Turning 31

Mark is 31-years-old today. It’s sounds clichéd to say it, but it feels like only “yesterday” that I was driving Mary to the hospital like countless other nervous fathers-to-be before. We were living in Indiana at the time, 1,500 miles from family and familiar surroundings. To a then 21-year-old dad-in-waiting, this was terrifying. It was also one of my high-water life experiences

Young Jim and Mark

Mark at 18 months (I think).

I enjoyed being his dad. I still do.

Mark was born pre-blogging, pre-Internet, and pre-cell phone. There were no other bloggers out there, writing about their unique parenting ways. Mary and I had three years of Jack Hyles under our belts and his book on child-rearing to guide us. Say what you want about fundamentalist demagogues like Hyles—his book on being a parent was helpful in many aspects—so was Dr. Spock, so go figure.

Indiana became a time for post-Xian guilt and other assorted hang-ups. We managed to move out of a cramped apartment over a pizza parlor in Hobart that had cockroaches, and out to the ‘burbs in Chesterton. For Mark, this meant a neighborhood with kids his own age. We bought him a used tricycle—which I consequently backed over with my car.

We lived 10 minutes away from the Dunes National Lakeshore and while I was working as much overtime as I could garner at Westville Correctional Center, Mary and Mark got to enjoy Lake Michigan’s sandy shores and work on their tans. My schedule afforded me every third weekend off, with a three-day weekend. I loved those times of family bonding, and finding things to do on the cheap—because we had very little money.

Eventually, we saved our dimes and nickels and loaded up the truck, a broken-down U-Haul, and made our way back to Maine. Mark now had grandparents and cousins, and woods to build tree forts in.

Fast forward 25 years. Mary and I still live in Durham, in a house we built not far from Mark’s first residence—living extended-family style with Mary’s parents. Mark just bought a place of his own in Providence. We like having him three hours away, rather than the 3,000 miles away and a six-hour plane trip out to Los Angeles, where he once lived. As an aside—Mark once walked 2,500 of those miles, from Savannah, Georgia, across the southern US, making it to Santa Monica Beach in 81 days. That was Mark’s summer of 2010.

On deck with the Wheaton Lyons.

On deck with the Wheaton Lyons. (circa 2005)

Reflecting back on who I was at 31, Mark is so much further along, figuring out how the world works, than I was at a similar age.

Happy Birthday, my son! Glad Momtown and I get to spend some time together with you this weekend, celebrating your special day.

Santa’s Helpers

Holiday shoppers took a hit in 2013 when stormy weather right around Christmas resulted in tens of thousands of shoppers not being able to get packages to their intended destinations on time. Not only was it disastrous for shoppers, but retailers took a hit, also.

If shoppers and retailers don’t want a repeat of last year’s Christmas nightmare, package deliverer UPS surely is banking on better delivery results. The company was barraged by criticism last year when the company failed in delivering thousands of packages by Christmas Eve. Brown insists it’s well-prepared to make this a merrier Christmas in 2014, even as increased online shopping is likely to put greater strain on the company and its rivals.

Brown getting it done.

Brown getting it done.

UPS is trumpeting the $1 billion in facility, vehicle and personnel investments it has made worldwide as reason for customers to be confident that Santa will get their gifts to good little boys and girls (along with grown-up goods) on time. UPS officials stress that the upgrades have been made with an eye toward positioning their business beyond this holiday season. The company has also added to its season workforce, upping numbers 12%, to 95,000. Rival FedEx has boosted seasonal hires 25%, to 50,000. And even the U.S. Postal Service has delivery every day of the week through Christmas Day.

Yesterday was considered the busiest mailing day, and UPS indicates that its processing centers will be at their peak of its holiday shipping season, one in which it estimates it will handle about 585 million packages. The following Monday before Christmas will be UPS’ busiest delivery day—the shipping giant will move about 34 million packages worldwide.

I remember last year well. I was working on the phones at a major retailer’s phone center. Customers were cranky and weather woes made it impossible for me to guarantee packages would make it by Christmas day, upon information provided by both UPS and FedEx. Of course, the customers on the other end of the phone expected me, Mr. $12-an-hour-seasonal-phone-rep to play God (or Santa) and tell them that planes would be able to fly through snowstorms and trucks could make it across the frozen tundra of the Midwest. Telling them the truth merely drew their ire.

While I might not be able to afford to put as many packages under our Christmas tree this year, it’s a happier holiday season for this freelancer in 2014, as I’m not pulling any moonlighting duties on the phones for the first time in three years.

Christmas Tree, Oh, Christmas Tree.

Christmas Tree, Oh, Christmas Tree.

The Other Direction

Going against the grain is never easy. Swimming upstream is bound to get you talked about, criticized, and maybe even hated. As writers, our job isn’t to make people comfortable—it’s to write what we know to be true (spoken as a writer who writes nonfiction).

Mark Twain was quoted as saying “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” I don’t know if he added, after reflecting—move in the other direction.

What I’ve noticed throughout my life is that the majority is often on the wrong side of history. A mere cursory reading of the subject will tell you that. Yet, many people still hate having you point that out to them. Continue reading

Get Writing

I was at a party with holiday overtones over the weekend. The hostess introduced me to another writer. We had an enjoyable discussion about writing, particularly the craft of writing. A recurring theme in our discussion was why some writers move beyond mere procrastination and actually get down to writing.

There continues to be a romanticism attached to “the writing life.” Some of this is the equivalent of what is attributed to Joyce Maynard in Salinger, about the late literary icon, and his hatred about the “artiness in writing and writerliness…tweedy types sucking on cigars on their book jackets or exquisitely sensitive-looking women in black turtlenecks.”

While Salinger became as famous for his obsessiveness and privacy as he was for his literary output, he apparently kept up more closely with the literati than we thought he did at the time, and had “little but contempt for what he sees…” of that world. Writers more famous for the pose they strike, than their writing.

Writing requires work, and sometimes slogging along in near obscurity for some period. Yet, any craft requiring creativity (and ability) must be honed.

Writers write!

Writers write!

Continue reading

Picture Talk

Pages & Pints Outline

Pages & Pints Outline

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this one might be worth 750, or so.

It’s my talk given at Friday’s Pages & Pints at Lewiston Public Library, in a photo. Well, technically not my talk, since flip charts suck as an audio platform, but an outline of my 30-minute blast on Moxie, beer, and a few thoughts on the craft of writing (and Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft). Continue reading

Working Backwards

The path to career success for many follows a time-worn tradition. Often, it’s off to college for a degree. Nowadays, the degree must be “marketable.” And then after that, an advanced degree is almost always expected, if not immediately, then down the road once you are established at the firm. Increasingly, all those initials after your name come with a hefty price tag and mountains of debt.

I’ve never followed convention, or the traditional college track.

My own “education” seems ass backwards according to the ways of the world. The journey of reinvention I’ve been on for more than a decade began later in life. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, I’m finding that my DIY ways and quirky approach to making a living is more of an advantage than a liability. Continue reading

Writing About Maine’s Outliers

I’ve lived in Maine for all but five years of my life. After questing to find spiritual nirvana—in Indiana, of all places—our family unit returned to the Pine Tree State in 1987 and I’ve been here ever since. Sometimes I even write a book or two about some aspect of Maine’s history, trying to relate it to the present.

There are times when I don’t even know my native state. The recent influx of flatlanders and people from away now doing all the writing about the state has created a portrait of my home state that I barely recognize. Somehow, this new brand of scrivener has convinced the rest of us that we are more than the feudal serfs we’ve always been. Continue reading

A Cut Above-Bowdoinham (bonus material)

A week ago Saturday, I drove to Bowdoinham to gather information about the town for today’s Explore feature in the Sun-Journal’s b-section. Things went much better than I anticipated.

It’s not as if I thought that Bowdoinham wouldn’t offer up interesting things to write about. No, last Saturday, I was in a pissy (see definition #2) mood, running on fumes after a long week. Actually, when I walked out the door committed to spending a few hours dredging up details for my story, I was dreading leaving the warmth of the wood stove and going out into the bleak, dreary November cold. I also know that this type of writing about local communities demands (if done well) putting boots on the ground in order to connect with the sense of the place.

This is my seventh Explore feature. The town of Wilton was my first one back in May. Seven is a number that comes up in my writing and in my latest book of essays—it is the “perfect number,” after all. Continue reading

TLDR Tuesday-Race in America

Until yesterday afternoon, I didn’t know what that four-letter acronym meant. I do now.

It’s amazing that I didn’t know about it. TLDR perfectly sums up my life as a writer/blogger. Most of what I write is too long, or too liberal, or too __________ fill-in an “L-word” here.

While urban dictionary has a host of great descriptions (I liked #1 and #4) in defining the acronym, I also think it could also mean, “Too Lazy Didn’t Read.”

I get it—most people don’t read. That’s not a judgment—it’s a fact! While there are many studies out that detailing American readership, I’ll just go with this one, as they’re all pretty dire to me, a voluminous reader. Well, actually, 12 books a year seemed a bit high (are they counting comic books?), but then again, I’ll read more than 60 for the year.

Joel R. Feagin's "Racist America."

Joel R. Feagin’s “Racist America.”

It’s fitting that my reading here at the end of 2014 has taken me down the path to race in America. Last night, I was sitting in my living room, watching events unfold in Ferguson, and what I’ve been reading from Joe R. Feagin’s Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations was playing out on my television screen.

Both Feagin’s book and Todd Beer’s excellent blog, SOCIOLOGYtoolbox, have been helpful in framing my own “big picture” about Ferguson and race in in America. Feagin serves up a buffet-like spread, in volume and depth of topic. Beer provides the context, and the sociological understanding (the lens through which I view most topics) necessary for distance and perspective. Continue reading