Let’s Talk NaNoWriMo

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The last few weeks for me have been crazy busy, but tomorrow … the real crazy begins.

November is the National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo), an annual event that encourages writers (whether hobbyist or serious-ist) to try to write a significant portion of a novel they may have deep inside of them.  Directly speaking, the goal is to crank out 50,000 words between midnight November 1st and 11:59pm November 30th.  The limits are boundless on what story you want to tell, what words you choose to write, or your intentions with the story after your are done with it.  In fact, it doesn’t even have to be well written … or good for that matter.  The point isn’t to write a work of art, the point is to crank out words that were stuffed deep inside of you waiting for a bit of crazy to get it out there.

If you’ve been following the Bear Feed for a while, this may not be the first time you have seen me mention it.  This is, in fact, my fifth real attempt at NaNoWriMo.  Looking back, it seems I blogged about it at least on seven or eight different occasions, which is kind of strange to say that I wrote about writing, but … meh.

Because it’s my fifth go at it, and because I have been successful reaching 50,000 words the last 3 years, I know the process (and my process) pretty well.  It inherently requires me to find an hour or two every day to get something, anything, down.  In between those periods of writing, I am thinking about that next section, mentally writing it in my head … like, I take the longest damn showers in November, just sitting there and going over dialog or stories.  I look at things through my character’s eyes – not in search of what to say, but because they dig their way into my psyche.  I don’t hold myself back from writing, so if I roll over at 2am and something comes up – I jump on the lap top, crank out a section, and then … well keep writing usually.  Sleep is as much fiction as what I type up in November.  By two or three weeks in, the crazy has taken hold, and I am running through the highs and lows of inspiration, fatigue, and alcoholism.  When I am done, and there always comes a point when I am just “Done” – the celebration begins, and normal starts finding its way back to me.

Yet, this year is a little bit different.  Like it seems in all the evolution of the hobbies I take on, I start off dabbling in the shadows, try some things on my own, get more and more social about it with people in the know, then at some point take on a more vocal role in the program.  I found out about this time last year that JPL has a number of people who also give it a try.  Some of them pulled me into a non-JPL (but totally JPLer) critique group where we share our stories in hopes of refining and improving it.  It got to the point that I lead a discussion on NaNoWriMo here at JPL to encourage others to join in, sign up, and give it a go … almost making me feel like I need to encourage them to be successful.

The weird thing about all that is that … well … I am talking about writing.  Writing to me is a very personal and very intimate thing.  I don’t share my work usually, because of reasons that run from self-doubt, to straight up not wanting you to ask how I knew so much about certain subjects.  I’m not along in that mindset.  For all the people I have met through the NaNoWriMo process, I maybe have seen one or two of their stories.

Yet there I was in front of thirty JPLers throwing out mad ideas on how to kick-start a story concept, how to maintain your creative direction, and where to get really high octane coffee.

November has become an exciting, crazy month for me now that I look forward to for long stretches of the year.  My concepts start forming, my plot starts building, and my characters start speaking to me.  Then when November comes, I am cranked up to crank out the word vomit.  Yet it is the creative process that is so fascinating to me.  Every year I have done NaNoWriMo, I hit some point where what I am writing just seems to be something that is so deep in my head that I am amazed of what comes out.  Sure that can happen any time of year, but it is gushing and gushing for weeks.

So, here comes the November, the crazy crazy month of writing dangerously.  Wish me luck, and I’ll let you know how it comes out in the end … probably.

Lambeau West

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Yesterday, I checked off a long standing “Bucket List” item.  I attended my first ever NFL Football Game, and my first Green Bay Packer’s game at that.  For the record, the Packers lost to the Rams by 2 pts at the LA Coliseum, but to be honest, the outcome was the afterthought.

At my core, I am a sports fan.  Played some, mostly in high school, mostly with little success, but I’ve love nearly every sport there is (and if I don’t love it now, I loved it once, before it got suffocatingly boring … I’m look at you NBA).  That all being said, Football … American Football … that is my passion.  More than that, the Green Bay Packers is my one true love.  The only sports team I live, die, and study in detail all season long and all off-season long.  In my life, I’ve attended tons of baseball games, loads of hockey games, soccer, rugby, volleyball, even rolled my eyes through 2 hours of an NBA game.  I’ve watch my share of college football games as well .. but to say I have gone my entire life without seeing an NFL game live is incredible really.  At first it was because tickets were so hard to come by for a guy who lives nowhere near where the Packers play.  Then it became wanting to have my first game be special, like really special … this offseason, with Packers coming to LA, I decided to rip the band-aid off and see them live and in person.

The LA Rams have become quite a popular team here since they moved back from St. Louis a couple years back.  It helps that they are pretty darn good – coming into yesterday undefeated.  The joke around us is “The Ram Bandwaggon is blowing all it’s whistles for people to jump on board.”

The LA Coliseum is pretty accessible (mostly) to the whole area, so you would expect that it could draw well.  Still, it’s a massive stadium with few luxury boxes, so sell-outs are rare – and average ticket prices are nothing compared to other places.  Not for this week – Packers fans invaded.  Ticket prices jumped, with the cheap seats going for over $180 a piece … and I payed over twice that, for middle of the price range places; but for the tens of thousands of us who don’t get to park and ride to Green Bay’s home stadium of Lambeau Field, we were willing to pay it more than the average Rams fan.  As a result, the paid attendence of over 75,000 people was over 12,000 more than their average — and the place was as much green as it was blue.  Packers made the LA Coliseum into “Lambeau West”.

The place was buzzing for hours before the game.  Tailgating was happening on the severely limited parking lots (reportedly costing $350 per spot).  I arrived (after parking 5 miles away for $8 and taking the metro for nearly an hour) just as gates were opening up nearly 2 hours before game time.  Fans were slowly dripping in … Rams fans taking the Dodger approach of not showing up until after game time … all while competing cheers between the different team fan bases built up.  By the kickoff, the noise was incredible.  Players noticed it, many times waving their arms to encourage the Packer fans rallied at the closed end of the stadium where I sat.  Most noticeably, the crowd would erupt on big Packer plays.

As far modern football stadiums are concerned, no one mistakes the Coliseum to be anything like that.  With just 5 years left before it’s 100th anniversary, the Coliseum is currently the only stadium to have hosted two Olympics.  It’s a classic horseshoe bowl design, with the famous torch and arch way facing the east.  Amenities that we are all used to with any football stadium just doesn’t exist here.  Big scoreboards are there, but more or less as after thoughts to the current architecture.  There are no food vendors inside the building, and exist only as tents outside of the bowl.  The structure doesn’t even have bathrooms … instead a few buildings built outside the bowl that clearly have been updated recently.  There is a renovation going on that is redoing the press-box side of the place, but for the most part it holds itself consistent with its style going back to the early 20th century.

So getting around it kinda sucks.

The irony about the game to me was a cheer the Rams fans used.  I guess it’s recent, but it was an odd choice by the team.  Basically someone would shout: “Who’s House”, which is responded with “RAMS HOUSE”.  What’s odd about it to me, is some simple facts:

  • The Rams Don’t Own that House.  It’s officially owned by the State of California & Los Angeles City … so the Chargers have probably as much right to the place, and arguably the Niners and Raiders too.
  • The Rams are only there temporarily.  A new stadium is scheduled to be completed for the 2020 season in Inglewood, a good distance away.
  • The Coliseum is officially noted as the home of University of Southern California (USC) Trojans football.  If you want proof, it takes only a couple screen shots of the game yesterday to still see the USC bleeding through the endzone colors.
  • The Packer fans were clearly louder, more present, and just plain more!

So … when asking “Who’s House?”  my answer was “Good Question!!”

Still, it was a great time.  Everything I thought I would hate about watching an NFL game live seemed unimportant; and everything I liked about watching an NFL game from home I loved watching it live.  While I can’t see my self running off to catch every little game that might be available around town, I am keeping on eye on my options and may try to make other things happen in the future now the band-aid was torn off.  Like one of the beer vendors I met (one of the many beer vendors, many  many beer vendors) had mentioned to me, I had a smile from ear to ear from the moment I arrived to the moment I left.  Yeah we lost, but it didn’t matter.

I saw my first NFL Green Bay Packers Game live & in person.  And no one can take that away from me.

Late Step Off

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Hello from Mandeville, Louisiana; one of those nice towns on the north end of Lake Pontchartrain a causeway ride from New Orleans.  I am slipping in this blog post while waiting for the start of the Clash of Titans, a marching band competition at the nearby Lakeshore High School.

For those of you new to the Bear Feed … first of all, where you been all my life?  But to catch you up to speed, during the falls I run around the country judging high school marching band competitions.  It’s been a hobby of mine for over 20 years, and still gets me excited for the weekends and the fun that comes with it.  At least usually.

This year has been a bit of a struggle.  My judging season has hit more snags than I have ever seen, but finally with the season nearing a close, I might be actually having some of this season go my way a little.

It actually started pretty promising.  With taking on additional work with a California circuit (Western Band Association or WBA), my pre-season schedule had 7 shows in four states ranging from early September through the beginning of November.  One of those shows I picked up out of luck of being in the area for my JPL work.  That’s as good of a schedule as I have had in nearly 10 years.

The trouble began when I got a note in mid-August that two of my WBA shows were cancelled.  I wasn’t cancelled, the shows were.  Marching band is an expensive process for a school, and competitions can be a real drain on budgets.  Between transportation, food, and getting people to haul those kids around, schools have to be picky what competitions they agree to attend.  That meant these two shows didn’t have enough bands to put on a good program – and unlucky for me, I was on both panels.  That still left a respectable 5 shows in my season, but still it makes it tough to backfill work so late.  WBA did make it up to me, booking me for another show – this time one of their big ones at UNLV in Las Vegas, but 6 shows is still less than 7.

Then things got wet.  That first show of the year in Cincinnati was rained out.  We still allowed bands to perform in a gymnasium, but when you judge visual (essentially, marching and choreography), and the space is too small to move, you have nothing to really judge.  Still I would have taken that over the next trip.

A couple weeks back, I was scheduled for a full day show in Louisville, KY.  On a recommendation, I got a cheap direct flight from LAX to Indianapolis, early enough to make the 2 hour drive down before dinner.  That is if the flight left on time.  Sitting on the plane, they stated there was a mechanical issue that would cause a delay.  That led to a second delay.  And then a third.  Then the crew couldn’t stick around because they timed out.  For the next four hours they would tack on 30 minutes to the delay four or five times. After that, they just went ahead and pushed it another 4 hours.  Late in the LAX afternoon, I am on the phone with the judging group trying to make a decision.  At that point my flight looked to arrive in Indianapolis at around 3AM, which meant IF the rental agency was open, I would have just enough time to arrive in Louisville for the show … but that also means, sleepless driving in the middle of the night.  Ultimately, I couldn’t confirm that the rental place would be opened (thank you Hertz for not picking up your phone), and had to cancel out.  The first time in 20+ years I couldn’t get to a show … and couldn’t do my job.  I was gutted, frustrated, and angry.

Things started to get on track with a show in Fresno last week.  This time, it wasn’t as much the logistics, the weather, the situation … no it was just me.  Had an off day, and didn’t really nail that show.  Still, it happened, and I should be happy with that

But then … i still have three weeks to go.

Today, it’s the small show at Lakeshore High School in Mandeville, CA.

Next week, the WBA Super Show at UNLV.

Week after, I finish out the season with a small show in Palm Desert, CA.

A good season, if all goes to plan, it just needs to go as planned.

For any of those schools and kids out there in the Marching Band World, good luck, give it your best, and we’ll see you on the field.

Watching Baseball from the Uecker Seats

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During the summers driving around Wisconsin in late evenings back in the day, I went looking for dead air.  Back in the 90s and 2000s, if I let the radio on SCAN for a while that sooner a station would come up – and their would be little sound on it.  Maybe you think you can hear a crowd, maybe a vendor yelling something, but usually not much else for at least 5 to 10 seconds.  On most radio networks, that was like throwing money away … but I knew exactly what it was, exactly why I was going to keep listening to it.  Because when that 5 or 10 seconds would be up … I would hear Bob Uecker call out: “Just a Bit Outside”.

I’ve gone a little baseball mad these last few weeks, but it is strictly out of nostalgia.  As I write this, the Milwaukee Brewers are just a couple days away from hosting the first game of the National League Championship Series in Major League Baseball.  They reached this point for only the 3rd time in team history, most recently in 2011, and most famously in 1982 when they lost in Game 7 of the World Series.  Milwaukee will face the Los Angeles Dodgers – so you can bet there is quite a lot of talk about the upcoming series.

Now, I am not going to lie to you and tell you I am a huge Brewers fan – not by a long shot; nor am I going to say I have switched teams to the Dodgers.  I’ve kept an eye on the Brewers in the same way I have kept an eye on my 401k, interested in the outcome but not expecting much from a day to day basis.  I’ve paid a little more attention the last couple of years, simply because attending a Brewers-Dodgers game is easy (though they tend to lose when playing here).  But this … this is great.

Honestly, I am fine if the Brewers don’t win another game.  This is house money we are on, we aren’t supposed to be this good.  I mean, I kind of want to see the Dodgers lose, because they are not so graceful of winners, but many of my friends are Dodger fans so … bully for them.

But let’s be honest.  I really want the Brewers to win.

I want them to win.  I want them to win it all.  Not for the usually reasons you want your favorite team to win.  I want them to win for all the reasons that make them a favorite team.

This year, the Brewers are the best in the National League regular season.  For most of their existence, they simply … stunk.  Sure, this is the 3rd time to the NLCS, and the most recent last visit was just 7 years ago … but over their 50 years, they only reached the playoffs 4 times … and have only had 16 winning seasons.  In a sport where players make hundreds of millions a year, the Brewers were the love of a small market, fighting for good talent that were snatched away at the trade deadline.  While they were better back in the 70s and 80s, we didn’t always expect them to be good.  That wasn’t the point.

If there was as soundtrack to my summers as a boy, it would be the sweet words of Bob Uecker.  I mean it.  Listening to that guy describe a game, tell stories, and otherwise brighten up a sport independent of time itself filled my ears on warm lazy nights.  Uecker was a jokester – saying things like:
“The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and then pick it up.”
“I had slumps that lasted into the winter.”
“In 1962 I was named Minor League Player of the Year. It was my second season in the bigs.”
The guy has two statues of himself at the stadium, one out front to celebrate his announcing … and one in the top deck, the highest seat, where during a beer commercial he was sitting when they got him a special seat (“Must be in the from row”).  He was self-deprecating in a hilarious way.  When he was upset at the team, he let it be know in a passive aggressive way.  He pointed out the odd things, the funny things, the things that passed him by.  He spent long breaks with the silence button on (rumor has it to check out the women in the stands) that left us with dead air – and even though radio people would hate it, we loved it.

Or more direct, he was one of us.  Uecker was ours.

He went off and did movies and TV, and I didn’t like it because now people wanted him instead .. by god, they had him cheering for Cleveland in Major League.  … CLEVELAND!

I want the Brewers to win it all for Uecker.  To see the guy who got shoe contracts just to not wear the company’s shoes be there with the team.

I want to see the Brewers win for all of those big Brewers fans.  People who have lived and breathed with the team since their start 50 years ago.  They watch them every game, and still get as happy for the 90 games they win as the get unhappy for each of the 70 they lose.  That stuck with them through the 60 win seasons.  That show up to spring training and dollar hot dog nights, because they love the team.  They love a team that didn’t always deserve that love, but still got it in a way that only Brewer fans can love.

I want to see the Brewers win for my Dad, who used to sneak away to watch their predecessor, the Milwaukee Braves, at old Milwaukee County Stadium.  Who turned on that radio so that we could listen to Uecker tell his stories.  Who took me to games even when it was a four hour drive, or it was raining, or he had to haul charcoal for the tailgating.  Who could have been mistaken for Bob Uecker … and likely could outhit Mr. Baseball too.

So I will be watching the games.  Sitting in whatever I call my Uecker seats.  Maybe even drinking one of those beers Uecker says the good baseball players in the world drink (and he knows because he asked them).

 

That Time of Year Again

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It’s that time of year.  That time when I apologize for going a couple weeks without posting something to the Bear Feed.  And by “that time”, it becomes more and more like a monthly occurrence.  So consider this your almost monthly opportunity for me to explain why I don’ t keep up with things as I should.

Usually it comes down to one of two reasons:

  1. Events in my life aren’t blog worthy.  Either because they are too mundane or they are things I choose not to share with my adoring public.
  2. I’m really busy, and by busy I mean lazy.

It’s actually a time with a series of false starts and under developed things.  September and October are annually my time to do fall marching band judging.  This is probably the best example of how non-blog worthy this last couple of weeks have been.  I started the season looking like I had 7 judging gigs scheduled – which is as many as I ever had in a season.  Well, that was quickly changed to 5 shows, when two were cancelled due to lack of bands participating.  Then 1 got added back, so I was up to 6.  Then I went to my first one a few weeks back, and it was canceled by rain.  Then this past weekend happened.

I was scheduled to do a full day show in Louisville.  Originally, it was planned for a morning start, a long day, a break, and finals competition in the evening.  The finals were cancelled earlier that week for reasons that aren’t important to this story.  Recently, I’ve had a run of bad luck with travel – so I booked a direct flight from LAX to Indianapolis arriving early enough to still make the 2 hour drive to Louisville in daylight.  I got to the airport, made it through check-in easily, and at 10AM found my seat on the plane.  Then they said there was a mechanical issue.  An hour later they said we could get off if we wanted.  An hour after that, they said we had to get off.  The mechanical issue took nearly 2-1/2 hours to address, and by that time the crew timed out so that they couldn’t fly to Indy and back.  Another crew had to be found.  By 1PM, they had announced a new departure time for 1:30PM – but we were already upset because it was the sixth new departure time received.  Then 1:30 became 2:00.  2:00 became 2:30. And 2:30 became …wait for it … 5:00PM.  By 5:30, I was beginning to realize that there was little chance I could get to Indy in time to get a rental car before the agency closed – and they wouldn’t open in time to get me to the show.  Worse, the flight actually departed at nearly 7:00PM with an arrival shortly after 3:00AM.  By that time I canceled out of my show … and for the first time in my band judging career, I wasn’t able to do what I was hired to do.

So I have 4 gigs left, as long as things don’t go wrong with them that is.

But there is other things in the works.  Some of which I am not ready to blog about, some I am waiting for the story to play out.  Not life changing things or stuff like that, just things that are blog worthy.

So Bear With Me.