Sunday, July 25, 2010

Disconnect To Reconnect


Sometimes it pays to take a break.

Sometimes you just have to put all your internet devices aside – and focus on the people who mean the most to you. Those physical bodies that reside in your residence, sleep in your beds, and eat their food with you at the dinner table.

Your family.

I did so this last vacation week. Well, not voluntarily – not at first anyway.

You see, my common habit is to spend my free time in the summer out on the back deck with my two little girls and my lovely wife Darlene…

…. and my laptop.

And as the girls play in the pool and Darlene puttered around the yard, I would sit here my in favorite position of shaded patio deck table by the pool, and be on the internet.

I would be sitting here writing a story for Headstuffing. And I would be sitting here talking with friends on Facebook. And I would be sitting tweeting with friends and other bloggers on Twitter. And I would be sitting here following Tigers baseball games pitch by pitch on MLB.com.

And I thought I was spending good quality time with my family.

I thought I was spending quality family time in the physical presence of my lovely wife Darlene, and my daughters Alannah and Ashley-Rae.

But in reality my body was here, but my mind was far away.

Far away in the words I was writing in Headstuffing.

Far away with my friends I was talking to in Facebook.

Far away with my friends and blogging gang I hang out with on Twitter.

Far away tracking the play by play of the Tigers baseball game.

I was here body with my family. But my mind was in faraway places like Australia, France, England, and the southern states of the U.S.

It's not that my friends on Facebook and Twitter aren't real people – and real friends. But my family really wanted to spend the week with me. Not just the big lump of a body sitting at the table – they wanted ME.

My companionship.

My attention.

Quite often, Alannah and Ashley-Rae would climb out of the pool and come over and ask me to play in the pool with them.

"In a second", I would respond. "I'm almost done".

"Daddy, NOW ….", would pout Ashley-Rae. Alannah would reach for the screen on the laptop and push it down to close it.

Last week my Mother arrived from Pensacola to stay for several weeks. And last weekend we had a birthday party for Ashley-Rae. And most of the morning while everyone was rushing around to prepare for the party – I spent most of the morning on the deck with the laptop.

I wasn't really much help.

And I was told about it.

After the party concluded, my laptop was nowhere to be found. And my iPhone was missing.

"Where is my stuff?!!", I bellowed.

"You don't need it this week", calmly replied my lovely wife Darlene.

"Huh?"

"You are off for a week now – and this week you WILL spend with your family", replied my lovely wife – her face now red – her expression held that "do not question me on this decision" attitude pouring all over it.

So I shut up.

And I spent the week off line.

And I went through some withdrawal symptoms.

I woke up in the mornings that week coming out to the back patio with a cup of coffee for a morning smoke – but no laptop. No morning status updates on Facebook. No morning tweets on Twitter. No morning readings of the news and no commenting on blogs from my favorites like Pat Caputo's Sports "An Open Book" blog.

I fell out of touch with everyone. Everyone not in my house.

But, I fell IN touch with everyone who actually slept under my roof.

I actually spent my morning coffee times listening to what my lovely wife Darlene was saying.

She is actually quite interesting.

And I spent morning coffees talking with my daughters about what they wanted to talk about.

And they are actually very interesting little girls.

And I spent the morning coffees talking with my own Mum, who I hadn't seen in over a year and a half.

And do ya know, she is pretty interesting too.

On Friday our best friends from Dublin, Ireland arrived. We drove over the border to the Detroit airport to pick them up. It was a weird experience as we left the airport with Tornado warnings sprang up on both sides of the border – and a rainbow that stretched from one end of the horizon to the other – a fitting tribute to the landing leprechauns sitting in the back seat.

And when we arrived home, again I noticed how just how incredibly interesting both Ray and Shell are.

And they did fly over from Dublin.

And they were sitting on my very special back deck – from where I speak to the world.

By the end of the week, I had pretty much recovered from my internet addiction.

Because as much as I love using the internet to talk to the world, it seemed like the conversation at my patio table had become ever increasingly more interesting.

In fact, the world seems to be coming to visit me.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Don’t Know Dew Ya


It's such a beautiful summer morning here on the back deck, my faithful black lab Suzy laying in the shade by my feet … always optimistic that I will get up and play.

But I don't – the coffee is just so good.

You can't forget beautiful days like this – temperature in the mid-seventies with a thread of coolness in the air.

And the smell of lilac wafting over the patio from the garden.

It makes you think back to beautiful summer days in the past.

I was nineteen in the late spring of 1981. I was a soccer play for the university, taking classes in a small Georgian village of Milledgeville. As rural a southern town as there was in the day. The buildings were all colonial style – likely there since the burning of Atlanta in the American Civil War.

I was fortunate at that time to be dating a very pretty girl who was a gymnast – and for a few months we kept company together. She was very southern, and I loved to listen to her special lilt in her drawl.

On one such beautiful summer's day Saturday morning, we went for a walk into town to find the local sporting goods store.

I forget now what it is that we were in need of, but it seemed pretty important at the time.

We thought we knew where the sporting goods store was. But as we walked up and down the main street, it became obvious we didn't have a clue where this place was.

A little boy came riding his bike down the street. I would say he was probably seven or eight years old. The bike was a rusted copper color – with a big banana seat and the handle bars and front wheel gave it that "chopper" look.

He was making motorcycle sounds with his mouth and making tire squealing sounds when he turned.

He was having a ball – all by his lonesome.

He noticed us, and as all little boys do when they see a pretty girl, he tried to pop a wheelie - to show off. But he lifted the front wheel too high, and his bike slipped right out from under him.

He landed on his butt. The bike rolled a good twenty feet further on its back wheel – hit the side brick of a storefront, and fell over on its side.

My girlfriend ran up to him, concerned as pretty girls are when little boys fall down. But the little boy would have none of it, and got to his feet and ran to his bike.

After we determined the little boy was alright, I asked him, "do you know where the sporting goods store is?"

No reply. The boy just looked at me.

My girlfriend bent down into that squatting position that pretty girls use when talking to little boys and asked in her sweetest southern drawl:

"Do you know where the sportin' good store is sweetheart", in that sing-song southern belle cadence - smiling at the little boy with her eyes.

The little boy simply looked at her – and then at me – and he said to me:

"don't know, dew ya!".

I shook my head and tried my hardest not to laugh.

The little boy had picked up his bike and straddled it to ride off.

I reached in my pocket and pulled out a dollar bill I had received as change for breakfast.

"What if I gave you a dollar, would you show us where the sporting good store is then?"

The little boy jammed his hand far down into his pocket of his very dirty blue jeans and pulled out his own dollar and held it up high for us both to see.

"I already gots one!" and he smiled at my pretty girlfriend and rode away.

I don't remember if we found that store that day or not. But that doesn't matter.

And the very pretty girl was not my girlfriend for long, as in University you know, you keep company with many people.

And I no longer live in Georgia, of course.

But thirty years later I still remember that little boy, his very country southern drawl, how much fun he was having and how embarrassed he was once his butt hit the cement. And his cute but indignant attitude he displayed afterwards.

I can still hear those two phrases quite clearly in my head.

"Don't know, dew ya!" and "I already gots one!" – as spoken in the country drawl of a little boy.

I wonder what ever happened to that little boy. Did he spend the dollar? What did he get? How many times later in that day did he crash that bike again.

What story did he tell his Ma and Pa when he got home? About the pretty girl who smiled at him, and the big ugly guy she was with?

Or were we completely forgotten once he rode away.

I loved most of the parts about living in the rural areas of Georgia. But as a University student, I didn't really appreciate it while it was there. I have used Google maps to go back and look at the main street of Milledgeville – but it, nor the campus of the University look anything as old and southern as it did back in 1981.

Is 1981 really so long ago?

I can still juggle a soccer ball on my feet – up to my knees – and catch it on the back of my neck. My little girls think it's so great. And they think I must have been the greatest soccer player in the world.

I don't exactly dissuade them from such a wonderful misconception either.

And every time somebody asks me – to this day – if I know where something or some place is – I look at them and smile and I say …

"Don't know, dew ya!"

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Little Fish In A Big Pond


Indeed the world has gotten much smaller in the last twenty years.

So small that good friends around the world almost seem local to us.

Tools like Facebook and Twitter bring us the status and relevant thoughts of their lives in short snippets of text. In Twitter the limit is one hundred hand forty characters. Facebook provides a bit more.

And tools like Skype let us call and talk and see each other while we do.

Global events like the World Cup soccer tournament can now be analyzed and debated – scrutinized in real-time as the match is being played – with the world – amongst the noise of the cheering fans typing in their cheers and jeers as well.

The internet has changed the world drastically. So much that the name Internet no longer really represents this global connectedness.

The opportunities this new connectedness (a phrase coined by the online gurus of this new connected world – first seen by me in tweets from great pundits like Ian Aspin Andrew Keen and Patrick Dixon) has opened up a world of opportunities.

Opportunities we are still trying to get our heads around.

For example, it has allowed for me to write here on headstuffing – and share my musings with the world (or at least my .006% of the Earth's population that I can reach) – in hopes of that someone of influence will trip over my stories and open new doors for myself and my family – to let me put headstuffing to work for my daughters education and to maybe add to the pittance of a retirement fund I am acquiring after twenty years of dedicated service to the various employer's throughout my career.

Sorry, I got on a bit of a tangent there.

But you see what I mean.

When I was a young man – first looking to get my foot in the door – my Uncle Fred once told me that if I offered my services for free – then the parties that benefit from those services would gladly pay you to do them once they realiuzed their value.

A debatable concept – which led me to poverty in my early twenties – until a friend – already successful in the field – suggested that I charge an exorbitant fee for my services – because that would create the illusion of value.

My friend was right. And together we made a pretty good little living together for a couple of years.

But neither of these concepts seems to work on the Internet … err … in this connectedness.

You can't charge people for what they get for free. And you can't charge exhorbitant amounts of money for something people can find online for free – by sources much more talented than yourself.

This connectedness has taken all the big fish in small ponds and thrown them into one great ocean. And the whales and the sharks in this ocean simply overshadow – and sometimes eat – the once big fish in small ponds.

Newspapers are the shining example of this – once great fish – in their local ponds – overshadowed by online news services - extinguishing their readership and subscription revenues as people find that bundled little gem of local news on their doorstep to be of less and less value. Overshadowed like the tiny elm that can't get nourishing sunlight because that damned gigantic maple tree next to it has left it permanently in the shade.

Would you pay your local newspaper as much as you do for a subscription – merely to see the local high school sports scores?

Maybe in the case of the Atlanta Journal of old – and that was the only place you could get the latest Lewis Grizzard column. But in those days, Mr. Grizzard's writings became valuable enough a service that he became a syndicated columnists printed in thousands of papers across the United States.

In short – he jumped from the little pond to the big ocean of the connectedness available before the Internet.

So how do writers like myself and headstuffing – and others as or more talented than I – how do we find that next level?

Some would say the best source of revenue from a blog (and I hate that term so desperately) is to put tiny little advertisements all around it. Monetize it.

I did. Not a single Google Ad cent over the last four years since I started. Not a single nickel from Amazon for touting their books on my pages.

Of course I didn't go chasing those nickel and dime clicks very hard.

But advertising someone else's wares to earn money when you want your writings to be respected seems to me to be a bit – hypocritical? No that's not the right word.

Misdirected.

"But it's your writing that will draw people to the ads … the ad money directly correlates to your popularity as a writer".

No it doesn't.

I don't buy into this concept that people are so prone to impulse buying that they will click a link off of my site to go purchase a hat or a sweatshirt or the latest paperback novel.

Not unless they could only get that merchandise from headstuffing. A headstuffing hat or t-shirt or sweatshirt – a collection of headstuffing stories in a book form.

Do I want to be a merchandiser? They say the big Hollywood movies make more money on merchandising than they do on the movie – some times. It depends on the movie.

I doubt seriously there was tons of merchandising opportunities for Brokeback Mountain.

I guess in short – I am simply wanting for what those of us who call ourselves writers want … to be called writers by other people.

That respect goes a long way. And opens even more doors.
Some of the great writers have earned tremendous fortunes from their writings. Because their writings became books. And their books became movies. And their movies often became merchandise.

Damn, there's that merchandise avenue again.

But it's such a big ocean. The little ponds are all gone.

And I'm wondering if I am a good enough swimmer.


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