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I found this writing while going through old files. While I wrote it when G was entering 1st Grade…he just entered 7th…I thought it timely to post this at the beginning of the school year.
– DDH

We made sure to arrive early so we could get a good seat right on the aisle in the old
church. Although we’ve been here many times before—holiday sing-a- longs, school
performances—today is different.

 

This morning’s Rose Ceremony holds special significance for us as 1st grade parents. As your children have done before, our child starts his or her journey through the grades.

The Rose Ceremony

The ceremony is simple and joyful, framed in anticipation—perhaps solemnity—that
doesn’t diminish the brightness in our eyes or lower the raised corners of our smiles.
Seated here in the first few pews—not unlike parents in years past—we’re here to
witness the start of a new song of sorts, poised at that ever-important first note.

The first note

We’ve all been there. We can relate. To me, it’s like the year—or years—of kindergarten was like an orchestra’s warm-up, each instrument finding its own notes, tone … and volume. But the 1st grade is when you can start to discern some sort of rhythm, some pattern, some melody.

What’s happens next?

That’s the question, isn’t it? Regardless of where your children are on this WSA path,
you can answer that question much better than our troupe, gathered together in silent
anticipation.

As 1st grade parents, we’ve come together as a class, all with varying experiences at and
outside of Waldorf, bringing different understandings of what lies ahead, and, of course,
unique reasons for being here of all places: these few acres with more than a few trees
in Decatur.

Kinship among strangers

I can’t help but think about how interesting it is that we all ended up here. As we get to
know each other, we learn about our reasons for being here and why we chose Waldorf.
Many of us want something more for our children. And some of us aren’t really sure what that “something” is, but feel we can find it here. We see the possibilities inherent in this environment. And we trust in the opportunities that are abundant in Waldorf education.

For others, being here is a reaction to public school. To a greater or lesser degree,
there’s dissatisfaction with what public education offers. For me that hits home.

My father—a lifelong educator and recipient of the California teacher of the year award—saw his health decline dramatically when classroom sizes swelled and disrespect ran rampant.

For others, Waldorf was a second choice. Fair enough. One parent wanted her kids to attend another local private school, but could only make the waiting list the first year. There was space at Waldorf though, and after a short time, she knew this school offered what her children and her family needed.

Regardless of our reasons for being here, our reasons are valid. It’s fascinating that
although the reasons that brought us here are across the board, we come together in what we seek to gain from this education: a whole education.

And that’s what Waldorf seeks to give.

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A good story

Screw this and all sane approaches. Just start writing.

“So how’s your book coming along?”

 

An old friend asked me that question yesterday as we stood around avoiding farewells before he headed up to Virginia, where he’d recently relocated.

The answer I used to give was, “The draft is moving along at a good clip, if you overlook the dust it’s collecting.” But it’d been so long since someone had asked that I stumbled over my once-rote reply. That gives you an idea how much dust we’re talking about.

I told him as much. And added in peripheral excuses: “Y’know, work’s taking a lot of time, and I’ve been occupied with our recent move and what-not…”

He knows I’m a writer, but I’d forgotten that I’d told him about my book. And his asking kinda took me by surprise.

George UHaul

George could write about cold oatmeal and spark a fire in your soul.

Foot perched in the wheel well of the UHaul trailer, another friend of mine, who’s more like an uncle than anything, shared that what works for him is just barreling through that first pass.

And he’s right, though bless his heart, George’s likeness doesn’t come to mind when I hear “barreling through,” as methodical and glacial as he is. One thing’s certain: the world’d be better for more of George’s writing.

The Virginian is a craftsman by trade, so the conversation turned up the analogy of roughing in a structure — slapping together a few 2x4s with 16-penny nails and calling it a shed and a day. The first draft … in 3D … real, there, existent.

Steven King even campaigns for powering through that first draft without self-editing. It’s true; he’s tried it; and it works. After that, you then open your office door to the world of opinion — yours and others’.

I don’t have mine at that point yet. It’s kinda like my own albatross; instead of hanging around my neck, it’s sitting on my desktop, ancient like a mariner. It’s tough to put this truth out there without having put the book out there.

I’m the writer.

An artist friend suggested I read Steal Like an Artist. I respect her a bunch, bc as an artist she walks the talk … or the walk … I can never recall. No matter how you say it, that’s what she does. (That’s one reason I own two T-shirts she designed.) And so I bought the book.

Just 28 pages into it, I write the title to this blog, penned outta frustration that’s been building for a while. It’s not so much a compositional call to arms as a statement of fact:

I write. So (with a tip of the hat to Immanuel Kant), therefore I am.

Steal like an artistYour words vs. my words

As professional writers (well, creatives of any color, really), we’re tasked with using what are inherently our words for someone else’s benefit. That someone else can be another soul or a soulless organization. And in that process, there’s a transmutation, wherein what originates within us as professional writers changes into what fits the other’s needs.

It’s nothing new. Even Michelangelo had his patrons, right? Norman Mailer wrote about Monroe “because [people would buy it]” as I understand it.

I think that we, as writers, lose a bit of our souls in the process regardless. Editing is a separate process, mind you, one that’s honorable IMHO (and not just because I can’t seem to pry that editorial hat off my noggin).

Copy Kamikaze

What I’m taking issue with is the act of writing for others at our own creative expense.

When we do, we’re subject to their whims, opinions, tastes – and that has nothing to do with our own inclinations or our better judgement as writers. But, hey, they’re footing the bill and helping make sure our rents or mortgages are paid monthly on time.

So we have to bend. That’s part of the game.

But don’t break

If it gets to be too much, then you have decisions to make.

Let’s say you’re a freelancer. You’ve gathered (through trusting yourself and selling your worth to others) a number of clients that, pieced together, can support you. As such, you’re freer to say fuck it, or more pointedly, fuck you, and walk.

It’s all on you, so you’ll then have to lean more heavily on other clients or patrons. Or perhaps hustle to replace the one you just dis/mis/ed. The decision to jettison the client is binary: do it or don’t. Simple. You just have to make the call.

But say you’re employed full time. Salaried. Benefits. Vacation. 401 … ok? Hook, line and sinker. You’re all in – and don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty sweet as long as ocean’s not too choppy.

The bends

In this case, the degree of your bend is arguably more obtuse than the freelancer’s. As you increase the bend, however, you feel it more acutely.

Castle, my hero.

Be willing to take a stand.

The decision in that case is one of either giving in to the ever-present, sometimes-regretted impulse to say fuck it, or, lacking that, deciding to acquiesce.

Poor vs. proud

Why do the latter? Making the mortgage is pretty sweet. And as a former manager (and fellow freelancer) on a contract job once quipped in a feigned cavalier tone, “Being poor sucks.”

I’ll offer a third option, one which I’m leaning into, drawn into perhaps, as a way of creative self-preservation: Do good … enough.

Be boring

I’ll be damned, but “Be boring” is one of 10 missives that fellow scribbler Austin Kleon, the author of the above book that somehow kicked off this anything-but-pity-party post, suggests. I’ll get to that chapter soon enough, but here’s what I think he’ll suggest:

Do good … enough.

Deja vous, right? Right.

If you’re boring, you’re not being creative. Either that or people simply don’t get what you’re giving. You’re so deep that it appears simplistic on the surface. (That’s a blog for another time.)

But let’s say that honestly … you’re boring — on purpose. Boring affords you something invaluable: a creativity surplus. It’s there to use for you, not others.

Good enough

Say you do good enough for a client. They’re happy; they’ve gotten a writing product that they’re happy with. You’re happy; you’ve satisfied your client AND more importantly you’ve not expended your creativity when it wasn’t needed.

So you got this creativity surplus. What do you do with it? Easy – use it for yourself. For your stuff. For clients that recognize it … and appreciate it. Damn straight.

Acme & Co. wants pablum? Publish it, baby. Preserve your purple prose for something else, something more worth your while.

Write good. Save the great writing for those who recognize it.

I picked up a little gem in Wuxtry Records $1 CD bin yesterday: Ill Communication by the Beastie Boys. For a crumpled dollar bill, it was a dealio of a deal.

But it turned into a two-fer. Hidden under Ill was my senior year of high school … on disc. No less than Check Your Head. Yes yes, y’all!

This one’s for you and you and YOU!” It was like that, but all for me and me and me!

BEastie two-fer

That’s wha cha, wha cha, wha I want.

1992, fall — Driving around in Phillip’s ’92 or ’91 Jeep Cherokee, playing it way too loud. Like Jimmy Walker, it was dy-no-mite!

Good times. Phil in the driver’s seat on his crash course to self-destruction or thereabouts, though we didn’t know it at the time. And Monik and I fighting for shotgun. Ah, sitting there boosted our egos like KITT boosted the turbo back in the day.

i-love-manischewitz

They say you never forget your first … hangover.

We’d meet up at Phil’s mansi…er, house, hang out for a while, maybe he and Monik would jam on drums and geetahr, respectively. Then head over to the Friday night Woodward football game.

As we made our way through the College Park suburbs the volume was still cranked, speakers distorting the already distorted vocals.

Back to Phil’s place after an obligatory stop at The Waffle House or the BBQ Kitchen and followed up with some Man-oh-man-oh-Manischewitz.

OK, that’s the end of it for tonight, folks ….

For her, it was never a question of if things would get better, but when.

The-rain-is-falling-lightly_1

Ame ga ochite imasu

And her friends knew that about her, too. They were accustomed to how she could always find the slightest yellow-gold fissure among the storm clouds.

 

That’s where she’d focus, even if it meant the last remaining drops might find their way into her hazel eyes.

Things hadn’t been easy for her. Hardship, loss, and change never are. But things get better.

“They always do,” she would often say, peppering their downcast chatter with her characteristic optimism.

And while some didn’t take her seriously, some took heart, making her words worth while.

Taking heed of her own words now, she looked up and searched for yellow-gold.

Gabriel wants to be an architect. Admittedly, that brought a smile to my face, not simply because I once wanted to, but because as much as he loves Legos it just makes sense. The boy loves to build.

Fatherhood-and-Legos

Let’s be honest, shall we?

Beyond G’s fascination with bricks, I’ve been thinking about houses, moving, remodeling, and the possibilities that are spawned at the intersection of all that. The reasons why I’ve been ruminatin’ along them lines will come into focus soon enough … in later posts.

Usonian Homes in Legoland
But driving back home with him today, somehow the concept of the Usonian home came into the conversation. I think we were talking about designing our own place and how we’d go about it.

When he asked, “What’s a Usonian home?” I tethered the new concept to one he was familiar with: Frank Lloyd Wright. We’d visited Wright’s home and studio in Illinois several years ago (a birthday present to me), and I’d gone through some FLW books of mine with Gabriel.

Usonian? What the @*&# is Usonian?
After I’d explained enough and the 68mph buzz of the traffic filled the lull in conversation, I found myself thinking back to my own study of that distinctly Wright-esque design.

In pursuit of my Communications & Rhetoric degree, I chose the Usonian home as a research topic in an investigative writing class. My professor approved it (thanks, Killian!) and I launched into a series that I (perhaps hoity-toityly) dubbed “Usonian: A Concept of Life, Community, & Growth.” <pause for effect>

I won’t bore you with the “mini-mini research paper,” which weighs in at a not-so-mini-for-a-blog-post 1,500+ words. However, what follows is the feature article from that series, written by a decade-younger Derek.

It ain’t published yet, so if you know of anyone who’s looking for some decent writing, please send them my way. (Typos, as originally included, are on the house.)

FLW UsonianThe Usonian Home: A Cursory Guide to an Architectural Concept
If you’ve ever been involved in the housing market – buying, selling, or fixer-uppering – then the concept of the ranch-style house is not foreign. But few people are aware of the origin of this design.

And what is the origin? In a word: Usonian. More than a short-lived buzzword, Usonian is a concept of affordable, simple housing with a strong visual connection between the interior and the exterior. Striking to those both familiar and unfamiliar with the term, the Usonian concept originates with none other than Frank Lloyd Wright.

Designed to satisfy a modest budget, harmonize with the environment, and please the owners’ aesthetic tastes, Usonian homes shared several characteristics.

  • Unpretentious in size (1,200-1,500 square feet)
  • Designed for the American working class
  • Energy-efficient, using much less energy than a modern home of similar size
  • Constructed for a cost-per-square-foot consistently lower than market price
  • Comprised of modular materials
  • Supplied solar heating during winter, natural sunlight during daytime, and cooling by virtue of the homes’ orientation and landscaping

In addition, many of these homes are, simply put, beautiful. The straight lines, natural materials, and hybrid of function and form that they seem to effortlessly crystallize assure their place in the annals of architecture. They are not as grandiose as other Wright works.

There were only around 100 designed and 60 or so Usonian homes constructed. However, their simple answer to the need for not only affordable, but pleasing working-class housing is indelible on the American landscape: Wright’s Usonian is considered the precursor to the modern-day ranch home. While she stated that belief herself, writer Suzanne Boyle admits it’s “a radical notion coming from an architect born in 1867.”

True enough, such monumental architecture as The Guggenheim Museum in New York City and the Fallingwater residence in western Pennsylvania come quickly to mind at the mention of an eccentric architect named Frank Lloyd Wright. Yet, the Usonian home, the more humble aspect of his genius, reaches American families living in their single-story, 2bed/1bath ranch homes still today.

And that makes the Usonian home an architectural concept that hits closer to home than we think.

 

The year of writing dangerously

IMG_20151124_160359.jpgWelcome to 2016, the year I write for myself. Buckle up, buttercup.

I’ve got a vague idea what writing for myself actually means, what I intend it to mean, or what I’ll have to show for it 12 months from now. But somehow I’ll muscle it into something entertaining.

For those new to my blog, I’m a writer. (Sounds sexy, don’t it? That’s why I chose the profession … kinda.) And while I write a metric crappe-tonne of copy each year, I don’t blog often.

Writin’ for the man, while being the man
I feel fortunate (and I do mean that sincerely) to write for living. A majority of that writing, however, is for other people, namely my employers: a Big Four firm, a local bike shop, a start-up solar energy company, an asana-kickin’ yoga studio, and a top-ranked MBA program.

Yes, I pimp my prose and bullet points alike. Don’t judge … because it pays the bills.

But in kicking around the idea of writing in the New Year, it became clear there was this rift between what I want to write and what I’m tasked with writing. I have been struggling with the fact that there are things that I want to write – the words and ideas that I feel I need to write – that I have not written.

Herdin’ the copy along
And I believe I recognize that rift more clearly than ever because other areas of my life (beyond words) are shifting for the better, areas that have been stagnant for so long … almost calcified to the point of my not believing that they could change. I’m ready for my writing to follow suit. And I’m ready to make it so.

So what do I plan to crank out on my keyboard?

I won’t list my ideas and half-drafted/half-assed topics here, because it’d be too easy for me to say, “Oh, well, I made some progress when I mentioned some topics in that first blog on January 2nd, so I really don’t need to do any work on it this week.”

Screw that. I’ve procrastinated long enough. Too long, in fact. Now, other things can wait.

That’s why I’m struggling to write, ready, and publish an entire blog post while sitting in my car when I should be grabbing groceries at Rainbow Natural Foods. Sniff sniff … Ah, the smell of nutraceuticals in the morning.

Nothing to see here. Move along.
My intent is to use this blog as an exploration … push off the bank, jump into the canoe, feet wet, paddle cutting into the current, and see where each trip takes me (and anybody else crazy enough to join in).

12410563_840870542691802_3734562292201310941_nFlash fiction, character development, images, ruminations, poetry, short stories, writing/editing tips, recollections, book proposal outlines, perhaps a sestina on the oedipal/electral undercurrents in Star Wars. Hell, I might even try my hand at a podcast. Who knows? I don’t.

And depending on what’s on my mind, whatever shows up might look like I used this blog like a chalkboard, sketchbook, velum, ransom note, canvas, or even the side of a dumpster.

It probably won’t be pretty, folks. But it doesn’t have to be pretty as long as it can simply be.

And if what comes to be happens to be something you dig, then lemme know in whichever way tickles your fancy: like, comment, share, subscribe, or email.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Bliss by chance

Last week I wrote about a family tradition, one that my wife and I have carried out with an exacting precision that would make a German engineer proud. This morning, I find myself midstream of another, albeit a tradition that’s three-quarters unintentional and one-quarter “Sure, why not?”

Two-thirds of The Ham Fam slumbers this July 4 morning. Who could blame them? Yesterday was full and fun. Rain’s falling slowly, steadily, and (contrary to those slogging through the Peachtree Road Race a few miles away) seemingly unconcerned about making good time. Meanwhile, amid all this anti-activity, this third of The Ham Fam finds himself awake, unable to get back to sleep.

I could get up. Get a cup of java. Put a couple slices of raw toast in the toaster. Pull back the curtains at the kitchen sink. Appreciate the bric-a-brac on the sill. Look past it to take in the vernal view of our backyard. Maybe pop a squat on the back stoop and enjoy simply being there.

“Sure, why not?”

image

Sitting out here, I feel a little Zen monkish…
Before enlightenment — eat toast, drink coffee
After enlightenment — eat toast, drink coffee

Typically, mornings such as this provide not so much excitement as they do quiet satisfaction. I think that’s kinda the point. I did, however, see (and hear) a sizeable limb fall in our neighbor’s yard. Pretty neat.

Songbirds sometimes get closer than is typical, taking a splash-bath in a puddle forming within a shallow exhalation in the concrete driveway, or maybe  searching for worms driven to the yard’s surface by the incessant rain.

Raindrops reach the stoop’s railing, sending small droplets to land on my bare legs and arms. It’s like Nature’s placing a hand on me, as if to say, “You don’t have to go just yet.” So I sit here. And enjoy it. And sooner or later I think to myself that I should start my day. So I do. Until next time, whenever that may be.

Proximate pitch

Ever since our son’s first birthday, we’ve had a little tradition in our family: We sing happy birthday to him at 8:54 a.m. each June 30, the time he showed up.

Today marks a decade of doing that. It’s also a mile marker of sorts since this is the first time we’ve done so without him here with us. He spent the night with a friend yesterday, but thanks to some telephonic coordination, our tradition continued.

Admittedly, it didn’t occur to me until yesterday that we three wouldn’t be occupying the same space when the time came for our tradition. And when it did, it felt… odd. The best i can give for why I feel this way is that we weren’t sharing the same space. We weren’t proximate. The more I consider it, the more that reason stands its ground.image

As an 11-year-old big boy (as of an hour ago), he’s moving so to speak into his own. Growing up. Filling out. Speaking up. Standing out. See… Even the words I scratch up to describe his journey reflect that.

It’s a far cry from a decade ago, leaning over the edge of a bassinet and quietly singing to a (thankfully) sleeping little boy for the first time. Proximate. Intimate. As close as you could get it seemed without actually reliving his birth. Family.

Ever since that day, there’s been change in that proximity. Not bad, mind you. And as we continue our little tradition, it will continue to change. And that’s OK. This year, it’s aloft thanks to the wonders of the T-Mobile network. And years from now… Who knows? There may come a time when singing to him requires calculating time zones and paying international rates. Still, I think we’ll continue to do it undaunted.

Today’s call was quick. His voice told me that he liked it. I could tell he was having fun with his buddy and wanted to get back to that business. Can’t blame him. But there’s meaning for me and his mama.

The irony of writing about National Screen-Free Week using a screen that I carry on my person at all times ain’t lost on me. At least it’s authentic irony rather than the veneer of irony that’s mistaken for wit these days.

OK that was kinda haughty. Sorry. Truth is, I’m having a hard time with keeping screen-free week screen free. And it’s beyond the fact I use a computer for my job. Maybe it stems from having an Atari 2600 Childhood. Maybe I’m hardwired so to speak. But I don’t think so.

At home, we don’t really watch TV. No computer games. Heck, not even phone games anymore. But I find myself reaching for my cell out of boredom, checking my Facebook or email, using it as a crutch. That’s not good.

image

Don't kill it. Don't love it. Just cool it.

With all conveniences, I suppose that in using them, our (unspoken) task is to self-regulate. Otherwise we risk using them to our detriment,  opting for pixels over personal interaction or… gasp!… reflection. That sure beats using “the truncheon in lieu of conversation,” but in the long run I’m of the mind that the effect of both are similarly detrimental, making us more subjects than sentients.

Still, screens provide an escape. And that isn’t always a bad thing. But for me, for this week, going screen free is quite the challenge. Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit the fourth wall.

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