The Writer’s New Groove

*title inspired by watching The Emperor’s New Groove with my little guy.

 

I’ve recently gotten back into writing after quite a bit of time off and more than a few false starts. Let me tell ya, managing a store and raising a son does not leave a ton of time for activities. However, after getting through the stress of holiday I could tell it had taken its toll on me. I was constantly irritable and exhausted and found myself unable to give my family the best version of me. Something needed to change. 

Thats when I remembered the advice I got from a therapist during the most stressful few months of my life (I proposed to Amanda, got promoted to store manager, we bought a house, were planning our wedding, and I was producing comedy shows). When I told her everything I had going on in my life, she asked me what I was doing for myself and—obviously—the answer was nothing. She told me I needed to make time for myself to do things that were just for me—reading, writing, playing guitar. Once I started doing that, my stress levels went down and I started feeling better.  

So, this time I recognized the problem, albeit really late and only once Amanda pointed it out, and decided I need to pick up writing again. As I mentioned before, I’ve tried writing a few times since having my son and each time I experienced false starts. I would get excited about a project and then life would get in the way and I’d get discouraged. I knew that I wanted this time to be different. To help myself gear up for writing, I began listen to the Writing Excuses podcast and getting inspiration from that. Then, I discovered Brandon Sanderson has videos of his entire Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy class from 2016 on YouTube. Going through each of those lectures gave me a lot of additional tools to help plan out my project and feel confident going back into writing. Through Writing Excuses, Brandon Sanderson lectures, and the 7 Point Story Structure lectures by Dan Wells, I was able to pinpoint some of the pitfalls common in my writing process. 

1) I come up with fun premises that I’m excited to explore, but I don’t give appropriate attention to figuring out a good resolution to my story. I end up abandoning stories halfway through because I don’t know where I’m going and can’t write toward a satisfiying ending.  

2) I don’t fully flesh out the side stories I come up and therefor have trouble weaving them into the main narrative.

My solution? Outlining! I spent about two, maybe three, weeks outlining my story in depth  I gave myself permission to do prework and accept that sitting in front of a computer daydreaming IS actually writing. Putting words on the page is the most visibly proof that writing has taken place, but there is a lot that goes into a story before putting words on the page. And because my writing time is so limited, I need to be able to make the most of that time. By doing a lot of prework, I help ensure that my writing time is actually productive.

So far, my new approach has paid off. I’ve been able to write almost every day and I am excited about it rather than feeling like it’s an obligation. Writing is fun again and I couldn’t be happier.  

 

Cure-ious

In 8th grade, we started going to a church in downtown Tulsa. It was a large church with a wealthier congregation than I was used to being around.

When I went to the youth group, I quickly realized I was out of my element. All the kids were wearing Hollister or Abercrombie and I was wearing one of my few nice hand me down shirts. I scanned the room of fifty kids, looking for something, anything familiar. Finally, I saw a kid wearing skate shoes and decided okay, this guy is going to be my friend.

I got up the courage to strike up a conversation and I had what I thought was the perfect opener.

“Hey, do you listen to The Cure?” I asked.

He stared at me, blinked once, and replied.

“I’m not that punk”.

He did not become my friend.

I did not like that youth group.

Dad Dad Daddy-o

For Father’s Day, I was thinking about two of my favorite movie going experiences I had with my dad: The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997) and The Pink Panther (2006). Both movies are comedies and my main memory is just my dad laughing uproariously during each of them. 

Since it was 1997, I would have only been seven when we saw The Man Who Knew Too Little in the theater. I remember going with my dad and my dad's friend for sure. And I think my brother Jonathan went with us as well. The important thing is that it was not the full family. It instantly gave us inside jokes that the rest of the family didn't get. When you're the youngest of four that's always really cool. There are a lot of memorable lines we quoted and this scene is one we quoted the most (for those who don't know, Bill Murray's character thinks he's acting in a murder mystery type play but he is caught up in a for real spy plot): 

The Pink Panther came out in 2006 so I would have been sixteen. At the time, I was beginning to really get into movies as “art”. I was spending a lot of time online looking up the movies I was “supposed” to watch and developing a lot of strong but ultimately uninformed opinions about film.  I remember going to the theater with my dad and brother Jonathan thinking "I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to like this". But once the movie started and we were all sitting there together it didn't matter. All three of us laughed until our stomachs hurt and we had tears in our eyes. For months we would say "hamburger" with a terrible accent because of this scene:

I find it interesting that these are both minor blips in the filmography of two comedy icons. If you ask anyone what their favorite Bill Murray or Steve Martin movie is they would probably not say either of these two movies. But for me, they are up there because of the experience I had with my dad. 

These two movies, especially The Pink Panther, taught me an important lesson even though it took a lot of years for me to fully internalize it: Don't Be Stingy With Your Laughter. It doesn't matter what other people find funny, it only matters what you find funny. I see so many people with the attitude of "I dare you to make me laughas if they are too cool to laugh. As if being an easy laugh is a bad thing. But here's the thing: there is no "cool" way to laugh. Everyone looks like an idiot, drunk horse when they laugh. So if you're waiting to laugh at only the things that make you look cool and hip, well, you're going to be waiting forever. You may as well embrace your laughter and bring some joy into this world. The world desperately needs it. 

Maaaaan, The Man Is Non-Stop

I am a workaholic.

Those words seem ridiculous coming from me, especially if you’ve known me at any time in my life prior to the last two or three years. After all, I’m only about five years removed from waking up and driving to Taco Bell while wearing gym shorts and a hoodie with no shirt underneath in order to get a beefy five layer burrito for breakfast at three in the afternoon. (Yes, that really happened and there was a group of high school kids in the lobby that desperately made me want to yell, “THIS IS YOUR FUTURE!” at as I left).

For most of my life, I couldn’t even have been mistaken for a workaholic on accident. Throughout middle school and high school I carefully cultivated my image as a Lazy Smart Guy who was content to coast by on test taking ability and wordiness rather than wasting my time on silly things like “effort” and “studying”. I would tell anyone who would listen that my highest academic achievement was the semester in my senior year where I got straight 90s. That’s right, a 4.0 with literally the least amount of work possible. Quite an achievement to be proud of.

Luckily, in college I met the right group of people to help me shed the Lazy Smart Guy persona and settle comfortably into being just a garden variety underachiever. It’s a good thing I was able to move on from the Lazy Smart Guy persona because everyone knows that Lazy Smart Guy is just one Pokemon evolution away from Fedora Wearing MRA Guy. So I’m incredibly thankful for the friends I made in college who helped me to avoid that trap.

Even though I was content to be lazy in most aspects of my life, I was always different when it came to my job. I understood that if I was getting paid I needed to show up and give my best work. So I always had a good work ethic when it came to getting paid, I was just never able to translate it to school no matter how much my mom tried to convince me I was getting paid for my school work in future opportunity rather than monetary compensation. (I mean, I understood the argument but it’s hard to buy Shocktarts with future opportunity, ya know?) Through high school and college I kept a healthy work ethic in that I worked hard at my job but I never took the work home with me. I always had other areas to occupy my time when I left work. School, books, video games, writing, comedy. Those were my focus and work was the thing I did to get paid. 

That changed when I moved to Albuquerque and started getting promoted at Starbucks. First it was Shift Supervisor because I needed the raise to afford rent. Then it was Assistant Manager because I wanted enough of an income that Amanda’s dad wouldn’t laugh at me when I asked to marry her. Then finally Store Manager because I needed to provide for my new family. With each step along the way I started taking work home with me more and more. Keep in mind this is with Starbucks so it is not a physical thing. I wasn’t bringing home a little espresso machine in a brief case each night and serving up lattes in my kitchen. No, it’s an emotional and mental thing. 

I’d find myself thinking about work all the time. What could I be doing better? What do I need to adjust so my store can hit the goals it’s supposed to? Initially, I didn’t take this as a bad thing. In fact, I was proud. I mean, it was good that I cared so much right? I saw this as me finally stepping into the world of adult responsibility. I honestly assumed the amount of stress and anxiety I felt was what normal, non-lazy people felt all the time and I was a wuss for not being able to handle it. For two years as a Store Manager I carried the burden of that anxiety around with me, lying to myself and to others that I was doing fine. 

Then my son was born. 

Suddenly, all the space in my head that I had reserved for caring about work was emptied and replaced with caring for this wonderful new life. I no longer found myself thinking about work in the shower or sitting in the couch. I was thinking about Simon. 

The more I focused on Simon, the less I focused on work. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about work anymore. It just means when I’m at my store I give 100% to work and when I leave I stop thinking about it. With that little change I suddenly began to feel lighter. The cloud of anxiety, which I had lived with for so long I had forgotten it was even there, disappeared. The love and responsibility I felt toward Simon completely overwhelmed the responsibility I had toward work. However this was something new—a healthy love and responsibility. Now I wake up every morning excited to see his chubby little face rather than resigned to another day at work.

As this shift took place, a funny thing happened. Because my mental and emotional state were no longer tied up in my store, I actually had the energy for all the things I’d never had time for when I was focused on work (reading, writing, drawing, playing guitar, working out). I used to wake up twenty to thirty minutes before work—enough time to shower and get there on time. Now I wake up an hour before work. I have time to shower, make a French press, and read or write for 30 minutes. At night, I’m making time to write. I’m back up to being able to write about 1,000 words in an hour and I’m working on a novel I have left unfinished since I got promoted to assistant manager in 2015. It’s crazy but I have actually had more time for my creative pursuits since having a baby. 

Caring for Simon has made me realize that I was spread thin before because I gave too much of myself to work. I assumed that if I worked harder, worked longer hours, it would ultimately be better for the store and for me. I see now that there are diminishing returns. If I am not taking care of myself outside of work then I am not able to give my best while at work. It seems counterintuitive but working less has not only made me happier it has actually made me better at my job. 

I am now a little over five months into being a father and I have made peace with the fact that I am a workaholic. I still have days where I try to take too much of work home with me but they are far fewer than they were before. Luckily, whenever I do start to feel that familiar anxiety creep back into my psyche I have a good method for getting rid of it—his name is Simon. 

Come Get Your Boy

 The title is a reference to this Facebook post by W. Kamau Bell. 

Today I had a lovely experience at my store.

An enraged white guy started yelling at one of my employees, calling her retarded and “Social Justice”. When I asked him to leave, he pointed to a (admittedly nice) car in the parking lot and loudly proclaimed “that’s a ninety-five thousand dollar car and I paid cash for it”. I told him that’s nice but I still need you to leave because you can’t talk to my people like that. He responded that he is a millionaire and would never have to work another day in his life. He told me that because I was not a millionaire like him that I was shit. I told him I love my life and my job and he still needed to leave my store. Finally, he left, loudly yelling at me that I was “Social Justice”, retarded, and a libtard. He kind of paused before he said the libtard part as if he was gearing up to throw down an insult that would reeeaaallly hurt me. 

I made some jokes about it afterward, saying that I’ve never seen Twitter in real life before and referring to him as a member of the Intellectual Dark Web, but honestly I was shaking with anger for a good fifteen minutes afterward and I am still angry. 

What’s crazy though is that I was only shocked because this was a real life person saying those things to my face. If I had read those things online or heard a media personality say them or heard an elected politician say them I would not have been surprised. Because I’ve been reading those things and hearing those things for the last three years. They have been legitimized and embraced by people in positions of power and cultural influence. 

This rich, white man yelling in a cafe was not an anomaly. There are so many more like him and they will only get louder unless we stop indulging their “the world is getting too PC” fantasies. 

The world is not getting too PC. There was no golden age where people didn’t get offended. The difference is that now the internet has given a voice to the people who have always been offended but also been ignored. 

I know I’m rambling so I’m going to wind this down. I just want to say to the people in my life who pride themselves on being Anti-PC and who vote for politicians because “I don’t agree with everything they say but at least they’re honest” that this is what you’re advocating for.  

The ideology you embrace and give credence to is not about “freedom of thought” and “freedom of speech”. It’s about rich, white dudes being able to yell right-wing catchphrases at 20-year-olds in coffee shops.  

This Is How We Duet

Every so often you have those moments that certify yes, you and your partner are perfect for each other. Sometimes these moments are joyous, sometimes they’re serious, other times they’re silly, and unfortunately sometimes they’re sad. 

Today, Amanda and I shared a silly moment and it’s one of my favorite silly moments we’ve had in a while. 

I was changing Simon’s diaper and Amanda was getting some laundry ready to be washed. As she often does, Amanda was singing to Simon as she walked around the room picking up stray pieces of laundry I had left behind when I hastily took the hamper to the laundry room. It’s always a random song from her extensive music teacher repertoire and today the song of choice was Old MacDonald Had A Farm. In the middle of her song, she stopped to ask if I had intentionally left behind a trail of socks. I responded with something flippant and started singing “Old MacDonald had a sock...”

Because she’s the best, Amanda joined in and sang along with me. I thought, awesome she joined in but I’m going to try extra hard to make her laugh. So when it got to the E-I-E-I-O part, I sang “E-I-E-I...SOCK!”

And she sang THE SAME EXACT THING! 

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It was amazing. Poor Simon doesn’t know what he’s getting into. 

But, Like, Why Though?

Great question!

I wanted to create this website/blog/vanity project for a few reasons. 

1) It’s an elaborate way of tricking myself into writing more by creating deadlines and a structure. It’s also easier to write if I get to post it somewhere people could potentially read it. 

2) I really don’t like Facebook but I want to post longer updates about my daily life (AND BABYYYYY) since most of my family and friends live in other states. I will never recommend my family follows me on twitter so this seemed like a better option. 

3) I like playing around with website formatting because it reminds me of my Xanga and MySpace days. 

4) I actually am low key vain.  

On The Format:

Right now I will be publishing nonfiction pieces every Wednesday and short blog entries daily-ish. My nonfiction pieces will vary in length and subject matter, the only theme being write what I want to read. My blog entries will basically be glorified Facebook posts but with the bonus of letting me feel smug for using Facebook less.  

As I get used to my website schedule and increase my writing output, I will begin adding new sections to the site. My next section will be a short fiction section but that won’t be for a month or two because I have a tendency to overdo it on creative projects and I want to ease into this. After that I want to add video and music sections! But that won’t be for a long time. 

Anyway, thanks for reading!

Just Wear With Me On This

Today I hit the special milestone of successfully wearing Simon in our BabyBjorn carrier. It sounds stupid but it's actually a big deal. He has always loved being in the carrier with his mom, but for some reason he has hated being in the carrier with me. However, this morning I decided to give it another try and he liked it! At least that's what I'm assuming falling asleep in the carrier means. Maybe he was just so annoyed with me putting him in the carrier that he went to sleep as a way of avoiding me (If so he definitely learned that trick from me). It was really nice having him in the carrier. I got to rock him gently back and forth while he slept; meanwhile, I got to read a few chapters of my book and sip on a nice cup of coffee. That forty-five minute stretch of time was easily the highlight of my day. 

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