Down a Rabbit Hole

Over the past few months, I’ve been hoarding photos taken from various locales because I had every intention to tell you all about it. I wasn’t necessarily going to suddenly switch formats and turn this site into a travel blog. Nay – my ambition was to share my love of travel, as well as explore the healing and inspiring aspects of adventure. Travel is a recharge that can teach us so much about the ideas and lessons that inform our stories and art. It can nurture us and encourage us to grow, and it’s one of my personal favorite ways to learn about people.

HOWEVER, a doorway to elsewhere opened, and I stepped through. Then I stumbled. Then plummeted.

 It wasn’t a bad fall. Rather, it is turning out to be its own adventure, albeit one that’s eaten up more time than I intended.

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On the Duality of *Just* Wanting to Write But Also Being Seen

I’ve written previously about how there’s a part of me that is content with writing for an audience of one, that if nobody else ever reads any of my stories or if my manuscripts never get picked up, that I’ll be okay. It’s not the exposure, I tell myself, it’s the experience, the growth, and the overwhelming sense of accomplishment that comes with simply ordering and laying down words onto a page. And that’s partly true. 

I have a monthly newsletter where I talk about the craft of writing in a way that’s hopefully inspirational (you be the judge, dear reader), so I won’t wax all poetic about the craft of creating here. Rather, I’ll say something that might come across as totally unrelated but has inspired a newfound desire to be seen. 

Over the past several months, I’ve incorporated exercise and a healthier diet into my regular regimen. 

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Just Another Breakfast Sandwich Recipe

There’s an old German bakery down in the Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago that my wife and I love to go to. They’ve got great cookies and pretzels, but there’s this breakfast sandwich they make that is incredible. It’s delicious. It’s addictive, and the flavors are perfect. If you’ve ever seen that Birds of Prey movie, biting into a Dinkel’s Bavarian Breakfast Sandwich is an experience akin to what Harley Quinn was raving about.

Unfortunately for my wife and I, we don’t live anywhere near Lakeview. Thus, the Bavarian Breakfast Sandwich is a once-in-a-while treat, when we have the time and energy to make the trek from Gilberts (yeah, it’s a real place way out in the ‘burbs) into the city. And on those days when we do manage to fit a visit to Dinkel’s in our weekend schedule, we sit there right outside, in the car, savoring every damn bite. 

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Touring Model Homes Are a Voyage Into Limbo

Today, my wife and I took the country backroads back to the townhouse that we’ve been living in for barely a year. There was no need to stop, but as we drove past a winding road to a new subdivision not 10 minutes from our home, something supernatural lured our gaze to these partially constructed, monolithic buildings. 

It was a new subdivision that had been in development for barely a year, and homes were advertised as starting at a “modest” $350,000. There was a model at the front of the subdivision, with a packed parking lot. 

I felt my hands turn the wheel as we watched these new constructions blur by, and before I understood what was happening, my wife and I were voyaging down this winding road into another world beyond. The forest preserve that once stood upon this land had been bulldozed over, and in its place was a lush canvas of Kentucky bluegrass. In my mind’s eye, I could see an unwitting suburban dad crouching down to the lawn, clumping it in his coarse, working man’s hands, and dreaming of a better tomorrow while a shroud of darkness enveloped him. 

There’s an unearthly power in these new housing developments out in the middle of nowhere. There are no stores within walking distance, no social hubs for engagement or activities that regularly involve encountering people of different cultures or creeds. No libraries. No institutions of learning. And nary a church or a pub.

There’s nothing but forests and farmlands this far out — shade for an ancient evil well-practiced in luring humans from the safety of civilization into the devil’s hands. 

My wife and I found ourselves standing in a house just over 3,600 square feet. It had five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a living room, sun room, dining room, loft, basement, and two mud/utility rooms. An agent for the developer whisked around us, handing out pamphlets for all of the aspects of the home that could be customized, as well as a sliding scale for a price that went well into the $400,000-range. 

Suddenly, the home we had been occupying for barely a year felt inadequate. Just the other day, I had been expressing gratitude at our 1,500 square-foot townhouse. As a child, I grew up in a ranch home that barely squeezed out 1,000 square feet. We were the smallest house on the block in a sleepy neighborhood, and barely a day went by where I wasn’t ridiculed for not living in a home with two floors by my wealthier peers. 

Compared to my child self, I had made it. I was living the American dream, winding up in a house 50% bigger than my childhood home, and it had the two floors I often begged for as a kid. 

But here I was now, enveloped by a haze that was whispering nasty little comments into my ears. I was inadequate. I was a failure. I had settled for something lesser. Our townhouse didn’t have enough room to grow into when we would decide the time was right for a family of our own. 

A poison trickled into my soul and clouded my vision. I didn’t need a home — I needed a family compound, like the Corleones. I could see kids running around these halls. I could see Grandma and Grandpa coming over for a visit during the holidays and a massive turkey feast on a second, larger dining table located in a room that would be used maybe twice a year. 

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Sweet Rejections & So… What’s Next?

I woke up to a short story rejection today. Even after my ongoing 40+ rejection streak, it doesn’t get much easier to open those emails. I’ve learned that in the preview copy in my inbox, rejections often start with “Thank you for your submission…” The bad news is buried somewhere after the preview, which gives writers just enough hope to think that the future is not set, Fate isn’t real, and Destiny isn’t predetermined. That maybe this click to open will be different…

Today’s rejection came with a bit of a surprise though. Usually I’ll get the typical “Thank you for submitting. Unfortunately…” Today, however, the editor was kind enough to include a line indicating that they actually liked the piece! That’s always nice to hear, and it’s encouraging. That means there is hope yet!

This most recent piece that I’ve been shopping around is one I’ve been mulling over since last fall, but I didn’t want to devote time to it until I finished my novel manuscript. I’m trying to get better at ordering ideas into a to-do list these days, so I sat on it up until a month or two ago.

Speaking of the novel, the manuscript is out for consideration but no bites yet.

I’m not a fan of the waiting game, and I’ve often found that shortly after finishing any piece, when that sense of satisfaction and “new car smell” begins to fade, the need for the next hit starts gnawing at the back of the brain.

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2020 Special: My 24-Hour Holiday Movie Marathon

It’s the first year in a long time where I’m actually excited for the holidays. Weird, right? I’m actively seeking out that holiday cheer to counteract all the B-A-D bad this year. Hand to God, I played Christmas tunes on Spotify this year, cuing those jams up of my own free will. No pressure, and no forced smiles. I even went out of my way to bake bread and cookies.

In years past, I would just look forward to a break from the hum-drum of the day-to-day. I’d lazily skip putting up the decorations in lieu of finding a quiet spot at home to curl up with a book. But we, as proud Americans, have killed the magic this year. All of it. Seized hostage by a ceaseless pandemic, we further entrenched ourselves into two main camps and lobbed barrages of polarizing soundbites and threats at one another. It was exhausting, and in the fog and desiccation of a world starved of joy, I realized how hungry I was for flights of fantasy and magic.

And I can’t count on streaming platforms to entertain me these days…. My Netflix and HBO feeds are all serious dramas all the time. Which is why I’ve put together a holiday watchlist, one that can be viewed in the span of 24 hours (with about 10-15 minutes free for bathroom breaks).

It’s a recharge, a way to imbue my spirit with creative energy needed for 2021. Before you ask, no, Die Hard is not on this list. I love Die Hard. It’s terrific, but it’s not a film I feel like watching around Christmas. These picks are… different, mostly.

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Vacationing During a Pandemic


It sounds counterproductive, and zealots would probably label it as immoral and selfish, but vacationing during a pandemic was the best decision I could have made this year.

With everything going on, with the violence, the unrest, the lockdowns, the battle over the validity of the virus, the wildfires, and the isolation, the world weighs heavier this year. That’s a universal statement, and for many, the isolation isn’t something we’re used to. Paired with the ceaseless bombardment of the world’s ills on social media and through news outlets, it’s enough to fuel a deep level of despair.

In my own case, I often found myself grappling with a sense of nihilism before the pandemic broke out. I would wake up every now and then with an overwhelming sense of futility, as if nothing mattered. I would find myself disinterested in my own continued existence, waiting for my time to be served. Self-quarantining amplified these bouts of nihilism. I worked on my robot novel, which helped filter and relieve some of these feelings, but I needed more.

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Quarantine Catch-Up!

 

Like the rest of the world, my wife and I have been holed up in our apartment since March 21st when the stay-at-home order in Illinois first went into effect.

Overall, we’ve been fine. We wear masks when we venture out into the greater Chicagoland area for groceries and supplies. We order food from local mom and pop restaurants we love, and I’ve been keeping my favorite comic book shop afloat by buying trades in bulk every week. My to-read pile right now is insane.

Plus, I work from home full-time now (and for the foreseeable future). Oddly enough, even though I don’t have to worry about a two-hour commute everyday, I find I’m working harder and longer than I ever did when I was in the office. Part of it is the nature of the Internet right now. Everybody is online more, and since I work for a digital publisher, site traffic and email engagement is through the roof! To add to this, I was promoted around the end of December / early January of this year. I’m now working more in the Marketing Analyst department, running our big-picture email subscriber campaigns. What this means is, I now answer to the marketing director and the president of the company, so I have to throw everything I have at our campaigns every week because I’ll be presenting on it before the powers that be. Frequently. It’s stressful but fun.

In other news, Illinois’ governor plans to extend our stay-at-home order through May 30th. The announcement just came out today, and while I have been busying myself with work, articles for TheBatmanUniverse.net, and finishing another round of editing for my WIP “Rocket & H.I. 97 Destroy Everyone,” I realized I hadn’t taken the time in the last couple of months to update this blog space.

First off, my apologies. I feel like a neglectful parent, and it’s not because I don’t like this blog or web space. The very act of writing on this platform brings me joy in a way that more conventional story-writing can’t. I can write more off-the-cuff and conversational on this platform. I don’t need to edit as intensively or beat myself up as much for sentences that don’t sound stellar on reread. It’s a terrific way to turn those creative gears and relieve stress. In a word, it embodies the idea of play, and play is what many of us need right now.

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Rejected Piece: Hey Taco Bell, The Illuminati is Not a Frivolous Subject

Illuminati

“Hey Taco Bell, The Illuminati is not a frivolous subject.” 

At approximately 9:32 PM on January 8, 2018, Charlie Daniels, of the famed Charlie Daniels Band, fired that tweet out into the ether. I like to think that at the time, then 81-year-old Charlie was flustered, having been pushed over the edge by one Taco “Belluminati” ad too many, sandwiched between his diet of far-right conservative news and QVC (I’m guessing). 

Old Charlie was angry, scared, and spiteful at a conglomerate that he, assumedly, viewed as upholding the status quo. In his eyes, Taco Bell was part of the problem. It was a fast food chain serving as one of many pillars of the all-seeing eye that subjected the masses and force-fed them into a blind stupor. 

And it was true. Taco Bell fed the stuporous into the wee hours of the morning. Around 1 or 2 AM on weekends, drive-thru lane traffic would extend around the parking lot and out into the street at Taco Bells across America. One could assume that the unseen Illuminati masters were pleased at such a turnout, at such a blind eye given to the real evils that plagued the world beyond the enticing glow of a warm, crisp Chalupa. The ad campaign was tribalism at its finest. 

“How do you get into a secret society where enlightened people are enjoying all of this decadence?” Taco Bell CMO Marisa Thalberg told AdWeek in an interview shortly after the campaign launched. “Well, entry is a dollar, admission is a dollar, so it’s a not-so-secret society.”

According to Thalberg, the point of the Belluminati campaign was to bring awareness to Taco Bell’s value menu alongside fostering a community foodie fans. 

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Talking Myself Off a Ledge About Humanity

Warning: The following post contains absolutely zero facts. It is pure conjecture. Take it with many grains of salt. 

My smart, thoughtful, social worker wife tells me it’s confirmation bias. She tells me that people are overlooking the plainly stated and burying themselves in the nuggets of information that confirm their perspectives. More importantly, she informs me that it’s so very human.

But yet…

I can’t help but watch that video, the latest in a daily stream of videos and bizarre Twitter rants, and think about all of the people in my life who support this man, who consider him some sort of Mensa-level genius playing some master game against The Illuminati.

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