everyone’s father

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Dad…

seven million eight hundred eighty nine thousand two hundred thirty two seconds.

one hundred thirty one thousand four hundred eighty seven minutes.

two thousand one hundred ninety two hours.

ninety one days.

three months.

one quarter of one year.

not enough time.

not when the doctor says that’s all that’s left.

it’s a blink. a sudden inhalation of breath.

then no more.

Dad had cancer. We found out less than three weeks ago. I didn’t cry. His doctors did the biopsy on his liver and gave him the results on August 13th. His 74th birthday.

“Happy birthday! Now guess what?”

I don’t know how to be with this. Sad angry scared frustrated nervous grappling for handholds anywhere I can find. I’ve known other people who’ve died. Friends, teachers and even other family members. But this is my DAD. The man who taught me how to ride a bike notch an arrow draw a circle kick a soccer ball read a map. The man who introduced me to reading Heinlein Tolkein Bradbury Shakespeare Twain Clarke Herbert Sagan. Showed me how to ride a motorcycle drive a car sail a boat ride a skateboard. Told me about science history politics geography design architecture typography sculpture painting drawing sketching. Played me Mozart Beethoven Glass Reich Peter Paul Mary Simon Garfunkel Cocker Gilbert Sullivan & the Beatles. Took me to see Star Wars Jaws Close Encounters of the Third Kind 2001 Raiders of the Lost Ark. Helped me understand Cosmos Roots Algebra Geometry Biology Geology History Politics Technology. Gave me the choice to go to Hebrew school or to play music. When I chose music, he defended protected and nurtured that passion until it became a career. Most importantly, he taught me everything I know about how to be a Good Husband and especially how to be a Father.

When I was five years old I really wanted to play soccer. The league didn’t have enough coaches and Dad knew nothing at all about the game. He signed on anyway so I would get a chance to play. Record wise, The Hot Feet ended up being the worst team in our division. We were awful. I think we only found the back of the net enough to win one game that season, but we definitely had more fun than anybody else. Dad made sure of that. 37 years later, I still have friends from that team. And almost any time I talk to them, they bring up that team and ask about my Dad. My parents made some good friends that season that are still around too. Over the years, they became much more than friends, they became Family.

I played more concerts and little league games growing up than I can count and Dad cheered from the sidelines, announced from th booth behind the plate or sang along in the audience at nearly every single one. He never let himself forget the one show he missed though. He needed to go to China on business. I told him it was okay, but he wouldnt hear that. He never forgave himself for not being there that one time. He needed to be there to support me. This translated down to his grandsons too. Where he went to every one of Brendan’s soccer games and all of Gabriel’s baseball games up until we moved to New England.

When Jodi and I were kids, our house became one of the main hang outs for the neighborhood kids. We always had the coolest toys because Dad worked at Mattel, which was rad. Obviously. Everyone would come over to raid my room and see what was new. I remember having sleepovers and burying a lot of them up behind the bushes in our pretend fort behind the pool. If he got in trouble for it back at the office, he never told me. We threw huge pool parties, rocked out in the garage and played whiffle ball tournaments on the cul de sac. For Jodi’s sweet sixteen they brought in a local rock band to tear up the backyard. The police came to shut it down. If my folks weren’t cool before then, they sure were after that night!

Every summer break, Dad would take my sister to the office and they would spend the day together. Then he would take me along sometime the next week or so. I have such incredible memories of those times. He’d give me the tour and introduce me to everyone. I got more free Hot Wheels than I could carry. He even introduced me to the woman that Barbie was designed to look like. She was much older then, but still beautiful.

A few years later, he and his team were developing one of the very first electric cars. It had three wheels and the driver provided power to the engine by pedaling off and on. Of course it was the greatest thing since cheeseburgers when he let me drive it. I made three easy laps around the underground test lot. Then i pressed the pedal down, picked up speed and let go with one hand. Mr cool right? Well, Mr cool proceeded to crash into a pole and broke the front left wheel off. Dad didn’t get mad. Instead he laughed, grabbed his tools and dove right in with his team to fix it. Then they all took me out for ice cream so I’d feel better.

After he left Matel he was an early pioneer in the video game industry. Since he designed games, he needed to study them. So he went to the arcade a few hours every week to play the hottest new trends that kids were dropping their quarters into. I remember him picking up this heavy black velvet bag full of quarters. He winked at me and said, “Let’s go Tiger.” Not a bad job right?

As we walked into the arcade, all the teenage skater punks turned and stared. Here was this middle aged dude wearing a tie with his little red headed kid in tow. I thought for sure they were going to jump him for the quarters. But I heard their voices whispering all around us. “It’s SDK. Look, it’s him. Hey man, that’s SDK!” they parted like the red sea in front of him as he stepped up to the Defender machine. He handed me the bag and reached in for a quarter. Other players left their games. Taller kids let the shorter ones stand in front. The orderliness of it was a well rehearsed dance. The professor had arrived and class was in session. Every high score listed on the screen was followed by the same three initials:

SDK
SDK
SDK

The Mohawk and pierced crowd watched in awe while he absolutely destroyed that game. It was spectacularly cool.

One note about that particular adventure to make it even more spectacularly cooler… Almost every single one of the skater punks crowding around that brilliant Defender demonstration were riding skateboards that Dad designed. Yeah. THAT kind of spectacularly cool.

Usually, he’d try to keep me and my friends out of his office at home, but we’d all eventually end up with some tracing paper and his secret stash of brilliant prismacolors on his drafting table. He’d take the first letter of our names and turn them into a spaceship airplane submarine alien cowboy grizzly bear dinosaur helicopter or intergalactic superhero. I couldn’t walk into somebody else’s home without seeing something in there that he designed. Ceiling fan silverware toy telephone boat outboard motor car truck motorcycle skateboard roller skate or bow. I bragged a lot back then. Probably annoying the crap out of more than a few people in the process.

Everyone loved my folks. I’d see them sitting at the kitchen table with one of my friends trying to help them out with one problem or another. Something they might not be able to deal with at home. I knew a guy in high school who had a particularly bad home life. When I told Mom and Dad about it, they invited him over. They told him that he could come and stay with us for a while if he needed to and even offered to call the police. It ended up not happening, but it gave him the strength to get away from his situation and make things better for himself.

Every holiday Dad made us all cards. Every holiday. Without fail. He made them by hand, drawing cutting pasting beautiful things in his studio using Exacto knives markers colored paper watercolors. He’d find something that we were interested in at the time, make a fun scene and place us right in the thick of things. Everything in crazy unrealistic proportions so he could fit cartoon versions of our faces in there. Lots of oddly shaped drums howling guitars soccer balls screaming through the air at the goal baseball gloves making that last second catch to save the game. Princesses starship pilots graduation caps high school mascots wedding bands. Along with the grandsons he gleefully transitioned to digital prints etched with laser ink but not without the exact same amount of love and care. Jonah flashing a wand in a Harry Potter poster or Gabriel attacking the Death Star in an X-Wing Fighter.

The one card I remember most wasn’t made for me or my kids though. He gave it to my Mom on one of their anniversaries. The message was short and poignant and I steal it every now and then on a note to my wife. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. Mom kept the card in a place of honor in the hallway of their house for years. It’s still my favorite. It said simply,

“Always the same. Always new. I love you.”

I’ve never been religious. I do consider myself spiritual though. Is there something after this? I think there is. I mean we’re all made up of energy right? Everything came from the energy of exploding stars. We know that energy never disappears or dissipates. It transfers into something else. It turns into water air color earth sound fire. I am part of my Dad. My sister is. So are my boys and her son too. We may not be able to have two way conversations with him or sing his favorite songs together like we are used to, but his energy, his life will always be here. Nothing can change that no matter what religion or fath you cling to.

He described Fatherhood to me as one very long experience of opening your arms and letting go. I didn’t understand that for a long time. After having my own children, I realized that all we can really do for our kids is teach them what we know and hope they take enough of the good things to make a happy life for themselves. We cant control their choices or mistakes. We can help them only as much as they allow. Sometimes I didn’t listen to him. Sometimes I did. Sometimes the advice was good and sometimes not so much. That’s life for everyone I guess. The most important thing to me is that he was always there for me. Always.

He ocasionally made some not so suble hints that our lives would be better if only he’d made more money. If only he’d been more successful. But I know people who grew up with tremendous amounts of money. Among the large houses, elaborate vacations and bottomless trust funds, they were always missing something. Something urgent and important elluded them at the cash registers. They never had anything remotely close to the loving family relationship my parents showered us with every day. Dad was the most successful person I’ve ever met in the ways that really matter. Great friends. The respect and admiration of his peers. Children who love him no matter what. An extended family of siblings nieces nephews cousins aunts uncles who adore him even when they argued about politics. And above all, he had Mom. She was his best friend. He was so deeply in love wi her at he used to hide behind corners so he could watch her walk when she didn’t know it. He loved her more than I ever knew was possible.

My wife Melissa told me that Dad restored her faith in men. Once she met my parents, she knew she could trust that I would be good to her. I learned from the best. One of my best friends recently told me that he learned how to treat women by watching how Dad treated Mom and Jodi. Love with everything you have. Never hold back. Especially in the difficult times. Love when it’s hard, not just when it’s easy. If I end up being half as good an example for my boys as Dad was to me, I’ll consider myself incredibly successful.

Dad travelled the world designing products that not only made people’s lives more enjoyabe and simpler, they often saved lives too. Children grew up hearing his voice as Porky Pig on the See n’ Say. People flew in his airplanes rode his motorcycles rollerskates and skateboards. We stayed cool under his ceiling fans watched television using his satellite dishes and unsuccessfully attempted to beat his scores on Defender. He designed drums and orchestral bells. Dad sang opera, played guitar, made Mickey Mouse pancakes and swam back and forth across the pool really, really, really slow. He was threatened in a jazz club once by Miles Davis. Dad hosted a radio show and announced for WTTW Public Television in Chicago. He was a “Naviguesser” in the Civil Air Patrol. And Dad always brought home a Hot Wheel for me when I stayed home sick from school. Even when he knew I was faking it. I faked it a lot.

August 20, 2012.

Dad died seven days after his 74th birthday. 83 days earlier than the doctor originally estimated. When I went in the bedroom to check on him in the morning, his breathing had grown very shallow. So I woke up Mom and Aunt Marcia. I held his hand willing so hard to feel him gripping my fingers in return. Mom kissed him on the forehead over and over. I said it’s okay now Dad. We love you so much.

Then he was gone.

I leaned over him and kissed his cheek. Aunt Marcia ran a finger over the Naval Aviation Pensacola Florida logo on his t-shirt. “You can fly the greatest plane in the world now Stevie.” she said. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and a smile on her face, “He’s even wearing wings.”

I finally cried.

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“You should really get that hickie looked at!” or “All the cool kids are in the Mantacore club”: My interview with Steven Luna

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Before I go any further I need to ask if you like vampires?  Yes?  Good.  How about laughing?  Do you like to laugh?  I mean grab your sides, you need to pee, lung collapsing guffaws?  You do?  Then you must read Joe Vampire by Stephen Luna aka ‘Mantacore’.  (Don’t ask me how he got that nickname.  I haven’t been invited into the cool club to find out why yet. Soon as I learn the hi sign and secret hand shake, I’ll let y’all know!)

Joe is an under achiever.  He’s lazy and sub-handsome with not the best track record of girlfriends. I won’t give anything away, but his nicknames for them are some of the most hilarious in history.  If you’ve ever had a broken heart, Joe has your back…and quite possibly your neck too.

Luna and I recently became friends over the digital ones and zeroes.  He’s intensely funny and a terrific writer.  Don’t you love it when you can tell your friend you loved their book and really mean it?  For instance, I’m reading Joe Vampire for the second time now and laughing just as hard as I did the first pass.  It’s liters of fun. (See what I did there? Liters? Ha!)

I recently interviewed the soon to be too big to remember me author, about words, characters and the pursuit of groovy tuneage.  Check out how cool this dude is…

Where did you find Joe?  Is he based on you or anyone you know in particular?  He’s such a great character.  

Thanks, Alex!   Joe came to me after a comment was made by a Twilight-loving co-worker…she is a Team Edward-er or however you say that.  Can’t remember what her original statement was, but my reply was: “Not all the vampires sparkle, you know; some of them are just average Joes.”  It struck me that this would be a fun topic to blog about, how a work-a-day dude would deal with the challenges of being stuck with vampirism. And it was originally a blog only, sort of a conceptual art project where the character would chime in with observations, advice and information about his daily doings.  After nine posts, I saw a story emerge and decided to plot it out as a novel instead, and from there Joe just started speaking out and telling the story himself.  Makes the work so easy when it happens like that.    

How would you describe your relationship with writing?  What drives you to do it?  

Writing is a constant in my life…I’m continuously composing something in my head, all day long. Sometimes I even edit my to-do lists because I don’t think they’ve been worded properly.  It’s habitual for me.   But it took a long time for me to evolve “writing” into “storytelling”, because I realized how huge and daunting a task it is to get everything connected properly and have it all make sense.  I had to train myself one paragraph at a time.  Now, storytelling has become my default mode of thought, a way of organizing information in the world around me regardless of the situation.  As for writing novels, I used to want what I write to be transcendent and to reveal some grand insight about the human condition (don’t we all, though?)  That did nothing but block me, until I realized entertaining my readers is the greatest manner of transcendence my work could possibly provide.  It all made sense after that. 

How does your fictional world interact with your real world?   

Wow…good question.  Everything I write has some fantastic element or, at the very least, a touch of magical realism, so the interaction is primarily in the character voices and the compositional details.  Several scenes in Joe were based on real-life experiences – the details of the Halloween costume thing is 100% true, for example, right down to the costumes and parade described.  In the book I’m working on now, the main character is a rock star abducted by aliens, and I’ve been fascinated by both forever, so all of my casual data collection over the years is flowing out into it.  That’s a different sort of interaction, for sure.  And most recently, I’ve started incorporating cameo appearances by friends into my work, as a fun inside joke (with their approval, of course).  Sometimes they’re mentioned by name; sometimes their characteristics are encoded into a figure or descriptive passage.  In every instance, it’s a way for me to show my gratitude for their friendship.  It’s a lot of fun to work them into the madness.      

When you write, how do you block out enough of the stresses of daily life to submerge yourself completely into the story?  

I almost always compose the story in my head during “white noise” moments – sitting in traffic, doing yard work, in between day job tasks – which makes for a totally thought-consuming day.  But it also makes the moments when I sit down to write it all down much easier…so much ends up being there for me from the get-go, even if it’s just a series of major plot points that I can start connecting, and snippets of dialogue or descriptive passages.  I also block out early morning time to get as much finished as I can, knowing that evenings are prone to hectic activity.  That doesn’t keep me from pushing bedtime back by a few hours if needed, though.  And yeah, it hurts in the morning, but the feeling of having accomplished something is entirely worth it.

How important is music vs. silence when you write? If you do listen to music, who are some of your go to artists?  

Music is a total must-have when I write.  Generally I find plotting/planning/note-taking can be done to anything, so I’ll let Pandora or my own collection roll with a mix of all my artists and stations.  It’s a diverse mix – singer-songwriter stuff and electronica, metal and classic rock, Rat Pack standards and rap all coexist and make for a satisfying blend.  But I noticed when I was writing the sequel to Joe Vampire that the true writing process smoothed out completely when certain songs came up on the player.  All of them turned out to be related in some way to Sleepthief, an ambient-electronic project by a talented guy named Justin Elswick that features the voices of Jody Quine and Coury Palermo.  Something about that music in specific balanced out my brainwaves, and the storytelling just flowed.  I appreciated the effect of their work on my work so much that I wrote the three of them into the sequel.    

If you could think of one moment in your life that led you to being a writer…

Several years back, my wife asked me what she thought I could see myself doing as a long-term career.  I told her “painter”, since at the time I was knee-deep in illustration as a hobby.  She told me she saw me being a writer.  So I picked up some story ideas I had put down long before in favor of painting, and I just kept running with it.  Turns out she was onto something.  

Head on over to grab a copy of Joe Vampire You’ll laugh so much your sides will ache, your heart will go potter pat!

 

Here is a small bit of bragadociousness from the Mantacore his own bad self… 

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Steven Luna was relatively quiet when he was born; that all changed once he learned to speak. Now? Good luck getting him to shut up. He’s also known for not giving straight answers, but those around him are accustomed to ignoring him anyway, so it all works out.  He’s currently writing another book…really, though, aren’t we all?

 

And now run, don’t walk, RUN to one of these places to pick up a copy of Joe Vampire.  It really is a great book.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Joe-Vampire-ebook/dp/B00736WAZW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340715824&sr=8-1&keywords=joe+vampire

Barnes and Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/joe-vampire-steven-luna/1108479183?ean=2940014071277

You can always check in for more of Joe’s exploits on his very own blog here… http://joevampire.blogspot.com

He’s on GoodReads here… http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5757470.Steven_Luna

The prototypical Vampire Facebook master here… www.facebook.com/thestevenluna

And if you are a twitterer, he likes his 120 characters fresh and preferably Type O Negative… @joevampireblog

Incidentally, I summoned enough courage to enter into the Mantacore’s lair and let him ask me a few questions too.  Check it out HERE.  Fortunately for me, I was able to escape with only small visual scars!

Unfriend

Can we disagree? Is it still possible for us to have intelligent and informed conversations with people who hold different opinions than our own? By observing social media it sure doesn’t look like it.

From time to time I post my political and social opinions on Facebook or Twitter. I try not to be offensive to those who hold an opposing view point. No one’s shouted at me in ALL CAPS yet so I must not have pushed it too far.

How many times have you been unfriended? How many people have you yourself unfriended? Why? Is it because they have ideas that you find abhorrent? I mean if it’s an old girlfriend from high school who keeps stalking you, that gets a free pass of course. But why can’t we disagree any more? All this technology has returned us all to the kindergarten sandbox where we refuse to share the shovel with Tommy who has the bucket.

Or maybe we just never grew up in the first place.

Personally I enjoy a good argument. One that’s informed and educated. Not one that comes from the viewpoint of television talk shows or the internets. If you come at me with a challenge supported by a tweet or a sound byte, you’ll need to talk to the hand. If there is actual information coming from a place of knowledge and factual data, I am more than happy to be proven wrong.

Our culture needs to move away from the concept of “I feel this way so it should be so” and move closer to “I have studied all the relevant information and it has led me to understand things in this way.” I won’t hold my breath though. Making decisions based on a feeling or an emotional response will usually trump the hard work it takes to research and learn something. You mean I have to read more than 120 characters? I don’t have time for that. A new episode of the View starts after this infomercial about my Brazilian non-surgical nose job/tearless onion slicer.

Let’s face it. We live in the microwave generation. We want everything right now. We don’t care if it’s real. The shinier and sexier it is, the more we’re interested. The truth isn’t sexy. The truth isn’t shiny. The truth is really fucking difficult to deal with. It makes us stare down our reflection in the mirror without averting eye contact. It’s so much easier to say, “You disagree with me? You’re wrong and I hate you!” than it is to open our minds, listen to an opposing view and realize that there may be some validity to something different.

I’m not trying to say we should always agree with opinions that offend our sensibilities. But we as a culture have forgotten how to have rational discourse. We see it in Washington every single day. The left side and right sides of the aisle won’t cooperate on anything at all. Both are more interested in being “right” than looking at the state of the world and trying to do something about it. Even if that means they have to (here comes the dreaded word) compromise.

I have family members with different politics than me. I still love them. I try to talk about it and understand where they’re coming from. Doesn’t mean they don’t completely piss me off sometimes and vice versa. I don’t love them any less. If they fell on the same side of the aisle with me, I wouldn’t love them any more than I already do either. It simply means our conversations would probably be a bit quieter.

In our country we’ve been blessed with the First Amendment to the Constitution. We are supposed to be able to speak our minds freely. We are supposed to be able to dissent freely too. If I have an opinion, you have to option to disagree with it and even tell me so. Though I may be upset that you don’t think the same way, we should be able to talk about it without stomping our feet and rolling around in the mud until the teacher puts us both in separate corners.

Agree to disagree?

get yourself a copy of my book “the Key to everything” you know you want to

follow me on twitter

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