Friends Only

I tend to write a lot about my day-to-day experiences here. What this means is that family, friends, coworkers, and even one-time acquaintances can often lead starring roles in my journal. I myself don't think it matters who ends up reading what I scribble, but a few of the afore mentioned actors have requested that I lock all of my journal entries. Please comment here if you'd like to be added to my friends list. Thank you. Dan

Note to Random Visitors

Hi there, and welcome to Aimless Ramblings. Why not sit down, take your shoes off, and relax for a while? I know, you're just casing the place, but come on around to the back yard where I'm probably hanging out, and ask me for a drink. Chances are, I'll pour you one.

Hey, even if you're not thirsty, I hope you'll consider writing me a little note that tells me why you dropped by. I know, it's probably because you heard me jabbering away on one of our mutual friend's pages, but which friend?

Take care, and, oh yeah, if you're not coming around to the back, would you roll down the trash can for me? Tomorrow's trash day, and I forget to do it half the time. The can's behind that trelace by the garage. Thanks.


Writers, Radishes, and Preconceptions

LJI 10.0, Introduction
I began writing entries for LJ Idol in season 8, and looking back, I think that very first prompt shaped how I would view the competition. What was the prompt? When You Pray, Move Your Feet

Now, just on the face of it, that topic had the potential to really scare the crap out of you as a writer. I mean, would you automatically be locked into constructing a story or personal tale around that religious theme? If not, how far could you wander afield before the audience would cry foul? Me, I didn't worry about any of those things, I started with a vegetable fight!

The radish struck Tony on his forehead as soon as he opened the front door.

Oh sure, there are stories I've written since then that I'm fonder of for various reasons--the characters embody something I believe in, or the plot has a cool twist--but this one was special, not only for being my first LJI entry, but for showing me the best way of dealing with Gary's mind twisting prompts. The day that first topic came out, I was traveling out of town for work, and had planned to bring along a bag of radishes my wife had purchased for me as a hotel snack. When I arrived and discovered the dreadful snackless truth of the forgotten vegetables, I decided, whatever else I did, radishes had to be a major component of the entry I wrote. My mind somehow came up with the hapless image of a boy being targeted with a radish by his girlfriend, I wrote the first sentence, and the rest of the story followed from there.

Of course, not all my submissions would begin so easily, and by Entry 4, What Does Narcissism Have To Do With Me, I had moved from fictitious stories to actual life experiences, relating an adventure from my high school days. At that time, I was unaware of LJ Idol's history, the fact that fiction had originally been the exception, not the norm. To me, the phrase "writing competition" meant writing fiction, and to be honest, I was a little dismayed that I had wandered off what I saw as the true path of speculative fiction I had envisioned for myself.

Nevertheless, I subsequently decided that Topic 5, Inconceivable, was best suited to a tale from my previous occupation as an adaptive technology trainer, and that entry 6, Food Memory, was perfect for telling about the time my youngest was injured and learned about the potato chip policemen. By the time Gary got to topic 7, Bupkis, I was ready to have some real fun, and told a story in first person that seemed like another childhood anecdote, but eventually turned into a horror story which couldn't possibly be true.

Why, you may ask, am I belaboring a group of entries written back in 2011? First, because I think the introduction that's important here is who I am as a writer, not a list of statistics including age, sex, and location. The other, much more reflective reason, is that "I got it," in season 8. When I looked back, I discovered that I took a Bye during weeks 3 and 9, but didn't stop writing until I was eliminated in entry 20, Y2K, and A Civil Campaign. That determination and commitment to writing was something I lost in subsequent seasons, and I'm determined to get it back this time around.

Believe it or not, I'm not even that worried about what Gary has in store for us in season 10. Come on, I live with my wife, two teenage daughters, and three female dogs. What can he possibly do to me that they haven't already done? *grin*


LJ Idol Season 10

After a long hiatus, I have returned to LJ to participate in therealljidol's Season 10. As a relatively slow writer, I have learned that time management is the key, so shall pray for LJI writing weeks that include a weekend, and barring that, the stamina to withstand numerous late night scribbling sessions.

If you haven't tried LJ Idol yet, go here and sign up. You'll love it!

Good luck and happy writing to all my fellow competitors!



LJI FAR 4: The death of the 1¢ coin / penny and the $1 bill.

Have you ever been surrounded by people engaging in an activity that you couldn't? Maybe you're hanging out with your friends at a club, and everyone's dancing, while you lean against a wall, assisting the building with its structural integrity. Or perhaps it's a foot gear fad, and while you certainly wouldn't mind sporting a new pair of Converse, your pocketbook does not agree. For me, that activity was the phone game craze.

Being a blind guy, I'm sure you'll understand it when I tell you, "Most video games just don't work for me." Of course, there were some work arounds. Playing WII with the kids for example, if I timed it just right, I could swing the controller, and knock one out of the park in baseball. Then there was boxing, the only game I'm aware of where madly flailing about would, as often as not, score the visually challenged dude a win. On a phone though, even given the amazing advances I've seen with touch screens and speech technology, games have generally been … frustrating!

Take Words with Friends—remember that classic? When I first heard about it, what I thought was, "Oh hey, that sounds cool, a sort've electronic version of scrabble. I'm a word geek! I wonder if they've coded it so that it'll work with speech?"

Uh … no! I could kind of tell where the letters might be located on the screen, but manipulating or identifying them wasn't possible. I ultimately e-mailed the developer, since I've had good luck doing that in the past with other apps, but never got a response.

After a few similar experiences, I eventually settled into the mindset of ignoring games altogether. Just like the above example with footwear, it wasn't that I was above wasting hours of my day poking at my phone's screen, it was just that I hadn't yet received an accessible invitation.

Then came Dice World! I was sitting outside, listening to a podcast about adaptive technology, and happened to hear an interview with one of the developers of this game. It was created by two dads who loved playing dice, wanted to share it with as many people as possible, and along those lines, had taken the time to make it accessible.

"Hmm," thought the blind man.

Unfortunately, I didn't know crap about dice games—my family played stuff like Monopoly, Battle Ship, and dominos when I was a kid. Farkle sounded like something you'd scream after hitting your finger with a hammer. Yatzy was vaguely familiar, but Balut made no sense either, unless perhaps you were recounting an election story about troublesome chads in Florida. And Pig? Who knew? Predictably though, even with the prodigious learning curve involved, I was soon addicted.

"Whatcha doing, Dad?" my daughter Amanda inquired one afternoon.

"Playing Farkle," I responded.

"What's Farkle?" she asked, channeling both amusement and teenage scorn.

"A game I can beat you at," I challenged.

Which, as I knew it would, captured her interest for a while.

My first permanent victory though was the wife, Lizbeth.

"I hate these fucking dice," she'd be heard to mutter while lying next to me in bed. Or, "You suck!" directed at me whenever I won a game. Still, she continued playing.

The only annoying thing about being so addicted to this game was the constant quest to acquire more Gold. In Dice World parlance, Gold stood for the bonus points you could use to extend your turn. So, if you rolled the dice and got nothing but crap? No problem. Spend 1 Gold, and you could re-roll the dice one time. Of course, you had to earn Gold to be able to spend it, and aside from playing in tournaments or flat out buying it, you could only do that by watching videos. Watch one video, and you'd get one Gold.

When I first started playing, I'd occasionally watch a video and get nothing, which led to even more horrible exclamations than the ones quoted from Lizbeth above. After a while though, the developers squashed that bug, and went so far as to add a coin drop noise after the video was done playing, as if to say, "There's your penny!"

Did you ever collect pennies in a jar as a kid? Remember that noise they'd make when you'd drop one in? The coin drop noise in Dice World is a little bit like that, except that the coin sounds bigger, like maybe a quarter. Ah, now that would be sweet, twenty-five points for watching one of those goofy videos, instead of just one.

The next time you're looking for a fun little time waster to download on your phone, give Dice World a shot. Even if you don't get to be as addicted as Lizbeth and myself, I bet you'll develop a new appreciation for every penny of Gold you're able to stockpile.



LJI FAR 3: Ferhoodle

The attic window in front of Clare was covered with a light frost, turning the familiar view of her grandparents’ yard below into a fragmented collage of alien shapes. Ordinarily, she would’ve enjoyed creating an illusory world to match the glass pane’s spidery outlines, but the silhouettes in front of her felt wrong somehow. Leaning closer until her lips almost touched the cold glass, she breathed out until a clear spot formed, and then wiped the water droplets away with the sleeve of her sweater. It wasn’t much of an improvement; the day she revealed was gloomy, the sky above filled with glowering clouds, the driveway below cutting through a forlorn collection of soggy-looking trees.Collapse )



LJI FAR 2: Follow Me

The compulsion seized James when he saw the exit sign for the airport coming up on his right. Merging carefully into the lane of slower moving vehicles, he glanced down at the time displayed on the car’s dashboard clock, and gave a mental shrug. The flight he had booked online just before leaving home had been the earliest he could find, but didn’t leave for another three hours. Given the traffic surrounding him, it was a fair bet the airport would be packed. Still, he had printed his boarding pass and wasn’t checking any bags. Could he risk it?Collapse )



LJI FAR 1: Trust Everyone, but Cut the Cards

When the doorbell rang, shattering the silence of his contemplation with its insistent two-tone summons, Nick almost laughed. It had been too perfect. The crackle of the newly lit fire at his back with its promises of warmth, security, and possible destruction of evidence, should he decide to go that route; Gran’s absence, attending a fund raiser for the animal shelter she volunteered at; and of course, the three acceptance letters spread out in front of him. There had been an intuition, a feeling that he was poised on the edge of something significant, but he had tried to discount it. Almost, he had convinced himself that he was being melodramatic.

What college, if any, would make his personal cut? How many high school kids asked themselves the same question every year?

Bending over the coffee table, he shuffled the scattered pages of the three letters he had received into a single stack, and then stopped, holding the misaligned pile at arm's length. Common sense said that the person waiting outside couldn’t have anything to do with the choice he was trying to make—had made?—but he knew better. The empty house, the fire, the papers in his hand were all just stage props, his way of throwing down the gauntlet and defying their manipulation.

Challenge accepted, and now what? Hurl the collected college entreaties over his shoulder into the flames? Queue up some tunes and blast them at a sufficient level to drown out the doorbell, no matter how many times it rang? Sneak out the back?

Experience had showed him that there was no limit to the variety of people and scenarios they could create to influence his actions. The person waiting on the front porch could be a girl scout selling cookies, a dude pushing Direct TV installations, or a neighbor, although one he’d certainly never see again, searching for a lost dog.

“Screw it!”

Tossing the papers back on the table, he headed for the front door.

When he opened it, the man on the porch had his hand raised, as though Nick had caught him in the act of reaching forward to ring the bell again. He was wearing a dark suit that was noticeably rumpled, as though he had ignored his alarm and avoided getting up that morning until the last possible instant, and then grabbed yesterday’s discarded clothing from the floor.

“Oh good,” he exclaimed, dropping his hand and offering Nick a wide smile, “I was afraid no one was home. This is the third house I’ve tried.”

“Can I help you?” Nick asked, making no attempt to hide his irritation.

“My car’s engine died,” the man explained, waving vaguely over one shoulder with the abortive ringing hand, “and I forgot my cell at home this morning. Can I borrow your phone?”

There it was, the hook they’d devised to get this guy inside, and as usual, the staging was perfect. Looking at him, Nick could easily picture the scene, imagine him desperately rushing around his bedroom in an attempt to not be late, and, of course, leaving his phone behind. Now, adding insult to injury, the poor dude’s car had died on him. How could anyone deny such a reasonable request?

“No,” Nick said, and began pushing the door closed.

“Hey!” the stranger squawked, flattening his ringing hand against the door, and wedging a foot in the narrowing gap. “Have some compassion.”

“Not going to happen,” Nick retorted, pushing back as hard as he could. “When you get back to the Matryoshka Handlers, tell them I’m done with you guys.”

“Mary what?” the guy screamed, pulling his foot free.

“The people who make you wind up dolls,” Nick shouted, making certain the door was firmly closed and securing the lock.

The man was now slumped against one of the entry’s outer columns, his abused foot cradled in both hands.

Nick turned away, and triumphantly retraced his steps back to the living room with its welcoming fire. This time, absolutely no one was going to push him down a path he didn’t want to take. This time, he would make his own choice and live in a future he alone had created.

When he reached the coffee table, the pile of acceptance letters he had left behind seemed shrunken, a pitiful mockery of the accumulated pages he had formerly held. He swept up the remaining sheets, and frantically began counting.

There was only one letter.


Curmudgeon At Large

You know that “polite company” filter most people use to screen their conversations?

Mine doesn’t work so well. Okay, that’s not really accurate... It has been known to work reasonably well, so long as I give enough of a shit to implement it. Most of the time, I don’t.

In June this year, I started working for a new company. Being so wet behind the ears, I was hopeful that I might possibly avoid the annual drudgery of filling out a performance review this month, but no such luck. Besides the mutually agreed upon goals my manager and I had developed, there were also four core company beliefs for which I had to list examples demonstrating my participation and understanding. They were:

  • Accountable: Drives results by owning the solution, getting the right people involved and delivering on promises.

  • Brave: Takes bold and decisive action to deliver ambitious outcomes, and champions a culture of high performance.

  • Decent: Listens, encourages and respects difference; treats all people fairly, with honesty and transparency.

  • Imaginative: Looks beyond their immediate job both inside and outside Company X and introduces new ways of seeing, thinking and working.

I was in a groove, rolling out the BS, and then got stuck.

Over Skype to Coworker
Dan: I’m stuck for something to put under Decent on my performance review. Do you think my sense of humor, ragging on everyone, regardless of their rank and power over me, counts?
Sam: I think that counts for Curmudgeon At Large. :)

Of course, then he ruined it by saying how much I had supported not only himself, but also two interns we hired over the summer. Still though, I like that title!

This past week, I attended a conference in Albuquerque. Although I’ve been to many many work conferences before, this was a totally new experience for me. Instead of being stuck behind an exhibit booth, playing the sales drone and giving demonstrations to whomever I could capture as they wandered by, I could actually attend sessions and learn a few things. During the last session though, that Curmudgeon At Large title became relevant again.

There were for of us from my company, and because we had to leave for the airport as soon as the session was scheduled to end, we all sat together. As we were claiming our seats and getting situated—standing by our chairs, gossiping, and blocking through traffic--a teacher I knew from the TX School for the Blind said hello, and I introduced her to my colleagues. She then introduced the person sitting next to her—we’ll call her Stephanie W.

“Oh,” I said, stretching out my hand to shake, “I don’t believe we’ve met. My name is Dan.”

“Oh Dan,” she responded, somewhat snootily I thought, “you’re silly. This is Stephanie from Region 11.”

Retrieving my hand, which she had not bothered to shake, I said, “H’m, I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize your last name.”

To myself, I thought, “Oh, THAT Stephanie!”

We did indeed know each other. About three years ago, she had taken over the teaching coordinator position at Region 11, an educational service center in Fort Worth that had formerly been one of my best customers, and had promptly ignored almost every communication I had sent her. It had been a shock, both because the former coordinator and I had gotten on very well, and because I had known Stephanie previously as a teacher and thought we also had a pretty solid relationship.

“Well,” she explained, “I got married about four years ago, but never bothered to change my ID. It finally expired the other day and I had to.”

“Oh,” I said, smiling widely, “waiting to see if it would work out?”

“Wooooooooow,” exclaimed Sam, who was sitting next to me, “I would have to know someone for a really long time before I said something like that.”

Stephanie and I both agreed that we had, and then she turned around.

I am very thankful to now be working for a new employer after putting in twelve years with the old one. I’m just as thankful that the self-evaluation part of said company’s performance review process is now complete. And finally, I’m thankful that everyone who works with me is now familiar with the golden rule, “Don’t mess with the Curmudgeon At Large!”


LJI Mini Season

It’s back, and so am I. I will be competing in the recently announced mini season of therealljidol

If you love the idea of writing to deadlines mixed with a group of fantastic participants, I urge you to do the same.

You can find the sign-up page here!