If you’re feeling stressed…
A year ago today, my son and I were in Tokyo, walking miles, riding the subway in the wrong directions, ingesting strange drinks from vending machines and getting lost in between the future and the past.
With each photo I snapped, I told myself there was a story in that photo. A poem in that photo. A thought to share. At minimum, a caption.
A year passed and I didn’t do anything with any of it except kick myself for letting those moments of inspiration slip away while I was “busy” paying bills or making excuses.
I’m afraid. Afraid I don’t have a voice. Certainly not a voice anybody is interested to hear. Afraid that I’m just not good, even though that’s not the point. Afraid that I’ll be dead in middle-age, never having amounted to my potential.
Mostly, I’m afraid I don’t appreciate the moments, savor them and let them fill me with joy.
I know those moments are there and I am blessed that they are rather plentiful, but I don’t enjoy them as I should and let them sustain me as they could.
I’ll do better.
To my dearest love, who would never
think to donate this romantic poetry compendium
to the Lincoln avenue thrift store
scented of boiled eggs and Windex.
My aunt, Peggy, thought this was a lovely
gift on the occasion of my 13th birthday.
The hero’s journey takes him deep into the ravenous
coming-of-age heart of a poorly-curated strip mall
bookshop staffed by your oldest friend, Bryan, and his best
wishes on the birth of a sweet baby girl.
She will never read this short story collection
discarded for a fifty-cent credit toward a newer book or,
better yet, a video game
marked in permanent ink: Jimmy J’s
down down up up left right left right b a start.
Leave the seeds in my pocket
when you bury me in the ground.
Patient roots will tear me open
until the day I sit atop my stone
and watch the blooms
open to the summer sun.
I kept a notebook during my recent poetry class. it includes poem drafts, peer feedback, lecture notes and random rubble that may one day spark a full idea – you know, the stuff you should probably keep in notebooks.
Last night I flipped through the pages and made a quick list of the goals and notes I scratched in the margins.
It reminded me of the photo above of an empty coal power plant boiler. It needs something in it to start the fire…and I’ve been feeling creatively empty. Or possibly just whiny. (I’m not going to say busy as that’s not a good excuse)
A few are words ripped straight from the instructor’s mouth – comments I took personally but were intended for all. I take creative work too personally and I’m not always sure if that’s a failing on my part or a benefit. But mostly I feel like an imposter. Just another guy with nothing to say that anyone is interested in hearing.
If that is the case, I might as well have some fun with any creative pursuits.
Here are the scratchings I pulled from the notebook. Maybe they’ll help me. Maybe they’ll help you.
I have a bad habit of taking a photo, it sparking a bit of inspiration, dropping the photo in a draft document and then doing nothing with it.
A year passes and a lovely photo (or not lovely, those are inspiring too) along with a few notes sits on my guilt pile stacked with all the projects I have yet to work on. The pile is large and unfortunate and multimedia.
Because I want it all, but at the end of a long work week I mostly want junk food and mindless fun with the family.
I’m clearing out some of these drafts. In some cases, the moment has passed or the moment wasn’t that worthwhile to begin with. Others, I’ll hold on to as they could become something.
My hope is some Fall cleaning can help me ramp up for a run at National Novel Writing Month in November.
In the meantime, here we were waiting for the Tokyo subway.
Summer is hot. I’ve been devoid of creativity and pinched by stress.
Nothing warms my spirits like a note from my daughter and her acute skill at being equal parts funny and creepy.
Like this note, folded up and slipped into my backpack.
Some day she will write the end of the world and it will be the final word on the subject.
In the meantime, I’ll take this as inspiration to get busy.
To those who say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, I say you need to pick better heroes.
Before I jump into the opportunity I had to meet my childhood hero, I want to express my love for an often-maligned and looked-down-upon art form: professional wrestling.
Sure, it can be goofy as hell. Even embarrassing at times. But when done right, it is friggin Shakespearean storytelling clubbing our human emotions in the jaw like a stiff forearm.
I’m certain great pro wrestling had as much influence in me loving storytelling as any novel I read growing up. I’ve mentioned before how pro wrestling magazines played a big part in me pursuing a journalism degree.
Growing up as a socially-awkward small town boy (that will probably be the title of my memoirs), I fell in love with wrestling. It was big and colorful and crazy. This was the time of Sting versus Ric Flair, Big Van Vader crushing dudes and the Steiner Brothers rivaling only my other favorite brothers (Super Mario).
Then there was this crazy guy missing his front teeth who crash landed from some exotic town named Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
Even though Cactus Jack was a bad guy – a bad guy fighting my favorite at the time, Sting – I couldn’t help but become enamored. He was different than all the other guys on the television and seemed genuinely crazy.
It wasn’t too long after this I fell away from wrestling for a bit. It was in this time the Cactus Jack guy went off to Japan and became the King of the Death Match and a hardcore wrestling legend.
I returned to wrestling after renting a VHS tape of Wrestlemania that features an incredible match – Shakespearean, if you will – between Bret “Hitman” Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The obsession reignited and burned through the late 1990s, reconnecting me with that crazy Cactus Jack guy but in a completely different way.
The other exciting rivalry at the time was the Undertaker versus a guy with an ugly leather mask and unflattering brown jumpsuit looking thing.
This was Mankind.
He didn’t fit the WWF mold of giant bronzed statues of men with 24-inch biceps (or pythons, brother). But he was real and emotional, if a bit deranged, and not at all concerned with being cool.
I had never related to a wrestling character the way I related to Mankind. An insecure teenager is not going to connect on an emotional level with the cocksure swagger of The Rock (who I hated as he was frequently seen beating Mankind) or the “undead” 7-foot-tall Undertaker. As much as any kid can love the Undertaker, it’s tough to relate to a phenom.
The true story of Mick Foley began to bleed (literally and figuratively) into the onscreen story of Mankind, including the publication of his biography.
As a wrestling fan and book nerd, this sent me over the top. Mick wrote his own story (sat down with a ballpoint pen and notebooks and etched out every word himself, no ghostwriter) with enthusiasm, humor and a fascinating storytelling voice.
The book is this unbelievable action-adventure about chasing your dreams, sleeping in the back of a car after driving six hours to make $15 wrestling in front of 100 people and overcoming personal limitations, self doubt and naysayers.
Then he makes it to the big leagues and things get weirder.
Mick’s story is the kind that inspires you to reach for something better and I really needed that as a young man. It’s a reminder that being kind and working your ass off can take you far in life, even if you don’t look the part or don’t quite fit in.
To beat a dead horse, I was fully invested in Mick Foley’s story. I am secure enough to say I shed a few tears when Mick lost a retirement match to Triple H. I’m not sure if any of my friends watching the pay-per-view in my grandma’s living room saw a tear slide down my cheek, but I know they saw me throw the remote control across the room.
Fast forward about 20 years and Mick Foley is on a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of the infamous Hell in a Cell match with the Undertaker. My wife conspired with my mom and my mother-in-law to snag us tickets to the Phoenix show, including a meet and greet.
In the days leading up to it, I was starting to get nervous and had no idea what I would say to the man as he signed my weathered copy of Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks as well as copies of his children’s books signed for my kids (my daughter adores the Halloween and Christmas books, requesting frequent reads through the holiday season).
When I sat down next to him, I think I started with, “This is an opportunity to be genuinely cool, but I don’t think I’m capable of that.”
And I don’t remember what I said next, but Mick quickly picked up my rambling and started making sense for me. Then he said this:
“It can be tough, but I hope it got better for you.”
And I can honestly say that, hell yeah, it got better.
Mick Foley was gracious and kind. Then he got up on stage and crafted a masterful, funny and poignant story about the path to, through and the aftermath of Hell in a Cell.
I’ll use this word one more time: Shakespearean. Shakespearean as hell. And I loved every minute of it.
Thank you, Mick! It was a beautiful night.
And thank you to my beautiful wife, Burgess, who made it happen. It’s because of her everything got better. Because of her it’s been pretty dang amazing.
It was a fun opportunity to help make some connections that got a group of 8th graders out of the classroom and into a power plant. And then I followed them around for a video we published for our employees and via the company’s social media channels.
My little cousin was one of the dudes sweating it out at the West Phoenix Power Plant. For years he has wanted to become a magician. Maybe now he might think about something in the utility industry – like electricity magician.
hum, spit and squeeze trigger fingers,
shrapnel rattles round a bank of broken
bottles, cans, empty shells of countless
bored Saturday mornings.
They’re 13 and 15 hoisting 22s
like mules loaded with
the impatience of youth.
Each steel plink another drop of grain in the hourglass.
Each puff the pop of sand unearthed,
evaporated in the breeze, just another
miss in a long line.
Brother One pulls a sleek case from his backpack,
with reverent fingers lifts,
unlatches the clasps with a swift grind
Dad said the jewel in this treasure chest
ain’t worth nothing but killing a man.
Brother One eases the stainless
machine from its case, caresses
the gleam, so careful not to touch
with his soiled fingertips.
With eyes locked on the cracked
empty bottle of cheap vodka,
he exhales deep,
squeezes with tenderness
as if stroking the cheek of an infant.
inhale the echo of thunder
rattling down the dirt road.
Dad said this ain’t worth nothing but killing a man
With thump and circumstance
befitting a Morricone film score,
Brother Two toes the line,
steadies his fingers,
raises the machine
a precise 90 degrees,
Eviscerated beer cans, twisted aluminum
splayed like a suckling pig prepped for a flaming
hole in the ground. Heart pounding,
Brother Two imagines
himself on the other end of the smoke,
bloodless and black,
another pig dropped in the pit.
Are you going to church tomorrow?
Brother Two asks Brother One.
No, God knows my heart.
That’s what I’m afraid of.