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Productivity

Seriously.

Seriously.

There’s nothing like your child starting back to school to make you take stock of what you’re doing with your life. Nothing a three-year-old does is pointless. Play is a deadly serious endeavor. Make-believe is as dramatic as any HBO series (except maybe The Leftovers). And when she decides she’s actually going to get upset about something serious, like Pepperidge Farm Goldfish or the flatness of her blanket… look out.

Unlike my wife, I don’t have a job that (always) requires me to work after hours; so I often find myself spending the evenings after Harriet goes to bed in less than productive ways. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. I like to think I watch high-quality TV (most of the time), and I do my fair share of reading. I pay the bills. Sometimes I even sleep.

But I still can’t help but think that, in adulthood, I should be taking my play a little more seriously. Maybe not as seriously as Harriet does, but still with a purpose. The best way I know to do that is through writing. Almost every dollar I’ve ever made and almost every professional joy I’ve ever had have come because of it. And it’s fun. If that’s not productivity, I don’t know what is.

Subject matter is a little more difficult. Fiction has come in fits and starts; I find myself gravitating more toward essays and opinion writing, as much for the economy of the thing as any other reason. The older I get, the more my attention span suffers. This is a byproduct of too much time at computers and too little time spent in actual reflection. Again, I hope to do something about this.

So I’m resurrecting this blog. Again.

The format will be loose, with one caveat: 500 words per post, max. This will hopefully be easy enough to keep me interested and regular (call it the fiber-writing plan), and short enough to keep you interested. There’s value in a 2,500 screed, but who has the time or the energy to put into consuming it, much less actually do the writing? So 500 it is; a goodish length that you don’t feel guilty sharing, you can wedge into the last five minutes of your lunch break, and fits neatly into most overhead compartments.

I’m open to topics. You’ll probably see lots of Lost, baseball and current events, as well as thoughts on parenting and the life and career of a 30-something who is at, for all productive intents and purposes, the halfway point of his career. Where will I wind up? I should probably figure it out in the next dozen years. In the meantime I hope to use all the other non-family time to the fullest.

In other words, start acting more like a three-year-old.

Seriously.

Seriously.

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Categories: Fatherhood, Navel Gazing

On the All-Star Game

SteinbachThe very first baseball game I remember watching on television–I mean actually sitting down and WATCHING–was the 1988 All-Star Game, 25 years ago tonight (give or take a week). Sometime during the previous winter, my baseball fandom had shifted from collecting Topps baseball cards and filling my Panini sticker album (Lord, I loved that thing… still have it, in fact) to following the actual goings on of the sport. When my folks resumed taking me to Texas Rangers games that spring (we lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area at the time, and even though the Rangers were horrible, it was a fun, cheap way to spend an evening), I shifted to watching the game on the field instead of the nearest cotton candy vendor. I stopped picking my favorite teams based on their mascot–the Tigers and Pirates were early faves for just that reason–and started rooting for my team of birthright, the St. Louis Cardinals. (Full disclosure: I was born in Independence, Mo., and my very early fandom was for the Kansas City Royals, who were still a Major League team in those days. But if I don’t have photos it never happened, right?)

That ’88 game was forgettable, by baseball standards. Held in the wholly unremarkable Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, it wound up being a pretty boring, low-scoring affair. But God, I was excited about that game. I remember we were going to dinner with friends of my parents that night, a farewell dinner, as it turned out (more on that in a minute). It was at one of those authentic-but-cheesy Italian joints where a piano player took requests like “Over the Rainbow” and the booths had shutters for privacy. They served what I remember calling a “spicy-a meatBALL!” At my insistence, my parents recorded the game on our then-state-of-the-art VHS recorder while we were out, but I wasn’t convinced it would work, or that they’d actually let me watch it when we got home. I distinctly remember my dad telling me in the parking lot of the restaurant, in a voice only exasperated fathers can summon to silence a one-track-mind son, that I would, in fact, be able to watch the damn All-Star Game when we got home.

And I did. And how I relished it. I geeked out watching Ozzie Smith on television for the first time ever (televised St. Louis Cardinals games were hard to come by in the Metroplex in the days before ESPN’s contract with MLB). I watched Cal Ripken, Jose Canseco, Don Mattingly, Darryl Strawberry–all the guys I’d only seen in images printed on cardboard–parade across the field. All those helmets and caps, all those jerseys and faces that you NEVER see on TV at the same time. It’s still why I love the All-Star Game, and even if I don’t catch every at-bat, I make sure to catch the 15 minutes of player and lineup introductions. After all, it’s not every day you see that rarest of baseball creature known as the “Toronto Blue Jay.”

Terry Steinbach of the A’s was the MVP, and for a short time I was convinced he must be the greatest player in baseball history (he wasn’t). I’ll bet I didn’t go to bed until 1 a.m., and my parents didn’t say a word (probably because they were parents, and were dead asleep).

If my memory seems particularly vivid, there’s probably a pretty good psychological reason for it. My family was in the process of moving from Texas to Missouri. Those times of great transition in our lives–moving, deaths, graduations, falling in love, divorce (I presume)–seem to add a nuclear reactor to the battery in our memories, don’t they? It doesn’t matter how old we are when they happen–in fact, I think childhood only accentuates the power. These memories are never entirely positive or entirely negative either; just so damn vivid. I remember a disproportionate number of details about that summer and the following fall as I went about making Ozark, Missouri my home. Hell, I remember more about those months than I do about last week.

I digress. But while I was outwardly cool with the idea of moving to southwest Missouri–it was, after all, where all of the rest of my family lived and I visited often–it was years before I realized just how big a deal moving had been for an only child in the third grade who had only ever known one school, one church, and had a little kid-crush on the girl across the street. Baseball is the blanket I wrapped myself in, because God knows we all need one at those times in our lives. I’m sure my parents were relieved it was something normal. Imagine trying to make that kind of change with a 16-year-old. *shudders*

I’ve watched 25 more All-Star Games (including the one that is playing in front of me right now, a convenient DVR having repalced the gigantic VHS of my youth). There was the one I watched at the McSalty’s Pizza bar with a friend in high school, acutely aware that I’d rather be at home watching it with my dad, but not nearly secure enough to admit it. There was the surrealistic tie in ’02, which I watched with my soon-to-be-bride in stunned silence into the wee hours of the morning after getting off the graveyard shift at the News-Leader. (To her credit, she stayed awake… it was that bizarre). Last year my brother-in-law scored family tickets to the Home Run Derby in Kansas City, and being in that All-Star atmosphere live is the coolest sporting spectacle I’ve ever been able to attend. There was Bo’s bomb in ’89, Wrigley’s lights in ’90, Carp starting in ’05, and St. Louis hosting in ’09. Most have been more exciting than that first game. I’m sure I missed or had to work though one or two of them along the way, but most All-Star Games I have watched at home or with friends, in various states of distraction or inebriation, one major life event or another swirling around me as I stopped for a few minutes to try and recapture the magic of that night in ’88. Sometimes I can almost do it.

And now, just like that, as I watch Jason Kipnis grab Pedro Alvarez’s popup to end this ’13 All-Star Game, a 3-0 victory for the American League (aka the bad guys), my second quarter-century of baseball fandom officially begins. I can’t wait for the next 25 All-Star Games. I wonder where I’ll watch them? And what will be going on in my life when I do?

Categories: Baseball, Navel Gazing

Don’t Call it a Comeback…

I’ve been here for, literally, years.

Okay, maybe not as long as LL Cool J, but long enough to feel the need to reannounce my presence in the blogosphere. The Lost Re-re-re-watch hit a snag around the holidays, and without my friends on the island to act as my muse, my recreational writing habit stalled as well.

But I’m back, thankfully with pantsloads of ideas and new and interesting things to talk about. Two words: potty training.

I’ll be resurrecting the Lost Re-re-re-watch where I left off (I think someone just died… I mean, odds are good right?) last winter, and hopefully putting some new, regular content up as well. I may not have much for the masses besides sharing Lost minutiae and maybe some obscure knowledge about the Toronto Blue Jays from the late ’80s, but what the hell?

“Knock ’em out.” – Mama

Categories: Navel Gazing Tags: ,

A Life Lived in the Light

February 1, 2012 7 comments

I only remember going to see three movies with my grandfather. None of the three was much of a success. I’m sure there were some films when I was very young: E.T. and Sleeping Beauty come to mind for some reason, but at that age I was so happy for bright lights and popcorn it didn’t really matter what I was watching or who I was with.

The first one I remember seeing was Back to the Future Part II. The year was 1989 and I was stoked beyond belief for this flick; the original BttF was the first PG entertainment I remember enjoying, and the marketing blitz for Part II was overwhelming to a 10-year-old (remember Pizza Hut’s Solar Shades?). It was afternoon on New Year’s Eve, and my parents and I went to see it at the old North Town Mall theater. We took my grandparents. For starters, they were prone to talking–loudly–through movies anyway. Second, Back to the Future Part II is a terrible film to see if you haven’t seen Back to the Future Part I. My folks and I left the theater confused by the plot; Nonee (my name for my grandmother) and Pop left the theater convinced we had slipped them drugs, though in firm agreement that that Michael J. Fox was a very nice-looking young man.

The second film was The Fugitive. My cousin Jason was in town and The Fugitive TV series was one of my grandfather’s favorites. I remember him being very excited and enjoying the show, at least until a tornado shut down the movie and forced us all to take shelter for an hour or so. We finished the movie, but half of us were asleep by the time the credits rolled.

Our final trip to the theater was in 1996 (I think). It was my first summer working at the Campbell 16 theater, my go-to summer job in high school, and The Island of Dr. Moreau remake, starring Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando, had just come out. Because Pop enjoyed the original story and 1977 version starring Burt Lancaster (and because I was very much of a mind to show off my employee comp tickets whenever possible) I took him to see it. What a horrible mistake. The film would have been abhorrent even without the bizzare costumes and that rave scene with animal-people rutting all over the screen. I’m sure Pop had no idea what he was watching, or at least had the decency to not act appalled, and for that I am thankful. He thanked me for the tickets and never asked me to go see another movie. To my knowledge it was the last movie he ever went to see in a theater, though I could easily be wrong. With girlfriends and college on my doorstep (and our all-too-infrequent outings soon to be dominated by baseball games at Price Cutter Park, and then Hammons Field), I have certainly never seen another one with him.

Our lack of time spent in a dark movie theater feels appropriate, though. My relationship with my grandfather has been one I’ll remember for light. I’ll remember hot summer days at the lake, crisp spring afternoons at the ballpark, warm summer evenings in his garden, and bright mornings at Ozark City Hall when I was a boy (those mornings smelled of coffee and, when he would walk me around the garage where they parked the city’s fire trucks, diesel fuel). The light is figurative, as well: My grandfather baptized me. He performed my wedding ceremony. He prayed over a good majority of my holiday meals and is the guiding light in our family, the one person who everyone rallies around and looks to when times are less than perfect. His light is no less bright in the lives of the thousands of students, servicemen, parishioners and city patrons he has served in his multitude of careers.

This trip down memory lane is bittersweet, and necessary. I choose entertainment for this particular bit of navel-gazing because it has become my currency on this blog, for better or worse. It’s a language to speak. As many of you who love him well already know, Pop is in inpatient Hospice at St. John’s. He fell on Thursday in his apartment in Ozark and was admitted to the hospital for a not particularly serious-seeming gash on his forehead. He was walking and talking, if a bit loopy, on Friday. And on Saturday he never woke up.

Doctors tell us the bleeding and swelling and other complications from the fall are simply too much for a Parkinson’s-ridden 89-year-old man to overcome. He is being kept comfortable with family by his side at all hours, and we stand ready to be with him in his final moments, if at all possible, whenever they may come.

While you’re always prepared for something like this when someone is as old and frail as Pop, the suddenness of this injury has been surprising, and I haven’t quite figured out my feelings about what is going on. That time will come.. My mother, who has been his main caretaker for much of the last four years, is foremost in my thoughts right now, though everyone has a special connection with him. I am grateful for my own memories, the time I have been able to spend with him living so close (I grew up across the street). I am happy he was able to meet his great-granddaughter, who I’ m sure he would have one day addressed as “Sally.” I am enjoying flipping back through those mental files, even if I am not enjoying the current. hopefully brief, limbo before all of Ozark (and beyond) can help us celebrate.

This is not a unique story. Everyone loses family members. If they’re lucky, they lose grandparents that we all love as much as I love Pop. I will have more to say about him, but this bit of sharing just sort of spilled out tonight. Into the light.

ML

Categories: Movies, Navel Gazing

Writer’s Block, Sleeping on Planes, Sleeting on Panes and Sour Straws

January 12, 2012 Leave a comment

This daily writing thing isn’t going as well as I’d hoped it would. A combination of the lack of a computer, a busy schedule and the simple fact that I do not sit down until 8 p.m. at night have combined to keep me from getting this ball rolling, other than a couple of Lost reviews (with a couple more in the cannon, don’t you worry).

In previous attempts, I would be discouraged. Not this time. This time is different. That’s because, if I don’t have anything overwhelmingly amazing to say… I’m going to say something uninteresting. That’s why I started a blog and not, say, a half hour television broadcast. Well, that and the fact that I tend to make fun of all local TV personalities and I am not, if anything, a hypocrite.

• The fan Nichole and I keep in our room to drown out the noise from Division Street threw craps a couple of weeks ago, and since then we’ve been sleeping with a white noise app on the iPhone. Does anyone else use this? I wake up in the middle of the night and I truly think I’m on a plane. The only difference is it’s easier to get to the bathroom and the stewardess who comes by the bet with peanuts every half hour is way nicer than your average Delta hag.

• It snowed today in Springfield, which means that nothing else happened. The official policy at the Community Foundation is that we don’t close the office unless Missouri State University cancels classes, which means I might get a snow day once every two or three years. And that’s fine. By the time you’re 32 years old, you really should be beyond pining for days off work anyway… unless you work in education. Then the only thing worse than a treacherous drive to work is a day at work with a bunch of kids complaining that school wasn’t canceled. It’s the Circle of Annoying Life.

• If the entire world were made up of dark chocolate and Sour Straws (preferably the strawberry kind, but sour apple are okay, too), I would be a very happy diabetic man.

• I forgot to mail my aunt’s birthday card (her birthday was Jan. 2) and I just found the envelope in my car after swearing up and down I had mailed it. If you’re reading this, Aunt Amy (and you’re not), I apologize. Cards are big, big deal in my family, a tradition that my wife doesn’t understand and I haven’t done a very good job to carry on. I’m particularly useless when it comes to mailing them. Just be warned, in case you ever join my family.

• Nichole and I finished Season 3 of Mad Men today. Holy crap. Aside from a couple runs of Lost and perhaps mid-Season 5 of 24, it’s the best three-episode arc of a television series I’ve ever seen.

• I get to go to Reeds Spring and Bradleyville tomorrow, then come home for a long weekend. Who needs snow days?

 

Categories: General, Navel Gazing

Not Looking Back

January 2, 2012 1 comment

The first (and last) time I posted here it was August 2. I wish I could say this was a world-altering post five months in the making. It is not. But the time for regrets is over. There’s no time like the present.

So, refer to the previous post for my reasons for wanting to begin this project, and please keep a few things in mind:

1. My friend Jeff (who is still blogging daily) has since moved back. I will let him tell you why and how here, but suffice it to say, from a selfish perspective, I am okay with it.

2. The design of this blog sucketh mightily, and I’ll slowly add features (featurettes?). It’s a work in progress. I don’t even have an avatar, which is distressing. But the writing’s the thing.

3. The Beer and a Jog project lasted two months, at which point the time strains of Nichole returning to work (seriously… our evenings feel like they last a whole 20 minutes) and the burden of paying for the beer conspired to sink the ship. Unfortunately, the running ended shortly thereafter.

3. This blog will serve, for the next few months, as a landing page of sorts for the English 251 class at Drury University, so if anything seems odd, that’s why. I’ve taught the class on two other occasions, though this will be my first go-round without having the benefit of 417 Magazine as an employer (and thus an online publication/internship carrot dangling to keep students buying in). But it has also inspired me to switch up the curriculum a bit, which could be a very good thing. We shall see.

I’ll try to keep this page interesting and relevant and as focused as humanly possible. Expect observations, pop-culture critique (a Lost re-re-re-watch is slated to begin tonight) and sports commentary. Anyone with a fondness for Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Cardinals baseball or classic movies may be particularly interested.

After the cut: 10 quick resolutions. Read more…

Categories: General, Navel Gazing

One more time for old time’s sake

After careful self-examination over the last month, I have come to a few conclusions:

1. I miss writing. Not necessarily for a living, but the act of putting thoughts to keyboard and publishing… yeah, I miss that.

2. I am awesome at starting blogs, but terrible at growing them (my wife has the same issue with ferns).

3. I do not have testicular cancer.

Two of these things are pertinent for you, my soon-to-be-faithful-reader-if-I-don’t-leave-you-hanging. I have the writing itch and have decided to start this here WordPress blog to keep it in a decent state of scratched-ness (or at least doused in a layer of calamine lotion). “But Matt,” you might say, “what about the Blogger blog? Or the Tumblr blog?”

To that I say: “The Blogger site was, like, another lifetime ago, and I really didn’t like Tumblr (I may be hip, but I’m not a hipster). Besides, third time’s a charm, amirite? This is a new blog, a new me (more on that in a sec) and a new mission.

What is that mission? To write … something … every day for the next year. Oh yeah.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t inspired, at least in part, by my Brother From Another WordPress Mother (and, not incidentally, good friend), Jeff Houghton. He’s blogging his quest for fortune and glory in Hollywood at TheMysteryYear.wordpress.com. If you like stranger-in-a-strange-land-style chronicles (with more Starbucks and less androgyny), you’ll eat it up.

Not that I’m doing anything so singularly dramatic as Mystery Jeff. Not by a long shot. But I do feel that this is my most recent best chance to become the writer I want to be. You see, I recently changed jobs. For the previous six years (nine, if you want to get really technical) I was something of a creative type for 417 Magazine. First I edited GO Magazine, and when that succumbed to the great economic meltdown of 2009, I served as digital director, which consisted of herding the various non-print cats (tigers, really) for the company and—you guessed it—blogging. You can guess why I didn’t rush home to fire up yet another CMS and further share my thoughts. You have to have SOMETHING left over for Twitter (which, by the way, you can find me there, too).

To make a long story short (too late), I switched jobs on July 1. It was the right move at the right time. I am now the communications specialist for the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, which is essentially a philanthropic bank for non-profits and for donors to do their charitable giving. I do write press releases, but I also work the website and have taken on various other projects. CFO is a fantastic place to work; I’m busy but the pace and workload feel measured. The people are great. It’s in the heart of Springfield. It’s six blocks from my house.

Logically, it seemed like a good time to take a look at a few of the other aspects of my life that I felt needed some work and see about whipping those into shape, too. Admittedly, they were relatively few. I have the best wife in the world, Nichole, and in April we had our Harriet, who is absolutely my sun and stars; I’m sure you can expect thrice-weekly fatherhood posts… or maybe just a big list of fatherhood questions.

That left two pillars: Fitness and writing. So, on July 1, the same day I started my new job, I started a hare-brained endeavor to run at least one mile every day for a year. Sound like a drag? Well, it comes with a reward of drinking at least one beer every day for a year. Thirty-one days later, so far so good. I’m running between 1.5 and 3 miles daily (though it’s mostly on a treadmill since the Midwest decided to turn in to Morocco for the duration of the summer), lifting weights two or three times a week, and drinking at least one delicious, delicious beer. It has kept the pounds from slipping off as quickly as I’d like, but I have my leg muscles back. Most importantly, I haven’t felt this good since I finished the marathon in fall ’07. (Check that: I haven’t felt this good since right before I started the marathon in fall ’07). The jury is still out on whether my knees and/or beer budget can hold up to the strain, but I’m optimistic. Most importantly I’m getting in some good habits so I can be there for my family down the road. That’s one of the odd things about becoming a parent; the timeline for EVERYTHING you do expands exponentially the minute that little diaper-pooper shows up. I’m not working/saving/living for the next two years, I’m working/saving/living for the next 20, and not really even for myself. But still kinda.

This post is already far too long, so I’ll wrap it up. The running thing got me thinking: If I can run and guzzle a brew every day for a year, why not write? But then I thought again: Because writing is WAY harder than loping along on a treadmill or cracking open a beer. But it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to. Not for vanity—though very few people write without looking for some sort of validation in it—but because it’s an itch that needs to be scratched.

Categories: General, Navel Gazing