Let’s Resolve for a Better 2018 (Yes, 2018)

I think I know why New Year’s resolutions don’t work.

It’s because we expect change to be immediate.Like, we plan to lose thirty pounds next year. That’s great, but we’re just now coming out of a candy-crusted, cookie-frosted, eggnog-chugging month.

Guys. We can’t go from heavy creamed-based mashed potatoes to carrot juice and Power bars over night. Seriously.

And yet, year after year, we think it can be done.

Or what about people who are like, I’m going to make a million dollars next year! That’s fine and great, and I applaud your spirit, but you made that vow last year aaaaaaannnd… here you are sitting at your same computer reading this same blog about to make the same promise, which will eventually lead you to this exact same spot exactly one year from now.

But what if.

What if, instead of making our traditional New Year’s resolutions for 2017, we instead resolve to prepare for a better 2018?

Stay with me here.

I think about 3/4 of the world can agree that 2016 sucked, right? I mean, we lost a bunch of beloved celebrities, the elections were going to be bad either way, and it seems like everybody lost a loved one, and if they didn’t, it was just a really crappy year.

I want to label my toilet and every toilet at work “2016” and just crap in it all year long. Okay, that’s achievable:

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My first resolution is that, one year from now – nay, ten years from now – I look back and say that 2016 was easily the darkest and worst year of my life. (Unless of the course the zombie apocalypse happens first, then that might be considered the worst year ever. Maybe.)

And one step to ensure that happens is to make 2017 the year of…progress. As in, “We’re not there yet, but we’re making progress.” It’s the year to rebuild on the ruins of 2016.

We can’t fix everything over night. And the older I get, the more I realize that most things take more than a year to fix or build.

So let’s build toward an incredible 2018. Let’s get in the habit now of eating better, casual exercising, socializing more, spending less, writing more, whatever.

If your resolution is to stay married next year, focus more on how to stay married so that in 2018, you can resolve to improve your marriage even more and make it even a better year.

If you really want a new job, don’t just settle for the first dead-end job that offers you an out from your current situation. This is tough, but spend 2017 polishing up your resume, taking classes to improve yourself, sharpen your skills, so that in 2018, you can seriously be ready to apply for a newer, better job.

So, here’s to 2018. May 2017 be the ladder that leads to a greater year.

 

Who’s Your TV Daddy?

Alan Thicke’s passing leaves many of us reminiscing back to calmer, gentler evenings where the family gathered around the TV every night to watch the next installment of their favorite sitcom. And for many families that sitcom was Growing Pains. 

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I wasn’t as invested in the show as I was others, but I can still hear snapshots of Dr. Seaver yelling at his son for screwing up or trying to sooth over an argument with his wife. I remember I wanted his job because he never had to leave his house since his office was built in the guest room.

His passing got me thinking about other TV dads and how we all kind of have one or two that we believe act as our surrogates in some virtual way. For instance, Uncle Phil was definitely my surrogate uncle because I needed his discipline and loud yelling to get through to me and my stupid antics.

Tim Taylor from Home Improvement was definitely my TV dad. Probably because my own dad loves his tools and frames houses for a living. Unfortunately I identified with Jonathan Taylor Thomas’ dramatic arts-loving character, so I had a hard time identifying with my dad. It was just good to see it work in a TV world.

I think it’s kind of cool that we have these shows to look back on and adopt certain people as members of our virtual families. When Robin Williams died, I remember my best friend crying through a text message that he was the uncle he never had. We loved him, and yes we cried.

These actors leave an imprint on us. They’re magicians who breathe life into a character who otherwise would never have existed, and these characters live on well after the cameras shut off.

Who’s your TV dad? Danny Tanner? Mr. Cleaver? Homer?

Leave your answers below along with your favorite Growing Pains moment in honor of Mr. Thicke.

December Isn’t the Only Time We Lie to Our Kids

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Christmas. The time of discounts and icy roads and beautiful…lies.

For us storytellers and pathological liars, December is the time of year where we have a free pass to lie to our families.

We can lie to our spouses. “I’m going out to fill the car up.” But we’re really hopping over to Target to pick up some gifts. (Or, if you’re me, browsing the DVD section to see what’s on sale.)

“What’s in that bag?” asks your spouse. “Oh, some bars of soap and warm socks.”

And the most popular: “If you’re good, Santa will come bearing gifts.” (Or, as he’s called in our house by our toddlers, “Ho, ho, ho will come bearing gifts.”)

It’s a timeless debate. Should we lie to our kids about Santa? Will they trust us when it comes to anything else? Will they start believing they can sprout wings and fly and jump off the roof? 

I’m no parenting expert, but here’s my take on it:

I lied to my kids when I read them Peter Pan. Every time I put in Wreck-It Ralph because the movie suggests that video game characters exist outside of our control and have feelings and lead lives when the game consoles shut down. I have never once said, “Kids, this is make-believe and Wreck-it Ralph and Fix-it Felix don’t really exist.”

I’ve never once said to them, “People can’t really fly,” or “toys don’t really come to life.” Instead, I buy them Woody and Buzz dolls with built-in voice boxes that suggest that they’re real.

I’ve also asked them every morning this month, “Did you hear any elves running around the house last night? Where do you think he’s hiding today?” You know what I’m talking about.

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I don’t think telling your kids that Santa is coming is a bad thing. If I did, then I have no business letting them read books about talking dinosaurs. I don’t think any of us suffered any psychological trauma having been told about Santa when we were younger. In fact, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we didn’t honestly believe Santa was real even when our dads dressed up and we were encouraged to leave cookies and milk on the fireplace mantel.

Otherwise, why did we so blindly accept the truth about electricity but we bogged our parents down with hundreds of Santa questions? We never had solid proof. It was mists of teasing. We can recall the smirks our parents threw at each other when they said the Santas at the malls were just his helpers. We can recall how their answers to our endless questions were nonchalant like, “Eh, he just kinda shimmies down those chimney. I don’t know, the reindeer have pixie dust. Um, Santa’s probably a thousand years old.”

Think about it. You knew something was up. Our parents had a bigger reaction to the weather than to some world-traveler breaking into the house to leave mysterious boxes under the tree. I mean, those presents could have been bombs, or crazy sex toys.

But we also remember the feeling of magic and sentiment we felt when our parents were “in on it” with us. For one month out of the year our parents chose to believe what we wished was real.

What stands out to me the most about the Santa story is the themes of innocence and safety. The Santa story makes strangers friendly, the unknown pleasing and pleasant, and elves not so creepy. It also fights against pop-culture and film theories claiming red is a good and comforting color.

In short, the Santa story sets things right. I don’t swear to my kids that Santa is real, and I don’t make them sign some contract binding them to be good for Santa’s sake. But I’m not going hide them from any image of Santa and insist that he’s not real. Instead Sarabeth and I take a neutral stand. If they choose to believe in Santa, then who are we to stop them? I’m not going to rob them of that magic I felt growing up. They’re smart kids. I know deep down they don’t really believe the elf hops down off the shelf on his own every night, and they know that the reindeer at the zoo aren’t going to just up and fly away.

We all have chosen a side in this great December debate. I’ve chosen my side because I can’t stop the world from being dark and terrible, so I’m going to fill them with as much talking fish and wardrobe magic and Santa lore that I can.

In Anticipation of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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I was warm for Star Wars growing up. I hadn’t been introduced to the far away galaxy until I was in middle school when theaters around the world re-released the original trilogy in anticipation of the newer films.

I liked them, but I never really loved them. In fact, I always thought, even in middle school, that all the humans were really bad actors, except of course, for Han Solo (queue any songs about a possible man-crush).

Don’t get me wrong. I liked Star Wars. A lot. I just never got around to reading the endless spin-off novels or collected the C-3PO Pez dispensers or dress up as a storm trooper and go to comic cons (I did get the soundtrack, though).

But then my whole mindset was changed nearly a year ago with the release of The Force Awakens. That movie made me a die-hard Star Wars fan. That movie was like the answer to an impossible riddle. It was like the mayonnaise on my sandwich, the ice in my tea on a hot day, it was enough to make me join the fictitious resistance, as it were.

And now, judging by the trailers and poster of the newest (albeit unofficial) Star Wars installment, we’re in for another treat this year.

Personally, I love that the Star Wars universe is bringing in lead female protagonists. That’s because I have a daughter and I’m glad she can now be emotionally invested in the movies for upcoming family Star Wars nights. Rey is a great role model for my little girl as I’m sure Jyn will be just as kick-ass.

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And can we please give a huge applause to Disney for getting the galactic saga back on track with the original 70’s look? I swear the first second I saw they were doing that last year, that got me hyped up just like the Cars 3 trailer took me  (and the rest of the wordl) from eh to HOLY CRAP FREAKIN’ YES I CAN’T WAIT!!!

(Seriously, whoever’s doing the marketing at Disney/Pixar/Lucas Films needs to run for president because they clearly know how to do their job extremely well.)

So who’s excited about this unofficial Star Wars installment? What are you most excited about? Who loved The Force Awakens as much as I did? Also, to address a small point of contention between almost every couple in America, what’s a good age to start showing Star Wars to your kids?

Writers: Sing, Don’t Tap

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Do you ever sit at your desk at work and click your tongue to a song that’s stuck in your head? Or tap your pen or finger to a little ditty that won’t dance away?

Like this:

tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap-tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap. Tap tap-tap tap tap tap tap-tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap. TAP-TAP-TAP-TAP, TAP-TAP-TAP-TAP. Tap tap tap tap-tap-tap-tap tap-tap-tap. 

You know what that song is, right?

Just look at it. Follow the same notes I’m singing in my head.

Well, guess what. You can’t. Because there are no words. There are no notes. But just because I know the song doesn’t mean your stupid. It just means I’m stupid for not providing the words and the notes.

As writers, we are charged with the responsibility to paint a much broader picture for our readers than just dialogue or just narrative. In order for our readers to grasp our full meaning of what we’re trying to convey, we must present the time, the setting, the people, and the mood.

To leave one of these out is like expecting someone to guess what song your’re clicking your tongue to.

So think about that as you write. Is what you’ve written only discernible to you, or could an outsider  see and get exactly what your conveying?

In other words, sing, don’t tap.

(By the way, the song tapped out above is “500 Miles” by the Proclaimers. I blame How I Met Your Mother for getting it stuck in my head.)

Poll: How Can We Please You?

As you know my publishing company Endever has just released two books in ebook form. One, a teen romance novel about a girl who falls in love with a guy after he dies. (You can check it out here.) The other, a mainstream novel about the Angel of Death, named Dee, who’s got an attitude and a playlist to match, always on the lookout for the next victim of an accident or crime to take into the great beyond. (You can check that one out here.)

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They’re both up on Amazon. I want to thank each of you who has bought our books and hope that you will write an review of them and pass them along to your friends and family. But to those who have not purchased your own copies, I’d like to politely ask why. I’m not mad. I’m just curious.

As the owner of Endever, I sincerely want to know what will catch your attention. What will it take to get your support, for you to purchase our books? I’ve created a poll for you to participate in if you would like to provide feedback.

I provide feedback to my employers all the time and they kind of get annoyed by me. I’m not that employer. I genuinely want to know how to grab your attention. So if you have not purchased our books from Amazon yet, please tell me below, either utilizing the poll tool or via a comment in the comments section.

Twenty-Seven Ways You Can Die

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love hearing a good sob story. Like stories about when you found out Santa isn’t real, or pathetic reasons you got fired from your job. Or how you found out that everyone will die. Here’s my story.

I was maybe six or so. I remember my family and I took a trip to some historical park. I don’t remember where. Over the years I’ve accepted that we drove up from Southern California to Washington State. I don’t remember that trip if it ever happened, but I remember being behind the backseat of whatever station wagon we were driving through whatever historical park we were visiting.

The following moment was so surreal that all else faded from memory.

I just remember my mom, dad, and sister were in the car. And maybe my grandparents.

The historical park (or wherever we were)  had several bronze statues of historical figures. You know, those eleven-foot statues set up on brick cylinders? I remember looking up at one of them (probably of Thomas Jefferson, or some colonial figure because he had the ruffles and the tricorne hat) and wondering how a statue is made.

I was curious enough to ask about it in the back of the car. “How do they make those statues?” I asked. “Who are they?”

“They’re of famous people who’ve died,” came the response from the front.

Now, before I go any further, I need to explain the difference between what parents say and what children hear. Observe:

Parent says: “Don’t touch that glass doll.” Child hears: “Touch any other glass doll.”

Parent says: “If you pull on the Christmas tree it will fall over and kill you.” Child hears: “If you pull on the Christmas tree it’s going to make a mess and there might be blood!”

So when my parents said that those statues were of famous people who died, I heard, “When you die, you get turned into a statue.”

Immediately I imagined being encased in an iron cast for all eternity. Then I asked the next fatal question: “How did they die?”

The answer: “Some got sick, some got old, some died in wars.”

(At this point, I need to remind you that I didn’t know yet that death was inevitable. I thought those were just really unlucky bastards who struck out big time. Like, don’t go to war, duh. Go to the doctor, duh.)

Then I said, “That’s sad.” I didn’t mean it was sad that they died. I meant that it was sad that they were encased in an iron shell, tormented by eternal stillness and stiff muscles for all eternity like Han Solo.

Then someone said: “It’ll happen to everyone sooner or later.”

At this point, the violins I was hearing were interrupted with a scratchy record and my eyes popped open. “What?” I asked.

“Well, everyone dies.” I wished adults really did sound like the Peanuts grown-ups so I didn’t have to hear that.

“Everyone?”

“Everyone.”

“You mean, you’re doing to die, Dad?”

“Yup.”

“And you, Mom?”

“Yup.”

I asked everyone by name if they were going to die. And then I asked the inevitable: “Am going to die?”

“Someday. But not for a long, long time.”

I didn’t care that it wasn’t going to be for a long time. All I cared about was that one day I was going to be turned into one of those statues, helpless as I watched people walk past in droves pointing at me, birds pooping on me, being left out in the cold every night.

So the violins started back up in my head and I burst out in tears. That’s pretty much all I remember from that whole trip.

You know what I did next?

After my family told me everything would be okay and that people don’t turn into statues when they die (unless you’re in Narnia), I then started counting all the possible ways people could die.

Sickness. Old age. Getting hit by a car. Flying into a window (because my knowledge of death was limited to dogs, squirrels, and birds apparently). I also included drowning and holding your breath too long for the fun of it and stubbing your toe so bad that you die.

I came up with about twenty-seven ways a person could die. And these were twenty-seven things I tried to avoid doing from then on out.

You know what I should have done instead? I should have thought about all the different ways to live.

Twenty-seven years later I guess I still have time to change my thinking. You know, before I turn into a statue. So here’s my new list:

Ways to Live: