This morning we made blueberry muffins. My second daughter asked how it felt to be half a century old. Children can view the world in a different way. Half a century. Fifty years.
As always, I thought about how many crazy turns I’ve taken on my path. I thought it would be fun to share some fun “Top Five” blog posts over the next five days in celebration of living fifty years.
To start, this post will be my top five things that I am proud of.
Self publishing my poetry and fiction books. I have a few more projects in the works. It is exciting to create work that others enjoy.
Creating traditions for my family, like blueberry muffins on Sunday mornings. I’ve read books before bed for over 20 years. Other traditions have faltered, some are new, like deciding on a word for the year. But I think traditions are building blocks for a strong family.
Keeping an open heart even as the world and people let me down. Call me foolish, but I believe Love can save us.
Staying creative. Writing blog posts, taking photos, writing poetry. I try to listen to the muse when it hits. I’m working on a new short story right now. I have three new poems that are in rough draft form. Being creative keeps my spirit fueled.
Finding the courage to change the narrative of my family history.
Tomorrow I’ll share another Top Five post about moments.
I’ve been trying to come up with a clever introduction for this post. I’ve also spent time considering the tone of the post and how I can make the topic more reader friendly, more optimistic. I decided that the idea needed a more direct approach.
What you say is important.
It doesn’t matter if you are talking to yourself while addressing a golf ball on the fifth hole.
It doesn’t matter if you are talking about your spouse to coworkers.
It doesn’t matter if you are talking on social media.
It doesn’t matter if you are talking about people you don’t even know, like actors or athletes.
It doesn’t matter if you are talking to your kids.
It doesn’t matter when, who, or what you are talking about. What you say is important.
Words are powerful. They create emotions. They create community. They create works of art. They can build or destroy a relationship, a team, and even a nation.
Words create the way we see the world around us. I could give a thousand examples, but the message would be the same. What you say has power. It is your responsibility to handle that power. What do you say?
I self published my first poetry book in 1997. I used a local print shop and peddled the book around town. I sold about 50 copies.
As an assistant football coach, I had the opportunity to call the offensive plays for a game when our head coach fell ill. We did lose the game, it was a back and forth contest. We converted a risky two point play late in the game that gave us the lead for a while.
The first time I called my wife to ask her out on a date, I hung up on her. I called back, and the rest is history.
I quit a job, in fact two of them, without having another job in place.
And now, I released my first poetic EP, Stargazer. Which you can enjoy at the following streaming services.
You can even add a track from the EP on an Instagram story.
I thought it would be cool to mix my poetry with music. To create a unique listening experience and reach more people with my words. It was a crazy idea. My second son designed the cover, and I reached out to P.R for help with the music and production.
How many crazy ideas have you let go, for whatever reason?
Fear of rejection, failure, or success.
Knowledge of how to accomplish it.
Time it takes to make it happen.
The change that will happen to you and your life.
And let’s be honest, nothing is really lost if you don’t try. The sun will come up tomorrow like it always does. This is a hard truth about any goal we have. Even if we reach our goals, the sun will come up tomorrow like it always does.
So, why even chase small dreams, let alone the crazy ones?
Because it matters right now. The goals we have, the crazy ideas we have, give our life depth and meaning. By working toward a goal we get in touch with the real picture of who we are. We experience joy at an authentic level. But the crazy ideas spark our spirit like nothing else can in the world. The crazy ideas connect us to the real possibilities in our life, therefore creating a deeper sense of fulfillment of who we are and what life means for us.
The sun will come up tomorrow like it always does. So, what crazy idea are you going to pursue today?
I wanted to say a few things to you today as a basketball parent. I am writing this letter the day after my son’s last game. His career ended with the runner-up trophy at state. A bittersweet moment for sure. But I’ll come back to the ending later.
First, thank you, for so many things. See, I’m a football guy. I played basketball in junior high and my sophomore year in high school, but football is my game. Yes, I thought my sons would play the game I loved. But they found you instead, especially Dante. Basketball became a central part of our family for the last 10 years, and our family is stronger because of it. Let me explain.
Both of my sons started playing basketball in elementary school. In fact, they played together on the YMCA’s 3 / 4 grade team. My oldest son stopped playing after junior high because he found his passion on the stage, but basketball became a part of Dante’s journey of becoming a young man. And what a journey it was for him and us. As I write this through the flood of memories, I have to laugh because my son was at the top of the zone on that first team, and would be the main player at the top of his high school’s 1-3-1 zone. (He ended this season with over 70 steals.)
But, this letter is about what you gave to use as a family. Basketball, you gave us moments together. From heartbreaking last second losses to incredibly joyful wins. You showed us the best in people, and sadly the worst sides of people. You brought friends into our lives, and revealed how connected our own personal journeys are.
It started with Saturday morning trips to get coffee and then to a local gym, sometimes with good seating, other times parents would be shoulder to shoulder standing against the wall trying to keep little ones from stepping onto the floor.
As my sons got older we traveled to elementary tournaments. We would pack snacks, drinks, try to plan when we could eat. By this time, the boys were on separate teams, and we would sometimes have to decide who went to watch who, let alone timing the games because we only had one car. My wife and I would send game updates and pictures to each other. We strengthened our communication skills for sure.
Then, when Dante earned a spot on the Bison team (Nebraska Basketball Development Association) in junior high, you took our family to another level. In fact, I am a better father because I messed up during a summer tournament.
The tournament was in Omaha. We traveled back and forth from home to Omaha like we usually did, I was tired. Any parent who travels for AAU knows the bone weariness that comes with traveling. It was an early Sunday morning game and I did something uncharacteristic. I yelled at my son during the game.
OK, basketball, you know that fans and parents, especially, can be harsh and disrespectful. We have always tried to be respectful of the game, teams, and officials. In fact, except for this year, I was pretty quiet for a sports dad. This year, I just had to cheer loud! But back to that Sunday morning, Dante committed a turnover, and I hollered something in frustration. Honestly, I can’t remember what I said exactly, but it hurt my son. I knew it right away, too. After the game it took him 30 minutes to come to us and he gave me the cold shoulder. He wouldn’t walk with us to the car. I apologized to him, but it took awhile for him to forgive me. I have never crossed that line since then. Even though it was one of the toughest lessons to learn, I have to thank you for it.
You are also responsible for another tough lesson as a father, maybe not a lesson but a milestone all fathers have; that moment when a son is better than their father. I don’t know how many hours we have spent playing basketball on our driveway. When the boys were young it was them against me. As they got older, the games became tougher to win for me, so we would play Red, White, and Blue (One-on-one where the person who makes a basket stays and the other player rotates in). Then came the day Dante straight-up beat me, you can read the poem about it here: Driveway Basketball.
Again, as memories flood my heart, our driveway hoop had a hand in building Dante’s other passion, photography. He would experiment with creating cool images of him shooting. He would set his smartphone on the concrete and make shots, then blend them together. Basketball, you have been an inspiration, even for art, for my family.
The biggest thank you, though, is for all the awesome memories, and not just on the court. As mentioned before, you have given our family opportunities to be a part of other families’ lives. On Championship Saturday we got to share in the victories and defeats of former Bison teammates. We understood their basketball journeys on a level the casual fan couldn’t. We appreciated their game because we knew their life off the court. Because of basketball, our lives are richer with friendships and stories we can share when our paths cross in the future.
And some of those stories are just for our dinner table. Because of the opportunity to play basketball, our family has created our own memories, from grandpa meeting us to drop off forgotten shoes, to having our engine basically rebuilt in two days while in Chicago. (Thank you, Brett!) You have strengthened my family by allowing us to experience life, both on the court and off. Thank you, basketball, even as my son’s career ends and I feel the pain of never watching him drive to the basket again, my heart is filled with joy for being the father of a basketball player.
P.S. My elementary daughters have enjoyed the game, too. My second daughter plans on playing next year in junior high.
Well, somehow we survived 2020. To be honest, though, I’m not sure how we will do in 2021. There is too much hate, apathy, and disregard of the sacredness of life for me to be fully hopeful that 2021 will be any better. I know this post is starting out on a negative vibe, but it is honest. No, HONEST is not my word for this year, but being honest with myself did lead me to my word for 2021.
LIVE, as in live music, is my word for 2021.
There are a number of factors that influenced my choice.
First is my poetry. As soon as possible, I will be attending open mic events. I also have some social media ideas that I will be investigating to share my poetry. As much as possible I want to present my works to the world. Where will these steps take me? I don’t know… and that is the exciting part.
Second, I want my everyday life to be more live. Meaning that this year I don’t spend valuable time behind a screen. I am live in my own life. I am there for my family and friends. I am there for my goals. It is too easy to feel like I am doing something when I check my Instagram feed, or Twitter. It feels like I have accomplished something when I complete a level on a match-three game. But, honestly, I have done nothing.
Maybe because I will turn 50 this year, but the third aspect of my word is to be thankful for this life by living it… yes, this connects to point two, but is deeper than just putting down the phone. There is a spiritual aspect to living. No matter what you might believe, we only get today. And our life is the collection of these days. Making sure I am live each day is one way to pay respects to this chance I have. To be thankful for the love of family and friends. To make this world a better place, even if it is just in my home…it’s the best place I know to start.
So, here is to a new year, 2021.
Here is to new poems and opportunities.
Here is to today being lived in front of a live audience.
My intentions were to write a scathing, angry letter to you. To address all the failures and heartache this dream of being a writer has caused me. I wanted to tell you about the sinking feeling I get when I read another rejection email. How my stomach becomes a rock that pulls my confidence down into a dark hole. Even the edges of my vision go grey like an Instagram filter.
I wanted to ask what the purpose is for having this dream. I have been writing since the fifth grade. My personal blog, It is all Connected, has over 100,000 words. My creative blog, Creative Corner, has 187 posts, most of them poems. I participate in the Twitter very short story (#vss365) community. I have self published five books.
If I stopped writing, nobody would care.
But I have this dream of being a writer. That when someone says my name, they mean poet. I have this dream of someone recommending my book to a friend. That a poem I wrote is someone’s favorite poem.
But instead of an emotional letter, I am caught again in the tangles of writing. I feel the joy of articulating my thoughts onto paper. The power of creating an emotion or thought through words for the reader. I am looking forward to creating the blog post for this letter. I will create a cool title banner for this. Maybe find a video to end with…
But what you have done is light a fire in my soul. I am thankful for this dream. Even with the frustrations and rejection emails I will experience in the future. I have this dream of being a writer, even though I know deep down that the dream has already come true. These words prove it.
On March 16 I sat in a meeting on how school was going to be continued in an online environment. Students would be let into the school in waves to get their stuff the next day. Life was changing fast. I returned to my classroom to get things in order. Like many people, I turned to music to help with the situation. I sat down at my desk and turned to the music of Tears for Fears. Honestly, I don’t know why… maybe subconsciously I was thinking of the song “Mad World”, but I started out with their album The Hurting and played through their discography.
That was over a month ago, but I haven’t stopped listening to Tears For Fears. Even this morning on my walk, I listened to the album, Elemental. Now, I have listened to other artists during this time. In fact, I may be listening to more music than I have in a long time. Music has a powerful way of helping us deal with our emotions. During this time, the music from Tears For Fears has been a part of the way I have dealt with this moment in time.
So, as a thank you to them, I thought I would write a blog post sharing a song from each of their albums that I connect to during this time. Grab your headphones, sit back to enjoy some music from Tears For Fears and some writing from me. And Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith if you get the chance to read this: Thank You for the music.
Album: The Hurting
Yes, “Mad World” would totally fit our times. But “Change” connects with me because of the idea that there will come a time in life when it is too late. Too late to mend a relationship. Too late to follow a dream. The song has that repeating line though, “You can change.” Just a touch of optimism.
Album: Songs from the Big Chair
Song: “The Working Hour”
The build up of the layers of instruments in the first two minutes of the song just put me in a deep thoughtful mindset. Then comes the lyrics, “These things that I’ve been told / Can rearrange / My world, my doubt / In time, but inside out” address my state of mind right now… honestly, I think it does for all of us.
Album: The Seeds of Love
Song: “Famous Last Words”
The music starts slow. The lyrics set the scene of lovers in the future, just being together, but then at about the 2:20 mark in the middle of the line “And we will carry war no more” the sound explodes, making my heart jump… in desire to have a time to sit with the people I love and have the chance to “Listening to the band that made us cry / We’ll have nothing to lose / We’ll have nothing to gain / Just to stay this real life situation / For one last refrain”.
Song: “Break It Down Again”
This song makes me happy, in a sad intellectual way, especially the lines “And all the love and all the love in the world / Won’t stop the rain from falling…” It may seem odd, but I enjoy thoughtful lyrics, even if they make me feel sad. I enjoy analyzing songs, movies, and even though this song isn’t totally about that, it reinforces for me to break it down.
Album: Raoul and the Kings of Spain
Song: “Sketches of Pain”
This song speaks to my poetic side. How art often reflects our pain, our heartache. Art can bring beauty to our pain. This moment in history is providing me with a different kind of muse. This song reinforces the need to share my writing with you.
Album: Everybody Loves a Happy Ending
Song: “”Closest Thing To Heaven”
Even during these troubling times (which is the setting at the beginning of the song), there are good things in my life. The line, “Make love your destination,” is a powerful motivation to choose love every day. Family and friends, making new recipes, watching Miami Vice, is heaven right now.
Music helps us through tough times. For me, Tears For Fears is the music I need. Thank you, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith for your music.
Let me know what you are listening to during this pandemic.
The video was produced by my son. This is our first poetry video. We are working on a new video as I write.
My third daughter is teaching herself how to play songs on her keyboard. She learned the opening to “Purple Rain” for me.
I took my daughters to a crane viewing site by the river to learn how to draw landscapes.
I know life is challenging right now. I am teaching English online. My kids are attending college through kindergarten on line.
It is tough in so many different ways. But maybe this is also an opportunity. An opportunity for you, for your family, to do something you didn’t have time for… to do something outside your normal routine before the pandemic. Maybe, just maybe, now is the time to build your skills to go after your dreams.
I learned about the song, “comethru” from a senior for an assignment last semester. I like incorporating music into my lessons. It allows me to see a different aspect of my students. This song was shared during our study of the book, Night. In chapter 6, Juliek plays a last “concert” for the prisoners with his violin. The students had to share a song that lifts their spirits when life gets rough.
Life is rough right now.
This morning the students were allowed into the school to get their stuff and talk to teachers about how their classes would be handled online. They were allowed in by grade every hour. At one point I had about 20 seniors in my class. They were laughing, enjoying the chance to be together… maybe for the last time as seniors.
“Five More Minutes” by Scotty McCreery was a song submitted as a poetic song for our poetry unit.
A classroom, a school, is an intense snapshot of life. Everyday is filled with the full spectrum of emotions. Of victories and heartbreak. Personal growth and steps backwards. Each student has their own journey, yet it is shared with everyone in the classroom. Some of the fears are the same for every student as they walk the path to graduation. But right now, we are all sharing the same fear and anxiety of the present moment.
For a few moments, I felt OK this morning. After everyone left, a senior came back in, hand out toward me. “I need one more,” he said. And we did our handshake that we do everyday in class…
I’m not OK now… But again, I should listen to my students… Another song submitted for an assignment.
I know what you are thinking… You are a writer, a teacher, of course you think reading is cool.
But hold on, this post is not just about how reading helps in academics or in writing.
Even though it is true… this post is about how reading is cool.
The first reason reading is cool is because it generates unexpected thoughts. When reading a new book you will come across a line or section that makes you think about something you would not have thought about on your own. A simple line can set you off on deeper paths of thinking. A paragraph can elicit emotions or bring you to a new understanding of yourself or the world. I’ve experienced this lately.
While reading a book of poetry by A.E. Housman I came across the line above. The line challenged me emotionally, so much so I had to make a creative picture quote of it. Poetry hasn’t been the only text to challenge me. Stephen King’s book, The Outsider, has generated a sense of frustration. And that is a good thing. Without giving away the book, the story is a great example of Dramatic Irony, where the reader knows something the characters of the book don’t. By reading I get to understand myself a little better because of this emotion. I get the chance to work through why I am frustrated. Reading gives us opportunities to be challenged, to learn more about ourselves. That is cool, but it is cooler to share that experience.
The second reason reading is cool because it can be a shared experience. There is nothing like handing a person a book to read, then talking about it later. There is a different connection when people read something together because of the emotions and thoughts that they can share. One of the cool things I enjoy as a teacher is reading with students. Even though there are grades involved with studying literature, most times students enjoy the discussions that center around their thoughts and emotions.
The shared experience goes beyond the classroom, I shared in a past post (“The Why”) how a former student had a dad moment that spurred a memory from a book we read in class. The shared experience of reading is timeless. It is like a literary photograph. We can mention a book or poem and the memories flood the conversation.
Reading is important for a number of reasons. But reading is cool! Reading allows us to think of ideas we wouldn’t normally consider. Reading can make us feel emotions. Yet, the coolest part is reading can be a shared experience that connects us through those emotions and thoughts.
Below I share 5 works (in no particular order) you can read to connect with me, then share your thoughts in the comments. I can’t wait to read about what you thought.