Feb 042016
 

Today’s Daily Prompt asks “Are you comfortable in front of people, or does the idea of public speaking make you want to hide in the bathroom? Why?”

I get anxious when I speak in public, but that begins to fade fairly quickly, especially if I’ve had some consistent practice.  And therein lies the key to it all.  It may be cliché, but practice does make perfect.  And I have Hugh Ringer to thank for that.

The gentlemen of whom I speak was my high school’s speech team coach (we didn’t have debate as he was also our high school’s athletic director) for several decades.  And he fit the bill, a dapper dresser with a stentorian voice and dynamic manner, he was almost the prototypical protagonist in 50’s musical.  He would see to it that a system was in place.  You were encouraged to join in 7th or 8th and stay until 12th grade, and while you did, you practiced twice a week from December until March or early April.  This was my pattern; I started in 7th and stayed on until I was a senior (12th grade).  In short, I had a lot of practice during my formative years.

Speecifyin' JFK

 

Another way that being a member of the speech team helped was our exposure to those who were closer to what we call the “1%” today.  We were a group of small town kids of whom little was expected, and yet we won numerous tournaments that we entered and collected individual trophies by the armful year in and year out.  And we won by beating kids from other schools who being groomed to apply to – and be accepted to – Ivy League schools while most of us were encouraged only to shoot for a State of Pennsylvania-sponsored school.  We learned to see past that sort of class difference and not let it intimidate us.

So, yeah, I still get a little nervous, but after a while, I’ll do just fine.  One of my grad school professors even told me after a presentation that I “had a great future as a televangelist.”, so I thin I’ll be juuuust fine  with the Speechifyin’ , thank you.  And thanks, Hugh!

Sep 302015
 

Day 10 finds me at the Midtown Scholar updating everyone over a cup o’ Joe.  WARNING:  I am NOT photogenic.  Still, this is easier for me than typing away at a keyboard right now, so, tough tamales!  😉

 

Midtown Scholar Front Sep 30 2015

The Midtown Scholar – My Favorite Place!

Midtown Interior Sept 30 2015

The view from the coffee bar.

 

Sep 232015
 

Yup, I’m way behind.  But it’s not too late!  Let’s expand a quote!

 

So, when I suggested that text-to-speech software might be a good thing to try, , the author of Just Blank Pages replied that she really enjoyed the actual physical sensations that come from writing.  And I can absolutely see how that would be an empowering, uplifting experience.  She must not be left-handed.  I have had a lifetime of smudge marks that counter the notion that the act itself can be a pleasurable thing.  😉

Still, the deeper that she makes is that one must find what works to motivate oneself to write.  Taking pleasure in a particular ritual or act goes a long way towards overcoming thing like writer’s block.  (I’m still working on that one.)

Yup, I gotta get me one of them speech-to-text programs one of these days.

 

 

Sep 182015
 

Francis Bacon — ‘Age appears best in four things: old wood to burn, old wine to drink,old friends to trust and old authors to read.’

I don’t even know if this accurate, as history can be as much plagiarism and guesswork as fact, but I still like it.  And it comes from a smart guy (he was Shakespeare, you know), so it brings the imprimatur of erudition.  In other words, it’s got a bit of that razzle-dazzle that wows others into thinking you’re actually smart yourself.  😉

More importantly, it brings to mind a quiet fall weekend in a secluded cabin in the woods.  You’re there, hanging out with your friends, reading a good book, and enjoying a few drinks, all while a fireplace is crackling and popping contentedly in the background.  It sounds like Heaven to me.  Now that I think about it, I really should look into putting something like that together for October.  Hmm…

Hey Bill, can you cover for me?

I’m classy, no?

Sep 152015
 

This writing challenge asks us to talk about where and how we write.  And with that, I give you my ‘happy place’ where the Muse pays me a visit.  That, or it’s just really damned comfortable and I’m really damned lazy.  Either way, here’s where most of my writing gets done

Sloth is definitely my favorite sin.

Sloth is definitely my favorite sin.

I used to think how super-cool and inspirational it would be to write at a coffee shop or some other public place.  But after trying it a few times, I had come to terms with the fact that all I wanted to do was drink coffee and people watch.  No, more often than not, I just wind up sitting or lying down on this thing and typing away.  The blue light is supposed to help with improving one’s mood.  We shall see.

Sep 092015
 

Evening all.  Today’s assignment is take a single word from a list and write something around it.  I chose the word “Home.”  It’s meaning has started to change for me.

If you had asked me five years ago where home was I would have said “Pittsburgh” or “western Pennsylvania.”  Now, I’m not so sure.  Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to go back to Pittsburgh to get together with my college buddies and had a lovely time visiting relatives up in Mercer County.  Even better, I got to bond a little with my niece and nephew on Labor Day.  It was a lovely time, and I felt the bittersweet tug of remorse that one does when leaving a place where one is loved.  And yet…

And yet I found myself eager to get back to settle back into my routine here in Harrisburg.  At first I thought this was just going to be another stop in my life; a place with a job that would lead to another place with a better job.  That hasn’t turned out to be the case.  Instead, I found myself battling some personal demons (a story for another time), buying a house, and building a small but steady circle of friends and acquaintances.  I used to scorn this town.  Now I kinda miss it and the people here when I’m away.  Maybe I’m starting to make my peace with things.  Maybe I’m just getting old.  Maybe both.  No matter how you slice it, though, it’s a funny old world.

The ol' hometown

It’s home now.

 

Sep 082015
 

Ok, here we go, day 2 of this assignments wants us to make a list.  Fair enough.  Here’s a (subjective) list about what I’ve learned about depression:

  • Depression Lies – As Grant Morrison once said, we are not our emotions.  We may feel like crap at any moment, but we all need to take that feeling with a grain of salt.  That’s because depression lies.
  • You’re not alone – It’s a cliché’ but it’s also true.  There are more people than you think that wrestle with this illness.  If you doubt this, find a support group in your area and go to a meeting.  You’ll be surprised at the cross-section of people you meet.
  • Routines Help – Getting into a routine protects one from the tendency towards inertia that depression creates.  Having a regular schedule forces you to get up do something when you’d rather just sit there.  And when you just sit there, you start to think.  And then you begin to think the worst as often as not.  Structured activities and a timetable help to fight this.
  • Self-Care is not Self-Indulgence – There are times when you will want just sit back and relax and treat yourself.  Go right ahead and do it.  Being good to yourself is beneficial, even if that means breaking your routine a bit.  However…
  • Self-Care includes Self-Discipline – There are many times when you won’t want to do anything.  You won’t want to do routine tasks like cleaning your bathroom sink or exercising.  This is a trap.  You’ve got to do your best to push through that and do what needs to be done.
  • It’s not all or nothing – You’ll make mistakes along the way.  Sometimes you’ll fall behind in keeping up with a routine, sometimes you won’t cut yourself some slack when you need to, and sometimes you’ll believe the lies Depression is telling you.  This doesn’t mean you’ve failed.  It just means that you slipped a little.  The key is to realize that you’re not perfect and to forgive yourself and keep working.  This is because…
  • Battling Depression is a process, not a goal – There will be good days and there will be bad days, but what matters the most is to stick with what’s working for you regardless of how high or low you are at that particular moment.  I liken it to running – there are days when I feel as if I am gliding effortlessly and then there are days when I feel like I’m carrying a 50 pound weight behind me.  It’s like that with Depression: You shouldn’t decide to quit because you think you don’t need to work at it anymore or because you’ll feel like it’s just not working.  Either way, you have to keep trying.

And that is a list of what I think I’ve learned about depression.  Feel free to tell me what you think about it, however.  I could always you some good advice and/or insights.

 

Yup, I've been there.

Yup, I’ve been there.

Sep 072015
 

And so once again I take up the WordPress Writing 101 challenge.  Day 1 prompts us to tell the world “I write because…”  And so, with that, I am here to tell you.

I write because I always talk and think a lot.  I’m prolix and flighty but do manage to come up with the occasional bon mot or interesting thought.  I decided that I may as well get some of these down on paper screen.

I write because it’s good practice.  My job usually requires that I write, but in a very limited and basic fashion.  Most of my emails are two paragraphs long at most.  Most of my other writing is barely that but more basic copy editing of cut and pasted text from other instruction guides or manuals or memos.  I need to keep to keep this skill from atrophying.

I write because I need to keep my mind sharp.  My job is very detail-oriented, but in a narrow way.  If I’m to keep myself agile I need to put some of this ADHD mental energy that I carry with me to good use.  It’s like exercise for my brain.

I write because I like to make fun of people with vanity plates.

I write because…well, I don’t always.  In fact, the reason I’m taking this course over again is that I need to get back in the habit of doing it more often.  I must confess to being a gross hypocrite in this respect.  All the reasons I’ve given are valid and true, but I get lazy, or get uptight, or get writer’s block.  I need to write in order to push through these barriers.  Even if it’s crap, it will be better than not writing anything.

And that is that.  Day 1 is down.  Let’s see how I do for the rest of this exercise.  Good luck everyone!

May 152015
 

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Green-Eyed Monster.”

This isn’t so much an apology as it is a reminiscence about an important lesson I learned as a child.

It was the fall of 1977 and I was in the first grade.  Mrs. Cornelius, our (improbably attractive) teacher, decided to hold a handwriting contest.  I felt sure that I would win.  My handwriting was great!  Well, I thought it was great.  Never mind that Mrs. Cornelius had to remind me not to draw little choo-choos on my letters.  That had nothing to do with anything.  Besides, I had just turned seven – facts and logic were still, er, “negotiable” in my mind.  At any rate, the contest was over, and the teacher announced the girl’s winner and the boy’s winner.  That boy was not me, and I was not pleased.  In fact, I was mad, and green with envy.  Oh yeah, I was steamed.  And so, when Mrs. C invited us all to give the winners a round of applause, I began to show my disdain by booing soundly.  You could easily my “BOO!  BOO!” through the clapping.  I was really letting them (well, him) have it.  This lasted for all of, oh, five seconds before I heard “Shawn!  Put your head down!  We do not ‘boo’ in the first grade!.”  from the teacher.  The intensity of her words was matched by her angry glare, and I knew that I had stepped in it but good.  So, down my head went.  Oh, the shame!

But I learned two important things that day:

  1. You have to pick your battles, jealousy or no.  Actions have consequences.
  2. Using the royal “we” when scolding people actually sounds kinda cool.  I have tried to incorporate into my patois from time-to-time since.  So, kudos to you, Mrs. Cornelius!  You taught me something after all.

Dec 292014
 

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge focuses on the theme of “Warmth.”  It’s with that in mind that I present to you the warmest spot I found in 2014:

 

Now that's a fire!

You wanted warmth, now you have it. Be careful what you wish for!

 

Is this literal enough for ya?

Last October I was stranded in Pittsburgh on a Sunday (and then a Monday) due to my car having mechanical difficulties.  I thought I had it bad until later in the day.  It was at that point that I rounded the corner in the city’s Shadyside neighborhood and saw this burning hunk.  Actually, I smelled the stench of an electrical fire and saw the smoke before I rounded the corner, but I still had NO idea that it was going to be that bad.  I ducked inside to a local pizzeria right by the scene of the accident and watched as police and fire units responded to the incident.  The tires melted before the fire was put out.  The good news is that the driver was AWOL and presumably unhurt.

The lesson I took from the incident is that it could always be worse.  My car had a busted coolant hose, but at least it didn’t catch fire!  That’s less warmth than cold comfort, but I’ll take it.  After all, what choice did I have?

Dec 222014
 

Today’s Daily Prompt asks how we’ve done on keeping our New Year’s resolutions. I have to be honest, I don’t remember making any – except one.

I’d signed up for WordPress in 2012 and then I just sat it out, thinking that anything I would write wouldn’t be good enough. Then I finally realized that even if what I published was complete crap, I should just go ahead and publish it anyway. Practice makes perfect after all.  And so, I did keep one  resolution – I started this blog.

My brain hurts.

I had to give it some thought first.

 

Thanks for your help, everyone.

Dec 142014
 

Today’s Daily Prompt wants us to post an Anti-Bucket List. As in, stuff we would never do, say, watch, make, etc.  Sure, I’m game.  So, here we go…

  • Vote for Sarah Palin – I doubt she’ll ever run for office again, the money’s too good to just comment on stuff, but if she did, I wouldn’t.  The Apocalypse is on its way without my help, thank you very much.
  • Watch a “Mama June” sex tape – Speaking of the Apocalypse, someone has offered “Mama June” of “Honey Boo Boo” fame to make a sex tape for $1 million.  Be afraid, be very afraid.
  • Be content – I will never be satisfied.  I will always be looking at the horizon and wondering if there’s something better or more exciting around the corner.  If I do explore, I will yearn for home.  I hope this changes, but as I get older, I find it harder to  lie to myself.  The odds are overwhelmingly in favor of my being restless.
  • Stop being a wiseass.  I know that it has held me back in my personal and professional life, but  I can’t help it.  Mockery is my way of coping; life can be shitty under the best of circumstances.  Making a joke is a good way to make things a little less shitty.  We all cope in our own way.  That, or I’m just a bit of a prick.
  • Stop obsessing over pop culture ephemera from my youth – I’m a Gen-Xer.  Fetishizing the trivial bits of entertainment from our youth is what we do.  With that in mind, here’s a clip from one of the greatest shows of the 90s – Mr. Show:

Oct 062014
 

Today’s Daily Prompt asks: “Train stations, airport terminals, subway stops: soulless spaces full of distracted, stressed zombies, or magical sets for fleeting, interlocking human stories?”

My answer is, it all comes down to context.  For example, the New York City subway system is not a magical place, not by a country mile.  This was something that I had to learn PDQ when I moved to Jersey City and then Astoria.  When I got there in the summer of 1999, it was scorching hot.  This meant that waiting for the subway while job hunting meant sitting inside what was essentially a giant convection oven.  This didn’t help things.  But even as the temperatures started to lower, things didn’t change much.  More than a few people waiting for their train were either commuting from the outer part of the outer boroughs, Long Island, New Jersey, Westchester County, and even Connecticut to Manhattan and  using the subway get to their (often stressful) jobs or going back home the same way with their tired, sweaty, and not infrequently inebriated fellow commuters.  In short, most people were a little wired in the a.m and a little fried in the p.m.  This was not conducive to friendly conversation.  I learned this hard way when I, partially Midwestern person that I am, tried to strike up the odd conversation to pass the time.  I learned quickly that when you tried to do this people thought that you were either 1.) running a scam, 2.) crazy, or 3.) both.  And so, I adapted and just put on my headphones with my portable cd player and stared ahead.  I also started standing a bit towards the back of the platform as the fear of some nutjob pushing my pale hindquarters onto the tracks took hold.  Granted, this was a one in a million chance, but fear trumps actuarial tables.

NYC Subway, Transit, Grim Commute

Hustle and Bustle.

On the other hand, one of my best friends met his wife during a layover in O’Hare airport.  So, again, it all depends on context.

 

 

Jul 282014
 

So, I signed up for WordPress’ Writing 201 in the hopes of sharpening my writing abilities a bit. I have been starting at the screen on and off for a week and have nothing to show for it except a case of writer’s block. This is not fun.

 

Oh well, on to @Midnight’s Hashtag Wars.  I can write those just fine.

Jul 172014
 

So the Daily Post asks us about a certain particular smell or smells and the memories they can trigger.

For me, that smell is the smell of old books.  Both of my parents, God rest their souls, were avid readers, so we always had books around the house.  And, my mother was also the librarian at my high school.  I guess over time I’ve come to associate the smell of old books with home and family.  That, or I just like the smell.

This is probably one of the reasons I like hanging out at the Midtown Scholar so much.  The smell makes it feel homey.

And now, some science.  Read below:

 


I was right all these years, even when the occasional Philistine would look at me as if were the crazy one for asking him (it has almost always been another guy) if he liked the smell of old books too.  Yay me!

Jun 212014
 

Today’s Daily Prompt asks how we in the Northern Hemisphere plan on taking advantage of today, the longest day of the year.

My plan is to keep nursing this damned hangover.  Naproxen, electrolytes, and moving slowly are the ‘cures’ I will be employing.  Ok, the last one isn’t so much a cure as an acknowledgement of reality, but you get the point.  With any luck that will get better by this evening and I will be able to take a nice stroll along Riverfront Park here in Harrisburg, for example.

As for the sunlight, who doesn’t like long summer days?  Vampires, maybe, but that’s about it.  I don’t miss the winter and its short days one bitty bit.

Jun 052014
 

So, Writing 101 bids us to write about loss.  I could get into some heavy stuff, but I prefer to keep it light tonight.  So, let me tell yinz about a mix tape that went *poof* just as it was taking shape.

It was the spring of 1991, and there weren’t no interwebs.  No sir, if you wanted to mix and match songs, you hadda go out and record ’em off of another cassette or CD.  You hadda work for it!  It took not only time and effort to record each song but it was often a challenge to search for and physically gather the music you wanted to record also.  It could take weeks.  As a result, it often became a challenge to build one that stood out.  Sure, you could just blandly copy a favorite release from a friend to save a few bucks or just slap together a few random favorites of yours, but that wasn’t very satisfying in the long run.  No, if you wanted something that would satisfy you and impress your friends and (hoped for) loved ones, you had to stretch your creative muscles and put a lot of thought and effort into it.

Now, one route was to build one based on a theme of some sort.  It could be, say, a mix tape filled only with songs that featured the saxaphone in them (something you don’t hear a lot of these days – R.I.P. Clarence!) or maybe your best-of alternative breakup songs.  Or, you could go for eclecticism.  The tape I was building that spring was headed that way.

It started with a trip to Washington D.C. with a friend (He would later become a roommate and in the process a bitter enemy.  But that’s another story.) I had made at WPTS, Pitt’s radio station.  I was working as a news reader and he was the news director.  We hit it off, and so I hopped a ride down to D.C. with him one weekend in late March on a road trip.  On the way down and back, he played a most excellently varied tape of his own.  It had everything from “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” to a couple of comedy bits to “Master of the House” from Les Miserables.  I was suitably impressed – and inspired.  And so, I got to work.  I shamelessly borrowed his tape to copy “Istanbul” and “Master” but then followed my muse.  I manged to find N.W.A.’s “100 Miles and Running” and included it.  Best of all, I managed to get one of my fellow radio station news readers (and also future roommate – also part of that other story) to copy the theme to Late Night With David Letterman.  I’m talking the original version that played to the opening of his NBC show, back when he was mean, bitchy, and awesomely hilarious in his own gonzo way.  That theme.  Oh yeah.  He had to go in a record it from the old, blocky 8-track type radio cart tapes onto cassette.  That was the icing on the cake.  I was on a roll now, I was putting together something special, it was lightning in a bottle.

Or so it might have been.  Joe asked to borrow the tape just before the end of spring semester in late April of ’91.  I agreed.  And that was the end of that.  I never saw it again.  I should have taken it as dark omen of that guy’s ways, too, but again, that’s another story, and I was young and naive.  Still, that loss hurt.  Sure, I would go on to make more mix tapes in the years to come, but it was never quite the same.  I never had the drive to craft something truly special.  My muse had left me by then.  I still mourn the loss of that tape, and now, in this era of digital music, it’s too late.  Putting together a song list isn’t the same.  What takes 5 minutes now could have taken, as I alluded, 5 weeks back then.  Farewell, oh fading ember of my youth.  You are gone, but never forgotten.

 

Jun 032014
 

And day two of Writing 101 presents a much easier challenge for lil’ ol’ me.  Specifically:

We’re all drawn to certain places. If you had the power to get somewhere — anywhere — where would you go right now? For your twist, focus on building a setting description.

So, where would I go right now?  I would go to Istanbul.  And no, I’m not gonna sing the They Might Be Giants cover of that song, tempting though it may be.

Building-wise, the first place I’d want to see is the place to see:  the Hagia Sophia!  Take a look at it – how could you not want to go see a place like this?:

Hmmmm, come to think of it, I need to start thinking about booking a vacation somewhere this fall.  I need a rest.

May 192014
 

In today’s Daily Post, we are presented with this scenario:

You walk into your home to find a couple you don’t know sitting in your living room, eating a slice of cake.  Tell us what happens next.

Next, I would ask “Are you here to kill me?”  If they say “Yes”, then my reply would be “Ok, but you do you mind if tidy up a bit first?  I don’t want people to find my body in a messy house.”  If they say “No”, then my reply would be “Great!  Let me tidy up and then we can talk.  But first – can I have some cake?”

Apr 232014
 

In the spirit of my About page and a gentle nudge from Zero to Hero, let’s answer these good and important questions:

What are the top three things you’d like to learn, or ways you’d like to grow, from blogging? The top three people you’d like to connect with?

OK, let’s start with the first question.  The three things I’d like to learn (for starters) from blogging are:

  1. How to amuse myself.  If I can write something that entertains me and/or makes me laugh, I will have done well for myself.  I need to have fun, and I want this blog to be that.  (If this turns into a chore, then what’s point?  I already have one job, know what I mean?)
  2. I want to become more technically proficient.  I plan on learning enough to be able to migrate this site to WordPress.org.  That would push me to learn how to manage web traffic (well, the traffic that I hope for) and an actual website.  I also know the basics of HTML, Java Script, and CSS.  (Thanks, Codecademy!)  Ideally, this site will help me to build on what I’ve already learned.
  3. I hope to become more connected to the Harrisburg area.  I’ve lived here in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for a little over six years and still don’t feel as connected to it as I’d like to be.  My hope is that this blog can help me to network and socialize more than I have in the past, if only a little.

And now, i answer the second question.  Just who are the top three people I hope to connect with through this blog?

  1. Harrisburgers (Harrisburgians?).  Again, I’m hoping to come out of my shell a little bit and am hopeful this blog can be a means to that end.
  2. Smart, experienced bloggers.  With any luck, I will be able to connect with those who have good technical expertise, experience with growing one’s audience and improving one’s ‘brand’ (I think I’m starting to hate that word, btw.), and maybe even those who know something about best practices for website design.   Here’s hoping!
  3. I’m a Virgo with a moon in Pisces.  I like good coffee, good conversation, and long walks on the beach.  If you are celestially compatible and looking for someone who has taken ‘the road less traveled’, then shoot me a message and we can see what happens after that.  (My ex-girlfriend need not apply.)

Yinz satisfied now?

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