20 Things You Didn’t Care to Know About Me (But Now You Do)

My LIttle Helper told me that my blog is the best way for you to get to know me as an individual, not just as the incredibly talented, chiseled-chinned author you’ve come to love. So, fine, I will let you in. Settle in, come closer–ooohh not that close, had garlic today, didn’t we? Here goes 20 things you never knew about me:

  1. I hate pandas. With a passion. I think they are worthless animals who cannot figure out how to eat or procreate without human intervention and panda porn. I think the noble panda would be better suited as a bedcover and a nice pair of boots
  2. I hate T-Pain. Really I do. I just wanna kick the shit outta him and autotune his scream. Who the hell rhymes mansion with Wisconsin? Jackass.
  3. I have a secret crush on Julianne Moore. Don’t ask me why—it just works.
  4. I have a public crush on Chante Moore. My wife already knows if Kenny slips, it’s on. I have a bag already packed.
  5. I’d love to listen to a Jehovah’s Witness at a Mormon’s door. That would have to be one of the most scintillating conversations ever.
  6. I think the head-to-neck ratio on Selena Gomez and Julianna Marguiles is horribly out of whack. These women have the biggest heads in Hollywood—I want to send them tiny crutches to give their necks a rest. How has no one ever said anything?
  7. The only reason I watch American Idol is for the sadness and the tears. The dashed hopes bring me joy. I turn it off after that.
  8. I’m addicted to Hoarders and Maury. If they’re on, I cannot look away.
  9. I once won a beauty contest. True story. Got the sash and roses and everything. I was magnificent.
  10. I will not listen to anyone on my ipod/car stereo/Sirius-XM whose name begins with Lil. I’m just too old for that shit.
  11. I narrate my dog’s actions and reactions in a variety of voices. One moment he sounds like Cartman; the next he’s Malcolm X.
  12. I think Jay-Z looks like a Koopa from Super Mario Bros. Every time I see him on TV, I wanna jump on his back and kick him down the street and see 200s in the sky.
  13. I think the characters in my stories haunt me in real life. Seriously. If I don’t write on a regular basis, they take stuff and hide things and kick my dog and knock my son in the head.
  14. I’m almost 40 years old. Farts still make me laugh.
  15. Random question: if you see a porn star in the street, is it okay to say you’re a fan of their work? Is it okay to be a fan of their work?
  16. I’d love to moderate a debate between Kirk Douglas and Dick Clark. I think 50% of it would be me saying “What? Can you repeat that?” Yes, I already know I’m going to Hell for this one.
  17. Ceelo Green is a big-ass midget. I know it; you know it. I wish he’d just come out and say it. I’d still buy his music.
  18. I often turn on (and record) the really messed up medical shows on the Discovery Channels. Stuff like Freaky Eaters, My Strange Addiction, and the 650-LB Woman. Can’t help it. I was genuinely disturbed by Man with Half A Body, especially when he talked about his NATURAL BORN daughter. The question is my head is still How?
  19. I’m really scared of rats, roaches and spiders. And that damn doll from the Amityville Horror. And Teddy Ruxpin.
  20. I don’t trust cats. We usually get along but I don’t think they’re genuine. I’m convinced they’re trying to kill me.

There you have it folks, you’re up close and personal expose. If you’re good boys and girls, who knows, I might break down and tell you my horribly disgusting, but really funny, holiday story about an x-ray, castor oil, and topical Novocain.

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Consistency Smishtency?

I gotta grow up.

This is not an idea I’m comfortable with. Not at all. In my quest to figure out how to increase my reach, my brand as an author and my sales, I enlisted the extremely affordable help of a marketing major. Seemed like a good idea at the time: she’s young, smart, energetic. And cheap. What more could I ask for?

Until she gave me my first prognosis: you, sir, are inconsistent.

Inconsistent? What? That ain’t…well…ok…fine. She was right.

My Little Helper told me that my blog, my Facebook fanpage, my communications all needed to match the tone and perspective of the things I write professionally. She called this building my brand. Surprisingly, the ladies from the Indie Book Collective said the same thing in their Dollars and Sense book. Now this presents a problem for me: what I write (right now) is a little heavy, a little dark, a little wicked but the person I am is snarky and funny and mean. It doesn’t match. It isn’t consistent.

Back when I was the neighborly insurance adjuster, a colleague of mine asked me to accompany him on a claim. The policyholder was a hoarder—the house was bursting with trash, broken items, and refuse (back then, we called them “garbage houses”)—and they’d suffered a fire. My co-worker was having a tough time working with the client to determine a replacement value for things that had no value.

When I arrived we were paraded through a narrow pathway of shoulder-high newspapers and magazines and while my co-worker met with the client, I took a little tour of charred remains of the trash outside. One of the things that caught me was the remains of a gas grill. The platform on the bottom and the post that held the firebox were intact but the firebox itself was gone. Completely gone.

I asked the policyholder (whom we’ll call PH here) about it: “Hey, umm, what happened to the grill?”

PH: It was damaged in the fire.

Me (sharing a look with my co-worker): Seriously? Are you saying the grill was damaged by fire?

PH: Yep.

So I need you to understand the circumstances. This entire conversation took place in Minnesota. In January. My Minnesotan friends will attest that it’s tough enough to get a fire started in January in Minnesota, much less get one burning hot enough to do any real damage to anything. So I said:

“Are you suggesting that a fire damaged the thing designed to hold fire? That’s really your story? Come on, man.”

She maintained her story but it was inconsistent.

So I’m all for saying what I think. I don’t know what to think so this time I’m asking a question: how? I’m a storyteller first—I don’t know how to make it consistent across everything I create. I don’t know how to speak with solely one voice. And I don’t know if I should. And would you actually want me to?

That’s the question for today: you know me, you know what I have to say, some of you have even read my book. Do they all have to look and feel relatively the same? I think My Little Helper is right; I’d love to know what you think.

Use Your Outside Voice

NEWSFLASH: Whitney Houston died last week.

OK so that’s not the news flash. That’s actually old news. The real news is the “voice” died. It’s gone. Seems like the coverage was more concerned about the death of her musical legacy than it was about Whitney as an individual. We’ve seen this plenty of times before—the death of the voice of an entire generation. It happened with Kurt Cobain and Tupac, Marvin Gaye and Huey Newton, John Lennon and John Kennedy. Now Whitney.

And we do this often; the world does this. We find someone who speaks our language and we consume them, eating every morsel of them alive until death is the only escape and we are left in the silent wake of their absence. In the void of someone’s passing. We needed that voice. It filled something within us. Now we miss it.

I know it sounds morbid so let me tell you a story. When I was in college, I was the president of the students of color organization on campus. I also worked in the multicultural affairs office for Work-Study. We had this newsletter project to do for the office and my role was two-fold: layout the newsletter (I’d taught myself PageMaker and got pretty good at it) and to write the closing article as the organization’s president.

I told you before that I was a little bit of a rabble rouser when I was younger. I took the opportunity to speak my mind to the administration and the entire student body with a little article called Multiculturalism Is Bullshit. Seriously. That was the title. In the back of the Multicultural Affairs newsletter. It went over fantastically. I was on academic probation until I graduated.

But it did make an impact. While ill-advised, it did something. It was read; it resonated with people. My article warned of going so far in ignoring the differences between us that we diminish the value of those differences, that we negate the variety of perspective and culture and experience in the name of political correctness. I got some discussion going, became a columnist for the college newspaper, and received a sternly worded letter from the Dean of Students.

But I found a voice.

We’re all speaking these days: everybody’s Facebooking and Twittering and Pinterested. Social media has given us a voice to speak to tens, hundreds, thousands of people. It builds friendships, businesses, revolutions. Voices, average, ordinary voices, are building nations and toppling dictators. They build the apps that power our smartphones, redefine our news, put presidents into office. Voices have power.

I’ve been thinking about writing about voice for sometime now, so much so it was intended to be the theme for this month. Voice. What you say and how you say it. Whether you are a writer or a public speaker or an activist or a parent, your voice has power and magnitude and impact. Impact is a force—it is tangible and palpable. It is something we can feel. That is what we lost when Whitney left. A voice.

You’re “listening” to my voice. You can subscribe to this blog for my life in writing, follow my random thoughts on Twitter, or purchase my novel (yes, yes, shameless plug). Whether it’s written, status updates, or phone calls, you have your own voice. Use it.

Mother Knows Best…Sometimes

At long last my mom finally made it out to sunny Seattle, after being too sick to travel over the Christmas holiday. It was this fantastic piece of news that inspired such classics as Bah Humbug! More Like Blah Whatever and How the Grinch SAVED Christmas. But we’re past all that and she gets to come out and everyone in my house sets their phasers to stun: we’re all too nervous to function normally.

For me, it’s the first time my mother has seen me as a parent. I told you before we’re a pre-packaged family and, though it’s been an 8-year endeavor, not everyone moves as fast or is as accepting as we are. I get that part. But every child still has to pass muster on those things that matter. I’m no different.

My wife becomes a Tasmanian Devil, spinning through the house cleaning and cooking—with the same warm temperament. Her nerves are, justifiably, high and me and the kids become Tito, Marlon and Jermaine to her Michael Jackson: standing in the way while she’s running around the house like this is a Pepsi commercial and her hair is on fire.

Oh but the kids are the best! Let me tell you about these individuals (you know it can’t be good: I’ve called them individuals). These clowns decide the best way to deal with their nerves is to show their entire asses. Not one booty cheek. Not the top of the crack. Whole ass. The entire time my mom is in town, DMFRHs decide a test is the best time to hold a conversation and then lie about it, convince their teachers I really want a call home, and The Boy, who earned the first DMFRH award, gets in trouble for the EXACT SAME SHIT!

That’s not the bad part. The bad part is they forced my hand.

Think about it: my mom is here looking at me as a parent and the kids offer a real test. I gotta be firm, right? I gotta be the heavy-handed disciplinarian and, whether my mom is present or not, I have to address the behavior, right? And it comes at a time when I’m staring down the mouth of a Disneyworld trip and the Day Job Dragon has been gracious enough to bequeath lil ol me a bonus.

You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?

They forced my hand. I have to respond.

Hard.

Godammit.

I raise the stakes. Try to turn the tables and force them to crumble. I make a list of all the things I’d rather do other than Disneyworld and ask them to convince me not to change my mind. Sell me on it. They don’t. These MFs call my bluff and respond poorly. POOR-LY. My wife is becoming increasingly upset because she’s watching her vacation flitter away on the ignorance of children. We look ridiculous to my mom because we can’t control our kids. And she, in her own way, is pressing for the tougher response.

While my mother was here, we went to the Pacific Science Center—Seattle’s science museum. There is an exhibit called Body Works. It has stuff about anatomy and reaction times and how the human body is built. It’s pretty cool. One of the stations in the exhibit is about how human beings (and most other living things) are built bilaterally—if you sliced us in half from head to toe, we’d look pretty much the same on both sides, right? Pretty much but not exactly. There are these little differences that you never see, subtle imperfections in the symmetry. This station had you line up your face and showed you some pictures: the way others see you, the way you see yourself, and the way you’d look if both of your halves were exactly the same. The way you think you look and the way others see you—and the difference between those images—was striking.

The question here rattling in my head, and where I’m trying to go with this, is who are you going to be? Who am I going to be? The man I see in the mirror or the one I think I’m supposed to be in that situation? For that audience? My mother never pushed me to do or be anything other than who I was. Those expectations, and the stress that comes along with them, are mine. They are the figments of my imagination combined with what I’ve gleaned from my experience. But I made them.

The goal has to be to make those images the same. The person we see in the mirror should be the same one others see when they look at us. They should be the same. I see myself as a man trying to make life better for a group of people who’d been dealt a pretty shitty hand. I see me as a man who believes anything is possible, who believes the journey is more important than the destination, who believes that we should fight to make our dreams come true.
So that is the man I decided to be.

Disney is still on, mainly because I think my wife will kill us in our sleep if we don’t go. I haven’t figured out what to do about the rest but I think me and the kids are gonna figure it out together. I think we have to.

It’s Year 39. Mission: Fill the Box

So yesterday was my birthday. Yes, yes, shower me with affection and adoration! OK, enough. No, really, that’s plenty. And…we’re done.

My mom made it out for my birthday and it’s been a fantastic visit. She brought me a gift in this beautiful little box, asking me to be very careful with it.

Now I know my mom pretty well and I know there’s always a chance something ridiculous is gonna happen. But she was so convincing…until I opened the box. This is what I got:

That’s right: 2 empty Reeses cup wrappers. She said it was worth it to see the look on my face: pretty gift, empty box. And she laughed! Hard! Look at her! Head thrown back!

Now, I like to look at my years like presidential terms—my 39th year is saying its inaugural speech before a crowd of thousands (ok fine—50); 38 is on Marine One back to Crawford.

New year, new terms. New set of big hopes and campaign promises.

I have to have a moment of introspection beyond the limelight, in the quiet times between celebration and well wishes and lofty expectations. 38 was an alright Year—it had a tough row to hoe after that clown, 37, squandered a surplus and pissed off the Day Job Dragon. 38 had to fight through the flames, maintain some decorum, and eventually rub the Dragon’s belly long enough to calm it down. Tough year. But 38 took risks and pushed an aggressive campaign—the book launched, the publishing company became a reality, I get to talk to all of you. 38 brought it all together.

This new year is like my mom’s empty present: a beautifully wrapped gift with nothing inside. I have to fill the box. 39 has to take all the heady promise of this birthday and use it with all the hubris this year offers. This Year has to pick up where its predecessor left off. Push it forward. Build on what we accomplished. Build something bigger.

It’s a new year. I’m filling that box.

The Thing With The Things

I’m getting what I deserve.

Last fall, I wrote a post called Ballstober where I talked about my wife’s love of horror movies and me and The Boy’s attempts to gird our loins and watch them with her. There were a couple things I neglected to mention:

  1. The Honey Badger wants to be like her mother when she grows up
  2. There are some of these movies I actually enjoy

I cut my eye teeth on watching (and coming to adore) movies like Alien. And John Carpenter’s The Thing. The prequel to the 1982 gross-fest came out last October and hit my OnDemand this week. Sounds like double-feature night to me.

The Boy and the Honey Badger have approached their academic responsibilities with all the fervor of Shaq at the free throw line: poorly. What began as a repossession of a tv (yes, they even got a letter), has culminated in the worse punishment you can render a child of the 21st century: confiscation of all things electronic. That’s right. Listen to the radio. Flip the pages in that book. Feel that? It’s called paper. They make it from trees.

So these cats are walking around singing Huey Lewis and the News, trying figure out how to get back to the future. And I feel bad because they’re fiending for electrons. Which brings me to double feature night. “Hey kids, let’s have movie night,” I say. I’m a dummy.

And am now renewing my application for Fisher Price to make a taser.

Two reasons. First, look at the clock. Go ahead, I’ll wait. See, if you’re reading this, it’s a normal I-should-read-a-blog time, right? Maybe you’ve had your coffee. Maybe you’ve even had lunch. For me, it’s four o’clock in the fucking morning and I’ve been kicked out of my bed and banished down the hall because the Honey Badger is scared. Came in my room twice, woke me out of a deep sleep sponsored by my super-sexy CPAP machine, saying she was scared of everything. Who is scared of everything? With the Fisher Price taser, this could have been an easy one: ssskzzapp! Go to bed.

Secondly, with the Fisher Price taser, I could have handled their homework malfunctions early too and avoided all this nonsense in the first place. You forgot to turn it in? Ssskzzapp! Didn’t bring it home? Ssskzzapp! They’d become model students for the low cost of rechargeable batteries. Problem solved.

The moral of my story is if I’d have had a Fisher Price taser, I would be nestled in my bed, my children would be better students, and I would have the immense satisfaction of being able to tag their asses at will without killing them. Life would be better. This is now a quality of life issue. How can they not do it? Maybe we should start a petition. Who’s with me?

30 Days of Madness

I am enamored by ridiculous feats of human achievement. Climbing Mount Everest. Swimming the English Channel. Actually Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

But I have been decidedly fascinated by triathlons. These multi-sport events are the ultimate tests of endurance and fortitude and chronicle the triumph of will and dogged perseverance over the limits of the human body. The pinnacle of this is the IronMan Triathlon—a global phenomenon that includes a 2.4 mile ocean swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26 mile marathon run.

To me, if you can simply complete one of these, no one can ever say anything to you ever again. No one can say what you didn’t do, that you’re lazy, that you can’t do something. It’s the ultimate response: “You do it.”

We have these sorts of literary challenges throughout the course of the year: there’s National Novel Writing Month, the 30 Day novel-writing competition; ScriptFrenzy—a 30 screenwriting challenge. There are writing prompts and blog tours, journal challenges and write-ins. But I want to do something drastic. Something crazy.

Something mad.

I’m creating my own triathlon, my own literary IronMan, if you will. I’ve done National Novel Writing Month. I’ve written a screenplay in 30 days. I have struggled to say something to all of you through this blog every other day. What if…what if I put them all together. What if? This is where you’re supposed to say “No, Chris, no! Don’t do it! It’s too risky!” And then I give you my best Ahab and scream “Risk be damned!” and turn the boat into the storm or some shit.

Here’s what I’m thinking: 30 days of writing frenzy. 30 days of novel writing. But what, there’s more. Add writing a script in those 30 days. And if you act now, we’ll add a 30 day blog tour to your order. That’s right! 30 days of novel, script and blogging for your literary pleasure. I thought about calling it Insanity but that punk ass Shaun T took that title. Considering the influx of Starbucks Double Shots and Mountain Dew, the lack of sleep and the sound of my characters droning in my head, 30 Days of Jibberish might be a better title. I think I’ll call it 30 Days of Madness.

30 Days. Of Madness.

But there have to be rules, right? Can’t have a triathlon with no rules, can we? 30 Days of Madness is composed of three, count em three, simultaneous events. The first is a NaNoWriMo-style novel writing challenge. 30 days, 50,000 words. Second is the ScriptFrenzy screenwriting challenge—same 30 days, 100 page script. Lastly, 30 days of blogging—30 days of posts of at least 500 words. At least. My plan is to put together a blog tour and squat on anybody’s blog that’ll have me. Barring that, I’ll let you decide the topic: 500 words. Every day.

No one says you have to choose something ridiculous like I am but take 30 days to do something different. Something novel. Something risky. No telling where you might end up. My commitment to insanity begins April 1—I figured April Fool’s Day was apropos. You can check out the specifics for my challenge here on my 30 Days of Madness Page.