On reading

So many books, so little time

Stephen King reads more than 80 books a year. I thought I was ahead of the game attempting to read 50 books a year. Since I started keeping track:

2010 – 10 books (It was a bad year in many ways) (9 fiction, 1 non-fiction)
2011 – 32 (14 fiction, 18 non-fiction)
2012 – 33 (24 fiction, 9 non-fiction)
2013 – 37 (24 fiction, 13 non-fiction).

I felt rather chastised after reading King’s book On Writing because he is reading all the time (even waiting in line at the post office, etc). His advice is basically that writers must immerse themselves in books in order to improve writing skills. I agree with this. And as I am writing fiction, I feel like I haven’t been reading enough fiction.

This year I decided to read more fiction, and I started the early months off wonderfully. I read 11 books by the first week in February. But I am not Stephen King, and there was a backlash…repercussions. Since that first week in February I have been reading strictly non-fiction (except for some of the blogs I keep up with). I went far too long without getting my dose of reality. My interests are far too varied to keep my nose buried in novels when there is so much I have to learn and know about everything.

And as far as the 50 books/year goes, well – I will keep that goal, just so that I am constantly moving forward and improving myself. And even though I feel bad sometimes that I haven’t made that goal yet, I don’t think that is a bad thing, considering that I don’t take into account the thousands of words of news I read daily, or my subscriptions to The Economist, YES!, Wired, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Entertainment Weekly, Family Handyman, Mother Jones, Urban Farm, Grit, Reason, and a couple of others I may have missed, plus my local newspaper. Yeah, I feel satisfied that I read the equivalent of at least 100 books a year, if not more.

So maybe I’m not learning as much about how fiction writers write fiction. But I’m sure that my varied interests and all of my learning will somehow reveal themselves in my own fiction, and even though my books may not become NYT bestsellers (although there’s always a chance), at least they will be unique, different, and mine. Stephen King* can read all the fiction he wants, I just can’t do it.

471px-Stephen_King,_Comicon*Before anyone gets the wrong idea, King is one of my all time great idols. And I only have a few all time great idols. He is a hero to me. It is because of my respect for him that his statement in the book bothered me enough that I had to write about it and justify, if only for myself, why I don’t follow in his footsteps in this area.


“It is what it is” and the meaning of life.

I was tired, so I sent my shadow to take this picture.

Janelle and I have a difference of opinion about the meaning and implications of the phrase “it is what it is”. The interesting thing is, we’re both right – it’s all about perspective and experience.


In Janelle’s experience, this phrase has been used as resignation, and many times as an excuse NOT to change. She has heard the phrase used in this manner so often that she is sick of hearing it.

I can easily see why you’d get tired of the expression if someone were using it like:

Well, you may not like how I’m acting, but it is what it is.


Nobody likes being mugged at gunpoint, but I need some heroin, so I’m really sorry, but it is what it is.

Reality Check

For me, the phrase is actually an inspiring reality check, and the reason is that I had a job for five years with a boss that I really admired, and he used this often, and in this way.

So we’re five people short at work, and we have to get 26 flights loaded on eleven different ramps, and keep them all guarded. It is what it is. Let’s get moving.

Basically, in my interpretation of the phrase, we are saying. This is reality, we can’t change reality, and we can’t change the situation – but we can change ourselves and challenge ourselves, and figure out a way to get this job done.


I like my perspective on this commonly used phrase much better than I like her perspective. This should be very surprising to exactly zero people.

Janelle still hates when I use the phrase, but like I tell her, it is what it is.

If you don’t care, I don’t care: The art of being.

young-woman-bored-11281332030yRqtRecently, I was at a conference and I heard a lecture. The who, what, when, where, and why don’t really matter.

What matter is the how.

One of the presenters simply read her paper as a presentation. Now, I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this was a last-minute thing, maybe something changed, maybe she was told to do it that way. None of that alleviated my boredom. I was restless, begging for the clock to hurry up, and hoping for some kind of distraction like the fire alarm, so that I could graciously sneak out and find another lecture that would wake me back up.

Sadly, I cared about her topic. It had meaning to me. But I don’t go to lectures to hear the paper read to me. It would be much faster to just hand everyone a printed document and send us on our way. When I hear a speaker, I want to hear passion about the subject. She could have stumbled around with her words, poorly tried to make her point, but if could hear in her voice how much this meant to her, I would have appreciated it much more, and quite possibly learned something. I was looking to be entertained.

Traditionally, when we use the word entertain, we are talking about TV, or a live show, possibly a comedian. I now use the word in a stricter sense. You can entertain a thought. When you have guests at your house whom you feed and have conversation with, you are entertaining them. You don’t have to have a song and dance prepared for the occasion – you just have to occupy their minds with something that will keep them paying attention. Every interaction is entertainment, for good or ill.

People pay attention to other people, not so much to subjects. That’s how we begin to really like TV shows. We’re hooked by an interesting subject at first, but soon we don’t really care about the subject anymore, because we “fall in love” with the characters on the show. If the Fringe crew were to somehow come back as regular police investigating everyday crime, some people may complain just to complain, but they would get the same following that they had investigating Fringe events – because we’re paying attention to the characters, and their lives, and their interactions with each other.

This works the same way in real life. If you care about your subject, I’m interested in what you have to say, whether you are talking about quantum physics, ghosts, knitting, or carpentry. If you don’t care about your subject, you could be talking about everything that I have on my “list of interests”, and I still won’t be able to pay attention very long, because if you don’t care, I just don’t care. I want to know about you. Your passions, interests, hopes, dreams, plans, goals, thoughts, and more.

But if I ask you about these, and you pull out your bio and start reading it to me, I’m leaving.

40th Birthday Post #2: On My Birthday and Hobbits and Birthday Advice Boxes

I love birthdays, I really do. The idea of celebrating a person once a year is great. It never had to be on a certain day, but celebrating the “change of age” is as good an excuse as any.

I really do the like way that Tolkien decided that the Hobbits would celebrate birthdays though. The way the celebrated buys gifts for the celebrators. The way they had huge parties, and the parties were about everyone. Perhaps I only like this because it would mean that I get to go to more parties, all year long, and I would get more gifts, too. But I don’t think so.

I think I would love to give gifts to the people in my life on this day next year. Tell everyone not to get me anything, just come to my party, relax, enjoy the day. We’ll play games outside, or cards inside if it’s too cold. We’ll talk about old times, and talk about recent times. We’ll look for connections between people.

Instead of birthday cards, I want an advice box. I want 200 people at my party, and I want them to take an index card and a pen, and put it in their pocket, and keep it there all day and night, and think about the best advice they could possibly give me – I want to know what they learned from life, and I want them to think about it and then write as much as they can write on an index card (I’ll buy the big ones, you know, the GIANT index cards that look kinda ridiculous after you’re used to the normal ones) – and I want them to put the card in the box before they leave.

I want it not for me, but for them. One of the greatest gifts I can give someone is to know that when they have something important that they want to share, they have an audience. When people have an audience that cares, they usually think harder and write more wisely. I think this would help everyone, at least for a little while, value themselves more.

That’s what I wanna give you for my birthday, next year.

Wanna come to my 41st B-Day Party?

My Life in Jobs (you might live longer…)

“You might live longer, but you won’t outlive me.”

-Doug Stone

Society has been telling me for years that I need to have one, solid 40 hour a week job. Something that will provide for now, and for retirement. This is the same society that has been telling me that I can do anything I want to do, and be anything I want to be. I have rejected the first advice, and accepted the second. I imagine that no matter what happens, or how much money I have, I’m not going to retire, I’ll just work ‘til I’m gone.

I don’t mind writing for no personal credit, I don’t mind working on projects which put me in the background. I am living my life right now. I can’t see the advantage of waiting until I retire to travel the world and enjoy life. And what have I sacrificed? Just stuff, stuff that I don’t really need anyways. I could work my ass off, buy a $300,000 home that I cannot enjoy because I am not going to be spending any time there until retirement, or an amazing car that I just drive to work. These (and more) would be just social status icons that I wouldn’t really appreciate anyways.

I’m making my way doing more than simply existing. I still work, make enough money for my style. And I work on the beach. Or in my backyard. Or in another country. I do it anywhere. Anytime. While I travel, while I take care of things at home.  My house is full of guitars, keyboards, computers, books, cameras, paintings, things that keep me thinking in terms of creativity.

Don’t get caught in the American Dream. It’s a nightmare. Find what you love to do, and do it.

Here are the things that I have loved and hated until I got where I am today:

Mobile Mower Mender (Erie, PA) – Working at my dad’s business learning how to repair small engines and deal with customers.

Unnamed Rental Agency (Erie, PA)

McDonald’s (Erie, PA)- The one on Peninsula. Probably did this for about three months. I got chastised for dropping a bun. Never went back. Never looked back.

Giant Eagle (Erie, PA) – another short term. and my first union job.

Bello’s Food Mart (Erie, PA) – On West 8th. I got fired over a misunderstanding about paying for a can of soda before I drink it.

Festival Foods (Erie, PA) – The old Super Duper building. About 6 months?? I liked the job, but one of my friend’s wanted to go hang out one night, so he called in for me. He called in quit, not sick.

Cooper’s Kart and Engine (Erie, PA) – The old GoKart track where Lowes now stands on Asbury Rd.

Players (Erie, PA) – Barback

Lynch Music (Fairview, PA) – Started teaching piano when I was 19.

Fairview Hardware (Fairview, PA) – Mower repair, parts desk

Coyote Joe – My first professional band

Gerlach’s Garden Center (Erie, PA) – Mower repair, parts desk.

Sun TV (Erie, PA) – Where Best Buy is now on Peach

Sierra Rose – my next professional band

Rolling Fields Church (Jeffersonville, Indiana) – Worship Band Leader

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY) – Film Crew, temp job

Bigfoot Gas Station (Jeffersonville, IN. Sellersburg, IN. Georgetown, IN) – Station Attendant

GE (Louisville, KY) – Administrative/Data Entry

Maryhurst (Louisville, KY) – Youth Counselor

Bales Motor Co. (Jeffersonville, IN) – Car Sales, when I realized I was no good at this, Service Writer’s assistant (which I subsequently learned was ALSO a sales job)

Skip Jacks – (A seafood restaurant)

State Street Baptist Church (New Albany, IN) Worship Leader

UPS (Louisville, KY) – Load Crew

The Capital News (Corydon, IN) – Investigative Reporter

Contractor Assistant (Jeffersonville, IN)

Fort Knox (Fort Knox, KY) – Computer Operator, project

Dunbar Armored/Dunbar Global Logistics (Louisville, KY) – Driver/Guard, Dispatcher, Crew Chief. Quit when I moved to Erie.

Freelance Piano Teacher (Louisville, KY)

Street Team

Magician (Louisville, KY & Erie, PA & other places)

Tutor (Jeffersonville, IN & Erie, PA) – Tutoring college students

Unnamed Rental Agency (Erie, PA)

Website Designer (Louisville, KY & Erie, PA)

Small Town Revolution – Band

The Fox and Hound (Erie, PA) – Janitor, Food Prep

Freelance Writer

Various Online Endeavors.

So there is my list. 37 Jobs in 39 years. (Started my first job at 16, so actually 37 jobs in 23 years.) This is not a résumé. In fact, I will never create a résumé again. Our society would say that this is irresponsible. But it’s made me who I am today. I believe that listing everything I’ve learned at these jobs is worthy information to fill a few books.

Cool Runnings,