The Trouble With Growing Up

Yesterday was one of those days when you know you’re a grown up. My collegiate alma mater hired a head football coach who is the same age as me. A young woman from my high school graduating class died from cancer. My daughter got off the bus and told me a boy asked her to go to a school dance with him.

Each of those things gave me pause for reflection. And after careful consideration, I came away with only one single thought:

When did I become an adult?

Bulldawg: How I Published a Book in a Day

ImageYesterday, I had a sudden burst of energy and a surplus of time. The end result? I now have a new book available on Amazon (both Kindle version and in paperback).

Before you get all impressed, let me clarify:

The book is a collection of short stories that I wrote a few years ago. I labored over them quite a long time, enjoying the act of creation, enjoying the chance to invent and inhabit a new (though familiar) world. They’re detective stories, inspired by the works of Raymond Chandler, creator of the famous P.I. Phillip Marlowe. Set in Athens, Georgia, they’re about a detective who comes back to the last place life made any sense – UGA – trying to start over again. Through five different, strange cases, he discovers that being a detective in a crazy college town is very interesting. They’re dark, gritty, punchy and, for better or worse, some of my most favorite things I’ve written.

Are the wholesome? No. They’re hard-boiled detective noir. They’re not for kids, people who dislike detective stories, or people who object to the use of ugly language and uglier portrayals of life.

Are they good? We’ll see. I wouldn’t have published them if I weren’t proud of them, and if a friend of mine didn’t convince me that they were worth putting out into the public sphere.

Are they cheap? As cheap as I could make them. Well, I suppose I could’ve given them away free, but they were the perfect set up for testing the digital marketplace as an independent author. If you don’t have to go through the gatekeepers, why should you?

Do I expect to make a lot of money? Not a bit. But I hope to be able to get some good feedback as a writer – I want to know what the people who read this blog might think of the experiment in fiction. I want to know if I have the kind of range necessary to tell bigger stories than just my own (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

I’ve already sold a few copies (thanks to my brother, my friend Ashton, and my friend Sarah) and that’s a nice feeling. It helps with the transition from my old life to my new one. God is sovereign, and He’s able to do more than I would’ve imagined.

Heck, He might even be pleased that I’m trying to stretch more than I’ve ever done before. Who knows?

So, as any self-published author is required to do, I’m gonna remind you one more time that my new book, Bulldawg: Detective Tales from the Classic City, is now available for Kindle or in paperback at Amazon. If you’re a Bulldog fan and know anything about Athens, especially Athens circa 1994-2000, then you’re in for a treat.

Help a fellow Dawg out by getting your copy, will ya?

When Anything Was Possible

photo (21)This morning, because he was climbing the walls, I put my son in my car and took him for a drive. We ran an errand for work first, then headed down Highway 78, eastbound. We passed through Loganville, Between, Monroe…and as the mile markers swept by, Jon asked me where we were going.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I think I’m going to take you to where I went to college.”

“You’re gonna take me to your college?” he repeated.

“Yeah. The University of Georgia.”

“The Yoo-be-nursery of…how do you say it?”

I smiled. “The University of Georgia.”

“Oh. You’re gonna take me there?” he asked, looking at me in the rearview mirror.

“Yes.”

“Okay. Can we get ice cream?”

The great thing about my alma mater is that it’s less than an hour’s drive, yet feels like going to another planet. As we turned onto Milledge Avenue, Jon immediately started asking questions. “Why are there so many houses? Why do people have couches in the yard? Why do they have bulldogs on everything?” It was non-stop.

I turned into the Butts-Mehre Building parking lot, thinking that I’d take him to the sports museum inside and show him the glory, glory of old Georgia. We walked in and in quick order took pictures with the 1980 National Championship trophy, Herschel Walker’s Heisman Trophy, and a very nice lady who knew where the restrooms were (that was Jon’s idea). But all of that lasted less than a minute; suddenly, Jon wanted to know where the scientists were.

“I want to see the scientists, like me.” (Special thanks to my brother- and sister-in-law Terrell and Julie White for sending Jon a Big Bag of Science Experiments for his birthday. My kitchen floors will never be the same.)

So we left the Butts-Mehre, went down by Foley Field (Jon had zero interest in the baseball diamond), turned by Stegeman Coliseum (he wasn’t interested in that either) and zipped over towards the Biology, Chemistry and Food Sciences buildings. He begged me to find a place to park so he could “see the scientists make stuff up”, but I couldn’t find a spot, and wasn’t sure we could get into some of the labs anyway.

“That’s sad,” said Jon. “Don’t people want to see scientists?”

I’ve yet to tell him what Bear Bryant said on that issue: “80,000 people never showed up to watch a chemistry test.”

We turned left on East Campus Avenue and drove behind Sanford Stadium. I turned left again on Baldwin Street and showed him Park Hall. “That’s where daddy spent most of his last two years of college.”

“That looks boring,” he replied.

We turned right onto Milledge once more, and then made a right onto Broad Street. I parked downtown near the Arches and we took a stroll across North Campus. We looked at squirrels, trees, the Chapel Bell, the Law Library Atrium, and the inside of the main library. I walked him back down to Sanford Stadium and made the mistake of telling him that’s where all the dead Ugas are buried. After that, he wanted to talk about nothing else.

It was a nice trip, despite the fact that the campus looks almost nothing like I remember it. Fifteen years after I left, the university has become what former president Charles Knapp had dreamed: a top-flight center of education. I marveled at how young the students are compared to when I was in school; how many of them still think they’re invincible enough to smoke; how many of them seem far more determined than I was when I roamed the same grounds.

As we walked back to the car, I took Jon to Park Hall, where the English and Classics departments are headquartered. I snapped a picture in front of my old haunt, and recalled when a professor stopped me on the front steps and told me that, with a bit of revision, some of my pieces would be press-ready. And then the professor offered to send them to his friend at The New Yorker – and could almost guarantee they’d see print.

I stood there and watched that memory play out one more time: I shook his hand and told him thank you, but no. I wasn’t prepared to face rejection. He asked me to reconsider; told me that of all the students in my “Writing for Publication” class, I was the only one to demonstrate real potential.

I told him no a second time. Then I walked away.

It’s been fifteen years, and I still remember that. In college, so the saying goes, anything is possible. You’re not who you were, not yet who you’ll be. You’re a bundle of potential and passion and purposeless energy. You’re waiting to be aimed somewhere and to see how far you’ll go.

At least, that’s the way some people were. I wasn’t. I’m 37 now, and am just finally reaching my “anything is possible” phase. It took me this long to realize the things about myself that are good and worthy and deserving of people’s attention. Today, I wouldn’t hesitate to take that professor’s hand and say, “Let’s sit down and make those revisions now. Why wait?” I would whole-heartedly accept his offer and be so excited about even the possibility that I might get read, much less published.

But I am that person today because I wasn’t that person then. I am a husband and father and writer today because I couldn’t see myself as any of that then.

Sometimes, we take the path we think we’re supposed to take because we have a hard time imagining ourselves take any other path. We choose what we know because we’re afraid of what we don’t. And sometimes, we discover that we end up where we started; we come back to the path we turned away, prepared to take it and see what happens.

That’s what I felt today, standing on a campus that isn’t the same as it was fifteen years ago. But then again, neither was the man standing there. Today, with my son in tow, I went back in time and realized I hadn’t missed my moment; I’d just been preparing for it.

Carpe diem, right?

Anything is possible. Even today.

Getting My Head Examined

Have you ever thought about what’s inside your head?

Random question for a Friday, but it’s kind of where my mind is at. (And after yesterday’s post on politics, I’d rather tongue-bathe the monkey cage at Zoo Atlanta than write about anything political today.)

Today, I went and got my head examined. They strapped me into a pretty white machine with a nifty revolving gizmo and took pictures of the inside of my noggin. Then, they showed me those pictures and told me something that anyone who knows me realizes is patently obvious: I have massive sinus issues.

Massive ones. I’m more stopped up than a convention for constipation. I have more clogs than Atlanta traffic.

Or, as my doctor told, “You aren’t actually breathing. You just kind of take in air.”

Good to know.

Naturally, surgery was recommended. I’m not exactly a medi-phobe, but it’s close. Every time I sit down in a doctor’s office, all I hear is a cash register dinging. This makes me nervous, which makes me slightly panicky, which makes me want to be anywhere other than the doctor’s office. So I’m not scared of the doctor, per se, just his bills. And sinus surgery – even outpatient sinus surgery with minimal risk – makes me a little uncomfortable.

I’ve mentioned this hesitancy to some friends and family, and their response is the same: get over it.

“Don’t you want to be able to smell?” (I work with teenagers, and smell might be overrated.)

“Don’t you want to actually taste what you’re eating?” (Depends on what I’m eating. If it’s a burrito, yes. Zucchini, no.)

“Aren’t you tired of the headaches?” (Yes, but a bajillion pack of Advil is still cheaper than 1.3 minutes of anesthesia, which I would need if I had surgery.)

“You have no idea how it would change your life.” (Maybe so, but if I don’t know what I’m missing, then I can’t miss it, can I?)

I’ll probably end up having the surgery, of course. In the long run, I am tired of feeling like I can’t ever get enough air, or of hearing other people talk about how delicious something tastes. There are times when my stuffed-up-head deprives me of some of life’s simpler pleasures, like when my daughter took a deep noseful of air yesterday and said, “Smell that, daddy? That’s fall!”

I miss that. The last time I smelled fall, it was 1993, and my friend P.C. Frailey were at the UGA Homecoming Game. As we walked from Russell Hall towards the stadium, we were inundated with the smells of pulled pork, grilled steak, hamburgers, hot dogs; the smell of fallen leaves, woodfire, and earth; the crispness that autumn air holds when the humidity is gone, but the coldness hasn’t settled in.

We walked among this, my friend and I, and took in the wonder. It was so moving, in fact, that by the time we’d gotten to the stadium, P.C. had gone on a journey of a different sort. He looked at me, and with all seriousness declared, “I’m going to break some hearts. People have been encouraging me to go to BYU.”

Then he gestured to the sights and smells around us and said, “But this is where I belong. I’m coming to UGA.”

I can smell the barbecue now, and though it’s only a memory, it’s a powerful one.

So I guess when the surgical consultant calls me next week and wants to know if I’m ready to schedule my procedure, I’ll go ahead and say yes. It’d be nice to be able to smell even a little bit of fall this year, not to mention Christmas. I’ll just suck it up and get it over with, I suppose, and be grateful that I even have the option.

In the meantime, I’ll try not to think about that scene from Total Recall, when Arnold pulls the tracking device from his own nose, which is my rough approximation of what I imagine sinus surgery to be like. I’ll try not to think about that at all.

It’ll be tough.

The Inner Munson

“We gotta be careful with these Buffalo Bulls. They have a wicked little halfback who gets ten carries a game, and their punter can absolutely boom it. I’m tellin’ ya, they aren’t gonna just lay down and die.”

Yesterday, my friend, P.C. Frailey, posted out of the blue on my Facebook wall:

Alright Brooks, you’re the only person I’ve ever known more pessimistic about UGA football than Larry Munson. So tell me, what is it about Buffalo that has you nervous? I’m sure there must be something you’re sweating over.

He’s right though. When it comes to forecasting Georgia football, I’m pretty much Chicken Little crossed with the one local reporter that freaks out over the first snowflake. I just never see the positives that others do. If you polled 100 people about Georgia’s chances this year, I would be the one person who predicts an opening loss to the Buffalo Bulls, a New York University football team whose main claim to fame is being consistently mistaken for their professional neighbors, the Buffalo Bills.

Maybe it comes from hearing too much of Larry Munson, the hallowed gravel-voiced announcer for the University of Georgia who passed away last year. Munson was a Saturday fixture during my youth; whether I was at home, at my grandparents, or on the road, the dial was always set to AM 750 WSB and that ragged rasp that painted pictures over the airwaves. Even when Georgia games were on television, my grandfather would turn down the TV announcers and crank Munson to full blast.

What made Larry such a treasure for the Georgia fan was the fact that he was never arrogant about the team. He worried. He fretted. We could be up on a team by 67 points, and Munson would growl, “Up by double digits, but my God that clock is moving slow.” The game was never in hand until the final whistle blew and the teams were off the field and into the locker rooms.

Basically, Munson spoke the unspoken worry of every Georgia fan watching the game. At heart, we were all uncertain of our place, of our abilities, of ourselves. Munson acknowledged that uncertainty and walked us through it on the mic.

I gave P.C. my answer (I think there’s a danger in our defense believing its press too soon; I’m worried about the tailback situation; and I’m just not sold on our offensive line staying healthy all season long. And that doesn’t include Aaron Murray’s need to limit the turnovers) and we had a little fun going back and forth, me playing the part of the pessimist, him the part of the optimist.

But after the thread went dormant, I really thought about it for a minute. Why have I always been so pessimistic about UGA football? Come to think of it, why have I always been so pessimistic about a lot of things? What makes me such a glass-half-empty kind of fellow?

For me, it’s aversion to pain. If I see the glass as half full, and things don’t go my way, then I am not only disappointed by the loss, but by having my hopes dashed too. Life has this funny way of not playing out like a movie script: the good guys don’t always win, the politicians don’t always fight for the little guy, and sometimes things just go badly. So instead of looking for a rainbow that probably wouldn’t appear, I chose to look at the more likely reality.

And strangely enough, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Larry Munson must’ve felt the same way.

Larry called games with that doomsday approach as a way of softening the blow if Georgia did lose. It was mitigation, really; the football gods are capricious – defeat can be snatched from the jaws of victory in less time than it takes to say, “Lindsay Scott!” – and Munson counteracted their deviousness by not letting the fans get too invested. He tamped our expectations down with his bleak outlook, and the result was magic: losses didn’t hurt as much as they could have, but victory was never sweeter.

I still tend to veer towards the negative when it comes to forecasting the future (especially if we’re talking politics), but often its not true negativity. I don’t really think the world sucks as much as I might let on. Truthfully, I’ve discovered that even the deepest pains of life can hold joy and meaning, and that gives me a much different view of life than before. But normally, I let the Inner Munson win out simply because it keeps things in balance.

Deep down, however, I know that things will work out in the end.

Except for tomorrow’s game against Buffalo. I hear they’ve got a punter who can absolutely boom kicks, and if we get into a field position battle, well…