Why Sports Matter

I’m a writer. That’s what I do, and hopefully my love of words is clear. It is my job, and yet it’s not, because, like the old cliche says, If you like what you do, it’s never work.

Uh-huh.

Hi, I’m Derek. Have we met? I’m sarcastic. Did you get that?

That cliche isn’t true all the time, is what I’m saying. Sometimes, even if you love what you do, and sometimes because you love what you do, it is very much work. Hard work.

So, every now and then, from the chaos and confusion, the drudgery of cubicle living, that boss you hope posts some stupid crap on Facebook that gets him fired, you need a break, an escape. 

That is sports.

That is why sports matter.

And, more than an escape, they help to refocus life. Your team loses a tough playoff battle, and a year that seemed like our year isn’t. It hurts. It stings. But, in the end, it’s sports, and life, in all its beauty and complexity, moves on. We’ll get ’em next year! (Just keep saying it, Cub fan. Us Seahawks fans can tell you: It’s true!)

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A Dispatch From The Editing Bunker

That’s not what I wrote!

Yeah, it is.

How do you know?

Did you write this book?

Uh-huh.

Then this is what you wrote; no use denying it, because this is what ended up on the page.

But that’s not what I meant to write! That’s not what I meant to say!

Tough.

Boy, have I enjoyed the internal debate that’s been raging in my mind. When what you thought you wrote and what you actually wrote, what you thought you communicated to the reader, and what you actually communicated to the reader differ to the point where your editor can’t quite understand the point of a certain section of writing, then, yeah, your book still needs some work.

There’s always, for me, that little bit of doubt that I let creep in and grow bigger, fed with negative thoughts and statements from this guy himself.

You can’t do it, my mind screams. If you could do it, if you could write what needs to be written, wouldn’t you have written it already?

As I sit hunkered in my editor’s bunker–the lady who edits my work doesn’t have a bunker; that’s just what I’ve taken to calling my room, where I mentally kick my own ass for the sake of what is (I promise) a great book, I try to remind myself that everyone must edit, even the greats, like Fitzgerald or Twain, and everyone has doubts. Push trough them. Review your suggested edits. List them. Brainstorm fixes. Put those fixes in your list. In this way, you can accomplish your edits in the way I need to; bite-sized chunks as opposed to humungous sections of writing that seem to have no end and make you feel like you’re swimming in an endless ocean.

Your Mind Can Get Hungry, Too!

Today’s post is a quick one. A little note on one of my favorite concepts.

When your body is hungry, what do you do? Easy, right? You feed and sustain it with food. But what about when your mind is hungry?

Do you know the feeling? I think you do. You’ve spent a while watching TV, a movie, the kind without substance, imbibing a tad too much, perhaps; your mind turned off to the world. And then, from its edges, the deepest alcove, the farthest outskirt, there’s a quiet but persistent voice.

I’m hungry, it says. I need to be fed. Teach me something. Let’s read a novel. Let’s find out something we never thought we’d know. We can do it together.

Always keep your mind hungry, and satiate that hunger in whatever way is best for you. For me, it’s reading and writing. For you, it might be math (those people do exist, and I’ve met them; I’m glad for them, because only with math could we have computers and the like, but I’ll stay firmly over here in the literature aisle, thank you very much).

Prose From A Grandson…

With editing in full effect, I thought, If someone was just getting to know me (that’s you, dear reader/follower), what would I tell them was the accomplishment I am proudest of to this point? Other than helping to raise my siblings, that is.  The answer’s easy. My poetry book.

I wrote it just before my grandfather, or Papa, passed. It was the last book he ever read. I hope it’s one into which you’ll enjoy jumping.

If you like what you see here or in those pages, do be sure to follow this blog! I am honored that you take the time to check in here!

http://www.amazon.com/Prose-From-Grandson-Senior-Fellow/dp/059527367X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1403569293&sr=8-1&keywords=Prose+From+A+Grandson

Eleven Minutes

As I anticipate a week full of editing, I also want to keep my blog vibrant and worth the visit. So I have decided that, for your enjoyment this Tuesday, I will share a story I wrote soon after my grandmother’s passing. It is not a sad story. In my view, it’s heartfelt and hopeful. I believe I know where she has gone to stay, and I take comfort in that knowledge. And in the knowledge that I got the chance to say a full and true good-bye.

Eleven Minutes

 

 

The screen-door slams shut behind me, and I make my slow walk out onto the porch. Grandma is out here in her favorite chair, as always, smoking the cigarette I’ve told her over and over will kill her. She looks up when she hears me coming toward her.

“Hi, sweetheart,” she says. “Sit down. What have you been up to? How’s school going?”

            I sit across from her. “Grandma, you’re smoking… AGAIN!”

            “Yeah, I’m sorry. It’s a dirty habit,” she says. “Don’t you start it now.”

            “I won’t. And I wish you would stop.”

            She laughs. “You’re not the only one, believe me.”

            My mom and I have come to stay with Grandma for a while because my parents can’t get along. I don’t like to see my family split up like this, but I’m grateful because, without these trips to Grandma’s, I’d never see her. Thanksgiving and Christmas just isn’t often enough.

            I’m out here to ask Grandma to put The Muppet Movie on the TV for me, but now that we’ve got this time alone together while Mom’s at the store getting supplies for our sleep-over, we might be able to have a real conversation about what’s going on with my family.

            “Grandma?”

            “Hmmm?”

            I hesitate before asking, “Do my mom and dad love me?”

            “Of course they love you, sweetheart.”

            “I’m not so sure about that.”

“Why not?”

“Because… because I feel like if they really did love me, they’d stop fighting.”

            Grandma sinks back into her seat. If I weren’t here, she’d light another cigarette, but she feels me staring at her, waiting to pounce. So instead she looks out on the small, well-kept lawn that her landlord takes care of for her every week. I silently pat myself on the back: Because of me, Grandma will live eleven minutes longer than she would have.

           

What will she do with this extra time? I wonder.

            Maybe she’ll spend it with me at Disneyland. For a person with cerebral palsy, like me, Disneyland is an even happier place on Earth. Lines don’t exist. Eleven minutes is another ride on your favorite roller coaster, another riverboat ride through the Caribbean.

            Grandma’s never really liked roller coasters, has she? She likes the idea of moving fast; it’s leaving her house she struggles with. I guess that means go-karts are out, too. But she does like a good baseball game.

            Eleven minutes is an extra inning of Mariner baseball called by Dave Niehaus. Another go-around of that fabled game 5 bottom of the 11th in 1995.

            “Swung on and… lined down the left field line for a base hit! Here comes Joey! Here is Junior to third base…. They’re gonna wave him in. The throw to the plate will be… late! It just continues, my oh my!”

            Her first love, though, has always been good movies. She was the first in her neighborhood to own a VCR, and she has the biggest collection of videotapes I’ve ever seen. Eleven minutes would just about get her through another watch of the triumphant end to George Bailey’s journey. She’d go away thinking, Yes, it is a wonderful life.

           

Grandma’s voice—she’s talking to herself–brings me back to now. I’m staring at nothing when I come back, so I almost don’t see her trying to sneak a cigarette. But there she is, out of the corner of my eye….

`“Grandma!” I yell.

It surprises her and she almost drops the lit stick. Catches it just before it falls to the ground. “What, sweetheart? What is it?”

“I want you to live,” I tell her. “I don’t want you to go away. I want you to be here. Forever.”

“Forever’s a long time,” she chuckles. “But I’ll be here as long as I can. How’s that? Would you like a piece of gum?” She reaches into her purse, takes out a pack of Trident.

 

This whole what could you do in eleven minutes idea has me asking around. When Mom and I go back home, she makes up with Dad, and I ask him when she’s off watching All My Children , “Dad… what could you do in eleven minutes?”

He makes a strange face. Puts the football game we’re watching on MUTE. “I don’t know. That’s a weird question, even for you. Eleven minutes?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I could write a few good pages, I suppose.”

That makes sense. Dad’s a writer. Sometimes it seems like all he does is write.

I ask Mom the same question. She doesn’t make a face like Dad, and she answers right away.

            “Any extra time I get I’d spend out in the sun, tanning.”

            Over the next couple years, the question never quite leaves my mind. It’s always at the back, lurking, and as I enter my teens, I ask it of my younger brother.

            “Video games,” he says. “If you pick the right game, eleven minutes can get you through a level or two.” I know he’s thinking specifically of the new James Bond Goldeneye game he just got for Christmas, but he doesn’t want to come right out and say that.

           

Many years pass. Years when I find out I’ll never drive, which devastates me. That not all girls are nice like my mom, or think it’s cool that I’m able to shrug off my cerebral palsy most of the time, or turn words into stories. Years when I learn bullies are no fun, unless you are one, and probably not even then. Years when not being able to walk like the other kids goes from a unique oddity in fourth grade to something that ends up leaving me sad and alone most middle-school days. Through all of these years and more, through my graduations from high school and college and beyond, I talk to Grandma on the phone each week. I prefer Wednesdays. Whenever she answers the phone, it’s always with: “Hello, sweetheart!” like there’s no place she’d rather be than sitting in her kitchen, stretching the phone cord as far as it will go, talking to me.

            She has quit smoking, finally, a function of the open-heart surgery she underwent, the pacemaker that was installed, the coughing fits she’d get into if she lit up. She has left the house with the manicured lawn and the screen-door to the porch where she smoked away so many years. Now the husband she re-married five summers ago, my grandfather, is gone, and she has relocated to a senior community, where everyone calls her “The cookie lady”. She has to be careful not to singe her wig when taking the fresh cookies from the oven.

            Today’s a Wednesday, and her phone rings. She picks it up.

            “Hi, sweetheart.”

            “What are you up to today, Grandma?”

            “I’m making cookies.” When is she not making cookies? “Everybody here just loves them.” So do I. “Then I’m gonna watch Idol tonight. You’ll be watching it, too, won’t you?”

            “Yeah.” Sometimes I call her the day after American Idol, to talk about what’s happened. More often than not, though, she’s out with one of her friends, or downstairs putting out a fresh cookie batch, not there to answer. I can count on Wednesdays.

            She never travels far. It’s as if her entire life is lived within a five-mile radius of where she lays her head, and she is not technologically inclined. That revolution is lost on her. She’s sent me a total of one e-mail, to tell me how much she loved the Johnny Cash movie, Walk The Line. This means our phone calls are our only contact.

            “I need to tell you something, sweetheart,” she says, when I’m finished relating my latest gossipy anecdote. Both of us love gossip.

“Can you believe my dad caught our crazy neighbor burning plastic?” I asked her, breathless. “This just happened yesterday. Dad was so mad.”

“No, I really can’t,” she’d replied, sounding appropriately incredulous, before launching into her news.

I figure it’ll be another nugget of gossip. The comings and goings, arrivals and departures of Fountain Court Senior Apartments.

“A few weeks ago… when I was baking cookies… I fell. I passed out.”

“Grandma, why are you just telling me this now?”

“I didn’t want to worry you. I made your mom promise she wouldn’t say anything.”

“Mom knew? Knows?”

“M-hmm.”

“So what’s going on? Did you go to the doctor?”

“Yes. She says I have cancer.”

 

            Lung cancer’s a bitch. I’ve already lost one revered grandparent to it, and I am preparing myself to lose another. When Mom calls me from work on a Friday—something she rarely does; I’ll call her at the office, but her call me… I think not—she says, “Let’s go and visit Grandma tomorrow. She fell again yesterday.”

            “She did? Is she okay?”

            “She’s fine. But she’s in the hospital.”

            Immediately, tension takes my body hostage. I forget to breathe for a second or two.

            “Honey…. honey, are you still there?” Mom asks.

            “I’m here. You’re gonna pick me up tomorrow, and we’re going to the hospital?”

            “Yeah.”

            “What time should I be ready?”

“Let’s say noon. How’s that?”

“Fine with me.”

Mom ends the call with, “I love you, honey. I’m sorry I had to call with this, but I love you so, so much.”

 

            “Use the elevator just past the fish tank,” the lady at the hospital’s front desk tells us.

            It’s odd: The things you find funny when faced with impending tragedy. To us—Mom and me–the idea of the elevator we have to take up to Grandma’s room being referred to as “the elevator just past the fish tank” is hilarious, and we’re giggling as we walk the corridor. Grandma would be laughing, too.

            The room is a two-bedder. As we enter, a stranger we don’t know—a woman fond of screaming for a family who isn’t here–stares Death in the face, and Death stares back, his vacant eyes saying, You can’t cheat me this time, lady. This time I’m gonna win.

            My Grandma isn’t having the stare-down yet, thank God. She is still Grandma.

            “Have you guys been watching the football playoffs?”

            “I sure have, Grandma. I was watching the game before we came to see you.”

            She smiles at me, standing at the side of her bed. “I was watching it, too. But that one over there-“ She head-gestures toward the unfortunate woman- “she couldn’t take the sound. I coulda watched it on mute, but since I was listening to it while trying to grab a nap, that didn’t work very well. Finally I just turned it off. They say I should be outa here in a couple days. That means I’ll be home in time for the Super Bowl!”

            Standing in one spot for any length of time—not moving a muscle but just standing there, trying to keep myself from tipping over—is one of the most painful experiences anyone with cerebral palsy can have. Anyone with cerebral palsy who still maintains the use of their legs, that is.

            There is an overwhelming smell of urine, and if it were up to me Mom and I would step into the hall, take a moment, find a bench and some fresher air. But it isn’t up to me. So I ask, “Grandma, do you think I could sit down?”

            “Sure, sweetheart.” She then goes into the best and most authoritative yell she can issue from a hospital bed: “Can someone please get my grandson a chair?”

            I’ve got my chair; uncomfortable though it is, it’s a place to sit, and now Grandma’s talking about the old days. She gets my mom reminiscing about her childhood. All I can latch onto are the names of relatives I vaguely know. I can not share in communal remembrances.

            After about twenty minutes, Grandma needs to go to the bathroom. A nurse is called in to help, and Mom and I leave. There’s a Godfather’s Pizza across the street. That’s an interesting location-choice, I think. You won’t ever be lacking for business, but still it’s kind of strange, isn’t it?

 

            Grandma is indeed sent home in a couple days, as she had suspected would happen. I call her the following Wednesday.

            This conversation, unlike all our others, does not feel upbeat or light-hearted. Not at first. Something is weighing my heart down.

            “Grandma?”

            She can tell I’m fighting to hold onto my composure. “What is it, sweetheart?”

            Say it now. You might never get the chance again, I hear in my head.

            “I just wanted to tell you…. I wanted you to know… that whatever happens… I know I can’t drive out there to see you like my other cousins can, but I’ve always loved you, and I always will, and I hope you know that.”

            “Of course I do, sweetheart.”

            “Good.” My heart is unburdened. “So, are you happy to be home?”

            “Oh, I’m so happy. I was having soap-opera withdrawal, and everyone here was missing their cookies.”

`           The conversation goes on like this for a few more minutes. Then Grandma says, “Well, honey, I better get going. I gotta go downstairs and put out this batch.”

            “Okay, Grandma.” I circle back to our first topic. I have a sixth sense the end could be close, but I won’t admit it aloud. “Whatever happens, I love you.”

            “Whatever happens, I love you, too. Always. We’ve always had a special bond.”

            Why did she have to say that? Now I’m crying.

            “Bye, Grandma.”

            “Good-bye, sweetheart.” It’s the way in which she says it—with a finality she might not have intended, but it sneaks into her tone, anyway—that confirms my hunch. This will be the last time we talk.

            Three days later, Mom calls to say Grandma’s back in the hospital. “She’s in a coma, but they say she can still hear us, and I think we should go see her. To say good-bye.” I go, more to be there for my mom than for anything I left unsaid, and Grandma passes away two days after our last trip up in the elevator just past the fish tank.

When my phone-bill arrives, I scroll down until I find the last call I ever made to my grandmother’s phone number. Duration: 11 Mins.

 

Eager, Yet Anxious…..

This weekend was a great one! My girlfriend’s always-wonderful company. Two episodes of Orphan Black (we’re two behind; no spoilers, please!), Spud’s Fish ‘N Chips, along with some sun and reading our books in the park. And, Saturday night, another viewing of the great Seahawks conquering those Peyton Manning-led Broncos. I call that a great weekend. Hopefully, you can see why. Now I move into this next week refreshed and ready. Ready for editing.

For writers–and especially this writer–the prospect of editing is daunting. But it’s more than that. It can make me downright anxious. Am I making the right edits? What if I’m making this story worse rather than better?

This week will be one full of editing for me. Long hours. Hard choices. My editor will be turning over to me her latest notes on what I have always called “the big book”. I really can not wait to share this story with all of you, and with everyone, but I am waiting because a good book can be made a great book through editing.

Wish me luck!

 

A Writer Has To Be Willing To Eavesdrop!

Eavesdropping. It’s a ton of fun, really. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love it. Sometimes my friends will ask me, mid-eavesdrop, “What’s going on? Anything good?” They grin, knowing if there is anything good, I won’t hold out on them. I’ll relate it willingly.

You can engage in the practice yourself, no matter where you are. Personally, I find the best places to eavesdrop to be restaurants. People feel free to talk about anything and everything in restaurants–from break-ups to weddings to new babies to promotions to birthday celebrations, and all that occupy the space in between these subjects. Listening in is a great way to hear how different people use language, how they form and respond to dialogue.

Why is this important to a writer?

You can’t discover your new main character for that great novel you’re going to write until you can hear his voice, and before you can hear his voice, you have to hear him talk. Which means letting him talk, and allowing yourself to quiet your mind and listen. Eavesdrop. Figure out the story you’re meant to tell, and when you have a good handle on it, go tell it as best you can!

But you have to be willing to eavesdrop to begin with. Eavesdropping is key to writing someone or something real!

 

Visiting The Dentist… The Results

I was asked, by a dedicated follower, to move the post scheduled for this slot and, in a sense, “finish” the post I began yesterday. “You can’t just tell us you’re going to the dentist, and then not recount the experience,” she argued. She’s right.

First, let me take the drama out of it for you. I’m fine. No issues found. No cavities, no future fillings (as it is, my mouth is Fillings Central already, so not going under the drill again is good news, because if I had to, it would most likely mean one had fallen out).

Now, on to the experience itself.

Nine minutes before my scheduled appointment, my dad and I got in the car and he drove me to the dentist’s office (For those who don’t know me well enough to know this, my palsy plus eyesight that has never been great together mean I can’t drive; come on, Google, I’m rooting for you and your self-driving car; I’d be all over that!). I had told him the night before of the impending dentist visit and its hour, but he must have forgotten. He does that sometimes. *Grin.* Don’t we all?

When I arrived (just a few minutes late, thank you very much), I was ushered back as usual and quickly found that all my at-home dental work has paid dividends. The hygienist liked what she saw.

As she cleaned, we spoke.She’s soon to be a grandmother. I told her of my brother’s recent high school graduation. We listened to a baby in the waiting room cry. Hard.

The doctor doesn’t see babies (“I did see a one-year-old once,” he told us). The town crier belonged to the lady being seen in the cubicle next to me. I said to my soon-to-be-a-grandmother teeth-cleaner, “I bet the best part of becoming a grandma is being able to give the kid back when it starts crying, yes?” She smiled and agreed.

The doctor came in to see me. We caught up. A once-every-six-months “congratulations to both of us on still being alive”. He will be going to Florida for Christmas “and seeing the Harry Potter thing they’ve got down there”. Not sure that’s an exact quote, but it’s close enough to warrant the marks.  I told him my girlfriend would love to see that, and the doctor, the hygienist. and I began to talk about quidditch, which got me to thinking, I’d much rather watch the Quidditch World Cup than the actual World Cup.

Sorry, soccer fans.

But I digress.

In the end, I’ve discovered that even an uneventful trip to the tooth-doctor deserves a write-up now and then. As I said yesterday, see you in six months, doc. Christmas will be here sooner than you think, everybody!

 

 

 

Oh, Joy Of Pure Joys!

A trip to the dentist! I could not be happier. That is just how I want to spend my Wednesday. I mean woo-hoo, everybody!

I like my dentist. He’s good at what he does. It’s just… it’s the dentist, people! Not so fun. And they always ask something like, “How are you doing?”

I say, “Good”, but I feel like saying, “Well, I’m here when I could be anywhere else, so I’m kinda crappy considering.” *Grin.*

But when my dentist gives me a quick look-see, followed by a clean bill of oral health, there is nothing better. That’s what I want to hear! See you in six months! Start that Christmas shopping, doc.

Let’s hope that’s the verdict again this time around!

A New Project

As a writer, one of the things that can really get my heart pumping, my creative juices flowing, is the knowledge that I am at work on a new project. Something I really believe in that, if done well, could be a wonderful piece. Probably a short story, though it could stretch to novella-length.

Yet, I’m not going to lie. Lingering doubts remain. Can I see this thing through? Do I have the talent?

On days like this, I find myself relying on the words of those who came before me. My grandfather, or Papa, once turned to my brother and said, “You’re my actor.” He looked at me next and said, “You’re my writer.”

We smiled. We believed him, and we were determined to prove him right. I got right to it, inspired, and churned out a poem and a short story that very Easter; his last.

Whatever doubts I may feel trying to overwhelm me at times–and they’re much more prominent than I’d like to admit–I will keep going. I will have faith that my writing, my talent, my belief in myself, and my constant desire to get better will see me through.

I am his writer. I hear you, Pop. That phrase of his has more pull over me than any naysayer, any rejection note, be they written on literary agency stationary or pumped out through an automated e-mail program.