Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

20170113_123932We drive under a telephone line that is completely booked by a row of fat pigeons all squinting in unison in the direction of the orange sherbert glow of morning sun.  “Look,” I say out loud in spite of what the rest of the passengers in the vehicle think. “Dawn Patrol.” From what I gather, these greasy little sky-rats  are here every morning, holding a meeting on the same wire.They remind me of their slacker seagull cousins who squat together on the beach, and all face the same direction waiting for that perfect wind, like surfers who wait for that perfect wave. These guys remind me of a story that I started a few years ago. It’s nowhere near finished, but I need to get back to it soon.

My son in the back seat watches the world float by his window while quietly grazing on dry breakfast cereal. We are on our way to pick up his cousin and drop him off at daycare. En route, we notice a child’s flip-flop in the middle of the road. Actually, it would be more accurate to say we noticed the child’s flip-flop because it’s been there for two days. It doesn’t look abused or broken in any way, just abandoned. Forgotten.

I could smell the slightest whiff of a poem about an abandoned shoe as an allegory about society in general gently rolling in like that perfect breeze meant for seagulls. The beginning of a random metaphor started to form in my head that I planned to use at a later date, when I hear, “I wonder why you only ever see one shoe in the road,” my son’s mother said. “It’s never a pair of shoes, it’s only one. I wonder why that is?”

I can feel the Train of Thought pull away from the station. I had to seriously contemplate when was the last time I saw a pair of shoes abandoned and discarded in a place they weren’t supposed to be. I have never seen a pair of Keds on the ground as if they were some victim of some heinous violation cast aside and left to rot in the gutter. I thought about it longer than I would have liked to. It kind of bothered me, truth be told. Because, not only was it another unknown that might be worth at least a few minutes of research for… I dunno… in case I get swept up in bar trivia at the local Chili’s, but counting this scenario, along with the birds taking in a sunrise, and the cereal munching munchkin in the back seat (whom I’ll come back to in a minute), it now looks like I have a few more ideas to build stories around. The last thing I need right now is to add to my growing list of works in progress.

I mean, is there an epidemic of singular shoes dotting the landscape? Do other people notice this? Does the lost shoe feel a sense of detachment and ennui because its favorite sock got eaten by a dryer and now feels lost without it? Is feral footwear common? What about other articles of clothing? How do they feel about it? How often do they get cast aside?

These things are the sugar in my coffee. These are the things that give me a warm fuzziness in my belly because it feels like my obsessive nature has finally been directed into a more positive, and less destructive path. Over the past few years, I have turned into a storytelling savant. I’m constantly asking “what would happen if..?” and among other things, I try very hard to not use zombies as a McGuffin because I ran out of ideas. “At long last, Frank and Carol could now share that kiss in the happy home of their dreams. But they couldn’t because zombies. The end.

Every week, I eagerly await another Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge. Sometimes I play, sometimes I feel a little too out of shape. Other times I collect story prompts like seashells, and of course, there are those moments when something that can’t be easily explained comes charging into my personal space, like say, figuring out why one shoe ends up in the road and not the pair. Instead of defaulting to logic and reason to explain it (which is really boring and smells an awful lot like bullshit), I prefer instead to faceplant directly into the blueberry pie of “Just Make Shit Up” (which might be tedious to the listener, but dagnabbit, it’s not my fault that you ask the most random crap and expect something extremely insightful and intellegent to roll off my tongue.You ask a rhetorical question, you get a left field answer. Deal with it.). I mean, I’m a storyteller. Storytellers…tell stories. How else do you think this works?

I can’t take on other projects. Not right now. My current first draft is nearly complete, and I’ll jump into revising the beast over the course of the next few days. I have several other half started projects right behind this one that need to be finished. These projects are moving slower than I’d like because writing is only taking up a little of my day. When I’m not writing, I’m taking my son to therapy (details, and perhaps the whole point of this post below), and when I’m not doing that, I’m taking care of the family. Which is why it may be dangerous to draw my attention to something that will cater to my obsessiveness like a lonely shoe.

As a Crime Action Drama

Mr. Deveraux could not stop his limbs and extremities from twitching, while Mrs. Deveraux remained the stronger of the two, and opted instead to chew off the skin around her cuticles. Their home has always been a peaceful sanctuary, they’ve fussed over it for years to get it to that point. But this morning was almost too much to process. Melinda had been missing for a little over twelve hours. Since that time, almost an entire squadron of police officers had taken up residence in their once pristine stainless steel kitchen with laptops and various pieces of tracking equipment that they’ve never heard of, and they weren’t entirely sure, but it looked like there were a couple of FBI agents huddled closely in the hallway talking about something, looking grim.

The Lead Investigator’s voice was soothing, almost hypnotic. “We are all going to get through this,” he said. “We are going to get your daughter back. I have called in our finest to track these guys down. Also, once word got out that it might be the Oaxaca cartel, the FBI became very interested. Whoever did this is going to have a very bad day, understand?” Melinda’s parents do their best to acknowledge. “Good, now when that phone rings, I’m gonna need you to remain calm, and act normal.” Mrs. Deveraux laughs an empty laugh, because her normal felt like it has been trodden under by so many police issued boots in her garden full of mums.

When the phone finally did ring, it was as if everyone started breathing again in unison. As if they were allowed. A technician punched in a code into his laptop, and gave a signal to the Lead Investigator. The Lead Investigator donned his headphones, and gave the cue for Mr. Deveraux to lift up the receiver.

“Hello?” The tremble in his voice choked back hard.
“Do you have the money?” The voice at the other end was computer generated. The expressions on the cops faces let the Deveraux’s know that they were dealing with professionals.
“Do you have my daughter?” Mr. Deveraux sneered, “Is she still alive, you son of a bitch?”

The next voice wasn’t computer generated. It was the sound of Melinda, scared, hopeless, weeping, but very much still alive. Mrs. Deveraux clasped her hands over her mouth to stifle whatever might be pushed out of it.

“You have such a pretty child, Mr. Deveraux,” the emotionless voice continued. “Her eyes are quite captivating. It would be such a shame if she were missing one.”
“You bastard!” Mr. Deveraux bellowed. “If one hair is out of place on her head, I swear to God I will…”
“Do you have my money or not, Mr. Deveraux?”

The Lead Investigator nodded silently to Mr. Deveraux. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I have your money.”
“Excellent,” the voice replied. “Now, listen very carefully, this is what I need you to do next. I need you to grab an article of clothing that belongs to Melinda.” The Lead Investigator snapped his fingers at a cadet to whisper something in his ear. When he was finished, the cadet ran upstairs to her room. “I need you to take that piece of clothing and drop it on the corner of 5th and Elm. Walk across the street and when a brown Oldsmobile parks in front of you, get in the back seat.”

The cadet reappears holding a tiny, pink flip-flop. The Lead Investigator holds it up for Mr. Deveraux to see. “I’ll be using one of her flip-flops, will that do?”
“That will suffice,” the voice said.
“Will my daughter be in the car? Where are you taking me?”
“Be ready at 10:30. Bring the money.” The line went dead.

As A Middle-Grade Fantasy Novel

It rained the night before, and when the kids were waiting for the bus the next morning, none of them seemed too worried that the sun  was hidden by the clouds. The lack of sunshine made everything look dull, except for Rebecca’s very pink backpack and Mark’s very yellow rain slicker.

On the other side of the street, in the old lot where the old drug store used to be, there sat a very white sneaker. Shoelaces untied, and sitting upright collecting rain. Rebecca noticed it briefly before her friends started talking about lip gloss. Mark didn’t notice it at all because he doesn’t like talking to too many people. Charlie noticed it right away, and he knew exactly what it meant.

It means the Fog Giants have returned. There was going to be plenty of long nights ahead.

~***~

See, things like this are a bone for me to chew on. It’s things like this that make me remember why I should carry a notebook everywhere I go. It’s things like this that yank my attention away from whatever I’m working on at the moment. So please, for the sake of progress, don’t allow me to occupy my mind with such things. It’s bad enough that I’m reminded about that part of my WIP where a flock of blackbirds sitting on a telephone wire.

It also doesn’t help that I have tied that project to the other thing that we are leaving the house for. Let me get back to that.

Recently, I have posted about my son, and how he wants to talk at length about anything, but he hasn’t developed the skill to form words yet. I have always been of the opinion that he will come around to it, but still, there were other characteristics that were telling us that he might need a little help.

The problem was recognizing that he had a problem to begin with. He’s still two, and he’s still trying to get used to things like eating a proper meal, or sleeping in his own bed, or learning words, or not being so focused on certain things. It was hard to tell if he was being difficult, or if there was something more sinister afoot.

To put our minds at ease, we tested him for hearing and vision, and determined that the best course of action would be to see a speech therapist. After a few months of regular sessions, we have made small breakthroughs and tiny miracles. But, for all the progress we have made in regards to getting him to say the simplest words, it didn’t solve the mystery as to why he still flaps his arms when he gets really excited, or why he prefers to walk on his toes.

To REALLY put our minds at ease, we went back to his pediatrician to finally ask the question we’ve been putting off for too long. Is our son autistic? It only took a few minutes of an unofficial yet very effective method of determining he wasn’t to give us some relief. But with that burden taken away from us, and most importantly, from him, we were still in the dark as to what seems to be affecting him.

It took a less than fruitful session with his speech therapist to have her bring our attention to something called Sensory Processing Disorder. It’s a very real condition that affects mostly children. It often mimics autism, but it isn’t autism. It is a very real condition, and the cruelest aspect of this condition is, it’s not recognized officially as a real condition.

To put it simply, SPD is where the person has a difficult time responding or reacting to whatever stimuli they’re exposed to. Think of trying to process something as simple as walking along a beach. Everything you experience, the feel of the sand between your toes, the smell of the salt air, the sound of surf, all collide at the same time like traffic weaving through a poorly attended intersection at rush hour. Everything is snarled and not going anywhere too soon. Reaction times in the individual with this disorder are slowed, or often times, not present at all. Or in the case of my son, happening all at once to trigger this extremely excitable reaction where he flaps his arms, open his mouth wide like a lead singer of a metal band, and have a vein or two swell up in his neck.

It is a very real condition. Unfortunately, no one in the healthcare community can come to a consensus on how to define it. Look, is it on spectrum, or is it another version of OCD? Figure it out and get back to us.

It is quite cruel.

Fortunately, my son isn’t at that level. He’s quite happy, and he’ll respond to things and look you in the eye and talk to you…the best he can. But he’ll still do it on his own terms.

Because SPD isn’t uniform and has a broad definition, and has the traits of something else without being that something else, and it does different things to different people, there has been no formal diagnosis of this condition. That means doctors can’t officially prescribe anything, let alone talk about it. The only thing they can do is suggest Occupational Therapy.

Which is where we were going to this morning, my son and I. This is where we’ve gone for the past few months.20170114_104609

His speech therapy is touch and go. He’ll either be in the mood to say something or nah. Occupational Therapy, on the other hand, is so… much… COOLER! There’s a ball pit! And big bouncy balls! And a tunnel and more toys! It’s a process of learning through playing…or what we used to call it in my day…playing. Occupational therapy is a welcome supplement to his boring ol’ speech therapy. And I think the biggest takeaway from attending these sessions, is my child has to take the lead as to what he wants to do. It’s up to the adults to go along and work with it. So, it’s a learning process for me too.

So, I suppose I could be one of these concerned parents and talk at length about getting your child screened and look for the warning signs and blahblahblah. “I need you to feel empathy for my baby because reasons!” But, I don’t feel like it, and I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate it either. He’s not sick. He’s normal, he just needs a little boost. And while I could be the loudest crusader to get this condition the recognition it deserves, I really don’t think that’s necessary. It is what it is. It’ll probably stick with him for the rest of his life, but we caught it early enough so he’ll know how to deal with it when he gets older, and that’s all we can do right now. Still though, it would be nice to see him walk normally, talk normally. I love my boy, and I’m happy with my boy. I am proud of every one of his accomplishments every day.

I could complain, but I’d rather deal with it in my own way.

He has several quirks. That’s all they are. Just quirks. Things he does. Most of them are indicative of the condition he has, the rest are all his. And instead of Googling what they all are and fret until I mis-diagnose the hell out of it, I have decided to make him the hero of his own story.

Because, I’m a Storyteller. It’s what we do.

He chuckles in his sleep. It’s the most adorable thing in the world. He also likes to look up at the sky while he’s walking. It’s his preferred activity over anything else to do outside. Recently, I was stringing Christmas lights around the house. I switched them on, and as he was passing by with eyes cast skyward he said, “Bye!” It wasn’t directed to anyone. It was directed to the lights. At first, rationality took over. “Well,” I thought to myself. “Maybe it has something to do with the red bulbs, and somehow relating them to watching taillights move down the driveway every morning as his mom goes to work.” Red light means someone’s leaving, which means “Byyyye! See you laytor!

So, instead of freaking out, I just think of the lonely flip-flop…

Untitled Story Idea…

A family moves to a haunted house, and it’s a house that hasn’t been lived in for a very long time. The ghosts that reside there, mainly an old married couple, have been there for a very long time, and haven’t found a way to leave. The only person in the family that knows it’s haunted is the toddler, and he isn’t saying much. The ghosts aren’t very good at scaring people out of the house, because no one has lived there for such a long time, and they couldn’t find it within them to scare them because they were grandparents at one time. So, they spend most of their time looking after the children to make sure they don’t get into trouble. Somewhere along the line, the ghosts figure out that if they can get the baby to laugh, then the hold that this house has on them begins to loosen. Good deeds remembered, they are allowed to pass on once Christmas lights are hung and illuminated.

~***~

Another one of his quirks, and this is something his mother and I need to focus on, is that he has this obsession with doors. The way they open and close, if they latch or not, if they have a lever or knob, do they squeak, how much effort is needed to go through it. We REALLY lose him at the grocery store where the doors open on their own. *GASP! What sorcery is THIS?* He will literally spend the better part of an hour opening and closing doors. It’s something that we learn to live with.

I’m not sure how to break his fascination with them. Once he gets on a door binge, it’s hard to stop, and that’s something that we are slowly learning at Occupational Therapy. It appears that both of my children have their father’s obsessive nature.

There are good days, and there are bad days. But mostly, they’re good. His OT is quite adept at getting him away from his door habit and directing him to playing with blocks and puzzles, and as a result, his obsession has diminished. What hasn’t diminished is my own curiosity. “Why doors?” I ask to myself…in the same tone as “Why one shoe?”

Revision to ‘Kids of St. Anthony’

Story so far:

A social worker who has lost her child to cancer, and as a result, going through a divorce, is now set to task for finding homes for three young siblings. They reside at St. Anthony’s Home for Wayward children; an orphanage. For the most part, all the children that reside there are normal children, but there is a wing of the church that not a lot of people know about. It’s the wing where they put the “special” children.

The oldest of the three (based on my youngest daughter) has a habit of drawing what appears to be circles on paper with crayon. The middle child has hushed conversations with people who aren’t there, and the youngest cannot cope will unless there is an animal present.

To the system, to the nuns that run this place and to the social worker, these children are perceived to have special needs.

It turns out, they’re partially right. The youngest needs to be in close proximity to animals, because they can talk to him, and that’s how he has been in touch with the outside world. The middle child as actually holding conversations with ghosts. They warn her of danger and teach her history. The oldest, who looks as though she draws in anger and frustration with every circle getting deeper as each crayon gets ground down, is actually drawing very intricate talismans that are crafted to protect all of them. All three children team up with the social worker to solve mysteries and stuff. She ends up adopting them…until zombies…the end.

UPDATE:

First of all, enough of the frickin’ zombies.

Second of all, it might be wise to turn this into a series and expand the universe. Because all the cool kids are doing it!

Why not have this orphanage be home to other children with secret abilities? Maybe it’s been a home for children like this for a long time. Like this one child who shows no attention to the world around him, except when it comes to doors. He might come in handy in a pinch.

The bad guys are closing in on our heroes, and the youngest child is feverishly opening and closing a door to a closet; essentially, opening a door to nowhere. At the right time, he opens this door to nowhere, and it turns out that it’s a door to somewhere. They all escape danger because a toddler opened a closet door to reveal a field of wheat somewhere on the other side of the world…next chapter.

Conclusion

This is me blogging because I need a kick in the ass. This post has taken a week in re-writes and has ended up being approximately half the length of my current first draft. It feels like I’m stalling, but I need free up the log jam in my head.

It’s important to let you know that I haven’t gone anywhere.

I would love to write a short story a week, as I’ve pointed out previously. Respectfully, I’m not sure when Mr. Bradbury laid down the gauntlet about doing this, but I’m fairly certain he didn’t have to take care of kids and household at the same time. Right now, I’d be satisfied if I could finish a chapter a week.

This year will be the year I wrangle all of these ideas that land in front of me and turn them into something interesting maybe. I’m hoping that I will be able to find more time to get to them, but the chances of that are quite small. As much as I’d like to lock myself away in a shack in the middle of the woods, my kids need me right now.

And they are most important.

More to come.
Watch this space.

©2017 AA Payson

Is Scrivener Worth It?

Is Scrivener Worth It?

ScrivScreenI bought Scrivener as a birthday present to myself earlier this year. The reviews I read before clicking the “Purchase” button were filled with cautionary wailings of, “Ooohhh…it’s overwhelming…Ooohh… steep learning curve. So complicate. Much computer.

I figured, “How bad could it be? If I can find my way around Photoshop and Blender, this was going to be a cakewalk.”

Turns out, it was. Sorta.

Here’s the thing, and this is a personal observation of course, whenever I get a bloody nose from smashing my face against the writer’s block, I point my frazzled creativity need-thingy toward something else. Don’t feel like writing? Make a t-shirt. Don’t want to deal with Photoshop? Write a blog post. Keeping all creative outlets open and related in some way to each other, I find that it keeps the juices flowing, my ADD from jumping the pasture fence, it dulls the pain of unemployment, and keeps me busy in those moments when the kids are napping. I realize everyone is different, and some people are used to doing their own thing.

 

Before I go any further, I’d like to point out that this post is a reaction to a blog I read a few days ago. It was written by someone who tried Scrivener themselves and was almost on board with it. But, found herself very much attached to the Old School ways of mountains of paper on a desk, journals bursting with character sketches, and walls filled  with sticky notes.

It sort of reminds me of every school year from 9th Grade, all the way to Senior Year of college. I would start out every year with a fresh batch of back-to-school gear, saying to myself, “This is the year I am going to get and stay organized.” Flash forward to about Mid-March, and you’d find me passed out amidst various puddles of class notes, crumpled in various stages of frustration, gripping a tankard of coffee that has gone cold hours ago, whispering something to the effect of, “Well, maybe next year.” My version of being organized appeared on the surface as anything but. It was frantic, messy and chaotic, but it worked for me. As someone who is infinitely wiser than I will ever be once said, “Hey, you do you.”

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m completely down on this way of doing things. In all honesty, I was a part of the Old School way (back before the days of the internet). Speaking as someone who still remembers the Old School, I can appreciate the dedication to the craft to the extent that someone would go out of their way to cram their working space with as much information as necessary. Or in the case of some, more than necessary… you know who you are.

I too have these romantic visions of myself writing the next Great American Masterpiece; ink permanently imbedded in my fingertips, bloodshot eyes strained from inadequate light, drowning in an ocean of first drafts, second drafts and abandoned plot points. Someday when I grow up, I almost hope I will be.

And even though I find these visions extremely endearing, the truth of the matter is that I’m a slob. All good intentions will melt away the moment I try to keep a wall full of sticky notes; children, animals, humidity, frickin’ Sasquatch will inevitably knock them down, and make them not-so-sticky. Romantic visions suddenly dashed by the thoughts of neon colored sticky notes blowing in the breeze like some psychedelic cherry blossoms.

[Picks up a pen and finds a notebook] Note to self: Find an excuse to use ‘psychedelic cherry blossoms’ in a story…

I love notebooks. All kinds. Moleskines, composition books, cheap spiral-bounds that are practically given away at the end of summer. I’m even downright snobby about the type of pen I use (uni-ball Signo Micro 207. Black.). I make sure to have one close at hand at all time to capture the random thoughts and ideas that come drifting through. But the truth is, the notebooks are barely cracked and the pens have yet to sing because all the good stuff tends to wash out when competing with the day-to-day of Stay At Home Daddy stuff. I have a stack of unused spiral-bounds just in case I feel the need to get a wrist cramp scribbling in my doctorly chicken scratch with my righteously boss pen!

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My organizational skills are weak to begin with. Forcing myself to write everything down on sticky notes does nothing to strengthen them, which is I suppose goes against the point of the exercise. I got a copy of Scrivener for my birthday because I happen to like sticky notes. I just don’t like the idea of losing them.

currentnotes
Current Project notes, Google Docs.

I’ve been tinkering with it for a few months now, and admittedly, I will drift towards Google Docs just because it’s there. It’s useful in case I get an idea I want to play with, and I need to get it down before I actually commit to it. And that seems to be an important factor for me. I have an idea for a story. If I’m just kicking the tires, then I’ll fill a page in Google Docs and call it good. If I move to Scrivener, then that usually means I’m committed, and will be added to the growing stack of works in progress.

 

As of this post, I have three projects working at the same time. After a day or so of taking Scrivener out for a test drive a couple of months ago, I can honestly say that it’s the best $40 I ever spent. It is indispensable.

It is also kind of a pain in the ass.

What I Like About Scrivener.

It Keeps Me Honest. It used to be with every project I would start, it would more than likely involve several different tools from several different sources to make the process easier. The problem is, that this method isn’t really helpful. I’m essentially substituting actual random pieces of paper for digital ones.

I used Google Docs. I still do. But in terms of using it to craft a story, it can only be utilized for so much. I still have to jump from tab to tab if I want to reference notes or another chapter. And even though it’s super convenient to save all my information in an online space, jumping back and forth will result in fatigue. Fatigue leads to checking my social spaces, which leads yet another day of me staring at a computer screen filled with kitteh videos with a half eaten burrito hanging out of my mouth wondering where the hell the day went.

Scrivener accommodates my every need when writing my next project. My outlines,

Scrivenerscreenshot
Current Project, Scrivener

my storyboards, my drafts, character sketches, everything I would need is all in one space. No longer going back and forth between tabs. I can format on the fly, convert to PDF, track my word counts, set word goals. It has a quick reference tab where I can check word definitions in a pinch. I can split the screen and reference my outlines on one side of the screen, and build my story on the other.

Google Docs and Microsoft Word are both good for what they are. Both have some pretty good features, but neither of them have the ability to split your workspace so that you’re able to see your notes, nor do they have a space to keep random notes to remember in later drafts. (Example: Your character finds a specific item, or drives a specific car, or said something that is key to the plot and you want to reference later, there’s a space on the lower right hand part of the workspace where you could keep track of that.)

Scrivenerscreenshotred
I never knew how handy this part was until I actually used it.

It’s like this, Word and Docs are good for writing documents. Scrivener is excellent for writing projects.

Oh, and the Project Target tool is awesome.

Targetclip

Set your goal for your project and your session. The closer you get to your goal, the more the level changes from red to green. Watching the color change the longer I type is a very sublime motivational tool.

What I Don’t Like About Scrivener.

If I learned anything about finding myself alone with no responsibilities, plenty of time on my hands, and a bottle of Patrón in my immediate area, it’s that knowing what my limitations are might be in my best interest.

Also, having the number for poison control on speed dial would be good idea too.

But I digress…

It’s nice knowing where your limits are. It’s comforting, right? Our lives, all of our lives are dictated by limitations. How much to eat, how fast to drive, how much money to spend. Knowing how far you can go before you start swimming in the deep end. Knowing how far something can bend before it breaks. I think it’s a byproduct of living in a competitive society. We desire to know how much a certain celebrity is worth. Athletes study hours of films from other teams to exploit weaknesses. Chefs who have garnered a repertoire of dishes know what part of a recipe needs to be started first in order for a dish to be finished all at once. When I started playing around with Photoshop and Illustrator, I started to think in terms of layers, which sort of altered my way of seeing the world a bit. Measurements. Metrics. Limitations. Instructions. We live our lives according to these. It’s comforting.

Then, one day this tool gets invented, and one of its major selling points is that there is no wrong way to use it. Suddenly, life has no meaning.

Maybe it’s because I’ve disciplined myself to the point of masochism. Maybe it’s because I’ve logged in hours and hours of Photoshop tutorials on YouTube. Without rules or instructions in place, I become a little agoraphobic. I have become dependent on people telling me how to do things. I spend more time seeking advice than I do putting things into motion.

Secretly though, I like this feature. This “Sandbox” approach to preparing your workspace. It’s like decorating and rearranging your new office cubicle, or unpacking for a weekend stay in a hotel room. I have to keep in mind that the more I depend on advice from others, the more power I give to them instead of assessing a situation and bending things to my will. Which is what I’m not used to. It just so happens that it’s exactly what Scrivener was designed for. You can craft your workspace and use their tools however you see fit. There is no wrong way to use it.

So basically, the problem isn’t with the program, the problem is with me. I need to remember the value of playing.

I guess if I had to nitpick, I wish there were a version of their mind-mapping application, Scapple integrated inside of it. Other than that, I really can’t find anything much to complain about it. It is extremely versatile, it’s easy on the eyes, and as far as the learning curve to use it is concerned, it isn’t that steep. It’s not like you’re forced to learn a whole new language in order to use it. Amiryte, Mac users? </snark>

Take it from an Old Schooler, if you’re tired of losing your notes, if you’ve had enough of trying to decipher your shorthand that you scribbled down on a candy wrapper while you were half asleep. If you’ve gotten over forgetting your fantastic idea about one of your characters after you killed him off, and a pen was nowhere near you, then do yourself a favor. Splurge. $40 is what, a month of lattes? Scrivener is pretty much the Gold Standard when it comes to finishing your manuscript.

How To Find Your Voice (4 Tips on Taming The Black Dog)

How To Find Your Voice (4 Tips on Taming The Black Dog)

HappyAlexMy son turned two recently. This means he’s reached that magical age where he gets into everything he’s not supposed to, and screams “no” a lot. Except that, he doesn’t say “no” a lot. Frankly, he doesn’t say anything resembling a full sentence. My son is two, and he’s going to be a late talker. Now, whether this is because of blockage in his ear canal, or he doesn’t feel the need to express his wants and needs beyond a window-shattering screech remains to be seen. Mommy and Daddy have been put on a list for speech development therapy, and hopefully something will come of it.

Still though, he’s happy. Despite his lack of vocabulary, he’s healthy and happy and loves to play and get into trouble as every two year old should. And just to be clear, no, he isn’t on the spectrum. He responds, he interacts, he smiles and laughs, and most importantly, he tries to speak. He wants to speak. A lot and at length. He wants to pontificate and sing and argue. But, as of right now, the best he can do is sound something like an octopus that desperately wants to join the world of man, so he disguises himself Clark Kent-style to go about his business on dry land.

Boss: “Johnson, have you finished those quarterly reports yet?”
Octopus: “Glorba BLORGA blorga glorba blorgablorg!
Boss: “Ah, very good. You know Johnson, I like you. You’ve got the right attitude to make it in this business. Wilcox, how come you can’t be more like Johnson?”
Wilcox: “Because he’s a cephalopod, sir.”
Boss: “Have you always been this racist, Wilcox?”

He likes to talk. He wants to. And when he starts chugging along on his little sibilance choo-choo, I am convinced that he thinks he’s making perfect sense. I am convinced that he’s got The Gettysburg Address, The St. Crispin’s Day Speech, and ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas completely memorized, and he’ll roll it off his tongue at the drop of a hat. The thing is, no one can understand him, although not for lack of trying. His family all just smile and nod and do their best to understand. And he’ll still get frustrated at us because we still don’t get it.

I cannot help but sympathize. Sometimes, I feel the same way when I write. Especially when I blog.

So, You Want Your Voice Back?

For the past couple of days, I’ve allowed, as an old friend used to say, The Black Dog to

sherlock-202-the-hound
Yeeesh..

come to my doorstep.

The beginning of my blogging days were cultivated in the dark, dark days of the now defunct Yahoo 360°. For those of you too young to remember, Yahoo 360° was a social profiling site along the lines of MySpace and was the perfect place for the more socially averse who weren’t quite ready to jump on board the Facebook bandwagon. Those were the days where I was still cutting my writing teeth and finding my voice. Although, as I think back to then and reflect on what I do now, not a lot has changed. And I’m not quite sure I found my voice yet.

Among the new friends I accumulated at that time was a fledgling author. At the time, she was doing the song and dance of getting herself published. Her blog kept her friends and followers in the loop as to how and when the publishing was coming along. That is, when she wasn’t regaling us with tales about her kids, or refurbishing a house she and her husband just bought, or random pieces of erotica that she wrote. Her writing would have us in stitches, but every once in a while, Doubt would come calling, along with her kooky cousins, Anger and Depression. She would apologize for her candor, and blame it on the Black Dog that showed his teeth when she tried to step outside of her house.

It’s over ten years later. The people I knew on that site are now scattered to the wind, and I wish them well. It’s over ten years later, and it hasn’t been until recently where I’ve actually considered getting published myself. I haven’t thought much about that time until now. I would have been satisfied leaving it in the past, but presently there is a familiar beast who has found himself just outside my own door with a sign around its neck reading, “Isky sends her regards.”

I get lost. More times than I’d like to admit. It’s so hard not to in this brave new world of self-published authors and readily available information. I want views and notoriety just as much as anyone else who starts down this road. I want to write as a career, and I’m willing to work for it. But sometimes I get impatient, and the void I scream into doesn’t respond back. Then I start to question my motives and practices, and maybe I should return to the “real world” because my blog hasn’t sold enough widgets and the placement of my SEO has gone all screwy or whatever. I get nervous, and the Black Dog gets hungry.

When I get lost, the first thing I gravitate towards are the hectares of blog posts that are so eager to dispense advice on how to boost your blog traffic. Their oh-so clinical and categorical language always leave me more confused, frustrated, and about as satisfied as forcing myself to eat a freezer-burned Lean Cuisine when I really want a pizza. Then come those days where I just want to detach altogether, put a ball-peen hammer through my computer screen and spend the rest of the month binge watching Gilmore Girls. When I get scared, I lose my voice. When I lose my voice, I get lost. When I get lost, The Black Dog will find me.

But I’m not alone in this. I take the smallest grain of relief in the knowledge that there are others out there like me who are worried that they haven’t found their voice yet, or fear that they may have lost it all together. However, in acknowledging this, I have discovered something that’s been in my pocket for a long time. In worrying about not finding your voice, or not finding your words, you allow doubt to take over. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration, afterall.

Full disclosure, I didn’t go to school for writing or blogging or business. What I have learned, I learned on my own through my own research and just sitting in front of a monitor every day while my fingers tap out a few thousand words, and, most importantly, allowing myself to make mistakes. I’m not an expert, but here’s my advice for whenever The Black Dog starts growling.

1. Ignore Just About Everyone.

“Okay, Google.”
blingityblink
“I’m drowning.”
[Seconds pass as the lifeboat sinks a little deeper.]
blink “Here are some websites to tell you what to do in case of drowning.”
“Not very helpful, Googleblubblublblub…”
blink “Sorry. I didn’t quite catch that.”

Research should be second nature to you, right? Blog post, genre fiction, non-fiction, book report, burrito recipe, doesn’t matter. We used to spend hours raiding the shelves of our local library, now everything you need can be held in a few tabs worth of Google searches. You put the time and effort into researching everything before submitting anything which is the way it should be. However, I think the byproduct of living in the age of Google is that we have become too dependent on it. We rely on it for everything we need to know. Unfortunately, Google can only tell you so much. Case in point, in terms of advice, Google is really good at telling you who said what and when, it’s not so good at telling you whose to follow.

“Okay, Google.”
blingityblink
“Tell me I’m pretty.”
[Seconds pass as the mascara runs further down your face.]
blink “…errrrrrmmmm… Can we just be friends?”

There comes a time when you can only absorb so much advice before you realize that you haven’t put any of it into action. Are you honestly looking for advice because you’re stuck, or are you looking for someone to validate the exact same thing you’ve been thinking about for the past week? Have you painted your manuscript into a corner, or are you licking your wounds from a really bad review and in need a virtual drinking buddy? Taking advice is fine, just remember that most of it shouldn’t be taken as gospel. If you want to write, get writing.

2. But, Be Careful With the Advice You Seek.

The biggest pet peeve I have with blogging/writing advice is the presumption that it should be done with full intention of getting views/clicks and generating an income. Every post on the subject is a “Top 10 ways to blahblahblah,” or “The Most Obvious Thing That Your Blog is Missing,” or any other form of  flashy, deep-fried clickbait that gets you to read the same regurgitated information that’s been shared a thousand times before. It gets to the point with me that I figure the most guaranteed way to get more clicks, is to title my blog post “How To Get More Clicks” and give away a FREE BOOK on the subject that’s worth $100’s of DOLLARS and FILLED WITH VALUABLE INFORMATION that someone else wrote, but you can NEVER FIND EVERYWHERE ELSE if you don’t know how the internet works and BE SURE TO GET ON MY MAILING LIST because YOU’LL GET HERPES IF YOU DON’T!!1! FUCK YOU, SHUT UP AND CONSUME!!

Nothing against you guys doing what late night infomercials have been doing for years before the internet was born, but I’m looking for writing advice, not the P.T. Barnum Playbook with a foreword by Zig Ziglar.

34713-rantclosed

Anyway, getting back on subject…

According to many pro-bloggers, blogging is solely designed to facilitate sales. That’s it. Not the exchange of ideas, and certainly not to be used for any artistic or abstract expression.To paraphrase from  Halt And Catch Fire, “Writing isn’t the thing…it’s the thing that gets the thing…” Nope, it’s all about the almighty dollar, y’all. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that (I mean, c’mon. It’s the way I’ve chosen to pay my bills coughcoughCheckOutTheDonationButtoncough), it has very little to do with what I’m seeking help for.

What gets me so bummed whenever I think I lost my voice and I go out to find it, is that I’m not careful with whose advice I follow. After taking into consideration the wisdom that some gurus dispense, I tend to think that what I’m presently doing is wrong. Simply because I’m writing fiction and entertaining readers, rather than to just knuckle down and write some drab, emotionless fluff piece for the corporate interests of others while utilizing the tried and true Carrot-On-A-Stick Method.  My intentions with this blog is to entertain because I want to, inform when I can, and yes, sell things that I’ve made (coughRandomMerchPagecough…sorry, allergy season). That’s the way that works for me. What works for you might be completely different, and that’s okay. Just don’t do one thing that’s disguised as another in order to make a buck.

Writing is fine. Self-Publishing is fine. Making a buck is fine. However, there is a difference between the three. And meaning and intention tends to get blurred in the ye olde Google search.

This is something I obviously struggle with on a regular basis. I hate to break it to ya, but nobody is going to tell you what’s going to work for you as a writer. Seeking wisdom from our heroes is always good for perspective, but if you really want sage advice on how to find your voice, keep reading.

3. Realize That We All Start Somewhere.

So, you lost your voice. The manuscript you’re working on has stopped making sense by the second act , your characters have all walked away from you while flipping you off and giving you the side-eye, and the fear of “not being good as your heroes” that you’ve shoved to the back of your nervous, flop-sweaty little mind, is now front and center wearing a Boater, a candy striped blazer and twirling a cane in his fingers singing, “HELLO MY BABY, HELLO MY HONEY, HELLO MY RAGTIME GAAAAALL…” Before you pack it in, consider this…

This fear is a good thing.

This fear means that you are on the right path.

Because, let’s face it. If you didn’t want to be a writer, you’d be doing something else by now like repairing lobster traps, or learning how to be a spreadsheet whiz-kid, or whatever you kids are into nowadays… with your Facebooks and your smartphones [shakes fist].

I’m presuming that since you are not any of these people, or have no intention on becoming one, that you have a story inside you that no one else can tell.

Great authors, like great football players, actors, surgeons and sandwiches, aren’t born. They’re made. Anyone can deliver a plot. Plot is nothing. Plot is the barest of minimums. But, you’re looking for something with a little more meat on its bones, right? You’re a storyteller, Harry. If you want to deliver your plot on something other than an a styrofoam plate, you need nuance and foresight and planning and grace and other words that aren’t coming to mind at the moment. All of which takes a lot of trial and error. All of which takes…

4. Practice.

That is all. Practice. It doesn’t get any simpler or any more obvious than that. There is no magic pill, no secret that only a few know about, that is free with purchase if you order within the next 20 minutes. Nope. That’s really all there is to it. Practice.

If you want to write, write.

“But…”
But, what?
“But, I still lost my voice.”
Oh, that’s not true. You’d be amazed what could happen once you get going.
“…but…”
What now?
“I don’t sound like J.K. Rowling.”

A word about that.

Many writers will tell you, and I’m in full agreement with them, that there is something to modeling yourself after your heroes when you are first starting out. It helps with the process of writing the story as well as finding your own voice. Yes, we all want to be the next Rowling. Just like I want to be the next Robbins, Thompson, Gaiman etc. So, I study my idols. I dive into their works and study how they do it and with a little luck, I’ll come out on the other side with just the right colors in which to paint my own landscape.

We all want to be the next Rowling…

Have you ever considered being the first You?

There is a story inside you that no one else can give a voice to, but you. Your craft is to build worlds from nothing more than imagination. We’d all like to see it, but the only way we can see it, the only way that you can stop sounding like an octopus in a polyester polo shirt, the only way to bring The Black Dog to heel is to just keep writing.

You’ll see.

keepwritingnotposter2015bla
Find this and other items to inspire on my Random Merch page!

Zen and the Art of Pizza Making; A Study (WARNING: May Contain Recipes)

Zen and the Art of Pizza Making; A Study (WARNING: May Contain Recipes)

Circa 2009

The Old Way; The Way I’ve Been Doing it for Years…

Make Dough the Night Before I Need It.

When I first started, I made the dough the day of instead of the night before. I could get away with it, technically, it was totally possible to do so. However, while it would make a deliciously puffy (albeit difficult to work with) dough, it wouldn’t have that same nutty, yeasty, gluteny flavor that is achieved when the yeast and the sugars have time to mingle for at least 18 hours. I eventually learned to make enough dough to be divided and bagged in freezer-proof Zip-Lock bags; using what I need and freezing the rest.

Remember the Ratios

When I first started, I used a scientific approach to my dough making; accumulating various methods and recipes, putting them all in a bowl and mixing it up with previous experience. The first few results were as expected…awful…my notes reflected as such, “next time, do this instead of that…use more of this and less of that…”  There was a time where I just gave up. I was presented with a choice; spend time and effort on something trivial, or just give up and order out.

I pouted for a few months.

Then, one day I realized that the little things mean much more to me than the bigger picture, and I jumped right back into it. All I needed was a little more knowledge, a little more finesse. Bread is a living thing and it cannot be constructed as one would build a bookshelf…it must be nurtured. It took a few tries, but I finally hit my stride. The result of which was making dough regularly. So much to the point where I no longer relied on any recipe on paper, it was a “sense memory” thing. Something more akin to a chef or a baker who actually knows what they’re doing.

I’ve been making dough for over ten years now, and still I rely somewhat on measurements. In the beginning, I relied on my chicken scratch notes because it wasn’t automatic yet. Then dough making turned into a Friday night ritual to prep for my Saturday night ritual of making it. As the weeks and months pass, I just knew that this much flour meant this much yeast which that much water and so on. For years now, the result of my labor has just been…sustainably adequate. Maybe I got bored. Maybe my taste buds have gone blind and have given up trying long ago. Whatever the reason, I’ve made no secret that I wanted to change it, but I never dared to do anything for fear of something falling apart. Remember the ratios. Remember the crushing failures of the past.

For years, it has been fairly consistent. And I’ve been silently indifferent.

Never Get the Sauce from a Jar.

Ever. Always make it fresh. I will not bend on that. Always make it fresh. Make it with real ingredients. Forget that the price of fresh produce is going up, grab that basket of Roma tomatoes from the Farmer’s Market and get back in the kitchen. So what if it tastes a little…funny? It’s fresh! It’s…organic ‘n stuff! It’s supposed to taste like this.

While trying to be as accurate as possible with the construction of the dough, I would “eyeball” the ingredients for the sauce. It would taste different with every batch. That would be okay, because honestly, the dough would vary in taste and consistency every time too, no matter how much attention I paid to it.

This is how its been for years. Homemade pizza would be our Saturday night thing. It would be the thing that holds the family together. It would teach the kids that daddy can cook too, and he can do it better than anything pulled out of a microwave. There was even a moment in time where my ego was so bloated that I considered opening a pizzeria of my own. The problem was that even though I looked forward to every Saturday night and making something that everyone could eat and hopefully enjoy, the end product that I was pulling out of the oven was good. And that’s not a complement. It was good. I was shooting for great.

It didn’t taste good. I mean, it didn’t taste awful, it just tasted…well…off. It wasn’t enjoyable. My feelings were confirmed when my daughter takes her slice and picks at it. She usually eats half of it before she quits halfway through, up until recently, she couldn’t even do that. I mean, it’s PIZZA for cryin’ out loud! PIZZA!! If your kid picks at a slice of pizza like some kids push lima beans to the side of a plate, then congratulations, you just made something so horrible that they would rather choke down a Papa John’s pizza rather than endure eating what you made. Way to go…you suck.

Things had to change. In doing the same thing for years, I have become slave to the action, I had become complacent. If I took a step outside myself and observed my pizza from another point of view, it didn’t matter that it was good enough or not. It was pizza, and it was fresh, and daddy was making it. There could be no wrong coming from this. Only, I could tell. It wasn’t right, and I couldn’t go through another week foisting a sub-par product to my family. I mean, if I’m not wowing them on a weekly basis, how would I hypothetically survive opening up a shop?

Things had to change.

And so they did…

~***~
Circa 2014

Old Dough Recipe (prep time: 2 Days):

  • 5 Cups High Gluten Flour
  • 1 tsp. Dry Active Yeast
  • 1 Tbl. light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbl. olive oil
  • ~3 Cups warm (between 95° and 110° F) water.

I recommend starting off with clean water. If you don’t have access to a Brita Water Filtration System, then a jug of filtered water, the kind you collect in your shelter in case a hurricane rips through your neighborhood? The store brand kind? The ones that are like under a buck each? Yeah, one of those will work nicely.

You’ll need around 3 cups, not exactly 3 cups. The reason being is that there is a crucial point in dough making when you have to slowly incorporate wet to dry ingredients. Too much wet, and it’ll turn into paste. Not enough, and it’s a modern art sculpture. I’ll get into the details later.

Warm the water to around 110°. Heating it in a microwave safe vessel is okay, I prefer to warm my water the old fashioned way of pouring it into a small saucepan, placing it on the back burner of my stove, turning the burner to low and busy myself with other things while it gets up to temperature.

While that’s working, place flour, yeast, and sugar in the bowl of a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. If you don’t have one of these…well…don’t fret, the gift giving season is right around the corner. I used to mix by hand for a few years until I got one of these and realized how much my wrists have turned to stone. I recommend the stand mixer, it’ll save a lot of time, and it’ll save your arms…unless…ya know…you’re into that whole “beefy arms” thing.

Anyway, as stated previously, place flour, yeast, and sugar in the bowl and mix on low speed using the whisk attachment. The yeast and the sugar need to do their happy dance in the flour, so you need to play the tune by mixing for 2-3 minutes. Once they’re all incorporated, add the salt while the machine is running, and continue mixing for another 2-3 minutes. Not only are you making the yeast happy, you’re also incorporating a little air to the mixture…let’s get to that later…maybe.

Stop mixing, and replace the whisk attachment with the dough hook. Dump the olive oil into the flour mix, and turn on your machine to a low speed.

Now, here’s where you’re undivided attention is needed. Not on me, your mix….although…I wouldn’t mind some attention…maybe sometime…go out for coffee? Or, I dunno…an invitation to join TSŪ…maybe a gift certificate to Harbor Freight Tools…a Macbook Pro?…HEY! Pay attention!
The reason you need to get your water as close to 110° F as possible is that you need to transfer that water into a measuring cup. Doing so (especially if you’re using a Pyrex measuring cup) will drop the temperature of the water by a few degrees. You’ve removed it from the heat twice (once from the stove and once from the hot cooking vessel), so you’ll end up with water that’s closer to 105°…WHICH IS OKAY! any lower, and the dough will go stiff. Hotter than 110° and you have a sticky mess on your hands. 105 is the Goldilocks Zone. (You might want to keep one of these babies handy.)
Slowly pour 2 cups of the water into mix while your dough hook enabled machine is running. Increase the speed of the machine slightly. Your goal at this point is to make gluten; to make sure the dough is at the right consistency to work with. Now, there are many different ways to tell if your dough is ready, but the easiest way is to peek inside of the bowl and make sure that the sides of the bowl are cleaned by the dough as it moves around inside. To do this, you’ll need to pour more of the warmed water into the mix, a few drops at a time. Once the sides of the bowl are clean, you should be close. Don’t worry if the dough sticks to the hook and/or to the bottom of the bowl. A little is workable, if it’s too wet, keep mixing and incorporate more flour into the mix with the machine running. Let the machine run for at least 5 minutes, then remove the bowl from the mixer, loosely cover the bowl (they say to “loosely cover the bowl in plastic wrap”. I use a clean dinner plate. Works just as well, and its more versatile…stay tuned) with the dough still inside, and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Turn out your dough onto a flat, floured surface and knead by hand. There are many recipes out there that tell you to hand need for at least 10 minutes. That’s a bit excessive since the more you knead, the stiffer and unpleasant the crust will be. You will need to…um….knead…but only until there’s a good amount of give to the dough; it’ll contract (bounce back) if you press down on it. Knead and roll the dough into a ball.
Next, you will need a dough scraper, and a kitchen scale. Your dough ball should weigh in the neighborhood of 3lbs. Use your dough scraper to equally divide the dough ball into 4 smaller balls. These should be around 12 oz. a piece (if you have extra, divide it and spread it evenly as you can amongst your balls… stop laughing).
I could go into a step-by-step on how handle the dough at this point, and I may someday revisit this subject complete with video instruction starring me (you have been warned). But for now, let’s see how the pros do it…

//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/he-V1J86REA

After you roll them up, use your plate that you used to cover up your dough earlier and drizzle some Extra Virgin Olive Oil in it. Roll a dough ball around in it so it receives a lite coating. Then you should, as Mr. Gemignani pointed out, place each ball in individual zip lock bags (gallon sized will do the trick). Make sure you get as much air out of the bags as possible, and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

Place your balls in the freezer. The longer they stay in there, the better they’ll taste….stop LAUGHING! If making pizza the next day, take as many as you need out of the freezer, and place in the refrigerator. Remember to take them out at least 2 hours before baking.

The New Recipe. The One I Discovered a Month Ago:

  • The same as above, except add another teaspoon of yeast and divide the dough to 1 lb. portions. Much better; nice chew, very tender, wonderful aroma and mouth feel.
Now, the dough has been modified for the better, why stop there? On to the sauce!
~***~

 The Old and Busted Sauce Recipe:

  • Roma Tomatoes (I highly…HIGHLY recommend going to your local Farmer’s Market for these. The bigger, the better. The ones you get from a supermarket or “Wally World” are just way too small and flavorless and…gross.) Depending on the size, you’ll need anywhere from 6-8 (slightly over a quart). Make sure they’re ripe. If they’re slightly orange and/or not as squishy, the sauce will give a very “bright” flavor, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
  • 4-5 cloves fresh garlic roughly chopped
  • (2) 5.5 fl oz (2 small cans) tomato juice
  • 1 tsp. sugar

I’d like to take a moment to point out that the rest of the recipe is not in exact measurements…remember… “eyeballing” So, just like you’re Nonna did in the old country…follow your nose…it always knows…the flavor of fruit (that’s a 70s reference, kids. Go ask your parents).

  • dried basil
  • dried oregano
  • fresh basil & oregano (optional)
  • garlic powder
  • kosher salt
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • Lambrusco

Peel your tomatoes. Again, not getting into how to do it here, so here’s an informative video…
//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/bgjJZRnpS24
Add all the ingredients to a pot and introduce an immersion hand blender to the party and blend until saucy. Place pot back on the stove (the warm part where you boiled the water) and cover until room temp. The residual heat will cook the sauce gently.

Now, this has been my sauce for years. This is the sauce that I’ve been convincing myself that is the best thing in the universe. The thing is, and I’m basing this on experience, it has a tendency to turn on you the longer it stays in your fridge. I recommend freezing what you don’t use. This sauce, while made with fresh ingredients, isn’t that good and will turn sour within a month. This is the sauce that I’ve been fooling myself with. This sauce…for lack of a better term…sucks. So, in order to get out of the suck, I turned to the internet while swallowing the fact that sometimes, I just don’t know what I’m doing.

New Hotness Sauce Recipe:

  • (2) 15oz. cans of tomato sauce (30 oz.)
  • (1) 12oz. can of tomato paste
  • 1 Tbl. Italian Seasoning (I know, I know, “how could I?” you gasp,but it’s better this way. Trust me.)
  • 1 Tbl. dried oregano
  • ~1 tsp. crushed fennel seed
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. salt

Combine sauce & paste in a large saucepan over medium heat. While that’s working, crush your fennel seeds. Don’t have one of these yet? Remember…gift giving season…Macbook Pro…FOCUS!

Add remaining ingredients, mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly (making sure not to burn). Reduce heat, cover and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool, apply to pizza….yadda yadda yadda.

Now, the consequence of turning “mouth blind” as it were, is that when you apply something new to something established, there are bound to be repercussions. If done wrong, your family and friends will turn on you quicker than my old sauce taking up way too much room in the ice box. You will become a pariah and turned away from your next book club meeting. If done right, you will witness the initial shock, then the inevitable expression of “what have you done?, then the denial…then the acceptance…then the moment where you forget about the old sauce altogether.

Honestly, I didn’t know how everyone would react as I presented my pizza v. 2.0 for my family. My girlfriend went through the stages mentioned above, my infant son raged and fussed until he got a piece of the pizza crust, but the icing on the cake…the image that made my night, was to see my baby girl, fussiest eater on the planet, not only ate the ENTIRE slice of pizza, but it was intact as she was eating it; no picking, no pruning, no uck face… just devoured. Silently. Whole. Proud papa came back that night when a clean plate was in front his daughter.

My reaction upon eating it?

IT TASTES JUST LIKE PIZZA!

Pizza at last, pizza at last, great googly-moogly, pizza at last. I had forgotten what it tasted like. After scalding the roof of my mouth, I was brought back to the pizza of my childhood; I was brought back to the pizza shop on the other side of town that we used to go to on special occasions. I also wondered why I’ve been denying myself this for years. Why I was so resistant to change? Philosophical quandaries aside, I was finally where I want to be in my pizza-fu. It was wonderful.

~***~
It took me years of muttering to myself of how dissatisfied I was in order for me to get to the point of doing something about it.
And then I actually did something about it.
I was going to title this post, “Defining Madness” or something to that effect. It took me years of muttering to myself like a madman to come to the conclusion that I’ve spent a lot of time muttering to myself like a madman. Like someone lost in madness. Like someone who does something over and over again thinking the outcome will be different every time.
I was going to frame this revelation in the scope of how my attitude has been changing as of late…
If you can’t find it, make it.
If it’s not right, change it.
If it’s bad, walk away.
If all your good intentions and intelligence and talent aren’t putting you in the place you want to be, like say, every time I apply for a job, then perhaps its time to re-prioritize, re-think and recognize other paths in front of me.
If you don’t recognize your own talent and capacity for change, then I don’t know what to say. It’s inside you. It always has been.
What you do with it is up to you.

I Will Catch The Sun In Daddy’s Hat (first verse)

I will catch the sun in Daddy’s hat,
And fill it up with flowers.
I’ll hop in his shoes
Like kangaroos.
Then I’ll dance for hours and hours.
We’ll ride bikes and swim,
Maybe take off to the fair.
We’ll count the stars,
Fireflies in jars.
And I’ll spin flowers in my hair.
We’ll hunt for buried treasure
Without knowing where it’s at.
Then, I’ll catch the sun in Daddy’s hat.
~***~
I have more. In the back of my head. I wanted to get a little bit out there to test the waters; to see how it would look, to hear how it would sound, to see if it would make sense, to see if I actually want to move forward with this.
Yet another magic nugget from the lips of my child. Up until recently, I would wear a tuque or a tam to keep my hair from scaring people under control. During the 10 month summer season down here in Florida, I have a tendency to take my hat off and let my head breath because a black, knit wool is not the most comfortable thing to wear when the thermometer never dips below 80°F. On one of these days, the whole family was in the car to go to some shopping. Took off my hat and put it in the back seat. My daughter picked it up and held it up to the sun to give her shade and said, “I will catch the sun in daddy’s hat…” I had to hurry up and get to the store so I could save that line on my phone.

Like I said, there’s more where this came from, but I’d like to turn this into a children’s book. Is there anyone out there that can point me in the right direction? It would be appreciated.

©2014 Anthony Payson/The Writers’ Bloc

To My Child: Please Don’t Be In A Hurry to Grow Up

“I’m going to marry Wiley tomorrow, Daddy!” My daughter’s voice proclaimed with the confidence of a Presidential hopeful from her car seat.
“Really?” I retort. ‛Wiley’ is my daughter’s way or pronouncing, ‛Riley’; a boy in her class that she has taken a shine to.
Flash back to the beginning of the school year last year. My little Ellaina had no problems acclimating herself to her environment. She made friends really quickly. Now, this is a pre-school, and kids don’t all start at the same time, they kind of come in when they’re ready. She started at the start of the school year, Riley came in with a fresh batch of kids a few months later. It is my job and duty as a father to scrutinize and vet any boy that dares to come near my daughter, but I have to say, and I hate saying it, I see nothing but a bright future for this lad.

Reilly is blonde haired, has eyes as big and blue as robin’s eggs, high cheeks, dimpled chin, an almost unnatural shyness and is completely smitten. With my daughter.
God.
Dammit.

Great. He even looks like him.

How my daughter became the brightest star in his sky is quite simple. Since he was the latecomer to an already established party, his first day started off being bullied. I mean, bullied inasmuch as 4 year olds can bully. My little Ellaina, was the only one…the ONLY one to step in between him and his aggressors, stick her finger in their faces and say, “Stop it. That is not the way we do things.” And just like that, it was as if it never happened. My little girl is Wonder Woman, and he’s Steve Trevor.

Oh.
Great.
It’s one thing if she said hi to him when no one else did, no, she had to go that extra mile and permanently mold his perceptions and to make him a puppy dog in her presence.
I.
Am.
Not.
Kidding.
A few months ago, we were shopping when suddenly Ellaina bolts upright in the shopping cart, looks in the direction of  meat counter and shouts out, “WILEY??!!” I honestly had no idea what she was going on about until the reply came back, “EWAINAH??!” and there in the middle of the meat department was a tiny fair haired, blue eyed child. Grinning from ear to ear. His hero is here. All is right with the world. The parents stopped and chat for a moment as parents often do, all the while, I was watching the stars dance in this young boys eyes, and his eyes never left her face.

It’s love. Pure and simple. I’ve seen that face before. I’ve made that face before.
Many times.

~***~
“So Lainey, tell your mom what you told me when I picked you up.” It was my day to have the car. Mother’s job and child’s school are in close proximity to each other so the story was still fresh.
“I’m going to marry Wiley tomorrow,” she stated again, her mother barely restraining her laughter.
“Now sweetie, I’m a little concerned about your future,” I said laying down the law as lightly as possible. “What are your living arrangements going to be? I mean, does Riley even have a job?” She giggled not knowing a word I was saying.
“Mommy, are you coming to my wedding tomorrow?”
Her mother joined in in the same vein, “Lainey, you can’t have a wedding tomorrow. I mean, you don’t even have a dress.”
“No,” she said, “but I do have a tu-tu!”
This is one of those moments that you’ll treasure forever as a parent. Not only am I beaming that she is a child of conviction; she will stand up for what she believes and stand up for those that need standing up for, but this is also a moment where we will make sure she sticks to those convictions…
…when shes actually ready to get married and is inevitably stumped as to what style gown she wants, I’ll just show her the above picture.

Picture Credit:
Sensation Comic