Naked And Unafraid

tom-cruise-risky-business-dancing

from Risky Business via tomcruise.com

Last weekend, after the Valentine’s Day festivities fested themselves out, Nita had to go to a family function in Harlan, Kentucky. I would have gone, but I had a Saturday morning class. When I came back, AJ would be gone for the weekend. What did this mean?

Jim’s got the whole place to himself!

Pizza! Beer! Por-… er, um, movies! Loud music!

Um… Sort of.

I realized that, with Valentine’s Day, plus work, doctors appointments, and a visit from the plumber, no one would have time to hit the groceries. No problem. I would do that after class on Saturday.

Except I’d scheduled a writer’s group meeting for that afternoon. So I scrambled to get groceries, get them put away, and over to the meeting in time.

Here’s where the weekend went off the rails. No one showed up except Li’l Sis, who was trapped in a traffic jam in sight of where the meeting took place. We did have snow the night before, but I sat in a crappy Chinese place for an hour before adjourning to a place with a bar and better food. So at least Li’l Sis got a decent lunch and a beer. But that pushed the meeting back late. With all I had planned for the afternoon, I did not get home until 6. And then…

Workout. Order pizza. Pour beer. And hey, I got the house to myself. I could walk around the house naked if I wanted!

Um… That loses its appeal around 30. And I turned 30 during the Clinton administration, so… Oh, well. It made laundry easier to do.

It was supposed to be a big writing night. I drank some beer, wrote a scene, and watched the Beatles Fiftieth Anniversary Special again. Then I fell asleep.

Sunday morning turned out better. I had the entire house to myself, no distractions but classical music. I divided my time between writing a scene in Dick’s science fiction project, the blog, and reading the second volume of Mark Twain’s autobiography. Yeah, I lead an exciting life.

At least Nita didn’t come home to find out I’ve been pimping Rebecca De Mornay out of our bedroom. And I didn’t have to resort to Looney Toons tactics to scare off burglars.

Happy Singles Awareness Day

jimnnitaI totally get why a lot of people hate Valentine’s Day. I really do. Every year, there’s an entire holiday devoted to love. The advertising surrounding it (is there any other reason for a holiday? It’$ the rea$on for the $ea$on.) also serves to remind those who are alone that they’re alone.

Gee, thanks. Some of us probably would have never figured that one out on our own.

But Valentine’s Day will always be special to me because, in 2008, it was my first date with Nita. We went from first date to wedding in four months, something neither of us could ever have predicted. On Valentine’s Day, I found the love of my life, started down the road to becoming a parent, gained a best friend, and met my business partner. Even after six years, I am head over heels in love with this woman.

So I don’t mind the hype around Valentine’s Day.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Sweet Rose. I love you.

Resolutions? No, I Do Goals

It’s a common practice to make resolutions. Lose weight. Get a new job. Travel to that destination you always talk about. Hook up with Kate Upton. Weight loss and fitness are the most common, and if you belong to a gym, the most amusing to watch. On January 2, the line for a treadmill or weights is five deep. By Valentine’s Day, it’s crowded, but tolerable. By the first day of spring, the gym is nearly deserted on off days.

The resolution is doomed to failure because it’s tied to New Year’s Day, when a new year still has that new year smell. Within a week, all those grandiose plans we make start collapsing because we seldom factor in real life. Yes, you still have to work 40+ hours a week. You have no clue if/when you or someone in your family will get sick. Your house, your car, electronic gizmos all can crash and burn without warning, and nature might decide to blow a big wind your way.

I don’t do resolutions anymore. Sure, weight loss is on the menu, and last year, I pulled it off before letting it all creep back up on me. So I need to rethink that. Usually, though, I fail to plan goals around the rest of my life. It takes a lot of time to write, and that has to compete with fitness (not an option to drop), school (also not optional), and work.

One of the dumbest goals I had two years ago was to read 100 books in a year. That is an enormous time suck. If all I did was work and write, that would be awesome. I could probably do 200 books. I reached that 100-book goal, but I can barely remember half the books I read or listened to that year.

What it’s only taken me over half a lifetime to figure out is that you can really only plan four big goals for a year. You can always achieve more, but you risk not achieving anything if you put too much on your plate. So, what am I doing this year?

  1. Enter at least three races this year. I want to do the Flying Pig Marathon in 2016, and this is part of the lead up. I’m aware you can train for a marathon in six months. I also know if I attempted to do it that way, I’d be doomed to failure. All this carries along other goals around health, putting certain conditions into remission while eliminating others altogether. Small steps.
  2. Shop Holland Bay. I let this thing sit too long before getting back to it last year. I want to get this to an agent. “But you’re an independent writer, Jim.” Yes. And getting published traditionally still carries a lot more credibility. It also is an enormous boost to an independent writer’s career.
  3. Finish the science fiction novel. As “Dick Bachman.” No, I’m not telling you who that is. Eventually, it’ll be revealed, but I have my reasons for keeping the two separate. The fact is I used to be into science fiction. It’s time to get back to my roots.
  4. Finances. ‘Nuff said.

The Year In Jim

It’s time to bid 2013 a fond farewell. Or maybe a not so fond farewell. I’ll look at the world’s year in review on Monday. For now, let’s talk about what’s truly important.

Me.

January

  • Nita and I kick off our effort to dump the excess weight once and for all. My plan involves running, followed by P90X, followed by more running. This is not a resolution. No, we don’t ever do resolutions. Never.

February

  • The fifth anniversary of the day Nita and I had our first date.

March

  • I take up running for realz. Actually, I’d been working up to it for weeks, but by the end of April, I’m up to three miles three times a week. G’wan. Ask me how that worked out.

April

  • I actually knock my blood sugar numbers back down to the normal range. This is where I usually get cocky about fitness, and this time, I do not disappoint. Well, not if you were betting on me to backslide.

May

  • The rewrite of Holland Bay is completed only three months after I originally planned.

June

  • Nita and I celebrate five years of marriage. Do the math. Yes, we really did go from first date to walking down the aisle in four months. Both of us are happier on this fifth anniversary than we were in our previous marriages’ fifth anniversaries, so we must have done something right.

July

  • I start writing a science fiction novel under a different name.

August

  • Nita and I start our final year of college. Which will take both of us two years to complete.

September

  • I vacation at the lovely Christ Hospital Resort & Spa in scenic Mt. Auburn, Cincinnati, Ohio, for a week, thanks to a bout of cellulitis. However, for $3000, I expect better food, a pool, and no IV sticking in my hand. My first order of business upon getting home is to grab a beer and a bacon cheeseburger.

October

  • With three exceptions, I decide not to submit to anymore non-paying markets. For science fiction, this isn’t much of a problem. For crime…  Well…  The exceptions are all crime fiction markets.

November

  • Too cheap (broke) to buy a copy of Photoshop, I proceed to learn the free, open-source alternative: GIMP. You’ve been warned.

December

  • The doctor tells me I’m still fat. I smell new year’s resolutions coming.

Giving Thanks, 2013 Edition

flamingturkeyIt’s that time of year again, when we in America pause to give thanks for what we have. In Canada, they do this in October (better weather) on a Monday (kills Monday for a week.) I sort of like the Canadian idea, but in America, it’s a rare four-day weekend. It’s a day for watching football (The Cowboys, the Lions, and, for some odd reason, now the Ravens). We consume huge amounts of the meat of a rather stupid bird, which puts us to sleep following dinner. It is a day for many families to embrace and indulge their dysfunction. Friday is a day that makes even Gordon Gecko despise capitalism, even if only for a day or so. It is the cultural end of autumn, the fiscal start of Christmas, and time when those of us who hate cold weather resign ourselves to that inevitable season we must endure for a few months: Winter.

But mostly, Thanksgiving is just that: Giving thanks. What am I thankful for?

Will code for food

zazzle.com, labeled for reuse

I work. Unemployment is still high, mainly because we have a Congress that, collectively, is the most useless in American history. Nonetheless, I have a job. Since 2008, when the economy tanked spectacularly, I was only out of work for about six weeks at the longest. When I lost my job at BigHugeCo, the VP who broke the news to me – whom I’d worked with for years – told me he regretted doing this, but at the same time told me to enjoy my summer vacation. They handed me twelve weeks severance. Within a couple of weeks, I was contracting, with only a two-week break that summer. There was a scary six weeks the following January and February where work jobs just weren’t to be had. And then I found work at Medishack, a job that was a hybrid of my old job as a desktop support technician and what I wanted to do, development. A lot of my good fortune was luck. A lot of it was persistence. And one thing I’ve seen during our most recent recession is that some people had a sense of entitlement that kept them out of decent jobs because the work was “beneath them.” These are usually the same people who complain the loudest about other people not working. So why did I not join in their reindeer games? All I know was that my creditors were asking where their money was, and it was hard for my wife to put food on the table with only my unemployment check to add to her income. I took less-paying work because I believe if you don’t work when it’s possible, you have no right to complain about not finding a job. It’s not like some people who literally can’t find work. Those people I feel for. The ones I had no respect for were the ones who asked me if I was insane taking temp jobs only two weeks after a layoff. I found that question insulting. At one point in my younger days, I worked three jobs at 60-70 hours a week. I don’t like idle time. Not without a fat bank account to back it up.

computer code

Photo: Carrot Lord, used under GNU FDL

I’m thankful I have a marketable skill. I write code. And I still fix computers. (No, I’m not going to fix yours. Forty hours a week of that is enough.) And I’m learning more about that all the time. Technology was a boon to me in the 1990’s. Through the Internet and cheap PC’s, I discovered several skillsets that will probably carry me through retirement, assuming I can retire. I don’t see why not. The more I learn, the more opportunities come my way. Add to that a business degree, and the opportunities open even wider. Nita is also getting a degree, a technology degree. This is going to help us open our own business. That, if successful, will secure our future. It won’t guarantee one or both of us won’t have to take a job welcoming people to Walmart at some point, but it makes it less likely.

Gabriel Iglesias

Photo: Tom Villegas, used under GNU FDL

I’m thankful for my health. Yes, I gained back all the weight I lost earlier this year. But after a recent hospital stay, my doctors were actually encouraged by what they saw. It’s only renewed my commitment to run the Flying Pig Marathon the week of my fiftieth birthday. I need to renew my discipline – no snacking, more fruit, stick with and keep revamping an exercise plan.

My wife expressed some doubt about me doing the Pig, but I have 2 1/2 years to get ready. In the meantime, my health can only improve. It’d better. After 50 is when a lot of things start falling apart at inconvenient moments. I intend to be healthier at 50 than I was at 40.

Nita_picMost of all, I’m thankful for the lovely lady to the right. Nita has been the best thing to ever happen to me. After five years, she still accepts me for who I am, is not afraid to be herself, and lights up my days and nights. Because of her, I’m a stepfather. And AJ looks at me as more than just the dude mom married. He is a great son, and I’m privileged to be part of his life. Our home is cozy and warm, and we all laugh a lot. I’ve married a hair metal chick and live with a boy who loves Monty Python. I look at Nita and know that I have a future. I watch AJ as he works his first job and goes to UC Blue Ash and marvel at how his adult life is a blank slate. Thanksgiving at our house is just us three with a small turkey and one rule: Stay out of Nita’s way until she puts up the tree. Once the tree is up, then we can get involved. Until then, shut up and eat your turkey. Oh, and could one of you do the dishes after lunch?

Life At 47

babyjimWow! 47? Where did the time go? Maybe I should start building my retirement fund soon.

I thought about forgoing a birthday post today, but then I do them for my wife and kid, and I’ve done them for myself for the last five years. So how did I tick off another mile marker in the marathon of life?

I spent the weekend writing, generally avoiding overwrought phrases like “tick off another mile marker in the marathon of life.”

So am I older, wiser? Shorter of breath and one day closer to death? Will AJ need to start pricing nursing homes in a few years?

Well, let’s take a look.

  • When I was a teenager, I used to air guitar on the mistaken fantasy that I would learn the actual instrument and become a rock god. At 47, I still air guitar if the right song comes on. Thank you, Dave Grohl and Shirley Manson. Thank you.
  • In my mid-twenties, finally in a more urban setting than Cleveland’s suburban Medina County, I got to indulge my childhood obsession with Star Trek by engaging in cosplay for a couple of years. At 47, I try to catch matinees of the new Star Trek films because I’m there to see a movie, not join the Romulan Star Empire.
  • In my late teens and early twenties, I absolutely worshiped Deep Purple, despite the fact that I thought Ritchie Blackmore was the second biggest asshole in rock (the first being Axl Rose.) At 47, my musical tastes run more towards grunge bands from the 1990’s, anything obscure that Daryl Hall digs up for his show, and the odd Sunday morning listening to classical.
  • Not understanding the financial aid system or that it wasn’t all that far to my chosen campus at 18, I did not become a college dropout until I was 30 and did not have a degree until 15 years after that. At 47, I’m two years from a business degree I probably should have had when I was 22.
  • When I was a kid, I was the scifi nerd at school. At 47, I’m planning my first scifi novel.
  • At 24, I lusted after nerdy girls, but liked hanging out with the hair metal chicks. At 47, I’m married a hair metal chick.
  • In 1991, I moved to Cincinnati to marry the love of my life. At 47, I’ve been married to her for five years.

Five Years Ago

Nita_picJanuary, 2008 – Nita, a girl I met through standup, posts one of those silly surveys that used to go around on MySpace. (For those of you too young to remember, before we had Facebook, we had MySpace, which was like Facebook, except it hurt your eyes.) This starts a bunch of racy messages going back and forth. I’m separated. I’ve also just broken up with my rebound girlfriend. I think, “I need to meet this girl for drinks. Maybe she knows some ladies she could introduce me to.”* We agree to meet for drinks as soon as we could find a night to do so.

February – The best night we can come up with was Valentine’s Day. I tell her I’m separated, she’s single. Why not let me spoil her for Singles Awareness Day? She accepts. Over the next couple of weeks, we spend a lot of time emailing, IMing, texting (which I hadn’t done a lot of up until I asked her out), and talking on the phone.

February 12 – I get one of those email blasts from FTD. They had a really cool special on a dozen roses, Godiva chocolates, and a stuffed animal. I spend the money.

February 14 – 10:30 AM – I get a phone call at work. I guess the flowers worked.

5PM – In and out of the shower, praying I don’t slice my neck open shaving (which I seem to do on Mondays, before job interviews, and getting ready for weddings, funerals, and public speaking engagements.) Spritz myself with a little bit of Aramis and wonder, “Do women really like this?” (No. But I got a nice umbrella out of it.) Out the door by 6:30.

6:45 – Stop for gas. Call Nita from the car, asking for the most beautiful woman in the world. Yes, that’s lame. She responds that her mom is not there. She is nervous. I don’t admit it, but I am.

7 PM – This is how you know we’re in the 21st century. I pull into the lot, call her, and ask where she is. I’ve never seen her car. She’s never seen mine. I spot her across the parking lot. We walk in together, and the waitress thinks we’ve been together for a while. We have a lovely dinner, splitting a bottle of white Zinfandel (a safe choice when you don’t know your date’s taste in wine.) She kind of looks like Marylin Monroe the way she has her hair done. I can’t believe I’m going out with this girl. She’s got a cute laugh, a beautiful smile, and I admire that she’s fiercely devoted to her son. I knew I’d be dating a lot of single moms if I dove head first into the dating pool. That she required me to respect her time with her son was a good sign. Some women don’t, or men for that matter. We all know them. Kids are impediment to dating and partying, even at our age. So while Nita was taking a chance on this strange man, she was protecting her son at the same time. No, strange man, you don’t come home with me tonight. But I will go out with you again.

February 15 – I violate the rule that says you wait 18 hours to call your date after the first date by calling her as I’m walking to work from the parking garage that morning. She invites me over to the house Friday night after I get done with a standup gig. We agree to go out Saturday night. We haven’t known each other long, and we’ve only had one date, but I’ve fallen very hard for this girl. The feeling is mutual. It takes only four months for go from new couple to newlyweds.

Valentine’s Day, 2008 remains the most important date in my life. Somehow, when I left the restaurant that night, I knew I was going to have a really good second half of my life. I haven’t looked back since.

I love you, Sweet Rose.

*She knows about this. She’s known since the first week we dated.

The Year In Jim

As 2012 winds to a close, it’s time to take a look back and see where we’ve been and how far we come. Today, I’ll share where I’ve been – ‘Cuz it’s all about me, of course. Tomorrow we’ll look at the world.

January – I boldly predict I will have a short story a month published and six science fiction sales. G’wan. Ask me how that one worked out. Ask me.

February – Nita and I celebrate the fourth anniversary of our first date.

March – You know that superbug that’s supposed to decimate the human race in a matter of weeks that scientists keep warning us about? I think I catch this in March. It takes me a week to fully recover.

April – New Android!!!! I am such a geek.

May – AJ graduates high school. I’ve only been a stepdad for four years, but it’s overwhelming watching him become an adult.

June – Four months after the fourth anniversary of our first date, Nita and I celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary.

July – At our high school reunion, an alarming number of my classmates now look like their grandparents.

August – AJ starts school at UC Blue Ash. I start at Wilmington College, Cincinnati. We now have three college students under our roof.

September – I buy an iMac. It’s awesome!

October – I attempt to fix the fence in the backyard. I’ll finish it in the spring.

November – I voted for Obama. Because I didn’t feel like setting women’s rights back to 1950 when daylight savings ended this year.

December – Work on Holland Bay resumes in earnest. Maybe. If I can find time.

New Year’s Goals

I don’t do resolutions. Resolutions have a habit of evaporating by Valentine’s Day. In years past, when I had gym memberships, I could watch this in action. The day after New Years, I’d have to cut workouts short because the gyms would be packed. By the end of January, it would be crowded, but I could get to all my machines and not have to fight for shower space. By Valentine’s Day, the place would be deserted some nights. Slackers.

So I set goals. I’ll share a few here, but not all of them.

The first is obviously weight. I managed to nail this one pretty good in 2011. In 2012, I maintained, but I need to really get serious again. To that end, I plan to…

  • Lose twenty pounds. This weight will likely curb the amount of medication I take, since almost all my problems come from basically being a fat ass.
  • Run. I started to get a leg up on this one last year, but I could never schedule it very well. This year, I’m ditching the “100 books” goal. Sure, I need to read, but I need to do other things, too.
  • Ride the Little Miami Bike Trail to its Yellow Springs terminus. I didn’t do that last year, and I really regret it. It’s the easiest exercise I can do. My goal one day is to ride from Yellow Springs all the way down to Newport, Kentucky on my fiftieth birthday. I’ll get a hotel room to shower and change, then meet Nita for dinner in Newport when I finish. 76 miles. That’s a few years away, though. For now, I’ll do it in segments.

My day job is programming, but right now, I program what’s called “web forms” in Microsoft’s C#. Basically, you make up a web page, then write code behind the page to make it do stuff. My current boss doesn’t even like this technology, and my old department is moving to a more modern version of C#. So, it’s time for me to learn how to write for…

  • Android
  • iPhone/iPad – You didn’t think I bought a Mac just to play iTunes, did you?
  • Windows 8

It’s a mobile world. I need to write mobile.

Speaking of writing, 2012 was an eye-opening year for me writing-wise. I realized that academic efforts are the biggest conflict I have with meeting writing goals. To that end, I intend to…

  • Shop the long-talked-about Holland Bay
  • Draft a science fiction novel
  • Sell 12 crime short stories, 6 science fiction shorts (under another name), and at least two literary shorts

“Wait a minute! You’re shopping Holland Bay? Why not self-publish it?”

I am so far not impressed with the independent route. Call it ego. Call it disappointment. I think I can do better, though.

As I said, these are goals, not resolutions. Resolutions fail to take into account that life is random and unpredictable. This is the greatest lesson I have ever learned. If you don’t accept and embrace uncertainty, you will always be disappointed and frustrated. Hell, I can get disappointed and frustrated easily enough without dodging uncertainty. Why add it to the mix?

Happy New Year, all. May you get everything you want this year and more.