National Disappearing Days From The Calendar Month

novemberSeriously, I’m not entirely sure who’s been feeding amphetamines to Time itself, but the calendar is whipping through days at a ridiculous pace. I mean, waaaaay too fast.  Faster than a over-stimulated toddler after a full bowl of Sugar-O’s, running stern to bow on a Federation starship screeching through the vastness of space at Warp 9+.

Which, I guess, isn’t physically possible, technically, but I’ll leave that for the Einsteins of the world to work out.

The point is, it was, like, two days ago that I was trudging along behind a cluster of overly-stimulated (I sense a theme here), costumed kids of varying ages as they made their way through our neighborhood, trick-or-treating for Halloween.  And by “two days”, I apparently meant three weeks.

How in name of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice it somehow got to the 21st day in November, I’ll never know.

Personally, I suspect Gremlins are involved. You know, those pesky Time Gremlins? The ones that mess with the linear order of space-time? I’m pretty sure they’re how you end up with things like the Nicholas Cage/Tim Burton Superman movie. Plus also, Lawn Darts.

Time Gremlins or no, it’s still the 21st of November.  As you are probably aware, November is the most heaped-upon month of the entire year. Everyone seems to have some kind of month-long thing in November. In fact, my Aunt Edina just sent posted to Facebook today that National Pie Recipe Perfecting Month is drawing to a close, and everybody better get their recipes in for judging or that awful, nosy Nelly Lamston is going to win again with another stupid variation on her grandmother’s bland-ass apple pie.

Okay, so there’s not really any Edina in my life, aunt or otherwise, and I don’t think there’s such a thing as “National Pie Recipe Perfecting Month”. Then again, there’s such a thing as a McRib and I wouldn’t have believe that either, so who knows?  The point is, as if Thanksgiving wasn’t enough already for one month, Election Day in the US is in November, it’s NaNoWriMo, Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, Epilepsy Awareness Month, National Pomegranate Month, and Movember, which is apparently a thing where you try to rock a porn ‘stache to heighten awareness for men’s health issues, I think. Although I’m not sure how well that “awareness” thing is working out because while I’d heard of Movember before, I had no idea it was supposed to be making me more aware of my health.

For the record, it does, however, do a pretty good job of reminding me how devilishly bearded and handsome I am.

Facial hair aside, my problem now is that I had intended to spend this month doing a daily post about a thing for which I’m thankful. As usual, though, contrary to my good intentions—which are undoubtedly being laid, brick-by-brick, in a road intended to lead me directly to the NetherAbyss of cold, darkness where’s there neither pizza nor coffee, which is my take on “eternal agony”—I sort of, well, forgot about the whole thing.

I am thus faced with a Serious Decision™: do I [A] chuck the whole thing and move on? Perhaps concentrate on finishing the short story I’m tinkering with now, or [B] post a (potentially tongue-in-cheek) bulleted list of 21 Things I’m Thankful For for purposes of catching up, thereby clearing the way for me to finish out this month following the theme?

Normally I’d just flip a coin, but since it’s the month of Election Day here in the US, why not do this democratically? Here’s your chance to tell me what to do, puddintopians. Take the poll and thus command me! You have until midnight PDT to make your voice heard.


The Cold Season

It’s November and the mercury says it’s 30° around these parts.

Which suddenly makes me wonder if two generations from now people will have to goog (no one will say both syllables of the word ”Google” a century from now, don’t be ludicrous you heathen monster!) what the planet Mercury has to do with the temperature here on Earth. Obviously, no one living will remember a time when thermometers were actually filled with the element mercury, which, by the way, is less good for human animals than rolling up a McRib in a gas station pizza (a McRib Calzone!) and scarfing the Rib-Zonie up between jolts of Doritos Mt. Dew. In fact, I’ve got $50 bucks (roughly the price of a short latte in 2115) that says most people familiar with that “old saying” about mercury and the temperature will think it has something to do with Mercury, the planet, being closest to the sun. Or maybe that Earth will be so much like Mercury after another 100 years of unabated global climate change we’ll all be headed to Michigan in January to cool off.

Wait. Did just reference the McRib, global warming, and mercury in the same paragraph? Yikes. I’ll take my pills tomorrow, I swear.

Anyway, so it’s getting colder now. We’ve had our pleasant, contractually obligatory, soul-crushingly-short Annual Two Weeks of Autumn, so now it’s apparently time for The Dread Balls Of Old Man Winter to crush us all with frozen Polar Vortexy suffering.

But! Before we get there, first we have to deal with the colds.  Because, yes, when you have children attending educational institutions daily with hundreds of other breathing, sweating, gooey human beings, the change in seasons invariably means the passing of tiny virulent life forms from one person to another. In other words, the kids are literally giving each other the cooties.

Our oldest pair has been struck so far this week.  Oldest Son was home from school yesterday and Middle Son today. I can’t really complain, though, because at their ages (almost 12 and not quite 11, respectively), things are a lot different than when they were 7 and 6 and attending 1st grade and kindergarten.  Man, when you’ve got kids in the first couple of grades, you just have to grit your teeth and accept that fact that they’re going to come home at some point in the first few weeks of a new school year with a cold that will transform them from adorable, tiny progeny to a 24-hour, sleep schedule-wrecking, snot fabrication and distribution machine.

The reason that happens, though, is mostly our fault as parents.  Because up until that point, you and/or your loving, parentally-devoted spouse/partner have diligently tended to the care and protection of your sweet little child(ren) with the zeal of an evangelist minister, making certain they never have unclean hands or feet that might track in dirt or—elder gods forbid—GERMS into your immaculately sanitized home. I mean, sure, when you live with one or more preschoolers, you mostly resign yourself to having toys strewn about the place like rusted, forgotten mufflers at a junkyard. But by The Seven Dragons Of Virtue, your adorable child shall NOT be exposed to the evils of modern bacterial incursion!

In other words, before kindergarten, you can successfully prevent your kids from putting the shoes you wore into the bathroom of that truck stop into their mouths, and you bathe them in anti-bacterial gel as if it’s some kind of ritualistic anointing.

But then they ride their first yellow bus and everything changes while you’re snapping up memories with your DSLR.

Once they head off to school, you’ve lost all control. Those pristine cherubs, who were once pure and unsullied by outside entities and whose immune systems routinely took entire months off to head to St. Thomas for some deep sea fishing, are suddenly besieged by foreign, malevolent agents like an horde of Homer Simpsons one million strong bellying up to a Cici’s Pizza. And in all likelihood, it’s because your darling child chose to spend mid-morning snack time idly licking a crayon little Belinda Murphy had jammed up her prodigiously running nose an hour earlier during carpet time.

My point here? Well, mostly just that my hands are cold. And I guess that means that winter is coming, which has already meant some sick time for the young ‘uns and will likely lead to more.  But having an under-the-weather 12 year-old capable of making his/her own beverages and setting themselves up on the couch with a heap of blankets, a stack of pillows, and Netflix* is a world away from having a miserable six year-old whose only crime is that his immune system, when faced with a new crowd of school kids, looks Lucy at the chocolate factory trying to fend off germs because it’s been sheltered by well-intentioned, overprotective parents for five long years.

Good luck, then, fellow parents, as cold season is upon us. And if you’ve got some preschoolers at home? I can’t recommend enough letting them eat a little dust and dirt now and then.

Trust me, you’ll thank me when they get to Belinda Murphy and The Crayon Contagion.


*I’ve got a whole rant about how the whippersnappers these days have it sooo easy with the easy access to Netflix during sick time. But that’s a different post.

A Haiku For One Week of Standard Time

Lights on driving home
Day feels done before dinner.
Suck it, Standard Time

As you can see, I’m not a huge fan of the whole fall/winter Standard Time business. If you ask me, we should stick to Savings Time year round.  I’m mean, sure, it’s dark in the mornings then, but AM darkness makes me feel like I’m getting a jump on the day. Which is good, because as we all know, I actually get an early morning start about as often cats enjoy a nice, hot bath. Evening darkness, on the other hand, is sort of depressing.  Seeing headlights on the way home means it’s almost bedtime, and bedtime makes me think I’m going to miss something exciting.

[Author’s Note: I never miss anything exciting. I’m a middle aged guy with 4 kids. Excitement doesn’t even drive through my zip code]

Oh well, no use shaking my fist at the entirely too apparent 6 PM constellations.

One more quick thing before I release you for weekend shenanigans. It’s November again, which means it’s time for authors around the world to sequester themselves away from friends, family, pets, and most of their regular responsibilities (where possible), for National Novel Writing Month. I’m a fan of this nonsense, even though I never expected to be, mostly because I’ve trudged though NaNoWriMo twice now, and actually have books to show for it.

I’ve probably mentioned this before, too, but NaNo is especially well-suited for authors of Middle Grade works. Rather than just leave it at that, though, I actually went into some detail about it today, in a post over on the Middle Grade Minded blog.  So, if you’ve got any curiosity for how NaNoWriMo and MG go together just like chocolate and peanut butter—or you just like to see if I misused there, their, or they’re over there—click on over to the post and check it out.

In the meantime, I’ve got some weekending to get to, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.


Have a weekend yourselves! Try not to set the place on fire.


It’s Election Day In The U.S. of A.

Hey, Hi! So, I finished the first draft of Project Hermey late last week, and then there was Halloween and assorted other weekend activities and, well, my brain is effectively tapioca when it comes to the fabrication of words up and stringing them together. At least, that is, if I want to be putting them into structured groups that in any way, shape, or form don’t seem reminiscent of a chimpanzee directing a room full of toddlers to build sentences with stackable letter blocks.

But! It’s an important day in the United States. It’s the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, which means it’s Election Day! 

I know that’s an important day because my kids are off school.

Of course, that most vital aspect about election day here in the US is obviously the sticker collecting (duh).  Pretty much everywhere and anywhere, if you go to the polls and cast your ballot, and you get a sticker.  See? Here’s me, proudly wearing mine:


So, what does your sticker look like? I think we need to Collect ‘em All!

Wait, no, no, I don’t mean to go vote in all the places.  That’s impractical.  And also terribly, terribly illegal.  What I mean is that we need to collect all the “I Voted” pictures. So if you’ve got one, post a picture of someplace and link it in a comment. Or post it in a comment. Or tag me in a facebook image or instagram shot or twitter pic or stick it to your fence in the backyard and write my name under it!


But let’s see ‘em.  Because stickers = votes. And votes means we might actually even give a damn.

And when you actually kind of give a damn? Well, that’s the first step to getting stuff that’s broken fixed.


How To Ruin A Six Year-Old’s Birthday Party





When I woke up Sunday morning, I found myself staring into a box that surely signified misery, anguish, and doom.

The Attitude’s 6th Birthday party was just over three hours away, and in the windowed, white bakery box that not eight hours earlier had held his finished, decorated, homemade Pac-Man/Jack o’ Lantern hybrid cake (complete with fleeing Ghost!), I gazed down upon a spongy, crevassed  ruin that represented a parent’s nightmare.

When I went to bed Saturday night, the Pac o’ Lantern cakes looked like this:


But, morning brought disaster (as is usually the case, because morning is a terrible time for anyone):


Upon witnessing our loss, as I’m sure you can imagine, we spent the next half hour wailing like orphaned children while hugging our knees and rocking in place.

We had failed at the most basic of Modern Parental Tests: The Themed Birthday Party with the Handcrafted Cake.

In retrospect, I can’t imagine how or why we were so foolish. We should have hired armed guards to protect the cakes on pain of death for the handful of hours that we slept. And, why, in the name of the Four Fiery Dragons Of Parental Judgment, did we not think to trade a pound of butter and a soul or two (I mean, the family has six altogether…surely we could spare one) for the occult bakery blessings of Madame Pettifor, the Dark Priestess of Crafted Party Sweets. Surely for the right price she would have granted us safe passage through the dangerous night, when vengeful, mouth-less spirits apparently roam the mortal plane in search of bakery goods to demolish.

But we didn’t, and instead we paid the price for our arrogance.

And the worst part?

The worst part would not even be the inevitable, unceasing shame that would burn us from pancreas to medulla as our families looked down in anger and disappointment upon our abject failure.  No, the worst part would be hiding.  The Lies by Omission. The inability to post pictures of the party’s icing-enriched success to Facebook and Instagram for all our followers to Heart or Like or celebrate in joyful wonder.

Instead, pictures of cake would be conspicuously absent from our Sunday feeds. A void that was certain to be noticed, called out, and mocked by all the Skilled, Perfect Parents of American Social Media Society.

Mighty confectionary gods, we were going to have to delete our Pinterest accounts, the modern day equivalent of racing out of town at midnight with an angry, buttercream-frenzied mobs on our heels. And only If we were lucky, could we maybe, in a few months after the event had blown over and terabytes of holiday pictures had been pinned to an endless whirlwind of Other People’s boards, might we create new users and begin rebuilding our online reputations.

The anguish—the struggle—that morning was very real.

Well, that is until we decided to remake the cakes before the party.

And hours later, The Attitude, unfazed by any of it, enjoyed the frosting from a cupcake and then immediately began wondering when he could start opening his presents. Because he’s six. And whether or not a cake is perfect means about the same to him as whether or not tax day is coming up.

In the end, he couldn’t have cared less just as long as he had a candle to blow and and got a little icing.


Which brings us to today’s question: how do you ruin a six year-old’s birthday party?

Duh. You can’t. At least, not as long as you try to give them something.

And I’m thinking maybe there’s a lesson in there about parenting as a whole.

Now then, who wants a piece of cake? I think we have some extra.


A Movie In 100 Words Or Less: Live Die Repeat: Edge Of Tomorrow

EdgeOfTomorrowBelieve it or not, I apparently haven’t written one of the tired and tried “A Movie In 100 Words Or Less” posts since way back in March. On March 25, I offered my (wildly complimentary) thoughts on The Lego Movie. But I suppose when I wrote that post voicing concerns about my approach to evaluating movies (which was triggered by the DVD release of Man of Steel), I sort of decided maybe I wouldn’t do it any more after that.

I mean, I did do it again after that when I gave you 100 words about The Lego Movie, but I guess I only got my nerve back for a Very Special, One Post Appearance!

Here’s the thing, though: I realized last week I genuinely miss writing those 100-words movies posts. Much as I genuinely miss mid-afternoon weekday naps, spontaneous road trips, and having friends willing to sit at the bar until the end of each week’s Monday Night Football game, Tuesday’s early morning alarm clock be damned.

Unfortunately, at 40+, the Tuesday morning alarm clock is likely always going to carry more weight than Green Bay vs. Tampa, weekday naps are a non-starter, and spontaneous anything is right out, lest you expand the meaning of spontaneous to mean “a minimum of 24 hours of notice so that responsible child care can be retained”.

That does not, however, leave me hopeless. I can still bring back A Movie In 100 Words or Less.

So let’s do it. One night last week I stayed up too late watching Edge of Tomorrow. Or is it Live Die Repeat? Or Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow? Screw it, I don’t know what to call the thing. What I do know is that I’m not going to call it Shirley.

And I am going to tell you what I thought of it, in 100 words or less.

Live Die Repeat: Edge Of Tomorrow

I’d read somewhere that Edge of Tomorrow was effectively the sci-fi intersection of Independence Day and Groundhog Day. It IS that, but so much more, too. It’s an extremely well-written science fiction action movie with a hint of humor that didn’t get anywhere near its due in support from the studio (see: pre-DVD release title change). It’s an amazing ride that keeps you riveted until the very last shot, and more importantly, provides realistic motivation for a reluctant protagonist in a harrowing situation. If you genre at all, you definitely should see it. Heck, I’d watch it again tonight.

So, hey, here’s to the movie no one knows what to call. In fact, I guess I’ll just go with Tom Cruise and The Missing Commas of Title Punctuation.

I mean, seriously, “Live Die Repeat”? At least go with “Live, Die, Repeat.” or “Live. Die. Repeat.” Something. But this nothing? It makes my eyes itch.

But whatever, itchy eyes or not, at least I’ve got my 100-word movie reviews back.

With a little luck this will start a brand of new series of Review. Post. Repeat, for the days and months to come.


Fourteen Years Later

She was folding my shirts all wrong. Instead of folding both sleeves back and then folding the shirt in half at the torso, she halved the thing longways like folding a paper airplane.  And it wasn’t just my shirts, either. She folded my pants all wacky, too, not along the creases in the legs.  Hell, I even took exception to the way she balled up my socks. Didn’t she know that when you ball them up, it stretches out the top so eventually the sock won’t hold on anymore and just slinks down your ankle, limp, useless, and irritating like a lasagna noodle?

Fourteen years ago, when the Puddinette and I were but wide-eyed, rosy-cheeked newlyweds, the method of her folding my clothes sticks in my mind as one of the first times I got really irked with my new bride.

Not surprisingly, this led to a, um, verbal expression of our joint displeasure at that moment. Because having ridiculous arguments about laundry is the kind of thing you do in the first of your marriage.

Well, if you’re lucky.

Of course, in retrospect, from a guy who had spent the previous five years of his life taking clean socks out of the dryer on a weekly basis because actually folding the laundry was not a task he often deigned to set aside time for, complaining about his new wife’s folding customs seems a little…gigantically jerkface?

Actually, I can think of twenty different expressions to describe the arrogance in action there, but most of them I wouldn’t use around my kids, so I suppose I probably shouldn’t post them here either.

That’s not to say I was the only one with the occasionally irrational expectation when it came to learning to live together. It probably wasn’t more than a week or two of the Puddinette and I sharing a home before she threaten to claw my eyes out with a ice cream scoop and a dirty garden trowel if I didn’t close the lid on my contact solution bottle. Apparently, just knowing the bottle of solution was typically left sitting on the counter with the pop top open and mocking her was enough to bring a red tinge haze of murderous intent to her eyes.

Never mind that not once in the history of all mankind has a life or home been endangered or otherwise harmed by an open bottle of contact lens solution.

Sometimes we all just need the bottles closed and the creases in our pants to line up.

Today, fourteen years to the day since she and I promised to take care of each other for all the days of our lives, I make sure to snap the bottle shut every time I use it. And while she still folds everyone else’s laundry her way, she pins the sleeves of my shirts back and folds them over at the torso. My pants get hung up with the creases just where they should be, all lined up like soldiers.

Now, there will be people who read that and cluck their tongues and shake their heads. “Changing yourself is no way to be married. You got to be true to you first, before you can be good for anybody else. He should just fold is own damned pants.”

I would not disagree. But see, making sure that the cap of the contact lens bottle is snapped shut isn’t exactly what I’d consider changing myself.  Marriage—at least, a successful one—doesn’t mean rerouting your internal wiring to please another person. Because, yes, that way lies madness. Possibly ruin. Also, yoga pants, due to the consumption of excessive numbers of Oreo Double Stufs, because, hey, the Oreos will always love you for who and what you are.

Oreos never judge. Even for the yoga pants.

What it is, though, is an intentional effort to see the world through someone else’s eyes when going through your day-to-day. Have I become a “neat” and/or “clean” person? Sweets drops of kryptonite soup, no. As I’m constantly reminded, if left to my own (pathetically slothful) devices, I’d probably wallow in a dumphole of my own filth for weeks before the EPA sent a hazmat-swaddled team out to assess environmental damage and force a clean up operation.

But I do try to cap bottles when I find them open. And because I attempt to see the family room as the Puddinette will see it every morning when she gets up, I do what I can to straighten it enough that there’s no visible evidence of Hurricane Family. Am I always successful? Nope. No more than she always succeeds in putting the tupperware away the way I like it, stacked symmetrically and stored at right angles (because if it’s not a right angle it’s a wrong angle).

We do our best at these things for each other not because we’re trying to be someone else, but because marriage, real marriage—the kind you have to work at a little—means making one life out of two personalities. And, sure, we fail on occasion, since it’s like seeing the world through a lens. Sometimes lenses just don’t do the job well enough (or we forget to put them on at all).

But it’s the trying the counts. The intention that proves there’s more to the life together than just the sum of your two respective parts.

As I’ve said before, and again, and even again,  on this day, on our fourteenth anniversary, I’m the luckiest guy alive. I’m blessed to have the Puddinette, a wife who somehow manages to tolerate the snoring, the stinky, the maturity of a thirteen year-old (at best), the overall buffoonery, and the utter, total, complete inability to ever get something truly clean.

I may never make things perfect, but I will always try to make you happy, to put a smile on your face. Because you put on my mine, and returning it only seems fair.

Happy anniversary, Querida. Te amo con todo mi corazon. Te amo mas que tango las palabras.


It’s Alive! ALIVE! (My First Post For Middle Grade Minded)

mgmindedRemember when I said I had a new gig thing happening that I was all excited about? That I was all geeking out and exuberant to be writing occasional posts over at Middle Grade Minded, which—as an added bonues—might hopefully mean not boring you lovely readers so frequently with the insurance-seminar-dull details of what’s bugging me about my latest work in progress?

Surely, you remember it? Oh, here, to refresh your memory, the post about it is right here.

Anyway…SO! My number came up in the rotation o’ bloggers at Middle Grade Minded this week, meaning that it was finally time to share a thimbleful of my thoughts (it’s all I can spare) on writing for middle graders.  Traditionally, one’s first post for MGMinded is an examination of “Why I Write Middle Grade”.  And well, I’m not one to buck tradition.

Okay, except for that one custom of eating buffalo wings with ranch or blue cheese. Why would anyone ruin a perfectly good, perfectly spicy fried chicken wing with thick, creamy ick? Oh, also, the tradition of hanging heavy things overhead for “good luck”.  Someone with questionable skills with weapons of mass destruction hand tools should probably not be hanging concussion-inducing iron horseshoes overhead.

I assure you, that’s not going to result in good luck for anybody.

The cranial traumatizing effects of gravity when occurring in conjunction with poor workmanship aside, the good news is that I think Middle Grade Minded’s tradition of starting with a “Why I Write Middle Grade” post makes a ton of sense. I was delighted, then, to follow along. And that’s exactly what I did for my first MGMinded post, which just went live this morning. If you’re the bookish type or a writerly type, why not skip on over there and check it out?

Don’t worry, we’ll be here when you get back.

Probably still complaining about ranch dressing while side-eyeing that hammer.

Have a great weekend! And, uh, don’t set the place on fire.


Help With My Fruit of Advancing Years

I have a problem.

Well, actually, I have many problems. I have a problem getting to bed at a decent hour like normal people. I have a problem with my current manuscript-in-progress, Project Hermey. I have a problem with ranch dressing. I have a problem with the sheer number of uneaten M&Ms in existence at any given moment in time. I have a problem with the McRib.

But none of these are important problems at the moment.

My bananas, on the other hand, are becoming damn near critical. Yes, my bananas. No, that’s not a euphemism. I’m talking about the fruit. The yellow ones that grow on trees and come in bunches?

Look, here are my bananas.


No, no, these aren’t the problematic bananas. I put the picture of those hideous things in the link before these shiny, new bananas. The others, though? Well, see, they’re old. Like, “dinosaurs make fun of them” old. The sight of them, well, maybe they aren’t for the weak stomached. You shouldn’t let children see them, probably.

Now, if you did look at the link of the Old Bananas, you know what I’m talking about. You could probably tell that they’re hella old because you’re not a toddler, and like most other non-toddlers, you undoubtedly recognized that bananas as brown as these are several decades beyond their prime. In fact, you likely recognized that the bananas in question are even older than your 2nd grade homeroom teacher, Mrs. Watley, whose first name had to have been an old-timey one like Agatha or Eleanor, but no one really knew because lunchroom gossip was that she would unhinge her jaw and consume whole any child who learned her first name, like a snake from ancient legend.

How you survived 2nd grade to recognize old, brown-spotted bananas is still something of a miracle.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I have a cluster of old, brown-tinted bananas. This is especially a problem because at the moment some nefarious government agency is going to use ultra-classified snooping technology to pinpoint the location of my extremely decrepit bananas. At which point we’ll surely get a visit from Men in Dark Suits who have no verifiable credentials because they don’t exist in any system, anywhere, at all. And these Ghost Agent People will confiscate my  geriatric bananas, thus robbing me of their $2 value and pretty much ruining all my hopes of retiring to Bali next year*.

Which brings me to my proposed solution….which, you know, is SO revolutionary it’ll Blow. Your. Freaking. Minds.


Better sit down.

Here it Comes…

Continue reading

Dear Amtrak, About Those Writing Residences

Dear Amtrak,

The hazy, self-loathing, liquor-soaked writers of the world straightened in their seat slightly, closed their twitter window, washed their faces, shaved whatever parts needed shaving, and—begrudgingly, I admit—put on a pair pants earlier this year when you announced the opportunity to let a small number of wordslingers take part in a free residency program on some of your more scenic train routes across America.

For a time afterward, you basked in the glow of marvelous PR as beleaguered writers, desperate for a chance to escape the shackles of everyday distraction, salivated over All The Work They Could Accomplish while steaming* across this great nation.  Such an opportunity could mean finally stamping a big chunk of accomplishment all over that stagnant novel-in-progress that always somehow seems to come in last place in the Great American Modern Priority Contest behind such key tasks as “feeding the kids”, “going to work”, “doing laundry”, “avoiding phone calls from the in-laws”, “binge watching old seasons of Big Brother on Netflix”, and even “staring at pictures of feet on tumblr”.

So, yeah, this whole idea for writers was a Pretty Big Deal.

Admittedly, not all of us applied for the chance to escape our daily commitments on a 5-day trip to San Francisco so we could finally hammer out the last few chapters of our “amphibians in space meets buddy heist” novel. You know, like Ocean’s Eleven but with multi-armed Frog People? It’s awesome, trust me. The point, though, is that even though I didn’t apply for your fancy program, I’m betting a significant number of writers did.  Like, probably enough that you couldn’t count them all. You probably started to count them but then Eddie from the mail room always interrupted you right around application number 62,564,987, to drop off that catalog from Office Depot and tell you about how he caught a striper bigger than a wheel barrow over the weekend, never mind that fact that you haven’t ever been fishing (since you’re a train company and all) and wouldn’t know a striper from a Clown Fish named Marlon.

No, no, that’s “striper”. Not “stripper”.  Very different things. One’s a kind of fish, I think. Maybe with a stripe?  The other is…well, you know what the other is.

At any rate, even though I didn’t apply, I was very interested to see who did earn the prestigious Writer In Residence opportunity, since we all know you got more applications than you could probably shove onboard the 8:25 from New York to Yuma.  And earlier this week, you finally announce the 24 lucky, lucky devils who won them.

I have to say, Amtrak, it’s a solid list. Well, I mean, it seems like a solid list. I don’t actually know any of the writers on it any better than I know your sweet, blue-haired grandmother.  But, still, these people all seem like bona fide writers who are capable of doing some real, quality work being writers while riding.

It’s just. Well, they seem a little too bona fide, if you ask me. Admittedly, I understand that you really, really needed to make sure the scribes you picked would be doing actual work on your magic free train rides, because the last thing you need is some poser type who just wanted a free trip to New Mexico and a 18-hour engagement in the bar car, if you know what I’m saying. 

Still, though, the bio’s from your list of winners make them all sound like pretty accomplished professionals.

Which brings me to my big question: would it have killed you to take a chance on just one struggling, working slob, the parent of one or three or n kids or maybe zero offspring but with one ungodly needy Chihuahua? Someone with a trunk full of practice novels and an even bigger load of personal baggage, but a deep, driving aspiration to succeed and a manuscript that’s smart and fresh and just this close but needs a little dedicated time and attention away from the unending demands for TPS reports, a fresh band aid, or more macaroni and cheese?

In summary, Amtrak, I guess what I’m saying is that, wow, you picked yourself a fine crop of writers to work while coasting across America. They seem polished and accomplished and successful. And I totally get why you picked them. But would it have killed you to pick one—just one—writer from your endless heap of applications whose bio was more like:

Brenda McCayhee is a Nebraska mother of two whose last published work appeared on her refrigerator in the form of a grocery list.  She spends her days struggling to remember what adulthood feels like while wrangling twin toddlers and trying to cling to whatever paper-thin shreds of her sanity remain intact amid a house full of laundry and Nick Jr. cartoons. Every free moment (when she’s not exhausted), she pours her heart and soul into capturing the stories of adventure and intrigue that fill her imagination. Usually with wine. She’ll be spending her Amtrak writing residency basking in the glow of having multiple consecutive hours to work on her upcoming novel without interruptions for apple juice or phone calls from her mother asking for the 3742nd time if she’s ready to give up this writing nonsense and focus on being a good wife.

Anyway, that’s what I was hoping for, Amtrak, just one of those on your list of 24.  Because I know plenty of writers with fewer shiny credentials but a pretty intense need for a handful of hours to work.

Maybe keep that in mind the next time around?


*Yeah, okay, trains don’t “steam” anywhere nowadays. Screw you, I still like it as a verb.