A cast of thousands…

So goes the marketing hype for films made right through the ’60’s. Such spectacles featured a couple of A-list movie stars and then the requisite number of extras hoping for their chance at celluloid stardom.

But what about our lives? How many “extras” populate them? Not the people we don’t know, but those with whom we have a regular or at least semi-regular relationship. It’s probably still a number too high to calculate. And that doesn’t include your social media such as Facebook friends in that number.

Then, who are the people in our own cast of thousands who influence us in some way or another? In the case of Jacob Will, the protagonist of my book A Coward’s Guide to Living, he too has many people who in the course of his story change his life.

Just like in real life, some of these people have a positive impact (A-listers), others not so much (B-listers). But it’s his cast of thousands. Who’s in your story? Who’s on your A-list? Are the B-listers important? That’s a question for a later time.

A cast of thousands (well, maybe not quite that many), years in the making, and best of all, no animals were harmed in the production of this book.

All of that is true. And that’s about it as this is a fictional tale of a man charged with getting his s___ together. How many of us can honestly say we have our act together? How many of us have gotten ill-advised tattoos? Been assaulted with a metal detector and then treated to lunch? Or wasted a bottle of expensive champagne and not by drinking it? Fortune told? Yes, twice. Or… ah, the list goes on.

And that’s just a hint of what Jacob Will (think Adam Driver) encounters in A Coward’s Guide to Living, now available in paperback here.

Coming soon, real soon… really.

What’s the phrase ‘All things come to those who wait?’ actually mean? If one is patient and willing to endure the interminable time before the dream becomes a reality (if indeed it ever does), then surely it will materialize. R-i-i-i-ght!

Or you can take the bull by the damn horns yourself. And that’s what I’m about to do. Now I do not equate this with something as perilous as running with the bulls in Pamplona, but it is a little risky and more than a little scary.

After trying for several years to get my latest book published the traditional way (query, agent, publisher, remainder rack), I’m going to creep out on the ledge of self-publishing, trying not to fall off in the process.

The book is one that has gone through a number of titles before its current one, A Coward’s Guide to Living. It’s a coming-of-middle-age story about a man charged with learning who he really is. He is charged will “killing” those things internally that prevent him from growing.

It started as My Eleven Suicides, Eleven Little Deaths, A Coward’s Guide to Living, and Jacob Will 2.0: A Coward’s Guide to Living. I have a favorite among these, but am interested in what you think works best: a hybrid of these or something new. Who knows, you may wind up creating the new title for it. If so, I’ll send you a copy of the book.

I look forward to your thoughts.

It’s for you.

That’s what I hear way too many times at home when the phone rings, regardless of what the caller ID says. “It’s for you” is what I get.

And it’s never good news. Now let me set this straight – it’s not usually bad news either. Many of the calls I get must be a measurement of my popularity. That’s what I keep telling myself. Why else would I be getting so many of them??

The one thing they all have in common is an interest in: my health, my political leanings, my business listing, is my house for sale, car warranties, financial aid, medicare, animals in need of rescue, some obscure disease foundation dedicated to ending avian obesity, police and firemen, and of course will I support their obviously well-meaning and charitable organization. Though many of them are prerecorded, they all sound really sincere. I almost want to talk with them. Maybe we can become good friends. However, they all sound like either the same woman or man. Someone is working really hard.

Smartphones today enable one to block such calls, but only after the call had been made. So I assiduously block them. But this man or woman must have multiple phone lines to inquire after me as they keep calling. I wonder why are they so insistent upon talking with me. One might get the hint that a continued inability to speak with me is an indication of my interest in what they have to sell. But no.

So let’s set the record straight for that woman and man who are trying to reach me. If I need what you’re hawking, I’ll reach out to you. Really, I will. I’ll keep your toll-free number right by my phone. But in the meantime, I’ll…, wait, I got to pick up this call.

Who am I? Who wants to know?

Recently, an acquaintance of mine sent out a newsletter with the question: “Who am I?”

As he confronts a new period in his life, retirement, he finds himself questioning that now as he’s out of the work force. We so often define ourselves by our profession and the other roles we play in our lives as he has. In doing so, we may lose sight of another answer, one that is more accurate.

Then, I ask the question, “does it matter?” What does it matter if one is a physician, a plumber, a writer, or a politician (let’s not get into that last one, it will have to wait for another time).

I offer that it doesn’t matter. What matters, or should, is what we are. Not cultural, race, religion, politics. No. Are we good? Do we look out for others? Do we care about them? How do we help them? How do we make things better?

This is not a screed against work and the benefits it offers. It’s necessary. And yes, sometimes it may do more harm than good and that’s something to be addressed. It should not be a, or the, defining factor of who we are.

Rather, how do we live our lives? Hopefully as a positive force for good in any of the arenas in which we dwell. That’s who we should be. Who we are should be measured by deeds, not occupation.

Me? I’m trying my hardest to live into that.

Taking the mask off.

Much has been written about the efficacy of masks the past couple of years. More so now that the pandemic appears to be waning. But this is not about the health benefits of wearing one nor are there any political undertones. No, this is about who the hell is that person masquerading as me for those two years.

Yes, we don’t wear masks in the house, at least not in mine. Nor do I wear one while showering and brushing my teeth. I do see my reflection in the mirror daily so it’s not like I’m a complete stranger.

Yet. Yet. It’s a different face. It is two years older and two years greyer, bordering (beardering?) on silver. WHO is that person?

There are new lines, a bit deeper than before. And the eyes, wearier now.

Such is the cost of what our lives have become in the short yet interminably long two years. Some of what has occurred is due to aging. I’m not fooling myself about that. It’s been a hard two years for all of us. It’s strain I see in my face now from not being able to live as I once did. It’s the weight of emotions from isolation, insecurity, and invasion. It has all contributed to the face now before me.

Besides the physical change, there are other changes. I’m more appreciative of the newly regained freedoms that are returning to us, ones we took for granted. I’m also more intolerant of deniers, those who for whatever reasons refuse to accept that this is no longer the ’50’s and that we are all in this together. One person’s freedoms are not another’s restrictions. That equation doesn’t work. Uh-oh, some science creeping in here. That’s not what this is about though. Hardly.

I’m glad the masks are coming off. They’re allowing us to see ourselves again in the harsh light of day… and those around us in the same way.

And if it becomes necessary to put the masks on again, I will and hope others will too.And that will produce change again and hopefully this time universal and for the better.

You can’t take it with you…

Nor should you. I’m not talking about death though it could just as well apply. What’s up for discussion is what we need to get through our days.

From the earliest pandemic days, working from home (euphemistically called “sheltering at home”) I stopped wearing a watch and my wedding ring. There was no need for the watch as my computer screen was far more accurate. The ring? Well, my wife was in the room next me and I saw no need to remind her daily of our commitment to one another.

And now?

As things cautiously open up again, I find myself as I venture back into life, now leaving those artifacts behind. The watch – nice, but unnecessary as my phone will tell me what I need to know. The ring? I’m of an age now where my ringless hand will not entice anyone to inquire of my availability, not that they would have in earlier years. The commitment remains, just as strongly as in the past, but sometimes the ring remains in the drawer.

There’s no need for a briefcase or tote to carry business stuff in as most of it’s available, again, through my phone. The same goes for an appointment book, archaic as that may sound.

Wallet and keys? It’s getting to the point that the phone will surplant those too. How long will it be before our cars will recognize our phone and allow their use without a key? Soon, I’m told. And you can pay for your coffee with a phone.

It will boil down to a smartphone is all we need to carry on.

So, at the end of the day, you really don’t have to take it with you and why would you. All I have to figure out now is how to leave the damned phone behind.

Thoughts while on “hold”.

How many times has one been put on hold for what seems like eternity after being told “your call is important to us”? Just how important is it, really?

While waiting in an office for an appointment, I’ve been offered coffee or water. That tells me that I am important enough to recognize my presence.

On the phone, we’re treated to generic “music” or what passes for it. Thinking longer about that, I wonder who composed it and were they paid royalties for it? Going deeper into that, did they study “music” in a conservatory? Do they have a record deal? Where can we get their latest CD or stream it?

Are all these call centers that busy all the time or is everyone on an extended coffee break? If they are indeed that busy, what does it say about the quality of their products that so many people are calling for assistance?

Is there really a queue in where our calls are placed or is it more like a Mayberry switchboard where some overworked operator is plugging in lines willy-nilly?

And then, only then, after waiting for the Messiah to come, is your call picked up by someone uniquely unqualified to help you. After explaining your situation multiple times, you’re asked to, yet again, be put on hold for a brief moment. The dictionary explains brief thusly: “of short duration.” “Brief” in their world is measured by a calendar, not by a clock.

Currently, I’ve been on hold for over forty-five minutes, though I’ve been reassured I’m next in the queue. Check back with me next week as I’m sure I’ll still be next in line on the queue.

“Who Knows Where The Time Goes?”

So go the lyrics to the eponymously titled Fairport Convention song. Sung plaintively by singer Sandy Denny, it addresses the passage of time through seasonal changes, and love and friends lost. The themes are universal, we’ve all experienced these at some time in our lives.

As I write this, I wonder where the past two years have gone. Friends have been lost, some to isolation, others to death. Even the seasons have been missed, while we euphemistically “sheltered in place”.

And now, once again, there is reason for cautious optimism that we may be turning the corner on the pandemic. Yet, time is not slowing down. I fear that upon reaching what will soon pass for “normal” we still wonder where the time has gone.

However, it, like spring, may afford us the opportunity to revisit some those endeavors/resolutions/hopes and start anew.

What would you like to revisit?