Sunday, May 27, 2012

20 Years Later

My 20th high school reunion is this weekend, and I'm not there.  I can honestly say that schedule-wise it just wasn't going to work and that's the main reason that I didn't go.  But when I thought there was a chance I could go, there was a raging debate in my brain as to whether I really wanted to.

High school was not a pleasant time for me as a whole.  I was as awkward physically as I ever was, I was ridiculously awkward socially, and I spent way too much time trying to impress people that wanted nothing to do with me (mostly of the female variety).  As I've gotten older, I'm finding out that this experience is not necessarily unique to me.  But I look back at high school with very sparse fond memories. 

I think the case for just about everyone is that you develop confidence and comfort in your own skin as you get older--I'm as happy being me as I've ever been.  But as soon as I received that first note about the soccer game that they were putting together for former players, all those old insecurities came back.  I remembered being deserted at a party that my freshman team went to and I wound up walking a couple miles home after midnight because I was too embarrassed to tell my folks that I had been deserted.  I remembered all the cracks about my horrible, horrible acne and the head that my body didn't quite grow into until later.

Sophomore year I found solace in the choir and theater world.  Those were the places that kept me sane because a misfit a little bit better.  There were still many cliques in those worlds where I really didn't fit in, but as a whole I could make that work.  And it got me through.  I really keep in touch with very few people from those years, but those that I do are important to me (the joys of Facebook!).  Some have blogs that are a lot of fun to read if you're a parent or hope to be one someday. 

But I look back at everything and a part of me definitely wonders if people have grown up and changed.  I think that it would be interesting to see what happened to the people who picked on me and teased me mercilessly (the sparsely-attended ten-year reunion was a poor gauge in my mind).  The writer in my finds it an interesting sociological experiment.  And I wonder if the part of me that returns to all those old insecurities and all those bad memories could have some of those replaced by better impressions 20 years later.  Maybe I'll find out next time around.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Great Outdoors

My siblings and I were campers before we could walk.  We've been canoeing, hiking and backpacking as long as I can remember.  Dad was a huge fan of outdoor sports of all kinds and wanted to make sure that the rest of the family had the opportunity to experience those things as early as possible.  Some of my earliest childhood memories are camping with family.  Just about every summer early on, we'd pack up the car, driving west as a family.  I've been lucky enough to visit many, many national parks.  Despite being packed in the back seat of the car with two girls for painfully long drives, it's the parks that I remember most.

At the age of eight, I started spending my summers at Camp Horseshoe for Boys.  Eight weeks of living in cabins without electricity in the north woods of Wisconsin.  Other than the psychological damage of living in close quarters with other boys for eight weeks (they'll gang up to find the weakest target and do their best to make that person's life miserable), it left me with some amazing memories and unbelievable experiences.  The seven-day canoeing trip down the Namekagon River (affectionately known as the "Marathon".  I think that I still have the voyageur hat that all who completed the trip received), hiking through the Porcupine Mountains, and taking a two-week canoeing trip through the boundary waters are all experiences that I'll never forget.

As I've gotten older and out on my own, I've found myself getting a bit more settled in suburban life.  It's good--I enjoy it for the most part.  Everything is convenient and easy to get to.  I can fall into a comfortable routine.  As easy as it was, I still found myself a little bit....unsettled. 

A couple years ago, I decided to take myself camping along the north shore of Lake Superior.  And it reminded me about what I love about the great outdoors.  This is one of my favorite pictures from the trip.  It's an image from Gooseberry Falls State park.  It just so happened that this view was a 30-second walk from my campground.  I got to this point and just sat and overlooked Lake Superior for a while and felt calmer and more at peace than I had in quite some time.  It was a phenomenal reminder of the energizing power of nature.  But it was admittedly a very lonely experience, too.  Much as I loved it, I could only take a few days of the time by myself before it was time to go home. 

The following summer, my parents went camping with me at Tettagouche State Park, also along the North Shore of Lake Superior.  It was a longer trip this time around since I had company.  And it was another phenomenal refresher of my spirit.

The last few years, my summers have gotten significantly busier with my theater opportunities.  I'm immensely grateful for doing these shows as it's completely energizing in a completely different way.  But I missed out on my summer camping trips.  Last fall, I decided to do more poking around a little bit closer to home, looking for ways to reconnect with nature on my own in a way that's a little susceptible to loneliness.  I've been amazed at just how many beautiful places there are so close to suburbia.  Last fall, I visited ten regional or state parks.  Just hiking for a couple hours, enjoying the sights and sounds (and silences) of getting away for a little while, then appreciating coming back home.  I stayed home for the winter, but this week I started my spring exploration of new and interesting places to commune with the great outdoors. 

Theater will be a major part of my summer again this year, but I'm going to remind myself to get away and hike for a while when I can.  It's the type of energizing activity that takes me back to some of the earliest experiences I can remember in my life, and there's nothing like it.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Down the Road

My propensity and skill for procrastination are very well demonstrated and documented over the years.  I continually tell myself that there will be time to do all these things and more down the road. 
Time to get in shape.
Time to meet the woman of my dreams and start a family.
Time to travel.
Time to write that second novel.
Time to learn to play guitar.
Time to take improv classes.
Time to learn to ballroom dance.

A friend and mentor passed away last week.  I met her when I showed up to help build sets at a community theater eight summers ago, and she was warm, welcoming, and at the same time completely in control of everything going on.  As the president of the board, she was clearly passionate about what she was doing and you could see that attitude spread through everyone that was there.  While I've always had a love for the theater, getting to work with her is one of the reasons that I stayed.  As I came back year after year, we got to know each other better and she started asking about my family, talking me through job frustrations, pointing out the women that I should be asking out.  Three years ago, she asked me to join the board of the theater.  I wasn't going to do it, but she took me out for coffee and we talked for a couple hours.  She was so passionate, so positive about the experience and what it had brought her that she talked me into it.  She lived life.  Full of joy and passion, without fear.  No regrets.  And suddenly she had to step aside to battle breast cancer.  And she fought it the way that she lived--without fear.  Last week, she couldn't fight any more and cancer took her at age 59.   

59.  It seems way too young.  I always assume that I've got tons of time left.  But the fact is, that there is a point where there is no more "down the road".  And nobody knows when that will be.  I know that for me, fear is one of the reasons that I put things off.  The problem is, I'm not sure what I'm afraid of?  Failure?  I've failed at many, many things in my life.  Fear of making a mistake?  It happens.  Fear of changing the status quo?  That may be a bit more likely.  But knowing that life (and a person's perspective) can change drastically is part of living fearlessly.  Conquering that is the key to making sure that I do all those things that I want to.  I don't want to have regrets when the end of the road arrives.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

It's All About the Bread

My name is Josh and I'm a carboholic. 

(Hi Josh)

I could eat bread for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Cereal multiple times per day is rarely out of the question.  Give me a good loaf of bread and I could live off of it (generally toasted, with butter and occasionally with garlic or cinnamon for variety) for a few days.  Bagels: yummy.  A good burger just isn't right without an equally good bun.  Pizza.  My crusty, cheesy, zesty friend.  And then there are the cookies and cakes of the world, which are just begging to be eaten. 

But I've gone without bread for two days now.  Passover cruely forces us apart for a little over a week every year around this time, and the separation never gets any easier as the years pass.  The cravings start slowly, with the longing for a bowl of cereal for breakfast.  But by the end of the holiday, much of my mental capacity is taken up by wishes for french toast, a big sandwich, deep dish pizza, garlic bread....I should stop before I make myself hungrier.  Clearly, bread and I have a relationship that will last despite those that try to keep us apart.  There's a true love there, but it might be a bit all consuming.  I don't want to break up, but perhaps we should just be friends.

Now I need to go break the same news to cheese...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Night Flop

When I was in college I was never really a party animal or anything, but my Friday nights were definitely a time to be social.  A coffee house, video games in someone's dorm room, out for pizza, an occasional frat party...but certainly something involving other people.  Recent Friday nights have been dead.  Granted, it's been a pretty busy time around work over the past month--lots of overtime at work involving production of the high school tournaments for television, and that's left me a bit burned out. 

Regardless, looking at my Friday night this week was just sad.  I got home from work late and took a quick nap.  I tried to figure out what to make for dinner, but realized the fridge was mostly empty so I went grocery shopping.  Realized that I was out of clean underwear, so I did a load of laundry.  While it was washing, I sat down with a game on my iPod touch and got absolutely sucked in (W.E.L.D.E.R.--an insanely addictive word game).  I looked up and suddenly realized it was after 9:00.  So I snuggled up with my computer and did some work on my taxes.

What happened to me??  College Josh would be so disappointed...

Friday, March 9, 2012

Once Upon a Time...

I kind of like the resurgence in fairy tales in Hollywood recently.  Between Once Upon a Time and Grimm on television and Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman coming out as movies, it looks like the memo is going around and it looks like they're attempting to take some new and interesting angles.

I think that every child grows up on fairy tales.  It's the way to pass on the message that absolutely anything is possible.  It's lovely and sweet and all, but generally the fairy tales as read to kids are not the fairy tales as originally written.  I definitely have a preference for Grimm's version of the fairy tales over the scrubbed versions that Disney has taken on.  They're grittier, have more depth, and they don't always end with "and they lived happily ever after".  (Spoiler alert if you haven't read Grimm)  The Little Mermaid dies, the queen in Snow White demands Snow's heart, liver and lungs for her dinner, and Sleeping Beauty has her father's child after she's raped.  I'm not going to say that these are pleasant images or events, but they're just...more interesting for me.  Happy and fuzzy was not necessarily the Grimm way.

And taking a familiar tale and playing with it a little bit is something I've always enjoyed.  In a college creative writing class, I wrote a couple stories from the wolf's point of view in both Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs.  I enjoy looking at the motivation of "the bad guy".  I mean, what if the Big Bad Wolf was just hungry?  If his home forest was being chopped down and the other animals weren't as abundant, can you blame him for trying to get a bite to eat from a little girl's picnic basket?  Granted...chowing down on the girl and her grandmother might have been a bit extreme, but hunger makes you do strange things!  And what if the three little pigs had willfully destroyed the wolf's ancestral home to get the materials for their houses?  Can you blame him for wanting a bit of revenge?

Turning familiar stories on their heads is great deals fun for me when it's done well, which is why I'm pretty much hooked on both of the fairy-tale based television shows (and why Into the Woods is one of my favorite musicals).  When you can take the original and ask "what if?" it brings new fun into an old favorite.  I find it more enjoyable than knowing going in that it will end with "happily ever after".

Friday, March 2, 2012

Curling up with...

For as long as I can remember, I've loved the opportunity to curl up with a good book.  So when the desire to curl up with the internet or the tv is more tempting, I know something is wrong.  I've found some wonderful projects that have taken some of the time which could be used for reading (like knitting and making key racks out of Legos), so that doesn't bother me.  What catches my attention a little bit is the amount of time I spend watching TV these days (especially since my job entails watching TV as well) and on the computer. 

I still have my must-see TV, but that's only two or three shows a week.  I'll generally knit in front of the television, so that may account for another few shows that I don't feel a burning need to watch, but are good entertainment while I work on a project.  And I have my fair share of things that need to be done on the computer (including putting together a blog that can be very therapeutic at times).  But certain social media sites which shall remain nameless remain major time suckers for me.  Technically it's reading, but much of it is of the worst kind--gossip, fluff, and bad spelling, grammar and abbreviations.  There's information to be gleaned, but it's something that I should be able to read and walk away...and yet I can't.

My reading habits tend to be all-consuming.  I'll find a series that I like, dive in, and not come out until I've devoured it.  Or find a genre that intrigues me and go from book to book to book until I don't want to think about the genre ever again.  I found a series that I love, but it runs 14 books.  I have the next book in the series, but I'm not jumping at the opportunity to start it.  I think it may be time to make a switch from the noir detective novel.  I'll have to find something else to dive into and allow to consume me until the desire returns to finish off this series.  I just need to find the next glimmer of intrigue...

Friday, February 24, 2012

Creative Energy

It's never been a secret that I love the theater.  Performing, watching, working behind the scenes...there's something energizing about it for me.  And yet it's only recently that I've been able to bring myself to go to a show alone if I can't find someone with whom to go.  But in doing so, I'm getting to see friends perform, and even better, in shows that I've never seen before.  In the last month I've seen both "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and "A Year with Frog and Toad" for the first time.  Neither were professional productions, but they were done very well.  One of the joys of being in the Twin Cities is that there is all sorts of community theater to catch. 

The result of going to these shows is that they just fuel my creative energy.  I want to perform again, but due to my work schedule, the next opportunity for that probably won't occur until the summer.  However, there are other creative ideas getting fueled watching this creativity on stage.  I suddenly have a list of four or five things that I'd like to make (and I have never seen myself as the "crafty" type).  Unfortunately, I need to hunt down very particular elements to make some of these ideas work, so until I find them I'm sitting with a bundle of unfocused creative energy.  It's great to have that desire for creativity, but I need to find the right outlet.  I definitely don't want to lose it.  What to do....what to do??

Friday, February 17, 2012

Living Up to the Hype

Hype has always bothered me.  Many times the more something is hyped, the less likely I am to want to deal with it.  I think it's the reason that I don't see many movies--there's so much promotion for the blockbusters that I'm just sick of them before they hit the theaters.  And nothing can live up to the hype when expectations are that high.

Now, this isn't to say that I'll completely avoid anything that's hyped.  I read the entire Harry Potter series (but I'm pleased to say that I got into the series before it became the juggernaut that it is now).  I have to admit to being at the midnight showings for The Phantom Menace and The Matrix Reloaded (I still regret those...).  I did, however, love the much-hyped Lord of the Rings movies.  I'll see the much-anticipated The Hobbit movie when it comes out.  But there are many movies along the way that I haven't seen because I heard too much about them.  I've never seen The Sixth Sense, for example.  It was so talked about and talked about when it came out that I ran the other direction (that and someone gave away the ending).  I haven't seen Titanic.  Never seen AvatarBrokeback Mountain, or The English Patient.  I've never touched Twilight, in either book or movie form (although there may be reasons beyond hype for that one).  The list could go on, but I don't have time to list all the big movies that I haven't seen.

As I get older and the hype gets more distant, I find myself more open to seeing the movies.  I don't want to admit how many years it was before I was willing to see Forrest Gump.  It didn't live up to everything that people told me that it was, but away from all the hype it was a pretty good movie. 

One of my friends recently warned me that if I want to get married and have kids, I'd better catch any movies that I want to watch soon because once the kids arrive, it'll be another eight to ten years before I get to watch more of them.  I don't see marriage and kids in the immediate future by any stretch, but with a realistic mindset as to what to expect from the movies (they're entertainment--they're not going to be life changing) it's probably not bad advice.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rejected Random Acts

I like to think that I'm a reasonably nice guy with mostly good intentions toward others, regardless of race, sex, creed, or religion.  I'll hold the door open for people whether I'm on a date with them, friends with them, or they just happen to be walking behind me into the building.  If I see someone who appears to be struggling with bags or packages in the parking lot, I'll ask if they need help.  Usually I get a "No, thank you" in response, but I figure that it can't hurt to offer.

I went to the grocery store the other day and I noticed that a mother and her children were dashing across the parking lot, the woman clearly in a hurry.  She was holding her toddler in one arm while frantically rummaging through her purse with that hand, meanwhile holding the hand of her other child in the other.  I pulled a cart out of the rack and offered it to her, figuring that she'd be able to set her toddler in it and more easily free up her hands.  The thought process may have been sound, but the offer clearly wasn't appreciated.  As soon as I offered her the cart, I received an icy glare and was told,  "I'm not some helpless woman that needs a man to take care of me."  The word "man" was dripping with disdain.  I'm not sure what my facial expression was at that point, but I was a bit shocked.  I quickly took the cart into the store and watched from behind a stack of Clementine oranges a few feet into the store to see what she did next.  She dropped the hand of her older child and pulled on a cart with the newly free hand, but it wouldn't budge.  She tugged a few more times without luck and wound up setting down her other child, placed the toddler's hand in his brother's, then went back to wrestling with the cart with two hands for a few moments before it finally came loose.  She picked up the toddler, set him inside, took her older child's hand again, and went storming into the store.

I felt a mixture of sadness and frustration toward the woman.  Clearly she had a lot on her plate and was a bit overwrought.  I had an image of her having one of those days where one thing after another was going wrong.  But watching the entire process, including her having to set down her son just to pick him up again moments later frustrated me a bit.  If she'd taken me up on my offer, it would have been far simpler for her.  But I also realized that there are a multitude of reasons that she may have rejected my gesture (she might have been a little nicer about it, but that's a completely separate issue).  I made the offer, and that's all that I could do.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Random Acts

I had a serious fajita burrito craving this week, so I decided to go out and grab my dinner.  I wound up waiting in line behind a mother and her two small children, neither of whom could have been over the age of six.  The little girl was clearly tired and remaining close to Mom (read: both arms wrapped around her leg), while the boy was taking every opportunity to explore the restaurant.  He tugged on the legs of other people in line, then waved when they looked down at him; he ran to the door and pointed at the cool cars driving by.  He then dashed over to investigate exactly how full the dispensers of plastic forks and knives were (looking, not yanking them out--I was impressed!).  He was a flurry of activity unto himself and the polar opposite of his sister.  Meanwhile, his poor mother was trying to divide her attention between him, making sure that her daughter didn't fall off her leg every time she stepped with her right leg, and finishing the taco order that she was trying to make.  I have enough friends with children to know how challenging it can be at times and I wasn't in a hurry, so when the mother shot me a couple of very apologetic glances between ordering and calling to her son I just smiled back at her and told her not to worry about it.

When she finally managed to finish the order, wrangle the kids, and pay for her meal, she turned to me and handed me the gift card with which she had just finished paying.  She said that she knew there wasn't much left on it, but she appreciated my patience in following her through the line.  I stopped in my tracks.  She didn't know me, she had enough on her plate to handle, but she stopped to give me a gesture of thanks.  There was something like $1.36 left on the card--not much in the scheme of things, but it really made my day.  It reminded me that next time I go through a drive through, I need to pay for the car behind me.  Or just pay for my coffee shop coffee with a larger bill than necessary and ask them to apply the change to the next person who comes through.  Hopefully it can make someone else's day.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Rule of Winter

I've lived in the midwest my entire life, but I still can't say that I love winter.  I'm comfortable with it.  I understand that in order to have my favorite season, fall, that I need to deal with winter as well.  And that's ok.  But I have one rule with winter with which Minnesota isn't cooperating with particularly well this year: if it's going to be ridiculously cold, there needs to be snow to go with it.

I remember growing up and building snowmen, snow forts, and the occasional igloo in the front yard (Mom and Dad weren't thrilled when they caught us sneaking buckets of water out of the house and into the yard to harden the igloo).  There were winters where we had tunnels running through the yard--it was great!  I also remember being sent out to shovel first thing in the morning.  And that stunk. 

While my snow fort building has cut back as I age, my appreciation for snow has evolved.  There's just something genuinely peaceful about a new blanket of snow.  It gives everything a beautiful, clean look and in my neighborhood there's a glorious silence to go with it.  In my mind, that's what makes up for the frigid temperatures that accompany it.  Last year's snowfalls of 16 inches a pop were a bit extreme, but despite the difficulties in getting around I have to admit--it looked cool!

So this winter, nature has only been living up to half of the bargain.  It's been really cold this week, but until I can no longer see blades of grass, it just doesn't count as snow in my book.  So come on, Mother Nature--bring on the snow!  Well, some snow.  Not the feet of snow that got dumped on Alaska.  Not the feet of snow that got dumped on us last year.  Just....enough.  Is it too much to ask?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Home Improvement

I've been a homeowner for a couple years now, and I'm definitely getting good at drawing the distinction between the things that I'd like to do and the things that need to be done.  When I bought the house, I had thoughts of updating the kitchen--cabinets, countertop, and lighting.  Then the water softener died.  And I needed to replace the furnace, air conditioner, and a couple windows.  Which means that the kitchen revamp becomes a pipe dream and the washer and dryer (probably from the early 90s) will run until they die or I come into some money suddenly.  It's sad, but it's comforting to come face to face with priorities.

Until that sudden influx of money (a guy can hope, at least), I took on the little projects.  The basement got a fresh coat of paint, new furniture for the patio, and framing and hanging art around the house.  Next up: organizing those dark corners of the house where I tend to not dare to tread.  My kitchen, mud room and office need some serious rearranging in order to make things easier for myself, and I'm very aware of that fact.  Unfortunately, I've tended to let things just kind of stack up in those areas, and I need to attack them soon. 

Or more likely procrastinate them for other projects.  Any other projects.  Organization is something I dread, partially because I know how long I've gone without it and I know how much it'll take to get where I want it to be.  So I've moved to projects that flex a little bit more of my creative muscle.  Like knitting.  I just finished my first mitten.  Well--almost.  It doesn't have a thumb.  But I figure I can wait until I have the second mitten knitted before I have to figure out how to knit thumbs.  And the project that I most recently finished, my key rack.

I'm proud of this project because it's simple, it's creative, and it solves an organizational problem (that fact kind of snuck up on me--organization can be creative?  Who knew?).  My junk drawer now has about a dozen fewer keys floating around in there.  My extra garage door opener will wind up on there as might a few other odds and ends (the nice thing about Legos is that it's easy to re-arrange and add more hooks!).  The remaining junk in the drawer in the kitchen will need to be dealt with at some point, but that's for later.  Perhaps after a few other projects.  I have an idea for a shelf next to the doorway that I want to work on.  All I need is a game board, some game pieces, some brackets, and a whole lot of glue....  Then maybe I can work on making a scarf.  And in the spring I may need to do more painting.  And then.....

I'll get to the big organizational stuff eventually.  Really.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Trip from A to B

Getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible has always been a goal of mine.  Patience is a virtue?  Nah.  Just get it done!  If I start a job I want to get through it as quickly and efficiently as possible.  When my brain shorted out this week (I think I felt a buzz in my brain and smelled smoke) due to a stretch of too much work and too little play, I decided to go to a solution that consistently works in those situations--exercise.  I've been procrastinating re-starting, which of course only serves to leave me further out of shape, but this was the kick in the pants I needed to get started.  I dug out my workout clothes and DVDs and I was off! 

Monday was a good indicator that I definitely have a long way to go, but I made it through the workout.  I was frustrated at how far I've let myself go, but I felt good for having done it.  There was a little soreness the next day, but it was the the "I'm using muscles I haven't used in a while" kind.

Tuesday was tougher.  Lots of squats in the workout, and I reached a point where I physically couldn't do any more of them.  I decided to stop rather than to try to push myself through it and risk hurting myself.  The next day was a clear indication of how far I have to go.  My legs were so sore that I had trouble walking up and down stairs on Wednesday.  And Thursday.  And Friday.

Because of the soreness on Wednesday, I decided to take the day off and wait until Thursday to do my next workout.  I was determined to push through the soreness and get myself back into the habit of working out regularly.  Thursday was probably a mistake.  I tried pushing through, but my body just wouldn't cooperate.  And when I felt that pop in my lower back, it was definitely time to stop. 

The lesson for the week is that pushing to reach my goal as quickly as possible may not be the best way to handle things in this case.  I'm going to resume the workouts when I feel better (the soreness is slowly fading everywhere).  And it's probably in my best interest to take a more scenic route from A to B.