Writing prompt #03: What does this image spark in you?

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This week’s writing prompt from Death to Stock is about seeing an image and writing about whatever it is that the image makes you feel. I saw a story about two kids discovering the car and having an adventure. 

We found it there just as it must have been thirty years ago under the big Oak tree and about 45 minutes walk south from our back door. Even though we knew the owner hasn’t been around in decades, we still searched for tracks as though some mystery was about to unfold in front of us. I think Katie first decided to classify it as evidence.

“Don’t touch anything!” she yelled. “We have to dust it for prints.”

Katie ran around to the back of the car to where my backpack was sitting in the grass. She pulled out a napkin from our lunchbox and put the lunchbox back in the pack. She began rubbing the napkin in the dirt.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

She stood up and began patting the door handle with the napkin like it was fingerprint powder.

“I’m seeing if we can find any fingerprints,” she said. “Go around to the other door and open it using your sweatshirt. Make sure you don’t touch it. See if there are any clues inside.”

“Clues for what?” I asked.

She didn’t answer. She was moving toward the back of the car and dusting the whole thing; door handles, windows, the rims, everything was evidence on the car. I opened the passenger door, careful not to touch it with my fingers. I got in and noticed an old glass bottle on the floorboard, and some dried leaves on the seats and dash. I noticed the flowers hanging from the mirror and there was a broken picture frame in the back seat. I reported my findings to Katie.

Katie open the door on the driver’s side and sat in the driver’s seat. She had dropped the evidence napkin and seemed content disrupting whatever evidence might be on the steering wheel. I got in, picked up the bottle from the floorboard and shut the door behind me.

I looked at Katie through the glass bottle and she was holding on to the steering wheel. She was staring through the front windshield and seemed frozen in the moment.

“I wonder why they left it here,” she said. “I wonder how long it will be before someone else finds it again.”

I put the glass back on the floorboard where I found it and looked through the windshield at the sun peaking above the treeline.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But I’m glad we did.”

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My golf game is negatively affecting my handicap

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In these modern times, you can make much ado about nothing over just about anything. If there isn’t a solution to a problem, there’s probably an app for it and there can be no blame for anyone regardless of what the problem may have been. Fault is a four letter word and as long as you claim pure-intention, than the small print was too small to hold you accountable for anything. In an era where participation trophies are the norm and if you can’t get what you want it’s somebody else’s fault, I would like to formally issue a complaint with the USGA regarding my handicap.

I am upset with my high handicap and feel that a lower, more attractive handicap be issued to me.

I can’t be expected to keep up the level of play I expect of myself every round I play. This winter, I traveled to Florida and played two different courses in which I shot +27 and +29 (respectively). Not only was it the first time I’ve played in literal MONTHS, but the grass was (in all likelihood) different than I’m used to — the soft mowed-too-short grass in Ohio plays completely different than the tangled grass in Florida and I shouldn’t be expected to know how to differentiate between the two. And to that point, neither should my handicap!

What’s more, I have a reputation to consider when discussing my handicap with others. At my best, I was teetering on the single-digit range, and in my mind and in conversations with other golfers I meet, it is still right there (likely nine and some change in most conversations). The fact that I didn’t play college golf only makes my version of my handicap that much more impressive. I believe that rounds should be thrown out if the following scenarios factored into a round:

  1. I was hungry and didn’t eat at the turn – professionals are afforded with the luxury of pretty much naming whatever sandwich or Clif Bar they want and they don’t have to worry about putting it in their bag; someone else does it for them. If I don’t remember to pack a snack, my handicap shouldn’t suffer because of it.
  2. Never played the course before – how am I supposed to know if there is a creek that crosses the fairway, or whether I’d be able to fly it had I known to begin with? How should I know that the best way to approach a par 5 is from the left side of the fairway? I can’t be expected to buy a yardage book every time I play. Plus, yardage books are flat, and the last time I checked, real courses are in 3D.
  3. I get paired up with strangers – when you’re paired with strangers, part of you has to do a little bit of detective work to see what kind of person you’re playing with. Is it a part-time pro, is it someone who wears an untucked shirt and backwards ball cap? Maybe their brother just died, and it would be rude if I were to make a par because he’s in mourning and letting him win a few holes might be just what he needs. The point is, you don’t know and your handicap shouldn’t suffer because of the unknown.
  4. I had to rush to get to the course – I don’t need a lot of warmup unless I feel like I need a lot of warmup, but having to rush to the course, hurry up and pay, run down to the tee box and tee off in two seconds is hardly fair when judging my ability to score. If I don’t have at least 15-20 minutes to properly stretch, hit a few balls at the range, mark a putting green off with tees and get a feel for the greens, handicap isn’t going in the system.
    1. Also, if the putting greens are not the same speed as the actual greens, no dice on the handicap
  5. Slow play on the course – I get that pros deal with slow play sometimes when they’re behind Kevin Na, but they also can afford shrinks, consultants, and the like to keep them mentally sharp from 1 to 18. I have to worry about work, getting home to let the dog out, not having a pair of golf shorts that fit me… Now you’re telling me I have to play behind the Wendy’s women’s league? No. NO! Round don’t count!
  6. Being rushed on the course – If Johnny Bravo is behind me hitting into me when I’m lining up a putt, I’m not going to make it. Same goes if I’m in the fairway and he’s teeing off. Same goes if I’m in the fairway and I get the impression that he’s waiting on me. Same goes if I started 5 holes ahead of someone and now they’re on the green behind me as I’m teeing off. I know what they’re thinking and it’s forcing me to pull the ball.
  7. Too drunk or not drunk enough – I have a sweet spot (provided I’m teeing off after 9a.m.), and until I hit it, I’m not playing to the best of my ability. One beer too many, I was never playing serious anyway. Either way, handicap don’t count.
  8. The etcetera clause – Just like Congress defines porn as “they know it when they see it,” so too does this rule when it comes to something not counting against my handicap. I might not be able to put it into words, but if I’m on the course and I feel something isn’t right, I should retain the right to not count it against me.

In summation, all the above items are things that professionals don’t have to deal with and I’m pretty sure Old Tom Morris, or whoever invented golf, didn’t consider being paired up with Beth and Betty on Sunday when you have to meet your wife for dinner in 5 hours. In fact, the only time I feel I should count my handicap is when my game is where I expect it, my playing partner wrote me down for a score or two better than I really got and I forgot to correct him, and I put the score in a day or two later when I don’t have the scorecard in front of me, and I was pretty sure my score was just three or four over for the round.

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.

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.

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!

Dating Naked is…

As summer winds down, and we are all left anticipating the return of watchable television, I am relieved that this summer’s slate of “naked television” is over. I’m not talking about porn, either. 2015 has been the year of Dating Naked, Naked and Afraid, Afraid of what he looks like Naked, Naked Chef… There are full-moon butts on television at 7:00 p.m. and I can’t make left or right of when this became acceptable and why there is such a fascination with “naked” this year.

Now, like any red-blooded American male, I enjoy seeing a naked body. I don’t want to make this post about that but I enjoy passing the occasional judgement as I put a pillow over my belly after a big meal. I think it’s weird watching two strangers play basketball with high socks and headbands, and nothing guarding their balls but good form and a good crossover… That was a basketball joke.

I mean, how is banana boating naked supposed to tell me whether or not someone is a good match for me? I get seeing the weird parts early can take some of the anxiety out of dating someone, but in 2015, who is really saying to themselves, “sure we get along, but if her boobs are shaped funny I am out of here!” Or, “he is a terrible person, but he can survive naked in the woods for three weeks, so I am going to call this one a keeper. Never know when you’re going to have to naked your way out of a tough situation.”

Basically, bring back scripted shows where writers with talent put together coherent seasons of CIA-stuff, spy-stuff, national security-stuff, scandal-stuff, and mix in a bunch of football and paint me content. I am ready for summer to be over so these damn kids will put some clothes back on! — at least on TV.

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?