New and Noteworthy

Not my handiwork. I would never waste time feeding my family lettuce.

As a house husband, I am responsible for pretty much all of the daily domestic chores. One of those chores is Lunch Making. Each evening, I spread the peanut butter or slather the mayonnaise, wash the apples, and parcel out the Halloween candy into my wife’s and son’s respective lunchboxes.

Packing my son’s lunch is fairly straightforward: Just Lunch and Nothing Else. He’s too obsessed with building and maintaining his social circle to tolerate anything that may cause embarrassment, so I do my best to curb my whimsical instincts.

Ellen, on the other hand, gets a little something extra: a Lunch Note. These notes are nothing special, just a line I blearily compose before my first sip of coffee. When she opens her bag, she might find something like:

This sandwich was made with LOVE!

or

You’re all that and a bag of chips!

or

Stay cool, hot stuff!

Not my best work, but Ellen seems to enjoy it.

My point is, these notes never communicate any information that can’t be written on an average sized Post-It note—and that’s usually what I use. The other morning, however, I found myself fresh out of Post-Its, so I dug into the living room desk drawers to see what I could find.

I found no Post-Its. No scrap paper. No cheap notepads from various charities trying to guilt me into making a donation. I did, however, find some pretty nice note cards. Really nice. In fact, they were too nice to warrant my typical brand of tossed-off correspondence.

So I composed something more.

My Dearest Ellen, 

Oh, how I long for your warm embrace. 

I do so miss the simple pleasures of our days together. Your peach cobbler. Long talks by the glowing hearth. Bouncing our dear son on my knee. I can only imagine how he must have grown in the many months since I’ve been gone. 

I sometimes fear this war will never end. Every day we march further south. Talk amongst the men say that we’ll face the Rebs tomorrow at dawn. Sometimes I think I can hear them just beyond the next hill. I hope not, for I am sick of fighting and wish to wage war on nothing more than the crabgrass invading our lawn.

Pray for my swift return, my sweet. Stay strong. Kiss little Alex for me. Take solace in knowing that no matter what may happen to me, we will reunite in this life or the next.

Your beloved,

Michael

It seemed appropriate.

To give the lunch note just the right hint of pathos, I later texted Ellen some suitable background music.

Go ahead. Give it a try. Read my note aloud while the music plays.

Ain’t it great? It’s powerful, emotional stuff! You could play that music while reading a birthday card or a grocery list or a fart joke and it’ll make you bust our crying!

Anyway, long story short, Ellen thinks I’m nuts now.

My Very First Repost: Sunday Sketches

This is what I do with extra time on my hands.

Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote a number of posts that nobody ever saw. “Sixty-one views?” I’d say, aghast. “For the whole month?”

So, with your permission, I thought I’d pull an old post out of the pile and reintroduce it to a (hopefully) larger audience.

Feel free, as always, to comment with reckless abandon! I do so love your comments. 

***

One of the ways I hoped to get my (then-three-year-old) son interested in reading was to leave him little notes at the breakfast table. After all, what could be more fun than getting a loving note every morning from your dear ol’ Dad?

But, since I am incapable of doing anything in a small way, I took my note idea to the next level. It’s always fun to get mail, so I sealed each note in an envelope; printed my son’s name and address on the front; and, for that extra dose of authenticity, drew on a stamp. (“Celebrate Cows,” was the first subject.) “There!” I thought. “That will get my boy interested in reading!”

Instead, it got my boy interested in stamp collecting. From the second note on, he carefully ripped the stamp off the envelope and stored it in a shoebox. The notes were glanced at briefly, handed to Mom to read aloud, and then discarded without a second thought. So while I’m pleased to report that my son – who is now six – reads with enthusiasm, my grand note experiment had absolutely nothing to do with it.

The Writing Road

As Yogi Berra once said: “If you come to a fork in the road, wash it before you put it in your mouth.” Good advice if you ask me.

I can’t just sit down and write off the cuff. I need a plan. I need to know who the characters are, where I want to take them, and where they’re going to end up. Only after all that stuff is nailed down am I ready to write.

Almost all of that preliminary work takes place when I’m doing something else – showering, eating, or working at my day job. Much to my wife’s chagrin, it also happens late at night in bed. I scribble notes. I make doodles. I outline. Sometimes it takes a long time to do all this preparation, but luck favors the prepared, so I do it.

When I finally sit down to type, I have a tall-ish stack of notes and doodles and outlines by my side.

But then I type – and  the plan I spent oh so much time crafting is pushed aside and ignored. My carefully constructed characters are no longer the characters I had once envisioned; they say things I never considered, they do things I had never imagined, they shove the story in directions I never contemplated, and I am transfixed and fascinated by it all.

It is at that moment I know that I am on a creative roll. I’m in explore mode. It’s a kind of heaven.

Since I am so eager to abandon my writing plan once I begin writing, one might assume that I don’t need a plan at all. But I do. I’ve tried working without one, and the results have been uniformly terrible.

I’m not exactly sure why this is, but if I was to guess, I think it is because I need something rigid to rebel against. I need something to thumb my nose at and say, “Pfft. I can do better than that.”

The only other time I have ever abandoned my plans with such reckless delight took place years ago when I embarked on a solo cross-country trip. I had my route, and my maps, and knew where I wanted to settle down each night. Once I got in the car and started driving, however, I was all “Oh. My. God. The world’s biggest rocking chair is just 100 miles north of here!” And, in a twinkling, I was off down a potholed two-lane blacktop passing an alarming number of stores that sold both fireworks and alcohol.

I discovered this big guy on one such unscheduled detour. His name is Big Amos and, if you push a button by his knee, he will beg you to try the shoofly pie.

Sure it might be a colossal waste of time to drive hours out of the way to someplace that might as well be called Lickspittle County just to see a ginormous chair, but none of that mattered to me. I was in explore mode. I found joy in the journey.