In Which I Attempt and Likely Fail to Get “Freshly Pressed”

I’ve accomplished a lot in my 37, almost 38 year life on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. I’ve rambled, ranted and raved about many of those accomplishments–both good and bad–for years, both here, on “Random Musings of a Pseudo-Madman Version 1.0,” in my oldest pieces of “Mental Flatulence” and in my original “Dissertations.”

Most recently, I’ve written about the publication err, self-publication of my first book, ENDWORLD – A Novel (I need to keep it real for the people that think I got a book deal). A quick, parenthetical aside on that: The book is still selling modestly well, even after almost a month, and I am patiently awaiting next week when my self-proclaimed “Memorial Day Week Promotional Blitzkrieg” will begin. Note to all: Be prepared. Me and my book are going to be popping up all over the place. And by “all over the place” I mean across the blogosphere and on social media. Maybe even on one or two Google “Search Result” pages. “I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”

Don’t all “ooh” and “aah” at once. I don’t expect that you’ll see my book cover and my face on a billboard overlooking I-95 through Philadelphia. At least not until I shed a couple of pounds. You think a television adds 10 pounds? Imagine what a 30 foot wide by 20 foot high billboard adds. Crikey. I’d look like an albino extra from an old “Godzilla” movie. Just call me Mecha-Marsh.

I’m even 50+ pages into the sequel, CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD thanks largely in part to the not-so-gentle insistence of the people who have finished the first book and really want to see what happens next, and the new Daft Punk album, “Random Access Memories.” All in all? Life’s pretty good, right now. I’ve got to say that as the eras of my life go, this one ranks pretty close to the top. After all, I’m fulfilling two dreams at once: Being a dad and being a writer (not in that order nor in reverse order).

Are there things that I’d change? Sure. I’d love to drop a couple of pounds (and by a couple I mean 50-60). I’d love to spend more time with just my wife and less time with my wife and my beloved “minions,” AKA my children. I’d love for my book to already be a bestseller. I’d love a place down the shore. But I’m a realist really (try saying that five times fast), and I know that, in the immortal words of Mick Jagger, “you can’t always get what you want.”

Okay. Accepted. But there is one thing that I’m lacking. One last, little accomplishment that I’d love to… well, accomplish. That accomplishment? To be…

Drum roll please… 

Freshly Pressed. 

For those of you that don’t know what that means, here’s a definition: “Freshly Pressed” is something that WordPress does with certain blog posts. Per their tutorial (viewable HERE), they Freshly Press blog entries that “enlighten us, inspire us, entertain us and get us talking.” As for who “us” is I’m assuming “us” = The Powers that Be, otherwise known in this case as the WordPress Admins. There are other criteria but at it’s core? That’s what being Freshly Pressed entails. Almost every blog that I follow here on WordPress has, at some point, been Freshly Pressed. They’ve all got that cool, little “Freshly Pressed” badge on their sites. But “Random Musings?” Nope. Never. I could just copy and paste one to my sidebar but that would be cheating. I believe in earning my kudos, not undercutting the system/fabricating them.

Do my posts not enlighten you? Inspire you? Entertain you? Get you talking? If they don’t okay. No problem. I’ve obviously overestimated the reach of my ramblings. Perhaps I spend to much time talking about things that interest me and too little time talking about… I don’t know. Cats. Or Doritos and Smartfood. Or something else that I know a lot about. I’ll concede that at times, this blog has seemed more of an online journal and less of a… how does one define a “blog?”

A blog (a contraction of the words web log) is a discussion or informational site published on the World Wide Web and consisting of discrete entries (“posts”) typically displayed in reverse chronological order (the most recent post appears first) (SOURCE: Wikepedia of course).

Okay. Per that criteria, “Random Musings” does qualify as a blog and not an online journal. It is a discussion, even if it’s just a discussion with me, myself and my wife who religiously reads every one of these posts in the hopes that she will see something transcendent. Or just funny. I think she’d settle for funny. In truth? I think she just reads it to humor me. And I appreciate that in the same way that I appreciate people telling me that I’m not obese. Um… yeah. Guess what? I am. Morbidly so though I have been told that I carry it well by people that I know would not humor me. Fact? I’m 30 pounds clear of just “obese.” And that’s without consuming sugar. Stupid potato chip-esque products. I should have left you in my proverbial rear view mirror after Lent had expired.

Curse you, Doritos and Smartfood! Curse you to h-e-double hockey sticks! 

There’s more to being Freshly Pressed. A lot more. And admittedly? I want it. I want it so badly. I crave it the way I crave Tostitos,Velveeta and Salsa. There’s nothing like watching college football in the Fall while your “minions” nap with a bag of chips, a trough of cheesy but spicy goodness and a towering glass of Tea Cooler, the latter of which has enough sugar in it to fell a thoroughbred. So this blog entry will be… is an attempt to get Freshly Pressed by analyzing and, hopefully, incorporating each and every one of the selection criteria outlined in the aforementioned tutorial (again, viewable HERE). Will it work? I have no idea. But much like the whole publishing err, self-publishing a novel thing, I’ll never know unless I try. So here goes:

1. Write unique content that’s free of bad stuff. 

In layman’s terms? DOA. 90% of “Random Musings” is “dead on arrival.” Per the Freshly Pressed criteria, “hate speech, fear-mongering, adult/mature content, copyrighted images that belong to someone else, spam or content that’s primarily advertorial in nature” are not allowed (SOURCE: WordPress Tutorial, cited above). I’m good on hate speech, fear-mongering, adult/mature content, copyrighted images and spam. Those items are not in my nature as a person or a writer. I hate no one, not even my Biological though admittedly? I “strongly dislike” him. Fear-mongering? The use of fear to affect the actions and opinions of others? I’m seriously the least scary person I know, though the idea of seeing my mug on a billboard really terrifies the you-know-what out of me. As for adult/mature content, let’s face it: I’m a traditionalist. I feel that certain things need to be kept behind closed doors. The name of this blog isn’t “50 Shades of a Pseudo-Madman” (though if it was, I bet I’d get a lot more traffic) and the only sex scene I ever wrote is contained in the pages of the only novel I ever published. And even it’s not too graphic. Copyrighted images and spam? Okay, the idea that anything on the World Wide Web is “copyrighted” at this point is ludicrous. The bulk of what’s out there… out here is a part of the eminent, public domain and will remain so until such time as someone buys a controlling interest in the Internet, AKA never. And I decry spam/spammers. I’d hunt them all down and spank them if I could. But that last bit? “Content that’s primarily advertorial in nature?” Yep. D. O. A. I’ve spent the better part of the last six months hocking my book, AKA my “wares” on this blog/over on ENDWORLD and THE ENDWORLD SERIES. I’ve even done it in the content of this blog entry. Survey says? Disqualified. I am the weakest link, and I probably should say goodbye at this point. But I’ve already started so really? Why not finish. 

2. Have a point of view/Don’t be afraid of your voice. 

I’m lumping these two together because they’re invariably related. Furthermore, in the interest of time and fairness, I’m only going to rank this as one criteria, and not two. “Random Musings” comes much closer to meeting this one than the first one. I most certainly have a point of view and I express it, sometimes to the chagrin of people who come here looking for something transcendent or amusing and end up reading x-amount of paragraphs that ruminate on my own, subjective life, the universe and everything, i.e. the world… the “All” as I see it. But that’s a point of view, is it not? Everyone sees the ever-turning world around them and the ever-expanding (or shrinking depending on your perspective) universe differently. Me? I generally don’t get depressive about what’s occurring in the grand scheme because really? It’s supremely FUBAR. It has been for some time now and will likely remain so so long as one side of the proverbial aisle can’t agree with the other. Note that I said “proverbial.” I’m not simply referring to Congress though I’m sure that one or two conservatives/liberals will take it that way. I’m referring to one belief system as opposed to another, or one world view as opposed to another. We’re a long way as a species from the idealized Earth that Gene Roddenberry envisioned when he first conceived of “Star Trek” a half a century ago. In this world’s defense? As docile as Roddenberry’s Earth was, his universe was incredibly f*cked up. And we’re still 50 or so years away from Zefram Cochrane’s first warp flight/First Contact so there’s time. But I’d feel a great deal more secure raising my “minions” into adults in a world free of crime and currency that emphasizes learning and exploration, not just on a macro level, but on a micro one (i.e. not just the exploration of the vastness “out there” but of the limits of the mind). And as for not being afraid of my own, unique and sometimes exhaustive voice? Well, I think that I’ve demonstrated that on multiple occasions  In summation? I think I’ve got this one. Survey says? I’m one and one. Moving on.

3. Paint us a picture. 

Ugh. This one is just about DOA, as well. Yeah. “Random Musings” doesn’t really have much of a visual element. That’s the problem with my writing: I’ve grown accustomed to illustrating things with words and not with pictures. I was never very good at taking pictures, though I’ve got a couple at home/on my C-drive that I really treasure. Do you want to see them? Here are a few. With explanations (of course):

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This is a recent picture of me and my “minions.” I’m the ugly mug rocking the grizzly beard on the left. That’s Cara in the middle and on the right? Natalie, otherwise known as “Natalia.” Because in Soviet Russia, everything sounds cooler with an -ia (pronounced “ya”) on the end.

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This is a recent pic of me and my smoking hot wife, Nicole. It was taken at my cousin’s wedding back at the beginning of April. There was a fedora there, as well (the one that you see in my Gravitar profile pic/my author pic) but it didn’t make it into this picture. It made it into others, but showing those pics on here would further violate criteria number one (posts that are free of “bad stuff”). Finally…

Higbee Beach, Cape May, NJ

This is not a recent pic. It’s actually pretty old. It’s a picture of the path through the dune forest to Higbee Beach in Cape May, NJ. If you’ve finished reading ENDWORLD – A Novel (SPOILER ALERT) you know that it plays a pretty significant role in the final pages. It also plays an even more significant role in the opening pages of CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD. The final scene in ENDWORLD originally took place upon it. It was not until a few years ago that I decided to “move” it to another location. But I couldn’t resist bringing Higbee into William’s story. And I like it’s function now a lot more than I like it’s original function. But I’ll leave it at that. You’ll find out soon enough for yourself.

So there you go. Whether that visual element is enough to get me Freshly Pressed remains to be seen. At the least, I got to share a couple of meaningful pictures with you. Meaningful to me. Whether or not they are meaningful to you is open to debate. Survey says? Draw. Still one to one with one push.

4. Make it easy on the eyes/Aim for typo free content. 

Oh boy. Here’s another one… two, actually (ranked as one singular criteria) that “Random Musings” arguably fails miserably at. Actually, I shouldn’t just blame the blog. It’s me. Easy on the eyes? Not physically or proverbially. I’m wordy. It’s about as integral a characteristic of my genetic make up as my love of anything and everything potato chip-esque. In my defense, I’ve been trying lately here, over on the Endworld site and in CHILDREN to cut back on it. One sentence to describe what used to take me two; shorter paragraphs. Have you noticed? Likely not. And if this blog entry is any indication my paragraphs are still as morbidly obese as I am. The problem with that? If I drop the equivalent of 50-60 pounds off of one of my paragraphs I end up with something that is not Mecha-Marsh. I’m descriptive. I think it comes from my Biological, a fact which I acknowledge, but don’t exactly revel in. I do use bulleted and/or numbered text (these criteria being a good indication thereof), I rarely center justify anything and the design of my page–Misty Lake–is one of the cleanest templates available. But verbosity? Yeah. I’m a’cursed with it. As for typos? I was an English Major in college. I had a qualified Editor edit my book. Yeah, typos = Me. Though I do endeavor to cut down on them here. Survey says? A big minus one. “Random Musings” one, WordPress Powers that Be two.

5. Add relevant tags. 

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I don’t “get” tags. I mean, I understand the idea behind them. “Don’t use tags that are too obscure” and “use relevant tags.” Okay. So I guess “The Ooh Cat,” “Dead Possum” and “Ebola” aren’t exactly popular or relevant to anyone save for:

  • Someone who worships “Puss in Boots” more than my almost four year old does.
  • Someone who lives in a metro area and thinks a “possum” is a creature of lore, right up there with foxes and bunny rabbits (both of which exist in abundance in Broomall and DELCO).
  • Someone who recently traveled abroad and is now suffering from influenza-like symptoms or someone who has watched the move “Outbreak” way. Too. Many. Times (I mean, it’s not that great a movie; the book is a whole heck of a lot better).

FYI: Bulleted points, WordPress Admins. Bulleted points twice in one blog entry. Bonus points, perhaps?

Tags like those aren’t going to get “Random Musings” noticed by the WordPress Powers that Be. And until my book is an established commodity and not “selling modestly” “ENDWORLD” isn’t going to pull in too many readers, either. My tags may not be relevant. But they are creative, and a part of the overall, “Random Musings” experience. Do any of you ever read the tags I tag my posts with? You should, sometime. Therein may lie the transcendence and/or funny content that you are looking for. I mean, what other blogger uses the phrase “Herbal Refreshment” as liberally as I did a few posts ago? The answer? No one. Still, I have monumentally failed to fully grasp the potential of the tag. Survey says? Another big, minus one. The Madchronicler one, WordPress Admins three.

6. Write a headline we can’t ignore. 

Regardless of whether my headlines on “Random Musings” are catchy or not, the WordPress Powers that Be have, by my reckoning (and simple mathematics) clinched victory. The best that I can achieve at this point is a two-three loss. Meaning? Meaning that unless I break from my tried and true formula of writing non-fiction “essays,” not only this blog post, but no other blog post that I have ever written or will ever write here on “Random Musings” will be Freshly Pressed. That said, I think my headlines are pretty catchy. So I’m going to score this one for the good guys. Survey says? “Random Musings” two, WordPress three. Sound buzzer. Game over.

And there you have it. Cue the faceless victors cheering and cue me, the morbidly obese published err, self-published author/blogger with the grizzled beard weeping profusely in the corner of his subjective reality on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. Congratulations: You have now shared in yet another, personal accomplishment–one of the bad ones.

The point of this rambling treatise that might get me kicked off of WordPress (but I certainly hope it doesn’t) is this: I don’t write because I seek the validation of my peers. I didn’t write ENDWORLD – A Novel because I wanted the world to see me as more than just Frank Marsh, a semi-regular Joe Schmoe that works an eight to five, Monday through Friday (and every fourth Saturday) job. I said this earlier and I’ll say it again: I’m fine with how my life is, presently. This really is one of the greatest eras of my life too date. Because I’ve got my “minions.” And I’ve got my sweetie (pics above). And Higbee Beach awaits me at the far edge of my vision IRL though in Endworld? It’s currently in the forefront. I was a living and breathing facsimile of a smiley face pre-publication. Being a published err, self-published author is just the icing on the cake. No. I write because I want to tell a story. I’ve got a whole book of ’em in my head. Some fiction, and some non. Some both. And one day, I hope to tell them all to anyone that wants to read them. Time and health–God willing–permitting.

And as far as being Freshly Pressed? If it happens it happens. Again, I don’t blog because I seek validation as a blogger. I blog because I’ve got something to say. I blog the way I talk because IRL? Most of my talking revolves around answering technical questions about hydraulic applications, the myriad of questions that Cara asks me on a given day or teaching Natalie (AKA “Natalia”) how to say “Mommy,” “Daddy,” “Cara” and “Doritos.” Whether or not people chose to hear my voice is their prerogative. Whether or not my ramblings have an iota of meaning for you is relative. I’m sure there are one or two people out there that can relate to my accomplishments–both good and bad–and can commiserate with my musings on life, the universe and everything. Maybe the others just read “Random Musings” because they’re looking for something transcendent. Or just funny. In truth? I think they’d settle for funny, too. Like my wife, who either humors me or hangs on every word that I type (and sweetie? Please don’t ever tell me which; thank you).

I’d love to be Freshly Pressed. I’d cherish that badge the way I cherish a cool, Fall Saturday (not one of the fourth ones) filled with College Football, multiple tall glasses of Tea Cooler with enough sugar in them to fell Godzilla and Tostitos with Velveeta and Salsa dip. Admittedly? It would be really cool to see my ugly mug of a Gravitar picture, fedora and all on that page along with one of my headlines. Much better than seeing albino Mecha-Marsh 30 feet high and 20 feet wide. Who needs a billboard when you can gain access to 500,000 other bloggers, some with like interests to yours and others with completely different ones. Can it happen? Will it? Or am I forever doomed to blogging obscurity?

Here is the conclusion of my pitch, WordPress Powers that Be: When I’m not working my eight to five, oft times mundane, routine existence, playing with my “minions” or squeezing a few all-to brief moments of quiet time in with my wife, I’m writing. It’s not just what I do. It’s what I am. I may not meet your Freshly Pressed criteria. “Random Musings” may be an atypical blog compared to others that you read about cats, potato chip-esque products and “Star Trek.” If that’s the case no worries: So long as you continue to host me I will continue to post here. But give your buddy the Madchronicler, AKA Frank Marsh a shot. If not for the rest of the blogosphere, then just for my poor wife, who can’t understand why I write rambling pieces of “Mental Flatulence” for free if only a select few people read them, searching in vain for something transcendent. Or funny.

I think they’d just settle for funny.

Winky emoticon. Smiley face. Have a great Memorial Day Weekend, everyone.

A Lenten Conundrum

I consider myself a good Roman Catholic, albeit not exactly a practicing one. Most observers would consider me as more of a recovering one. I’ll be honest with you because really, I pride myself on being so in both my life and my writing: I don’t go to Mass every Sunday and I haven’t for some time. I haven’t been to Confession in over a decade and generally when I do go to Mass, I skip Communion because, as Sister Mary Margaret taught me in Grade School (back when we all lived in “J-Town” and no one lived anyplace else), to receive Communion with Mortal Sin on my soul–my aforementioned lack of regular Mass attendance–is punishable by nothing short of the fires of H-E-double hockey sticks.

Despite this, I do consider myself a good, if not a great Roman Catholic. Both of my children were baptized RC; both will attend Catholic School and both will learn the same things that I learned growing up. Why? Because I consider my RC upbringing crucial to the person that I am, currently, and the people I want my girls to be. When they turn 18, they can be whatever they want to be but until that day, guys? They’ll do what I and my wife want them to do. Baptism, First Penance, First Holy Communion, Confirmation… the whole shebang. Hopefully you get the point. If you don’t? This next part is for you.

I believe in God. I believe that His son, Jesus Christ, died for our sins and was Resurrected a few days later.  I’m a little put off by the idea of a Holy Ghost (or anything ghostly, for that matter), but I concede that something changes within us when we are Confirmed. I don’t know whether Mary was a Virgin or not when she conceived Jesus and I don’t care. She is the mother of “the Word made flesh” and that is enough for me. I believe that “faith” is more than just what happens within a building every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. It’s more than giving money to an establishment. Faith is something inherent within oneself. Something that one believes. And me? I believe in all of the above and in Heaven, Purgatory and Hell too boot, though I do not believe that my missing Mass most Sundays dooms me to the latter because for the most part, I’ve lived a good and moral life. At least I hope it doesn’t. If it does, wow. My whole existence seems kinda’ pointless.

In essence, I believe in a secular version of the spirituality that I was reared in. I believe that my relationship with the Almighty is a personal one, and not something I have to dignify to a building full of worshipers or anyone, for that matter. That said, my reason for writing this blog entry is not to profess my faith to you, my loyal reader (or readers; I’m not really sure how many of you there are since the whole “Visitor” versus “View” thing here on WordPress is a little vague). It merely gives you a bit of background… a foundation that sets up what this blog entry is about: A Lenten Conundrum. 

Who here doesn’t know what Lent is? A show of hands, please. Lent, for those of you that don’t, is the period of 40 weekdays leading up to Easter Sunday that are devoted to fasting, abstinence and penitence. In essence, Lent is a time of purification for all Christians, not just RCs like me: Purification of the soul for the day that marks the anniversary of Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead which, in biblical times, was also the day new Christians were baptized. Today–Tuesday, February 12, 2013–is the last day of Ordinary Time, pre-Lent and is known in most circles as “Fat Tuesday.” It is a day of excess: Of not fasting, not abstaining and being unrepentant before Ash Wednesday kicks off Lent. It is a good excuse to party and it always has been. But for me in 2013? Fat Tuesday signifies something else. Something much more dire and serious now that my idea of “partying” involves popcorn, sugar-free juice boxes and “Puss In Boots” on a Saturday night with my three and a half year old. Tomorrow, I need to give up something for Lent and this year? I have no idea what in the H-E-double hockey sticks I’m going to give up.

Last year, I gave up Facebook. Don’t all “ooh” and “aah” at once. It is possible despite our seemingly insatiable need as a species to see what our friends are doing and, in some cases, who they are doing, laid out before us in blue and white. The experience, or lack thereof was actually quite liberating. Granted, I spent a lot more time on Twitter than I normally do, but I didn’t feel as locked-in to my Zuckerberg-sanctioned timeline as I usually do. So that one’s out of the question. Been there, done that, have the t-shirt. I generally don’t eat sweets–I can’t because of the whole high blood sugar thing–and my only real vice–smoking–is now a virtual non-vice though I’ll admit to sneaking the occasional Cancer stick, but only on special occasions like at a wedding, or on a Saturday night whilst watching “Lock Up: RAW” with my wife. I’m not a big drinker, and the one thing that I could give up–caffeine–is just not an option. I don’t think I could survive one day, much less 40 without it.

Which leaves me with the title of this blog entry: A Lenten Conundrum. I’d give up blogging–and I’m sure one or two of you reading this would be okay with that–but giving that up is the same, for me, as giving up writing. I can’t. I won’t. It’s too much of a part of who I am. I’d give up sex but come on: I’ve got two kids–a three and a half year old and an eight, soon to be nine month old–for chrissakes. How much do you honestly think I’m getting? How much do you think I even care about getting laid at this juncture? I prefer a good night’s sleep or an uninterrupted hour of reading to getting schazzy. This is in no way, shape or form a reflection on my wife who is as beautiful and desirable now as she always has been. It is merely a personal preference. Nor does it make me less of a man. What it makes me is smart. Sleep… relaxation trumps sex. I can function at work on a full night’s sleep. I can not after a tryst-filled night. So sex? Out of the question, too.

What’s left? I think that pretty much uses up all of the broad topics. Social media? No. Sweets? No. Smoking? Not significant enough. Drinking? See smoking. Caffeine? H-E-double HOCKEY STICKS no! Writing? Nothing to gain. Sex? No point. Am I then reduced to actually picking out specifics to give up like Monster Energy Drinks, Mumford and Sons or Words with Friends? Perhaps. There has to be something. The driving precept behind a Lenten sacrifice is giving up a luxury. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a vice. So what luxuries do I enjoy, outside of the ones mentioned above? Here goes:

1. Cheese: I’m a cheese junkie, guys. I love it. American, Sharp Provolone, Cheddar, Port Wine, Gov’ment and Velveeta, if the latter can even be classified as “cheese” and not a “cheese product.” But there’s a problem with giving up cheese. During Lent, one can not eat meat on Fridays. And I really can’t eat fish. So unless I’m going to eat nothing but greens every Friday between this one and the Good one, I need to keep cheese in my diet. Eating nothing but greens would have the same effect upon me as not drinking caffeine. I don’t know who or what I’d turn into, but I know it wouldn’t be pretty. Why is it that I picture myself cowering in a corner and repeating “my precious” over and over again?

2. Soda: See caffeine. Soda’s not soda, diet or otherwise (and I can’t drink “otherwise” ’cause of the aforementioned, no sugar thing) without caffeine. Anything that masquerades as decaffeinated soda is little more than carbonated liquid in a juice box. I can’t… I wouldn’t survive without it. We’re talking about giving up a luxury, guys, not functionality.

3. Functionality: Both professionally and personally. I could give up being a functional cog in the machine that is my reality on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. Give up working; give up going out; give up being a good dad and a good husband. But doing so would be incredibly counter-productive and… well sh*t, just downright wrong. Besides, I don’t think giving up something as crucial to my life as functionality was what my religious forefathers and mothers meant when they came up with the idea of a Lenten sacrifice. I guarantee you that if they did? There would be a lot more of us out there (as if the however many billion Christians that exist in the world, currently, isn’t enough). Admit it: Laziness is attractive. It is to me. I just wish I could be lazy more often. Sadly, there’s not a lot of room for that in my life, presently.

4. Sports: Too, too easy. I mean really? Giving up sports in Philadelphia right now is the equivalent of taking a vacation. The Flyers stink. The 76’ers blow. The Eagles went 4-12 and just resigned Mike Vick, much to the chagrin of 90% of the sports fans in this city. Phillies’ Pitchers and Catchers reported today to Clearwater, Florida for Spring Training but even that does little to assuage the general malaise that exists when one thinks about the local sports scene, currently. After all, the Phillies finished third in the NL East last year (81-81) and are projected to do the same by most pundits going in to this season. I’d do it, but something tells me that the Almighty would look upon it as me, taking the easy way out.

5. One of my many myriad electronic devices: Smart phone, lap top, iPad, Kindle Fire… you name it and I have it. This one could work save for one issue. Actually, multiple issues, one with each. Regarding my smart phone, I’m sure I could go 40 days without it. I could leave it off in my room at home for a couple of weeks and not think twice. But doing so would eliminate the lone means by which most people contact me. Whether via text, email, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter et al, my smart phone keeps me connected to my friends and family. I have a land line at home but I honestly don’t know it’s number. Generally when it rings I concede that the person calling me is either A.) A telemarketer, B.) A robo-call, C.) My Biological trying in vain to re-establish a relationship with me or D.) My sister, who for some reason always calls my house phone. I automatically assume that if the situation is dire they will call my cell. That said, my cell is necessary to my daily functionality. Ooh, functionality: A double no-no. Plus, I have a March upgrade to look forward to. Samsung S3 here I come! Regarding my lap top, I need it for work since I am the on-call guy for my company. If Sister Mary Margaret’s hydraulic system breaks down at 2:00 AM and she calls me I need to be able to check our warehouse stock, et cetera, et cetera. Regarding my… our iPad, I rarely use it. In essence, giving up the iPad would be the same as giving up my work computer: Something that I don’t own but am allowed to borrow occasionally. Insignificant. As for my Kindle Fire, while it might be nice to give up e-reading and go back to reading paper texts for a few weeks, I am constantly using my Fire to work on e-formatting Endworld. Considering my editor just finished her first edit and will be sending her copy back to me to be re, re, re-revised in the next few days my Fire is, unfortunately, a necessity, as well.

What’s left? I honestly don’t know. I’ve covered everything and anything that I can think of. Is it conceivable that at this juncture, on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence there are few, if any non-necessities in my life? There are luxuries, but are there any that I can manage to survive without for 40 weekdays? I guess that’s why they call it a Lenten “sacrifice,” huh? The idea behind it is a secular extension of the original idea of Lent being a time of  fasting, abstinence and penitence in preparation for the anniversary of Christ’s resurrection and by association, the day of Baptism. And I profess to be a believer in a secular approach to the Roman Catholic faith that I was reared in, do I not? How can I raise my girls RC if I’m not willing to lead by example?

Maybe I should give up caffeine. After all, I didn’t think I would be able to give up Facebook for six weeks last year and I did. It would be healthier for me, wouldn’t it? Should I? Would I?

I would not. Because I believe in God. Because I believe that His son, Jesus Christ, died for our sins and was Resurrected a few days later. I further believe that neither the Almighty nor His offspring would ask me to give up something pivotal to my existence on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence as a means of purifying my soul. I can do the same thing through prayer and reflection, can I not? In addition, I remain a little put off by the idea of a Holy Ghost (or anything ghostly, for that matter), but I concede that something within me causes me to think this way at this time of year, even after 30 plus years of doing it. Furthermore, I have believed and always will believe that “faith” is more than just what Sister Mary Margaret defined it as in the Fifth Grade. I believe that faith coincides with belief, and I believe that I have been asked to sacrifice early and often over the course of my life. I have done so with zero debate. I’ve never questioned the motive, I’ve simply accepted that it was something I needed to do. Despite it, or perhaps because of it, I believe that I have lived and that I continue to live a good and moral life. If the Almighty deems it otherwise? Then I guess I underestimated His judgement of what earns one entrance into Heaven, Purgatory or Hell. Still, I am required to give something up for Lent this year and I intend to fulfill that requirement as I have every year since I first learned that I had to. And if I need to pick one of the above listed “necessities” and not caffeine? I choose…

6. None of the Above: You read that right, guys. None of the above. Believe it or not, there is actually a luxury that I have not yet mentioned that I ingest on a daily basis. For lunch; when I get home. In truth? It is likely one of the main reasons why I’m as holly and jolly as I am right now. Chips, guys. Not just potato, but derivatives thereof: Doritos, Fritos, cheesy poofs, Smartfood. All shapes, sizes and flavors. When you combine this with my preexisting inability to ingest candy or anything sugary, I am, in essence, giving up what exists in my subjective reality as junk food for Lent. I figure this will not adversely affect my functionality, nor will the Almighty, His son or that darned Holy Ghost accuse me of “getting off too easy.” Plus, I might drop a few pounds in the process, a not altogether unappealing prospect as Winter begins to wane and give way to Spring and thereafter, Summer.

There you have it! Lenten conundrum solved. I’d like to thank Sister Mary Margret for allowing me to mention her multiple times throughout this composition. I’d also like to thank the Father, the Son and yes, even the Holy Spirit for being the foundation of my spirituality. No matter how secular said spirituality has become in the last few years, I still consider myself a good, if not a great RC. I’d like to thank Mary, the mother of Jesus and her husband, Joseph. Mainly Joseph because really? Mary gets all of the credit, all of the time. I’ll give it to her: The whole Immaculate Conception thing is pretty awesome. But Joseph? Even if Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ Biological he was, seemingly, an attentive and caring father/husband. We should all aspire to be that way, shouldn’t we?

In closing, I’d like to thank my wife, Nicole, who kept Natalie and Cara occupied while I completed this blog entry. She also helped me to decide upon my Lenten sacrifice. She’s giving up sweets–all variations and derivatives thereof–for Lent. No one thinks she can do it but me? I totally think she’s got it in her. Everyone reading this? Please send her your best, positive vibes. Thank you, and have a happy and healthy Easter Season.

Why I Hate February – An Anti-Appreciation

It’s no secret that I always get a little morose around this time of year, guys. To be fair to February, a month that I have panned for many, many years and am planning to pan in this blog entry (try saying that five times fast) my mentality starts to shift in mid-January, reaches its antapex around Valentine’s Day and begins to gradually improve thereafter. Generally by mid-March, I’m back to my oft times holly and jolly self. Cue Easter, baseball season, the hockey playoffs, playing outside, et cetera et cetera. To be fair to January and March, though? Generally only 50% of each month sucks. The other 50%? Not bad at all. 100% of February completely blows.

I’ve always been this way. I guess its just something about the Dead of Winter that gets me down. Granted, it wasn’t always this bad. Pre-the mid-1990’s, I would get slightly bummed out but not overly so. In truth? I’ve had my fair share of good experiences in January, February and March throughout my life. Even a few of the overwhelmingly bad experiences have been tinged with a silver lining or two, i.e. happy memories nestled amidst the sh*tty ones. But for the most part? The aptly named Dead of Winter has been a time of pain and disappointment for me on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence.

Why do I hate February? I guess I should start with a definition of the Dead of Winter. In actuality? The Dead of Winter refers to the coldest part, or the middle of winter which, chronologically, is more the end of January/the beginning of February than just February. Alright. I’ll concede it: Point, February. That said, it has seemed that over the course of my life, January has actually been pretty nice. Normal. Temperate. Higher then average temperatures; little or no snow save for the Blizzard of 1996 which buried the tri-state area (Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware for those of you not from around here) under three feet of snow for a couple of weeks.

February, though? Without fail, the temperature generally plummets an extra 10 degrees on the outskirts of Philadelphia and the sky almost immediately starts chronically crapping hard or loose–depending on the track of the storm–white stuff. This year has been no exception. While we here in the tri-state area have been spared a major storm thus far and are dodging another bullet tomorrow and tomorrow night whilst points north of us get a “historic blizzard,” we’ve been subjected to multiple… what we call “Nuisance Storms.” We’ve seen the sun for about an hour total since February first and the temperature has barely been above 32 degrees Fahrenheit (it’s 34 degrees Fahrenheit now per my Weatherbug phone app; conceded, then: Another point for February). The fact that that overrated groundhog Phil predicted that Spring was right around the corner this passed weekend is lost on me. Really? What the hell does an over sized rodent know? He doesn’t have to shovel his walkway, dig his car out or occupy a three and a half year year old and an eight month old because he can’t go outside. He gets to hang out, warm and cozy in his Hilton of a tree stump whilst the good people of Punxsutawny, Pennsylvania cater to his every whim. Freeloader. He reminds me of my Biological.

All together now: Ouch. 

No sooner had I written the above paragraph then the National Weather Service revised their forecast for this area and issued a Winter Storm Warning. Christ, I hate Karma. I probably shouldn’t have talked trash about my Biological. When will I learn? One to three inches of snow tomorrow night just became three to six inches tomorrow afternoon in to tomorrow night with one to two inches per hour possible at the height of the storm which, incidentally, will be during my drive home tomorrow night and which which, if history is any indication, will be further revised by the time I go to sleep tonight in to a Blizzard Warning. Jesus, February. Thank you again, sarcasm fully intended. And Phil? Thanks for nothing. I’m sure you were right and Spring likely is right around the corner if you live south of Virginia. But the rest of us? We’re likely screwed for another six weeks regardless of whether you saw your damn shadow or not.

It’s not just the environment on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence in February that gets my goad, though. There are other aspects of it. Take sports, something which you may or may not know per what you’ve read on this blog I am an avid fan of. Guess what? I am. Anything and everything Philadelphia sports-related save for the 76’ers who for the most part have been a non-entity in this town since 2001. February marks the end of the football season with the Super Bowl, something that the Philadelphia Eagles have only participated in twice–in 1980 and in 2004. Both times they were favored to win. Both times they lost. Furthermore, the one team that has managed to bring home a championship since the mid-1980’s, the Phillies, are still in off-season mode and while Spring Training does start up in mid-February, it’s not enough to satiate the need for something. Anything. The Flyers? I love them. I always have and I always will. But I’ve got to be honest, here: They’re a disappointment. Yes, they’re competitive every year and yes, they rarely miss the playoffs but really? They haven’t won a championship since 1976. Even the 76’ers have won one more recently. Bernie Parent got old, Pelle Lindberg unfortunately got dead and Bobby Clarke got fired by the organization a few years ago (though I believe he’s back now in some capacity). The glory days of Flyers hockey are, I’m sorry to say, far behind us. Remember how many Stanley Cups we were supposed to win with Eric Lindros? We were supposed to be a dynasty. How many did we win? Nada. Zilcho. Zip. Meanwhile, the Sh*tsburg Penguins have won a couple.

One more time with feeling: Ouch. 

My point is that February is, for the most part, a dead time for sports here in Philadelphia and always has been. The Wing Bowl? It’s not a real sport. The Big Five? March Madness, guys, not February. When you’re down… when you’re bummed out, sports has a way of filling the hole that exists within your heart, mind and soul. Unless your teams stink. Then, you just feel worse. Hopefully you see my point. Yet another kick in the nads from February. Thank you, sir. Can I have another?

Sure. Why not? I should note before I continue that yes, my approach to this blog entry is different than it normally is. That’s because I’m a different me at this time of year. I’m not always the living and breathing facsimile of a smiley face that I hope you know and maybe even love a little. In truth? I’m actually pretty damned depressive, as if this composition up until this point hasn’t proven that. Amazingly enough, though? Most people crawl up in to a ball and wait for the moroseness to pass. Me? I’m actually more prolific when I’m like this. If you enjoy reading this little pseudo-psychotic musing then that’s a good thing. There may be more. But if you like your your blogs light and fluffy, maybe you should redirect your browsers elsewhere. I honestly don’t know how bad it’s going to get.

Relationships. I’ve actually been in many relationships at this time of year. I am, in fact, in one currently. It’s called a marriage. Roll snare drum. Oft times in the past, even before my wonderful wife entered my life, I had a warm body to cuddle up to in February. Most February’s I had a Valentine. But most times the relationships in question were anything but warm and fuzzy like my teddy bear, Ixo Facto. Yes, guys, I have a teddy bear. I don’t sleep next to him and never really have. He occupies an almost permanent place in my Man Cave/Cara and Natalie’s supplemental playroom/office next to stuffed Yoda and stuffed Pikachu. He rarely emerges from the depths of the Marsh Household save for on the rare occasions that Sultana Cara carries him to bed with her and he joins, for a night, the stuffed harem that occupies her toddler bed. Ixo? He’s been a fixture in my life since the mid-1990’s and he is the last, remaining product of, surprise surprise, a February relationship.

Said relationship was intense, but short lived. I generally don’t think or write about it but at this time of year? When the cold impinges upon me from all sides and “Nuisance Storms” become Winter Storm Warnings before they become Blizzard Warnings? I’ll admit: I do. I’m helpless not to. I spent a handful of years ruminating upon its failure. Mine. In the end, though? I realized that ruminating upon it was destructive and counterproductive. I purged it from my mind as best I could and moved on with my life. And boy oh man, am I glad I did. Had I not… had I instead decided to dwell upon it I never would have met Nicole. Scratch that: I likely would have met her but I never would have embraced her as a partner and companion the way I did. We never would have married; we never would have bought a house; we never would have produced two beautiful, though at times troublesome daughters, one of whom–Cara–is a Sultana in training and the other–Natalie–is currently on a hunger strike and is perfecting her projectile vomiting skills (ah, parenthood). My life would not be what it is today and while I cannot be 100% sure, I’m pretty sure that I would be miserable. I once believed, as Bob Dylan said, that “chaos [was] a friend of mine.” Now? I believe that it is my own, worst enemy, especially with my well-documented idiosyncrasies. Normalcy, though? It is my closest compadre. My bro’. That said…

Death. The big finale. The ultimate journey. Call it whatever you want to call it. Death has not necessarily been a constant companion of mine in February’s passed but it has been an ever-present concern. Ever since 1997. Back then, I and my brethren all lived in State Pen, Pennsylvania and even the ones that didn’t were frequent weekend visitors. Back home, the only father figure that I had known since my Biological skipped town was fading fast, a victim of the Big C (that’s Cancer for those of you that have never heard the term or seen the Showtime series). There was nothing I could do. Said father figure actually didn’t pass until the end of March, 1997 but those days? February? Those days were the toughest. In the waning days of his life he was little more than an unresponsive figure in a hospital bed but in February of that year? He was still cognoscente of what was happening to him. And he was suffering.

I guess in a way it was good that I was a hundred plus miles west of him but deep down inside, I wanted to be there. I wanted to be beside him at the end but he, always strong-willed, wouldn’t have it. “Stay where you are,” he said to me in one of the last real conversations we had in, you guessed it, February, “finish school. It’s what you’ve been working toward. Whatever happens, don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.” I knew that it was lip service but I agreed to do as he asked. I guess it was the last request he made of me for I cannot remember any others. A few weeks later, he was gone.

I wasn’t there when he passed. I was working on my senior thesis–“Job, Melville, and the Abandonment of the Human by the Almighty”–when my sister called me to give me the news. I remember being equal parts saddened and relieved: Sad that he was gone but relieved that his pain had ended. And I was speechless. I couldn’t write; couldn’t vocalize what I was feeling, not even to my State Pen brethren. But I remember thinking backwards in disgust. Another sh*tty February, I thought over and over again as I drowned my sorrows with Red Deaths and Long Island Iced Teas. And that thought? It has stuck with me since despite the fact that his big finale… his ultimate journey didn’t commence until almost a month later.

Many others have passed from this world to whatever world lies beyond “this mortal coil,” “this insubstantial pageant,” at this time of year since. I’ve heard many explanations why. Some argue that it’s a question of loneliness because of the “Post-Holiday Doldrum.” Others say it’s simply the deep, winter chill claiming it’s rightful victims. Me? I believe that it’s February. F*cking February. There is something inherently base and decrepit about this month that defies explanation and while I honestly don’t have any proof outside of the speculation that has filled this blog entry thus far, I know it in my gut and I feel it deep within my sometimes cramped fingers. Like tonight. There’s a dull throbbing something going on deep beneath my skin that I hope is nothing more than the impending weather making its presence known. No “dry twist,” I hope (thank you, Stephen King) though admittedly, it does run in my family.

Speaking of the weather, it is now 12:21 AM on Friday–the day of the storm, alias “Winter Storm Nemo”–and the National Weather Service just revised their forecast again: 6-10 inches in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania which includes mine, Nicole, Sultana Cara and Natalie’s little homestead in Broomall, Pennsylvania. I’d have continued this blog entry sooner but I had to run out and buy some gas for my snow blower which I will at last be able to use. I’ll give it to you, February. Another point, albeit a reluctant one. At least I have a new toy to play with tomorrow night. More good news: The worst of the storm is also not supposed to arrive until after I get home from work. Sh*t. Point, February. I’ve got to hand it to the current bane of my existence: It’s managed to rack up a few positives over the course of this composition.

Still, I will always hate February. This blog entry? It is an Anti-Appreciation of a month that has, over the course of my life, taken on mythical status in my pseudo-mad mind. If you’ve followed “Random Musings” for a while you know about my Appreciations. “The Mix Tape – An Appreciation” and “Contrary – An Appreciation” to name a few. All are linkable via the handy, dandy little “SEARCH” box on the right hand side of your screen. Just type in “appreciation” and watch what happens, Andy Cohen! Or don’t. It’s entirely up to you. If you choose not to please, forget that I mentioned Andy Cohen. In fact, forget that I mentioned him entirely, even if you choose not to look at any of my previous work. Thank you.

If anything deserved an Anti-Appreciation it was this. February. The Dead of Winter. Right now, Phil the Groundhog is rolling over under his hand-knitted covers in his five star, tree stump Hilton Garden whilst the rest of us prep for a “historic blizzard.” It’s not going to snow much in Punxsutawny, Pennsylvania, one of the perks of being a couple of hundred miles west of the tri-state area when a Nor’easter like “Winter Storm Nemo” comes roaring up the Atlantic coastline. Earlier tonight, the Flyers lost to the Florida Panthers in a shootout and the Eagles informally announced the signing of their new Defensive Coordinator. Um. Yeah. Okay. Is it baseball season yet?

I glance out the window beside where I write these words at the red sky overhead. What’s the old adage? “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight?” Wow. That seems pretty counter-intuitive since most nighttime, red skies that I have seen in my life foreshadow a nasty spell of upcoming weather. I briefly wonder what that person that gave me Ixo Facto so many years ago is doing right now. But then I look over at the sleeping figure of my wife and realize how insignificant those thoughts are presently, and have been for well over a decade. I further wonder if my Biological is glancing up at the sky from wherever he is, currently. But then I realize the truth: Whether he is or is not does not matter. He has his own Karma to contend with, independent of mine.

And the lone father figure that I gave a sh*t about? He is long gone, a victim of the Big C almost 16 years ago tonight. God rest his soul. He used to love nights like tonight: The silence outside, like the silence I beheld an hour or so ago when I ran out to the gas station to get fuel for my previously unused snow blower. “The calm before the storm” he and the people on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence called it and will likely continue to call it for many years to come. Admittedly? I see the truth in their assessment then and now and despite the time of year…

Despite the way February is crowding me currently with its frigid embrace…

Despite the way that I cringe at the prospect of another couple of weeks of it…

Well, guys? It could be worse. I could be a 76’ers fan.

Goodnight, all. Winky emoticon. Smiley face. Roll snare drum.

A Pseudo-Madman Rings in the New Year

Leave it to your ole’ buddy the Madchronicler to write something about the new year two weeks after it started. For those of you that don’t mind my tardiness, Happy 2013! I will make for you the same wish that I made for the entirety of my Facebookverse and Twitterverse two weeks ago today: May you all have a happy, healthy and prosperous new year filled with new experiences, new opportunities and well, just new stuff. Just think, if you were my Facebook friend or my Twitter buddy you’d have gotten that greeting pre-this moment. Am I saying that you should friend me/follow me? Only if you want to. But I’d be happy to have you as a compadre on either. That said…

Believe it or not, my delay in writing about the new year–something I have proverbially done both publicly and privately for as long as I can remember–is not a result of procrastination. I was just discussing this with a friend/vendor of mine. Generally, I approach each new year as a new opportunity. But this year, I’m looking at things a bit differently, which could account for my “meh-ness” about it, too date. You know: “Meh.” As in I’m really just ‘kinda “meh” about 2013.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of my own, personal “new stuff” is really cool. Por ejemplo, I’m beginning the new year for the first time as the father of two daughters and not just one. I’m ringing in the new year as a husband of eight years and am entering the twelfth year of my relationship with my wonderful wife which, once upon a time, would have seemed an outlandish boast for me of all people to make.

2013 also marks my eighth year at my current job. Those of you that have been around for a while may remember that my eighth at my former place of employment, CVStress Pharmacy, was also the year that I was promoted to Store Manager. And while I can honestly say that I don’t see a life-altering promotion in my future at my current job, and I’m still two years away from the hypothetical tenure that, per my football and politics loving boss, marks the proverbial point of employment demarcation beyond which I can never lose my job, not even if I curse him out and call him something unsavory. But considering that none of the handful of people that previously occupied my desk lasted more than a few months and I’ve been here almost eight years, I’m doing pretty well. At least I hope I am.

There are other, less monumental firsts that I could include herein but to do so would be excessive. My point? I remain the living and breathing facsimile of a smiley face that I’ve been for the better part of the last decade plus, and I should be excited about 2013. I should be looking at it as a time of new opportunity and should not be “meh” about it. Why, pray tell, am I so disinterested in the days, weeks and months ahead?

The answer to that is simple, really: If I were told to describe my life in no more than two words and no less than one on this damp and dreary morning in mid-January on my side of the proverbial wormhole of existence I would say “status quo.” Yep. Status quo, defined by the Free Online Dictionary as, “The existing condition or state of affairs.” That’s it. I wonder if those of you reading this are as underwhelmed as I am at that definition.

All together now: “Oooh. Aaah. Smurfy.”

Don’t get me wrong: Status quo pays the bills. It keeps us determinedly moving forward with our lives. But does it lead to sublime happiness? To the fulfillment of dreams? Generally, it does not. Generally, it leads to… well, “an existing condition or state of affairs” and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, it is not enough for me. It never has been. If you know me, you know that dreams are a big part of who I have always been. That said…

What to do? It’s not fair to me or the people that I care about… hell, even the people that I don’t care about to toil away as little more than a walking, talking head for the next 350 days… as little more than a curmudgeonly prophet of “meh-ness,” even if I am grinning 90% of the time. That’s not how I roll. So how can I break free of this burgeoning state of mind before it becomes all encompassing?

Brace yourselves, because this is the part of this blog entry where I start writing about what I’ve been doing/why I haven’t written a word since a few days post-Christmas. Yes, I’ve been “meh” but despite that, or maybe because of it I have been thinking. A lot. About life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, my own subjective universe and… all together now… everything. I haven’t just been playing picnic with my daughters, reading “A Memory of Light” (Book Fourteen of The Wheel of Time for those of you keeping score) or playing “Final Fantasy Tactics” on our new iPad though admittedly? I have been doing all three. I started by debating a few, potential ideas. I then cross-referenced them with things that make me feel alive. The following list, for better or for worse, is what I came up with…

DISCLAIMER: These are NOT New Year’s Resolutions though they may sound like them. I do not do New Year’s Resolutions. This list is exclusive to me, and it is a road map, potentially showing me how NOT to be a prophet of “meh-ness” in 2013: 

1. Lose Weight: It’s no secret to anybody that knows me that I’m not exactly svelte. I never have been. I’ve been fighting those dastardly, overweight demons since I was a little kid and I’ve never once managed to drop below an above average weight for my height and my age. Said aspect of me has been a point of ridicule in the distant past but lately, it has just been me, as in “he’s Frank. He just is.” Am I satisfied with that? Not entirely. A few years ago I managed to drop 40 pounds and I’ve got to tell you, it felt great (please don’t take that last statement as my auditioning to be the next pitch man for Weight Watchers or “The Biggest Loser”; it wasn’t intended as such and if you could see me right now, you’d understand why).

But in the intervening time since I’ve put the majority of that weight back on. So I could go on a diet and attempt to drop down to my ideal weight–a goal that I missed by only 10, measly pounds back in 2008. It would make my PCP happy and I might be able to get off the High Blood Sugar medicine that I’ve been taking since September of last year. It would also make me feel more alive; more vital.

Will I? Probably. I generally let my post-holiday gorge (otherwise known as me, building up an extra layer of insulation for the forthcoming winter) continue through the Super Bowl and after that, I go on a crash diet. I don’t publicize it. In fact, this may be the first time I’ve even referenced dieting on “Random Musings of a Pseudo-Madman,” version 1.0 or 2.0. I anticipate the same in 2013 but will I manage to reach the goal I fell short of last time and stay there? Only time will tell, I guess. But I’ll do it, if only to be able to keep up with Cara once Spring and Summer roll around. That said…

2. Be a Better Father: Okay, so this one is debatable. I mean, I think–I don’t know for sure, but I think–that I’m already a pretty good one. I have my moments when I doubt myself. The nights that Cara won’t eat her dinner or go to bed without a struggle? I’ll admit that I get visibly frazzled. The times when Natalie won’t stop crying? Yes, I’ve simply put her down in her bouncer, or on her play mat and walked away. That’s what we’re supposed to do as parents, right? Granted, that eminent sage of parenting wisdom Harvey Karp never said so (sarcasm fully intended) but what’s the alternative? Shaken Baby Syndrome? A child that has a complex about being yelled at by the time she turns one? No thank you. I’ll take walking away and taking a few deep breaths over a kid that despises me before she’s old enough to walk. My kids smile a lot and I like that. Smiling is > Bawling.

But still, there is room for improvement. There always is. And save for the third item that I’ll be rambling about shortly, there is nothing in the world that makes me feel more alive than spending time with my girls. So how can I be a better dad? Admittedly (and some reading this might take exception to this), I have modeled my parenting style not after what I read in “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” or what Harvey Karp claims is appropriate but after the combined styles of my mother and… yes… my father, otherwise known by many reading this as “The Biological,” “The Deadbeat” and my own personal favorite, “The Sperm Donor.”

My mother is easy: Hard love and hard work; teaching my daughters about responsibility and accountability, even at an early age. She still sets that example for me and my sister too this day and I already use it to a certain extent with Cara. But my father? “The Man I Once Called Dad” as I wrote in a previous blog entry? (linkable HERE in case you’re interested)

Admittedly, he wasn’t really around long enough to have much of an impact on how I parent. “Around” meant every other other weekend for a time and, after a while, every other month, et cetera and et cetera until he became the equivalent of a non-entity in mine and my sister’s life. In truth? The time that we spent with him in the rundown shacks throughout Northern New Jersey that he called “home” in the late 1980’s the early 1990’s, eating off of hotplates and frequenting lower Manhattan via the Staten Island Ferry or the subway were, in my opinion, a textbook example of how not to parent. You would never catch me dead taking either of my kids for a leisurely stroll around East Orange, New Jersey, not even on a Sunday morning. I mean no offense to any East Orange-ites reading this but unless something has drastically changed since the mid-1990s you see the truth in my words.

But despite my sometimes disdain for the man and how he eventually turned his back on his biological children–that’s not a misrepresentation, guys, he did; my sister and I turned our backs on him only after he did us–I did learn a few things about being a father from him that I can not deny. The first? Father first, friend second, but be a friend. Share your interests with your children and encourage them to do the same with you. The second? Impress upon your children the importance of and appreciation of unconventional pursuits like literature, art, et cetera and et cetera. As my now-Father in Law–a man whom I respect above most other men in this world and also, to some extent, model my fathering style after–would say, push them to do something productive with their lives that will make them financially viable and stable, but “make sure they have a hobby,” be that hobby painting, singing, reading or…

3. Write, Write, Write:  Admit it: You saw this one coming. How could you not? It’s the thing I talk about the most in these blog entries and it is, in fact, what I’m doing right now. What, you thought I was composing this via some sort of psychic, alien transmission ala “The Tommyknockers?” (holy sh*t; I think I just won the award for “Most Obscure Literary Reference of 2013”) Last year and the year previous it, I vowed to write a book. Not just any book, but the book. The one that I wrote when I was a teenager and an early adult. I successfully achieved that in both 2011 and 2012 but sadly, I was unable to achieve the addendum to it last year: Finish it and get it published. At this moment, “Endworld – A Novel” still sits completed but unpublished on my computer at home. It awaits a final edit; it awaits feedback from the people that I got copies of it too. All these things? If you’re reading this right now you know them. I’m not going to rehash them because quite frankly (no pun intended)? I’m tired of doing so.

I’ve seriously considered just doing it these last few weeks. The software is installed on my computer at home and it is ready to go. Just a drag and drop and a click on “UPLOAD” and wah-lah! “Endworld – A Novel” is self-published on Amazon.com via the Kindle Readers Lending Library.

So why wait? Why procrastinate? Because I told myself that I would not publish it until I was confident that people would be able to read it and enjoy it. Call me a perfectionist… I’ll admit that I am. But I’m not going to take the easy way out. I will not put Frank Marsh’s version of “50 Shades of Gray” where anyone can read it ’cause at this time? That’s really all that it is: An unrefined story. Input breeds refinement, and without it, my novel is no better than a “novel” written by an 18 year old, lovelorn kid that originally conceived of a formulaic cross between “The Wonder Years” and “The Terminator” starring an alt-version of himself, and the woman he pined after at the time. It doesn’t deserve to be published, yet.

I wrote version 1.0 of “Endworld – A Novel” for me. It was my way of coping with the indelible fact that I could not and never would be with the woman I thought, for a time, I was in love with. News flash, guys: I wasn’t. I was, as a wise man once said, “in love with the idea of being in love.” In hindsight, I see that now but then? I was young and stupid. I’d watched “Say Anything” one too many times. What I feel for my wife and my children, now, is real Love with a capital “L.” it’s spiritual. It goes deeper than anything else I’ve ever experienced… ever. What I felt then? I don’t want to say that it was a crush because despite my posturing to the contrary it was something more than that. But the real deal? Nah. No contest. Still, I fabricated a fictional reality–“Endworld”–in which I–William MacNuff–was with her–Maria Markinson. If you didn’t know that before now? Well, there you go. See? I’ve always been slightly mad, even before this blog.

All together now: “Oooh. Aaah. Smurfy.”  

But version 2.0? I wrote that for a different reason. Despite my motivations for writing version 1.0, I always believed that it had a certain something that would appeal to an audience. Something about humanity’s capacity to love, and how it set them apart from their robotic overlords. But I also saw it, even then, as a starting point for something much, much larger: My own Wheel of Time. I wrote what I wrote in 2011 and 2012 with those concepts… those ideas in mind and all indications so far point to the fact that while I’m closer to my goal than I was, I still haven’t achieved the broad appeal that I’m looking for. The “Wow Factor,” if you will. If I revisit William MacNuff’s world in 2013, I will revisit it with an eye towards that. Sadly, that’s a big “if.”

It’s not that I’ve moved on from “Endworld – A Novel.” I haven’t. It would be irresponsible of me to do so after I put so much time and effort in to it. And I love that world. Despite what some have said about it being too reflective of other fictional realities it has a little something in it that is purely me. And do I believe that I will one day publish it? Yes. I do. But I cannot allow myself to remain tied forever to one idea. I have others, you see. Other worlds that I want… that I need to tell you about. Some closer to home than others, actually.

That beginning? While it’s not the beginning it is beginning (thank you, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson). 2013, guys. The year that your ole’ buddy the Madchronicler finally wrote and completed something that wasn’t tied to William MacNuff’s story. That’s my vow. Mark your calendars ’cause I’ll revisit this resolution in a few months. If I’m no closer to writing something else? Well sh*t. Maybe I’m not as much of a writer and storyteller as I always thought myself. I don’t want to be a… cliche alert… one trick pony.

Maybe my “meh-ness” is a product of my hesitance. My incapacity to let go of one idea and embrace one of the many others that I have. Fact is? I know I need to. I wouldn’t be a very good writer if I didn’t, would I? But “Endworld – A Novel” and its subsequent sequels, formerly entitled “The Endworld Chronicle” have been the center of my creative universe for almost 20 years now. Even when I wasn’t actively working on them I was thinking about them… thinking about how I could improve them… grow them… make them more. The expansive outline that I have for Books Two and Three and potentially beyond is the product of that time. Time spent thinking. Time spent revising and re-revising in my mind. Other than my family, is there anything I have thought about as much? No. Not even close.

But there comes a point in every life where one needs to move on, whether from something simple like an idea or something larger like… well, like one’s biological children (that was not a veiled attempt at a dig but rather, a very obvious one). I’m blessed that for me, it is merely an idea. I’m pretty gul’darned happy with everything else from my job to how “A Memory of Light” ended the epic Wheel of Time to how far I’ve progressed in “Final Fantasy Tactics.” I remain as I was x-amount of paragraphs ago: A living and breathing facsimile of a smiley face. I’ve been that way for the better part of the last decade plus and that smile? It is widening the more time I spend my my wife… the more time I spend playing picnic with my daughters… the further I progress in to 2013 and beyond.

Being “meh” doesn’t mean being miserable. “Meh-ness” can exist concordantly with happiness, believe it or not. Hell, I wish I’d known that 20 years ago. That said, my place is here. Not there. “Endworld – A Novel” is a product of the there despite how much it has changed. My other ideas? They are a product of the here, and I think that it is one of those ideas that I’m going to roll with in 2013. One of the smaller ones. Not the one I wrote about a few entries ago that is a cross between The Book of Genesis and Asmiov’s Foundation Series. I’ll get to that one, but I think I need to complete something a bit less ambitious, first. Maybe a couple more short stories. The last one I wrote, despite it’s being rejected for publication, gave me a new taste for short form prose that, apparently, I’d sorely missed (considering I have about five short story ideas running through my mind, currently). I don’t know, guys. It’s a bit of a mystery.

So for now, I’m still “meh” as morning segues in to afternoon here in lover-ly Royersford, Pennsylvania. I light mist has begun to fall outside though I can’t see it directly through the feux-mural of a forest that adorns the brick wall to my immediate right. I’m going to get back to the grind that I’ve been slaving away at for the last eight years. Happy New Year, all. Fare thee well until next time and remember: This is not the ending. There are no endings to the Wheel of Time. But yes, it is ending. Or maybe that should say “an…”

🙂

What Christmas Means To Me

This is probably the last thing that I should be writing, right now. As of this particular moment in time on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence  the question, “What does Christmas mean to me,” can be answered with one word and one word only: Pain. As in sinus, head and throat. As in I woke up this past, Monday Morning–Christmas Eve for those of you that have been living under a rock or do not celebrate Jesus Christ’s birthday–with virtually the same ailment that both of my girls had last week. But wait, you may argue, didn’t your girls have two, separate ailments? Yes. They did, and I got the best of both worlds, i.e. Cara’s fever and Natalie’s congestion. I am a walking, talking, barely breathing, woozy headed, medicated facsimile of a smiling face, right now, and the smiley face? I’ve only got that on for my customers. I’d much rather drink a bottle of Nyquil and crawl up in to a corner for the next day and a half. But I can’t. I won’t. ‘Cause as Freddy Mercury so aptly sang despite his foreknowledge of his own, personal condition, “The show must go on!”

To be honest with you? The only reason that I’m here and not at home, in bed right now is because I need to ensure that the dozen or so moving parts of the massive cylinder order leaving the factory for my biggest OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) this PM get off without a hitch. That’s the kind of thing that I do for my customers, guys. Most Inside Sales/Customer Service people punch in quotes, punch in orders and talk on the phone only when unnecessary. They take sick time when they’re sick (and sometimes when they’re not). But me? I throw myself bodily in to my work. I persevere despite how incredibly sh*tty I feel. I go out and visit my customers. I get to know them on a personal level and not just a professional one. I’m not sure why I do it that way, I just do. And it seems to work pretty well so really, why f*ck around with the system?

Because the older I get, the worse I feel. Yes, I know I’m only 37 years young but “getting sick” can’t be cured by 30 Jello shots and a bottle of champagne anymore. I need real medicine and I need rest. And consistent rest is something I have not been getting these last few weeks.

So why? Why chose now to write a blog post about what Christmas means to me? Won’t your answers be skewed by your condition, you may argue. They may. But I just popped a couple of Tylenol Severe Cold and Flu that I picked up at 7-11, along with a low sugar, Monster Energy Drink and I can already feel my nasal pathways, my head and my chest drying up. It’s amazing what Acetaminophen can do when combined with an antihistamine and caffeine. I’m not saying that I feel 100% better… I don’t. But I’m feeling a bit more functional than I was a few paragraphs ago and some things? Well, I’ve waited a few days to write this and I don’t want to wait any longer lest I forget them. So damn the pounding in my ears, I’m goin’ for broke.

This past Christmas–or this past Tuesday for those of you that have been living under a rock or only celebrate Hanukkah–was my 38th on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. Mind you, I really don’t remember the first couple but I can remember from roughly my fifth or sixth on. I can’t recall every gift… every detail of those earliest Christmas mornings but I can remember how they felt. In short? They felt magicalBefore I knew the sad truth about Santa Claus; before I learned that reindeer generally don’t fly, not even with some of Cheech and Chong’s magic dust; before I realized that my then-father now sperm donor had eaten the cookies and drank the milk that I and my little sister had diligently left out for the other big guy, Christmas morning was a time of infinite possibility. In truth? It was the only time. Not even my birthday could match it’s awesomeness.

All that changed as I got older and realized “the truth.” Christmas morning was a time of necessity. It was a time to get up before 10:00 AM–something which I rarely did in my teens–and eat breakfast with my mother and my sister. It was a time to open my significantly smaller pile of gifts with each, passing year despite the fact that all I really wanted to do was kick back on the couch and watch “A Christmas Story” over and over again. Magical gifts like the original Millennium Falcon and the Darth Vader carrying case–both of which are worth bow-coo bucks presently in mint condition; who knew?–were replaced by clothes, more clothes and the occasional novelty gift, i.e. “junk.” All this culminated in my first Christmas away from home–1997 for those of you that are counting–when I slept too late at my apartment, missed Christmas breakfast and showed up at my Mom’s hungover and smelling of tequila and cigarettes around noon. I still don’t know if my mother ever forgave me for that trespass. If she still begrudges me it let me formally state the obvious herein: I’m sorry. And if she forgot about it some time ago? Well, I guess I can’t blame her. Only pseudo-madmen like myself can remember things as mundane and inane as this and can barely remember what they ate for lunch yesterday.

For the record, it was leftover Eggplant Parmesan, a meatball and a low sugar, Monster Energy Drink. Anyone else sensing that “caffeine dependency” is a theme for your old buddy the Madchronicler? My neurologist would have a field day with my caffeine consumption, presently. No migraines for the moment. Just a pounding in my sinuses, my head and my chest that already appears to be returning despite the fact that I just popped those Tylenol Cold and Sinuses an hour ago. All together now: Oh f*ck me. Sorry, but I abandoned oh thank God last night.

And then, three plus years ago, something amazing and unexpected happened: My wife and I had a child. Okay, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected. We had been trying for a while. But it wasn’t Cara’s birth that I was referring to as “unexpected.” It was my own renewed interest in Christmas. I remember waking up that December 25th, long before Cara and Nicole did in anticipation of Cara’s reaction to seeing all of her presents under the tree… of her happiness at realizing that Santa had eaten all of his cookies and drank all of his milk. I guess in my elation, I neglected to realize that Cara was only five months and some change old at the time and could barely sit up, much less realize that some jolly and jiggly, red suit clad, cookie and milk loving sot had slid down our non-existent chimney and left her an army of Fisher Price, Playschool and Leap Pad stuff. Still, it was fun opening her presents for her and giving her the paper to play with.

But a fundamental change had been enacted in my life, guys. With each, subsequent year I got more and more “in” to Christmas as Cara realized more and more that something different was happening. This year, my wife and I had our second child (Natalie for those of you keeping score), and Cara turned three. And I knew, even before the season started that this Christmas was going to be as fun as hell.

My anticipation reached a feverish level on Monday night–Christmas Eve for those of you that have been living under a rock or who celebrate Kwanzaa–and that wasn’t because of the temperature I was running. It wasn’t due to the myriad medicines, the two low sugar, Monster Energy drinks that I had consumed or the periodic shots of vodka I was taking when mine and my wife’s families weren’t looking to dull the itch in my throat. Okay, so maybe those factors played in to it a bit but I got very little sleep and was up before anyone else on Christmas morning. I actually had to wait a half an hour for Cara and Nicole to wake up (Natalie is still portable and hence not as much a wakeful necessity) before I could go downstairs. But when I walked down those stairs and saw all of the presents under the tree and against the wall behind and beside it… when I looked over at the end table and saw the cookie crumbs on the plate that Cara had left for Santa, the empty cup that smelled a little like sour milk and the note that Santa had left Cara and Natalie? Well sh*t. I felt the magic come flooding back in to my living room for the first time since I was an impressionable youth despite the fact that I knew “the truth” behind the staged scene laid out before me. It. Was. Christmas! And there was much rejoicing.

Yay!   

In short? I had come full circle, friends. As I turned on the tree and the iPad underneath it which had “Merry Christmas!” written in bold, flowing  purple letters across its face I realized that the reaction that I was about to witness in Cara was the same as the reaction that my own mother and, for a time, my own father turned sperm donor had witnessed in me on those early, Christmas mornings of my life on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. The impression of the prototypical, Thomas Kincade Christmas morning was heightened by the rapidly melting, coat of white snow that lay upon the ground outside and the lingering scent of baked cookies that hung over my head from the previous day. Throw in a roaring fireplace which we do not have (the Yule Log is not a sufficient substitute, BTW) and you’ve got a scene to rival any cinematic vision of Christmas morning ever created including my all time favorite, the one that takes place in the Nexus for Captain Jean Luc Picard in “Star Trek: Generations.” Yes, I went there. Don’t believe me? Check it out at your leisure and tell me I’m wrong. I triple dog dare you.

In a word? No. It did not.

Um…

Wow. Talk about anti-climactic.

I’m serious, though. It played out like this: Cara came downstairs, smiled and stated very nonchalantly that “Santa was here” before she seated herself next to where my wife indicated her pile was and began to rip through her presents. She further “assisted” her little sister, myself and my wife with our piles. As the process unfolded she seemed to get more and more “in” to what she was doing but admittedly, the entire outcome was somewhat unexpected considering how sure I had been of her reaction leading up to it. After a whirlwind 45 minutes, everything was opened and she was asking me and my wife to remove toys from boxes so she could play with them.

In all honesty? I should have been prepared for it as soon as she came in to mine and my wife’s bedroom and informed us that she did not believe that Santa had come ’cause she had not heard him or his reindeer on the roof of our house. Which is a legitimate point as the ceiling of her room is directly beneath said rooftop. But I was not. Don’t get me wrong: I was not disappointed. Far from it, actually. I savored every shredded piece of wrapping paper that fell upon our living room floor and every “ooh” and “ahh” that her gifts elicited. And I did not for once doubt her belief that “Santa was here” despite her not having heard him and his reindeer because, as she stated at numerous points over the course of the following day and evening, Santa had gotten her everything that she had asked for and she was very thankful.

Perhaps I simply built the scenario up too much in my mind. Maybe she wasn’t quite as ready to embrace the magic of Christmas morning as I thought she was at three and a half. Or maybe the times have changed and the mentalities of our children have done the same. I’m inclined to lean more toward the latter though the former is also a distinct possibility. Little exists in the way of magic nowadays and what does exist is called “fantasy” by most. Our kids? They learn this from the get go. More attention is paid to the sciences and mathematics than is paid to the arts, nowadays. As for me? I’m not a true believer in magic as it exists traditionally though I am a lover of everything and anything fantasy. Wizards and witches, warlocks and leprechauns? There is no place for such things in a world where everything from a holiday to our national debt is analyzed at the microscopic or, some might say quantum level. Such things now fall in to the realm of “fiction” and not “reality.” Not even “Little Kid Reality.”

And Christmas? Both the story that we all know so well and the fundamental spirituality at the center of it (see: Jesus Christ; Saint Nicholas) have been glossed over by the big box retailers and the idea guys. Case in point: The Elf on the Shelf. While I love ours like a member of our family, albeit one that merely shows up for approximately 30 days at the end of the year, wreaks havoc and then leaves, where is Jingle in the traditional canon of Christmas? What child ever wrote in their “What Christmas Means To Me” essay, “My Elf on the Shelf, Buddy, who likes to TP our Christmas tree and have an affair with Barbie right under Ken’s nose.”

None that I know of though there’s always the possibility that there’s some sick and twisted kid out there that thinks like I do. The fact is, Christmas in 2012 (pushing 2013) is not the same as it was 30 plus years ago, or even 15 years ago in 1997. Our children are not the same. Whereas my generation and I were born in to a world of notebooks, number two pencils and Trapper Keepers, Cara and Natalie’s generation is being born in to a world of iPads and Cloud storage. All one of them needs to do is Google “is Santa Claus real” and “the truth” will be revealed. My generation, disenchanted with the magic of Christmas created the same technologies that our children are now being born with. The Catch-22? We used our imaginations to create such things, the same imaginations that once upon a time believed that Santa Claus and his reindeer flew to and landed silently upon our rooftops despite the fact that reindeer aren’t supposed to be able to fly, not even with a sprinkling of Cheech and Chong’s magic dust…

…that Santa slid down our chimneys despite the fact that 75 to 80% of us, growing up, did not have chimneys and the physics of a 400 pound man sliding through an opening with a diameter of a foot are virtually inconceivable…

…that he ate the cookies and drank the milk that we had diligently left out for him…

…that the Thomas Kincade scenes imprinted upon Christmas and post cards, and popularized in movies like “Star Trek: Generations” were, in fact, actual scenes of the perfect Christmas morning that at some point in time existed on this, or any side of the proverbial wormhole of existence.

We created the mentality that our children are now being born with: That everything once considered magical or fantastical has been relegated to the fiction shelf of your local big box, book retailer (see: Barnes and Noble), or the online store of your preferred internet, big box retailer (see: Amazon.com). Even Christmas. But still, there is that teeny, tiny part of me that was watching Cara very, very closely on Christmas morning and could see, despite her nonchalant exterior, a twinkle in her eyes that had not existed the previous evening when I had put her to bed. She saw all of those presents beneath the Christmas tree, the empty plate that had once held cookies and the cup beside it that had once held milk, the note that was printed in her Mommy’s distinctive handwriting and she knew that something had happened. Maybe not something magical but something special. Someone had come, be said someone Santa Claus or Daddy/Mommy Claus, and said someone had gotten her everything that she had put on her Christmas list…

And she was very thankful.

What does Christmas mean to me? The same thing that it meant to me when I was a child. I drowned it for a while with tequila and cigarettes, not to mention a heaping dose of skepticism, one too many viewings of “A Christmas Story” and one too few mornings simply sitting around the Yule Log, enjoying my family’s company. I forgot about it for a while but over these last few years, I’ve remembered it. Even without magic, Christmas morning has been and always will be a time of infinite possibility.

As for Cara? Well sh*t. She’s only three and a half. I can only remember as far back as my fifth or sixth Christmas.

Who knows?

Happy Holidays, everyone.