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Friday, February 28, 2014

A Series of Letters to My Past Self

Someone posted something about how tired the whole idea of blogging "A letter to my 20 year-old self" has become.  I didn't understand at first, but the explanation was essentially that each one of them tells that younger strong, be confident, things work out, hang in there.  You can just cut the name and paste a new one and you essentially have every letter every written in blog form. 

She was right...Here are some letters I have written to my past selves from my current self, and the impact I think it would make on my life today.

A letter to my 20 year-old self from my 44 year-old self

Dear 20 year old Jim,

Hey...I know it's unlikely between the booze and having sex that you've taken much time to think about the consequences of your actions. And you know what? Fuck it! It totally works out in the end!

Also, you know how all those bleeding heart liberals you offend daily with your ultraconservative rants about fiscal responsibility and capital punishment and stuff? totally become one, you ass!!! HAHAHAHAHA! What a douche.

Anyway, one last thing. Don't worry about what a dick you are now. I know sometimes it crosses your mind...DON'T LET IT!! You're totally awesome in the future!!

Future Jim


A letter to my 19 year-old self from my 44 year-old self 

Dear 19 year old Jim, 

Okay, look, this is really really important.  Next year you're going to get a letter from me.  Burn that thing.  Burn it to ash.  Never open it.  It is filled with lies.  20 year old Jim reads it and completely fucks up our life.  I have more illegitimate children than you have friends.  My liver is shot.  I can't get a job because of my criminal record and we're living with mom and dad.  Don't meddle with time travel!

Future Jim
A letter to my 18 year-old self from my 44 year-old self 

Dear 18 year old Jim, 

I forgot what an insufferable know-it-all you were at 19.  Jesus.  Next year you're going to get a letter that you are totally going to blow off because you're all like..."Whatever man, 44 year old me went soft!"  And it totally messes up your life.  I think you're more receptive to listening to people at 18.  I can't remember when you went so stubborn and condescending...I think 19.  Anyway...Don't take anymore letters from future me.  They're bad news, man.  BAD.  NEWS.

Future Jim


A letter to my 12 year-old self from my 44 year-old self 

Hey buddy...I'm writing from the future.  Things...things are tough right now.  I want you to remember this letter.  Keep it with you always.  I want you to remember this because as someone in the future...I know what happens if you don't.  It's already happened here.

Here's what I need you to remember:
If you open any more letters addressed to you from your future self you will die instantly of Ebola.  In about ten more years you'll be able to look that up on the internet...nevermind what that is...look up Ebola in ten years, eye-bleeding and shitting yourself to death.  That all happens if you open even one more letter from future me. 

Oh, and remember Microsoft.  Buy Microsoft with your high school graduation money.  

Future Jim

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Near Kiss

I bloomed late in life.  I think I was always too gawky and gangly for girls to really give a shit about despite my mother telling me daily how handsome I looked.  Somehow my mother's estimation of my physical beauty never translated into me beating swarms of screaming teenage girls away with sticks...that's not a euphemism.

My first chance at an ACTUAL kiss...where there was going to be a tongue and everything probably wasn't until I was maybe in 8th grade.  I'm a little sketchy on the timeline.  I know you're supposed to remember your first kiss forever and always, but you'll understand in a minute why I don't.

My friends and I were at a wedding reception at one of their cousin's houses.  Two girls from out of town caught our eyes.  Cathy and Diana.  Cathy was a blonde, Diana was brunette...and they were "older girls" sophomores or something.  I don't remember.  OLD.  I gravitated toward the brunette (as I always did and still do).

We sneaked beer from the keg and were probably mildly tipsy.  Cathy wanted a kiss.  I felt like that hurt my chances with know...kissing someone else in front of her...but I figured what the hell.  My friends held up their jackets around us like some sort of modesty curtain and I moved in for the kill.  Only I didn't really know what the fuck I was doing, went in too fast...and I bashed my teeth off her teeth.  We both recoiled more from shock than pain and laughed in shared embarrassment.

She was so apologetic.  I knew it wasn't her fault, but I sorta let her take the blame, silently accepting her role and we played it off...and my friends and I were leaving anyway...and she just sort of dissolved into the fabric of my past (she would later materialize long enough to date me, but that's another story) and my window of opportunity slammed shut like jaws filled with cracked teeth.

I remember being so pissed at myself.  Back then I was one of only a couple boys in my class who had NOT "mashed" with a girl.  I was just too nervous.  I didn't know what to do.  I didn't want to fuck it up and look stupid.  Not wanting to fuck up and look stupid has been one of the biggest banes of my existence.

Anyway...I was just thinking about first kisses, and someone else's story of bonked teeth and it all came crashing back home...not so much my first kiss, but my first miss...right in the teeth.

Friday, June 21, 2013

My Job

I wrote this about my job at a previous company a few years ago...

I don't think this is a revelation to anyone, but I'm a project manager for an equipment supply company. Sometimes when people ask what I do, and I tell them, they say that it sounds like a hard job, or complicated, or important. And it isn't. It really really isn't.

My job here at my present company. . . Brand X. . . can be (as explained to a curious friend earlier) summarized as professional bullshitter and buckpasser.

Remember in "Office Space" where the two Bobs are interviewing the older man, Tom Smykowski about what he does for Initech? (and I'm not THAT big a dork, i'm pulling the blank pieces of my memory back with the help of IMDB) He says, "Well-well look. I already told you: I deal with the god damn customers so the engineers don't have to. I have people skills; I am good at dealing with people. Can't you understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?" That's me, sans pot-belly, male pattern baldness, and persecution complex. (maybe a little persecution complex)

I can't pull the rest of the quote, but from Tom Smykowski's description it becomes apparent that he takes the specifications from the customer and delivers them to the engineer, then when the engineer is done, he takes them back from the engineer to the customer. . . you know, because of his people skills. That's what I do. I'm the bottle-neck in the system. I take the information and pass it along to the people who actually know what to do with it, then once they're done, take the information back to the customer.

Sound complicated? Then you weren't listening. I don't fucking do ANYthing. Not REALLY.

Do you know anything about baseball? You know the cut-off man? Long fly ball hit to deep left center. . . man running from second. . . center fielder can't make the throw to home, so he throws to the cut-off man, who in turn throws the ball home. Well in the big leagues that makes sense, because the ballpark is immense. . . but in little league?? Not so much. I had a great arm in little league. I could basically hit anyone on the field from anywhere on the field. I'm not saying that to brag, there were lots of kids like me. But they TEACH you to hit the cut-off man in little league. So essentially a bunch of kids that can't reliably throw or catch add an unnecessary step of an additional throw-and-catch in an effort to get someone out. I am the superfluous little league cut-off man. Throwing the ball to me instead of to home means one more throw and catch in order to get the runner out. It introduces the possibility of another error.

To stretch it out one more mediocre analogy. . . i'm one more kid in the "grapevine" game, where kid one whispers the message in kid two's ear and so on until the last kid announces the message as he understood it and sees if it's the same as the one that kid one whispered in kid two's ear. The message is never right.

I CAN do the job a project manager is supposed to do. And it CAN be complicated. It CAN be important. But that level of important complexity is not what Brand X requires of me.

So if you wonder what an 'important' project manager such as myself is doing here on Facebook, blogging, tweeting, etc . . I'm working. At least in the capacity that Brand X requires of me.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Why I'm Not a "Writer"

My wife, god love her, thinks I'm capable of ANYTHING. ANY. THING.

Jim, if you want to be a writer. . . you should do it. Jim, if you want to be an artist, you should do it. Jim, if you want to be a brewer, you should do it. All of which is SPECTACULARLY supportive, but not grounded necessarily in reality, because I am not convinced of two things, the first of which is this: that she is qualified to adequately judge my ability to write . . . or more accurately, "be a writer". The second is that I myself am not qualified to adequately judge my ability to write.

I HAVE some experience in the field of failure, you see. Apart from writing (the manifestation of which is almost solely this blog) I used to like to draw. When I was a little boy I sketched everything and anything. As I got older, and drawing pictures got less "cool" I slowly decreased the frequency of my drawing. It trickled down to doodling until I eventually stopped even that, but it had always been something that I'd enjoyed. And so when my friend Gino and I were discussing drawing, I was very excited by the possibility that I could draw for his company. Gino, you see, is a movie makeup artist. He sculpts the fantastical creatures that I proposed hypothetically inventing in drawing form. Gino had encouraged me to show him what I could do, because his makeup and effects company (which does movie make up and effects for damn near any big budget movie in industry that is not driven by CGI) was looking for a new artist/designer. And it wasn't his fault I was excited. There were no false hopes, he just asked if I felt I could draw up to the standard of, say, a comic book illustrator. I felt I could. (have you SEEN comic book art lately? Possibly I had not).

My wife, god love her, was CONVINCED it was my calling. It would have been AWESOME. I WOULD have loved it. I started to get a little excited. Gino is blessed. He is a talented artist who LOVES what he does. There are very few callings that I can say I would be PASSIONATE about pursuing. . . but this was one. So i passed some sketches off to Gino to review.

It took longer than I expected. In hindsight, I suspect he was reluctant to relay bad news. Gino is a PRINCE. A friendlier, more outgoing, more genuine person, you will likely never meet. He essentially said, in the kindest of terms. . . these aren't good enough. He constructively suggested that I take art classes to work on my perspectives. . . something I've never done. . . and he was RIGHT to suggest it. But I was disappointed nonetheless. VERY disappointed. I didn't cry or get all mopey or anything, but it sunk like a cinder in snow inside my chest and I essentially tried to ignore it back into nonexistence. I had it in my head, you see, that I'd won the lottery. I'd already started to fantasize my success. My calling!

So here I am. Again at the brink of a decision. . . try to write something? A book? Writing is art/entertainment. If you can tell a story you can write. You don't HAVE to know the mechanics. . . at least the mechanics aren't what make you a good writer, the creation of a good story is. At least in my opinion.

Writing is very personal to me. Very much "laying it out there". I take criticism of my writing relatively poorly, though I think I'm objective enough to recognize valid criticism (perhaps given enough time to calm down and consider it rationally). You have only to look back a few months to some criticism of my BLOG to realize how thin-skinned I can be. And that's just a stupid little blog.

So some of the people in my little circle of friends, god bless them, think I'm capable of being a writer. I would LOVE to be a writer.


There is a part of me that is happy in my safe little "I could write if i WANTED to" haven. That part doesn't want to cross the boundary into the "I tried to write, but was told I didn't have what it took" realm. My writing ability is currently limitless. I'm a fucking GENIUS and an OCEAN of untapped potential.

today. . .

Tomorrow. . . mediocre (or. . . worse, "bad") writer?

In "Of Human Bondage" by Somerset Maugham the main character, Philip is studying painting in Paris. He's doing alright with it. He's poor though, and really needs guidance. He finally approaches his instructor, I'm going to cut some of the paragraphs from this little passage of the book, but leave in the applicable passages. . .

"I'm very poor. If I have no talent I would sooner do something else."
"Don't you know if you have talent?"
"All my friends know they have talent, but I am aware some of them are mistaken."

*THIS is what I'm afraid of. . . I think I DO have talent. . . but I'm aware I may be mistaken.*

"You shall show me your work."
"Now?" cried Philip.
"Why not?"
Philip had nothing to say. He walked silently by the master's side. He felt horribly sick. It had never struck him that Foinet would wish to see his things there and then; he meant, so that he might have time to prepare himself, to ask him if he would mind coming at some future date or whether he might bring them to Foinet's studio. He was trembling with anxiety. In his heart he hoped that Foinet would look at his picture, and that rare smile would come into his face, and he would shake Philip's hand and say: "Pas mal. Go on, my lad. You have talent, real talent."

*THAT, of course, is my secret dream. Foinet then reviews Philips work. . . *

"You have very little private means?" he asked at last.
"Very little," answered Philip, with a sudden feeling of cold at his heart. "Not enough to live on."
"You have a certain manual dexterity. With hard work and perseverance there is no reason why you should not become a careful, not incompetent painter. You would find hundreds who painted worse than you, hundreds who painted as well. I see no talent in anything you have shown me. I see industry and intelligence. You will never be anything but mediocre."
"I'm very grateful to you for having taken so much trouble. I can't thank you enough."
Monsieur Foinet got up and made as if to go, but he changed his mind and, stopping, put his hand on Philip's shoulder.
"But if you were to ask me my advice, I should say: take your courage in both hands and try your luck at something else. It sounds very hard, but let me tell you this: I would give all I have in the world if someone had given me that advice when I was your age and I had taken it."
Philip looked up at him with surprise. The master forced his lips into a smile, but his eyes remained grave and sad.
"It is cruel to discover one's mediocrity only when it is too late. It does not improve the temper."

I need a Monsieur Foinet. Maybe need is too strong a word. I don't NEED it, but wouldn't it be nice? I really enjoy writing the blogs. I'd LOVE to be able to parlay it into something else. I'd love to write for a living, say. But I frankly don't know that I'm qualified (talented enough). And I frankly don't know if the people who say I am are qualified to determine that.

Gino provided me with some guidance on the drawing end. He was not unkind. He never intimated that I'd NEVER be able to draw for a living. . . he just said I wasn't CURRENTLY able to do so. That was enough for me. I hadn't drawn for years, I certainly was not going to redouble my efforts at reviving a mediocre skill for no reason. Now I satisfy myself with a pencil sketch of something here or there once a year or so. I love doing it, but it's for me or my friends or family, because I don't feel comfortable sharing it with the public. It's hard to be criticized for something you really put your time into. Something that came from you. Something you created.

Anyway, it's not as if I have a novel in my head to write if I decided to write a novel. There's no story BURNING its way out of me. And maybe that's what decides it. What's the point of FORCING the issue when you're 1) not convinced you're even talented enough to do it, and 2) you have nothing to bring to the table. I mean, the disappointment would be twice as bad if I actually put the time and effort into hundreds of mediocre pages only to be rejected.

One last sidebar. . .

And I know I've said this before. . . I have tried my best to raise my kids not to overlook things that seem fun just because they're afraid to look stupid. When my kids are with me I attempt cartwheels and sing loudly and dance the electric slide do all sorts of ridiculous things that are meant to show them, hey, look how bad I suck at this, but it's fun as hell anyway, and who cares how ridiculous it looks?? It hurts my heart when my oldest refuses to do something she might like because she's afraid of getting teased. Afraid to fail. The coolest people I've ever met were the ones who just did what they wanted to do and didn't give a shit WHO laughed. They did it because it was something they wanted to do, something that they thought would be fun. THAT'S the lesson I try to teach my kids. . . and I'm very much aware that it is that lesson I need to force myself to learn.

The reason for writing this:

These thoughts occur to me periodically, but typically at someone's prompting. I added a friend recently who has been asking me (repeatedly) why I don't write. And so of course, I thought about it again. All the old reasons that more or less boil down to fear of failure. And contrary to SOME people's opinions, my ego is not nearly as big as I like to PRETEND it is.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


I wrote this three years ago, and am posting it because the subject matter came up in "comment conversation" on my other blog.

This morning, while linking to my online bank account to correct a GIGO error in my automatic billpayer, I noticed a little-used link to the Pajiba review site. I couldn't think of any movies/books I was interested in, but it had been so long since I'd been there, I clicked the link.

And goddamnit, there, large as life, was a review of Sarah Vowell's newest book "The Wordy Shipmates". Funny? Irreverent?? When the hell did this happen? I remember going to college honors english classes with Sarah Vowell at Montana State University and can tell you she was probably one of the most humorless people I'd ever met.

I remember debating the merits of an author's argument in one of our assigned texts (the text itself is lost to my memory) with her during a classroom discussion where she was frustrated to tears. Or angered to them. Someone told me about it after class.

So here is Sarah Vowell. . . geeky, awkward, Sarah Vowell transformed not just into a writer (my absolute dream "job") but a fucking GOOD writer. . . with positive NYTimes/Kirkus/Washington Post reviews, a syndicated gig on NPR radio, and magazine columns. And I'm envious.

The ultimate revenge for Sarah Vowell (who I strongly suspect could not give two shits about getting revenge on me for something she doubtless has pushed from her memory or got over immediately following the class in question) is that she won. She's doing what I wish I was doing, and is doing it better than I could hope to do it.

College was a long time ago and I certainly have my regrets, but it occurs to me that my regrets with regard to Sarah Vowell are not so much that I hurt a kid who was away from home and feeling lost and a little lonely. . . awkward and exposed by a verbal bully (ie, me) . . . but that I did all that to someone who's made good, gotten famous, is successful. . .

I don't know. I think to myself, if I didn't know Sarah had gone on to much bigger and much better things, would I even give it a second thought? I flatter myself and upbringing by thinking I would to some extent. I mean, I can think of dozens of kids I bullied with my brain (hindsight being twenty-twenty, however, nobody with brains quite so big as hers) and made look silly or feel miserable that I DO feel bad about and do think about from time to time. But I don't know if I feel nearly as bad about any of them as I do about Sarah.

And part of me thinks. . . I should reach out to her. . . apologize for the boy I was and congratulate her on her success, but I REALIZE that there's some part of me that's just doing it because she's famous. Like I want to be acknowledged indirectly as an influence in her life or something by REMINDING her about something I did that affected her (at the time). And because I can't be sure that it's not more about trying to get her to acknowledge that she remembers me from college. . . getting an ego stroke from a celebrity, so to speak. . . I'll never do it.

Soooooo. . . Because this will never make it back to Sarah:

Sarah, I hope you don't remember what a douche bag I was in college. I was (if you can believe it, dear reader) even more shallow then than I am now. I didn't see a cool, funny girl, who was shy and probably could have used an ally. I saw someone I could use to boost me up in the eyes of my classmates by making her look silly. I'm really sorry about that. You weren't the only one. I think what you're doing with your life is amazing. I wish I was talented/intelligent/broad enough to be doing it. I will be buying one of your books in the very near future. My daughter loves Violet from "The Incredibles", by the way. Good luck with your life and your career.


Okay okay. . . i'll leave that last part out. I'm envious.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Diving a Bike

Today Emma's gym class gets to swim in the pool. On the drive to school she told me they're going to teach them how to dive.

"I think I already know how to dive, I just get nervous," she told me.

"You do know how, and once you get comfortable with it you'll never be uncomfortable with it again. It's sorta like riding a bike, you know?"

There was a long silence in the car.

"I don't know how to ride a bike."

When she said it, it startled a laugh out of me. "Yeah, bad analogy. Sorry about that."

Parenting Fail

Monday, March 26, 2012

My OWN Version of the Hunger Games

The Hunger Games movie came out this weekend.  Everyone seems to have loved the book.  I was "okay" with it.  I've always been a fan of dystopian settings, or post-apocalyptic settings, so the book was right up my alley, and I know the author wants the romance to be drawn out over the course of the trilogy (I haven't read the second book yet) but it seemed to me that the main character, Katniss, was particularly . . . stupid. . . regarding relationships.  I kept struggling to understand her responses to things and giving the author the benefit of the doubt that the character had been raised "cold" and in a friendless/emotionless environment. . . how COULD she understand what these other characters were trying to show her?  But it got REALLY really hard and I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the characters' responses particularly near the end of the book.  Anyway, this isn't a book review post.  The movie came out, and it looks intriguing.  

Saturday my parents offered to come over and watch the kids so that Leslie and I could get out of the house and spend some time together.  Last time I took her to a place she really likes, Cioppino, and she said she wanted me to pick this time.  A new burger place opened up, and I didn't want to spend a boatload of money, so I suggested that.  The place is called "Burgatory".  We drove about fifteen minutes away and walked in and the hostess said, "It'll be a two hour and fifteen minute wait." 
My wife thought she said "15 minute wait." 

I turned to her and said, "Do you want to wait?" 

She looked at me like it was a no-brainer. . . "15 minutes?  Yeah, of course we'll wait." 

"TWO HOURS and 15 minutes!" I told her, and we immediately left.
We drove to a place in Lawrenceville (suburb of Pittsburgh) called Alchemy N Ale.  Alchemy N Ale is this place that she and I have now visited three times.  I want to fall in love with it, but it fears commitment, apparently.  They can't help but fuck something up every visit.  Before we ordered I asked the waiter, "Are you out of anything?"  

The previous visits' sins had all been "we're out of that-related".  The cardinal sin came when my wife's meal was delivered to the table and the waiter chose THAT MOMENT to inform me that they were out of what I had ordered a half hour before, so I had to order while my wife was eating.  It was not a good "restaurant" moment.  So in response to my question, the waiter answered, "No."  

My wife ordered a steak and glass of wine, I ordered "frito pie" (I'm a class act) and a Railyard Ale.  A few minutes later the waiter returned and informed us they were out of the green beans that the steak came with, and were out of Railyard.  It's like the management of the restaurant is mocking me; daring me never to come back.

We had a drink each and then appetizers and dinner and left to go to a friend's bar because by that point the bartender no longer knew how to make a drink I'd ordered the previous two visits and we were just over the whole "experience".  We had driven half way to the bar and I looked at the clock and said, "In fifteen more minutes we can get our table at Burgatory."  I was bummed because I really wanted to try it, and obviously the Alchemy N Ale experience had not dulled the pain.

So, that was Saturday.  This morning my wife called me and said that the radio was talking about how "any restaurant located near a movie theater had a two-hour wait because of the Hunger Games premiere."  (see, The Hunger Games thing linked back, it wasn't a TOTAL nonsequitur).  This was good news because I'd sort of written off Burgatory because I don't care HOW awesome a fucking hamburger is. . . I'm not waiting two hours and fifteen minutes just to sit at a table for the privilege of ORDERING the fucking thing.

So anyway. . . Sometime soon. . . BURGATORY!!!  In other news. . . Alchemy N Ale:  Dead to me.