Sunday, November 28, 2010

Annual Turkey Day Post

So here we are again. Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. Every year, I post what I am thankful for. The list really hasn't changed, so I am going to try a different format this year. Lately I have been writing some notes on a book project I want to write for my children. The book is tentatively titled, Things Daddy Has Learned. One of the things I am thankful for is knowledge, and each day I learn something new.

However, I have learned a lot, and I thought I would pontificate a bit on what I have learned right here on my blog. Enjoy!
  • As often as you can, watch the sun rise and set.
  • Relish the first sip of coffee in the morning. Close your eyes, sip, and feel it go through your body.
  • People will always disappoint you. Even if they don't mean to.
  • Cherish the small things. Celebrate them.
  • You don't have to be perfect. You just have be you.
  • Say what you mean and mean what you say. When necessary, use words.
  • Do what you love, and get paid for it.
  • Listen to the birds chirping. They are serenading you. 
  • Always, always, always tip your servers. They depend on it.
  • Learn a new word every day.
  • Surround yourself with people who make you feel inferior. Then become better than them.
  • Take excellent care of your teeth.
  • Exercise. Start a plan and never stop.
  • Give jazz a try. Live jazz is a good way to start.
  • People in bars are nicer than people in church. 
  • Cry when you need to. 
  • Laugh. Out loud. A lot.
  • Be open-minded, but not so much that your brain falls out.
  • People, including you, make decisions based upon what they know. Increase your knowledge all the time so that you can make excellent decisions.
  • Take the time to know yourself.
  • Try new things. Don't be afraid.
  • Take risks, but only for yourself and no one else.
  • After you have been mentored, mentor someone.
  • Expect nothing from anyone, and give of yourself to everyone.
Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Updating the blogosphere

Wow. I haven't posted in quite awhile. Not like me. Much has been happening. Here is the proverbial rundown:
  • Tracy and I have separated. It was a mutual decision, albeit an unhappy one. We both believe it's for the best. Not sure what else to say, other than that it has been a long time coming.
  • I have moved into my own place. The bachelor pad is getting settled nicely. Room for me and my kids, plus Lilly and Sunshine. It is an adjustment, but it has been nice.
  • I have a publisher in Oklahoma that is very interested in my novel. It is far from finished, so I am trying to ease back into writing mode. Gotta finish the dang thing either way. Nevertheless, it is an awesome feeling to have received my very first publishing contract.
  • Midlands Tech teaching is going great. I will be teaching again in the Spring and I am very excited about that. Now I have no date for the Christmas party. May take my daughters.
  • The Freelance writing is slow going, but going. I have picked up another local publication and Columbia Metropolitan is going to let me write some pieces for them in 2011.
  • Work at Jamestown Coffee can hardly be called work. I am having the time of my life. 
  • I have taken up tennis. It is great. Much safer than wrestling, and I am starting to get my game back. Although if I could just have one more match...
  • Class is gearing up for me again next Monday. Taking a seminar in poetry. I have been looking forward to this class. There is the heart of a poet in me somewhere.
Other than that, not much has been happening. HAHA! 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Don't Stop the Music

My first introduction to "Contemporary Christian Music" came in 1982 by way of two duos, "Farrell and Farrell" and "DeGarmo and Key." I liked the Farrells, and I liked D&K too, but I didn't love them. D&K did have some cutting edge, blatantly Jesus-centered music. It wasn't until 1988 at Heritage USA that I saw what all the fuss was about. When DeGarmo and Key took the stage, they rocked, and I mean the totally rocked. Then Dana Key showed that he was clearly the brains and balls of this duo. He spoke and I hung on every word. I was hooked on D&K after that.

That summer, my pal Jay and I followed D&K like a couple of groupies. We followed them from SC to Atlanta Fest 88, where they rocked the house big time. Then to Augusta, GA, and even though it was a smaller crowd, they held nothing back.

What I really loved about DeGarmo and Key wasn't just their Memphis style blues and rock & roll sound. They were genuine ambassadors of Christ. Not like the CCM artists of today. They offered Bible studies and free tapes and they interacted with the audience after each show. That is, AFTER they took time to counsel those who came forward during the invitation. Going to a D&K concert was like going to a church with the coolest pastor and the best music.

When I ventured out in 1988-89 with my own music evangelism ministry, I so totally tried to model myself after Dana Key. If I were going to be a rocker/preacher type, he embodied how it would look in my mind. I actually got to meet him once, only for a few seconds. I hugged him and thanked him for showing me the rock of the Rock. He laughed. That was cool.

I found out early this morning that Dana Key died from a ruptured blood clot at the age of 56. The article on the CCM Website didn't do him justice. I probably haven't either.

One thing I know for sure, Dana Key loved Jesus, and he loved to rock hard. There will never be another like him.

It is strange that while I was working yesterday I was humming an old D&K song, "Competition," and thinking how cool it would be for a D&K reunion tour to take place. I guess we will have to wait for that until Heaven.

But be warned, it will rock the cosmos and shake the stars right out of the sky!

Friday, July 02, 2010

There Is No Spoon

You may remember that line from The Matrix. These words are also carved into the wall above the urinal at the "satellite office." I do not know why. It is an eye-opening moment for Neo when the young lad teaches him a lesson in reality. In order for Neo to be able to bend the spoon with his mind, he had to first accept the reality that there is no spoon.

I had an eye-opening moment yesterday. For years I have been living in  disappointment because I had this image of what life and family should be like, and, twice now, that image has failed to be lived up to. I have always looked for the magic in life. For example, I have wondered if I have ever been "in love" before. In my mind, there was no "magic" in my relationships. There was love, but it had to be worked at; it didn't just happen magically.

Growing up in a broken family, I used to daydream about having a "normal" family like all of my friends had. A father AND a mother. Not just mother, like I had. My parents fought all the time. There was no magic. After my father abandoned us, I used to daydream about him coming home and resuming his place as man of the house. At 10 years old, I was the "man of the house." Mom supported 3 of us on less than five bucks an hour. Money was always tight. Where was the magic?

I surrendered to the ministry and did youth ministry, prison ministry, music ministry, preaching, teaching, and missions. I had the minister's dream. I had a wife, children, a house, and a great church. After 13 years, my marriage to the mother of my three children ended. How could this be? God would NEVER let this happen! I once vowed that my children would never have to live as I did, and now I was faced with the reality that their home was about to be broken. Surely not! I prayed. I fasted. I begged and pleaded with God to save my marriage. I knew He could, and I believed He would. He didn't. Where was the magic?

I remarried a few years ago to a great woman. We combined our children into a blended family. I had high hopes that we would all mesh and be happy. Instead, there were problems. Money problems. Child problems. Ex-spouse problems. Pet problems. In-law problems. It seemed that every time we took 2 steps forward, we'd get knocked back 5 more. Where was the magic?

I have been looking at my life lately. I often compare myself to others and realize how I fail to match up to their successes. I feel like a misfit sometimes, and that I don't really fit in anywhere. I am 21 years old for the second time, and where is the magic?

Reality check.

There is no magic.

Magic only happens in the movies or sitcoms. Life is hard. Real life. There is no magic; we are just to do the best we can with what we have. This realization actually caused a huge weight to lift from my shoulders. My life doesn't have to be perfect, or even magical. I just have to do the best I can to love the people I love and work hard at my passions. The magic may or may not ever be there, but the joy of just living life seems to bring with it a "magic" all its own.

Besides, who really needs to bend a spoon with their mind anyway?

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Time to Rant (not gonna be pretty)

Dear reader,

I am not here to offend, ridicule, or offer shallow opinion. Well, maybe two out of the three.

Some things are happening around me. I don't like them. Not at all. May I share?

1) This whole BP/Oil spill/Obama/Barton thing has got me a little uptight. For all we know, the spill was on purpose. How can a major petroleum company with major safety protocols in place "accidentally" spill tons of oil? I am not a conspiracy theorist, but you have to admit, this stinks. Then Joe Barton of the GOP apologizes to BP for us holding them accountable. Who elects these idiots, really? Are we being PUNK'd? Is that it?

2) South Carolina politics has gone too far. Hey, bad press is still press, right? NOT! Jake Knotts, if you won't retire, at least let us give you a beatdown. It is long overdue, Mr., "I'm proud to be a redneck." You know what really chaps my hindquarters? People like Senator Kneck, errr...Knotts, claim to be Christians also. Do you morons know that Jesus was a "raghead" too? I bet He shore ess prah-yawd of yew! Yuck yuck yuck and a-fiddle dee dee! Yeeee haw! I say instead of laying off teachers and hard working Americans, we should start laying off loose-lipped Senators and Congressman. Or at the very least, make their positions voluntary instead of paid. That ought to shake things up in the honky tonks, eh Jake? Next time you go on TV, wear that Budweiser t-shirt you used to wear to the diner all the time.

I have lived in SC for almost my entire life. I love it here, and I still believe it is a great place to raise a family. These loose-lipped politicians need to shut the hell up or get the hell out. Seriously. Otherwise Stewart, Colbert, Leno, et al, are going to have comedy material at the expense of our pride for years to come. As a sidenote, for every Jake Red Kneck there are a lot of good men and women in politics trying to make a difference in SC. Kudos to them, middle fingers to the rest.

3) My 1997 Chevy S-10 finally kicked the bucket. I need wheels, so I went to my bank, and applied for an auto loan. I was promptly declined for some credit hiccups that happened almost 6 years ago. I didn't apply for much. I have been a customer of this bank for 5 years. I am working 3 jobs. Does loyalty count for anything anymore? I would look for a new bank, but they all suck.

4) For the last several years, my oldest has gone on a beach trip with one of his favorite churches. They leave every year at around 1:00, on Father's Day. I may seem a bit selfish here, but where is the spirituality in this? "Honor thy Father, while we snatch you away from him for a church sponsored activity?" After a church service that will inevitably be focused on Father's Day, why allow the youth to leave right afterward and miss time with their Dads? When I was a pastor, I NEVER would have condoned this kind of stuff. I would have insisted that the youth leader re-schedule the trip. Family always came before church. Ask anyone who ever served with me. I'm serious!  I have written emails to the pastor of this particular church for the last 3 years asking that very question (and I was nice about it). I have yet to get a reply. I am not sure why that surprises me. I let my son go because it makes him happy, but I am not happy about it. I missed many a Father's Day with my absentee father, and I determined early on that I would celebrate this special day with those who made me a Father. Call me a grumpy old man if you like.

Thus endeth the rant...for now. Do you feel better?

Friday, June 04, 2010

Forty-something

I have been facing some realities lately. I am a "forty-something." I have good days and bad days. Most of the time, I feel great. I feel like the world is yet mine to conquer. Then I got a phone call from an old high school friend the other day. It went something like this:

Me: Hey, man! How long has it been?

Him: Ummm...about 25 years.

Me: No way.

Him: Yeah, that's about right.

Me: That is not possible!

Him: Yeah it is. It's been awhile since you were blowing on the tuba.

Me: Wow...

Then I saw another lifelong pal today and we were talking about how much fun our 20 year reunion party was, and then it occurred to both of us that number 25 is coming up...soon. Like...next year.

Whoa.

A couple more realities have begun to settle in:
  • My son is graduating next year.
  • My stepdaughter is graduating next year.
  • My nephew and nice are graduating next year.
  • Most of the people I work with were born AFTER I graduated high school.
  • Most of our customers were born AFTER I graduated high school.
  • Everything I like is now referred to as "old school."
  • I am forty-something.
Okay, so here's the deal. I am not depressed about being in my 40's. As I said, most days I feel like the world is yet mine to conquer. But sometimes I do get a bit overwhelmed when I realize how much water under the bridge there actually is.

When I stop to really think about it, I have had a pretty decent life. I have met and (hopefully) positively impacted a lot of people. I have nearly 800 Facebook friends. I haven't made many enemies, and closest friends are people who have shared a good chunk of my forty-something years with me.

But, oh, to be 25 again and know what I know now...

How utterly cliche'.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Head Spinning...(but in a good way)

So much has happened this week, it is hard to focus. I am trying. Good stuff all around. I sometimes use my blog to not only share things with you, the gentle reader, but I also use it to process life happenings.

1)  Several weeks ago I posted a blog about my realization that teaching is where my heart is. I detailed the realigning of my educational focus and my hot pursuit of my new career goal. Out of the clear blue on Wednesday morning, I get a call from Midlands Technical College about teaching a Computers in Health Science class on Monday and Wednesday nights for the summer. Okay, it's not Creative Writing or English Literature, but it IS a foot in the door, and Adjunct Faculty is going to really look good on my Curriculum Vitae. Thanks to P. Melton for the recommendation and for helping get started earlier than expected on my teaching career.

2) In 1986, I scored a 700 on my SAT. 700. 390 English, 310 Math. Pathetic. Because I was a Music Education Major during my first college try, I was able to move past the poor score. I don't test well and I suck at Math. Today I learned that my son Cody scored a 1330! I am so proud I could bust. Not only that, but he got his first job this past week. Watching him grow up has been such a trip! I could not be more proud.

3) I am excited about my career at Jamestown Coffee. I love this business. I love learning and I love making coffee drinks and I love our staff and I love the 1607 Dark Roast!  Maybe one day I will have my own Jamestown Franchise. I am so grateful for my job.

4) For the last 8 months, every night (when I actually sleep) I have dreamed that I was at a KISS concert. I am not exaggerating. Nearly EVERY night for 8 months. Not sure what it all means, but last night I dreamed I met the members of Fleetwood Mac. Maybe I am struggling with turning 43 this year. Maybe I am weary of much of the overproduced cotton candy music of today. Maybe I need to pick up the guitar again. Maybe I am slowly going mad. Thoughts?

5) I have been dealing with a lot of personal issues, health issues, and stuff. This past week, some positive steps were taken. I am starting to feel a little better. However, I am still a jerk when I am driving, and I am still convinced that everyone is on drugs. Maybe it's the Jamestown Coffee kicking in...

More as the story develops.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Applied Wisdom

This is going to be one of those, "I've been thinking about something lately" posts. I do these from time to time just to download stuff I ponder. I have been thinking a lot about wisdom for the last couple of weeks. Mind you, it is not my own wisdom I have been pondering. Rather, I have been pondering wisdom I have received from others over the years. One pearl was given to me in 1995 by a dear man named Al Bozard. He was my mentor in the ministry when I first started out. I truly loved that man and anything he shared with me, especially pertaining to ministry, I soaked up like a thirsty sponge.

One day he said, "Todd, listen very carefully." I was totally tuned in. "Todd," he said, "no pastor ever came to the end of his life saying he wished he'd spent more time at the office. Whatever you do, never sacrifice your family for your ministry." Out of all the advice I was given by great men like Rev. Bozard, this nugget was one I worked really hard at.

Long story short, my three children came into the coffee bar tonight. They were on their way to Bible Study and stopped by to see me. Cody was driving. Cody will soon have his first job, and Jenna and Katie are about to become sophomores. Cody will graduate next year. Where does the time go? But wait! Let me tell you something. I sacrificed my ministry for my children.

I ate lunch with them at school 2 - 3 times a week. I took them to school and picked them up after. Every Friday, we would go to the local Bi-Lo and buy a special snack. Afterward we went to Blockbuster and rented movies for everyone. Then we went home and watched them. We laughed, we cuddled, we had a blast. I am so thankful that I was able to spend so much time with them when they were little. I was blessed to be so involved in their lives (when they actually wanted me there!)!

I looked at these three teenagers tonight that I helped make, and I realized that for all the things I have done wrong in my life, for all the times I turned right when I should have turned left, I look at my three children and I see the one thing I know I did right. They are the three greatest people I know, and I am so proud of them and so honored to have had all the time I had with them. I wouldn't take anything for those days and every day I have with them now. I adore them. I hope they always know that and I hope they are proud of me too.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

People PMS?

Having grown up in a house full of women, I know all about PMS. This week it seems like EVERYONE has it.  Was going to ask a friend for some help and was met with an unusually "grouchified" reply because technology beat me to the punch. All good. Stuff happens. People have bad days. I know about those too.

This past week my novel was critiqued by my classmates and I received some wonderful feedback. This novel is important to me, and I want it to be great. The feedback helped me toward that goal. So I logged into a forum outside of the class discussion and thanked my classmates for offering some excellent feedback. Apparently I broke some "rule" of the Writer's Workshop by offering my thanks after the fact, according to a classmate who emailed the professor in protest. The typical response to "Thank you," is generally, "You're welcome." This etiquette should apply to Writer's Workshop as well. We call that "good manners" in the real world.

There are more examples, but what is the point? I try to be nice, and people respond as if I am interfering with their lives or something. Is it that time of the month for EVERYBODY? Please take a pill or something and save your grumpiness for the people who drive slow in the fast lane. I am one of the good guys.

Maybe I am just too sensitive.

Some day off. I can't wait to get back to work.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Spring is in the Air! So is pollen!

Spring is a brutal dichotomy for me. On the one hand, nature always looks great during Spring. The colors and blooming flora can be breathtaking at times.

At the same time, Spring also produces pollen, which wreaks utter havoc on those of us cursed with year-round allergies. Not to mention the mess it makes on the cars, porches, and well, just about everything it lands on.

Yet without the pollen, there would be no beautiful flora. Sometimes the things which we see as negative can actually be for the best in the big picture of things. This is a hard lesson to learn, especially for people like me who demand instant gratification. I'm the guy in front of the microwave going, "C'mon, I don't have all minute!" I despise waiting in line for anything, and I get really impatient at traffic lights and four-way stops.

This year, I was unemployed (again) for almost 3 months. Not at all the way I first envisioned 2010 going. Not at all. During those three months, I gained weight and lost self-esteem. Emotionally, I felt as though I had hit rock bottom. I felt as though my life had come to nothing, and I just wanted it to be over.

Circumstances intervened, and now I am employed once again. I still have my freelance writing gig on the side, and I am going full throttle at work and at school. I am happy, and my self-confidence has returned somewhat. I am looking toward the future with hope for the first time in quite awhile. I have made some new friends and continue to celebrate the steadfast ones. I have also become reacquainted with a universal truth:

You can't have Spring without the pollen.

Achoo!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

One Lump or Two?

Today is my last official day of unemployment. Tomorrow I officially begin my new duties as Second-in-Command of Jamestown Coffee Co. The process leading up to this day has been full of tests and in depth discussions. I will be working for my best friend in the world, and both of us wanted to be absolutely sure that this would work for both our benefits as well as protect our lifelong friendship.

I believe this is a good move for me. I have retail management experience as well as food service management in my background, and I was good at it. In addition to the day to day operation, I have also been given a voice for creative and operational input. This is something I have never had as a manager. 

And let me be frank, here. I absolutely LOVE coffee. Furthermore, Jamestown Coffee is not just any coffee. James has put a lot of time and energy to procure the very best coffee products out there. There is a lot for me to learn, but I am going to be surrounded by an exemplary team of individuals and I have known my boss since 2nd grade. We have worked together several times over the years, and it has always been a blast.

Stop by and have a cup of coffee....or several. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Weighing In

This will not be a post about my actual physical weight. I have nothing significant to report yet. Although I just played outside with my dogs for about 30 minutes, and they dropped before I did. Four legs and all!

No, I would like to weigh in on the Health Care Reform that was signed into law today. Everyone has their own personal feelings about it. So do I. I am not going to debate the right-or-wrong of it all here. What I want to do is to publicly rebuke certain citizens of the US of A who have hurled racist, hatemonger assaults at various elected officials, and those religious fruitcakes who are now touting health care reform as the end of times.

Since the day of Jesus Christ's ascension into heaven in the book of Acts, mankind has at various times in history used some major social or political crisis as the catalyst of Christ's return as recorded in the Revelation. In our lifetime, the Jewish holocaust, rock-n-roll music, Roe v. Wade, Walter Mondale's run for President, September 11, 2001, President Obama's election, and now Health Care reform signed into law, have all been hailed as the end of society, the end of the world as we know it, and the end of mankind.

Oddly, mankind is still here. So are society and the world.

Now, in addition to Joe "You Lie" Wilson, GOP, Tea Party, and Evangelicals alike are demonstrating the most UN-American immature behavior since the 1960s. Spitting on public officials, yelling racist and hateful remarks, and protesting on the SC State House wearing a God Hates Fags t-shirts representing a Kansas church. And people ask me why I don't go to church anymore. I don't want to be labeled as one of these morons. I am NOT one of these morons. I am a totally different breed of moron.

Here is what I think EVERY responsible American should do: READ THE HEALTH CARE DOCUMENT and see what it says instead of listening to doom-and-gloom fear mongers. Think for yourself by doing your own research. After you have done that, form your own opinion. If you're still against Health Care reform, at least you will be informed and the rest of us will respect your opinion.

Here is what I think the rest of America should do: GROW UP.

Here is what I think Evangelicals should do: recall that Jesus Himself said, "NO ONE knows" when His return will be. Even He Himself did not know while He was on earth. Next time you feel the need to proclaim ends times prophecy, read the Bible first. Read the prophecies first. It just might help you be taken more seriously. K?

As for me and my house, we are just going to go on living our lives and thanking God that after 100 years of arguing and grandstanding, health care reform was passed. Why is anyone surprised? It was a campaign promise. Are we so accustomed to no one keeping campaign promises that we don't know how to react when a promise is actually kept?

And here is one more thing I want to get off my chest. One of my very best friends in the world is serving in Afghanistan even as we speak. To my knowledge, he does not support President Obama's policies. Instead of calling names and disrespecting the President of the United States, he is serving over there, away from his family, friends, church, and career. He is doing this so you who are numbered among the morons can act like the morons you are under the banner of freedom. Mind you he is not alone over there. Are we going to repeat the behavior towards those who served in Vietnam when the soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan return? If things keep going the way they are, it wouldn't surprise me to see these idiots (and you know who you are) spitting on our soldiers. God forbid it be so! The soldiers should spit on you.

Thus endeth the rant.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A New Way to Retire...Not Retiring!

I am a sentimental guy; I really am. I have been to retirement parties. It moves me to think that someone has reached a point where they no longer have to work. It is a bittersweet thing to watch. When someone has worked hard to build a career, retiring is a very emotional experience. One of my dearest friends retired from the produce business he had built with his own sweat and sustained for over 40 years. He shared with me how much he had sacrificed regarding quality time with his family. When he retired, it was the end of a long and sometimes painful career. He found many new ways to occupy his time, including spending time with me. In my mind, that is what retirement was supposed to be.

Retirement seems to have a new face these days. Three faces, specifically.

Brett Favre had a celebratory career as the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. His retirement was to have catapulted him into legendary status. It didn't quite work out that way. Not even a year later, he announced that he was coming out of retirement. Green Bay didn't take him back, so he played for the Jets. Then he retired again. Then he came out of retirement again. Now he is a Viking. That's cool. I mean, being a professional athlete unfairly forces you to retire in your 40s. In the non-athletic world, that wouldn't happen. The only thing that really bothers me about Brett Favre is that now his legacy is more of a joke. He deserves better than he gave himself.

I cannot remember a time when Ric Flair was not in wrestling. I am a lifelong fan of the sport, in no small way due to the accomplishments of "The Nature Boy," Ric Flair. He retired at last year's Wrestlemania with the pomp and circumstance worthy of his contributions. Untold numbers of wrestlers owe their careers to this man. He was the shining star of pro wrestling, and anyone who wrestled him became great because of him. Many things that go on in pro wrestling today originated with men like Ric Flair.

So I turn on TNA Wrestling the other day and I see Ric Flair. Look, I get it. Wrestling was his life. I would rather die in the ring than retire. But now seeing him with another company cheapens his retirement and the celebration of his accomplishments. Woooooooooooo!

Then of course, we have Jay Leno back on The Tonight Show. I am still waiting for the dust to settle on this one. I watched and DVR'd his final Tonight Show. It was nice, meaningful, and it was clear that he had lived up to the legacy.

Then came Conan O'Brien.

Then went Conan O'Brien.

Then came Jay Leno...again.

So what does it all mean? I don't know, but I am not going to any more retirement parties.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Once more unto the breach...


I seldom look back through my blog anymore. It is neat from time to time to look back at some of the happier memories. Even some of the sad ones are worth remembering. The one theme that I am not happy to revisit is my career changes. It is honestly rather embarrassing. To be sure, each change was an wholehearted attempt to make my family's life better.

The same idealism applies to my recent college endeavors. While I was at Flextronics, I was inspired to get a two year Computer Science degree from Midlands Tech. to help further my career there. When I was laid off due to production cutbacks, it occurred to me that I should be pursuing a Masters degree. What good is a 2 year degree when I already have a 4 year degree? So I applied to the University of Phoenix's MBA program. I felt that a degree like this would catapult my career as well as my earnings.

By the time I reached my second class, I knew that I was out of my league. I am a semi-intelligent person, and I was able to keep up with the material; however, I didn't feel any sense of fulfillment whatsoever. I envisioned myself trapped in a career that I would literally hate. I felt lost. So I did some deep soul-searching. Very, very deep.

I asked myself "Why?" a lot.
  • Why have I changed jobs so much since leaving the ministry?
  • Why do I keep getting laid off?
  • Why can't I have a satisfying career that would make me happy and fulfilled?
Then I began the "Whats?"
  • What AM I good at?
  • What makes me happy?
  • What exactly is the source of the void in my life?
Long story short, I rediscovered that my two passions outside of family and friends are writing and teaching. I began to explore changing majors at Phoenix. Long story short, it didn't work out with them.

Long story short once again, I begin my studies in the Masters of Fine Arts program at National University tomorrow. My focus will be Creative Writing. Not only will the program help me hone my writing skills, but it will also qualify me to teach at the college level. I am excited about this, and though it has taken many crooked paths to get here, I am happy to be here.

I looked at my assignments for the upcoming week, and it looks like I will be spending a lot less time on Twitter and Facebook!

One final thought: the University of Phoenix sucks (another long story)!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

My first interview....let the games begin!


Through Social Media, I have met some amazing writers, literary agents, and publishers, as well as a number of great people from other backgrounds. It excites me that an average of 5 people a day are following me on Twitter. Social Media has been a wonderful tool in promoting my writing. Last week, I was interviewed by Dorothy Dreyer, who started a blog where she will spotlight aspiring authors. I was very fortunate to be her first victim...er, guest.

You can read the interview here.

Social Media rocks! Everyone needs to get on board. You never know who you might meet.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Earlier this morning, while you were asleep...


Meet my 1997 Chevrolet S-10 pick up truck. The photo was taken a few months ago, when, while on my way to a very important meeting, the tire blew and left me stranded. I missed my appointment, and they wouldn't reschedule.

Earlier this morning, while you were asleep, my truck stranded me on I-20 once again. I was on my way home from a nice visit with James at our "satellite office," and was about 4.5 miles from my exit. Suddenly, the truck just froze. As I watched the speedometer quickly drop from 70 to 50mph and falling, I quickly and safely pulled off.

This was 1:30 in the morning. Attempts to call home failed four times. On the fifth time, my groggy wife answered. Her car has been in the shop all week. The truck was our only vehicle.

Was, that is.

With no solutions and no one awake, I started walking. At once I felt like Bill Bixby as David Banner from The Incredible Hulk TV series from my youth. With my wife's work bag on my shoulder, and with no flashlight, I began the 3 or 4 mile journey to my exit. As I was walking in the dark evening chill, my thoughts wandered to my good friend Peeley, who is bravely serving our country in Afghanistan. Soon, my self pity began to wane, and I tried to focus my thoughts on walking. I literally could not see in front of me until vehicles passed from behind me. I thought about holding out my thumb, but decided against it. I recalled a presentation I saw in 2nd grade where two young girls got picked up by a stranger and butchered. Police presentations can be quite brutal on the senses. Remember Driver's Ed.? I rest my case.

After hoofing it for about 20 minutes, my wife called me to tell me my brother-in-law who drives a tow truck (God bless him) was on his way, and I was to walk back to the truck. I calmly stated that I was close enough to the exit that I was not turning back and could be picked up at the faithful 44 Truck Stop, which never closes. I knew there would be coffee and water there, so I kept moving.

25 minutes later, as my right leg began shooting pain into my hip, I arrived at my exit. A car drove past me, and I saw them stop and begin to back up. Two young men offered me a lift to the truck stop. Though I was very grateful for their gesture, I politely declined since I was so close anyway. I then recalled all the times I had driven by someone walking on the interstate and had never stopped. Suddenly it occurred to me that I had an interview scheduled for today. It was one I have been waiting for for about 2 weeks. Once again, when I needed her the most, my truck failed me. Still wrestling with the "Why?" of it all.

Pity soon gave way to joy as I saw the bright lights of the 44 Truckstop just ahead. I victoriously walked inside. As I sat down with my truck stop variety coffee, my brother-in-law pulled up with my truck in tow. I decided to buy him a hero's breakfast. After we ate, we headed for my house.

I arrived in my bed at 4:45 am. Exhausted, but at the same time impressed that I was able to make the journey. Walking is really exhilarating, especially in the dreary cold chill of night.

What will become of my truck, now parked on my front driveway? Will they reschedule my interview?

To be continued...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sun Day Random Ruminations


Greetings from the booming town of Leesville, SC. On this beautiful Springlike day, I have a few random thoughts that I need to dispose of. Enjoy!
  • I am sick of the whole Tiger Woods thing. Sick of it. SICK of it. In other words, I am too busy getting on with my own life to indulge the media's Tiger obsession any longer. He screwed up, he apologized; good day and good night.
  • I just don't get NASCAR. It's not my thing. If it's you're thing, then that's cool. They do put on quite a program. I elect not to watch it, however. Don't hate.
  • I am so ready to get back into the routine of online school. March 1, I am back in. Ordered my books today. I am a big giant sponge ready to soak up all the knowledge!
  • I love Spring. It is a very beautiful time of year.
  • I hate Spring. My allergies go to DefCon 5.
  • I miss football season.
  • I hope I get a new job soon. Two interviews this week!
  • I wish my laptop would come home soon.
  • Jillian Michaels is really hot, but what man could handle her?
  • My friend Frank Fomby remembers a Karl Malden joke that I told in 1982. He said it still makes him laugh. Should I be troubled by this?
  • I am seriously craving pizza today. Maybe the wife will let me make a run to Hungry Howies tonight. It would be an easier sell if I had a full time job...
  • I seriously need a road trip outside of SC.
  • I wish Jamestown Coffee would hurry up and open.
  • People on Twitter are nicer than people in church. Just sayin'.
  • I am going to totally update/redo my website tomorrow.
Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Balance and Learning to Roll

The older I get, the more I realize that life is all about balance. I have lived my life by extremes for a long time. I have been extremely left and extremely right. I have been "name it and claim it," and "Thy will be done." I have gone from fired up to fizzled out. To live this way is very draining emotionally, mentally, physically and even spiritually.

As a believer, I am often frustrated at how God answers prayer or how He seemingly doesn't; at least not the way I wanted. Why do some people live while others die? Why do some have while others have not? Questions like these have befuddled my tiny mind for years. Frankly, they have stressed me out and led me to become very depressed at times.

Furthermore, I have gone through seasons of prosperity as well as seasons of struggle. It would seem that it is not possible to have one without having the other. For months, due to the economy and being laid off, my wife and I have struggled to stay "above water" financially. Earlier this month, we received a pretty decent tax refund. We were able to catch up some things, pay off some things, and have a balance greater than $0.00 at the bank. It has been a nice feeling.

Yesterday, my truck started making some noises that lead me to believe that the transmission may be on its deathbed. Just when things were going great, another calamity comes along.

Balance.

Things happen. Good things, bad things. The truck will be fixed, but we may have to scrape and struggle again for a bit. The fact is, I am tired of stressing over it. Life happens. It just does. I have to learn to roll with it.

I am not a materially wealthy person. However, I am not destitute either. I have what I need for today. I will deal with tomorrow, well, tomorrow. Today,I have food, shelter, love, and warmth. I have much to be thankful for.

Somewhere inside of all of this stuff is a happy medium. A middle ground that can be achieved by patience and practice and learning to accept the good with the bad.

Balance.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Valentine's Day Post

For many years, Valentine's Day has been a very unhappy day. When I was a sophomore in high school, my then girlfriend cheated on me with one of my so-called friends.

Valentine's Day 1992 was the worst. I received a phone call in the middle of the night from my sister, who informed me that our estranged father had been killed in a freak auto accident. Long story short, a man had a heart attack at the wheel of his car and plowed right into my father's house where he was asleep in his chair. Both men were killed instantly.

It's now 2010, and I am married with lots of children who I love. I am very fortunate to have a number of wonderful people that call me friend. Surely there is much to celebrate on February 14th, and I do celebrate through the grief, which is like an open wound that will never heal.

The picture was photo shopped by my son Cody. He superimposed my Dad (from my last photo of him) onto the picture so we could have our first generation picture. I am sure Dad would be honored by it. I wish I could say he was a wonderful and perfect father. I can't. He had many demons that he drowned in alcohol for many years. He abandoned us when I was 12 years old, and for a long time, we didn't know where he was or whether he was alive or dead.

At my high school graduation I saw him for the first time in 6 years. I had rehearsed many times over the years as to what I would say to him if I ever saw him again. I reluctantly walked over to him, took a deep breath, and no words came out. I fell into his arms and hugged him as we both wept for what seemed like hours.

He stuck around for awhile, then left again, and we exchanged a few letters and phone calls. One month before he died, Terri, Tiffani, and I got to spend a whole evening with him. We ate dinner with relatives, visited my Grandma, laughed, and took pictures. As we were leaving, we had made plans to get together again, all of us, as soon as possible. I hugged my father and told him I loved him. He said nothing, but that was just his way. I knew he loved me.

Thirty-five days later, on Valentine's Day, he was dead.

Over the years, I have often thought of all the things we missed out on. But the truth is, he and I have a lot more good memories than I realized. It is so easy to focus on the bad stuff and forget the good stuff. After many years, I am finally at peace with Dad's death. I will never fully understand some of the choices he made, but I understand that being a father is hard, and I am only one bad choice away from repeating his mistakes. "There, but by the grace of God go I," or something like that, right?

I love being a father. A dad. My children will call me,"Far from perfect," and "a nerd," but they love me and keep me going each day. Today, I miss my Dad more than usual. He never got to meet his grandchildren, but they have met him through my stories and photos.

The last time I saw my Dad alive, he was happy. He had met someone special, and was turning his life around. His best friend was a pastor! At my Dad's visitation, there were hundreds of people there. Hundreds! Each one told me how special he was to them, and how loved he was. He cheered people up when they were down. He listened. He gave himself away to everyone as a friend. I learned one final life lesson from my Dad that I have shared with my children time and again. I will share it here: "It's not how we start, but how we finish that is most important."

I miss you, Dad.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

10 Quirky Things About Me

We all have our little quirks. Some of us have quirks that are quirkier than others. Furthermore, some of us are DEFINED by our quirks. I will share with the reader my most popular and perhaps least well-known quirks. There will not be a quiz at the end.
  1. I absotively, posilutely hate waiting in line for any reason whatsoever.
  2. Misspelled words and typos on any marquis or sign make me very angry.
  3. People who type in ALL CAPS make me very angry.
  4. When I write, I have to have coffee in my Daffy Duck mug.
  5. The movie 1408 inspires my creativity. I do not know why.
  6. I only shave when it is absolutely necessary.
  7. I am a closet hippie.
  8. For the last 14 months, I have had the strangest compulsion to move to Philadelphia.
  9. I think Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the greatest actors of my generation.
  10. Seeing The Who on the Superbowl halftime show actually gave me chills. Pete Townshend is such an amazing and insightful songwriter.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Customer Service: The New Oxymoron

When did Customer Service go from being a "serve us" institution to a "can't help/don't care" fiasco? Maybe it is just me, but I can't seem to get anyone to help me anymore. I am speaking as a veteran of the customer service industry. Nearly all of my work experience has something to do with customer service in some shape or form. Read my LinkedIn profile recommendation from Roger Gibson, a former boss. I took giving good customer service personally. Almost to a fault. I made it my business to have happy clients or customers. A lot of people in my organizations didn't like me, because I made them do their jobs. I must be a dying breed. Here is what happened:

In March of 2009, I bought my wife a laptop. Last week, the power supply receptacle on the laptop stopped powering. Now I have a dead laptop. Called Lenovo to get the laptop fixed. In theory, while the unit is under warranty, they send you a UPS box, you ship it to them at their cost, they fix it, and then ship it back to you. In theory.

In reality, Lenovo tells me that because I bought the laptop from an "unauthorized" dealer (who was my employer at the time), the warranty had expired, because it was based on when Chipco bought it from Lenovo and not when Todd bought it. So I then contacted Chipco who suggested I bring it by there and let them have a look at it. I have not had this laptop for a full year, and I can't get anyone to honor this.

Here's another incident: I have been a student at the University of Phoenix since last year. I decided to change majors and ended up talking to four different people, all of whom told me I needed to talk to someone else. All this back and forth has somehow placed me in "Collections," and now, according to my Enrollment Counselor, "I can't even talk to you while you're in collections, or I could be fired." What the heck is that? If no one can talk to me, then who is going to help me? So now I am leaving voice mails for a supervisor who will not return my calls. All I want to do is get a degree.

No one seems to want to take "ownership" of my problems. It seems easier to apologize and say "We can't help you," or, "You need to talk to so and so."

When I am paying for something, it seems fair to expect that I will be taken care of by the people who so happily took my money to begin with. Wake up, all you customer service people, and make us happy.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Book Review: Have A Little Faith by Mitch Albom

My long time friend Rick has, by example, taught me many things. One of his buzz words is, "Conversation." It is his conviction that conversation is the key to a better understanding of people, places, traditions, and stuff by simply talking through things, and, when possible, do it over coffee.

I am a bit on the shy side. I always have been. Insecurity is my middle name, or at least it should be. What is odd about this is that I have been in sales as well as full time ministry. Why would a shy guy like me seek after positions which required talking to and being around people? Simply put, I had always believed God could take my shyness and use it to help people. I used to believe that God could do absolutely anything. Then I changed. I stopped believing. One disappointment or tragedy after another for the last several years with very little "evidence" that God was helping me has left me barren of faith and hope. It is not a good feeling, I can assure you of that.

My most recent beef with God happened about 6 months ago, when my sister-in-law's husband passed away suddenly, leaving her with two toddler children to raise on her own. That was pretty much the last straw for me. I had the image of God just randomly picking people to die, and Drew just happened to make the cut. There was no meaning behind his death. None. None at all!

Until today, at least for me.

There is a bizarre history of my wife and her sister (technically half-sister). Before Drew died, Tracy and Arah had never met. They each knew the other existed, but neither had reached out. Since Drew's untimely death, we have all gotten to know Arah, her children Levi and Abby, and even Drew through her stories of him. Arah and I quickly discovered that we had a lot of things in common and we have had many deep conversations (Rick would be proud) about life, death, afterlife, writing, faith, movies, and other interests we have in common. I had previously shared with Arah my own struggles with faith, and so for my 42nd birthday, she gave me a copy of Have A Little Faith by Mitch Albom. In the front cover she wrote, "I hope that when you read this, your journey to God somehow becomes more peaceful."

I appreciated her gesture, but her words evoked my inner cynic. "What journey to God?" I silently scoffed. And yet I was very anxious to begin reading. I had never heard of Mitch Albom, and the book's appearance didn't exactly scream, "READ ME!!"

Reluctantly and yet anxiously, I began to read. I just finished it this very day, moments ago. It was the first time I can remember in a very long time that a book moved me to tears. The last time I cried reading a book was during Piercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti.

In short, the book is a true story about conversations Albom had with two men of God from two completely different backgrounds that occurred over an eight year period.

Conversations. Asking questions. Listening. Considering. Struggling to understand. All of which culminated into Albom's eulogy for his rabbi. His conclusion in the Epilogue is what caused me to tear up:

"In the beginning, there was a question. In the end, the question gets answered. God sings, we hum along, and there are many melodies, but it's all one song--one same, wonderful, human song.

I am in love with hope."


I cannot recall the last time I was "in love with hope." Has it been that long? When did I lose hope? I really can't remember. Yesterday I received yet another disappointment. And then two more last night. I cursed God. I did. From my pain and despair, I cursed Him. This time (it wasn't the first time I cursed God), there were no pleas for Him to prove me wrong. I was tired of fighting with Him. He always wins anyway. I was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted, yet it took 2.5 Ativans to relax me enough to be able to sleep. Even after I drifted off, I had many nightmares and awoke feeling unrested.

Today I decided to finish Have A Little Faith just to get it done. I finished the book, but I doubt seriously that the book will be finished with me anytime soon.

This may be very selfish of me to think, but what if Drew Johnson died so that Tracy could meet her sister who in turn could meet me and think enough of me to buy me this book? I still find his death meaningless, but somehow not as meaningless...at least for me.

Great book. Well written. Very deeply profound.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Retro Review: The Rocker

Faithful readers of this blog understand the concept of "Retro Review." For those who may have just joined the other two readers, allow me a brief explanation. I usually catch movies when they hit HBO or Showtime, long after they have come and gone on the big screen. If one of these films catches my attention, I will do a review here on the blog. I have recently viewed a film that struck some personal chords (pun intended). That would be The Rocker starring Rainn Wilson of NBC's The Office.

The Rocker
is about an eccentric and wacky drummer, Robert "Fish" Fishman (played by Wilson), who, at the beginning of the success of his stereotype 80s rock band, "Vesuvius (cool name by the way)," gets dumped by the band (of which he was the heart and soul) so that a record executive's nephew can replace him. The story really begins 20 years later, where we find Fish working a dull job in Cleveland and Vesuvius has gone on to legendary success.

A series of events gives Fish the chance to play in his nephew's garage band, "A.D.D." where he is twice as old as the other 3 band members. The kids reluctantly allow Fish to play with them, provided he gets them a gig, which he does. The gig is interrupted by the parents of the other band members (one of whom is played by the lovely and talented Christina Applegate), who ground the young ones. Fish's resilient nephew uses technology and connects all four band members online in order for them to practice. Naive and goofy Fish doesn't realize he is on camera, and rehearses totally naked and ends up on YouTube as "The Naked Drummer."

The large following of the naked drummer catches the attention of a major record company and suddenly A.D.D. with their goofy, sweaty drummer, who refuses to grow up, are living the rock star dream. The band on tour offers some cute moments, including some comical moments from counter-culture icon Howard Hesseman as the band's bus driver.

A.D.D.'s sudden and massive success creates an opportunity for them to open for rock legends Vesuvius. The grudge holding Fish refuses, causing him to leave A.D.D. and try, at last, to live the life of a grown up, complete with a suit, tie, briefcase, and a haircut. A.D.D. soon finds that they cannot go on without their wacky drummer and offer Fish a chance to rejoin the band. To do this, Fish must finally put the rejection of the past behind him and make peace with himself. The climax of the film is the meeting between Vesuvius and A.D.D. which allows Fish to once and for all move past his bitterness and wish Vesuvius a great show. Vesuvius soon takes the stage and it is revealed that they are lip-syncing and the legends are booed off the stage. As the crowd then chants "A.D.D.," the group takes the stage again and Fish is totally vindicated.

All in all, Wilson's performance carried the film. The cast (with the exceptions of Hesseman and Applegate) was dull and lacking, and the story itself was weak, even though the "Naked Drummer" concept offered the majority of the film's laughs. Personally, I hope to see Rainn Wilson in more films, preferably clothed.

Outside of that, The Rocker appealed to that deep inner desire for a second chance to relive youthful dreams and live out the saying that there is "No greater revenge than massive success." Fans of 80s big hair bands will enjoy The Rocker and appreciate many of the nuances expressed in the movie.

Ah, to be a kid again...