It’s About A Box

Standard

Sometimes, you just don’t know where inspiration comes from, and then you still might not know how it will inspire you … or for that matter when you need that inspiration.  Recently, a box in a dream woke me up.  It wasn’t a real box, just one in a dream; and I had that dream well over 10 years ago.  Yet it was what I needed when I needed it.

For lack of a better term, 2018 has been a tough year.  Sparing you the details, it hasn’t been necessarily bad, it just hasn’t been easy.  One way that made things tough was I started exploring new ways to do the hobbies I love.  Namely judging bands, and writing.  Y’all know about this writing hobby of mine … I mean, if you are reading these words you are seeing the result of this hobby.  If you have been following my blog for a while, you may know I judge marching band competitions in the fall.  Well, in part because California’s higher cost of living is driving more of my future planning, I explored ways to further those activities with intent of turning them into profit centers.

For judging, that meant exploring a winter circuit.  This time of year, color guards and drum lines take the activity indoors … and it’s huge.  It’s a huge shift for me as well, but if I can break into that activity, I will help not only my skills during the fall when I typically judge but can help pay the bills in the winter.   If this sounds too objective … to analytic … too direct … well, yeah, that was kinda the problem I was having.  Even with the writing side, I was looking at these changes to my hobbies a direct sense of purpose.  For one, I joined a critique group to share my writing with so I can develop it and possible make some of the items I write publishable.  But to be honest, I struggled putting things together because – in no small part – there was nothing inspirational about exposing your work to someone else’s critical eye.

That’s when I found an old friend.

I was digging through some of my old files and came across a short story I first wrote back in the early 2000s.  It’s a story about a box.  If that sounds boring and plain to you, well, that was kinda the point.   I finished my first draft of the story on the same day (and same morning) I started it – heck, I finished it just in time to meet someone for breakfast that day.  Since then, I have revised the heck out of it – tearing it apart, pulling it back together, deleting and adding and changing.  In fact, a friend once gave me my first professional critique on that story.  But around 6 years ago it fell into a pit of forgotten meaningless words until I found it again.

The story is about a box.  I was inspired to write it after a dream I had about a hand made wooden box, somewhere between a jewelry box and a miniature safe.  The dream I had incorporated some personal feelings I was fighting to let go of at the time, but the box became a symbol for more than that.  I woke from the dream, and started writing.  I remember a couple of the changes specifically happened when I came to grips with what my dream was telling me to do.  I remember changes coming when I had to wake up to some real truths about my life.  The premise, and the box, remained throughout.

The thing is, the story ended up hitting the nail on the head of my mood these last few weeks.  If follows a guy trying to make some meaning in his life after a few decisions he made didn’t end out to plan – though probably not as dramatic as it sounds.  The point of the whole story, where it all came back to, is that sometimes you do things not because you have to, but because you love to do it.  It’s something you have a passion for.  The box in this story was a symbol of that, and was a symbol of remembering that passion.

As I mentioned before, I joined a writers critique group a few months ago.  Tonight, I am attending my first not as someone evaluating other’s works presented to us but, but as a presenter.  I am presenting this story of the box.  A month ago, I was dreading this night – in part questioning if I had the skill set to match up with the other writers, but mostly because my analytical mind fought the whole concept of writing.  Yet I am excited now – not to just to get feedback on my work, but to just see if people see the passion I put into this story, my personal box.  Just like I am excited following my first trial judging performance in winter guard last weekend.  Just like I am excited to see what the rest of 2018 will be.

Yes, it’s been a tough 2018.  But that doesn’t have to stop me from hoping for what is to come.

Austin City Limited

Standard

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not typically a fan of being away from home for work reasons over a weekend.  The fact I was doing it in Texas also wouldn’t click high up on my ‘happy weekend’ list.  It was cold, it was rainy, and the threat of ice hung … but I’m calling this one in the win column.

This story actually beings a week and a half ago.  I’ve had work plans for this upcoming week in Dallas, where I currently sit waiting for my fellow JPLers to show up.  Then, a need came up on short notice for a visit to a supplier in Austin.  With my schedule tight (see the whole Insanuary post), and the fear of adding an additional two travel days to my schedule, I decided to tack the new audit onto this past Friday and stay in Austin over the weekend.

Austin is one of the slowly shrinking number of US cities I’ve always wanted to visit but haven’t.  You’d expect it to be as Texas as Texas cities can be.  Home of the University of Texas, the State Capitol, and named for one of the founding fathers of Texas – you’d expect nothing but cowboy hats, horses, and barbecue.  Well, there was barbecue, that’s for sure. In any other way, however, I believe Austin is the least Texan Town in Texas I have ever seen.

I’ve known it for the music scene mostly.  Austin is the home of South by Southwest (SXSW), an annual music event (and film and multi-media, but stay with me here) that is the most comprehensive / expansive music festival in the world.  It basically takes over the city for a week in March with nearly 2,000 official acts and some 30,000 possible other acts popping up everywhere.

With this in mind, I focused on hanging out Saturday Night on 6th Street.  Austin’s 6th Street is the Bourbon Street or Beale Street of town.  Bars line the road for seven or eight blocks, many of them built for outdoor or rooftop or open front experience.  Like I said, it was cold this weekend, so outside entertainment wasn’t really a good option.  Still, every place had music going … and I mean … live music.  It’s was funny how many places had music going.  Blues, Jazz, Rock, Dueling Pianos, Electronic.  Bouncers outside of the bars were calling out ‘We Have Live Music’ …. and I was like, ‘yeah, you probably provide napkins with your drinks too’.  For serious, you were more likely to see a bar with a four piece live band than a bar with barstools.

Honestly, though, 6th street is for the younger scene.  U of Texas is there, so the streets quickly got packed with college aged folks looking to do what college kids do on a Saturday night.  It’s that kind of crowd though that feeds to unique lifestyle of the city.  Many places stole the old Portland line, with shirts that say “Keep Austin Weird”.  That was a sight to see as many buildings are painted with artistic murals or cool ideas.  Austin has this Bohemian, hipster feel to it.  It felt that any minute you could run across someone pulling out an accordion on a street corner, or reading some new poem, or offer black market free ranged cage free kale.

So, I only spent two days in this little bit of a city, and I am not even begin to say I experienced it in the right ways; but man that city had a vibe that was intoxicating.  With as insane this past month has been, I needed a day like Saturday to feel the release of the hang-ups of life.

Of course, tomorrow starts a day in Dallas – a day of real work – so I bet the weight of the world will come crashing back pretty quick.

Beautiful Downtown Montrose

Standard

This weekend marks the one year anniversary since I moved to a little community nestled in the San Gabriel foothills.  Upon arrival, I moved into a rental house in an unincorporated neighborhood of Glendale, CA called Montrose.  Six months later, I moved one unincorporated neighborhood of Glendale, CA called La Crescenta, but I basically hadn’t left the area far enough to feel like I left there really.  There’s a few different names of places that are in this little valley, including Vedugo City, La Canada, and even arguably Sunland.  Yet the hallmark of the area is Downtown Montrose, a place I fell for from the day I first saw it.

When I try to describe what living in LA is like, I try to get across that the whole of the LA area is nothing but a series of smaller communities and neighborhoods all pushed together.  Yes, you can go to any major city or small town and describe it like that; but LA seems to be more amplified in that way.  Part of the reason for that is that much of the city is broken up by hills, which geographically separates places from each other.  The population of Los Angeles County is nearly 10 million, but our community of Montrose & La Crescenta is just about 20,000 … and there are days that you can’t even tell the other 9.98 million are anywhere nearby.

Downtown Montrose is the most obvious part of this.  Located on Honolulu Avenue, the Downtown district in Montrose is about five blocks long (though Montrose blocks, especially in the direction that Honolulu runs are pretty long).   It is reminiscent of any small town downtown you may ever see.  There are shops, restaurants, banks, dance studios, karate centers, etc.  Yet the thing that always jumps out to me is how small town and small buisness all these places are.  Sure there is a Starbucks, and the banks are big names, but there isn’t the big name stores here.  The jewelry store is family owned, the pet store is family owned, the toy store (like an actual toy store with just toes) is family owned.  There is nothing ‘chain’ about the restaurants, yet there is nothing big name about them either.  Heck, there are four travel agencies … in the day of on-line travel websites, whens the last time you seen any travel agency at all … and there are four of them.  There’s even a bowling alley downtown Montrose, though it is private party only (yet seems always busy … it helps that they haven’t fixed it up since the 70s because, I’ve seen film crews there at least twice this year shooting something).

The downtown business association also puts on a load of events.  Usually at least one event per month comes along, from beer fests, wine fests, kids parties, outdoor films, car shows, and the like – usually shutting down a block or two for the weekend to put on the fun.  The holiday parade including a month of Santa hanging out on the streets is a real crowd favorite, as well as the Independence Day car show pulling in classic cars from all over the area to line the whole of the downtown.  If that’s not enough, every Sunday, half the street is shut down for a farmers market … like a real farmers market, with actual farmers selling farm goods.

On top of all that, the downtown here is absolutely beautiful.  Brick benches and pavers line the winding sidewalks.  Trees are lit year round creating a magical excursion down the road.  People always seem to be walking along there, stopping, talking, eating, laughing.  All of this with the background of the mountains on the either side … not to mention a fantastic view of Downtown LA from Oceanview Street.

When I was looking for a place to live, I remember coming across the house I would eventually rent and realizing I had no idea what Montrose was, or where it was at.  Now a year on, I feel pretty lucky to have found it.  Of course, buyers remorse has me wishing I lived somewhere closer to friends in Pasadena, or within walking distance of this downtown area I am gushing about.  But all I need is a Sunday like today, where I can sit out at the Starbucks, bang out a blog post, and head over to the farmers market to stock up on fresh fruit, and not feel like I should be regretting anything.