Kids, cats, and what the crap?


A while back, I found some soaking wet socks in my son's bathroom. A few days later, I found six soaking wet socks hidden in his bedroom. I asked him what was going on. "I had a dream once about a monster attacking people. I've been showering in my socks so that I can throw them at him to chase him off." Of course, my response to this was, "Son, you are ruining your socks because of an imaginary situation that is never going to happen." At least, that was what I said out loud. In my mind, I was thinking How can I possibly incorporate this into my next book?

On any given day, my cat goes also-freaking-lutely insane. For no apparent reason, she will run sprints all throughout the house. She seems to be attacking bugs that no one else can see. She howls late at night at nothing. She figures out precisely where you intend to sit and decides that is the very place that she intends to nap. I suppose that it shouldn't surprise me that my son loves the cat almost to the point of obsession.

The thing about both of these individuals, my son and the cat, is that they live a lot of their lives in their own imaginations. It's something that can make each day very difficult for those around them as people that don't live in their worlds try to figure out what is going on. However, for my son and the cat, it is a perfectly equitable arrangement, and why shouldn't it be? They might live in their own worlds, but everyone there knows them. The imagination is where they find peace, joy, excitement, and whatever else they are seeking at the moment. Who should deny that?

The truth is that I tend to benefit from it as well. Of course I work to make certain that my son can interact and function in the world. That is my job as his father. However, he as well as the cat, remind me how to make use of my own imagination. They help remind me how to find some of the more simple joys in life that cannot be discovered on a television screen or computer monitor. As a teacher, he reminds me of the youth that I interact with daily, even if that youth left me (chronologically) a while ago. As a writer, he brings me to a place in my imagination that helps me to create the universes needed for a good story to be told.

If you are a writer, or someone that just needs a smile, consider things from the point of view of a child, or even look at the world as a cat. If neither are an option, then think of the last time that you wanted to say, "What the crap was that?" You would be amazed at the direction that this can lead you in.

No Valentines gift, and I survived!


Today is Valentines Day. A day when many are enjoying expressions of the love of their significant other, or they are expressing their feeling for someone that they have long desired. Of course, there are also those that dread this day and see it as nothing more than a reminder that they are single. Most amusing among these people are the husbands that have failed to buy a Valentines Day gift for their wife. I remember watching a sitcom back in the 90's where men were fighting tooth and nail to get their hands on the last card and box of chocolates in the store. It was pretty funny. Well, I have a confession to make. I haven't bought a Valentines Gift for my wife in several year. I'm still alive and still married. Imagine that! Now don't misunderstand me. I have always been big on Valentines Day. I used to get roses or other flowers for all of my female friends in high school because I didn't think that any lady should be without a flower on Valentines Day. Yes, I gave my girlfriend more than I gave my friends. I tried to be creative every Valentines. This continued into my marriage. I was always trying to come up with something unforgettable each year. It started to become a rather expensive and stressful endeavor, especially since my wife felt the need to try and match my creativity. Then one year, and I don't quite remember when that was, we both started asking ourselves, "Why?"

It would be easy to start thinking that the romance has gone out of my marriage. After all, I have been married now for over fifteen years, we are parents, both of us work full time, and Netflix and chill for us actually means that we watch Netflix and relax. Add in the fact that we don't get each other Valentine's Day gifts and it's easy to think that we are just going through the motions. However, you have to take a look at the other 364 days in the year to see that this isn't true. I never miss the chance to tell her that I love her. We snuggle together on the couch every night. We are constantly holding hands. One of the reasons that we have stopped getting each other gifts (we often do not give Christmas gifts to each other either) is so that we can save money to go on trips as a family and have fun together in new ways. I can honestly say that I haven't missed the Valentine's gifts. I recognize the love that is there for me every day.

Now, if you happen to be someone that enjoys Valentine's Day, be my guest. I'm not trying to rain on your parade. Have a great time. However, if you chose not to give a gift this year, make certain that you have expressed your love every other day this year. What better Valentine's gift could anyone ever hope to get?

Challenges: Blessings and Curses


A character from one of my favorite shows once said, "We've done the impossible, and that makes us mighty!" Some of the most enjoyable stories and movies that we ever experience deal with a character that is overcoming major challenges. There is something uplifting about cheering on the underdog. Maybe it gives us a feeling of accomplishment to see that someone else can achieve what seems impossible. Of course, cheering on the underdog and being the underdog are two very different things. Do you get that feeling of accomplishment when you are the one having to face the challenges, or do you get a feeling of dread at what might happen if you can't overcome the odds? Most of my writing centers around fish-out-of-water, underutilized and disrespected characters. The usually don't recognize their own potential until they reach some new height, be it on purpose or on accident. Either way, the achieve what would have seemed impossible just a chapter before. I actually smile as I write, revise, or re-read some of those characters accomplishments. It can provide a sense of divine justice. The person most deserving receives the rewards. How can you not love that?

Of course, reality is a lot different from fiction. Many of us face challenges every day. Maybe it is a child whose behavior is slow to change. Maybe it is a job that is trying your patience. Maybe it is the difficulty of getting your finances in order. Maybe it is something as simple as the weather not cooperating with what you have planned. These are usually the challenges that don't make it into books, movies, or television shows. For all of the obsession that people have with reality television, it rarely deals with true reality. When was the last time that there was a show that followed one of its characters for two hours while they tried to figure out why their checkbook won't balance? How about an episode that centers on trying to figure out how you are going to get supper cooked, your child tucked in, your take-home work finished, and still have time to watch the show that you have been waiting all week for? Even Seinfeld, the show that famously claimed to be about nothing, never focused on the every day challenges that most people face. Why not?

My theory as to why we don't see shows, movies, or books that deal with these everyday challenges is because we all already have to. These challenges can stretch us to our limits. We don't want to see them again because we will either be reminded of how difficult it had been to take care of, or we will see a different approach that we had not considered and be angry because it is too late to change it. This is one of the reasons that I don't watch reality television. I watch television to get away from reality. I'm sure that most people would agree that they read or watch television and movies to try and forget about the challenges that they feel may have cursed their days.

Of course, in the end, are these daily challenges really curses or blessings in disguise? Well, I would venture to say that they are both. The challenges stretch us to our limits physically, mentally, and emotionally. It's easy to see that as a curse. However, they also keep us moving forward in our lives, accomplishing the tasks necessary to be the people that we need to be for those that depend on us. That makes them a blessing in disguise. Of course, that disguise is so well done, that we hardly ever see it. That is why we seek out the underdog stories. They motivate us to keep pushing forward in the hopes that we, too, will do the impossible. So, you keep pushing your way through that daily grind (as will I), and I'll try to help provide that underdog motivation to keep us going. I figure that combining those two things will go a long way towards making us mighty!

Remember What is Important


I had the pleasure of getting to be there when my best friends became parents recently. I have watched over the last few days as the things that they think are important have changed. It is a great lesson in life as well as a great lesson for writing. Watch my vlog to see why.[youtube]

For Thanksgiving, dont just ask what, ask how.

It is the holiday season, and it is a common practice to list all of the things that we are thankful for. I have many Facebook friends that list something that they are thankful for every day for the entire month of November. This is a great exercise in making certain that you are aware of the world around you and the blessings that you receive regularly. As great as this is, I wonder if we get the most out of listing the things that we are thankful for. Maybe we shouldn't be worried about what we are thankful for, but instead ask how we should express that thanks.That is not only a greater challenge, but also one that might impact more people and help you as well. It was once said that nearly any man can withstand adversity. To truly see a man's character, give him power. That thought occurs to me when I read the list of things that people are thankful for. It oftentimes shows what has helped them to get through troubles in their lives. Don't misunderstand me. I understand how difficult adversity can be, and it can test you in ways that you never expected. However, if you are making a list of things that you are thankful for, you are probably past that difficult time or able to deal with it. Now that you are past it, how will you use the "power" of being past a tough time? What type of character will you show when realizing that you are thankful for something or someone that helped get you through tough times? I am asking myself this question, so don't think that I am on the other side of the river and expecting you to cross the same bridge that I did. The most obvious idea is to be for someone else the inspiration that someone else was for you. If you are thankful that someone was there to help you through a tough time or to inspire you to get somewhere that you are, do the same for someone else. If you are thankful for the position that you have achieved in life, why not mentor someone to reach the same position. If you are thankful for your family, let them know that every day, even on the days that they may frustrate you. Be a model. Be an inspiration. Be the person that someone else might be thankful for. It is a great thing for us to look at what we have and where we are and recognize those things that we should be thankful for but sometimes overlook. It would be great if we could do that more often. However, what we do with that knowledge can make a big difference not just for us, but also others in this world. Let's not just think of what we are thankful for,, but also how we can be thankful for it. Happy Thanksgiving!

Balancing a career and writing


This week I was working on grading some papers when I remembered how challenging it can be to juggle a career that you love and are passionate about as well as writing, which you also love and are passionate about (throw in a family that you love and are passionate about and you start demanding more hours in the day!) So how does one balance these things? How do you make it work out? I can't claim to have all of the answers, but I can point out a thing or two that might help you a bit in this week's vlog.[youtube]

A Tough Day Parenting

As I have stated in the past, I do not write poetry. At least, not on purpose. On occasions I'll jot some things onto paper if it has been an interesting day or two (a term which has many definitions!) This is something I jotted into my phone a couple of days ago. A Tough Day Parenting

My life centers around you.

You are my world now and forever.

Protect. Love. Teach. Guide.

Tricks. Lies. Distrust

Twist a knife in my heart.


Send to bed with anger.


Say I love you because I do no matter what.

Still hurts.

Hurts us both.

Return to tuck you in after you're asleep.

Demand better tomorrow

From both of us.





Family is a great source of influence in writing

I will preface this by saying that I am not a poet. I have read some wonderful poetry in my day, and none of it was written by me! I accept that limitation without complaint. However, there are times when you feel the need to express something, and you do so however you can, even if it is not in your area of strength. Such was the case several years ago when it was the anniversary of my grandfather's passing. Family can be a great source of stories, but it can be a great source of pure inspiration as well. PawPaw

He would not have read this poem

Even if he were still here.

Poetry was not his style.

He would have put it on that table next to his chair

But still talk about it with that crooked smile.

I tried to tell him in my own ways.

I think that he still truly understood.

There had been so many things

Some others couldn't forgive him for,

But all his grandson saw was good.

He knew how much that day meant

When we drove around for hours

And how his opinion was everything,

But was he speaking the day we laid him down

When there was thunder but no showers?

My son shares your name now, PawPaw,

But he doesn't have your crooked smile.

That is something that you gave to me.

I will place this next to your stone,

But you don't have to read it.

I still know you love it. That was your style.


Family stories...still making me smile

As I mentioned in a previous blog, family stories can be a treasure trove of inspiration for stories to write. It can also be a great source of characters, jokes, and memorable lines. Outside of writing, they can also be a source of personal inspiration or laughter, both of which are things that we all need. One of my biggest sources of inspiration and laughter is my son, Joe. He has such a unique way of looking at the world, can be so matter-of-fact, and is so unpredictable that you cannot know him without learning things from him. Here are a few brief glimpses at stories that can only come from a child. Joe showed me an assignment that he had completed at school. It contained sentences that had to be completed by the students. One of the sentences caught my eye. The sentence was "Sometimes I feel ______." Joe filled in the blank with the word "small." As a parent, reading this bothered me.

"Joe, what do you mean that sometimes you feel small."

Joe gave me 'the look.' He has this incredible ability to look at you as if he is asking why you don't already know. "Daddy," he replied in the accompanying know-everything voice, "it's a big world." At least he didn't add the word "duh" to the end of his sentence. I stopped being bothered.

Joe also has a remarkable way of being able to entertain himself. When he was about three or four years old, he went to visit his grandparents in another state. I picked him and my wife up at the airport and started driving them home. Partway home, it occurred to me that my poor son had been stuck in his car seat for untold hours and was probably bored out of his mind. I thought I would strike up a conversation and maybe sing a song with him to brighten things up. I glanced in the mirror to begin that conversation, but realized I was too late. He had begun a conversation of his own. He held both of his hands up like puppets, and he had them talking to each other.

"You talk a lot," stated Character 1.

"Yes I do," replied Character 2.

"You talk a lot," said Character 1 more strenuously.

"Yes I do," replied Character 2 in the same calm voice.

"You talk a lot!" Character 1 shouted.

"Yes I do," Character 2 continued in the same calm voice once again.

This exact conversation continued for ten minutes down the interstate while my wife and I listened in amused confusion. Later that day, I walked up to Joe, made my hand into a puppet, and said, "Hey Joe! You talk a lot!" He looked at me like I had lost my mind. I just nodded and walked away.

This all just barely scratches the surface of the wonder of my child...or any child, to be honest. So what stories make you smile?

family portrait

Family stories...such a gold mine!

A few years before she passed away, my grandmother came up to me and, in a very serious voice, asked, "Chris, are you telling your students stories about me?" I wasn't about to lie to my grandmother, so I admitted, "Yes, Memaw, I am."

Bouncing a little bit like an excited child, she replied, "Good! As long as someone's talking about me!"

My family, like everyone else's, is a treasure trove of amusing stories. Telling these stories not only brings laughter and smiles, but help keep the memories alive of those not with us anymore, and even those that still are. I always tell these stories out of respect, because my family has a sense of humor, especially about themselves. I'm going to share my favorite example with you:

Many years ago, my parents, grandparents, sister, and I went camping at a nearby state park. It was getting late into the afternoon when my grandmother (we called her Memaw) approached me and my sister. "Hey, kids, do you want to go into town and get supper with me?"

My sister and I knew exactly where she was going: Wendy's. She was obsessed with Wendy's. I like the place, but I mean that Memaw was truly obsessed. She wrote a "Thank You" letter to Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's, for creating the 99 cent value menu! Of course, our other option was to let my father cook supper. He wasn't bad, but when he tried to use the table-top grill to cook lunch that day, he nearly caught the woods on fire. In the interest of public safety, we agreed and hopped in the car to go to Wendy's with Memaw.

There was a routine to going out to eat with Memaw. When you went through the drive-thru, you were allowed to order anything you wanted as long as it was on the value menu. I ordered a junior bacon cheeseburger, biggie fries, and biggie drink (this was a long time ago when those were still on the value menu!). My sister ordered the same thing. My grandmother ordered the same thing plus an order of chili, chips, and cheese. We pulled around to the window to receive our order and thanked Memaw for the food.

I should have known that things were going to be weird when Memaw started checking her rearview mirror. When she confirmed that there was no one behind her, she shut off her engine and proceeded to get out her food...still sitting in front of the drive-thru window. My sister and I looked at each other in horror. Surely, she didn't intend to eat here at the window? It got worse, because the first thing that she pulled out of the bag to eat was the chili, chips, and cheese. Chili, chips, and cheese was exactly what it sounded like, but the drive-thru orders came in a plastic box. Because of this, there was always melted cheese stuck to the clear plastic container, and my grandmother wasn't about to let this go to waste. As we stared on in disbelief, Memaw began licking the cheese off of the plastic container. The man at the window, who looked like he was about to say something, had to turn away laughing.

My sister was never one to be scared of speaking up. "Memaw, let's go," she pleaded.

Memaw double-checked her rearview mirror. "There's nobody behind me." She punctuated this with slurp, slurp of more cheese off of the container.

I looked into the window and saw employees in the kitchen beginning to look out the window and laugh hysterically. "Seriously, Memaw, you need to pull up," my sister said more insistently.

"I'm not hurting anybody!" Slurp, slurp. I was starting to shrink down lower into the back seat.

At this point I looked into the window and was horrified by what I saw. The people in line to order food inside the restaurant could see the drive-thru window. The were literally falling down laughing and people were crowding the counter to see what was going on. Memaw, oblivious to the idea of embarrassment, continued to slurp the cheese off of the plastic container lid. I could almost hear the voiceover from some wildlife documentary describing the eating habits of Memaws in the wild. "Pull up or I am getting out!" my sister finally shouted.

"Fine!" Memaw replied, frustrated. She started the car, put it in gear, pulled up about ten yards, then stopped the car again and returned to eating. I looked out of the back of the car and saw the Wendy's worker lean out of the drive-thru window to see if we'd left. When he saw our car not ten yards away he started laughing again and closed the window.

I never went back to that Wendy's, just in case they would recognize me.

Smile, Memaw. I'm still talking about you, and I still admire your ability to not let things embarrass you. I think I inherited some of the trait when I walked through the Wendy's drive-thru in college with my girlfriend. Hey, I didn't want to lose my parking space!

family portrait

Featured image courtesy of Joe Slater