The Thunderstorm – A Long Overdue Appreciation

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“I think there’s a poet who wrote once a tragedy by Shakespeare, a symphony by Beethoven and a thunderstorm are based on the same elements.”

Maximilian Schell 

It dawned on me last night–as I watched a storm roll in over my home in Broomall, Pennsylvania with my ever-enraptured oldest minion, Cara on one side of me and my youngest, I-could-give-a-sh*t-about-a-thunderstorm-I-just-want-my-ba ba minion, Natalie on the other–that I’ve been writing for years. Decades, actually. Depending on who you ask, I’ve been writing since I was between 10 and 13 years old (whenever I wrote that fully illustrated short story about meeting Bruce Springsteen; I’m still waiting for Mom to confirm). I’m now almost 38 (SHIVER). I’ve published a novel, am 118 pages deep into another and in the time between then and now I have written little to nothing about my love of a good thunderstorm. A sublime love, really. In truth? It’s one of things that I enjoy the most in my life on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. All sun and no storms makes Frankie a dull boy.

Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining by Stephen King, coming soon to a bookstore near you. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy. Have you?

I’m not quite sure why I’ve never written about thunderstorms before now. I can pinpoint one or two possibilities. The easiest? That some things are just too awe inspiring to explain. Sure, I can describe what a thunderstorm looks AND feels like… can write about the way everything falls silent seconds before the first drops of rain begin to fall… can ruminate at how charged the air feels, so much so that the hairs on your forearms and the nape of your neck stand on end. I can write about that smell… you know the one? That sharp, metallic smell that precedes the first lightning strike. But even that feels insufficient. For me, trying to describe a thunderstorm is like trying to describe God, or rather, my concept of what God is (not necessarily the same as yours but no worries: Variety is the spice of life). I can do so using a f*ckload of superlatives like “awe inspiring” but I’ll never get close. Some things simply defy explanation. Thunderstorms are like that.

The other possibility? Not so easy to describe, not even using superlatives. Thunderstorms are invariably linked in my mind to my Biological. Once upon a time, ’cause all good stories, and even a few of the not-so-good ones begin as such, my once-Dad was a storm chaser. Before “Storm Chasers” existed. He’d gather up his son–me–pile him… ME into whatever second hand car he was driving at the time, and drive off after the lightning and the thunder. He never used a map, nor did he use GPS (Tom-Tom and Garmin weren’t exactly in wide use back then and had they been, he wouldn’t have been able to afford them anyway). He “followed his nose.” More often times than not, his nose was pretty accurate. I can remember multiple times when we found ourselves in the middle of the nastiest part of the cell. We’d follow it as far as we could for as long as we could, until such time as either A.) We got low on gas or B.) Found our road blocked by a fallen tree or other obstacle. But he… WE never tired of the chase. If we stopped and turned around, we did so because of an extenuating circumstance or two. Never out of boredom.

Fast forward X-amount of decades to last evening as I watched a pretty nasty cell roll over my… over OUR home in Broomall, Pennsylvania. You know, the one I share with Mama Bear, Biggish Bear and Smallish Bear. Cara–Biggish Bear–has always been fascinated with thunderstorms. Never afraid of them. Quite the contrary, actually: She loves them. She loves the “ziggy-zaggy” lightning and the “s’raining, Daddy, raining!” She’s not a huge fan of thunder… she generally cringes when an unusually large clap of it shakes the house or the car, but she understands that there is something called “God” and that God–whatever your idea of him, her or it is–occasionally likes to go bowling like her Pop-Pop does. Hence “thunder,” otherwise known as the sound of God getting a Strike. As for power outages? Well, despite Broomall’s notoriously fragile power grid, we haven’t had an extensive one since Hurricane Irene rolled through back in 2011 and I prefer it that way. Cara doesn’t like the dark. Something tells me she’s going to be sleeping with her fish tank light and her desk lamp on until she’s a teenager. Oh well. Acknowledged. Time to move on.

It’s no secret to anyone that’s been following “Random Musings” in it’s newest incarnation–Version 2.0–and/or it’s earlier one–Version 1.0–that I’ve got a few well-documented Daddy Issues. I’d really rather not recap them for you, herein. If you’re curious about them (which I highly doubt but hey: To each their own), you can check out “The Man I Once Called Dad.” It’s about as comprehensive a listing as exists. It’s also one of my all time most-viewed blog entries on either version of “Random Musings.” Go fig. I guess some people were interested once upon a time. Regardless, you don’t need to be familiar with it or my psyche to understand this next part. Having kids? It’s was tough for me to initially agree to it. I’ve always wanted children, but for a time, I was standoffish about it. Why? Because I was fearful of making the same mistakes that my own father, AKA The Man I Once Called Dad AKA my Biological made with me. ‘Cause I’m a lot like him. He was… IS a writer. Me, too. He’s wordy. Me, too. He loved Stanley Kubrick’s version of “The Shining.” I maintain that it is one of the freakiest movies I’ve ever seen, albeit no where near as good as the book was. He loved… LOVES thunderstorms (I’m sure). Me? See above.

But in the end, I conceded that my misgivings about having children and my undeniable similarities (appearance wise, too) to my father were not enough to keep me on the sidelines. I wanted to be a Dad. Daddy. And now? I’m one times two. Both girls… thankfully. I’ll not lie: The idea of having a son still kinda’ freaks me out. Not as much because of the whole “making the same mistakes as my own father made” thing. No. Not anymore. I’ve made my bones as a Daddy and while I’m still learning… ALWAYS learning, I think I’ve done a pretty serviceable job despite certain mental handicaps, i.e. my always overactive psyche. But because I simply can’t envision a smaller version of me in the world. A living, breathing, walking and talking facsimile of a smiley face with a graying beard, a pot belly, an aversion to anything green (broccoli? Can’t do it) and a fondness for Velveeta cheese? Not to mention wordiness, and a love of Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick? He sounds like a nightmare. What would Mama Bear do?

But I digress. Despite the fact that my daughters are, at an early age, undeniably more like my wife than me (though Natalie belches like a champ and Cara thinks it’s funny to “toot” on you, two very, not-so-endearing traits that are reminiscent of me and my well-documented, sophomoric sense of humor) my oldest has adapted one characteristic that is undoubtedly mine: Her love of thunderstorms. As she watched, awe inspired last night, gasping at every lightning strike no matter how minor, I found myself smiling. Because she looked SO MUCH like I’m sure I did back in the day, before divorce lawyers and visitation rights forever tarnished my youthful naivety at an early age. I’ve always focused intently on what happened AFTER that moment–the day when the Man I Once Called Dad took me for a walk along the Delaware Bay Beach in North Cape May and told me that he and my mother were separating–and how my experiences thereafter turned me into the man I am at almost 38. But I’ve rarely ruminated on my life BEFORE. Probably because I don’t remember much of it.

But I remember thunderstorms. They pre-date my short story about meeting Bruce Springsteen. They pre-date the end of my mother and my once-father, now Biological’s marriage.  They LONG pre-date my first reading of The Shining and my first viewing of “The Shining” but, in the case of the latter, not by much. What can I say? I watched a lot of seriously f*cked up sh*t when I was a kid, thanks largely in part to you-know-who. They pre-date Mama Bear, Biggish Bear and Smallish Bear, Tom-Tom and Garmin, blogging, Hurricane Irene, one published novel and one novel that’s 118 pages to the good as of last night. In short? Save for my mother and my sister, both of whom I love immensely, they have been the lone constant in my life the longest. And to not ever write of them and what they mean to me would be… IS a disservice. I write plenty about God. Why hesitate to write about him bowling?

Because some things, like God and his ever-present quest for a perfect 300 frame are indescribable. Some things? They’re deeper than writing. Some things you can’t explicate. You just FEEL them. And as I watched  my storm chaser in training, Cara last evening out of one eye and my Greens-loving Natalie “You-Take’a-My-Ba Ba-I-Break’a-Your-Face” out of the other, I felt something that I hadn’t felt in a long time. And I smiled. ‘Cause all sun and no storms really DO make Frankie a dull boy. But only partially. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I felt youthful. Naive. At peace with my ever-present Daddy Issues and my at times turbulent past. And now? Almost 24 hours later? Well, they’re calling for another round of “ziggy-zaggy, s’raining, Daddy, raining” tonight. It’s going to take every ounce of restraint that I have in me to keep from grabbing my girls, throwing them in my car and heading off in search of the nastiest part of the cell.

😉

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.