Category Archives: writing

chain letter …

I received an internet “chain letter” tonight via Facebook. At first glance I cringed … then I sighed heavily and cringed again. But, since I was sitting on the pot’, I read through it.

It is important to note that this was sent to me by someone who I suspect never sends superfluous things like this to others. I questioned for a moment whether or not her account was hacked, or maybe she was feeling glum or blue, and I was intrigued. So … I read it.

While reading the message, I was flooded with memories of my youth. Memories of opening the squeaky lid to our mailbox on Antonio Lane and reaching in to find an envelope addressed to me. It reminded me of that important and giddy feeling I had on the inside while carefully carrying it to the roll-top desk in my bedroom. Not seeing a return address, I would inspect the cancellation stamp.

“Ooo! From Arizona? Who is this from?”

It could be from Colorado, or somewhere else in California, or somewhere nearby like Cupertino or Campbell. It didn’t matter; it was a mystery that needed to be solved. I slowly would break the envelope’s seal and remove and unfold the letter.

And there it was — a message.

Letters like this always included directions about how many letters the receiver needed to send and by when. Some even contained a list of addresses to send it to. The frantic feeling of having to do what was required within the deadline would build. I would have to do this! Otherwise, the unspeakable could happen — bad luck, sadness, or something else to avoid. If I were to send them in time following the exact directions outlined, something magical could happen. Something like good luck, granted wishes, or some other mystical occurrence.

It was exciting. It was mysterious. It was entertaining. The wonder of it all. IT WAS FUN!

I could see my towheaded-self open the second drawer down on the right side of my roll-top desk to retrieve fresh and clean ruled paper, carefully counting out the number of sheets I needed to complete the task at hand. God forbid I didn’t have enough! I’d search my school binder (a Star Wars Trapper-Keeper) and other drawers in the house until my supply needs were met. I would grab a pencil, sharpen it into a point, and start the task of carefully copying the directions.

If I used a pen, I would be quickly reminded that pencil was a better option, especially considering how I deemed mistakes as a definite reversal of fortune if left uncorrected; or worse, scratched out. If my Eraser-Mate had a good eraser on it, I might use it. But, pencil was safer … it was good decision making.

If all went well, I would be able to complete the letters, fold them neatly in thirds, insert them into envelopes, carefully address them, and seal them – an act that seemed like I was sealing my fate inside each and every envelope. The sealing gum tasted like the misery and doom that would overcome me if I didn’t get them in the mailbox by the deadline.

Then, the hardest task of all had to happen … asking Mom for stamps.

“What on earth do you need twenty-two stamps for?”

She would ask this while at the kitchen counter cutting carrots, or while sitting at her sewing machine, or while unloading groceries.

“For a chain letter.”

“For what?! A chain letter? Do you know how much stamps cost?”

She would be clearly irritated and then follow up with:

“I don’t even know if I have that many stamps. Go get my purse.”

It was a good sign if the stamps were in there; or if some were found in her purse, and some in the catch-all cupboard, or some in the wall basket by the kitchen phone that held mail, address books, and coupons.

Once the stamps were adhered, and the squeaky mailbox lid was closed over the letters that were dropped in, there was a sense of relief. Then a sense of dread. Over the next few days, knowing the letters were out among the thousands of other letters floating through the US Postal Service, there was this sense of expectation.

“I sent them three days ago. That means there are seven more days until I can ask for three wishes. So then, that means that in twenty days, I will get those wishes granted. Wait! No…. Twenty minus three is …”

I count on fingers. Math never was my strong suit.

“… seventeen, so in seventeen days I will get those wishes granted. Awesome!”

Then it gets blurry. Time goes by. The letters would be forgotten along with the anticipation and the hope for whatever the chain letter promised. It would be replaced by other childhood antics, or rehearsals, or playing with friends, or reading, or anything and everything else.

Only to be remembered when, surprisingly, some random day as the squeaky lid to our mailbox on Antonio Lane would be opened to reveal an envelope addressed to me, and that important and giddy feeling would fill my insides while I carried it carefully to the roll-top desk in my bedroom.

So … I thought about it for a minute. And then I did it. I held down my finger on the text bubble in the Facebook message, selected copy, started a new message, held my finger down again, and pasted the message in it. I chose fourteen people as directed (with a sound methodology in an attempt to ensure those who receive it wouldn’t be targets by others in my list), and I clicked send.

As far as the wishes and promises it made, I highly doubt those will ever come to fruition. But I must acknowledge this: if I hadn’t received that cringe and heavy-sigh inducing chain letter, I wouldn’t have had those lovely memories, and I wouldn’t have been inspired to put them into  words that others may read – something I love and enjoy, and something I have deprived myself of.

To those who received my chain letter: my hope is that it inspires you to do something you love. Just for you.

liebster award … a little late in responding …

liebster2I was nominated for another Liebster Award and am now getting to respond to it. My first nomination was from Are You The Babysitter? and my dear friend RoiAnn. This time I was nominated by My Rants and Rambles blogger, Danny, who found my blog and started following me. We both write about sobriety and addiction; however, I find his to be so much more raw and to the point. It’s a great sobriety resource for newcomers and for those seeking community on problems and successes in sobriety. I sincerely enjoy reading his “rants and rambles.”

I won’t reiterate the deal-e-o about Liebster Award Nominations, since all of that detail can be found in my post, Liebster Award Nominations. I also won’t re-nominate 11 blogs, since I did that already. I missed an aspect of the process in first award post, the 11 “things about me” portion, so I included that below. (See, there is always a reason to read me … you’ll learn something new every time!)

Thank you Danny for the nomination!

11 Things About Me

  1. I love the beach. I have some type of connection to the ocean that heals me and renews me.
  2. I have edema in my right leg that comes and goes, and has done so since 2009. Every doctor I have seen about it has no explanation as to why it happens. And … it just goes untreated. Sometimes I swell and sometimes I don’t.
  3. Acupuncture. Acupuncture. Acupuncture!
  4. I will someday write a novel about my life.
  5. I love tent camping, especially waking in the morning and starting a fire. The smell of breakfast and coffee in morning dew of the mountains is like ambrosia.
  6. I am deathly afraid of bears. I think the movie Prophecy instilled this fear in me when I was in elementary school.
  7. I have named the voice in my head Carl. This way I can argue back and win. If it’s my voice in my head, I can never debate and win. But if it’s Carl, I can debate and argue and win. This helps me maintain my sobriety. Damn Carl…he loves to try to talk me into drinking or using. He also loves to try to make me feel small and weak.
  8. I am engaged to married. No date set, but maybe October of 2014.
  9. I hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail. It was life changing. I chronicled the hike here on my blog.
  10. I am friends with many of my school chums. Most of us went to elementary, junior high, and high school together. I tend to refer to people by both their first name and last name. Always.
  11. I hate grape flavored things. I hate that diners always bring out grape jelly and you have to ask for strawberry.
  12. I just love cheese, raaaaallllly I doooo.

11 Questions For My Nominees To Answer-

  1. What is your favorite TV show?
    Boy, this is a hard one. I love TV and have so many favorites. They change so often, too. I would have to say that House of Cards is spectacular. And, I am a late comer to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, but I have to say that it really has a lot of heart. That family, as weird and backward as they are, really love each other. Jimmy Kimmel cracks me up, but I am usually in bed by the time he comes on (I am old).
  2. Where is one place you go that calms you down?
    The beach. The bathtub.
  3. Coffee or Tea?
    Tea. Definitely! Earl Grey with cream and honey.
  4. Is the glass half-full or half-empty?
    Both.
  5. Favorite Disney movie?
    Shit. Another hard one! Apple Dumplin’ Gang, Bed Knobs and Broomsticks, the original Freaky Friday, The Incredibles (if Disney Pixar counts), Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians (animated), Fantasia, Beauty and The Beast, Snow White …
  6. Do you believe in love at first sight?
    Yes.
  7. Why did you decide to start blogging?
    Because I have always enjoyed writing and I started posting Notes in Facebook and the feedback from those was very encouraging. I have also always had the notion that I have a book in me … I just need to get it out. Blogging has provided me a platform to practice and hone skills.
  8. Who is someone you look up to?
    My mother. President Clinton. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Emily Post. My partner’s father.
  9. What type of superpower would you want to have?
    Invisibility. Or mind reading.
  10. Right now, if you had a chance to travel anywhere and money was not an option, where would you go?
    Mars. Or France.
  11. What is one goal that you have that means a lot to you?
    To be an honest, fully realized man with a life that is rich and filled with love and respect.

rejection …

Today, I received my very first — very, very, very first — rejection letter. It came from the editor of the Modern Love section of the New York Times. They accept and review essays about everyday life situations that tug heartstrings, epitomize personal growth, and are of relatable situations.

Their mission is stated as follows: “The editors of Modern Love are interested in receiving deeply personal essays about contemporary relationships, marriage, dating, parenthood…any subject that might reasonably fit under the heading “Modern Love.”

In my opinion, “A Love Letter to 401 WEA” was exactly that. It was a personal essay about a relationship I had with my apartment, its importance to me, how I stumbled upon it and fell in love, how it enhanced my life, how it was there for me in goods times and bad, how I finally had to make the decision to leave it, and how all of that affected me emotionally. I thought it was a perfect fit. Boy meets apartment, boy falls in love with apartment, boy has life experience in apartment, boy leaves apartment. (Cue sappy and swelling violin music here.) If ones love of their New York City apartment doesn’t “reasonably fit under the heading “Modern Love,” then I don’t know what does.

A dear friend of mine thought my essay a perfect fit and encouraged my submission:

“This is the most beautiful piece of writing you’ve ever completed. You must publish this piece. Send immediately to … Modern Love – which is the Sunday Style section feature where this piece belongs. Please read the requirements below. LMK if you need my help to shorten. I didn’t count your words.

SEND before you leave. I’m begging you.”

She gave me the courage and confidence to hit the send button to the Modern Love Department. I was nervous and excited and I really, really, really wanted to hear that it would be used. I really wanted to see it in print. I really wanted to see a link to it on their website. I really wanted to be able to say that I was published in The New York Times. I really wanted to feel that weekly subcribers — to either the traditional paper, the online paper, or those that choose only “the weekender” — would read my essay and heave a collective sigh of understanding and remorse, yet deeply breath in the anticipation of starting a new adventure. Maybe even some of them would nod their head and wipe empathic tears from their cheeks, while they reached again for thier cup of coffee. A few might even tear the page out and keep it, neatly folded and placed in thier journal, or showcased on their refrigerator held by Duane-Reade magnets. But, alas, none of that will happen.

My original essay included 2068 words. The submission requirements say that essays are to be between 1500 and 1700 words. How on earth was I going to ever reduce my word count between 568 and 368 words? I was stumped. I re-read my essay twice and considered what content could come out. I was reluctant to remove anything. Then, inspiration hit. Maybe I didn’t have to remove anything. Maybe I only needed to re-word sentences to reduce word count, which is something I am quite adept at after being a techincal writer in my professional career. I started editing.

My friend also edited for me and gave me excellent ideas and feedback. We collaborated on sections. In her edits, she removed a part that was very important to me. It was the “visual GPS” of my move that I included in change of address cards that I made.

USA – NYC – UWS – WEA

She helped rephrase a section that I had tried many times over to rewrite to no success. What was a chunky sentence that I used out of frustration and lack of passion to try anymore, ended up crisply articulating my thought.

I wrote: “I met with a broker and asked him to show me apartments in Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, and the Lower East Side. I wanted to be where the men were since I was single again.”

She wrote: “Now that I was single again, it was time to look at apartments. I wanted a place in Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, or the Lower East Side – a neighborhood where I would find men to date.”

There were three drafts that passed between us. Each frought with its own set of cuts and edits, restructuring, and elimiations, additions and deletions. Finally, I achieved succuss. 1693 words! Seven words less than the highest threshold. I DID IT! I maintained the integrity of my essay without compromising the content that is deeply personal to me: my relationship ending with Dion; his hospitalization, recouperation, and eventual death; my expression of adulthood by furnishing the apartment, hosting dinner partiess and holiday meals, and having many guests for extended stays; through my drug and drink issues and my new found sobriety; to meeting my fiance Kirk.

The latter expressed passionately and from the heart as follows:

“This was the apartment where a friend and I organized packs of freeze-dried food in preparation to backpack the Appalachian Trail. This was the apartment where that friend became my boyfriend, and where that boyfriend eventually moved. This was where we set up Christmas early and our parents met for the first time at Thanksgiving. This was where a puppy, Rhoda, was adopted to keep Victor company and round-out our family. Where I left for a Broadway show and dinner with my boyfriend, and came home with my fiancé. This was the apartment where we decided to move to Charleston, South Carolina; the one I would leave and watch shrink smaller in the rerview mirror.”

I wrote using current feelings about my my apartment and flashbacks to how I ended up living in it, loathing it, loving it, and then eventually leaving it. I started each paragraph with “this was the apartment” where something happened of emotional sigfinicance to me. Then, I’d flashback to working with a broker to find an apartment. This was that apartment; the one I didn’t want to see.

He took me to several places in the neighborhoods that interested me. None of them fit my “wants”. They were too small, too dark, too low, too creepy, too smelly, too boring. Too … too … too … too. They were too little and I was too much.

* * * * *

This was the apartment where I spent nine hours fastidiously measuring and taping the hallway in order to paint vertical stripes. The smell of blue painter’s tape lingered on my hands, in my hair, on my clothes; the taste of it in my mouth. A once cream and overly bright hallway became a rich and luxurious walk from the living room to the kitchen. The dark green stripes with a base of a deep brick red evoked a masculine men’s club. This was the apartment where I explained to guests that the stripes were not black, but a deep green, secretly relishing in the fact that the stripes were so rich and dark they were almost an enigma.

And now I am faced with a different set of present feelings and flashbacks. Present feelings of slight failure (Why didn’t they choose my essay?), embarassment (I can’t believe I actually thought it was that good.), and confusion (He read it, can’t he at least tell me why it wasn’t chosen?). Flashbacks to my being frustrated by the editing process, the spark of creativity that came to bouy my confidence, and the anticipation of looking for it published each week, since, of course, they had too many submissions to even say it would be published. I would just see it print, of course!

But instead I read in my email today, the following:

Dear Scott Pfeiffer,

Thank you for sending your writing to Modern Love. Although we have decided not to use your essay, we are grateful for the opportunity to consider it. I regret that the volume of submissions we receive makes it impractical for me to offer editorial feedback.

Best wishes,

Daniel Jones
Modern Love editor
The New York Times

My friend, who was equally upset said mine was not chosen was because I am not a lesbian. Modern Love loves their lesbians. It might have something to do with that. Or it might have something to do with structure, content, relatability, or arc. I will never know. What I do know is that this essay is the first that was rejected.

This was that essay.

 

words mean things …

I once had a boss who was horribly tough and demanding, but he was the best boss I have ever had. He taught me many things, including one phrase that has stuck with me. He was proofreading something I wrote and he questioned a word I chose. I defended my word choice and when I was finished, he made his point.

 “Scott, words mean things. Choose them wisely.”

I immediately made this philosophy my own. And I changed the word that I was convinced was correct.

I have always gravitated towards words and not to numbers. Words make sense to me and numbers do not. Words express emotion. Numbers express calculations. I would rather mince words than crunch numbers. To me, numbers are inflexible and rigid. One is one is one. Words are more flexible and pliable; not their definitions or meaning, but how they can emote, describe, or paint visual and auditory pictures in different ways.

“Seeing red” can mean that one is actually looking at something red, like a painted wall, a stop sign, a dictionary’s cover; or it can mean being mad, filled with anger, or incapable of controlling ones rage. It all depends on adjacent words that provide some deeper context.

Homonyms blew my mind when I was young and nearly crippled my ability to spell. In second grade, we studied homonyms and made books of our colorful work. Each page focused on two words that sounded alike, but whose definitions were completely different. We used the word in a sentence and drew pictures to show our homonyms in action.

Peal and Peel: The bells of the church pealed. and I peeled the orange.

Dawn and Don: I woke up at dawn. and “Don your coat! It’s cold outside,” my mom yelled.

*     *    *    *    *

In my career, I was responsible for writing words that expressed steps to follow, inspired action, defined policies, and communicated how to interact with others. These words outlined complex processes in simple ways so that another person could easily execute a desired action. Throughout my career, the words that I wrote were read by hundreds of stores, thousands of managers, and tens of thousands of employees. I used to love when I would visit stores and hear someone saying something that I had written with personal conviction as if it were something they just happened to say. It made me realize that my words mean things, my words change minds, my words inspire, and my words can shape futures. My words are powerful.

“Words mean things,” this boss said to me.

That is why my boss told me this. One incorrect word, with the best intentions, could start a firestorm of confusion or chaos. Words mean things. Choose them wisely.

In high school, I had an English teacher who I hated during class, but secretly admired. She liked my essay writing and my imagination, and she assigned excellent books to read. She was strict and she hated lazyness.

“If you use the words “thing” or “things,” you will receive a lower grade.”

She further explained that “thing” implied something that could be described. She made us describe the things we were calling things. One could easily write, “He reached for the thing on the desk before slumping onto the floor.” However, more excitement is created by writing, “He reached for the bottle of poison on the desk before slumping onto the floor.” She made a great point … describing the thing was more descriptive. Who knew? Words mean things and things can be described. Things beg to be described and words are made for this. Even “nothing” means “something.”

“What did you do last night?”

“Nothing.”

That seems like a simple and easy to accept answer, but it is not a true response. When nothing occurs, something occurs. This has been my personal linguistic equivalent to mathematics’ concept of Pi or infinity. Something was experienced even when it felt like nothing. And nothing, when it is really something, can be described, even when it involves sitting motionless, staring at a wall, eyes closed, and only breathing in and out.

“What did you do last night?”

“Sat motionless, staring at a wall, eyes closed, only breathing in and out.”

I might call someone – a psychologist, maybe – after hearing that response.

So what does this mean, this philosophy that words mean things and things can be described? Why is this so important to me (at least for today)? Well, it is because I enjoy words. Most words. I have to admit that some words I despise. I wish them to be eradicated like in George Orwell’s 1984 when the news was rewritten and like when Annie Lennox sings about “Double Plus Good” and “Double Plus Ungood” and Julia. I want certain words to be erased forever.

 *      *     *     *     *

Words not to be spoken, written, referenced, used, thought of, or seen – EVER – are:

Bro –anything: As in BRO-mance, BRO-hug, BRO-brews, or “BRO, what’s up?” The only time BRO should be used is when speaking about Adrian Brody.

Mancave: Call it a den, a library, a special place just for the man of the house … I don’t care. Just do not call it a mancave. That’s lame.

Epic: If used to describe mundane or routine events, as in “a five year olds epic birthday party,” “an epic sunset,” “an epic game of Tiddlywinks with my cousin’s sister-in-law’s daughter,” “an epic night out at the movies,” it is completely and utterly unacceptable.

T’bowing: Tim has already helped reduce the use of this word, but it still comes up occasionally and makes me want to hurl. The hurling could be from hearing it mostly on Kathy Lee & Hoda, which traps me into watching as if I am driving by a horrible freeway accident.

Biotch: The only time this should be heard is when uttered by Dalia Royce on Suburgatory. If you must use it, please, just call the person a bitch. But, don’t use it as a kind salutation. That is not what the word means. You really mean “bitch” when you say “biotch,” but you don’t want to sound like a bitch – or a biotch when you say it. The person you call biotch most likely is a bitch and you think you are being cute and friendly by saying biotch. My advice: If you are hanging out with a bunch of biotches (read, bitches), you need new friends.

Baby bump: This is just ugly. It makes something wonderful sound gross.

Legendary: Similar to epic, this is overused to describe bullshit antics or to make small things seem better and bigger than reality. That pee-wee-baseball game you attended was NOT legendary. A ski trip was NOT legendary. That epic stumble out of the bar was NOT legendary.

Fail: Most fails are epic and / or legendary; therefore, the word should not exist to describe someone falling off a ladder, being shunned at a party, misjudging how to hang pictures, or cakes that do not rise.

HBD: This is short for Happy Birthday. Are you really that fucking lazy that you cannot write out Happy Birthday? Go away.

Fierce: This is acceptable only when used to describe things that one should be afraid of, like missile or bomb attacks, volcano explosions, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, or rabid animals seeking blood. Clothing choices are not this; flower arrangements are not this; clubs and circuit parties are not this; concerts are not this.

-pocalypse / -mageddon: The only thing that comes close to being an apocalypse IS an apocalypse and the only thing that comes close to Armageddon IS Armageddon. Storm-pocalypse, defriending-pocalypse, cereal-mageddon, email-mageddon are neither a “pocalypse” nor a “mageddon.”

-gate: Unless used to describe the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC, nothing else is a gate, except a door in a fence. There is no such thing as “dog-gate” to describe a scandal at the Westminster Dog Show, or “baby-gate” to describe the attempted removal of a newborn Kennedy from a hospital. The only baby gate to reference is the one that keeps Junior from climbing up or falling down the stairs.

*     *    *    *    *

I believe that one phrase should be removed from our lexicon:

Raymore & Flannigan Onetime Only Sales Event

It’s just not true. Everything is always on sale at Raymore & Flannigan. All your favorites! Natutsi, Kathy Ireland, Broyhill, and Cindy Crawford Home. Always.

What is true is that words mean things and things can be described, and I intend to continue to use words to their fullest potential. I will continue to group letters to form words, group words to form sentences and phrases, and use sentences and phrases describe things.

So … now that I have that off my chest, I need to prepare for the approaching snow-pocalypse and create a wish list for my future man cave. No baby bumps allowed, just us bros. Once it’s finished, I’m  gonna T’bow for days because it’s going to be fierce, bro! Our bro-mance energy will become legendary, unless you forget to say “HBD,” creating birthday cake-gate. This epic fail will be a charm-ageddon for you. Oh … and don’t be jealous, but I’m heading to Raymore & Flannigan to buy some things. So suck it, biotch!

*     *    *    *    *