Friday, April 28, 2006

Take Your Child To Play Day

Yesterday was "Take your child to work" day. The company I work for makes a huge event of this. This year, in my work location alone, there were over 800 kids who came. But I'll admit, I'm not quite sure what to think of this.

Don't get me wrong, I think it is great to allow your children to see you at work. The job place is an otherwise enigma to children. The mysterious location you disappear to day in and day out doing who knows what. All they know is I'm gone most of the day, and when I come back, we have more money to spend, except never enough to spend on that one more toy they want.

So when the opportunity comes that my children can see me in action, that's great. After all, for thousands of years, children worked alongside their fathers and mothers. They learned what it meant to be an adult by watching them. Today, adulthood is rarely introduced to them in any form until after they are, ironically enough, an adult.

This year, I brought along my two oldest boys, ages seven and six. And do you know what they learned?

Well, first that I apparently receive free breakfasts at our cafeteria each morning, if only I'm willing to wait in a line thirty minutes long. Then, I get to watch presentations on Liquid Nitrogen, build balloon-propelled race cars, meet "Phooey" the K-9 cop, climb into the back of police cars, stand in the middle of sound-proof booths, learn how garbage is turned into car parts, and throw paper airplanes from the top of a balcony to the patio below.

After a day like that, I suppose I should look forward to going to work more than I do. Thing is, my day is absolutely nothing like that. In fact, very little of that actually taught my kids one single bit about my job. It felt more like a Hands-On museum.

While there is nothing wrong with that, I feel it somehow lessened the day. I did manage to make time to show them my desk, even taught my boys the magic of for loops in the land of software engineering. I showed them some of the testing I do, too. We ate lunch together. (Although, I had to pay for this one out of my own pocket, and I should have taught them the important of bringing your own lunch, since the cafeteria here is outrageously expensive.) And we even took a walk in the nature trails, where I get my daily exercise.

But this was supposed to be "Take your child to work" day, not "Take your child to play" day.

Which brings me to another point. At one time, this was "Take your daughter to work day." An attempt to bring more women into the workplace by encouraging young girls to see what their parents did. Somewhere along the line, that wasn't considered politically correct, and transformed into the "your child" version. I laud that change, actually. However, I was fascinated when even my seven-year-old son picked up on something.

As we walked the tunnels that connect the buildings here, he said, "Dad? Why are most of the people who work here men?"

It's true. But I was shocked my son noticed. And how, exactly, do you answer that question? Even the experts don't fully agree on the answer to that one. So, I explained that while both men and women are capable of being engineers, for whatever reason, men seem to choose engineering more than women.

He was satisfied with the answer. It was the truth. But it also avoids all the debate behind the simple phrase, "whatever the reason." And then I wondered what all the little girls that came along with their fathers felt. The idea is that they are inspired to follow in his footsteps. But would they notice, too, that dad's work is apparently a man's job?

And finally, one last thought on the day. As I mentioned, there were 800 kids there. Each one with parents who want their child to know a little more about them. But I couldn't help but wonder about the ones left behind, so to speak. Back in their classrooms in school, how many kids sat in class, noticing that they were one of the few who didn't have parents who wanted to bring them in to work? Perhaps there are legitimate reasons. But, nevertheless, I could imagine the disappointment they must feel to know their friends are experiencing a day out with a parent, but they aren't. Kind of sad to think about.

Anyhow, that's my ponderings of the day. Time to go build myself a paper airplane...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Plagiarism At Its Finest

Plagiarism must be in the air. Or at least talk of plagiarism. There were, of course, accusations against Dan Brown (several times over). And what did we learn? Well, first that you can't plagiarize ideas, which Brown pillaged from. And second, you especially can't plagiarize ideas that have been around for literally almost two millenia.

Then, we have the case of Kaavya Viswanathan, who is accused of plagiarizing the work of Megan F. McCafferty.

It is kind of sad. And scary. As a author-to-be-hopeful, I look at my words, first through excited eyes, certain I've created an entirely original story. Then I read other books, and start finding out that there are certain bits that others have done before me. That happened to me not long ago while reading a rather popular YA book. And while the stories are completely different, the setting completely different, and even the characters completely different, I couldn't help but latch onto the few places that this famous author clearly copied ideas from me. Eh-hem. (Like, for example, I have a character who can get into the minds of mice, whereas she has a character who can talk to mice.)

Of course, the real revelation that comes from this is that there truly are no completely new ideas out there. Just variations of a great many old ideas. I suppose these ideas evolve and build upon one another. I mean, if one were to have read Ender's Game two hundred years ago, I suppose it could have seemed quite original. Today,'s still fairly original. But it also builds upon a lot of its predecessors in the genre of science fiction. (An absolutely fabulous book, by the way, if you haven't read it. Probably one of the best I've ever read!)

It has been said that the really good authors know how to steal ideas from others and improve upon them. Actually, no, that's not true. It has been said that really good software engineers know how to steal ideas from other software engineers and improve upon them. But I think the principle can be applied to authors. After all, the best way an author can learn their craft is by reading.

As for me? I'll never plagiarize anyone. At least, not intentionally.

There was this one time, however, where I did plagiarize and didn't even know it. It wasn't in writing, however. It was in music.

I've been a musician all my life. I love singing, playing the piano, and composing. Back in my junior high and high school days, I wrote a great many songs. None were all that spectacular, but I had fun doing it. (If you visit my website, and look at the March Story of the Month, you can hear one of my experimental compositions from a few years ago.)

So, this one day, I sat down, truly inspired. In a matter of a couple hours, I had written one of the better songs of my life. I was so proud of this song, plunking away at the piano keys until it was done.

Later that evening, I proudly gathered up my mother as an audience for my new creation. About two measures into the piece, my mother said, "Oh, I know that song!"

Know it? How could she know it? I just wrote it!

"No you didn't," she informed me. "That song was popular when I was a kid."

Then she began to sing my song, including lyrics that I hadn't yet written, from beginning to end.

I was dismayed, because it was my idea first. I'm sure of it. But then my mother pulled out an old record (yes, in vinyl LP) and played it for me. Oh, right. Now I recognized it.

So, was a moment of plagiarism at its finest...when I copied the brilliance of another, truly believing it to be my own. But, of course, it was just that...the brilliance of another.

And so it is with plagiarism. You take the ideas of another, and claim them as your own. But you are only lying to yourself. The fact is, as brilliant as you may or may not be, copying the work of another isn't brilliant. It is stupidity.

Or ignorance.

Either way, you'll get your pants sued off you. So, whether Viswanathan intentionally swiped McCafferty's words or not, she has no one to blame but herself.

The Monster in the Mailbox

I'm scared of my mailbox. My heart literally starts racing every time I grab my mailbox key. As I open the little door and reach in, I practically want to shut my eyes, yet at the same time I can't help but keep them open wide.

This is a rather new phenomenon, because it has only been recently that a monster turned up in my mailbox. Or didn't turn up, depending on how you look at it.

It's the, the, the fear of rejection. Mastercard bills? No problem. Another notice from a collection agency? No problem. The fify-millionth credit card offer? No problem. But an envelope with my own handwriting?

I suppose it should be a blessing. As soon as I see the SASE that I sent off with any given query letter or manuscript, I know it is a rejection. The postal service is only used in the case of rejection. If an agent had anything truly positive to say, it would come via e-mail or, for truly life-altering news, a phone call. But in the mail? You can just forget it. So, in a sense, the envelope just prepares you early. No surprises. All you have to do is open it to figure out which agent rejected you this time around. But the rejection is presumed right from the start.

But when you are waiting for that phone call, the mailbox can be scary. Each day that passes without word is another day closer, another day to rile my nerves. And I'll admit it grows worse through any given week.

My logic, as flawed as it may be, is that an agent will do any reading they need to do on the weekends. I'm not sure why I jump to this conclusion, but I do. So, if they read on the weekend and love it, I should expect a call or e-mail on Monday. Tuesday, at the latest. If, however, they hated it...or, in the words of several agents, "It just isn't right for me"...then they slap the rejection letter in the SASE that I provided them and stick it in the mail. Which means by Wednesday or Thursday, I should be expecting something.

And I do expect it, though I don't want it. And when I finally make it to another Saturday without getting bit by the rejection monster, I breathe a sigh of relief, and there is hope once again. Monday. Monday will be the day. The call will be on Monday.

Today, however, is Wednesday. Which means tonight, when I drive home, I'll be scared. Very scared. Because there might just be a monster in the mailbox.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

*burp* Excuse Me *giggle*

Every night, our family sits down together for dinner. It is a wonderful time. A time of peace and love and joy, where we all can share in each hardship and triumph from the day. It's truly beautiful, I'm telling you.

Oh yeah. There's one more thing that my kids, especially, like to share. Burps.

When it comes to bodily noises, I admit I'm severely lacking in the burp department. My burps sound more like hiccups, at best. I'm also untalented in the ability to burp on demand.

My children, however, are experts. Not only so, but they find nothing more hysterical than to listen to one another burp. It is a bit disheartening to look over to your four-year-old, watch him take a sip of milk, and then let 'em rip. Over and over and over. Such a tiny body, and he's capable of some awfully big ones.

Then the older boys join in, as their giggling allows. I feel as though in one brief moment, I lose control, and the peace, love, and joy we were sharing has vanished entirely.

"Come on," I say, stern faced, not giving in to the rudeness that has overcome my family. "That's enough."



I glare at the kids. I glare at my wife, who has just a bit too much of a lift to the corners of her mouth to be disgust. I glare at my two-year-old daughter, who despite her inability to purposely burp finds the entire gala exciting, and is starting to make this croaking sound in imitation of a burp.

My four-year-old is quite polite about his rudeness. After each burp, which by this time has approached a periodic rate of about one burp every five seconds, my son proudly says, "Excuse me!"

And the only way to end the madness is by changing the subject. "Oh, did you do on your piano today?" or "So, I was thinking we need to go to the store after dinner." If that doesn't work, I try threats. "If you don't stop burping, you're going to have to unload the dishwasher."

This of course works for the exactly two microseconds that pass before they realize they would have to unload the dishwasher anyhow.

Next thing I know, the loudest burp ever roars through the dining room, laughter ensues. This time, it was my wife, and I'm left as the only one at the table not in the riotous mood everyone else is.

But it occurs to me that I'm not really disgusted, nor do I not find the whole thing absent of humor, really. I'm jealous. I'm jealous because I can't join in the fun. Try as I may, any attempt I make to croak a burp or two myself is a complete failure. So, if I can't play along, then no one is gonna play. My way or the highway.

"Just swallow air," I've been told since my childhood.

Just swallow air? It isn't a concept I grasp. Air is something you breathe, not swallow. And if you swallow air, don't you just end up with the hiccups?

So, I'm left out. An observer. And I'll admit, there was a time or two that I actually smirked. Just for a moment. I was weak, I admit it. It won't happen again.


"Excuse me!"


A Wrinkle Sublime

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie when you were little, absolutely falling in love with it. You absorb the story, and pretty soon, even your play time becomes tinged with the nuances of the book or movie? Then, years later, you reread or rewatch the same movie, with a very different opinion?

That happened to be several years ago. The movie? The Goonies. If you didn't see it, imagine Indiana Jones, only pint-sized. A bunch of kids looking for lost treasure, trekking through dungeons, etc. In fact, I'm pretty certain that one of the kids in The Goonies was the same kid who was in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Anyhow, I had recorded the movie from television, and a few years after my wife and I were married, I pulled out the video all excited to have her watch. I mean, the movie was awesome. Except, for the next hour-and-a-half, I kind of cringed. The movie was clearly aimed at kids, because as an adult, I'm afraid it seemed rather pathetic. And, of course, my wife lost all faith in any memories I had from my childhood.

Well, I'm happy to say not all memories are misguided. Such is the case with one of my absolute favorite books as a kid, A Wrinkle in Time.

I haven't read the books in ages, so I wasn't sure what to expect going into it as an adult. But as I listen (because, this time around, I'm listening to the audiobook version), I'm truly amazed at how talented L'Engle was.

I feel like I'm re-experiencing my childhood, because one of the absolutely amazing things about this story is that while it is a fantasy, it actually delves into some fairly complex scientific concepts. I remember reading this book as a kid all proud of myself because I could grasp just what a Tesseract really is, and how wrinkling time really works. It made me feel smart, like I was in on this grand secret that lesser people didn't grasp. I have to imagine that was L'Engles intention.

I'm also amazed at how many Biblical references are scattered throughout the book. This is something I never saw as a child. As an adult, whole passages of scripture are expertly woven into the dialogue, tying together a fantastical world with a religious one, where God exists. And not just any old god invented for the purposes of a story, but the God of the Bible as we know it.

Reading such wonderful literature has its downsides, though. As a one attempting to write a fantasy aimed at the young adult as well...I have to wonder if I can ever pull off what L'Engle did. Can I truly inspire children the way that I was inspired? Will there come a day where the friends of my kids are running around their yard imagining themselves as mindwielders?

Time, I suppose, will ultimately determine that. Of course, I wish I could look into the future and see...know for sure if my writing efforts will ever come to fruition. Perhaps if I Tesser. Perhaps if I can just wrinkle time enough, I might be able to tell. So, if you'll excuse me, I have some mental work to do.

P.S. If you see some guy standing on the streets staring ahead at absolutely nothing, his eyes all squinty, shoulders tight with concentration...don't go near him. It is just me...Tessering!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Trouble With Fat

Fat gets a lot of press time these days. And navigating which fats are good versus bad can be confusing. We have saturated fats, trans fats, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and cholesterol (which isn't really a fat).

If you are trying to lose weight, it is important to look at the total fat content, since any form of fat is loaded with calories. But if you are simply trying to eat a heart-healthy diet, it is a bit more tricky. The main culprits, of course, are trans fats and saturated fats. Either form can raise your levels of LDLs dramatically over time. Polyunsaturated won't raise nor lower your LDLs much at all, so they are fairly harmless. Monounsaturated fats are the good guys. These are the ones that will actually help reduce your LDL levels.

Yet, sometimes when you look at the food label, you'll add up the saturated, trans, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats, and the total is still significantly less than the "total fat" listed on the label. Why is that? Actually, I'm not sure myself. I know that there are some fats not classified. Take, for example, fully-hydrogenated vegetable oil. This is not technically a trans fat, unlike the partially-hydrogenated cousins. Yet, fully-hydrogenated oils are still bad for you. If you pick up any food with the word "hydrogenated" in the list of ingredients list, chances are you shouldn't be eating it.

But for diabetics, fat plays an even more significant role in managing your disease. A diet high in fat is known to cause increased insulin resistance, even on a short term basis. And my own dietary changes in the past two weeks have shown just how much that is true.

Anyone with diabetes is probably familiar with the pizza effect. This is when you eat pizza, and bolus accordingly, but you see a dramatic rise in BGLs a few hours later. Why is that? The answer is somewhat complex, and not attributed to a single cause. But one major contributor is the fat content in most pizza. Eating pizza actually forces your body to need more insulin than you would have had the same number of carbohydrates in another meal.

Fat, in general does this. Sometimes you don't see it with an individual meal, however. If your diet is consistently high in fat (or, perhaps, higher in fat than is prudent), you may not even realize that your basal rates are tuned for that level of insulin resistance. At least, that has been my experience. Because suddenly, in the past several days, I've been experiencing lows at odd times. Not lows due to miscalculated boluses...but lows because my lower-fat diet has reduced the level of insulin resistance I've been living with.

This means my basals have to be readjusted.

This also shows just how much a small change in your diet habits can affect your body. I really wasn't eating horrible before, by any stretch. A bit too many snack food items from the vending machine, and a bit higher-fat meals, but all in all, I eat fairly healthy.

Since changing to an even healthier diet in an attempt to lower my LDLs, I now get away with less insulin--at least for my basal rates.

So, I have a challenge for you all. For one week, pay attention to fat. Pay attention to how much fat you eat, and how much of that is saturated or trans. I read just recently that just 5 grams of trans fats a day raises your risk of heart disease by 25%! There are alternatives. Sometimes it means a sacrifice, substituting one food item for another. But in the end, your heart with thank you for it. And in the process, you might just be able to get by with less insulin. At the end of the week, review your results. Tally up the types of fats you eat, and see what has to be done to shift more of the fats you eat to the monounsaturated column, and eliminating as many saturated and trans fats as you can. Good luck!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Virtual Visits

A few days ago, there was a discussion on Backspace about remembering your high school years. Apparently, I'm in the minority of folks who actually has more or less positive things to say about my teen years.

Oh, I had some issues. Like the guy with the locker near mine who would practically have sex with his girlfriend right there, grinding hips, and lip-locking until the bell rings. I was also regularly picked on, verbally, because I was a bit of a geek. But all around, high school was fun. I enjoyed learning, and I enjoyed all the activities I was involved in.

Anyhow, this discussion made me feel a bit nostalgic. Whatever happened to some of my favorite teachers? Are they still teaching? And what about the friends I had back then, but haven't seen since. (Except, perhaps, at our 10-year reunion, which I dutifully attended.)

It's funny how these people who are so important to you then can just disappear from your life. Really, there isn't anyone from my high school days who is a regular part of my life today. There are a few friends I wish it wasn't like that. But time, distance, or obligations make rekindling long-lost friendships impratical at times.

So, I found the website of my old high school (which, of course, is something that wasn't even conceived of back then) and poked around. So much has changed. Many of the names on the staff directory are foreign to me. Even the principal is gone. (I sort of dated the principal's daughter in high school. Okay, okay. Not really. But we were in three separate high school plays together, and in each of them, she played either my wife or my girlfriend. Does that count?)

I e-mailed my homeroom teacher. He was also my Calculus teacher in the eleventh grade, and I worked as a student aid under him in the twelfth grade. I also e-mailed a good friend of mine from bygone days. Ah, yes...memories of my time spent with him are grand. Like our trip to Florida in the ninth grade, where we made complete fools of ourselves in the back of his parent's truck the whole way down. Or the time we choreographed some dance numbers for a Musicale group we were in.

Memory lane is a long road these days, and growing longer every year. But it is fun to take a trip now and again. Even if, for now, it is only a virtual visit.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Love is Blind

This past Sunday, sitting in the second row during our Easter service, I thought about the couple seated next to us.

You see, the lady, Diane, is blind. Not the kind of blind where she's living in the dark...but the kind of blind that allows her to see just enough to get around familiar places and even recognize people. I've actually joked with her that I thought her blindness was an act. One time I was directing a choir rehearsal and there was a marker on the floor. Do you know that five or six people walked in and ignored it entirely before Diane walked in, white and red cane in hand. She stopped to pick it up, I kid you not. The blind lady was the only one who saw it!

Anyhow, what struck me on Sunday about her and her husband wasn't that she was blind. What struck me was how in love and committed to one another they must be. He has lived his life to serve his wife. He has to drive everywhere. He reads to her. Helps her find her way in unfamiliar places. If you really take the time to think about it, it is an amazing burden to bear.

Yet, he bears it, and has for who knows how many years they've been married.

And it makes me wonder why it is people find so many reasons to get divorced. When you stack the obstacles they face in their marriage against the example of Diane and her husband, you have to wonder.

Marriage is supposed to be eternal. Well, at least until death. Oh, I know, many people have legitimate reasons for divorce. Yet, with the divorce rate as high as it is, I doubt that is the case most of the time.

There have been times my wife has admitted she's scared I could leave her some day. Couldn't I find someone prettier or more interesting or something? When she says this, I'm flabberghasted. Leave my wife? I can't imagine it, for any reason. We've been through a lot together. We've faced trials. We've had disagreements. (Though, I always end up being right...of course.) We've been down paths that seem like there is no way back from.

Yet, never once has the thought of leaving my wife entered the picture. It just isn't an option. And it won't ever be an option. For better or worse does not and cannot be conditional. Marriage takes work. Hard work sometimes. But the rewards are tremendous. I love my wife in a way that can never be put to words.

Diane and her husband show how true that is. Love is blind, and love is unconditional. Love is not, as many people presume, simply a feeling.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

The Easter Parade

I hope everyone had a lovely and blessed Easter. I was fortunate enough to have both Friday and Monday off work. But things actually started on Thursday.

A couple years ago, I started a tradition with my children. We would walk through the Easter story in relative real time. It begins, of course, with the Passover meal, where Jesus celebrated his last Passover with his twelve disciples, more commonly known as The Last Supper. So, on Thursday evening, after sundown, I read the story in Exodus about God's establishment of the Passover celebration, and then jumped ahead to the telling of the Last Supper. At this point, my boys and I had grape juice and bread along with Jesus.

For the record, my four-year-old really couldn't have cared less about the story. He was in it for the grape juice, I'm sure of it. But, he sat quietly, listening, in fear of losing out on the juice and having to go to bed if he didn't stay quiet.

Anyhow, throughout the weekend, culminating on Easter Sunday, I read the events that led up to the resurrection.

In addition to this, the weekend was full of other activities. My wife and I watched The Easter Parade with Fred Astaire. You know, this movie is really good. I always forget how good until I watch it again. Songs are great, dancing is great. In fact, I realized in this viewing that the special effects in The Matrix must have been stolen from this movie. There is a really cool scene where good ol' Fred dances in slow motion while the rest of the ensemble is dancing in real time in the background. Impressive effects for a movie made several decades ago.

Let's see, my wife and I had date night, where I learned that Chili's has an absolutely wonderful Guiltless menu of low-fat dinners. (And, in case you're wondering, I ordered from the Guiltless menu because my LDL cholesterol levels were still too high, and so I must eliminate pretty much every source of saturated and trans fats that I can from my diet. No more snacks from the vending machine, I guess.)

And finally, I threw caution to the wind at a friends house on Monday. There were four families there. But, you must understand, he makes the world's best ribs. Incredible, melt-in-your-mouth ribs. I ate plenty, and figured I'll have to start back on my low-fat, low-cholesterol diet again today. It just isn't physically possible to turn down ribs that good!

So, Happy Easter, everyone...belatedly, I know. (And I just realized that this post really isn't all that interesting, is it? Sorry about that. I'll do better next time.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

April Story of the Month

Well, folks, the April Story of the Month is now available on my website. As I mentioned last week, I wrote this story in honor of going to see Les Miserables. Don't worry, you don't have to know anything about the musical nor the book to read the story. Although, do keep in mind, this story really represents what a potential chapter would look like from a novel.

Feel free to comment, negatively or positively, here!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Health Update

I had my endo visit yesterday. I'm officially still alive. That's the good news. The better news is that I'm officially still healthy as well.

The bad news? Well, my A1c went from 6.4 to 6.6. I'm not really complaining, as you can imagine. Only thing left is to find out if I managed to drop my LDL levels, which I should find out tomorrow.

Last time, my endo wanted to stick me on a statin. My LDL was above 100 for the first time. So, what do you do when that happens? Throw someone on a drug. Thing is, I should have expected it. My eating habits had grown considerably less healthy. The fact that I had gained close to 10 lbs. should have been an indicator. So, I told him that I'd rather go back to the healthy eating thing first. He was hesitant, until I pointed out that my LDL rose from something like 87 to 117 in six months. I told him I had been eating a lot of Mickey Ds for breakfast, and pizza slices for lunch (since that is the cheapest food I can get at my work cafeteria).

So, in the past several months, I've cut my intake of pizza and breakfast burritos with hashbrowns dramatically. I also increased my intake of high-fiber cereals, as well as veggies. I could do even more, if necessary. I mean, I haven't eliminate those things entirely. But I would say I'm considerably more moderate about those things, while increasing my healthy eating.

Needless to say, I'm anxious to find out my "score" in the cholesterol arena.

Why the big deal? Well, it turns out that your cholesterol level is a stronger indicator of diabetes-related heart complications than your A1c. You could have an A1c of 5.0, but still end up with a heart attack if you don't keep your LDL levels down.

Oh, and my weight is down, too, which is good. Seems I'm doing the right things. I'll let you know how I faired once the results are in.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Earning a Tony

What do you get when you cross a guy who loves to sing with Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter?

Well, I have no idea, actually. But what I do know is what happens when you cross a guy who loves to sing with a guy who dresses like Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter. Because then you would!

Not that I go around dressing like Steve Irwin everyday or anything. Just on special occasions. Or, rather, on one particular occasion. Because on Sunday evening, the culmination of three months of hard work came together in the musical of a lifetime: The Zoo That Knew!

Never heard of it? No surprise. It is the name of the church musical put on by the four- and five-year-old choir, affectionately known as The Praisemakers. Seven songs, thirty-five minutes, and a custom-written script by a friend of mine, Grant, who has a flare for humor.

I got to help tweak a few bits of the script, and even managed to contribute a couple extra bits of humor. Together, we were like the writers for Everybody Loves Raymond, sitting around coming up with new and innovative ways to make people laugh, while still having a story line holding things together. Although, we never actually sat around together. Nor were any of the jokes new and innovative. And there were only two of us. But aside from that...just like Everybody Loves Raymond.

So where does my love for singing, and Steve Irwin's wardrobe come in? Well, as it turns out...I was the star of the show. And by "the star", I mean the character that has the most lines, but at no point does anyone actually pay attention to me because they are too busy flashing pictures of their kid dressed up as a rhino or an elephant. And if they weren't looking at their kid, they were looking at Henry the Lion. (Not a real lion, mind you. After what happened to Roy of Siegfried and Roy, we thought it best to keep the live man-eating animals where they belong: entertaining the kids in the nursery.)

Henry was a puppet. And I was Zoomaster Bob. Dressed to look like--can you guess?--a zookeeper, which pretty much looks like Steve Irwin. Only, I never got to say, "Croikey!" It just didn't fit my character. I was the straight man, you see. Oh, I got to say two funny lines. One of those lines people actually laughed at.

And, of course, I got to sing. Most of my singing was to help the Praisemakers stay with the music; although, I did manage twelve solo lines, if you can call singing each line for the Praisemakers to echo back "singing a solo".

I suppose most of you never imagined me as a character actor. But I was told by several adoring fans that I just might earn a Tony for my performance.

Then again, these same adoring fans were videotaping close-ups of their children dressed up like caged animals, so I'm not entirely sure if they were the best examples of critical acclaim.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Stiffs At Me Feet

I had this revelation over the weekend. Apparently, people don't just automatically want to read what I write here. You have to earn your audience. And, in fact, you might just lose your audience. I might have done that. Because my post last Friday concerning Les Miserables had an open invitation to share your thoughts. You know how many of you actually responded? No, no...I'm not gonna say it. Check for yourself. If I say it, it is like I'm admitting I'm a loser. I'm not. Really, I'm not.

Still, in case anyone was wondering, the performance was fabulous. Quite possibly the best performance I have ever seen. Okay, I'll admit the boy playing Gavroche wasn't terrific, and I've seen better Eponine's in the past. But as a whole, it was tremendous. And, interestingly, I noticed a few things that I never noticed before. Perhaps that's because in the past I sat too far away to really notice the small details. But did you ever notice that Jean Valjean never actually sells the candlesticks that the Bishop gave him?

The final scene, Jean Valjean lights candles on those very candlesticks. Such a small detail, but very powerful, if you think about it.

And then there is the scene in the sewers where Thenardier is prying the ring from Marius' finger. He sings these words: "And God in his heaven, he don't interfere. 'Cause he's dead, as the stiffs at me feet..."

This is a line that certainly tells of Thenardier's beliefs...but the irony is that the "stiffs at his feet" aren't dead at all. They are very much alive, only he doesn't know it.

I love finding things like this...something that brings new depth and understanding to something you thought you knew backward and forward.

Finally, we have the relationship between Enjolras and Grantaire. If you don't recall, Enjolras is the leader of the students at the barricade. Grantaire is the one who says, "...give me brandy on my breath and I'll breathe them all to death." He is a cynic, and recognizes that this battle is futile, and they'll all end up dead. Yet, he is there.

There is tension between Enjolras and Grantaire. But what was least in this that when Enjolras is waving the flag, and is finally shot and falls, the first one to run up to see if he was still okay...the first one to join him at his side...was Grantaire.

Anyhow, go ahead and share your favorite moments from Les Miz if you want. Because maybe...just maybe...I'm not a loser after all.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Bom Bommmm! (Dum da dummm!) that tune. I'll give you a hint. Those are the opening notes to the most popular musical of all time. Those are also the opening notes to my favorite musical. A musical I've seen several times already, and will be seeing tonight.

Give up? Okay, I'll tell you. Les Miserables. Right now, they are doing their final tour, which means if you don't catch it when it passes through your city, you might not be able to catch it at all. Instead, I suspect the next place you'll be able to see it is at the movie theatre. There have been rumors that they would make this into a movie eventually, much as they just did for The Phantom of the Opera. But obviously while it is still on stage, that wouldn't go over so well.

I'm also one of those few people who has already read the book. Well, a bit of caveat with that. I read almost all of the book. I think I had to give the book back at about the three-quarters point. Still, the story is incredibly influential in many regards, both in the book form and musical form. I find it hard to believe that anyone couldn't find some aspect of the musical that they couldn't connect to. The story is almost 150 years old now, but it is as timeless as ever.

So, in honor of Les Miserables, I invite you to share your favorite scenes or characters here. Who resonates with you, and why?

And I'm going to do something else. For my April Story of the Month, I'm going to post a chapter...or what could potentially become a chapter...from a project I would like to eventually work on. A "reimagining" of Les Miserables, set in a science fiction setting. The goal would be to capture the same sense of hope, despair, love, justice, and forgiveness that the original exudes, but in a whole new world.

I have the scene partially written already, so hopefully within the week I'll have it posted. You may call it heresy, I suppose. I call it a tribute. The trick is to make it sufficiently different, yet true to the form. You be the judge as to whether I can pull it off in any regard.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Little Hand-Holding

When I was about eleven-years-old, my mother rejected me.

We were walking into the grocery store, and I took up my position alongside her and reached to hold her hand. I mean, I always held her hand, so you can quit your laughing. It wasn't like I was a momma's boy or anything. I just wanted to, you know, keep her safe as she crossed the parking lot. So, stop sniggering.

Thing is, my mother decided that she didn't need my help. (Yeah, that's it.) So, she pulled away, and I was forced to walk into Food Town alone. Err, I mean, I had to keep a close eye on her from a distance.

Years later, I came to find out that my mother rejected me not because she didn't enjoy holding the hand of her son, but because she was afraid I would be ridiculed by any friends who might happen to see me. And for that, I'm eternally grateful. Just what I needed: another reason to be picked on.

But, old habits die hard. I'm a hand-holding kind of guy. And I'm not just speaking physically. Throughout the past two years of writing my novel, I've depended on a lot of hand-holding, particularly from the fabulous folks at the on-line writer's forums: Backspace. From learning the craft of writing, to the business of getting published, they've kindly walked alongside me the whole way.

And as far as I've come, I'm not ready to let go, yet. But in many other areas of my life, there were key moments when I remember forcing myself to let go.

In college, I worked for the University of Michigan's Computer Aided Engineering Network (CAEN, as well called it) in Unix software support, among other roles. There was this guy I worked absolutely genius when it came to anything related to programming or computers in general. And that's not an exaggeration. A genius.

Anyhow, I had the privilege of working with him for a few years. But during that time, I tended to rely on him for answers. I ran into something that I didn't know, all I had to do was lean over and ask him. Nevermind I had spent two hours trying to figure it out on my own. In a matter of seconds, he would say, "Well, did you try this?"

Uh, yeah. That was next on my list of things to try. Not!

And so, I formed a symbiotic relationship with him. Okay, okay. I admit. I was a leech, and he was my gracious host. But there came a point where I decided enough was enough. I needed to know how to find these answers on my own. So, I pried my hand from his (allegorically speaking, of course) and faced the world on my own.

Some might say I'm smart for my hand-holding. I've heard it said that in order to become successful, you have to hang around other people who are successful. And while that might not be universal truth, I think there is definitely truth to it. I've accomplished so much in my life, but it is only because of the willingness of others to hold my hand...and in some cases, where they lacked the willingness, I held on anyhow.

So, to everyone who has ever held my hand along the way in my life, I now publically thank you.

And, Mom? Thanks for rejecting me.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Loss of Something Important (To Me)

On Saturday, it was a nice day here in Michigan. Overcast and near 60F. (Well, that's nice for this time of year.) I dressed the part, and put on jeans and a T-shirt. And not just any T-shirt. My favorite T-shirt.

I'm guessing this is a guy thing, based on my experience. But we tend to cling to certain clothes until...well...someone makes us get rid of them. For example, as long as there are no holes in our underwear in certain key places, there's no point in replacing them. One of my brothers held on to this yellow T-shirt for about ten years past it's prime. You could literally count his chest hairs through it. (Okay, not really, since, unlike myself, his chest is as hairy as a Grizzly. I, on the other hand, have, at last count, a grand total of five hairs on my chest.)

So, I have this T-shirt. And, unlike the yellow onion-skin my brother wore, mine is in very good shape. In fact, it really looks almost new. Which is exactly why I love the shirt so much. It is in great condition, and extraordinarily comfortable to wear.

But as I was driving down the highway with my family in tow, my wife politely informs me that I'm not allowed to wear my favorite T-shirt anymore.

"Why?" I asked. "Is it the collar?"

I guess I should explain that this shirt doesn't actually have a collar. I'm talking about the little circle of material that the head goes through. On this particular T-shirt, there is this almost Aztec looking pattern weaved into the material.

My wife laughed, but I wasn't sure if she was laughing at me, or my collar.


"Honey, that shirt is so eighties it's ridiculous."

Now, right there, I knew she was wrong. After all, I didn't buy the shirt until I was in college. Probably 1992. So, she was wrong at the get-go. But I knew better than to argue the point. Because, despite being off by a decade, the fact remained, my T-shirt is fourteen years old.

I wasn't going to concede so easily, however.

"What do you mean? It has stripes! Stripes never go out of style!"

She laughed again, and at this point I was pretty sure she was laughing at me, not my collar.

"Yes, you're right. Stripes never go out of style. I'll give you that."

But she had made her point, and it made me sad. This T-shirt was important to me. Nevermind it has vibrant shades of a color somewhere between purple, red, and pink. (Striped, of course.) And an Aztek collar. But it was cool looking, once upon a time. Really, it was. And it's lived a long and properous life.

And as we continued to drive, I settled in to the fact that she was right. She's always right, which is altogether annoying at times. (Like when she insists we're supposed to turn left, and I say we have to turn right, and so I turn right only to discover a couple miles later that we should have turned left. Not that such a thing ever happens. Eh-hem.)

So, my favorite T-shirt will be relegated to housework duty. You know, things like painting, or perhaps...well, no. Pretty much just painting. But that seems almost mean. My T-shirt deserves better. And, as the Purple Heart is coming by to pick up donations in a couple weeks, I suppose it deserves a new home.

Now, if you'll excuse me. I have to mourn the loss of something important...