Saturday, December 31, 2011

One Word-2012

What word do you want to use to describe how you will approach 2012?

Earlier this month I wrote about the word that described my 2011. Transfigure. It was a fitting word. But what about next year? What do I want next year to be described as? I want next year to be awesome. But more than that. I want 2012 to be...


Yes. Formidable! Usually this word brings ideas of dread or fear: The man was a formidable opponent-- Chaz had trouble defeating him. But what if "the man" and "Chaz" were reversed? What if instead of thinking about the causing fear, apprehension, or dread definition of the word, we think about the other definition: arousing feelings of awe or admiration because of grandeur, strength, etc. That's how 2012 is going to be. My year is going to arouse feelings of awe.

I don't mean to sound like I'm being pretentious or full of my self or something. I'm really not. I'm trying to be more confident and less complacent. I want 2012 to be that dramatic change you see in a character in a film.

The team starts to work together and defeats their rival in the championship game.
The man realizes he's been a jagoff and turns his life around, winning back the girl of his dreams.
The captive breaks free of his chains and becomes the warrior he once was, defeating the oppressive king and setting his people free.

I will be that team.
I will be that man.
I will be that warrior.

2012 is going to be the beginning of great things. 2012 is going to be formidable.

Dear Older Self

Write a letter to your future self to read on 12/30/12. Write about what you have accomplished. Write about who you are and who you have become. Write a wishlist.

Dear Chaz,

Hopefully by now you have heard one way or another whether or not you were accepted into UB's PhD program. If you haven't heard, that means you didn't complete the application process. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? Seriously, STOP BEING SO LAZY! Stop waiting for things to happen to you and make moves. If you have heard about the PhD thing, then hopefully congratulations are in order. 'm so proud of you!

So did the Yankees do well this season? I really hope so. It doesn't look like they want to spend any money, but hopefully by 2012 they made up their mind that a couple more pitchers were in order and they went to the World Series. Also, did the Steelers end up winning the Super Bowl? If there is a way for you to let me know, that would be great. That way I could put some money down on the game and make some money!

How is the Blue Lady doing? Is she still running? Were you able to replace her finally with a new car? You (we) know she wasn't doing too well in 2011 (and 2010 and 2009). Did she get better or worse in your time? And speaking of your time, do we have flying cars yet? How about time travel? I(we) could really use a time machine.

Okay, so you remember that time when you (we) were all melancholy and depressed and didn't have much money and were frustrated with life in general? Keep hold of that feeling. Because it is going to pass, and remembering how it felt will hopefully stop more bad stuff from happening next year and the year after that and the decade after that. Hopefully 2011 was the last full year that things were not so great. You (we) know that 2011 was a much better year than 2010, but 2012 was even better, right? Right??

Well, I should probably wrap this up. Write back if you can.
See (be) you soon!



Thursday, December 29, 2011

Five Things/Let Go

Resound wanted me to write on this topic:

Jot down five memories that you would like to never forget about 2011.

But I've already written about this in one way or another this year. So instead I'm going to write about this:

What are five things you do not want to repeat in 2011?

It's a slight adjustment, and it still may be a repetitive blog post, but it's going to be harder for me to write about. And besides, I have a bad memory when it comes to "Did that happen this year or the year before?" 2012 is going to be better than 2011, just as 2011 was a slight improvement on the year before it. So what did I do this year that I want to let go of? What do I want to remove from my life in 2012? How can I better myself next year?

1. Processed Foods. There has to be something better than pre-packaged processed foods full of unnatural junk, right? I need to find an alternative to canned nacho cheese and Cream of Mushroom soup and what-not. I'm sure I can even figure out a way to make mustard instead of getting the squeeze-bottle version of it, right? I rarely use tomato sauce that comes out of a jar, so why not everything else?

2. Petty Arguments and Grudges. I am tired of wasting my time with fighting or being angry about things that, in the long-run, are really not worth my time. I don't want to be angry. I don't want to stay mad. I don't want to argue or hold grudges. It's not worth my time. I have better things to spend my time doing. I have more important people to worry about and take care of.

3. Junk Food. I always have chips or pretzels or cookies in my apartment. And I usually have at least one kind of dip. And of course ice cream. This needs to stop. Or get cut back a lot. I know eating carrots is just as fun as eating pretzels and French Onion dip, but I just don't think of it. I need to make the junk food less accessible and the healthy snacks more accessible.

4. Television. To an extent. There's no way I'm going to completely wipe TV out of my life, but it would be nice to do more than watch television. I should cut down on the number of shows I watch regularly. I should read more. I should watch something informative instead of monotonous. I should feed my brain instead of slowly killing it.

5. Take Out. This connects to the junk food and the processed foods in my life. I only go to them because they're easy. I only go to them because they're accessible. I only go to them because they're yummy. But I can totally make a pizza. And General Tzo's chicken. And a DiBella's sub. The only reason I don't is because I don't plan enough a head of time of what I want to eat and the ingredients and so-forth.

This is a good start. I can totally do this.

Bring it on, 2012!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

All is Love

Who do you love unconditionally? Who loves you unconditionally? Who do you love despite their flaws?

That's easy: My brother.

I just listened to "How Our Siblings Shape Us" on NPR's On Point show and it's so totally true:

If you’ve got brothers and sisters, you know it’s true: only siblings are partners for life. Parents go early. Children come late, when we’re already stamped and made. Siblings are there from the get go.

Brothers and sisters who challenge, protect, torment, defend. Who listen, scold, goad, counsel. Who know you. Some are close. Some are distant. They stamp you either way. For better, for worse, for life.

If you have siblings, you know it's true. Siblings mold us. They help us socialize, they help us learn how to fight (or argue), they help us become who we are. It doesn't matter if you grew up as one of thirteen children, or if you only grew up with one sibling. Our brothers and/or sisters make us who we are. It happens through mentoring, through modeling specific behaviors, and even through arguing with you. Siblings teach us how to manage conflicts and how to have a proper argument or discussion.

I have one brother. He's three and a half years younger than me. When I was growing up, I hated him. Seriously. We fought constantly. We would punch and kick and push each other. We would argue with each other. We would complain about each other. We would do things to get the other in trouble. On road trips my parents would have to put luggage or pillows or a cooler between my brother and me in the backseat just so we wouldn't "accidentally" invade the others space.

But then something strange happened. I moved out.

When I went away for college, my brother and I started to get close. When I popped home for the weekend, he and I would be civil to each other, we would joke around with each other, we would even hang out with each other. Then he would come out to Rochester for a long weekend. We were becoming friends. And there was no looking back. I had a best friend for life. Unrelated friends come and go. People move away. People have children. People grow apart. But when a sibling moves away or has a child, instead of growing apart, we grow closer.

As the older one, I always feel the need to protect my brother. This is one of the reasons he was my "co-Best Man" instead of just my Best Man at my wedding. I'm not going to get into the personal details here, but needless to say I felt like I didn't want to put all of that pressure on him and I didn't want to put him in a position to be in the spotlight. And I knew he would have said it was fine and he would take on more than he could handle and he would do more than he should and he would end up worse in the long run and it would have been my fault.

My brother and I have different beliefs and different morals and different opinions about a lot of topics. Every four years when the presidential election season comes around, we try to avoid talking politics. It's very difficult. It's almost like an unspoken game we're both playing. And of course there are religious and Bible-based opinions we both have that are in conflict with each other. Sometimes. But in both the political and religious debates, we agree to disagree. We don't win and we don't lose. We don't storm out and give the other the silent treatment for a month. We just chalk it up to a draw and we move on. What's next?

If I want to get morbid, I can see a day when I won't have my parents and I can see a time when I'll be without my good friends, but I can't see a day when I won't have my brother. My brain just won't process something like that. Despite all of my flaws and mess-ups and issues, he'll always be there (I hope). And despite all of his flaws (which I probably put there when we were younger), I'll be there for him.

That's just the way it is.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Everything is Going to Be Okay

What is one thing, a sign if you will, that has shown you that things will be just fine in 2012?


But I have confidence and I have a good feeling that 2012 will be my best year ever.

I am hoping that I will have confidence and the strength to make next year something to really brag about. I'm not sure what is going to change or how it will change, but it will change. It will get better. It has to get better, doesn't it? After the past couple years I've had, I don't know what else could happen to me. I've been in this hole long enough. It's time for things to move in an upward direction.

It's time for things to be legendary. I want to be able to brag to people about the year I've had. I want to be able to look back on 2012 and say, Damn, that year was friggin' awesome! I want to be able to say, 2011 can suck it because 2012 ruled!


Share the song you would like to be remembered by. Share with us your exit song.

This is a pretty morbid topic. Is this like the song people would listen to at my funeral? I always wanted a "Big Chill" funeral where they'll play a popular song or a song that my friends thought of me when they heard it instead of a hymn or something. That would be great. I would love to pick a Nirvana song, since they have been such a huge part of my life for so long, but I can't pick just one. So I guess my exit song would have to be "I Know It's Over" by The Smiths. link And as sad and depressing as that song is, Jeff Buckley has a much sadder and much more depression version of it. I wish I could imbed videos into my blog, but I don't know how.

Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head
See, the sea wants to take me
The knife wants to slit me
Do you think you can help me?

There is not a better song about ending your life, that I know of.

But I don't plan on ending my life. Not on purpose at least. So maybe I will leave the world with "This Is The Day" by The The. link It's more upbeat, right? You could kick your feet and dance to it!

The calendar, on your wall, is ticking the days off
You've been reading some old letters
You smile and think how much you've changed
All the money in the world
Couldn't buy back those days.
You pull back the curtains, and the sun burns into your eyes.
You watch a plane flying across a clear blue sky.
THIS IS THE DAY -- Your life will surely change.
THIS IS THE DAY -- When things fall into place.
You could've done anything -- if you'd wanted
And all your friends and family think that you're lucky.
But the side of you they'll never see
Is when you're left alone with the memories
That hold your life together like glue.

Not so happy or upbeat. It's friggin' sad, yeah? And those last five lines? OH. MY. GOD. Maybe I do want to kill myself now. Talk about a song that mimics my life. Jeez.

Let's try something else. The song "First Day of Spring" by the Gandharvas always cheered me up when I was younger. I would listen to Canadian radio and I would wait for this song to come on. It used to cheer me up. It starts out calm, then slowly builds at the end.

My friend...
Don't just sit there and ruminate.
With your navel to comtemplate.
It's a beautiful day outside.
Time's passing you by.
Come on out.
Don't just sit there catatonic.
I'm feeling supersonic.
A warm wind is sweeping by.
The sun's full in the sky.
And there's no way of knowing,
No way to know,
Know how long it'll last,
No way of knowing,
No way to know,
Know how long it'll last.
Come on out.
Don't just sit there and decompose.
Go throw on some summer clothes.
I would enjoy your company.
But please hurry.
Cause there's no way of knowing,
No way to know,
Know how long it'll last,
No way of knowing,
No way to know,
Know how long it'll last.

I wish I had a friend to just knock on my door and pull me outside. C'mon, chaz! It's nice outside! Stop being a Hermit! There's no way of knowing how long the nice weather will be here for, so let's make the most of it! And I would go outside with them and we would enjoy the moment. Wouldn't that be great? But is that a song that my friends would say That reminds me of chaz. I don't know.

The worst part is that once you're dead, you can't make the decision on what's played at your funeral. It's up to those that are left. And that makes me saddest of all. I'm sure my ex-girlfriends would want to play "Gravel" by Ani DiFranco at my funeral. To them it would be fitting:

You've been juggling two women like a stupid circus clown telling us both we are the one. And maybe you can keep me from ever being happy, but you're not gonna stop me from having fun.

I was a dirtbag to many many of the girls in my life. So if this is what's played at my funeral, I will have deserved it.

My luck my friends and family will play this song and everyone will dance and sing along and have a HUGE PARTY not in memory of me or in honor of me, but in spite of my passing.

And I guess I'm okay with that. I kind of have to be since I'll be dead and all.


What is one thing (activity, food, career, event, travel, etc.) that you'd like to try in 2012? Why haven't you tried it yet? What makes 2012 the year to try it?

I thought I already wrote about this a couple weeks ago. I made a list of all of the things I want to try to accomplish next year. But now I have to try and narrow the list of twelve down to one single thing. I'm not sure I can do that. Or maybe I'm supposed to come up with something else. Something new to try in 2012.

Well you know what? I'm out of things to accomplish. The well is dry. I just want to be happier. I want to make more money so that I can think about something other than all of the money I owe and the money I don't have. I want to make more money so that I can be comfortable again. Every time a friend or family member asks me out for a drink or for dinner or to just hang out, I picture my empty wallet and my near-empty bank account. I don't want to think about money every time I am asked to do something fun! I want to think about doing something fun!

And to be perfectly honest I don't care what these jobs are that will pay me more money. I'll work at a grocery store. I'll work on the line. I'll drive a bus. I swear to God I don't care. Just get me out from under this rock. Just pay me what I need. I don't want fancy things and extravagant vacations. I just want to be comfortable. I just want to be stress-free. I just want to try to think about something other than all of the money I don't have.

Today Is All You Have

Describe your perfect day, one that you've had this year or one that you'd like to have next year. What makes it perfect for you?

I have not had the perfect day. My perfect day does not occur here, in Western New York. My perfect day occurs far away from the cold and the lake effect snow and wind chills. And although I have not left WNY this past year, I know exactly what my Perfect Day would look like.

Smell: Salty air coming off of the Gulf of Mexico. Suntan lotion. Cocoa Butter. Fresh fruit.

Taste: A frosty blender drink of rum and coconut. Seafood caught and cooked minutes before eating it (Cheese Grouper in Paradise?). Hush Puppies right out of the frier. A cold frosty beer.

Feel: Warm air on my face. Sun beating down on my back, my chest, my head. Sand with the consistency of baby powder between my toes.

Hear: A drum circle. Fishermen bragging about their latest catch. Seagulls. Competing boom boxes on the beach. The pages of my book turning.

See: Waves crashing on the shore. Footsteps in the sand. A gorgeous sunset. Sailboats in the distance. Tan lines. Pelicans dive-bombing the water. Couples, young and old, walking on the beach. Palm trees lining the sidewalks.

I cannot wait until I can experience this perfect day. I need it. I need it SO BADLY. I wish I could just snap my fingers and I would be standing on the beach. I wish I could snap my fingers and I could feel the sun on my face. I wish I could just snap my fingers and I would be out of this miserable place.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Identify the Problem

When you’re annoyed, angered, or frustrated, ask yourself, “What exactly is the problem here?” Take a few minutes to ponder that one little, nagging issue that, if solved or eliminated, would make your life better.

When I have problems with people or technology or just stuff in general, I usually assume it is them not me. It can't be something I am doing or saying that is causing an issue. It has to be you. It can't be me. Just do what you're supposed to and everything will be fine. Just do what I'm asking you to do and everything will be fine. I don't ask for much: Respond to the email I sent you three hours ago. Pull off the road so I can drive the speed limit. Connect to the internet when I open you. Hire me. Give me the paperwork I need. Let me finish what I was saying. Stop riding the arse of my car. Go away. Boil the water I've had on your burner for five minutes already. Start when I turn my key in your ignition.

See, I don't ask for much. I just want things to go my way. I just want you to do what I need. But then again, maybe I am the problem. Maybe I'm too stuck in my ways. Maybe I have too many rules and regulations. Maybe I'm a stickler when it comes to life. Should I ease off a bit? Should I try to compromise? Should I stop thinking technology is a logical being who is out to get me? Probably.

I have a hard time letting go. It's in my DNA. My mom's side of the family comes from Western Pennsylvania. The people from that part of the state are mostly Dutch and German. They are also very stuck in their ways, stubborn and bullheaded. Don't get in my way of doing what I've set my mind to, or else there are going to be problems. My dad's side of the family is very schedule and time oriented. They hurry hurry hurry. They need things to be a certain way. We are eating at six-thirty, so if you're not here by then, you may not get any dinner. It's no wonder I am such a mess.

I know I need to open up more and let go of things, but I just can't. I'm not even sure I know how. I think part (well, most) of me believes that if things don't go the way I have mapped them out in my mind, that bad things will happen. If my car acts up or if someone is going too slow or if there is snow on the road, I won't get to work by seven-thirty. And if I don't get to work by seven-thirty I may not get the parking spot I always get and then my entire day will go down-hill from there. How do I stop thinking like this? How do I fly by the seat of my pants? How do I just let go?

If you have a solution, I am open to it, but I have a feeling it won't work. Remember, I come from a long line of stubborn, schedule-detailed, bullheaded, time-oriented people who are very stuck in their way. How do you work against something that is in your blood? I realize this is not just a little nagging issue, but it would make my life a lot easier if this was somehow resolved.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


What guilty pleasure have you embraced this year? What have you just accepted as something you enjoy and stopped denying it? What do you enjoy that would surprise people that know you?

I would have to say Science Fiction. And I don't mean the crappy sci-fi books or movies or television programs where a half-man, half-goat rides around on a giant snail. More specifically I mean the Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams kind of Sci-Fi. The kind of Science Fiction that has deep, in-depth characters, humor, and interesting, detailed plot lines. I was always dead-set against reading or watching anything considered Sci-Fi (except "Star Wars," obviously!). I didn't like the fans of Sci-Fi, I didn't like the story-lines of Sci-Fi, and I didn't like the fake make-up jobs and cheesy plot lines in most Sci-Fi movies and TV shows. But slowly I got into the Sci-Fi that these two amazing writers and producers had created.

I would have to say "Alias" was the first. When I watched it in the late 1990s, I kept telling myself it was a spy show, not Sci-Fi. No matter how many Rambaldi artifacts were brought into the story-lines, and no matter how many characters were killed and then regenerated, I still maintained that it was just a spy show. It was a show about a young, hot-looking spy. That's it. It's not Sci-Fi.

Then came "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel." These were vampire shows. I didn't think about the fact that vampires could be considered part of the Science Fiction genre. Besides, the story lines were interesting and the characters were unique and deep. I never watched these shows when they were on originally, but in re-runs on cable. I hid this from most people in my life. At least I tried to. vampires are cool and all, but these shows by Whedon were more than just vampire shows. They were dramas. The story lines included heart break and romance and world domination. Yet I was still embarrassed to be caught watching these re-runs.

I must admit I never got into "Lost" even though it was a JJ Abrams created show and was very popular. I'm not exactly sure why. It must have been on at the same time as something else that was watched in my house. I am still old-school: I don't have TiVo or DVR. I have VHS. I can watch one thing and tape another. That's it. And if I'm out of the house and I'm going to miss a show, I have to either watch it online or I have to miss the show.

This year I finally came out of the Sci-Fi closet. I was sad when Whedon's "Dollhouse" was cancelled at the beginning of this year. There was no hiding behind the fact that this show was Science Fiction. I also rented JJ Abrams' version of "Star Trek." This was obviously Sci-Fi. It was a re-imagination of one of the longest running Science Fiction shows of all time. And it was really good. I watched "Serenity" (which is a sequel to Whedon's "Firefly") on the SyFy channel. The other thing that I realized is that I had these weird mini-crushes on some of the stars of these shows. If I saw one of the stars of a Whedon or Abrams created show on another show or in another movie, I would watch it.

Amy Acker, Eliza Dushku, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin and Summer Glau are some of my favorites. It is because of Baccarin and Tudyk that I started watching "V" (which was also cancelled this year). If I heard that Amy Acker was going to be on a show ("Happy Town," "Cabin in the Woods," or "Once Upon A Time" to name a few) I would watch it. When re-runs of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," starring Summer Glau, was shown on SyFy, I was there. I still don't know how I missed watching "The Cape"! The sad thing for a newly-out-of-the-closet Sci-Fi fan is that most good Science Fiction doesn't last. "Alias" was only on for five seasons. "Dollhouse" was on for two. "Happy Town" lasted about five episodes, if I remember correctly. Most of these shows are popular to only a select group of people and these people are not Nielsen Families. These people are nerds. They're geeks. The only time you know a show is popular with this sect is when a show is announced to be cancelled. Then the emails and websites and petitions come out.

So here I am. A Sci-Fi fan. It's my guilty pleasure. It is my escape. I'm looking forward to JJ Abrams' next "Star Trek" film. I can't wait for Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing" (starring Amy Acker!) and "The Avengers." They may not come out to critical acclaim or make buckets of money at the box office, but they'll be great. To me. Any time a television show ends with this or this, I know I'm going to love it. And I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Elevator Speech

If you had 30-90 seconds to describe yourself (give an elevator speech), how would you sum up who you are?

I always had a hard time with this. Being short and sweet. Being brief. Cutting to the chase. The other problem I have is deciding what to talk about. Which aspect of my life do I pitch in this theoretical elevator? Do I pitch Professional Chaz? Creative Chaz? Fun Chaz? There's no way I could give a ninety second speech on all three. There's NO way.

The key is to just talk about the important bits. The bullet points. What do I need people to get from this elevator ride? Do I want people to walk away thinking to themselves "That Chaz guy is a teacher at a local community college" or "It's so interesting that Chaz went to film school, but is now thinking about getting his PhD" or "I really need to find Chaz's blog-- It sounds super interesting!" Those would be the bullet points. But is that what I want someone to take away from an elevator ride with me? Possibly. Maybe. There's got to be more.

There has to be more.

I've been a teacher for over five years, but I took the long way around to get where I am. And my journey's not over yet! I was a security guard, I was a barista, I was Clifford the Big Red Dog. But someday soon I hope to be Dr. Chaz. I love teaching people who need to be taught. People who want to learn. So I want to go on to become a teacher of future teachers. I'm a proud, sarcastic Western New Yorker who has wanted to leave home since he got here. Four seasons are over rated. I want the sun and the warmth and the sand between my toes. I want to find the next party. I want to be more. I want to do more.

Was that ninety seconds? Was that interesting? If you were in an elevator with me would you think I was funny or intriguing or insane? There's a fine line between crazy and fascinating. And I'm afraid I may balance that line too well.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Then and Now

What was your life like a decade ago? How has your life changed since then?

I am in the same apartment I was ten years ago. A decade ago. Jeez. We really need to move. The fact that I am still living in the apartment that was always supposed to be temporary says a lot about me, I think. I wish I could just pull my music out of the apartment and just light the whole damn thing on fire. A nice Viking Funeral for that damn place would be fitting.

It was around this time ten years ago I had a note slipped under my door by my upstairs neighbor. She was not happy that I listened to my music (specifically No Doubt) at such a loud volume at ten in the morning. Before this I thought that 10am was a safe time to listen to my music. I considered writing a note and slipping it under her door complaining about noises that came from what sounded like a one woman brothel. The sounds went like this: A bang on the door. A squeaky bed. A toilet flushing. The front door slamming. The shower running. A bang on the door. A squeaky bed. And so on...

Good times.

Ten years ago I was working for a make-shift advertising agency that was located over top of a jazz bar. There was no insulation in the upper floors (there weren't even floors in some of the rooms!), so we were just getting ready to move our offices to one of the owners' basements. We moved from Rochester to Buffalo for this job. I saw a full-page ad in the ArtVoice and drove to Buffalo to talk to Mark Goldman and his business partner about what they wanted to do with this company. I was two years out of film school and was intrigued by what they were saying and excited to try something new. They were going to make Buffalo great. I was going to be a part of that.

But of course, it didn't last. The business was over top of a bar, after all. There wasn't any money to spend on decent equipment. We had to out-source everything to print houses and film developers. We didn't have any clients either. We were just coming up with ideas that we thought Buffalo needed. It was a whole company of pipe dreams. So it folded. And I was back working as a barista by the new year.

Ten years. A decade. I can't believe it's been that long. That was four cars ago. That was three television sets ago. That was five computers ago. "Alias," a TV show created by JJ Abrams, had just debuted a month and half earlier. I loved that show. And, ironically enough, I just finished re-watching the entire series on DVD last week. So I guess things don't change as much as you'd think over the course of a decade.

I am making a point of not getting sad and nostalgic and depressing about looking back at where I was ten years ago. I'm not going to talk about the fact that we had our whole lives in front of us. I'm not going to talk about how we were getting ready to plan a wedding. I'm not going to write about how stable we were and how sure of ourselves we were. We didn't worry about money. We didn't worry about bills. We were just happy. And I miss the sounds of the squeaky sex bed upstairs. I miss blasting No Doubt at ten in the morning. I miss that job over top of that old jazz club.

Things change. Things get worse. Things get better. People get married. Cars break down. Computers crash. Televisions die. But things stay right where they are.

Appreciate Traditions

What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year?

My first thought immediately goes to family. My family (both those I am related to and those I'm not), have been a constant in my life this year and I've been most appreciative of them more so these last twelve months more than any other time. I have a feeling I probably took advantage of them in the past, but this year I've noticed how much they do for me. I've noticed how much they help me. I've noticed how solid they are.

Usually I keep my family at arm's length. I try not to bug them and bother them with my problems. They have their own things going on. Besides, my parents raised me to fend for myself. To not ask for help. To stand on my own two feet. So asking them for help this year was really really hard for me. I felt weak. I felt as though I wasn't doing what I needed to be doing with my life. I felt like a failure. But my family understood. They were the best sounding board any one could ask for. And for them, I am most appreciative.

This is the time of year when families are upholding decades old traditions and working to create new ones. Share your December traditions: how they got started, why you continue them, and why they are special to you.

This is an ironic question this year. This year so much has changed with me and my family. Traditions are being flipped on their heads. Things are changing. We are doing things differently this season. We need to be flexible this year. We need to welcome new traditions. We need to remember what this time of year is all about.

In the past, my family's tradition for Christmas morning had been to wake up early, brew some coffee, and open our stockings as my mom's famous egg casserole baked in the oven. When I was growing up it was just the four of us. But then I got a serious girl friend. She was included in our tradition, but it needed to be tweaked a bit. She had her own family traditions. Her dad always made omelets to order for everyone. They spent Christmas morning together. Her family is a more laid back, take-it-as-it-comes family. My family is more of a scheduled, this-needs-to-happen-now kind of family.

I remember the first Christmas Chantale joined us for Christmas brunch. Everyone was pacing around the kitchen and living room waiting for her car to pull up. The casserole was sitting in the oven keeping warm. The presents (other than hers) were all opened and sitting back under the tree. I could feel it coming. I knew my dad and my brother wanted to eat (so did I!), but I wanted to wait for her. She was a new part of my life. I wanted her to get the whole experience of my family's Christmas. Eventually she showed up (about a half hour after she promised she'd be there) and we all ate breakfast and opened gifts and enjoyed each others company.

And eventually Chantale became my wife and we continued the tradition of having Christmas morning at my parents' house. Her grandparents always had a Christmas Eve celebration at their house, so it all worked out. But things change. Grandparents pass away, aunts and uncles get separated, people move.

And that brings us to this year. My parents' house isn't my parents' house anymore. My brother has taken over the Christmas morning duties at his new apartment. My wife and I decided to switch things up and visit with her parents first thing on Christmas. Christmas Eve was always Nana and Papa's thing, and since they are no longer with us, and since my in-laws will be alone on Christmas, we decided to go to their house for omelets and presents and holiday cheer. This is a tradition that Chantale missed. And to be honest I was completely oblivious to it. I just brought her in on my family's tradition without any thoughts about what she was feeling. This is the way it's always done. And now my brother has a new girl friend. He gets to experience her family's traditions. Or not. I guess that's up to him.

I made the mistake of forcing my girl friend into my family's traditions years ago and I don't think that was the best idea. It's a better idea to try to find a happy medium. It's a better idea to experience new things. It's a better idea to remember that the holiday season is more about seeing and visiting and laughing with family (new and old) than it is about keeping to the same traditions that we've been sticking to for years and years. Change is hard. Trust me, I know. But change is not necessarily a bad thing. Change can be good. New experiences and new traditions can be a great experience.

But we need to be flexible. We need to welcome new traditions when things change. And sure, I'll miss my mom's world famous egg casserole, but I will get to experience my father-in-law's world famous omelets!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ordinarily Extraordinary

Sometimes the most ordinary, mundane things can turn into extraordinary moments. What was one of your most extraordinary ordinary moments this year?

About half-way through the summer I needed a relaxing weekend away from the craziness of Buffalo and work and... everything. At the same time, my cousins were making plans to head to our family's camp in the Southern Tier. It's always a great time at camp. It's in the middle of nowhere, so there's no outside interruptions. Other than the occasional wild animal that comes wandering through. I was looking forward to a weekend of amazing food cooked on the grill (or smoker), great conversations, and lots of card playing and beer drinking. I needed this.

But the day before we left, my cousin informed me that our time at camp would be a "working weekend." At first I was going to back out. I wanted to just relax. I didn't want to work. But then I thought of all the weekends over the years that I went to camp and didn't do anything but eat, drink and sleep. I used my uncles' camp for an escape from everything. So I owed my uncles a weekend of work. They deserved it. They earned it. And besides, it was still camp. Once the sun went down, my cousins and I would be able to unwind and relax and get up to our usual shenanigans.

The problem is that I don't know anything about doing manual labor. Not the kind of manual labor that we would be doing down at camp. My uncle was planning on putting an addition onto his cabin. This job was more than I could handle. I can fake it when it comes to splitting wood or rebuilding a picnic table, but building something that needs to hold people and not fall over when the first gust of wind comes is more than I am capable of doing. In my life, working with my hands includes stapling papers together, making photo copies, washing dishes, or cooking. And as much as I can assimilate into a camper and someone who is comfortable in nature, my family all know that I wear a tie to work and they all know I don't know a damn thing about building anything that doesn't come with an Allen Wrench.

I may be a teacher and I may have great writing skills and I may know when to use the word "whom," but that doesn't make me a better person than someone who drives an eighteen wheeler or a school bus for a living. My uncles are giant men. And they're patient. They showed me what to do and how to do it. And we all worked together and by the end of the weekend we had that addition built. To my cousins and my aunts and uncles it probably wasn't a big deal, but to me it was extraordinary. My cousins and uncle were standing on the roof! And it didn't collapse! Just as we were finishing the rain came, and the building stayed standing. It didn't fall over. It didn't wash away. It stayed standing.

Now don't get me wrong-- I wasn't in charge of deciding how long the 2x6s needed to be. I wasn't in charge of leveling the ground under the addition. I wasn't in charge of cutting the wood. But I carried and picked up huge piles of wood that would eventually be the foundation of the addition. I held the wood that would eventually be the walls as they were cut. I screwed and nailed the 2x6s to the foundation. I was a part of putting this thing together and making sure it was sturdy. And this cabin isn't going anywhere.

Through all the highs and lows I had this year, this weekend was definitely one of the highs. I was proud of myself. I used real tools. I wore work gloves. I got dirty and sweaty. I helped build something with my hands. A weekend that started out as an ordinary relaxing weekend turned into an extraordinary weekend.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


What discovery did you make in 2011? What kind of impact did it have on how you view the world today?

I found a lot about myself this year. I realized that I am addicted to technology, specifically my smart phone and Social Networking. Using these things is not something new to 2011, but the addiction to them is, I think. Most times my phone is just an extension of my arm. It's not really me if I don't have my phone in my hand. This gets in the way of some (or all) of my relationships, especially with friend or family who are not into SN as I am. It is a point of contention with many and it causes a lot of problems.

But the first part is knowing you have a problem, and I know I have a problem. Let's move on.

The one discovery I made this year is that I actually enjoy blogging. Before this year I thought most bloggers were either shut-ins who wrote about their cats, people who were trying to sell something, or people who were trying to seem more important than they were in real life. Or all of the above. But over the course of this year I realized that on the most part, none of that is true about bloggers. At least not the ones I have come across in my time as a blogger.

I was afraid that people would think, "Why are you writing about this? NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR CAR." Honestly at first I didn't know whether I wanted to blog or just keep a journal. But I knew I wanted some record of my year. I wanted something permanent. And I knew I'd need some constructive criticism, moral support and pats on the back along the way. With just writing in a journal, I wouldn't get any of that. With a blog I got to see what people thought, I got to get into fights and I got to meet new people. Besides, writing in a journal was what I did in high school and undergrad. I needed a more grown-up outlet for my thoughts, my feelings, and my angst.

"A [discovery] can sometimes change our view on the world and our place in it. Discovery can bring on positive change, but sometimes discovery is hard. Sometimes it causes conflict. But after a discovery, something about you just isn't quite the same." link

VERY true.

Blogging is a double-edged sword. I open up a lot more on my blog than I do to the people in my life. But because my blog is fairly public and because anyone can read my blog, some of my friends and family get upset that I don't open up as much to them as I do to the internet. I've always been able to be more honest in the written word than in real-life. Even before I had a presence on the internet. Unless I'm pushed, I'm not good at emotional conversations. Not in a face-to-face interaction. I never have. I have a hard enough time telling my close family that I love them. But you want to talk about my deep, internal stuff? Let me just write it down or text you or something. It's similar to looking people in the eyes. I'm am really bad at that. It's too personal. It's too honest. And I'm afraid, I guess. I don't like looking people straight in the eyes because it means they're looking straight into my eyes. It freaks me out.

I am better at being behind the scenes. I'm not trying to compare myself to the Great and Powerful Oz or anything, but I'd much rather be the guy who turns the lights on and off or writes the script or opens and closes the curtain than the guy who performs on stage IN FRONT OF EVERYONE. So I blog. I write about my life and I write about what I'm feeling. I write about a problem I'm having and I write about a conversation I over heard. I write because I have to and I write because I need to.

I was thinking the other evening about what I might want to do with this blog once 2011 is over. Part of this discovery was just to stay in the practice of writing. Do I want to keep this blog as a personal blog? Do I want to change it? I think I may want to go in a new direction next year, but I may need to build another blog for that. I am always going to need an outlet for my personal, internal stuff. But I also have a lot of other stuff I want to get out. I want to get back to my roots of writing short stories and character sketches and scripts. I want to be creative again. I want to do more.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


When did you feel most at home this year: in your life, in your career, in your skin? What factors make that situation feel like home? Is there an activity in which you excel that makes you feel like you're doing what you were meant to do?

I love being surrounded by friends and family. I would love to call a place home that was big enough to entertain all those closest to me. There's not even a dining room/kitchen table in the apartment. It sucks. The apartment feels more like a cave most days. I sit on the couch, I sit on the chair in front of my computer, I lay on the bed. We've had a couple people over at a time, but I want to have a big get-together. I want the place to be full of great smelling food, laughter and lots of people! I am comfortable at home, but I think I'm too comfortable. So comfortable that I'm afraid one day the place will go up in smoke and I won't notice or care because I'll be sitting so nice and contented in my chair.

And I will die there all alone.

Another place I feel comfortable is in my classroom. I am at complete ease in front of a class full of students. At the beginning of 2011 I got a new job teaching for one of the local community colleges. Getting hired made me so happy for a few different reasons: I was making money again. I had something to do every day. I was doing something I loved again. I was petrified that I was going to resort to working at a factory or back in retail again. I was petrified that I was going to have to do something I didn't want to do just to pay my bills. I was petrified that my first teaching job was the only teaching gig I would ever have. Now I am back to teaching people who need a teacher. It feels good to be needed. (If only these students knew how much I needed them as much as they need me!)

I love getting up in front of the class and seeing what we will stumble upon. In the Constructivist model, it is more about student-centered learning, and that is what I try to stick to. It doesn't always work out, but I think my students get more out of the content if they are learning from each other. I try to be less of a teacher and more of a facilitator. No one wants some guy standing up at the front of the class telling them what is important. No one wants some guy standing at the front of the class lecturing them. And no one wants some guy at the front of the room telling them what's right and what's wrong.

I usually bring up a topic or something I read in the paper or heard on the radio and I try to aim it toward what we were doing in class yesterday. I let them tell the class what they think about it and how it connects to our class, our current unit, or life in general. If there isn't a connection to what goes on inside of class with what is going on in each of their lives, then my students won't care about it. And if my students don't care about it, they won't learn it. And if they don't learn anything, then what's the point, really?

This is my wheelhouse. This is where I feel comfortable. This is where I feel at home away from home. I don't assess what my students have learned by giving them some kind of standardized test. I know what they've learned by what they talk about in class. Most of the time they don't even realize they're learning. I give them a wrap-up assignment that uses their talents or best skills. If they're good at drawing instead of writing, then they'll do that. If they would rather write an essay, that's fine.

It's super rewarding seeing how much my students have grown over the span of a course. This is why I teach. I never got into teaching because of the summer breaks. I never got into teaching because I thought I was going to become rich. I never got into teaching because I heard it was fun. Every teaching job I've had has gone all year round. I have never had summers off. And I think that's the best way to teach and the best way to learn. Summer vacations cause students to unlearn what they were taught. Most teachers spend the first month back from summer vacation reteaching last year's content. Education is the silver bullet. It's what changes everything before it and everything after it. Until the education system changes, everything is going to get held back. Everything is going to be broken. Everything is--

Here I go off on a tangent. At some point in the last paragraph or so I got up on my soap-box and strayed away from what my original point was.

I feel at home in my classroom. I love teaching and I love learning from my students. I feel comfortable at work. I'm happy at work. Even in the midst of passive-aggressive disputes between coworkers, even when there's very little money for supplies, even when I have to deal with driving for over forty minutes in the snow, I still love it here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Best Gift

What was the best gift you gave yourself this year?

Two thousand eleven was a very frugal year, so any gift I gave myself was a figurative gift and not a literal gift. I didn't really have any excess cash to splurge on cool stuff, but thinking about this past year, I think I gave myself the gift of burying the hatchet.

I buried the hatchet a few different ways in 2011. I finally, sorta-kinda forgave myself for the situation I put myself (and my wife) in. It wasn't really my fault that I lost my job in 2010, but I took on a lot of the blame and every chance I got I felt sorry for myself. I was full of self-hatred and self-loathing and self-doubt. I am supposed to provide for my family. I am the man. I should be bringing home the bacon. Thanks to government cut-backs my job was down-sized and I was out of a job. I swear to God, as I left that meeting in June of 2010, I wanted to just drive and drive and drive. I didn't want to face my wife. I didn't want to face myself. I didn't want to face the facts. I just wanted to run away. But I didn't. I faced the problem head on. But that involved a lot of blame focused on me.

But slowly, in 2011, I started to forgive myself and focus on what was important: Getting out of this situation I got us in.

Another instance where I buried the hatchet in 2011 was with an argument I was having with my cousin. It had been an ongoing battle between him and I for quite a while and at one point it came to a head. We stopped talking and we went our separate ways. I stopped trying to guilt him and I stopped trying to stop him from doing what he was dead set on doing. It was his life. He could do what he wanted. He was a grown-ass man. If he wanted to destroy it, then I was more than willing to let him do that. I wasn't happy about it, but at this point there was nothing I could do, so I let him go.

It may not seem like a big deal to an outsider looking in, but to me (and to him) it was a big deal. We had been tight for over thirty years. We were best mates. But we both have issues. He finds one way of dealing with them, I find another. I was obviously not happy with the way he chose to deal with his issues and problems and life-battles. I was there for him through thick and thin, but at some point he didn't want to hear what I had to say. He started hanging out and listening to other friends who would allow him to do what he wanted. I washed my hands of him. I didn't need the stress of worrying about him. I had enough stress in my life.

But of course it didn't end there. He was my best friend. He is my best friend. I couldn't just let him spiral downward. I couldn't just let him dig deeper and deeper into the hole I know he was already so far into. Besides, it wasn't just about him. I was part of this. As much as I knew he needed me, I needed him just as much. I needed him in my life. I had things that I needed to vent to him about. I had things that I wanted to share with him. I had funny stories that I knew only he would understand. So maybe part of burying the hatchet was me being selfish. But I didn't care. Helping him meant helping me.

The act of burying the hatchet in this instance wasn't pretty. There was yelling and rehashing and blood, sweat and tears. But in the end the hatchet was buried and I am better off because of it.

Burying the hatchet is the best gift I could have given myself this year. I needed to get let off the hook. I needed that weight lifted off of me. I needed to be set free of all of the pressures that I put on myself. I just hope I can keep myself off the hook. Every time money is tight or my gas gauge gets close to EMPTY or I'm scrounging around for something to cook for dinner I feel that weight again. I feel that guilt and self-loathing come creeping back into my life. But I hope that in 2012 the hatchet will stay buried.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Twelve in '12

Take today to talk about 12 things you would like to accomplish in 2012.

1. Budget Better

I am so tired of living paycheck to paycheck. I am so tired of scrounging around to find money to buy groceries or to put gas in my car. I am so tired of feeling poor. Budgeting will help this. Cutting down on the number of times I got out to eat or go out for drinks will help. I am hoping that using coupons, finding sales and being frugal will help in the long run. But I have a feeling a second job is in order as well. As much as I love my job, it just doesn't pay me as much as I need.

2. Find More Free Fun

Watching television on the couch at home is a pretty inexpensive thing to do, but it's also boring to most people. I was always in the mindset that if I didn't leave my house, then I wouldn't spend money. But that's not always true. Museums usually have one day a week that is free and open to the public. I'm sure there are other things to do outside of the confines of my hermit cave, er-- I mean my apartment that are free as well. I just have to figure out what those things are.

3. Be A Grown-up

Looking back at my blog, I seem to whine a lot. I also tend to rely on other people to do things for me. I need to stop that. I need to grow up. I need to be a man. I need to put childish ways behind me. I'm going to turn thirty-five years old in 2012. Thirty-five! I know that's not elderly or anything, but when I think back to who I thought my thirty-five year old self would be, this is not it. I am still living in an apartment, I have a piece of crap car, and I still eat cold pizza out of to-go containers. I don't wear suits to work. I don't own my own house. I don't have a nice, new, fancy car. I need to grow up. And quick.

4. Take Better Care Of Myself

I don't eat as well as I should. I don't exercise. At all. I don't really take care of myself very well. The only meal I eat all day is dinner. And then I sit on the couch. For breakfast and lunch (during the week) I eat Quaker bars. I tell myself that they're each ninety calories so they're good for me, but that's not really true. I drink light beer. But when I drink, I usually have five or six at a sitting, so that kind of defeats the purpose of having a light beer, right? I need to step it up and find the motivation to change my life. Maybe if I ate healthier and exercised more, I would be motivated to change the rest of my life?

5. Try Beets

I have never liked beets. They're purple. Humans aren't supposed to eat purple foods, are we? They just look gross. I think I tried one once when I was in Florida around age 12. I'm pretty sure I spit half of it out. Are there any good beet recipes? Is there a way to make beets taste good? If you know of any, please send them my way.

6. Read More

As I've said, most of my time takes place sitting down either in front of the computer or in front of the television. I have an enormous stack of unread books in my apartment that I should really get to. Maybe putting them all on a list and checking the names off as I finish reading them will help. It always feels so good to cross things off of a list, doesn't it?

7. Purge More

Even after a year of attempting to un-clutter my life, I still have too much stuff. And I don't have a storage place, so it's all right in my face. Taunting me. Teasing me. Threatening to take over my life. I would say eighty percent of my clutter is books. At some point I ran out of shelf room and the books just took over. My clutter isn't all in book form, but most of it is. I wish i could just sell them all. But bookstores don't want my books, no matter how great of a shape they're in. So what am I to do?

8. Be A Kid Again

There has to be a way to be a grown-up and a kid at the same time, right? Can one be a professional in whatever career they choose and have fun on the side? What does "being a kid" even mean? Throwing your food everywhere? Running around outside? Being care-free and whimsical? According to Webster's Dictionary, whimsical means "subject to erratic behavior or unpredictable change." Does that conflict with being a grown-up?

9. Fine Tune My Life Plan

2011 was the year I was going to start figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. And now 2012 is going to be the year I make moves and start aiming toward that light in the tunnel I'm in. I am seriously looking into going to the University of Buffalo for my PhD. I know that keeps me in WNY for at least four more years, but in the long run it will help. In the long run I will be happier (I think). In the long run I will be closer to that light at the end of the tunnel.

10. Listen More

I like to pride myself on being my own person and not worrying about what others think and not allowing others' opinions sway my decisions, but I'm not so sure on that. I think my family's thoughts on things can change my path fairly often. I am not the best at looking at all the options or all of the possibilities as of late. I try to ask myself as many "what if?" questions as possible, but sometimes I can't think of them all. Listening to what family and friends say isn't always the worst thing in the world. Especially if they've been there before. Especially if they have a valid point. Especially if they thought of something I haven't.

11. More Quality Time

I have a busy, hectic schedule. So does my closest family. Including my wife. But just as I want to take better care of myself physically, I want to take better care of myself emotionally as well. Family helps with that. Quality time with those people who are closest to me would go a long way. Even if it's just an evening of making dinner together and playing Apples to Apples. That kind of time can go a long way in making me feel better and get better.

12. Be Happier

I swear to God I want to be happier. I want to be better. I want to feel happier. I need to. I don't know how much longer I can go on being melancholy and down in the dumps about everything. What would make me happy? Not worrying about bills. Not worrying about my car. Having a stable roof over my head. Spending less time stressed and more time laughing. I need these things. I need these things to happen soon.

Best Meal

What is the best meal or best food that you have eaten all year? Did you make it? Did you get it at a restaurant?

After much deliberation I decided to go with a meal that I made a few different times this year. It has changed quite a bit since the first time I made it.

Dirty Rice.

1lb. of ground beef or pork
1 orange bell pepper, diced
1 can of fire roasted tomatoes, diced
1 can of black beans
1 small can of jalapenos (for less heat, use a small can of green chiles), diced
1 box (12-16 oz) of yellow rice
12 oz chicken stock
freshly ground black pepper
freshly ground cumin
freshly ground sea salt, to taste
shredded cheddar

To call this a comfort meal is an understatement. I's sure there is another version of Dirty Rice, but this is a version I made up on my own one day when I had very little money and a very empty stomach. I started grabbing things off the shelves and combined them in my head until it was what I thought would be best. After the first time I made it I adjusted the spices, adjusted the ingredients and turned it into a one pot meal. This recipe usually serves about 6 or 8 portions, depending on the size of your appetite.

My favorite time in 2011 that I made this was when my brother did me a favor. I had a couple pieces of furniture that I needed moved from my apartment to my parents' garage sale, and he offered to help. I told him I couldn't pay him, but I would make it worth his while. By the look on his face, he was not disappointed. He was living in his first apartment so I showed him how to make it so that he would have a great go-to dish when he needed. Of course I left him the leftovers so that he could continue to enjoy it for days to come.

The first thing I do is put the ground meat in a four inch deep pan and brown it up with cracked pepper, a little bit of salt (to pull the moisture out) and ground cumin. Once the meat is almost browned all the way, I toss in the diced orange bell pepper. Once the pepper has softened up a bit, I throw in the can of black beans (with liquid). I stir the meat, peppers and beans around for a bit, then I incorporate the can of tomatoes and the can of peppers with their liquid. I let this simmer for a while to get all the flavors to marry together.

I usually use two small boxes of rice, and the liquids from the peppers, tomatoes and beans is usually equivalent to one box of rice, so I put in as much chicken stock as one box calls for. Using chicken stock will add much more flavor than just using water. I bring the meat, beans, tomatoes, peppers and stock to a boil and then add in the rice. I cook the mixture just as the rice indicates. I usually check on it a couple of times, stirring the mixture and checking to see if I need to add more stock.

Once all of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is to your liking, it's done! Serve it on a plate or in a bowl and top with shredded cheddar.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Write (paint, draw, photograph, record, etc.) about your best experience this year. If that's not your cup of joe, write about your worst experience.

I think my last blog post was about one of my best experiences of the year, so this time I will attempt to write about the worst of 2011. And yes, I'm going to write. Painting and drawing and photographing really isn't my thing. As I'm sure you know by this point.

I am sitting here trying to think about my lowest point of 2011. I can't pinpoint it. I'm not saying that I didn't have any low points, I'm just saying I can't narrow it down. Maybe it was when I had that huge fight and argument with my cousin followed by weeks of silence. Or maybe it was when one of my good friends moved away. Or maybe it was when I... damn. My mind is drawing a blank.

I worked really really hard to have a positive outlook on life. I was going to be honest with myself and everyone close to me about how I felt. I was going to write more and re-evaluate my life plans. I was going to cut out all the negativity and clutter in my life as best as I could. And on the most part I did that. I still have way too much clutter in my life, but other than that, I did pretty well. Maybe the reason I can't pinpoint my lowest moment of 2011 is because I didn't have any? That can't be right.

Maybe the reason why I can't pinpoint my lowest moment of 2011 is because it hasn't happened yet? Or maybe I never hit rock bottom this year. That was last year. The Year of the Hermit. 2010 was my low and 2011 is my upward climb.

Here's hoping.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Best Photo

It doesn't have to be the best technically, it doesn't have to be the best visually, but it should be a photo that you consider the best. Does it have special meaning? Is it of a significant event or moment?

This photo isn't one that I took (obviously-- I am in the picture!). But it's one that reminds me of a great night with great old friends. The only bad thing about this picture is that we're not all in it. Pictured is Mike, Kelly, Ricky and me. Not pictured are Timmy, Steve, and, um... I think there was at least one other person there that night. I honestly can't remember. It was one of those nights, if you know what I'm saying.

Mike only comes in from Japan once a year at the most, so when he's in WNY, we all try to make the most of it. And this night we definitely did. It was a gorgeous summer evening and we all met at a pub in Lewiston. I was worried that it was going to be packed when I finally got there, and it was, but luckily my cohorts had taken control of a table on the patio, everything worked out fine. Mike and Ricky were drinking a beer that Mike called "An Old Dirty Bastard." I'm almost one hundred percent sure that's not what it was called, but it was a nice dark amber colored draught that was yummy and hoppy and they went down so easy.

We all went to high school together. We used to be inseparable. Even after Mike slept with my girlfriend or I hooked up with Ricky's numerous significant others, we still stayed pretty tight. There were many ups and downs, obviously-- I don't think there's a group of friends that don't have arguments or fights or what have you, but we made it through the other side alright. Over the years we kind of went our separate ways, but when we get together, we fall right back into our old ways. Steve is the melancholy voice of reason. Kelly is everyone's favorite. Mike is the life of the party. Ricky complains about the price of things. Timmy is everyone's kid brother. And me? well, I'm not sure what my role is, exactly. You'd have to ask the rest of them. Maybe I'm a combination of all six. Maybe I'm the party animal. Maybe I'm the story teller. Maybe I'm the one who keeps all this going.

We are all grown-ups though. Our little group has a business owner, a soon to be pastor, a teacher, a therapist, a graphic designer and an international business recruiter. But from an outsider looking in, I'm not too sure you'd know which is which. Especially on a night like this. By the end of the night the table, the floor, a couple of the seats, and the railing around the patio was all covered in empty glasses. The bartender, who had come out to chat with us a few times as he smoked his cigarettes, eventually had to give us the boot. We had over stayed our welcome. We had been served past the point of last call. We didn't need to go home, but we could no longer stay there.

I never take enough pictures of life. I leave somewhere or an event or a get-together like this one and I always wish I had taken pictures. "Why didn't I try to get a picture of all of us together?" "I should have taken a picture of Steve when he was telling that story!" "Ricky is such a jagoff. I should have grabbed a picture of him being... himself." But I don't think of it at the time. I am too engaged with my friends or what is going on or drinking to think about pulling my phone out and have everyone pose for a picture. So I'm glad that there are other people who think about the picture taking business. There were probably dozens of pictures taken that night, but this one is a great one. It was taken late enough into the night to show that we have all had a couple few drinks, but not too late to show us falling over or drooling or losing our hat.

In the end, it's all about old friends, isn't it? They are our past, but they can also be our present and future. Especially if you have the right old friends. When we get together it's like we're teenagers again. Teenagers who drink. Legally. Teenagers who have to get up in the morning. Teenagers who will never forget the great times we had and the great times to come.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Catch Phrase

What's your trademark phrase? How about a quote or saying that you repeat often?

Oh God. I knew eventually I would write about this. And I really have no problem writing about it, it's just that it's so hard to explain. It started as an inside joke and then it kind of snowballed into a hashtag. It snowballed into a catch phrase. It snowballed into a life of its own. There really was no real reason for this word to be used, originally. It just kind of happened. I'm not proud of it. these things just kind of take on a life of their own.

This catch phrase is Cockring.

(See also #cockring)

It all started at a mash-up meet-up involving a bunch of tweeters. There was a birthday celebration, an album re-release celebration and I think we were also celebrating the end of summer. We all met at a restaurant. We drank and we ate and we drank some more. Someone from one end of the table made a joke about a cockring and that turned into "hashtag cockring" referencing our mutual Twitter alliance. It was funny. Everyone laughed. And then some of us would end a bad joke with "hashtag cockring" to make an unfunny joke funny. The word really didn't mean what it originally did. It was no longer just a cockring. It didn't necessarily have anything to do with what we were talking about, sometimes. Other times it was literal.

Somehow, for reasons that escape me, most of the bronze rings that were around the napkins at the restaurant, ended up at the next stage of our get-together. The above picture, taken by me, shows these infamous rings and as far as I know, they are still there. These rings became a symbol for our amazing night, but they also became a scapegoat for things we were unhappy about or embarrassed of days and months later. Someone would tweet that a cockring was needed to get home safely while at the same time someone else would send a tweet out blaming a lack of cockrings as the reason why it was so rainy outside. There were also mentions of getting punched in the cockring and with the cockring simultaneously. There was also a figurative (for the moment) drinking game involving a cockring toss. I am not not sure if this involves throwing the rings at someone, throwing someone through the rings or some combination of both of these.

Like I said, it took on a mind and life of its own. The cockring also became a verb. There were numerous tweets about cockringing someone or something. It was also a bad idea to get cockringed. Your day would never be the same after that. I'm honestly not sure what is involved in cockringing, but it is not a pleasant activity, I assume. But at the same time being cockringed could be a wonderful and beautiful thing. The cockring is in the eye of the beholder. The early cockring gets the worm. A cockring in the hand is better than two in the bush. (Or is it?)

As you can see, we all became pretty obsessed over this hashtag and catch phrase. Or maybe it's just me. I'm not sure. No, it can't just be me. It's not like I invented it or something. It was a collaborative effort. This collaboration included tweeters, beer, amazing food, wine, and dirty minds. And some booze. Outsiders wouldn't understand the power and magnificence of the cockring. They would just think we were being dirty. Or speaking in code. Or something. But we're not. Really.

Behold the power of #cockring.

It's good for any occasion.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Achievement Unlocked

What goal did you set for yourself and achieve this year? Did you achieve something you didn't think you could?

I had a pretty rough 2010. At the end of that horrible year I told myself that I wasn't going to make any New year's Resolutions out-loud. Every time I did that in the past, I found a way to get out of them. I was too busy, I had too much stress, I just plain forgot. Either way I felt bad once I came to the realization that I had failed at yet another year's worth of resolutions. The worst part was that I had vocalized (or posted on Facebook or Twitter) the resolution, so people would ask me "Hey, what ever happened to you cutting cheese out of your diet this year?" or "I thought you said you were only shopping locally this year?" or "Didn't you say you were going to stop drinking while the sun was out?"

So this time 'round I didn't say anything to anyone about the one goal I had set for myself for 2011. I didn't tell my family. I didn't tell my friends. I didn't tell anyone. Once the first weekend of 2011 was finished, I had begun writing. My goal was to write every day of the year. But let's be honest: I was just asking for it with that. So by the end of January I refined my goal. I was just going to write more. Maybe once a day, maybe a couple times a week. But no matter what, I was going to write more. I had a Blogger app on my phone, so I didn't have an excuse.

I didn't set out to be a famous blogger. That thought actually never even crossed my mind. And I honestly didn't think anyone would read the damn thing. I didn't even decide if my blog was going to have a theme or not (which it definitely does not). It was for me first and if someone else stumbled upon it, so be it. There are a lot of blogs out there that are strictly about current events or just about so-and-so's weight loss adventures. Mine was not going to be like that. Although I would talk about cooking, it wasn't going to be a cooking blog. And although I am freakin' hilarious, I was not going to write a funny/comical blog. I was just going to write. I'm still figuring it out. All I know is that I have always enjoyed writing and it was one thing that had been missing from my life. 2011 has definitely not been the best year ever, but it has been a LOT better than 2010 was that's for damn sure.

I gave myself a goal and I followed through on it. I think it helped that everyone didn't know about it. I think it helped that i was committed to making this year just a little bit better than the one before it. I think it helped that I was for once serious about getting serious.

Best. Side-Kicks. Ever.

I woke up in the middle of the night realizing that my last blog post had much to be desired. And instead of adding to an already long and wordy blog, I decided to write another one. An addendum, if you will. I completely forgot to include some of my best new friends from 2011. I definitely would have gone crazy without these three people in particular.

It always comes in threes, doesn't it?

First of all there is Susan. At the end of 2010 we were both wallowing in Hermit Pride but I think deep down we were both itching to get out of our comfy holes and explore. I first met her at a wine and taco tasting, which, really, was a totally perfect setting. There were no awkward introductions and there were no weird pauses that happen when meeting new people sometimes. The next time I saw her was at a bar-tending tweet-up event. Again, more drinking. Then the Day Drinking began. We would meet at seedy Buffalo bars that opened in the afternoon and have a drink or three. Our conversations were almost as easy in person as they were on Twitter. That is a sign of a true friend. And although she is gone in real life, virtually she is still right here with me. What would my 2011 look like without our Day Drinking meetings? Not a pretty sight, I'm sure!

Second there is Cori. When we first met at a tweet-up, I had no idea that we were so similar. Who would have thought that I would find someone who has a passion for cooking and Musical Theatre, as well as family in Niagara Falls? It may not sound like much, but it was a huge deal to me. We were both super excited when I decided to take an Intro to Theater class at BuffState, and we were both equally let down when the class turned into a huge pile of crap. If it wasn't for her, I don't know who I would vent to and complain to and commiserate with over this class. How would I have functioned in 2011 without our LAUGH OUT LOUD hilarious conversations on Twitter (and in person)? Not too well, I'm afraid.

And lastly there is Jamie. In all reality he is my connection to my first two new friends. I'm not sure if he met me first or Susan and Cori first, but either way, I met Susan and Cori while with Jamie or through Jamie or something. I'm sure there's a #cockring joke in there somewhere, but I just can't find it right now. (That's what she said!) He is good for a cooking tip and a drinking idea and a dirty joke. Is he the reason why I am still alive in 2011? Maybe. Is he the glue that holds all of my amazing Twitter friendships together? Possibly. The world will never know and I think Jamie prefers it that way.

And now that I think about it, are these great friends my side-kicks or am I their side-kick? Maybe it goes both ways. Suffice it to say 2011 would have been a bust if it wasn't for social media and the tweet-ups and random meetings it creates.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Bill To My Ted

Who is your partner in crime? Or, perhaps, are you a lone ranger?

I'd like to think that I am a lone wolf, out on the plain, struggling to get by all on my own, but that's not true at all. I have a very small group of people that are part of my life whether I like it or not. Whether they like it or not. What I just realized is that in one way or another, I am related to these people. But it's more than that.

My Brother.

He is always there for me. He is good at putting a positive spin on my sour moods and he's good at showing me that none of us are without hope. He can show me the light at the end of the tunnel when I'm in the dark. And just a simple "What up??" text shows me he's been thinking about me even when he's crazy busy with work and pastoral studies and girl friend and life in general. And although it may not seem like much, knowing that someone else is thinking about you and how you're doing is a big deal, am I right?

But at the same time my brother and I butt heads all the time. We have what my mom calls Heated Discussions. Nothing is off limits: Religion, War, Politics, Television, Current Events, Family, Holidays, even the pros and cons of cooked fruit. A nice discussion with valid points and new points of view is always welcome. Sometimes it seems we never end an argument. It goes on or fades away or resumes at a later date. But just because the argument is on-going does not mean that we're mad at each other or not talking to each other. Far from it. If a discussion gets too heated, one of us will quote a line from How I Met Your Mother or The West Wing or Big Bang Theory and everything goes back to normal. I'm not sure how my 2011 would have shaped up if it wasn't for Tim.

My Best Mate.

I'm pretty sure he needed me just as much if not more than I needed him this year. We had some major ups and downs this year. We yelled and screamed. We drank. We gave the silent treatment. We laughed. We drank. We cried. We hugged. We drank. We conspired together. We gave each other advice. And most importantly, we drank. It may seem like a negative trait, but I know any time I just need to unwind and tip a couple few cold beers back, I can go to my best mate. We turn on some loud, riff-tastic music. We light some wood in the fire pit. We crack open a beer, and we clink. Cheers, mate. That's all it takes.

We've known each other since we were born (he's six months older than me). We used to spend long weekends at Grandma and Grandpa's house on the ridge. We would go wandering around looking for arrows and flints. When we got older we would sneak back there to share a stolen cigarette. Years later we still get together, but now we're grown (which is scary). We don't need to sneak around any more. And we have some deep conversations. We can talk about just about anything at long length. I'm not sure either Jay or I would have survived 2011 if it wasn't for each other.

My Wife.

I know I don't talk about her much. That's probably because I take advantage of her. I treat her bad and think nothing of it. But she deals with all of my crap and all of my moodiness on a regular basis. And on the most part, she takes it all in stride. Oh, don't get me wrong: She doesn't just take it. She yells and screams at me when I deserve it. She slams the door in my face when I've earned it. She shuts me out when she's had enough. But we've both had a rough go of it this year. Work and family and money have caused all kinds of migraines and bitter moods this year. But as a team we've been trying to make moves this year.

But she's never left. I swear to God I have no idea why she's still around. I am a jagoff most of the time. I'm whiny. I'm moody. I'm depressed. I drink too much. I tweet too much. I spend too much money. I know I've changed a lot since we started dating. We used to go out for coffee all the time just to sit and talk, and now I don't like to do that. Partly because my feelings are still hurt from losing my job at Caffe Aroma. The other reason I don't enjoy going for coffee is because I know for a fact I can do it better than any coffeehouse in Western New York. And it pisses me off. I spend too much time in dirty, hole-in-the-wall bars. I never used to do that. And I know she hates that. One of these days I'm going to come home and there's just going to be a pile of clothes and CDs and books in the center of an empty room. And I won't be surprised. But I have no idea what my 2011 would have looked like if it wasn't for Chantale.

Would I have survived 2011 if it wasn't for these three people? I really doubt it. If I didn't have these three people in my life I'd be on the street, without money, without a cell phone, without a job, and very very thirsty for an ice cold beer.