Saturday, August 04, 2012


I’m so glad you stopped by to read a few of my words. You may be puzzled to see a welcome message as the fourth entry posted on a blog, but I wanted to get a few entries in before I started inviting people to visit and read.


In college, I had six different majors, and I spent 16 years obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree. My friends can assert that I have a history of starting schools, jobs, projects, and hobbies that I later abandon due to lack of interest.

But two activities keep coming back to me: carpentry and writing. I can remember when I was a kid I the early 80’s, sitting in the living room on weekends when my dad was watching “This Old House”, “New Yankee Workshop”, and “The Woodwright’s Shop”. These guys had power tools, and that was pretty awesome (Well, the first two did. The guy on the third show works entirely without power tools, which is its own kind of completely freakin’ awesome), but even more awesome, they built stuff!

Norm Abram is the host of “New Yankee Workshop” and a bit of a personal hero. He’s a solid carpenter, aided, I’m sure, by the magic of television to allow him to fix mistakes and cover imperfections without the audience ever having to know about them. He loves going into antique stores, finding great old pieces of furniture, and showing his audience how to adapt those old pieces to modern tools, modern materials, and modern techniques. The most respected and expensive carpenters would replicate materials and techniques, but Norm isn’t trying to preserve old techniques as much as he’s trying to teach the joy of creating something for yourself. He’s a great teacher, and he calls drawers “drawhs”, and I gained an early fascination with carpentry from him. I always suspected that if I got a chance, I would love and have a talent for woodworking.

I got my chance during 2007 and 2008 to test out my suspicions when I left retail and started working as an apprentice carpenter. Although the company closed in 2008, and I went back to retail, I’ve never abandoned carpentry. I don’t get to do it much, because tools and space are either expensive or at other peoples’ houses, but the work I do is satisfying.

I’ve also had a fascination with writing down words for other people to read. I remember Christmas in third grade, to this day still my favorite Christmas, when I opened my presents to find a boxed set of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien hooked me on the idea of world-building. I started trying to write sequels to his works, and nothing thrilled me more than seeing Middle-Earth realized on film. I was, and still am, less concerned with Peter Jackson faithfulness to Tolkien’s story than with his faithfulness to the vision and world of Middle-Earth. My desire to write and to share grew out of my fascination with world-building.

I would never have imagined it, but I fear that I have become “that guy” among my group of family and friends who flits from master plan to master plan, unfortunately doing more planning than mastering. I play golf with around a 40 handicap, know about two or three guitar chords, and I have a nice 3.5” Newtonian reflector telescope languishing in my closet. My hard drive is littered with the remnants of computer programming projects that never resulted in any practical programming knowledge. I even know 10 or 12 words in Japanese.

As I begin a new project, fully realizing that the weight of my own history argues strongly for failure, I simply haven’t yet had the nerve to announce a blog that I would update once and then forget. This concept, this project of writing is too important to me to allow it to become another abandoned pursuit.

So I’ve waited, and I have a plan and a vision.

Here’s the plan:

Write something every single day. Most days I expect that I’ll work on this blog. I plan to write many more entries than I actually publish, because not every entry will be a good one. If one out of three is actually any good, then I still get a couple of posts per week, at that rate. My plan will actually require a great deal more time management than you may think. I have a job, a wife, two kids, and an addiction to wasting time. I can spend an hour and a half looking at stupid pictures and gifs on reddit, and, like many of my generation, video games are a tempting distraction. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment, but I won’t neglect my commitments to my family, my fitness, or my job, so I need to reduce my entertainment commitment if I’m going to find time to write.

And here’s the vision:

This blog should be a vehicle for people who already know me to get to know me better and a place where people who don’t know me can meet me. Sometimes that will mean confessional posts, and sometimes I might just rant about something that I just can’t ignore.

This blog will be honest.

Finally, this blog will a mental workout for me. If you’ve ready my earlier posts, you know that I’m physically out of shape and trying to get back on track. Ditto on the brain. If I’m going to make a go at a childhood dream, I need to get my brain and my fingers going again.

Welcome and thanks for starting this journey with me.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Name and Titles

I've been thinking about titles and names lately.

Part of starting a new blog is creating a name for it. I don't know about other people, but I have a hard time coming up with good names. Blogs, school essays, video game characters, you name it, I have a hard time naming it. And I actually do think I know something about other people's naming habits, but more on that later.

As I was titling my blog, I had a few things going through my mind. I though about a descriptive/self-deprecating name. "Adventures of a Dilettante" or something like that. That'll tell people that I write about a wide range of subjects and that I don't take myself to seriously. Who am I kidding? I DO take myself too seriously. Okay, scratch that name, I certainly can't have a title like "The Best Blog" or "I'm Pretty Awesome" or "Please Read Me". I don't want a vague name like "Thoughts" or "My Feelings About Some Things". So I setting for "Do I Have To?" It seems to encapsulate my state of mind on any given day, so maybe it'll grow on me as a name. Or maybe I'll grow out of it.

My good friend Terese has a great name for her blog: "You'll Be Fine, I Promise". She even has a great story behind why she chose that name. I won't spoil the story; she tells it better than I could, anyway. You should read it for yourself, and while you're at it, read the rest of her blog too. She's been tremendously supportive of my fledgling efforts here, and she tells a good story. I'm hoping that sticking at this long enough will result in a great story that can turn into a great name.

The issue of names came up again last week when I joined the office softball team. We had to choose a name for the public park league we joined. Our organizer put out a call for team name ideas, and the names started rolling in. No Homers. Showing Signs of Fatigue. Old and Flabby. Lowered Expectations. Out of Breath. There's obviously a theme here. We settled on Scared Hitless.

One of our office managers quite unintentionally explained the real trouble with titles and names when he heard our team name. He said, "Scared Hitless! I love it! Underpromise and overdeliver. That's the way to go!" I want to avoid broad generalizations, so I'll mainly speak for our little softball team, but I think we might be able to extrapolate outward a bit to portions of my generation without ruffling too many feathers -- The lower you set the bar for achievement, the more pride you can take in failure. "Sure, we didn't win a single game, but look at us! We're Scared Hitless, and we actually got a few hits! We're winners!"

Maybe underpromising and overdelivering is a useful strategy for managing expectations (It certainly worked for Scotty on the U.S.S. Enterprise), but our name feels a bit like the softball equivalent of a straw man argument. I don't mean to say that I'm part of a generation of losers trying to convince everyone that losing is okay. I just see a lot of cynics around me (and in the mirror).

There's no grand realization or plan here. Based on some of the name choices I see, I and many of the people I interact with would rather succeed cynically than fail earnestly. Earnest people get ridiculed for being naive or old-fashioned or just uncool. Cynics are presumably intelligent enough not to be earnest.

Maybe we've bought in too much to the concepts of success and failure. Or maybe our cynical attitudes are merely a manifestation of our rejection of the success/failure dichotomy.

Sometimes I read too much into things. Maybe it's just funny for out of shape geeks to drag their pregnancy bellies around a softball field. As Freud probably didn't actually say, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."