Thursday, December 31, 2009

The New Year: A Time for Reflection and Hope

The annual changing of the calendar causes most of us to reflect on the year past and ponder about the new one to come. Too often, these "reflections" boil down to, "Last year really sucked. I hope next year is better." I'm not referring to those for whom the year was a struggle. I'm referring to those for whom the statement itself becomes an annual event. Fortunately, I've rarely seen the new year that way.

A New Year

My favorite comment about the new year was on Twitter a few days ago: "I just checked my 2009 New Year's resolutions and I've got 54 hours to lose 13 pounds and write a novel." (my apologies to the author, I can't find the tweet to link).

For me, 2009 began against a bleak backdrop. Beyond the pay cuts, the market crash and the uncertain economic future, other things weighed on my mind. I fully expected to lose a parent in 2009 - so much so that I bought a suit for a funeral and after a promising start, Robbie's situation at school was deteriorating. I did not look forward to the New Year with a lot of hope.

Fortunately, things changed. After a lot of prayer and persistence by my brother and sister-in-law, combined with the healing properties of the almighty banana (it's a long story), both of my parents are still with us. In fact, I'm not sure I've seen them both stronger in years. To say I was grateful for this would be an enormous understatement. It's been a wonderful gift for all of us, especially Kelly and Robbie.

I've documented the changes in Robbie here in this blog and as challenging as the business climate was in 2009, the predicted economic catastrophe of biblical proportions never materialized (though I know it was very tough on many).

Through the power of social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter, 2009 brought back connections with people I'd not encountered in years. I can't count how many times I thought, "I haven't talked to this person in over twenty-five years" when adding a new Facebook friend. In some ways, I know many of these people better now than I ever did. In addition, I've made "friends" with people I've never met - or, at least, before I met them. At this year's Backspace Conference as well as a few Notre Dame Football games, I had the chance to meet many of these imaginary friends. Crazy thing this Internet.

If I was sum up the year in a word, it would be "turnaround".

A year in numbers (yes I keep track of this stuff):

Words written: 72,500 (49,000 book-related; 23,500 blog-related)
Books completed: 1* (another draft is likely necessary but it's readable)
Books read: 52 (presidential biographies, special needs memoirs, & thrillers top the list)
President Biographies Remaining: 1 (I've read a bio of every president except Jimmy Carter)
Songs written: 3 (one I actually like)
Overseas Trips: 7 (ties a record)
Days out of the Country: 59 (a record)
New States Visited: 1 (Alaska; four more to go)

A New Decade

Without the drumbeats of Armageddon upon us, like with Y2K, the arrival of a new decade has snuck up on us. I've barely given the idea any thought, whereas 2000 was anticipated long before Prince wanted to party like it's 1999.

While the 90's were a period of unimaginable personal and professional growth for me, the 00's were a period of unimaginable personal and professional adversity. The first half of the decade was marked by professional challenges I could have never fathomed. The second half was marked by one big challenge I never foresaw but consumed me like no other.

In a way, the end of the 00's, especially 2009, saw me fully emerge from my bunker. Like Punxsutawney Phil does on occasion, I popped out and didn't see my shadow. Instead of crawling back into the bunker, I hung around. The result has been an early spring. I can live with that.

What will tomorrow, or January, or 2010 or the 10's bring? I don't know. I'm anticipating the "turnaround" to become a "breakthrough" on several fronts. I'm not going to bore you with the details of those fronts in any New Year's Resolutions.

Let's just go live and find out.

Happy New Year, everybody. And thank you - for reading this far.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The List: Evidence of Discernible Progress

Earlier in the week, I took to cleaning out my office. It wasn't terribly messy but the paper piles were beginning to take over and it was time to battle them back.

Armed with a shredder, I quickly cut the piles down to size - or at least to a manageable level. At the bottom of one of the piles, I came across a list I'd made on a piece of paper from a legal pad that surprised me. The list was titled:


I created the list last February, when we were at the height of our concerns about Robbie in school. I wish I could remember what inspired me to write the list. Was it a book I'd read? Was it a conversation I'd had? More importantly, why did I misplace it?

All in all, I listed nineteen items off the top of my head that I wanted Robbie to be able to change. After finding the list, I judged whether he's learned to change these behaviors at least 80% of the time (hell, I don't do all of the 100% of the time). I was shocked to determine that he'd changed all but five of the items. The five items I was unable to check off were among the five least worrisome behaviors he exhibited. They are:

- Play a board game without cheating or on his own terms
- Eat more foods, especially fruits and vegetables
- Improve his writing<
- Eat breakfast
- Sleep in his own room through the night

If I were to create another list, I'm sure I could find more than five behaviors I'd like to change. But knowing that those fourteen items will no longer be on it, will make it a much more enjoyable task than it was last February.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Silence: Has it Been a Month Already?

Part of the motivation in making this post is to avoid going a full month without making a post. Another part is to spread out the message a little bit.

As I've indicated, things have been going well in Autism World. Not perfect. But well. Last weekend we went down to Houston for a night. Kelly and Joy stayed at the Johnson Space Center as part of a Girl Scout outing. Robbie and I planned to stay at a friend's house. It didn't dawn on me until we were an hour away from home that I might have been making a bad mistake.

"Are we staying at a hotel in Houston?" Robbie asked.

He loves hotels. When we're on trips, he sometimes enjoys the hotel rooms more than the ultimate destinations. He was very upset to learn we weren't going to be staying at a hotel. His meltdown was muted. He managed his outburst pretty well and then he forgot about it - until we dropped Kelly and Joy off.

He protested a few more times on the drive over to my friend's house but recovered quickly. The stay was capped by my friend setting up his Wii the next morning and letting Robbie borrow his Mario Kart game. In some ways, it was a pretty uneventful night. In the most important way, it was a great night. Robbie and I had a blast. Thanks, Jon.

We're to the point where we need to set some new goals for Robbie. That's a good place to be.

Another reason for the silence (above and beyond a busy job, recovering from a trip to Asia, taking a trip to Europe and Thanksgiving since the last post), is that I'm focusing more on my fiction writing.

I posted about the Backspace Writer's Conference in May and how it energized me to refocus on writing fiction. While I haven't written as much since then as I would have liked, I have made strides on my work-in-progress (WIP), called Natural Born Citizen. I've also moved forward with querying my completed thriller, Slip Away, to prospective agents.

It's not enough just write more, you have to read more. After meeting Jason Pinter at the conference, I began to read his work and have really enjoyed it. I just finished The Fury. But if you're going to read some of Jason's stuff, I suggest you start with The Mark, then The Guilty, then The Stolen, and then The Fury. I also read David Morrell's first book, First Blood, and his latest, The Shimmer. Other thrillers that I've read since the conference include David Baldacci's The Collectors and Brad Meltzer's The Book of Fate. I just bought William Bernhardt's The Capitol Conspiracy. That's going to be my Christmas reading.

If you're thinking I should maybe do a little bit more writing than reading, you might be right. Nonetheless, reading good thrillers also helps me understand my market a little better and see where mine fit on the bookstore's bookshelves.

I've set up another blog for Slip Away. I haven't done much with it, yet. I'm curious if anyone reading this far is also interested in reading thrillers. If so, what would you like to see there? The first and only post there now is the short synopsis for the book - the kind you'd read on a book jacket. Check it out and let me know what you think.