Tag Archives: kids

A Friday Milestone

We built our house in 1998. Or, to be more accurate, we paid other people to build our house in 1998. We took a pre-made design that we found in a book of house floor-plans, and with some help from a local architect, customized it to meet our needs. At the time, our older daughter was three and Nancy was pregnant with our younger daughter. We needed a kid-friendly home that would give the girls space to play, and us room to watch them but also cook dinner and such.

We moved in just before Thanksgiving, and the house we wound up with was even more wonderful than we had hoped. Sure, it has its quirks. All houses do. But this one has served us so well over the past twenty-four years (going on twenty-five). We raised our daughters here, pursued our careers here, build a family and home here. We have loved and grieved in this house, celebrated and brooded in this house, and everything else under the sun.

Our first Christmas in the house, my brothers and sister came with their families to visit us. An ice storm knocked out power the day before Christmas, and we didn’t get it back for two days. It was very cold, but we managed to have a good time.

As the girls grew older, our lives and needs changed, so back in 2011 we remodeled and refinanced, turning a back porch into a teen-friendly den, and redoing our kitchen (and incurring additional debt). We’ve cooked some amazing food in that new kitchen, but of course, we cooked some great food in the old one, too.

I bring all of this up because today we reached a milestone: We paid off the last of our mortgage. The house is fully ours, which is pretty cool. Just thought I’d share the moment.

Have a great weekend.

Monday Musings: What Matters, Part IV — Money

Say you don’t need no diamond rings,
And I’ll be satisfied;
Tell me that you want the kind of things,
That money just can’t buy.
— John Lennon and Paul McCartney

We were bound to get to money eventually, right? For weeks now, I’ve been writing about the things that matter and those that don’t. It seemed inevitable that I would come to financial issues before long. And here we are.

Let me start with a spoiler. I am not going to tell you that money is unimportant, that what matters is what’s in your heart, what brings you joy. I’m not going to tell you to throw off the bonds of our Capitalist mindset and devote yourself entirely to your art. Money matters. You can’t eat what’s in your heart. You can’t use your art to keep warm and dry and safe. You can’t retire on dreams and professional contentment. Call it a necessary evil. Call it a source of comfort and pleasure. Call it whatever the hell you want. But don’t kid yourself: In this world, we all need money to get by.

My father struggled early in his professional life, at a time when my older siblings were kids, and he worried about finances quite a bit. Those worries contributed to an authoritarian streak in his parenting. Later, by the time I was growing up, he had established himself in the world of finance and was earning a healthy living. We weren’t truly wealthy — we had family friends who were, so we saw the lifestyle of the rich up close — but we were comfortably upper-middle-class. In my memory, we never worried about money. My dad was far more easy-going in those later years. When unexpected expenses arose, he would shrug and say, “It’s only money.” Which, of course, is an attitude born of privilege.

My brother Jim tells of going with my father to his office in lower Manhattan when Jim was just a kid. My father showed Jim where he worked and said something along the lines of, “I could have been one of those guys with a corner office and a lot of money, but I chose to be a husband and father instead.” That’s a paraphrasing, but a close one, and it is indicative of my dad’s priorities. Again, though, it’s also something one can only say from a place of comfort.

I’ve been rich, oh baby, I’ve been poor;
Been in love a couple of times before.
If I had to choose, you know, between the two,
I’d take both rich and in love; I ain’t no fool.
— Paul Barrere, Little Feat

My father’s example has guided me for much of my life. Yes, I want my books to sell. I want to make money as a writer, and I take advantage of opportunities as they come my way. But when my daughters were younger, I tried to prioritize family in choices between home life and profession. And I have always worked hard to make my books as clean and polished as possible, even when I’ve known that I might make more if I took less time on each project and squeezed out more publications every year.

As a result, I have enjoyed more critical success than commercial success, and at times, my sales performance has bothered me. Once, when I was lamenting another well-reviewed book that hadn’t sold very well, Nancy asked me, “Would you want it to be the other way around?”

The question brought me up short. “What?”

“Would you be happier if your sales were great, but your reviews were bad?”

It took me all of three seconds to answer. “No, I wouldn’t.”

“Then stop complaining.”

Wise woman.

At this point, you might be saying, “You know, for a guy who said he wouldn’t tell us money is unimportant, you sure seem to be telling us just that.”

To which I say, “Well, yes and no.”

Money matters, no doubt. I would like to be making more as a writer, and I’ve felt that way for much of my career. But money is not all that matters. Not by a long shot. For each of us there exists a balance — things we will do for a paycheck and things we won’t. I have the luxury of making choices that are similar to those my father made. Nancy earns a good living and she wants me to write with joy, with satisfaction in my work, and with respect for the boundaries we have placed between our professional lives and our private life. An approach born of privilege? Absolutely. And so I would never judge anyone who makes different choices, who emphasizes the commercial end of the profession. We all have to do what is right for ourselves, for our loved ones, for our goals and desires.

This is a Monday Musings post, but these closing graphs have the feel of a Professional Wednesday essay, and so allow me to offer a few bits of business advice. First, do not rush into any contract or business arrangement. Most of the people I have encountered in publishing are honest and care deeply about the written word. Most, but not all. Read your contracts before you sign, and ask questions, not just of the person you’re signing with, but of friends who know the law and the business. If you have any doubts about any provisions, don’t sign until those questions have been answered to your satisfaction.

Second, don’t give up your day job until you’re absolutely certain you can. I gave mine up many years ago, and so I am not really in a position to give such advice. The fact is, though, had I know as much then about the vicissitudes of the market as I know now, I might have followed a different course. This despite the fact that Nancy and I have never really wanted for much or had to worry about finances.

And third, remember that once your words are out there, there’s no taking them back. Take pride in your books and stories. Make them as good as can be. Long after the money from a specific book or story sale has been spent, the work itself will still be available for readers. In my opinion, you want those words to represent the best you have to offer at the moment you published them.

They toss around your latest golden egg,
Speculation — well, who’s to know,
If the next one in the nest,
Will glitter for them so.
— Joni Mitchell

Have a great week.

Monday Musings: What Matters? Part III — People and Relationships

We lost my older brother a bit over five years ago, and, as you might expect, in the aftermath of his death, my emotions were roiled and at times conflicted. Among other things, I was angry with him. Deeply, almost cripplingly angry. Why? Because in his youth he engaged in a lot of self-destructive behavior, and one could draw a clear line from his poor choices early in life to the cause of his death at too young an age.

Bill and I were very close, despite the nearly fifteen years between us. When I was young, I worshipped him. Later, I saw his flaws more clearly, but I still adored him. His death clobbered me. I was devastated and for a while that devastation manifested, in part, as rage — at the loss, at the injustice, and, yes, at what I perceived as the needlessness of it all. At the same time, though, I didn’t want to hold on to the anger. I wanted to grieve for him properly, without the resentment. And I got there eventually. But it took years, and several long, painful conversations with my therapist.

In writing my “what matters” posts over the past couple of weeks, I have thought about this particular post a good deal. We may devote a good deal of our time to work, but most of us expend the bulk of our emotional energy — another finite personal resource — on our relationships with friends, family members, and romantic partners, as well as with work colleagues.

In my first post of the new year, I wrote about a different set of anger issues that I have been trying to control in recent months. I honestly can’t discuss these publicly, but suffice it to say I know this anger is no more productive for me than was the anger I directed at my brother. In my view, anger is not always a negative emotion. Righteous anger can empower and even inspire. But simmering resentments tend to wear on us and drain us.

In the past couple of years, I have tried a different tactic — although clearly from what I’ve written here, I am still figuring all of this out. In my professional dealings, when I encounter people who are dishonest, disrespectful, disruptive, I cut them out of my life. It’s that simple. I have no patience anymore for the kind of people I’m referencing here. (And some of them, if they’re reading this, may well recognize themselves.)

This is harder to do in our personal lives. But often it’s every bit as necessary. Toxic interactions, abusive friends and family, interactions that leave us feeling badly about ourselves — no one needs this.

I have started this post with the negative, and that may have been a mistake. Because the truth is, personal relationships mean more to me than anything, beginning with my marriage and my relationships with my daughters. I love my extended family, I have many years-long friendships that I treasure deeply, and I am fortunate to have a number of professional friends and colleagues whom I respect and enjoy seeing at conventions and other events. And just as negative interactions leach away my emotional energy, these positive ones boost it. I know this, and no doubt you know it in your life as well. It’s intuitive. And yet, so many of us continue to engage with people who suck more out of our lives than they put into them.

As I discussed last week, we have limited time for all the things we want and need to do, day to day and week to week. Spending time with the people we love, the people we enjoy seeing, the people whose company enhances our lives — nothing matters more, in my view. But I would also say it’s very nearly as important to avoid those encounters that rob us of joy, of energy, of confidence. Sometimes they can’t be avoided. We can choose our friends, the saying goes; we can’t choose our family. And, I would add, we can’t choose our friends’ friends. Nor can many of us choose our co-workers and the people we interact with in parts of our lives over which we have less control.

We do have a choice, though, as to how we engage with the people around us. What matters, it seems to me, is continuing to feed the relationships that nourish us in return, and to set strict boundaries around those that don’t. As I say, we can’t avoid entirely the people who aren’t good to us or for us. But we can keep them at arm’s length. And, on those occasions when we have to interact at greater length or in greater depth than we would like, we can remind ourselves at every opportunity of our own worth, and of the histories that let us know a given person can’t be relied upon or shouldn’t be trusted.

I should add here that I don’t want my glib solutions to minimize the dangers of a truly abusive relationship. Extricating oneself from such situations is far more complex and difficult than I have made all of this sound. There are excellent resources available for those who find themselves in such circumstances, and if you are in an abusive relationship, please, please, please seek professional help.

We have limited time. We have limited emotional energy. We deserve to have as much time as possible with the people we love and who love us back for who we are. I believe devoting time and energy to those relationships should be at the very top of the list of things that matter in our lives.

Have a wonderful week.

Monday Musings: What Matters? Part II — Time

Last week, I began a series of posts addressing the question “What matters?” My point in doing so was to focus on the simple fact that we have finite amounts of time, of energy (physical and emotional), and of the other personal resources we allocate to various parts of our lives on a daily basis. To be honest, I don’t know exactly where this conversation is going. I only know that it interested me when I started thinking about it, and I figured it might take the blog in an interesting direction.

I don’t expect to come up with a lot of answers in these posts. In a way, the questions are the more important element of the conversation. Ultimately whatever answers I might find, whatever choices I might make, will be idiosyncratic, tailored entirely to my life, my priorities, my needs and wants and obligations. Again, the questions and thought process are likely to be far more informative.

Today, I want to talk about time. I mentioned in a couple of paragraphs last Monday that for much of 2022 I had failed to make time for two pursuits that I care about a great deal. And I glibly stated that I wanted to make more of an effort to play music and take photos in this new year. Of course, it’s not that easy. Not by a long shot. I want to make clear up front that I am not complaining about any of what I’m about to discuss. I love my life. I know how fortunate I am. But time issues are not easy.

To state the obvious, time is finite. Time is immutable. Some of us may have more money than others. Some of us may have more energy than others. But we all are allotted the same amount of time each day, week, month, year. We can’t buy more. We can’t hoard it for a “rainy day.”

I write about time management a fair amount in my Professional Wednesday posts. But work time is only one variable in the equation, and, I would argue, far from the most important. I can pledge to myself that I will find more time for the things I enjoy doing, but where is that time going to come from? It’s all about choices, about deciding “what matters.”

Look at most people’s daily habits and it becomes clear that we spend the vast majority of our time doing two things: sleeping and working. Nancy and I tend to be early-to-bed, early-to-rise people; neither of us does well on too little sleep. We’re generally in bed by 10:30 or so each night, and we’re both up by 6:00 or 6:15 each morning. I devote the first two hours of my day to exercise — a workout and then a lengthy walk. I work for much of the day, only winding down when Nancy gets home from her job in the early evening. She generally has a bit more work to do after she gets home, and I take that time to tie up my loose ends from my work day. We have dinner, clean up, and then will generally watch an episode or two of something on TV before retiring. Rinse and repeat . . . .

The point I’m trying to make is this: There isn’t a whole lot of room in there for squeezing in the things I want to add to my day. I do take small breaks from my writing periodically. I could — and should — use those breaks to play a song or two on my guitar. Slotting in my music that way would likely get me to play a lot more over the course of a year. And I can (and sometimes do) take my camera with me on my morning walks. The places where I walk are quite beautiful. I could easily take photos then. These are not perfect solutions, but they help.

What about that TV time at the end of the day? Couldn’t I play music then?

Yes, I suppose watching television may not be the best use of my limited time. Except the hour or two we spend on the couch isn’t necessarily about the shows themselves. It’s about sitting with Nancy, unwinding together, sharing the experience, talking about the shows, the characters, the plot twists. We don’t get a lot of time together, and time with my sweetie matters to me. So watching TV together is a choice.

Weekends offer time for doing stuff as well. We always have errands on Saturdays and Sundays. We do our laundry. Nancy gardens. I write blog posts like this one. But yes, I can play music and maybe take photos on the weekends.

But I’ve yet to address the unexpected, or the things that we don’t schedule but have to do or want to do. Seeing friends, talking to our kids, visiting with our kids, going to doctor appointments, dealing with house issues, paying bills, shopping for groceries, going to a concert or play or movie, attending university functions, which has become a HUGE part of our lives since Nancy became acting president of the school. And I haven’t even mentioned travel — for work, which both of us have to do from time to time, and for pleasure, which we LOVE to do, but which can be quite disruptive to our routines.

What matters? What can we give up or shorten or stretch? I blithely give advice to new writers about finding time for writing in their lives. “Just an hour a day, enough to write five hundred or a thousand words, can put you on the path to writing professionally.” It’s true. But where the hell would I find a spare hour? I have no idea. And I don’t have small kids in the house. I don’t have pets. I don’t have a job other than writing and editing.

These choices are hard. They demand sacrifice. All of us are spread thin. None of us has tons of free time. I don’t want to sleep less, or exercise less. I don’t want to give up time with my spouse. I want more time with my daughters, not less. I don’t want to cut back on work. I enjoy my job and — oh, by the way — I enjoy getting paid. I want to travel and see friends and family; I don’t want to be a hermit or a shut-in. But I also want to play music, take pictures, birdwatch (I always take my binoculars on my morning walks, so I do birdwatch each day). These things are good for my mental and physical health as well.

What matters? The hard truth is that all of it does. And I have no doubt that when you look at your life, and try to figure out how you might fit in something new, be it writing or exercise or time for a new friend or romantic partner, you encounter the same problem. Each choice involves some sort of sacrifice.

I don’t know if this post has been helpful or interesting for any of you, but I find these issues fascinating. In any case, thanks for reading along. More to come in the weeks ahead

For now, have a great week.

Monday Musings: Holiday Wishes

Girls tree holiday 22This will be brief. We have had our girls in for the holiday, though Winter Storm Elliott very nearly kept our younger daughter in Denver for the weekend. We have managed the cold and kept the house warm with fires in the fireplace and well-placed space heaters. We’ve enjoyed clam dip and cinnamon rolls, homemade soups and Indian-style butter salmon. We’ve even had a couple of meals out.

We’ve exchanged gifts, watched movies, talked and laughed and reminisced. We might even have imbibed a cocktail or two.

I said in a previous post that all I really wanted for the holiday was to be with Nancy and our daughters. That was my wish, and despite a once-in-a-generation weather event, and several cancelled flights, I eventually got exactly that. I am content.

I could say more, but honestly that’s all I feel any need to say.

Except that I hope your holiday brought you joy and laughter, good food and a cup/glass/flute of your favorite beverage, time with loved ones and perhaps a moment or two of solitude, if that was what you needed.

And I hope New Year’s Eve/Day, which, in my experience, tends to be a holiday that disappoints, is enjoyable, safe, and whatever else you hope it will be. I will not be posting on Wednesday, but will, of course, recommence the blog next Monday, January 2, 2023.

2023.

Okay, that’s just freaky.

Monday Musings: My Father’s Present

I write about my father a lot in this blog. Last year at this time, I wrote a long tribute to him commemorating what would have been his one hundred and second birthday. I write about my mother as well (her birthday is in February). We lost both of them way too early, and I miss them both more than I can put into words.

I won’t repeat last year’s tribute. If you’re interested, you can find it here. But I did want to share a memory of my dad that I find myself relating to with particular resonance this year.

I grew up the youngest of four children in a privileged family, and all of us enjoyed giving as much as we did receiving. Our Christmas mornings tended to be affairs of largess; we all had enormous gift piles. Record albums, clothes, books, the occasional piece of jewelry — as I say, there was always plenty under our tree. The Christmas morning I’m remembering came when I was in my early-to-mid twenties, and was home visiting either from Providence, where I lived after completing college, or California, where I attended graduate school.

All of us were in our usual frenzy of tearing wrapping paper and oohing and aahing over one another’s gifts. Dad sat watching us all, not unwrapping anything himself, but smiling contentedly. One of us said something to him — probably prompting him to open one of his as-yet-unopened gifts, and he waved off the comment.

Mom and Dad, by the author“This is my present,” he said. “Watching all of you.”

I know: It sounds like a line from a Hallmark holiday movie. Thing is, he meant it. There was nothing he enjoyed more than watching and listening as his kids and his beloved wife talked and laughed.

I remember another time, the last summer we had with him: My mother had died the previous fall, and not long after Dad was diagnosed with leukemia. But during the summer, we rented a house in New England that was huge enough to accommodate all of us — my dad; my brother Bill and his partner, Sandy; my sister, Liz, her husband, and their two young children; my brother Jim, his wife, Karen, and their son (their daughter would come along a year later); and Nancy, Alex, and me (Erin was born three years later).

We had a great week, but there was one night in particular when we put the kids to bed, and dad retired early, leaving my siblings and me and our partners to hang out on our own. We didn’t realize how much sound traveled in the house, but we learned the next morning that Dad had heard us the whole time. He wasn’t at all angry, and he didn’t mind being kept up.

“Listening to you all laughing was better than sleep.”

By that time, of course, I was a father, and was starting to understand what he meant. I didn’t appreciate it fully, though, until after Erin was born.

I have been fortunate to hear live performances by some of the most phenomenal musicians in the world — jazz and classical, blues and bluegrass, rock and country. I have heard remarkable birdsong throughout North America, in New Zealand and Australia, in Costa Rica, in several parts of Europe. I have heard coyotes call in the desert, and Screech Owls trilling on a rainy night in Oregon, and Whip Poor Wills singing on summer nights in Tennessee. There is no sound I have ever heard that compares to the music of my daughters laughing together.

Nancy, the girls, and I have our own Christmases now, of course. There is always plenty under the tree, although this year Nancy and I don’t have much for each other. That’s all right. I won’t miss the presents. Because I’ll be able to sit, as my father did all those years ago, and watch Alex and Erin enjoying their holiday, laughing with each other and with us. That will be my present.

That, and my memories of my dad.

Happy birthday, Pop. Love you.

Monday Musings: A Tree and a Post — It’s Not About What You Think It Is, Or Is It?

#HoldOnToTheLightThis post probably isn’t about what you think it is.

Nancy and I are nearing the end of what has been an exhausting and at times terribly difficult year. I won’t catalogue our burdens because they are, frankly, no worse than those faced by many of you. We have things in our lives that mitigate the challenges, things for which we are incredibly grateful. But we’ve had a rough year — the third in a row, actually. Again, this doesn’t set us apart from others. There may be differences in the specifics, but there are far more similarities of kind. We have all faced struggles.

That’s not really what this post is about.

After Thanksgiving, as we were mapping out a very busy December, we made a decision not to have a Christmas tree this year. Mostly, I made the decision. I am the one who goes down into the valley to buy a tree. I’m the one who sets it up, who waters it daily, who takes it down at the end of the season. And I just didn’t feel like dealing with it this year.

When I informed our daughters of this they were disappointed, to say the least. They don’t live with us anymore, but when they come home for the holidays, they like to have the house looking festive, the way it did when they were kids and Christmas was everything. I justified the decision to skip having a tree this year by assuring them this was not something permanent. We would surely have a tree again next year. But this year it felt like too much, everything was too fraught. We went back and forth, but eventually they accepted my decision, albeit reluctantly.

And then, this past week, on a rainy afternoon, I went down and bought a tree after all. Nothing had changed, of course. Nothing happened to make the past year suddenly, magically turn easy. The work of setting up and maintaining the tree remains. I changed my mind.

To be clear, this is not a post about the Christmas spirit suddenly moving me to want a tree, though in a way I suppose it did. It is not about the importance of doing something nice for my kids, although that is, of course, incredibly important, and it was gratifying to know how pleased they were by my/our change of heart.

Christmas Tree

In the end, my choice regarding the tree was about me, about what I needed, what I realized I had to do even though I didn’t really want to.

I have written a bit recently about my uncertainty regarding my next writing project. I have been unable to choose from among several possible projects, and I am starting to understand that my inability to make that choice is not about creative impulses, or marketing uncertainties, or even an inability to decide what possibility excites me the most.

I’m simply stuck. For reasons I haven’t sussed out quite yet, I can’t get myself to make that professional choice and move forward with it. And, I realized this week, the whole Christmas tree thing was sourced in a similar lack of motivation and momentum. I was stuck personally as well as professionally. Too many things going on, too much occupying my thoughts, too many emotional impulses pushing me one way and another. And my first reaction to all of this was to stop. The push-me/pull-you of life was more than I cared to address in any way, and so I simply dug in my heels. The tree, ridiculous as this now seems as I type it out, was the bridge-too-far, the thing I decided was too much.

What made me realize this I was doing this?

Honestly, I’m not sure. Maybe it was the reaction from my kids. Maybe it was the recognition that, despite knowing it meant a bit of effort and work, I actually wanted a tree, almost as much as my daughters did. I love having a tree. There’s a reason I’m the one who usually does the work required each year. I enjoy the smell, the lights, the ritual, the departure from routine, the sight of the tree with its lights on, glowing in the middle of the family room. Suddenly, denying myself that pleasure, denying Nancy and the girls that pleasure, didn’t make much sense to me.

And in the same way, I know I want to begin work on my next writing project, even though I feel stuck, even though none of the projects is really calling to me right now. I believe I need to do with my work what I did this past week with the tree. I need to get off my butt and start working on something, even if I’m not sure it’s THE project I should be writing now.

All of us find ourselves in circumstances like these now and again. Sometimes they manifest in the professional realm; sometimes they show up in our personal lives. For some of us, the inertia I’m describing works its way into everything. I have glibly written of my decision to “snap out of it” with respect to the tree. I don’t mean to make it sound easy. This week has been hard for me. I suffer from anxiety and panic disorders, and recently both have been troubling me more than usual. Breaking out of these patterns takes work. For some it takes enormous courage as well.

I see you. I understand and I sympathize. Perhaps that’s why I chose to share this story with you today. The holidays can be a struggle in all kinds of ways. These past few years have taken a toll. Maybe this post was about all of that after all.

I wish you peace and health and happiness.

Monday Musings: Why I Love Soccer, and You Should Too

Unless you’ve been in a food coma for the last two weeks, or have been so mesmerized by the constant influx of sales emails coming from every vendor under the sun that you can think of nothing else, you probably know that professional soccer’s World Cup is currently being played in Qatar. And unless you’re one of the relatively few soccer fans in the U.S., you probably don’t care.

I am here to tell you that you should.

Soccer — football, as it is known most everywhere else on the globe — is far and away the most popular sport in the world. It’s not close. Those who study these things estimate that association football has 3.5 BILLION fans worldwide. For the sake of comparison, American football and rugby, as played in Europe, Oceania, and South Africa, have a combined fandom of about 410 MILLION. (The closest sports to soccer are cricket, at 2.5 billion fans, and basketball, at 2.2 billion.)

As popular as association football is around the world, that’s how unpopular it is in the United States, at least as measured in television and in-person viewership. Yes, people, particularly young people, love to play it. But that growing passion has yet to translate into viewership fandom on the levels of American football, basketball, baseball, or even hockey. And there are reasons for this.

Soccer is a game of athleticism, of speed, of power and grace and mind-boggling skill. It is also a game of nuance and subtlety, of creativity and strategy, of patience and scarcity. In most matches, goals come at a premium. Look at the final results from a typical week in England’s Premier League, of which Nancy and I are devoted fans, and you’ll see lots of 1-0, 2-1, 1-1, 0-0 scores. 3-0 is a blowout. 4-2 constitutes an offensive explosion.

Americans tend to like sports with lots of offense and/or lots of violence. It makes sense that American football, which has plenty of both, is our most popular sport. Baseball, once our National Pastime, had too little of either to remain the nation’s favorite. It’s no coincidence that in the last quarter century, baseball was at its most popular during the Steroid Era, when home runs were flying out of stadiums in record numbers.

As it happens, I still love baseball, and I love soccer for many of the same reasons. And here’s why. Every soccer match is like a pitchers’ duel in baseball. A single goal — like a single run — can change everything. Two can put a match beyond reach. The tension is intense and magical, the demand for near perfection is utterly compelling.

Why are goals so rare? It’s not as though the goal itself is small — quite the opposite. A standard goal is 24 feet wide and eight feet high. The pitch (soccer-speak for the field) is longer and wider than an American football field. The playing surface is large enough and the teams small enough (eleven per side) to allow for wide-ranging play. There is plenty of room for offense. So why isn’t there more?

The key to understanding soccer is the offside rule. At it’s simplest, the rule is this: At the time a pass is kicked, the intended receiver of the pass has to have at least one defender (in addition to the goalie) between themselves and the goal. In other words, an offensive player can’t just hang out by the goal waiting for a pass from a teammate. They have to make certain at least one defender is positioned nearer the goal. Until the pass is kicked. As soon as the ball is airborne, they can sprint to the goal. The timing of the player’s run has to be perfect — late enough to remain onside, early enough to beat the defender to the ball.

My description of the offside rule doesn’t do justice to its intricacy and its impact on every element of the game. There are so many permutations of what can be allowed and what can’t — its complexity feeds the drama of each match. The rule needs to be seen in action, again and again, under match conditions, to be understood and appreciated fully.

The other element of the game that I like is the lack of violence. Don’t get me wrong: Soccer matches can be rough. Challenges are physical and occur at speed. But there are penalties — free kicks — for unnecessary or gratuitous contact, and there are sanctions for repeated offenses. A player deemed to have made a dangerous challenge or too many rough plays is given a yellow card. A second yellow card means ejection from the game without replacement. The team will finish the game with only ten players instead of eleven. And a red card, given for excessively rough or reckless play, means automatic ejection, again, without replacement.

Sadly, the best American male athletes tend to go into American football, basketball, or baseball. That’s where the money is professionally, and so that’s where high school and college athletes try to make their reputations. Female athletes don’t have football or baseball as an option, but they do have soccer and basketball (both my daughters played varsity soccer in high school). In those sports, on the women’s side, the U.S. consistently fields the finest national teams in the world.

Maybe soccer isn’t for you. That’s fine, of course. But maybe you haven’t yet given it a chance. As it happens, the finest male players in the world are on display right now in the World Cup. Watch a match or two. Yes, the games might end without much scoring, but I guarantee you’ll be impressed with the level of play, the incredible athleticism (position players run an average of 7-10 miles per game!!), and the passion of those fans lucky enough to attend the games. And perhaps you’ll find yourself drawn to what many refer to as “the beautiful game.”

Have a great week.

Wednesday Musings: Thanksgiving and Some People To Thank

The past couple of years, usually on the Monday of this calendar week, I have written about Thanksgiving — last year a catalogue of all the things for which I’m thankful (the list still holds), and the year before, ahead of the country’s first Covid Thanksgiving, a rambling remembrance of holidays past that still makes me laugh when I read it over. For obvious reasons, I didn’t feel like writing such a post for this past Monday. But with the holiday upon, I thought I would try again.

I don’t know how to approach a Thanksgiving post this year without repeating myself from those previous posts, and yet here I am making the attempt. And maybe repetition in this context isn’t the worst thing in the world. The things for which I am thankful year in and year out remain remarkably consistent — boring for a blog, but gratifying in every other way. My marriage, my children, my extended family and friends and fans, my career, and, of course, the good fortune of having a home, food in our pantry, health care access, and so many other blessings that too many people lack.

As I have said before, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, in part because it forces me to take stock, to set aside the petty grievances that too often cloud my mood, and recognize that in the important ways, despite real and serious problems in our lives, my loved ones and I are doing okay. We live, it often seems, at 75 mph, the world blurring past as we try to complete our work, take care of our chores, see to our obligations. Even when we are “on vacation” or taking a bit of time off, we try to squeeze in so much that the relaxed times feel rushed.

To me, Thanksgiving is a time to slow down, to focus on the now, on those things that matter most. It is a time to inhale deeply and say, “Right now, in this moment, I am grateful for _______.” The things we fret about, the things that inconvenience and nettle and worse — they’ll still be there the day after Thanksgiving (in fact, they’ll probably be on special…). They’re not going anywhere. So why not push them away for a while and accentuate the positive? This from a confirmed, life-long pessimist.

In any case, I will hop down off the soapbox now. And I will share with you a brief list of very important people, outside my circle of friends and family, who have made an enormous difference in my life this year. Their mention here is small thanks for all they have done for me and my family.

1. I am thankful for my therapist, a woman named Rebecca, who has been absolutely incredible to work with. She is insightful, gentle, funny. Best of all she gets me and understands when to push me and when to let me stumble into truths on my own. I have learned so much from our time working together, and feel better equipped than I have ever been to deal with the uncertainties of this crazy world.

2. I am thankful for my editor, the marvelous Debra Dixon, who has been an amazing creative partner, mentor, critic, and booster. She is terrific with artwork. She did the gorgeous covers for the Radiants books, and she has done a fabulous job with the first book of the The Chalice War, the Celtic urban fantasy about which I’ve told you all so much. You’ll see a reveal of the cover not too long from now.

3. My older daughter’s oncologist, who shall remain nameless so as to protect my daughter’s privacy, is just terrific. He is compassionate, honest, brilliant, devoted to our child and her battle with cancer, and willing to communicate with us whenever we have the need (so long as our daughter has given her okay, of course). We know he can’t perform miracles, but he has our daughter’s complete trust, respect, and affection, and that is all we can ask.

I wish these three a glorious Thanksgiving, and I wish the same to all of you. May your day be filled with laughter, joy, and the companionship of people you love. And may the year to come be filled with blessings large and small.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Professional Wednesday: What I Learned During a Recent Visit With Claude Monet

Last week, Nancy and I were traveling for her work, and we had the opportunity to spend a day and a half in New York City. We had dinners with our older daughter, we attended some university functions, Nancy had finance meetings, and I had part of a day to myself.

As I have mentioned here recently, I am trying to figure out where to go with my writing. (And allow me to take this opportunity to thank those of you who weighed in with opinions about what project I should take on next. Many of you want to see continuations of existing series — Thieftaker was the most popular request, followed by Fearsson and Radiants. Not surprisingly, the new project I mentioned as a possible choice received little love. The unknown is bound to attract less notice. But the most heartening element of the responses I received was the repeated assurance that you would welcome and read whatever I choose to tackle going forward. And for that, I am grateful beyond words.)

As I continue to grapple with this decision, I thought I might find inspiration in art, and so, on a bright, crisp Monday morning in New York City, I walked north along Fifth Avenue to 83rd Street and the grand entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I didn’t know precisely what I sought in the museum, but I trusted the instinct that drove me there. Much the way our bodies sometime crave certain types of food — salty snacks, or protein rich foods — so I believe our brains can crave input of a specific type. I felt a strong need to look at the beauty of creative endeavor.

Specifically, I wanted to see the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Degas, Manet, Morisot, Cezanne, Pissarro, Cassatt, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and my favorite, Claude Monet. As a historian (and a camera bug), I find the development of Impressionism (in the latter third of the nineteenth century) fascinating. It coincided with the invention and popularization of photography. Suddenly, artists were freed from the need to create images that were accurate and lifelike. A photograph could do that. Instead, artists could begin to experiment with color, with light and shadow, with texture, with the self-conscious use of brushstroke and palette knife.

Claude Monet,  Rouen Cathedral: The Portal (Sunlight) 1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral: The Portal (Sunlight) 1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.

Monet was fascinated in particular with the way light and color changed from hour to hour, day to day, season to season. He painted series after series, experimenting with images of the same subject matter painted at dawn and dusk and midday. Haystacks on farms, poplar trees in the French countryside, water lilies, the Houses of Parliament and Charing Cross Bridge in London, and two of my favorite series: the façade of the Cathedral at Rouen, and the Japanese footbridge and pond at his home in Giverny.

Claude Monet,  Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies 1899, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
Claude Monet, Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies 1899, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.

Seeing these paintings last week filled me with joy, with a sense of calm and contentment. It was glorious. I lingered in the museum for hours longer than I had intended to.

But what does this have to do with writing? Why would it warrant discussion in a Professional Wednesday post?

Honestly, I am still trying to figure out the answers to those questions. But I think it comes down to this: Creativity demands that we reexamine those things we have taken for granted, the things we have accepted as routine. The daily dance of light across the front to a building, the shape and forms we see each day. But creativity also asks that, on occasion, we rethink everything about our art. Imagine having been trained as a classical artist in the mid-nineteenth century, only to have every assumption about visual art overturned by the invention of a light-capturing box.

In the course of my lifetime (and I’m not THAT old . . .), we have sent spacecraft beyond the pull of earth’s gravity and out to the edges of our solar system. We have created lenses capable of peering through space and time to the very beginnings of our universe. We have replaced the rotary phones that were wired into our homes with untethered devices that take pictures, monitor our finances, store our music, and handle computational tasks that used to challenge machines so big they needed to be housed in warehouse-sized spaces.

We have seen the impossible become consumer-ready, the fantastical turned mundane. And as storytellers, we have had to stretch to come up with ideas that will surprise and captivate and satisfy. That stretch doesn’t necessarily imply pursuit of the increasingly outlandish. Rather, I would argue, it has forced us to reconsider simplicity, to infuse the familiar with qualities that make us marvel or recoil.

And as I search for my next spark of inspiration, I find myself wondering what will be for me the literary equivalent of watching color and shadow transform a garden pond and the reflections of a footbridge. Once upon a time, I worried that I would run out of ideas for stories, that I would complete a series, only to discover that it was the last one, that my creative well had run dry. Now, as I approach the big Six-Oh, my fear is that I will run out of time before I have completed all the tales I wish to write. I’m don’t worry about failing to find a new idea; I worry about choosing the wrong one and wasting time on something I don’t love.

Late in his life, Monet began to lose his sight. And still he worked, learning to create images of power and beauty and drama despite seeing color and form with less clarity. Creativity finds a way. Inspiration carries us past obstacles both physical and emotional.

Maybe, ultimately, that was the reminder I needed when I stepped into the Met. I still don’t know what I’ll be writing next. I do know that the challenges in my life have not gone away and won’t anytime soon. But I am a creator, and I still crave inspiration. So, I will consider, and I will settle on a project, and I will share with you the stories that stir my passions.

And I wish you the same.

Keep writing, keep creating.