Saturday, February 23, 2013

When in doubt, freeze it off

“Dude! What happened to your nose?” A middle grade student recently asked me.

Yes, it seems that some young people that age have very little in the way of tact. One of his fellow students said, “Shh! That’s rude!” I knew exactly what he was asking about.

On the bottom, right side of my nose is a divot—a smallish crater. It’s shown here in a very unflattering picture of my nose:

(Side note: when I took this photo, I labeled it “nose pic.”)

Why does it look like someone took a scoop out of my nose? Because someone did, sort of.

A couple of years ago, I had what I thought was a zit forming on the bottom of my nose. Growing up, I had acne pretty bad, and even now that I’m 40ish something I still get them time and again. I didn’t think much of it until it wouldn’t go away. Even worse, it would scab over, the scab would fall off and it would start to bleed.

I’d never experienced anything like that before, and so I decided to have a dermatologist check it out. After looking it over, she said, “Ah, it’s a precancerous lesion.” I think it’s a safe bet that no one wants to hear a doctor say the word “cancer” in any shape, size, or form. “Don’t worry,” she said casually, “We’ll just freeze it off.”

Perhaps I’m alone in feeling this way, but I don’t relish the thought of having any part of my body frozen off, for any reason.

A moment later, she came back with what looked like a can of WD-40. “Hold still,” she told me unnecessarily. The sensation was odd. At first, it felt akin to having an ice cube placed against your skin. And then, the pain began. I felt my eyes start to water and I grabbed the side of the examination table quite tightly.

“Wow,” she said. “I think you’re the first man I’ve done this to that hasn’t cursed.”

I looked at her with my watery eyes and said, “I just didn’t do it verbally.”

She and her nurse laughed. And then she gave me the instructions, “The area will scab over and then fall off. Don’t pick at it.”

“Got it. No nose picking.” She and her nurse laughed again. I handle pain with humor.

Sure enough, the doctor was right. The scab fell off on its own. However, in its wake, it left the crater I noted earlier—something I wasn’t expecting. It’s kind of under my nose, so it’s not glaring, but still, it’s not normal. I notice it every time I look in a mirror. But it’s part of me now.

So, how did I respond to the student that pointed it out in front of the class? I told him, “You know how Pinocchio’s nose grew bigger when he told lies? Well, as it turns out, when you say rude things to teachers, part of your nose may fall off. I learned this the hard way when I was your age.”

He didn’t say another word the rest of the class.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Ms. White sighed when she noticed Billy drawing outside of the lines, again. He was the only one of her second grade students that couldn’t grasp the concept she was teaching.

She walked closer to Billy’s desk, noticing how Mildred and Richard, who sat on either side of him, kept their crayon marks within the set parameters. Richard’s face had a look of strict concentration and Mildred’s hands worked slowly while her thick, brown crayon filled in the bark of a tree.

Ms. White stood next to Billy, but he didn’t look up. Almost carelessly, he was brushing his purple crayon against the top of the paper—a place where he’d colored with his blue crayon earlier.

The assignment she’d handed out was fairly simple. It was a picture of a tree in a field, with mountains behind it and a grass plain all around. Aside from the sky area, each of the different sections had a small number inside it. At the bottom of the paper was a list of which numbers correlated with which color. Billy hadn’t colored in any of those sections. Even more frustrating, he was using colors he shouldn’t in an area that didn’t need to be colored.

“Billy,” Ms. White said to get his attention.

“Yes?” he answered without looking up.

“Did you understand the assignment?”

“Uh huh.”

“No, I don’t think you did,” she said, trying not to sound upset. “Explain to me what you are supposed to be doing.”

“You said to color the paper,” Billy said. “That the colors match up to the numbers on the bottom.”

“That’s right,” Ms. White said. “If you understand the assignment, why aren’t you doing it?”

Billy looked up from his paper. He didn’t appear mad or defiant as Ms. White expected. His expression was one of confusion. “But I am doing it.” He pointed to his paper. “See. Look. I colored.”

Leaning down, Ms. White pointed to the uncolored tree. “You haven’t started yet. All you’ve done is color the part you didn’t need to with colors you shouldn’t have used.”

Billy blinked at her. She could see him trying to puzzle out what she had just said. “You never said not to color this part or that I couldn’t use blue and purple.”

“Oh? So that’s it, is it? I have to spell out every little detail for you to follow directions?” Ms. White no longer tried to hide her frustration.

“I’m sorry,” Billy said. His voice started to quiver. “I like what I colored. But I guess it’s no good.” He set down the purple crayon and slumped back in his chair. He looked defeated.

Something about his tone and body language made Ms. White pause. She looked again at the night sky he had drawn.

It was beautiful.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valetine's Day Fail

I’ve heard some people refer to Valentine’s Day as “Single Awareness Day.” Though it’s been over twenty years since I’ve been single, I remember feeling awkward on February 14 when I didn’t have anyone to be my Valentine.

On one occasion after I was married, I had that same awkward feeling. No, my wife and I weren’t having a spat or anything. We were living in Connecticut at the time and I was scheduled to take a business trip to Florida which would get me home on the evening on Valentine’s Day. However, a huge winter storm hit New England and shut down all the airports. My coworkers and I were stuck in Florida.

There were four of us, and we debated how to spend Valentine’s Day evening. We’d been cooped up at the airport and at our hotel all day, so we decided to see what there was to do in Jacksonville. One of the locals suggested an open air mall that was built on the edge of a bay. We decided to check it out—and it was gorgeous. We picked up a few things for our loved ones back home, but still had time to kill.

As the sun was setting, one of the guys spotted a bar that had an open view of the bay. I’d never been to a bar, and I don’t drink. The other guys knew this about me and said I could be the designated driver—even though we were going to be taking a cab back to the hotel.

My other three coworkers were all good guys. They didn’t follow my lifestyle, which many consider to be quite conservative, but they were still people I considered friends.

The drinks started to flow, I had Sprite, and I watched an interesting transformation happen. I’d never been around guys as they got drunk. One side effect was that I became the funniest man in the world to them. Anything remotely clever I said got them roaring in laughter. It felt a bit weird to be at a bar, but I had decided way beforehand I wouldn’t be drinking, and had made it clear to the guys, so I never felt pressure to join in.

However, there was one aspect of the evening I had considered. We were at a bar. On Valentine’s Day. And it was “ladies night.”

Soon, we started getting attention from several women—sometimes they were in groups, sometimes they were alone. All of us guys were married, so as soon that they approached, we’d flash our wedding rings to scare them away, though as the night drew on, and the other guys got more drunk, the more flattered they would get.

Some of the women got upset, one even said, “What are you even doing here if you’re not available?” I kept thinking about my wife and how much I missed her. I’d have taken a quiet night at home with her over the bar with all the single ladies anytime.

Eventually we headed back to the hotel. Though I didn’t have to drive, I did have to help them find their rooms once we got back to the hotel.

The next morning, we once again tried to find a way home. We ended up having to get a flight into Newark and then take a rented car to JFK airport. The trip home was miserable. We had long waits, crammed airplanes, and the uncertainty if we’d even make it home or if our flight would get diverted. But it could have been worse for me. At least I wasn’t hung-over.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wrong direction?

I don’t often talk about what I do outside of writing. My bio states I’m an award-winning TV director. And it’s true. I won awards when I directed TV shows. But I don’t do that anymore. As for why, that requires I share some more information I’ve not shared before.

In high school, my focus was on electronics. I did very well in the classes I took, and even won a statewide competition called “The Vocational Excellence Award” which earned me a full year scholarship. I graduated when I was only 17 years old, and I knew I wanted to serve an LDS (Mormon) mission when I turned 19, so I had a full year of schooling I could get in before I went.

And that’s what I did. I started to learn how to be an electrical engineer—and was bored out of my mind. I understood it, and got good grades, but I couldn’t imagine spending hours each day drawing schematics.

Upon returning from my LDS mission, I changed my focus to television production based on the good experiences I had while working at my high school radio station—a job I got because of my electronics knowledge. I did very well in the TV course at BYU, earning the highest honor possible for a student—the silver microphone in directing.

After a two-and-a-half year stint in Twin Falls, Idaho at a small, but awesome, station, I got my big break. I was hired as the operations manager at a 24 hour news station in Connecticut, which was officially in the New York City market. It was quite a jump from small town America.

For seven years I was at the station in Connecticut. Much happened during that time—the 9/11 attacks, massive layoffs in 2002, a huge shift in technology which changed how we did our jobs. Through it all, my lifeline, the reason I worked so hard, was my family. Yet, over time, the demands from work increased to the point where it became clear I would have to choose my work or my family. Once that became clear to me, I knew I had to make a change.

In 2007, I left TV and went to work as a bank manager in North Carolina. They hired me for my management experience, and taught me banking. In 2008, the banking world crashed—hard. I kept my job, but the company I worked for was bought out by a bigger bank. It was not good times. I switched banks, but found the grass wasn’t any greener with them.

I was back to having to make a choice. I wasn’t happy with my job, but I had a family to support. My choice was made for me, after a fashion, when I got sick. It was bad enough the doctors pulled me out of work. By the time I was cleared to go back to work, several month later, my job had been eliminated.

Here I was a 42 years old, with four daughters, three of them teens, and basically unemployed, due to no fault of my own. I was again faced with a decision. What could I do? I knew that I didn’t want to go back to TV and banking is still a mess.

During the last year of my time in Connecticut, I started writing, if for no other reason than to have a creative outlet. I continued to do so while in banking—I especially needed the outlet then. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of books published, as well as several short stories—one of which even won an award.

I love writing, and wanted to get better at it. So, after a lot of thought and prayer, and talking with my wife, I went back to school to get my Masters in Creative Writing. I should be done in about a year from when I’m writing this.

My goal is to not only help my writing career, but also to be able to teach Creative Writing one day. As I’ve given presentations to schools and other places about my books, I’ve really enjoyed it.

To help pay the bills, I substitute teach at middle and high schools. Though the pay isn’t great, it’s been a wonderful experience. I get all sorts of ideas that I use in writing. In addition, it helped me appreciate how wonderful my children are and what they are faced with each day at school.

Some may say that I’m headed the wrong direction. I went from having a good paying job in Connecticut where I was a very young operations manager with a bright future ahead of me, to a Grad student who subs at schools, and isn’t sure exactly what the future holds.

But one thing is certain. Since I got sick, I have been able to spend a lot of time with my daughters—time I won’t have later in life because they are growing up and moving out. No amount of money or status can compare to the joy I’ve had from being a dad.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

My exercise plan

My exercise plan:

I STRETCH my budget.

I PUSH my luck.

I PULL out my hair.

I LIFT the spirits of those around me.

I JUMP to conclusions.

I WALK a fine line.

I JOG my memory.

I’m RUNNING out of time.