What Feels like Magic to you?

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This is part two of Death to Stock Photo’s writing prompt series that I am writing both on Medium and WordPress. The prompt was “What feels like magic to you?” and below is what I think feels like magic to me.

Magic is a funny thing because in order to feel it, you have to let your mind give up on trying to figure things out. The first thing I think of when I think of “magic” is the guy on stage with a black top half either making something disappear or pulling something out of thin air. Your first thought is always “how did he do that?” The younger we are, the more willing we are to just call it magic and believe.

As we get older, those old magic tricks aren’t as awesome. We try to figure it out, and instead of chalking it up to magic, we say things like “slight of hand, mirrors, illusions, or trick deck.” We aren’t as willing to accept magic into our lives because as we become adults, imagination turns into reason and we over-analyze why things happen, whether its a magic trick or an accident on the highway.

There are times, however, that magic can find it’s way back into our lives if we let it. For me, one word stands out when I think of what feels like magic to me, and that word is “connect.”

When I hear a song for the first time that I connect with, it feels like magic. The other night while I was running, I heard a song (The Gambler by Fun) that made me think of my wife and how I wished we could have used that song in our wedding somehow. There is no explanation for why that song at that moment made me feel that way, just like as a kid, there is no explanation for how a someone could be sawed in half but still move their arms and feet from a separated box.

When I see a movie that I connect with, I want to go out and do something; I want to be a better person or fulfill some aspect of my life that isn’t complete (hopefully for other people who feel the same way, that movie isn’t SAW or Fear and Loathing for two very different reasons). I sign up for a race because I want to connect with some athletic part of me I miss from years back when that was a big part of how I identified myself. The euphoria I feel when I run now is magic to me.

When I read books and connect with an idea or a character I think it’s magic. Years ago, I read Anna Karenina and there is a section that deals with one of the primary characters, Levin. Levin was a farmer (more or less) who would go out and work the fields with some of the peasants he hired. The passage in the book finds Levin in a field and connecting the synergy of the world to the trees and crops, and how they all work in harmony to help the people live and survive. I remember reading that and deciding that was my idea of God. The fact that something someone wrote more than 100 years ago can change my mind on how I think about life can only be described as magic.

Whether we are children or adults, magic comes down to taking a step away from something and just accepting it for what it is. It’s not about reason, logic, or facts, but about allowing yourself to live in whatever moment you happen to be in and connect with something that moves you.

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Writing Prompt #1 -The Obstacle & the Path: What’s your biggest creative challenge, and how do you overcome it?

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The following post was from a writing prompt from Death to Stock Photo, where I get a lot of my images from for my posts. I am going to try to write each prompt both on Medium (where they ask to submit each prompt) and also on this blog. Please let me know what you think! — Ryan

There are three parts to every story: the beginning, the end, and everything in between. The beginning allows you to introduce your reader to you, the writer. It allows the reader to get acclimated to your writing style, any characters (including yourself) that might be included in the story, and the general pace of the story. Then you get to the meat of the sandwich-story. You develop a relationship with the characters and you make up your mind about what the setting looks like in your head, how a character sounds to you, and where we think the story might be going. We connect with the story and go through the ups and downs along with the characters. Then there’s the end. That part of the story where the author lifts the reader up and, ideally, teaches them something.

The end is my biggest struggle as a writer. I do a good enough job at pulling my readers in and selling them on whatever topic I’m talking about. Most of what I write aren’t stories as much as they are my views on the “Dad-Bod” craze or why I gave my dog 27 nicknames and how they each came to be. The beginning and the middle are easy enough for me to write (most of it comes out as a stream of consciousness which is why I’m a better blogger than I am author), but I always get hung up when it comes to the end.

What I try to do is take some of the pressure off of myself. I think I always want to make some grand statement at the end of a piece, but the best advice I’ve been given is to just not think too much about it and end it. The best messages aren’t delivered at the end of a piece, but rather throughout the story that allows the reader to connect with whatever it is you’re trying to say.

I always go back to what Danny Vinyard said in American History X about his brother saying it’s best to end things with a quote because someone else always said it better than you can. This might be true in a lot of cases, but instead of beating your head against a wall trying to think of the perfect closing for a story, just end it.

Potty Talk

What I am about to say is equal parts uncomfortable and necessary. It’s about public bathrooms, primarily ones around the workplace or at places like Starbucks where you might recognize someone if you go there more than once. There is an issue with public bathrooms that has gone on for too long and no one has the courage to talk about it. Well, that ends today.

At my office, there are a three bathrooms that the men can use. Two of them are your standard, two-piece bathrooms that have a sink, toilet, and very private door that keeps the outside out, and the inside in. It’s comfortable (enough) and offers as much privacy as one could ask for outside of the comforts of their own home.

The third bathroom is a bit bigger and falls in line with what you might expect to find at most restaurants, department stores, concert venues, or any place that has a maximum occupancy of more than 18 people. This bathroom features two urinals, two sinks, two stalls, and, oddly enough, two showers.

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Harmless enough, right? ABSOLUTELY NOT! This is me, a man, complaining about something I can only imagine women feel all the time for having to use stalls anywhere they go. We can all pretend it doesn’t exist, but there is a window into that little cage that doesn’t need to be there and it’s time to address it!

What window?

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That window.

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THAT WINDOW!

Like a magnet, our eyes are drawn to that little sliver of space in between the door and stall wall and God forbid someone is using it because somehow our eyes manage to connect with whoever it is in the stall. The stall sits in direct view of anyone walking in to the bathroom. No I don’t want to look, but of course I do. Even if I am going in just to use the urinal, I have to take inventory of everything in a split second to know if I need to find another bathroom.

Did someone just #2 it in there? I’ll pass.

Is someone #2 in there currently? I don’t want to be the guy who is just peeing while someone else is pretending they’re not there, uncomfortably NOT doing their thing while I do my business and wash my hands.

It’s an unwritten rule that if someone is using the stall in a men’s bathroom, anyone else has to pretend like they don’t notice anything is different.

It is. You know it is and I know it is. But in order to not be weird in the office, I’ll play the game.

You might say, “everybody poops,” to which I would agree, but not everybody has to know about it. Women have been living by that mantra for generations and men pretending that’s true is the only thing that lets us humans coexist for the first couple weeks of dating.

The best inventions identify when there is a problem and solve it simply. At some point, somebody got really tired of his papers blowing all over his desk, and the rock he found outside just wasn’t feng shui enough so he invented a paper weight. It’s time we stop pretending that we can’t see people pooping when we walk in to public bathrooms and close the window for good in this very serious issue!

My first thought is to have some piece of loose fabric covering that sliver of window so that it wouldn’t get in the way of the door swinging open or shut, but it would also allow the privacy needed to #2 in peace.

Another idea would be to have the door almost wrap around to the side of the stall so that the window gap would not face directly into the stall. You can keep the handle where it is, but protect the gap by moving it.

Whatever someone decides, feel free to take 100% credit for this and make your millions. As long as I have my privacy when I need it, I’m a happy guy.

Predicting the Top 5 Fads of 2016

A quick Google search of trendy words in 2015 will populate your browser with words like bae, dadbod, on fleek, turn(t) up/down, #WCW, #FridayFail, #mindthegap, basic b*tch (usually followed by emoji with girl holding an invisible serving tray), and all sorts of other goofy words and terms that we like to occasionally use with our friends and pretend that we’re super-trendy. Ellen (my wife DVR’s her show, I watch when we’re out of our main lineup of shows, #SINS <— trendy!) even did a piece this month about some of these words and asked her 35-50 MWF audience if they knew what a lot of these words meant. I think she used “bae,” “on fleek,” and “netflix and chill” and asked audience members to use each phrase in a sentence. A lot of the audience laughed when she said the words, as if saying “oh yea, Ellen, we know what THAT word means,” but a quick read of their faces suggested they might have just been pretending to know so to appear like they’re more “with it” than they all know themselves to be. dr-evil-air-quotes-laser

In a world where eggplant emoji’s are penis’ and drinking isn’t drinking unless you snap yo drank, we all need to “Netflix and chill” out over this age of talking in hashtags and answering each other by mimicking little yellow people in our text bars.

But allow me to digress. The point of this post is not to bash this generation of new-slang-slinging communicators, but rather look ahead to 2016 at what might be trending in terms of how we talk to one another, what it is we talk about, and what will captivate our lives for the next 365 days (provided it’s not a leap year… too lazy to check).

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  1. Evolved Emojis – In 2015, we could hold entire conversations by texting tiny pictures. Taco – fork and knife – Mexican flag – two beer mugs – question mark, to which a reply of face with hearts for eyes – thumbs up – girl waving – clock face showing 5:00 pm. We have embraced emojis because it allows us to be hilarious and also save time in using those annoying letters all the time to communicate our thoughts, but who has time to scroll our eyes from left to right reading 5-10 emojies at a time? That is why to stay current, emojis will evolve into tiny GIF-like animations of sunglasses face morphing into two girls holding hands morphing into beach scene morphing into a cocktail glass. We can stare at one emoji and let it do all the work instead of us having to remember the last two emojis in a linear row…
  2. Craft Vaping – I don’t know where the idea of “Craft things” came about — maybe it was literally crafting, which allowed us to personalize things in the 80’s like bird houses or Christmas cards and make them unique. While we don’t know where it came from, we certainly can recognize where crafting is in the form of craft beer, craft cheese, and a whole slew of other food and drinks that just weren’t good enough before so we had to make them better. With vaping picking up steam around the country, I can see craft vaping making a charge into mainstream America in 2016.

    Hipster 1: This vape has a little kush, a little kettle one, and some rosemary that really mellows your buzz. Hipster 2: Crafty, bud. 

  3. Camo-Flannel (aka Flamo) – If I see someone wearing a flannel shirt in 2015, I think, “cool.” If I see someone wearing camo (and they’re not hunting) in 2015, I think, “cool.” 2016 will blend these two mega-trends into one, and 2016 will be covered in “Flamo.” I can just see it now, flamo shirts at all the coolest parties. “Check out the lining of my jacket…flamo for days!” Of course, flamo will be locally sourced, cruelty-free, and for every flamo you buy, a pair of Warby Parker glasses will be sent to someone in a third world country.
  4. The Beginning of the Ban on Red Meat – Two years ago, pink slime was a trending word thanks to fast food joints stuffing this disgusting joke they called “meat” in between piece of bread and calling it a sandwich. 2015 taught us that bacon causes cancer and that we would solve a lot of this country’s food issues with we lessened our dependence on animal products. There is a feeling that red meat is this generation’s cigarette. We will fight the idea that we shouldn’t eat red meat because it tastes good, but ultimately something needs to happen to lessen people’s dependence on it for our health and for our planet. 2016 will be the year we see taxes on red meat that will lead to price hikes and ultimately a ban on certain red meat.
  5. Our spending will go up SIGNIFICANTLY – With the trend of “one-click buying,” it is becoming easier and easier to see something you want and buy it. In 2016, we won’t be able to help ourselves. We will see a hat on one of our friends on FB, and we will tap their hat and it will pop up a price and one-click buy button and it’ll be at our door in 36 hours. Amazon already makes it too easy to find literally (figuratively) anything on the planet you could possibly want and have a buy it now price. With how attached we are to our phones, we will be spending machines in 2016 and we won’t know why we are struggling paycheck to paycheck!

5 Things I’m Most Looking forward to in 2016

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I am going to beat everyone else to this by writing it with two full months before 2016 even starts. 2015 was a fun year that featured a new house, new friends, and probably the best year of concerts I’ve ever attended. TOP 5 CONCERTS OF 2015

  1. Taylor Swift
  2. Eric Church and Kenny Chesney
  3. Tallest Man on Earth
  4. ZZ Top
  5. Kip Moore and Michael Ray

I have a new niece, traveled to a few new cities (Hello, Nashville!) and even turned 30 once or twice. I also got to have some fun with a few old standards, like enjoy the sunshine for the Memorial Tournament and Dublin Irish Festival (where Kelly and our friends got videotaped for the city and felt like celebrities for a day. VIDEO HERE), and saw my other blog, Sports Monte, take off (relative term).

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And on top of all that, I still think these next two months will bring even more excitement, as we still have a Christmas trip to Orlando planned and my Wall of Foam list to complete at our favorite restaurant, Local Roots.

But let us look ahead, just for a moment, shall we? As much fun as 2015 has been and continues to be, here are five things I am most looking forward to next year.

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1.) Travel – My wife and I have decided that 2015 was the year of the concerts, and 2016 will be the year of travel. We have saved (52 Week Money Challenge – check it out HERE), planned, and have two big trips lined up. The first one is for my wife’s mom’s 60th birthday. We are going to the Cayman Islands, which will be my second time leaving the country for non-work related travel. I’m looking forward to beachin’ it, renting a scooter, and hopefully finding a cliff to jump into the water (against my wife’s advice. Sorry, babe!). The second place we’re going is to Ireland. You might remember my “Take me to Ireland or Lose me Forever” post. This will be my third time leaving the country for non-work related travel… <– jokes. Ireland is a place I’ve always wanted to go and I am thrilled at the thought of having a Guinness in Dublin and meeting the locals there.

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2.) Finding my Place in Fantasy Sports World – So technically Sports Monte started in 2013 (December). But in 10 months, it’s really become something I am proud of and, while it can be stressful to do every week, proves to myself that this is something I love to do and am good at. I have bigger goals for SM than where it’s at now, and I hope 2016 gets me closer to achieving those goals. Sports Monte has help land me a job at one of the best fantasy football sites in the world, and I love the fact that I am getting to write about something that I love. This is kind of a broad thing to look forward to, but I feel like 2015 was the beginning of something for me, and 2016 will help define a path for both SM and myself.

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3.) Spartan Race AROO! Just kidding. I don’t even like the “O-H” “I-O” thing that Buckeye fans are supposed to love, so I doubt I’ll be that guy at the Spartan race bro’ing out and yelling. What are we, a bunch of heathens or something? But don’t let my lack of vocal enthusiasm fool you, I’m excited! I’ve begun training this year by doing what I call “playground workouts.” Playground workouts are when I find a playground that is empty, and make up a circuit workout around monkey bar pull ups, box jumps, pushups, running around a field, etc. I’ve even taken one of the garden bricks from our flower bed (25 lbs.) and have tried using that in my circuits. I think I am going to start small in the spring and do a Sprint distance Spartan Race, but might get into it and go all out the next year! Only downside is that I might have to start Crossfit to train and then I’ll be one of “those guys.”

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4.) Focusing on the things that make me happy – I think one thing I’ve preached this year has been to do the things that make you happy — it’s kind of the rule that I use when I make a tough decision. Obviously sleeping in and eating more pizza than I should would make me happy in the short term, but that’s taking what I mean a little too literally. Now that I’m 30 and old, I stopped caring what it might look like running around a field carrying a 25 pound brick. It makes me happy and I’m going to do it. I am going to continue with this attitude and I bet it opens a few more doors this year like it did in 2015. And hey, if I give someone else a good story to tell their friend, all the better.

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5.) The Unknown – I’ll leave you, the reader, with a little bit of a cliffhanger because, in truth, I don’t know what all 2016 will bring. But what I can say is that I’m excited for whatever that unknown might be!

The Best Country Mix Tape Would Include…

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Every now and then you just have to write something fun and meaningless and ungrammarable that makes you happy just because it is what it is. Similarly, sometimes I like country music and if you’re lucky enough to be near my house when I mow the back yard, you’ll catch me singing along to some A Thousand Horses Pandora channel (possibly in a cut off tee shirt, depending on how many workouts I got in that week). Growing up, I never really liked country music and I based my music preference on whatever pitchfork.com reviewed about an 8.0 rating (it is how I found out about Tallest Man on Earth, which I do love still). Anyway, country music makes me happy when the sun is out.

So, if I could go back in time and make a mix tape of country music songs to have in my ear while I mowed, it would look like this:

1.) Smoke – A Thousand Horses

  • Country songs have to be one part clever, one part sincere, and one part about drinking in order to really be good. This one checks all the boxes. The band is cool too because they’re one part Counting Crows, one part Skynard, and one part Stillwater (Almost Famous anyone?).

2.) Dirt – Florida-Georgia Line

  • I throw up a little every time I think about the band, but the song is undeniable. Again, cleverly written lyrics about dirt. This song is like the Simpsons — it explains your whole life and you just kind of feel better after you listen to it. And it’s catchy, so it has that going for it, which is nice.

3.) Dust – Eli Young Band

  • Smoke, Dirt, then Dust. What country songs lack in clever titles they make up for with catchy melody’s. This one isn’t as cleverly written as the first two, but sometimes you need a break from pondering life’s meanings and just need a good jam to drive it home.

4.) Somethin Bout a Truck – Kip Moore

  • Basically, I met Kip Moore at a concert and I’m pretty sure if you asked him we’d be best friends. This song kind of helped my wife and I bond over country music, so it makes me all warm and fuzzy and anytime I hear it, I want to call her and tell her about it.

5.) Buy Me a Boat – Chris Janson

  • This one isn’t a “clever make you reflect on things” kind of song, but it’s a “clever that you can rhyme ‘truck to pull it’ with ‘silver bullets.'” Also, I like the idea of singing this and someone walking by the front yards and hearing me sing a stupid song about winning the lotto and buying a boat.

6.) Even if it Breaks your Heart – Eli Young Band

  • Eli Young Band MO – make catchy music that is easy to understand and fun to sing. I like this song because it’s catchy and fun to sing. BOOM!

7.) Carolina – Eric Church

  • Gotta have some Church. This one is probably my fav for not being the “song of the moment,” but rather one that I’ve always liked and will always like. Could have gone “Springsteen” here too…

8.) Merry Go Round – Kacey Musgraves

  • I may or may not have a celebrity crush on Kacey Musgraves, but beyond that I think she’s original and love her song writing, which I think she has a hand in writing all her songs. This song put her on the map, and it’s another one of those super-clever, wish I’da thought of that lyrical songs.

9.) Hey Pretty Girl – Kip Moore

  • Wife walked down the aisle to a country song. Instrumental version so not to offend grandma, but it’s a special song. Plus, you know, best friends with Kip so…

10.) Tennessee Whiskey – A Thousand Horses

  • Took me a minute to come up with a tenth, and I like round numbers. This one might be a little more of a “song of the moment” kind of thing, but I like the band and it’s a little rock while still being pretty country. And when all else fails, clever, alcohol, sincere…

Trying to find my voice

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So I write for my own fantasy sports website and I recently picked up a weekly column for another fantasy sports website that has me writing about College Football. I’m very excited to write for this new company, and I love writing for Sports Monte as well. My issue is trying to make what I write both entertaining and full of good content. I struggle to find my voice when writing about fantasy sports.

I should mention that I do love fantasy sports. I am not the number-obsessed, analytical type that has algorithms, formulas, prediction models, 18 open spreadsheets, a fridge full of Surge soda and 4 monitors going at once (I did just buy a second monitor off Amazon that hasn’t arrived yet and I do kind of excited about an uptick in productivity, though).

Anyway, the things I write on this blog I really enjoy too because it gives me freedom to find my voice. I was reading some quotes that David Sedaris said at an event about finding his voice. He suggested that it takes years and years to find a voice, and the best way to do that is by reading and writing every day.

Easier said than done when you work 40+ hour weeks and have to raise a 90 pound dog-child who needs toys, poop bags and food, and also hates when you’re in front of a computer and not paying attention to him.

But I think it’s easy to have a voice when I am basically writing as though I am brainstorming like I’m doing now. There is no pressure to go back, reread and rewrite, make edits or even worry about mispeled words. When I write about sports, something I’ve loved since I was a pup,  I feel like my voice should come easily. I can talk about fantasy football or this week’s golf tournament for hours, but the pressure of making it something that is presented in a way you think your editor wants if tough!

I did ask my editor today if one line I kept in my last piece was OK. Basically, I took a jab at Adrian Peterson having missed last year due to “legal issues.” For the record, I was trying to be funny and if you read what I actually wrote, it was funnier than what was just presented. Not, ha-ha rolling on the floor funny, but enough to make you curl one side of your mouth and let out a little, shoulder raise-gut bump kind of laugh. Nothing your coworker would notice, but enough that your wife would ask, “what?”

I also think in writing like this I tend to ramble, take a tangent and stay there for a while, explain things past what anyone cares to read, and just keep circling the wagon until I’m satisfied. I think I write like I like to talk, and aside from my brother, there are very few people in the world that could enjoy the way I talk when I have free reign to open up about whatever nothingness I have on my brain. I would probably enjoy talking to a clone of myself for a day or two, but would ask that they are put back in the lab after that. I couldn’t imagine having a twin because there would be no getting away from it. We could literally have a conversation about the best way to load a dishwasher and why tetris-ing the plates this way actually gets the dishes cleaner.

I scale back for my wife so she doesn’t leave me.

I think you see what I’m getting at.

Anyway, I could (literally) go on all day, but I’ll end this post by calling it an exercise in finding my voice. I need to find a way to be me while still engaging a certain type of audience who doesn’t come to my writing looking for such long-winded explanations as to why Eddie Lacy will out perform Mark Ingram.

Or maybe they do?