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Storytelling

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I listen to a lot of podcasts.

Some are just one-offs because I like the guest and want to hear more from them, or I hope to get some unique insight into their personality or creative process. Most of the time, I have a list of podcasts I like because of the host, the guests, or a combination of both. Podcasts like Smartless, Inside of You, Literally! and many more are fun distractions when walking the dog or driving in my car. They are literally famous people interviewing other famous people.

Also, as a fan of University of Illinois athletics, I listen to several podcasts covering the Illini, such as The 200 Level, I on the Illini, The Illini Inquirer Podcast, Keeping in Orange and Blue, and others. I like the insight and observations I get with these, and they enhance my enjoyment of watching Fighting Illini sports.

I have other fun podcasts in my queue, such as The Incomparable (geeky media), Seeing Red (St. Louis Cardinals), The Town (Hollywood happenings), and Three Sides of the Coin (KISS) that scratch a particular itch.

1It’s a name for God. I looked it up.

However, recently, I learned that producer Rick Rubin has a podcast where he talks to various people from all sorts of backgrounds. I found his podcast called Tetragrammaton1 and immediately downloaded episodes. Phil Jackson, Owen Wilson, Will Smith, John Mayer, Marc Andreessen, Adam Mosseri, and so many more caught my eye. Knowing how much of a professional wrestling fan Rubin is, the first episode I listened to was his conversation with Paul Heyman.

Heyman is one of the best conversationalists on the planet. He is quick, eloquent, and knowledgeable. They spoke for three hours, and Brock Lesner and Roman Reigns were at the forefront of the discussion. However, it was the conversation about storytelling that made me stop several times and relisten to a section.

My favorite moments comes at 2:46:47 in the conversation. Rubin and Heyman are discussing influences and inspirations from films. Heyman is electric in how he describes the restaurant scene in The Godfather. He describes perfectly what Michael is thinking and feeling via Pacino’s acting in the scene. It is my all-time favorite scene in all of cinema, and Heyman nails it.

Michael Corleone sitting in Louie’s restaurant in the Bronx having been told by Clemenza to come out of the bathroom blasting and he doesn’t come out of the bathroom blasting. He sits back down and now Solozzo is talking and he’s talking in Italian so to the audience, who doesn’t speak Italian, it’s just noise. [Italian sounding words]. You’re sitting going Oh my God I don’t know he’s saying but whatever it is it’s heavy’ and he’s laying it on and he’s talking faster and harsher and angrier. Now the trains coming in and you hear that noise and the camera is shaking ever so slightly and Pacino’s eyes are going left and right because he’s saying, Do I pull the trigger? Do I pull the trigger? If I don’t pull the trigger is he gonna kill me? If I pull the trigger my whole life has changed. I’m a gangster. I’m no longer just a soldier. I’m not a hero.’ This is a war hero. He’s a war hero, this kid, and he didn’t want to get mixed up in the family, and his father doesn’t want him in the family business, but if he doesn’t pull the trigger right now this guy across the table and the dirty cop to his left who broke his jaw are gonna kill his father. He has no choice. He better pull the trigger, but can he pull the trigger? He’s not a gangster. They’re not threatening his very life at this very moment. What does he do? What does he do? And his eyes. And you read his emotions because he’s not sure what to do, but he knows whatever he does this is the defining moment of his life and nothing will ever be the same after this because they’re gonna go kill his father or he’s gonna go kill them. Either way nothing’s gonna be the same and then he gets up and he shoots them both, but it’s the moment before that matters. It’s the emotions that are displayed.

For more context for those of you who have not seen The Godfather, this is the scene he’s describing.

By all means, listen to the podcast. The whole thing is a master class in story and feeling. It’s well worth three hours of your time.

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Hot Tubs and Steaks

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Last year, my extended family decided to head back to Florida for a much-needed getaway to recharge our weary souls. We were last at the Marriott’s Cypress Harbour Villas in March 2020. As you might imagine, from the date, it ended up as far away as possible from relaxing. Back then, we were constantly worried about catching COVID and had little information to draw from regarding transmission as well as the ramifications if anyone was diagnosed with it.

Luckily, we made it home safely. And then remained there for almost a full year. Returning to Florida this year with high hopes of warm weather, a little bit of fun, and relaxation was exciting, but it turned into an excellent start for 2024.

From the moment we arrived, the gentle breeze and swaying palm trees welcomed us, instantly transporting us into a world of serenity. However, what truly stood out during our stay were the sparkling pools and inviting hot tubs waiting just down the path. Thoughts of snow and ice back home were quickly abandoned.

We spent hours relaxing in the hot tubs and heated pool while sipping cold beverages. Florida in January provided just enough of the sun’s warmth to enjoy the water. The hot tub provided comforting relief that revived our spirits - we lost track of time as we relished in a therapeutic embrace of the water and each other’s company.

While the sun and pool were undeniably inviting, our most memorable vacation moments were those shared with family. We relished a morning brunch and evening meals engaging in lighthearted conversations and laughing together - moments that allowed us to reconnect while strengthening the bonds that time and distance had weakened between us.

Our time in Florida allowed for moments of introspection and reflection, giving me time to contemplate what had passed these last few years and the possibilities that lay ahead. I saw our trip as a catalyst for personal development and renewal.

This Florida retreat gave us a much-needed respite from daily stressors and allowed us to immerse ourselves in morning walks and books. From afternoon showers, gentle palm leaf rustle, and the serenity created by simply getting away - everything felt peaceful, reminding us to enjoy the time together. We played pickleball, watched some college basketball, and forgot about our troubles for a little while.

Our Florida vacation was much more than a simple vacation - it was an extraordinary journey that enabled us to rejuvenate, reconnect, and find inner peace. Every moment spent poolside served as a reminder of the importance of self-care and nurturing our relationships.

As we reluctantly packed up to depart Florida, we carried a renewed sense of purpose and determination to bring its spirit into daily life. Even with plane cancellations and an unexpected drive home from Chicago, everyone in the family needed the time away.

Now it’s time to get back into the swing of things and kick off the new year with energy.

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Some Kind of Wonderful

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I’m a terrible long-term planner. I’m actually very good at setting goals and absolutely horrible at creating steps to achieve those plans. It’s all in the execution and traditionally, that has been my downfall.

I’ve decided this year I’m going to make a change. (I have said this in the past, but this is the year… dammit).

Without a doubt, this is going to be a detailed and complicated process. By the time I’ve written this, I should have at least come up with quarterly and yearly plans. I might have even drilled down to month-by-month goals and steps. If I’m super lucky, I will have already involved my wife in these tentative planning sessions and she will have chimed in with better and more accurate dates, events, and plans.

As we are a few days into the new year and well past the craziness of the holidays, it is a good time to reflect on the past and plan for the future. The new year usually brings new unknown challenges, and it is always good to go in with a plan. Although I think it was Mike Tyson who said, Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Really, doing this should help me understand what’s coming up, see where things are, and where they might be down the road. It also should help me not get punched in the mouth that often or at least get back up after getting smacked in the face.

Traditionally, I’m poor at having this foresight so when the unexpected happens, I flounder. This year’s plan is designed to change that. No matter what areas I need to keep on top of, such as financial planning, trips we want to take, graduation parties, or just figuring out what is important over the course of the year, I’m going to plan for them now.

Maybe a bit surprising to some, I have elected to attempt to use a paper calendar. I have attempted to use a paper calendar in the past and have failed at it on more than one occasion. I want to use a paper calendar for planning. I’ll still have my electronic calendar for things, but I’m going to attempt a hybrid model. Wish me luck. I am not looking forward to any kind of personal budgeting. I am not particularly good with numbers. Thankfully, my wife is better at keeping things on track. However, I’m woefully uninformed about our household finances. This year I want to get a better handle on all that.

Another part of this long-term planning is vacations and time off over the course of the year. We don’t travel much for a variety of reasons, but I’d like to try and make some plans along those lines and see what might make sense. I think it would be worthwhile for us to plan a few trips to see friends and family.

I encourage everyone to take some time to look ahead and see what the coming year holds for you. My goal with this plan is to help me understand and keep focused on the important things each quarter, month, week, and day.

For far too many years, I’ve been a passive participant in things happening around me. I want to have more say, and the only way to do that is to take some control and ask to be included in those plans.

For the other planners out there reading this, it may seem like old hat, and I get that. For the passive non-planners… why not take inventory, set some goals and some steps, and make 2024 something wonderful?

We all could use something wonderful this year.

Let’s make it happen.

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Snowfall

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It is just a few days into the new year when the holidays are over and the bitter cold becomes unbearable without the tinsel, lights, and presents under the tree to warm up one’s spirits.

I’ve made my home in the Midwest. It’s where my wife and I grew up and it’s what we know. I often dream about moving to Arizona but fear I’d tire of the reds, oranges, and browns everywhere. I worry I might miss the green. Although, I’m pretty sure I would not miss the white. And when I say white… I mean snow.

There is snow on the ground and I hate the snow.

January in Illinois means freezing temperatures. Ask me in six months what it means and I’ll tell you scorching heat. The seasons change around here.

Of course, these parts have more seasons than just Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. You have Gotcha Spring,” Sometimes in snows in April,” Sneezing-time,” and a few others. Right now, it’s Post-Holidays Winter.” No one’s favorite.

Have I mentioned that I hate the snow?

My wife loves snow. She can’t wait for it to snow again. A long, cold winter makes her incredibly happy. A wet blanket of white covering everything is exactly what she wants.

Not me.

Honestly, I would probably love the snow, too, if I didn’t have to drive in it and endure other drivers as well. I’d love a good snowfall if it fell everywhere but the roads.

I get it; snow is pretty, and you can make snow forts and have snowball fights. It can be peaceful sipping coffee in the morning light as a slow snowfall turns everything pure white. My wife drives an SUV and she powers through any snow and ice on the roads. I do not drive an SUV and my vehicle is much closer to the ground. And the snow and ice.

It’s the ice I really don’t like.

One time, I was on the interstate driving to work and I hit a patch of ice and somehow did a complete 360-degree rotation on the road. I did not crash or flip over, but it scared me to death. I was also once caught in a freak snowstorm wearing a T-shirt, flip-flops, and shorts. I should have known better. It was Gotcha Spring outside.

So, I’m super cautious in snow and really even when it rains. When there’s potential for slick roads, I hate driving. I doubt that’s some big revelation for anyone. It probably bothers other drivers, but I’ve never ended up in a ditch because I was driving too fast for the conditions.

However, there’s snow on the ground and my wife is happy. So, I’m happy.

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And a Happy New Year

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This year, my wife and I decided to spend New Year’s Eve quietly. This is not an unusual experience. It’s been quite some time since we went out for New Year’s Eve to celebrate with either friends or family. Just being with my wife at home with whatever special was on television was exactly all we needed. We don’t often get to stay up late talking about the past year or the upcoming one. It was nice to reflect on the previous months and look forward to the next.

2023 was not a hellish year. At least in comparison to just a few years prior. Being able to share a quiet night on the precipice of a new year was a fitting end to 2023, and it was just… nice.

Our look back was filled with smiles and laughter and a bit of sadness. There were marriages, funerals, vacations, and other life events. We have an amazing family and a host of friends who we need to see more often. I have an amazing partner that I’m overwhelmingly grateful I get to share my life with, which makes me genuinely happy.

Like many people, I’m looking forward to what 2024 has in store for me and my family. Yet, I realize that life is unpredictable, and I can’t always control what happens. It’s exciting to embrace new beginnings, but there’s also a sense of uncertainty that comes with it. I remain optimistic and hopeful for good things, but ultimately, I’ll have to take life as it comes and see where it takes me and mine. What I have done is take control of how I express myself to the world. Starting in October 2023, this website has been where I will put my thoughts out into the world, for good or ill.

I’ve always had a love for writing. I grew up in a house full of books, and I was reading as early as possible and writing ridiculously derivative fiction almost as soon as I could write. The fact that I became a writer for a living seems almost a given.

A couple of years ago, I tried to write an original essay every week, and I did a decent job of it. It was a writing experiment that mostly worked, but I didn’t have a direction or a plan for the future.

On this site, you will find articles on a variety of topics. I write about everything from my own life and relationships to politics, pop culture, and maybe even the occasional short story. I’ll go deeply personal and broadly wide. Like Walt Whitman said, I contain multitudes.”

The essays that I’ve written in the past that have resonated the most with readers are done in a personal narrative style and relate to my own experiences. I’ll write just about anything, but I want to have a reason to write each essay.

As another new year dawns upon us, I plan to spend January 1 watching movies, maybe taking a nap, and enjoying the company of my wife. This day calls for some much-needed rest, and I fully intend to utilize it to recharge my batteries for the year ahead.

I hope you have a Happy New Year, and may 2024 bring you joy and prosperity.

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Christmas Morning

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I wake to a silent house. My coffee warms cold hands as I sit gazing at the pale winter light filtering in through frosted windows. It’s Christmas morning. I hope you’re having a great day so far (or had a great day if you’re reading this after the fact).

There aren’t wide-eyed children exploding with anticipation in this house anymore, which is a touch sad. There are still stockings hung by the fireplace, a twinkling tree (actually several), and the feeling of the calm before the storm.” However, there is a wonderful feeling of family.  

There aren’t a lot of Christmas traditions in this family. We don’t open everything all at once and luxuriate in the carnage of torn wrapping, ribbons, and tape. We do go through our stockings first and see what Santa brought and then look to open presents. It’s a joyous occasion and we do what we want.  

This year, new faces have arrived on Christmas morning. Boyfriends and friends have made this a new kind of Christmas. It’s new but not unexpected. Time flows forward. Not too far into the future, I’ll be the grandpa, like my father before me.

In the kitchen, monkey bread and rolls are coming out for breakfast. It’s not really a Christmas morning tradition, but I like that it’s just for us. It feels right.  

After the presents are piled up and clothes tried on… after the kids have headed out to go to their other family Christmases… after watching a movie or two and maybe taking a nap… I will give thanks—for the warmth and light, for family together again, and for warm coffee on a silent morning.  

Be kind, be happy, and be at peace this Christmas.

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