Pedestal Soup

Part One

I rarely break for lunch during the work day. My logic is fairly straightforward: every minute I’m not working over the noon hour is just another minute I’ll have to stay at the end of the day. And I’m at the point in my life now where I don’t want to spend extra minutes at work. (Not saying it doesn’t happen; just saying I don’t want it.)

But skipping lunch doesn’t mean I don’t eat. It just means that I’ll grab something quick. Sometimes it’s leftovers from home but more often it’s just something from my desk drawer stash. I keep all sorts of things in there, everything from Ramen noodles to saltines to dehydrated pan-seared potato dumplings drenched in a Campari-infused arrabbiata sauce with white truffles.

One time, some years ago, I brought in a can of fancy soup. It was a creamy potato or tomato bisque thing. I can’t remember exactly. But the title looked yummy, and it was made by Campbell’s, and it cost something like $1.79. But it wasn’t noodles, saltines, or dumplings. So it was fancy.

I kept waiting for the perfect day to fix it. “Friday sounds good!” I’d say. “It’s been a long week and I deserve fancy soup!” But I’d get busy and put it off. Monday rolled around. “No, I can’t eat fancy soup on a Monday!” Days turned to weeks, weeks into years, years into the heat death of the universe.

“The problem is, you’ve put this soup on a pedestal,” my coworker sagely observed one day. “The longer you wait to eat it, the more you’ve built it up in your head.”

“You’re right,” I replied. “I’ll eat it Friday! Friday will be special!”

Friday rolled around. I fixed the soup. I ate the soup. It was disappointing. “Why this wasn’t any better than the $1.19 soup!” I complained to the sagely coworker.

From that point on, “pedestal soup” became our idiomatic expression for anything you build your hopes up for and then are ultimately let down.

Part Two

As mentioned a little while back, I’m running my current memoir-in-progress through my online writing community, Scribophile. The astute reader of my blog might remember I said this book would be available in April 2017. Well, clearly that didn’t happen. The current critique cycle will take this into July and I’d really like to take the time to get it right.

Which is a complete 180 from where I was last fall when I thought, “I don’t really care if it’s good or not, I just want to get it done and get on with my life.” However, almost on a whim, I decided to let the Scribophile community take a shot at it and I’m glad I did.

I really like having fellow writers who are also complete strangers look it over. No one sugarcoats anything. If something works, they’ll say it works. If not, they’ll pull a Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsay on you. There’s nothing to be gained from a weak critique.

With the latest critiques, almost everyone brings up the same flaw or two, and I do want to address those. There are at least two people who say it’s just not working for them. But, I’ve been happy that there are also a few people who totally get it.

Because that’s the thing with humor. You either get it or you don’t. Throw any comedian’s name out there and reactions are split right down the middle. Love or hate. Rarely anything in between. So when someone “gets it” I’m extremely happy because that’s so much better than zero people getting it.

To that end, I thought I’d share a few comments from recent critiques from those who get it.

This is so unbelievably well done.

I have to tell you that I read your next chapter, and the one after that, and the one after that. I couldn’t stop.

The writing is so clear, and concise. Breezy to read.

Genuinely funny writing is rare. It takes a special talent…and you have it in spades. Bravo! Really, really enjoyed this piece.

Now you want to read it too, don’t you? Well, be careful. Because I’ve just given you your very own can of pedestal soup. Don’t set your expectations at the $1.79 level. Odds are this will actually turn out to be a $1.19 book.

Friday Ramblings

I woke up at half past seven this morning, later than usual. Was up working late. Again. After spending a couple hours landscaping. Again.

Which is basically all I’ve been doing for a few weeks. The day job starts in the morning, runs all day, then continues into the late evening. Except when I take a break for a quick bite or to break my body on the landscaping out in the yard.

That project is an extension of the house move, a project which has been basically going on for two years now: from that first day we set out to “look at houses” up to last night where I banged the end of my finger with a hammer. Along the way, I’ve complained a couple times on the blog about all the house-related work, with the usual disclaimer that I can’t complain about a thing: as it’s completely and one hundred percent voluntary.

But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s soaked up a lot of time. According to my most recent Timekeeper report, I’ve spent 1,408 hours, 42 minutes, and 17 seconds on this project. By comparison, my upcoming cancer book only has 203 hours, 46 minutes, and 7 seconds logged. I try not to think of the fact that I could’ve written half a dozen books in the time spent teleporting all my belongings twenty-six miles north.

I’m looking forward to focusing again on my creative endeavors.

Any year now . . .

So I woke up at half past seven this morning, and thought, “Ugh. It’s Friday already.” That’s usually a happy day for people, but I’m just way behind on everything and need a few more days this week to cram it all in. “And I didn’t write a blog post last night,” I added, wondering what today’s post might be about given I only have about fifteen minutes to do it.

Welcome to Friday Ramblings!

This may become a thing.

Road Trip, Part 2

The drive north began well. I listened to Tim Curry read A Christmas Carol as the first two hundred miles of road rolled beneath me. It was a free download from Audible that year and the first time I’d ever actually “read” the story that had spawned so many dozens and dozens of adaptations.

“Rat ruz retty good!” the dog said when the tale ended.

“I know!”

We were past Dallas by that point when it began to drizzle a little. Normally, I’m all for the clouds and the wet stuff. But not at 3:30 or four in the morning, behind the wheel, with Scooby Doo getting nervous. But surely it wouldn’t last.

I ran out of steam somewhere in Oklahoma around 7:30 that morning. I pulled off the road and into a McDonald’s parking lot. After giving the dog a short walk, we returned to the car for a nap. I think I slept for an hour or two and, as before, woke up doubly refreshed. There was just a quick drive ahead of me (a quick eleven-hour drive) and we’d be done.

The rain returned.

“Ron’t rorry! It’re brow over!” the dog reassured me.

It didn’t brow over. The good news was: the rain finally stopped as I neared Chicago. The bad news was, it turned to snow and ice. The worse news is that my left shoulder began to hurt maybe some five or six hours from my destination.

For all these reasons, I rolled in later than I’d hoped. It was cold, wet, dark and miserable when I finally pulled up to my mom’s house in the car I’d just rolled off the dealer’s lot only one day earlier.

“Rat ruz an ordeal!” the dog announced when asked how the drive went.

I collapsed into bed, trying to ignore the continuing pain in my shoulder.

The next day was Christmas Eve. The pain hadn’t gone away and the family generally decided I should get it checked out. Laura and I drove to a twenty-four hour clinic. They ran a few tests and decided there might be a heart issue. Something about the EKG results. You should go to the hospital.

“Okay,” I said dejectedly, pulling out my keys.

“Oh, you’re not driving like this.”

“Like what? I just drove four hundred miles ‘like this’. I think I can make the five minute drive up the road to the hospital.”

They disagreed and before I knew it I was strapped to a stretcher and being shoved into an ambulance.

“Are you kidding me?” I said to no one.

Long story short, I spent the rest of Christmas Eve in a hospital bed where they finally declared, “We don’t know what’s wrong. Here’s some Vicodin. Go home.”

And that’s when I vowed I’d never drive from Austin to Chicago again all by myself. And in case you’re wondering, Tim Curry and the dog don’t count: neither one of them offered to drive.

Road Trip

It was December 2009, the week before Christmas, and we had plans to visit my mom in Chicago. Laura, Sarah, and Rachel had some extra time and decided to take the train. I would wrap up work and then a few days later drive up to meet them. After the holiday, we’d all drive back. Seemed perfect.

I dropped everyone off at the train station without event. (Not to spoil the story, but this was the last “without event” event of my story.) After the family safely boarded and were on their way for their leisurely (and envious) rail trip, I walked back to the car only to find it wasn’t acting right. So instead of driving home, I headed to the dealership. They took a look at it and determined, in technical terms, that it was “broke.”

Long story short, it would cost more to fix than it was worth.

Fortunately, it was still driveable, at least for a short time. I got home, informed Laura, and we made one minor adjustment to my travel plans. I’d drive a new car north instead. She spent a couple days in Chicago shopping for a car online. I spent a couple days working from home. And before I knew it, it was my turn to head north.

Late afternoon of December 22, I pushed the old car to the dealership. They gave me a $5 credit toward the new vehicle and in less than an hour, I drove off the lot with a new car. As soon as I got home, I packed everything up: suitcase, Christmas presents, and one dog and by six o’clock was ready for the long haul.

“Ready?” I asked the dog.

“Ready!” the dog replied, in her best Scooby-Doo voice.

We drove upwards of half a mile before I stopped the car.

“Ruh roh!” the dog exclaimed.

No, nothing was wrong, per se. But I was really starting to doubt my plans. I wanted to drive until about midnight, stop somewhere, and then move on. But I realized I just didn’t have it in me. I turned around, unpacked a few things, and went to sleep.

A little after midnight, I woke up, repacked a few things, and off we went again. Turns out that was a great idea: I felt very refreshed and now the plan was to just drive until I got tired, rest, and then continue on.

And speaking of “continuing on,” tune in next week for the rest of this story.

Railroad Escape

While I’m always busy to one degree or another (meaning, my brain is wired in such a way that it allows me very little downtime), there are times I get really busy. This is when the number of items on my to-do list exceed the amount of time allotted to their completion.

Having moved into the new house just last year, we’re now trying to top off the landscaping while there remain a few days of Texas spring and before the cloudless streak of burning triple digits force us into air conditioned shelter for seven months.

I’ve also spent the last couple weeks quickly ramping up on a project at work. This is going to be a big one: ambitious with a lot of eyeballs on it. And I’m bracing myself for the heavy and time-consuming workload that accompanies such projects.

Then there’s my new, self-imposed, completely-voluntary obligation of The Ubergroup at Scribophile. I applied for this earlier in the year to help me keep my writing moving forward. It’s the reason my current manuscript-in-progress will be: 1) late and 2) much, much better.

So it’s important to have at least some downtime, lest I pop. And today I’d like to share one of my little escape ideas. You can even try it for yourself!

Step #1. Search YouTube for something like Ambient Trance Beat. Grab the first or second result, and click play. No need to skip the ad, since we still have some work to do.

Here’s a perfect candidate:

Step #2. In a second browser tab, search YouTube for a “railroad cab ride” video. Important qualities: the view must be clear of obstructions (like, you don’t want to see the inside of the train), it’s best if it’s in HD, and it’s even more best if the camera is rock solid and doesn’t shake. Finally, it’s gotta be long enough to enjoy. Ten minutes is bare minimum, but I recommend one, two, or even ten hours. 🙂

Here’s a perfect candidate:

Step #3. You have three choices with the audio: either leave it on for a full mix, reduce it to a light background noise, or mute it completely. Note: if the person who uploaded the video added a music track already (especially something inappropriate like 80s Metal Hair Band music) mute it entirely.

Now, with your music happily playing in the other browser tab click ‘play’ on the train video, maximize viewing to full screen, and enjoy.

Helpful Tip

If you’re viewing this blog post on an appropriate device, you can experience this effect without leaving this blog page. Click play on both embedded videos, mute the train video’s audio, and full-screen the heck out of it:

Enjoy!

Best Flight Ever

It is Thursday evening, April 20, 2017, as I sit at my laptop and click away at this post. I’m in an airport, wrapping up a quick three day business trip, and waiting for my flight to board. I have a long wait ahead of me as it’s been delayed over two hours. So if this post rambles on and on a while, it’s not my fault.

First up, a confession. I don’t like to travel. There, I said it. This probably puts me in a tiny minority of humanity. Over the years I’ve gathered that it’s a Big Deal for a lot of people. They dream about them, plan for them, take them, and then talk about them long afterwards. There’s a seventy bajillion dollar industry built up around it. Clearly, there are people who live for this stuff.

Not me. The way I look at it is: I have a house. I dreamed about it, planned for it, bought it, and plan to stay in it for a while. It’s got food and running water and it’s where I keep all my cool stuff. Why would I want to leave that? For me, travel just brings discomfort. I have to leave all my cool stuff behind. I have to go outside and bump into other people. Sometimes I feel sick, sometimes it triggers anxiety, it’s almost always inconvenient. And the worst part? I have to pay for all that.

However, every once in a rare while, I don’t feel sick or anxious or put out and everything seems to just come together. My best flight ever took place back in 2010. Here’s what happened.

First, it was a stormy day. Everybody who knows me knows I love storms and dark clouds and rain and lightning and all that. Well, when I boarded the plane, a good ol’ storm was a-brewin’. It was enough to keep the plane at the gate for maybe an extra half hour or more. While I’d normally be inclined to grumble at the delay, this was just fine.

Second, the plane was completely full. That’s what they said at the gate. That’s what they said boarding the plane itself. But when I got to my row, it was completely empty. Huh. So I took my seat and watched as people filed in. Sooner or later someone would sit next to me, right? You know, full flight and all. But eventually every single passenger sat, the crew closed the doors and there sat I, in a completely packed plane: all alone in a row to myself.

Third, it was a stormy day. Yes, I realize “stormy day” was the First Thing, but it got even better after we went wheels up. The plane left the ground and headed towards those big, dark clouds I’d been eyeing for a good long while now. I assumed that we’d soon be engulfed in a sea of formless grey, windows quickly blocked with nothing to see. But as we climbed into the towering, monstrous forms, colored in every shade of dark you could imagine, the clouds steered clear of the aircraft, almost parting with a respective bow to let us pass. It was an amazing view in what felt like the eye of the storm.

Lastly, I had one of my manuscripts-in-progress with me. I spread everything out: laptop, notes, a whole seat just for my snacks and drinks, while the rest of the passengers sat elbow to elbow for the whole flight.

Man, if I could somehow work it so every flight was like this, I might just leave all my cool stuff behind more often.

Still No Decision

Every time I sit down to hammer out a blog post each Thursday evening or (more likely, Friday morning), it goes like this:

  • Check my list of “blog post ideas”
  • Stare at the empty white WordPress box awaiting my words
  • Shrug my shoulders

More often than not, I just come up empty.

This is what caused last week’s blog post to spring into being. I was happy to have a few people come out of hiding and leave an encouraging comment. But I still really haven’t come to any sort of decision. The dilemma is the same: do I post something half-hearted once a week or wait until I have something really worth reading and then post?

While I haven’t come to a decision, I have had a realization. And it’s not a new one either. We could even call it a re-realization. The problem with the blog is the same as my problem with everything: I don’t have A Thing.

Everybody successful has A Thing. Actors, writers, comedians, sculptors, the baker at your local grocery store. They all have A Thing. My problem is that I have Many Things.

If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, you know the 10,000 hour rule. If you haven’t read it (or even heard of it), here’s a great summary of it. In short, to become good at anything, you have to have 10,000 hours of practice.

That sounds like a lot, but it’s not. At eight hours a day, that’s less than three and a half years. But, honestly, spending eight hours a day at something that isn’t sleep or your day job is pretty difficult. If you get in a more realistic one hour a day, you’ll see this now takes 27 years.

And that’s just for A Thing. What if you’re interested in two things? Or five things? I’ll tell you what: you’re screwed. 🙂

If all I did was this blog, it would be the most awseomest blog in the whole wide world. But I have all these other competing interests. And all that is still on top of sleep and the day job, two things I’m not giving up.

Hmmm . . . what to do, what to do . . .

Ooo! I know. Go to work! I’m going to be la

You Deserve a Break Today

Wow. That actually happened. I certainly remember the line itself: like most jingles, it’s been permanently stored in that special long-term memory area of the brain designed solely for jingle-storage. But I have no memory of the full Broadway production we just witnessed.

Let’s watch it again!

Okay, I’m back. Whew. That was fun.

I chose the McDonald’s catch-phrase for today’s post because once again another Friday has snuck up on me, quite unfairly I might add. I’ve looked over my ten or so draft posts. I’ve looked at my “Blog Post Ideas” list, but I’ll be honest: I’ve got nothing.

And it’s not just today. I’ve been thinking the last few weeks, “What is this blog supposed to be about?” Back to the Fridge had a theme and a purpose. So did Elsewhither. Sadly, this blog is just all over the place.

It might be different if I were famous and had millions of adoring fans who thought it might be interesting to read about my weight one week and the progress of a manuscript the next. But for an average Joe-on-the-street it feels both aimless and tedious.

I think the answer is obvious:

  • Find my special purpose
  • Only post when I have something worthwhile to post

The reason I forced myself to post weekly was just that: to force myself to write. If I did nothing else, at least I’d have that anchor. The above two-point plan makes sense. What scares me is that “when I have something worthwhile to post” turns into once a year.

So . . . I don’t know.

Anyone got any ideas?

Top Ten List

It’s been a long week with a lot going on. Sadly, this week’s blog post has fallen victim to my lack of time. On rare occasions I can whip something up in twenty minutes or so, but only when my brain is operating at full capacity.

So in place of a real blog post, please enjoy this Letterman-style Top Ten list. This week, it’s the Top Ten Things I’ve Learned About Blogging:

Number Ten. Start your weekly blog post before the morning it’s due.

Number Nine. Write about topics people enjoy reading. Not Top Ten lists.

Number Eight. Keeping your blog a secret doesn’t boost readership.

Number Seven. Advertising your blog doesn’t boost readership either.

Number Six. There’s a fine line between “paying homage to” and “plagiarism.”

Number Five. You always have at least one out-of-date plugin.

Number Four. You always have at least one plugin that you’ve never heard of and don’t know how it got there but aren’t sure if you can delete it.

Number Three. The best way to attract a dedicated following is to immediately block access to your content with a “Sign Up For My Newsletter!” popup.

Number Two. The vast majority of your visitors have looked at your site and determined that your page ranking isn’t as high as it should be.

And the number one thing I’ve learned about blogging.

Never assume writing a quick “Top Ten List” off the top of your head will be a quick substitute for a real blog post.

Return to Onederland

You know it’s a busy week for me when I either: 1) don’t post at all, or 2) fall back on the classic weight loss topic. You’re in luck for two reasons this week: 1) it’s the latter, and 2) there’s actually something to report. Actually, two things: 1) the latest diet started out great, and 2) then it stopped. My guess is at this point one of two things will happen: 1) you’ll keep reading this post, or 2) you’re about to close this web page.

Back in January, I wrote about my weight ups and downs between 2013 and 2016. In a nutshell: I got back to Onederland in a big way during cancer treatment, somehow continued to lose weight through 2014 (getting to a near all-time low by Thanksgiving that year), and then quickly gained forty pounds back by January 1, 2017.

So I decided to do something about it. I carefully constructed a new, never-before-tried diet. I call it the Charlie Diet. Here’s how it goes.

  • Don’t eat 1,500 calories of Chex Mix each day.
  • Don’t eat a bag of holiday candy.
  • Don’t eat more than eight slices of pizza at once.
  • Don’t eat Cap’n Crunch out of the Kitchenaid mixing bowl.
  • If there’s time, exercise.

One of my few superpowers is the ability to lose weight very quickly after it’s been gained very quickly. And this time was no different. In the first four days of the Charlie Diet, I lost five pounds. I knew I was onto something!

But then something happened. Lots of things happened. Food kept going in my mouth without my permission. It wasn’t as bad as my previous 4,000 calorie-per-day run, but it was enough to stop the weight loss in its tracks. More than a month went by and all I did was bounce around that five-pound mark.

“It’s okay. It’s still early in the year. You got this,” I reassured myself with my hand in a bag of Doritos. I gained four pounds then lost four pounds. After nearly two months on the Charlie Diet, I had still lost the same amount of weight as I had in the first five days:

Then it happened. The thing that was missing. The Switch. I couldn’t make anything happen because The Switch was off. If you’ve been following me for a long time, you know what The Switch is. When it’s on, it’s on. When it’s off, it’s off. And sadly, we can’t directly control it.

But something happened. I don’t know what. And The Switch flipped on. I carefully constructed a new, never-before-tried diet. I call it the Charlie Diet. Here’s how it goes.

  • No breakfast.
  • No lunch.
  • Apples and bananas for snacks.
  • And in the immortal words of Slim-Fast, a sensible meal for dinner.

Max calories for each day is 1,800 but I come in way below that most days. I started on this February 20. Things were still flat for a while, but then my body realized something was up and responded.

Tune in next fall for my magnificent, “I’m down thirty pounds!” post.

Then tun in again next January for my sad, “I gained it all back!” post.