound to be hit by a ball sooner or later. Whether it be at home plate, in the field, or in the bleachers – there’s a good chance you’ll be hit at some point. And when you do get plunked, it won’t be enjoyable.

When we increase the amount of times we do something, we also increase the possibility that something bad will occur. Take dating, for example. The more you go out on dates and the more people you decide spend time with, the more liable you will be to have your heart trampled upon. The same can be applied to driving. Drive a car long enough and you’ll probably witness a few crashes or heaven forbid, be involved in a crash.

If you broke this concept down a little further, you may refer to this phenomenon as “probability”. Or rather, the likelihood that an event will eventually take place. Anyone who has ever driven a car knows that there’s an inherent chance that something bad might happen while they’re driving. The engine stalls, tire goes flat, and so on, but we rarely focus our energies on the one-in-a-million situation. We fix our eyes on the objective instead. “I need to get groceries”; “I need to pick up my kid from school”, among others. The goal outweighs any possible fear we may possess.

So why am I drabbling on about this stuff? Well, I got hit by a pitch this weekend and man, it hurt. I won’t lie about it. A 75+ mph fastball plunked me right in my side. If my kidneys were positioned on the outside of my body, they would have exploded. Thankfully, they are not but you get the idea.

The ironic thing about all this is how I had just been thinking that I hadn’t been hit by a pitch for a while. Honestly, it’s been about three solid years since the last time I’ve been hit. And for a guy in his late 20s who still plays on weekends, that’s not bad odds. Historically, I get out of the way pretty well, but on Sunday I just didn’t. So as I took my hit to the side, grimaced and threw my bat down, I couldn’t help but think of my earlier thoughts that morning.

You know, I don’t think I’ve been hit by a pitch in a while. That’s not bad.

And from that moment on, I was doomed. I’m sure most people can relate to this. The instance we recognize a glitch in our universe, that quick observation of our own extended bliss; we send an open invite to agony so it can return to our doorstep.

But here’s the reality – agony returned because I got lax. I was comfortable with my circumstances. Rather than keep my guard up, I was content to “ride my good fortune out”. Like I was somehow immune to being hit by a ball again. If I were really watching carefully, on guard and ready for anything, I may have dodged that ball and this blog post would have never happened. But on the flip side of that thinking, I could have reflected upon how I’ve kept my mind sharp. Not being content to let a baseball smash into me after so many years of avoiding a wild throw or errant pitch.

I didn’t though (as you know). I got comfortable. Such is the way with most people. However, I find myself not wanting to be like most people. I’d like to think of myself as someone who challenges himself daily. Moment to moment, second to second, with the understanding that I can change things as they are happening without having to sit idly by. Because if I sit idly, then I’m sure to be caught in that familiar “Hey, that hasn’t for a while, has it?” And we all know what comes next when you have one of those silent epiphanies….

You get hit by a baseball.

Why I will gladly be in your wedding party

Two friends of mine took the plunge last weekend. They got hitched; they exchanged vows; they received their license to wed; in essence, they got married, folks. That’s cool stuff all the way around.

Weddings have historically been a great experience for me. Granted, I’ve never been a groom, but I have been one of the groomsmen on several occasions. And I’ve also had the honor of being the best man for my best friend. The entire experience that a wedding brings is really phenomenal. At no other event (save funerals) do friends and family gather in such large masses. People will fly halfway across the country for a wedding if they are able and even if they aren’t, someone will usually shell out a few extra dollars to help pay for plane fare just so they can get there. Heck, decades-old grudges step aside for weddings. Uncles, aunts, cousins – anyone who has a beef with someone else will still find a way to get to the wedding for the sake of being there.

They may be only be going because they want to see if their adversary gained weight or lost hair, but hey, they are coming all the same.

But what is it about weddings that are so attractive? Why do so many people attend them? Well, there’s lots of reasons, but if you ask me, it comes down to one simple thing (and I promise not to be sarcastic here) – the beauty of the moment. That’s my honest opinion and belief.

Never again will we see a shimmering bride, walking down the aisle to her groom, in the same way, at the same time, in the same fashion. Yes, people do get divorced and remarry, I am not oblivious to this fact, but never again will it be like this time. The bride and groom may take vows again in future years, but I’ve said already – it won’t be the same twice. For in the moment the bride reveals herself to the groom – who is standing at the front, next to the men he has chosen to share his day with – nothing will ever be exactly like this time, this place, this experience.

When it comes to human beings, we like to be there for the “big moments”. The times where we can say “I was there, were you?” There’s an element of awe that we take great delight in with one another. And if we aren’t there for this big to-do, we have a sense that we missed out on something really spectacular. Getting to watch a video recording just isn’t the same. We have to be there in order to enjoy the wedding in all its splendor. That’s how I perceive weddings at least. A fleeting beauty that forever etches itsleef in the minds and memories of all who attend.

As I stood next to my five comrades (aka the other groomsmen) this past weekend, I couldn’t help but get the sense that this wedding was truly beautiful. As were so many others that I’ve been a part of. That level of emotion really stays with a person. And when it’s all said and done, you find yourself wanting more of that feeling if you can manage it.

Which is precisely why I try to make as many friends as possible. It may be selfish of me (you can say it is if you want though), but I want to be in more weddings than I can count. What better way to enjoy life than to be present at one of the happiest moments in another person’s life?! That’s how I like to look at things. So far, I’m up to 5 apperances (four in a groomsmen outfit and 1 as a reader). I figure I’ll squeak into another one or two in the near future, but consider this as an open invitation to any/all who need groomsmen. I don’t charge anything but I will require that my date be allowed a seat close to the bridal party. That’s all I ask in return. And hey, since I’m a writer, I may just share that experience in a book someday too.

I wouldn’t want anyone to feel slighted, so expect an invite to my own wedding if I’m in yours. It’s only natural to return the favor, is it not? I won’t claim my wedding to be the most spectacular you’ll ever behold. But can you imagine a lineup of about 30 groomsmen and bridesmaids on either side?

Yeah, that’d be a once in a lifetime experience you wouldn’t want to miss.