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Smoke Blog: The Relativity

When there’s work to be done. #jameson #caskmates #irishwhiskey #whiskey #smoke #cigar #foundrycigars #therelativity #writing A post shared by Mike Oliveri (@mikeoliveri) on Aug 13, 2017 at 4:08pm PDT The good thing about these cigars is they burn for a long time. The bad thing about these cigar is they burn for a long time.

New Kitten, New Lessons

Meet Tenacious C. I’d never been a cat person, but if we don’t have a cat around we get a lot of mice from the corn field behind our house. Since then, cats have grown on me. Even though they tend to be assholes. Our first two cats, Ninja and Ghost, were pretty cool, but

Distillery Tour: Blaum Bros

I dig distillery tours. I’ve been on two now, and while they were very similar, I enjoyed seeing their processes and comparing their business plans, as well as sampling their products. If you pay close attention, it’s an educational opportunity, too. There’s a science lesson in the chemistry and physics of the fermentation, distillation, and

Booze and a Book: Bourbon and Bikers

The Booze: Michter’s US*1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon I’d heard a lot of good things about Michter’s, so I snagged a bottle while I was at a local shop picking up a cigar for a friend. I cracked it open shortly before writing this, and I quite enjoyed the sweet smell. First little taste, neat, carried

The Amateur Mechanic

SHE LIVES! (And miraculously is not on fire after I performed minor maintenance.) #motorcycle #honda #shadow #bike #vtwin #lenore A post shared by Mike Oliveri (@mikeoliveri) on Jun 14, 2017 at 6:18pm PDT I find working on my motorcycle both satisfying and humbling. Some of my friends, including those who also ride, are often surprised

Nature Has Selected Me to Die

Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad.

Here’s the deal: I have several friends who get all choked up when the plants start having sex. The trees and grass start spraying their loads in the air, and these poor bastards start coughing and wheezing and sneezing. I often tell them, “Nature has selected you to die.”

Now it’s my turn. A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with a handful of food allergies. Actually, the nurse’s exact words, “I’ve never seen this many positive reactions before.” Broccoli is on the list, which made happy (never could stand the stuff), but so are things I’d been eating most of my life, like tuna, salmon, soy, and even tomatoes.

Understand, I was raised on pasta twice a week and pizza at least once a week. When we moved out of the Chicago ‘burbs and couldn’t get good pizza, my mom drove the good stuff an hour home after work. When the pizza joint found out what she was doing, they gave us one of their delivery warmer bags, free. If there’s anything I’m immune to, its should be any member of the nightshade family.

Yet here we are. The short version is when I eat stuff I’m allergic to, my esophagus has the same reaction as my friends’ windpipes when they inhale pollen: white blood cells rush to defend our body from the wicked invaders and everything swells up. I’ll get heartburn, and if I keep exposing myself to these things, my esophagus can swell up to the point food gets stuck. Too much swelling, and I’ll have to hit an ER to have it extracted.

Fun, right? Oh, and if it goes on too long and goes untreated, there’s always the possibility it could turn into esophageal cancer. Metal. \m/

The treatment after my initial diagnosis was to avoid all the allergens, take Omeprazole, and to use the same inhaler as the pollen-allergic crowd. Instead of inhaling it, though, I swallow it. Within a few weeks the swelling was gone and I had no trouble eating. The follow-up endoscopy a couple of months later showed a clear, healthy esophagus. Score.

But I’m stubborn. I eventually strayed back to old habits. I still avoid tuna and salmon, and might have a little soy at a Chinese restaurant or sushi joint, but like I said, I was weaned on pizza and pasta. Avoiding tomatoes is a tough ask for me, even when most of the pizza around here is garbage. So here I am, two years later, getting food stuck from time to time.

Stupid natural selection.

Last week, I decided it’s time to get disciplined again. I’m gonna avoid all the stuff that triggers my allergies. For reals this time.

I’ve already blown it twice.

First, we had fish (tilapia) on Wednesday. I was working out after dinner, trying to figure out why I had such bad heartburn. Then it hit me: the tartar sauce is made with soybean oil. I checked the label and sure enough, mystery solved. The second time I screwed up, I had ketchup with a meal, and I just didn’t think about tomatoes. (Visiting Mexican joints is also fun when you’re avoiding tomatoes.)

Which leads me to my next point: If you don’t already have food allergies or sensitivities, you have no idea what a pain in the ass it is to shop around this stuff. I got a small sense of it when we scaled back on our sugar intake and avoided high-fructose corn syrup, but man, soy is in a ton of stuff. Mayonnaise, tartar sauce, and salad dressings are largely made with soybean oil because it’s cheap and it’s stable (it won’t spoil on the shelf).

Try it sometime. Pick something to avoid like soy, wheat, or high-fructose corn syrup, and start reading labels in your kitchen. Good luck! I even tried to make gluten-free chili for a potluck, and only found out after the fact that chili beans have wheat in them.

Beans, man! It’s a good thing I pulled the can out of the garbage before taking the crockpot to the event. Two people attending have gluten-free diets, one by choice and one by doctor’s orders.

Which leads to another problem: the food crazies. I went surfing for a mayonnaise recipe, and while there are several, I had to suffer through a couple tirades about the evils of soybean oil to get through them. I’m all about exploring the flavors of the original tartar sauce and mayonnaise recipes, or making something cheaper than packaged goods, but holy hell, I don’t need a tirade about subjecting my kids to the nefarious soy and gluten agendas of Monsanto and Conagra, especially when it’s attached to some shady pseudo-science even the recipe writer doesn’t understand.

For example, one said, gluten is “like glue for your intestines.” Um, no. You want to go paleo, keto, vegan, whatever, knock yourself out. There’s nothing wrong with making choices out of fitness or morality, or even with making a statement against some conglomerate’s marketing and/or competitive practices. Just spare us the junk science and bullshit conspiracy theories.

Anyway. I have to avoid pizza for a while again. And tonight I learned the hard way that extra-virgin olive oil does not make good mayo (too strong), so I need something lighter. Props to Boar’s Head for not putting soybean oil in their Pub Style Horseradish Sauce, giving me an alternative for sandwich at lunch.

Here’s to not letting food kill me any time soon.

Yes, You Have Time

We have the power to fill our lives with the things that deserve to be there.

—Laura Vanderkam

There are a million time management strategies out there, and most of them are bullshit. It always comes down to making time, not finding time.

Vanderkam leans on that same principle of making time versus finding time, but she also makes it plain that there’s a lot more time available than we think.

That’s where procrastination comes in. We don’t feel motivated by the hard stuff, not even the things we want to prioritize. Suddenly we find ourselves reorganizing bookshelves and cleaning toilets (or watching TED talks*) rather than working.

Which leads me to a reminder:

Stop sweating the details and the results and just get to work.

Or you can take a closer look at the mind of a procrastinator with Tim Urban. If you’re going to procrastinate, you may as well understand what’s happening in your brain, right?

Urban really puts things in perspective when he shows you the life calendar. Ouch.

*Actually, I was listening to these in the background while monitoring network traffic and bandwidth, which is a whole ‘nother kind of time suck.

Booze and a Book: Zombies and Bourbon

The Booze: Straight Edge Bourbon Whiskey

This bourbon is finished in sherry casks, lending it a sweet flavor that is almost reminiscent of an old fashioned. It’s a smooth, easy drinker, and one I’ve put in my flask a time or two because it’s easy to share with friends. I put most bourbons on ice and sip them slow, letting the ice water them down a bit, but with Straight Edge my glass is often dry well before the ice can melt.

Side note: I picked up a spherical, silicon ice mold after the holidays. It makes a fat ball of ice to chill a drink fast, though the spheres are a bit smaller than I expected. They also tend to fracture along their equator, and the resulting hemispheres melt even faster. They last longer than standard cubes, but if you’re the type of drinker who doesn’t want your whiskey watered down, stick to whiskey stones or even these badass whiskey bullets.

The Book: The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

In which I reveal I’m a Kindle reader. Shock! Horror!

Actually, I dig the Kindle Paperwhite quite a bit. It’s small and the backlight is easy on the eyes, which is important because I do a lot of my reading right before I fall asleep. I’ve also passed out and dropped it a few times without damaging the screen.

As for the book, I didn’t pay this one a lot of mind on release because it’s a zombie novel, and I had my fill for a bit. However, several of my friends raved about it, and then it got picked up for movie production (starring Glenn Close):

The earlier teaser trailer sold me. I’m not quite halfway through the book as I write this, but I’m hooked. Carey calls his zombies “hungries,” and the story is set some time after the initial zombie apocalypse rather than during. These are fast zombies for those who care, and Carey draws on nature for the cause of his zombies.

The other difference is the titular character, Melanie, is a smart zombie. Something is different about several child zombies, and as the novel begins the rest of the characters are there to study these kids. We get some background of the world and other characters through Melanie’s eyes, then the shit hits the fan and things start moving along at a good clip.

Carey’s prose is lean and engaging, and he shows good balance between Melanie’s innocence/ignorance and telling the reader exactly what’s happening. Zombie fans will find the usual hunger and chow-down horror here, though Carey doesn’t go overboard with it. Casual readers and horror fans should enjoy it alike.

I’m also pleased to see some of the scenes in the trailer are ripped straight out of the novel. That gives me hope the movie will be pretty great, too.

Now I just need to finish the novel before the movie lands.

Watch: Santa Clarita Diet

If you enjoy horror or dark comedy, then you need to check out Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix.

I shotgunned the whole first season in an evening. The best part is each episode is about a half hour long, so the show moves along quickly and doesn’t get bogged down in back story, dramatic dialog, or lingering shots of scenery to create atmosphere.

The plot is fun. Even if you’re tired of zombies, Santa Clarita Diet brings its own spin to the table. And while it’s definitely a comedy, it’s not a rehash of Shawn of the Dead, either. It’s very much focused on how a boring suburban family—including a soccer mom, an aging dad who has lost his cool, and a bored, rebellious teenager—copes with a major, bizarre change in their lifestyle after mom has to eat people now.

Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant play well off one another, and the supporting cast is a lot of fun. The writing is sharp and witty, and the plot teases out just enough back story over the course of the season to keep the audience interested. Nor do the writers make the viewers suffer through an “information dump” episode. There are a few instances the writers appear to set up a trope from horror or zombie flicks, only to take it in a different direction.

Even better, the characters actually grow and change. The first episode dives right in without wasting time on setup. The stakes are raised for the characters throughout the season, both in terms of the family’s relationship and the dangers of their circumstances. While I feel the characters are archetypes reflecting the humorous side of the series, they still evolve with each new challenge.

I’m ready for season two. Bring it on.

Booze and a Book: Karate & Rye

The Booze: Templeton Rye (4 year)

I dig bourbon, but I’ve started to flirt with ryes and rye blends and Templeton makes some good stuff. It’s sweet, with notes of caramel and just a bit of a burn when it goes down neat. I’ve tried the six year as well, and my only regret is not trying them side by side.

This is also the first time I brought out one of the Glencairn whiskey glasses I got for Christmas. They claim the shape of the glass concentrates the aroma, and they weren’t wrong. Would I use them every time? Probably not, but I’ll definitely run a few more drinks through them to get a better sense of their nose.

The Book: Dynamic Karate by Masatoshi Nakayama

One of my students was a Shotokan practitioner twenty years or so back, and he loaned me this book. I have a shorter, sort of companion book by the same author, Best Karate Volume 1: Comprehensive. Both books deal with basics and fundamentals, and another student asked why I’d need to read it if I already knew most of what’s in them. The rest, he felt, would probably be specific to Shotokan or at least be handled differently in our style.

I told him that’s not exactly true. Sure, the basic techniques—the punches, kicks, blocks, and stances—are effectively identical, but fundamentals are always important and I’ve already picked up a few differences in language and a few nuances that might help explain techniques to students having trouble picking things up.

In short, even if it doesn’t enhance my own training or karate knowledge, it will at least help my instruction, and that alone makes it a worthwhile read.

I tell my students, “The day you stop learning is the day you stop living.” Practice is important, but studying is also important, especially for advanced students. It applies to more than just the martial arts, too. Writers, for example, should be studying their craft and learning from others. I have friends in their 30s and 40s going back to school and taking new career paths.

It’s never too late.

Forced to Chill

For the first time in ages, I suddenly find myself forced to sit and relax.

It’s Columbus Day, so I have the day off from the day gig, and it’s Monday, so I have the day off from the night gig. That made it the perfect day to get some new tires for Lenore, and I set the appointment a few weeks ago.

Lenore's getting a new pair of shoes today.

A post shared by Mike Oliveri (@mikeoliveri) on

I layered up for a chilly morning ride. The forty-minute trip is the longest ride I’ve been able to make this season, partly because of the old tires and partly because I spent a lot of time ferrying kids and/or gear around. It felt damned good to be on two wheels again, despite the two pinheads who tried to ruin my day by pulling out in front of me.

Bad news and good news at the bike shop. The bad news is my tires didn’t get ordered. I wasn’t looking forward to the idea of burning vacation time to make another trip back, but worst case, it’s doable. Fortunately they had some different tires in stock and, after cutting me a bit of a deal for the inconvenience, it shaved quite a bit of moolah off my original quote.

Works for me.

They only have one service tech, so install’s gonna be a while. One of the parts guys gave me a ride to a Starbucks down the street, and fortunately I had the foresight to bring a Chromebook along. Now I find myself sitting here with time to actually get something done for the first time in a long while.

Where the hell did this year go? I haven’t been on the motorcycle, my writing has suffered, my workouts have suffered, I haven’t touched my camera in over a year, and I have several projects that need to be done at home.

Damn. Something’s got to give.

In the meantime, I have two anthology invitations and several projects that need my attention. Let’s see if I can’t finally put a dent in one.

Smoke Blog: Gurkha Yakuza

Labor Day. I guess Summer’s done, then.

This one shot by in a flash. The daily grind of two jobs played a role in that, I’m sure.

My family has gone back in the house, and as I sit here watching this evening’s backyard bonfire die down, I’m thinking about the long list of things I intended to accomplish over the summer. I haven’t finished a single one.

Shit.

That’s part of why my cigar time is so valuable to me. I’ve talked about it before, how it forces me to slow down and sit still for a while. Sometimes I write a little, sometimes I noodle over work- or family-related things, and sometimes I just plain tune out and chill.

Soon, though, it’ll be too cold. I won’t have this cigar time, and this year that worries me more than ever before. I realize now I need to find a new zen to fill the void. It may be as simple as cleaning the office again, turn it back into a workspace rather than a collection point for all the paperwork and bullshit that stacks up in our kitchen. Reclaim a space where I can spread out with creative and brain fuel rather than chaos and stress.

Or maybe it’s the bourbon and cigar talking.

My last Gurkha Yakuza cigar is burning down with the fire, and I’m not all that sad to see them go. They’re not a bad smoke, but they’re definitely not a casual, anytime cigar for me.

The Yakuza has a medium-full body, with a heavy, leathery smoke that has a subtle bite almost like gunsmoke. Seems rather fitting for the brand. Though the wrapper is on the dark side, it’s not oily or bitter like, say, a maduro, with a lighter taste not indicative at all of what’s to come once it’s lit. And despite the stronger flavor, it doesn’t linger long on the palate or overpower an accompanying drink.

So, while not unpleasant, it demands one’s attention. It’s a quality smoke, like much of the Gurkha line, but not one I’d pass around to my friends who prefer lighter or even flavored cigars. It’ll be one I’d pick up as part of a mixed package in the future, or as a one-off smoke at a shop when I’m in the mood for something heavier.

On the Death of the Period

“Period. Full Stop. Point. Whatever It’s Called, It’s Going Out of Style” is a bit of a mind bender.

My first reaction was, “What? No way.” Then, halfway through the article, I realized the Times had pulled a fast one: they only used a period once to make a point (no pun intended). The rest of the article? Bereft of periods.

And it’s still perfectly readable.

Mind blown.

I’ll admit I’m one of those annoying people who writes text messages in complete sentences, and unless I’m in a real hurry I’ll even copy edit the damned thing before hitting send. Am I just doing it out of habit? If so, is it habit of upbringing, or habit because I think like a writer?

Just now I grabbed my phone and surveyed various messages from friends. My first thought: maybe just the avid readers type in full sentences? Not so much. Two guys my age, one a reader and one not, write in full sentences. A few people several years behind me? Not a period to be found, except one case where there were two sentences in the same text. When she didn’t use exclamations or question marks, there was only a period to end one sentence, and the second sentence was left without.

All of their messages make perfect sense, and I’ve long since stopped noticing the missing periods. And they’re using full sentences, not abbreviations and acronyms. (Maybe those died with the death of numeric keyboards and the rise of autocorrect and predictive text? Either way, I don’t miss them.) I don’t get the impression they much care I use periods, and they certainly don’t take them as aggressive or indicative of emotion. Perhaps it’s time to see how our high school students feel about it.

Language has always been dictated by usage. English has changed quite a bit since Shakespeare, as evidenced by Shakespeare presented in its original pronunciation. Check out this discussion and demonstration by the same linguist cited in the period article:

Fascinating stuff, really. Perhaps we’re seeing language evolve rapid-fire before our eyes in the form of digital content.

Perhaps, then, the period is no different from manuscript habits like using two spaces after a period or double-spacing after line breaks. I once drove an editor mad with tabs at the beginning of paragraphs because software handles first-line indents now, and he finds that a lot more flexible with digital publishing. Are they next to go, or is it just him?

That all said, I don’t see the period disappearing anytime soon. I’m sure publishing will be slow to take up such a drastic change, and academia is even slower. I’ll find it hard to give up the period, even if someone somewhere leads the charge to make it official. I’m sure copy editors and typographers are already having heart attacks at the thought of it.

The next generation may not care. If my kid takes up writing like he says he’d like to, how will his habits change within the next 10-15 years?

On the one hand, it may be a function of design. I read about the punctus in a similar article. That thing sounds pretty cool, but it’s long dead. I bet most of you are googling it right now (and look how “googling” has become a verb, even for those goofy people who still do it on Yahoo!).

It’s about more than just readability, too, because most of us have seen variations of this crop up on our Facebook feeds:

jumbled paragraph

I do wonder about the effect dumping the period would have on someone with dyslexia, or other learning disabilities. Or “emerging readers” (elementary students). That might be a question to bounce off the special ed teachers and reading specialists at my day job.

I’m not advocating for or against the period. My gut says, “This is madness!” Yet my brain had no problem processing the article without periods, and I’ve been reading texts and email from people without them for years. We gave up the fight for good grammar in texts and email a long time ago, with exceptions for situations like job applications.

Language evolves, whether oral or written.

Perhaps it’s a matter of ephemera. A text is not meant to last. Neither is a tweet. Nor any other social media output. They’re all mean to communicate something quickly and disappear, despite being stored in a feed until an account is deleted. Even this blog post will scroll on back in time, read for a few days—or perhaps just hours—and quickly forgotten. If it is going to be thrown away or has to be shoehorned into 140 or 160 characters, it really doesn’t matter.

Consider, then, e-books. Are they ephemeral?

“But Mike, books are available forever!”

We’d like to think so, wouldn’t we? Writers love the idea of books stocked in perpetuity, sitting in dusty stacks to be discovered by future generations. With the sheer volume of digital output produced every moment, though, this is increasingly unlikely. I don’t peruse my e-book collection, and I’d hazard to guess those of us who wistfully fondle our bookshelves are very much in the minority.

It’s all consumed and forgotten, consumed and forgotten. As evidence, we can point to the endless number of books published and forgotten over the last 100 years. Walk into any used book store and consider how many books were consumed and discarded. Why pretend e-books are any different? Because Amazon can let you leave it on their servers forever? They’re just going to get buried deeper and deeper beneath the ever-expanding catalog, just like that used book store overflowing its stacks.

A hundred years from now, maybe the period will go the way of the punctus, and language will have come full circle. Maybe someone will find an ancient link to Winter Kill and say, “This #book has periods, how quaint Now where the hell is book three”

UPDATE:

I bounced the article off several English teachers. Two noticed the lack of periods, neither liked it, and one felt the article writer “cheated” by using several single-sentence paragraphs. Good luck filling long literary or non-fiction passages with a lack of periods.

Another didn’t notice the lack of periods, but had the same feeling: dense paragraphs of text would be tedious.

And let’s consider, the whole reason the punctus and later the period were invented were because of those long, dense paragraphs of text. We want to be entertained or enlightened by reading, not fatigued. Which, to me, comes right back to there being a big difference between direct, ephemeral communication like a text message and something intended to be around for a while.

Finally, the special ed teacher said the period is a big part of learning to read, especially for emerging readers with difficulties. Removing punctuation would make things considerably more difficult for a large portion of their classrooms.

But if we put emoji in their place. . .

Jesus. I don’t even want to think about that anymore.

Dig: Local Bourbon

Ever since I tried their Young Buck Bourbon, I’ve been wanting to visit the JK Williams distillery, a craft distiller out of nearby East Peoria, Illinois. Schedule conflicts and inclement weather made it tough, and the JK Williams line continued to grow. Finally, the Rugrats were out of town this past Sunday, and the Wife and I were looking for something to do.

Perfect time for a visit. We called another couple and the four of us made the trip.

The distillery is a small place, easy to miss on a frontage road in a row of small businesses and offices. They offer hourly tours on weekends, and though it was 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, their lobby (and bar counter) was fairly crowded with a group who just finished a tour and another group waiting to take one.

Kassi Williams started our tour with a history lesson of both the company and the whiskey business in Peoria. I knew Peoria was once the whiskey capital of the world prior to Prohibition, but the JK Williams crew, particularly the ladies, put together a nice timeline of historic photos and filled in some details I wasn’t aware of.

Then it was on to the still. I knew they were a small operation, but I didn’t realize they only had the one still. We got to see where they cooked up their mash, we smelled the results of the distillation process every step of the way, and Kassi explained the different mixes and mashes that make up their various products.

Something I really respect about them as a craft distiller is they source as much as they can locally. Their corn is local, and the fruit they use in their fruited liquors are picked by adults with special needs who work with the Tazewell County Resource Center. Way cool.

Then we got to see the aging room.

This room and the barrels were a lot smaller than I expected, too, but their output is still quite high for a four-person operation with only one full-time employee.

JK Williams called their first bourbon Young Buck because it was too young to be legally called a bourbon (bourbon must be aged at least two years). One of the owners, Jon, told me at a tasting that they used special barrels to “age the bourbon faster,” and we got to see one of those barrels: they simply drill several holes on the inside of the barrel staves to increase the surface area the whiskey is exposed to. I liked the Young Buck, but I remember finding it a bit strong to drink neat.

After seeing the aging room, we returned to the lobby bar and were invited to try a quarter ounce of up to four different products, free of charge. (Score! Cocktails were available for purchase, too.) I was eager to finally try their fully-matured bourbon and rye. Unfortunately their High Rye wasn’t available just yet; it’s due this Fall.

The ladies went straight for the fruit drinks: the Peach Whiskey, the Blackberry Whiskey, Smitty’s Apple Pie, and the new Pineapple Whiskey. A bottle of the Pineapple Whiskey came home with my wife.

I went for two of their unaged products, JK’s Corn Whiskey and JK’s Naked Rye, the Straight bourbon, and one I wasn’t aware of, JK’s Select Bourbon.

The Corn Whiskey was sweet as promised, and the Naked Rye had a spicy burn. Jesse and Kassi served up the drinks and advised mixers for both, but I’m kinda dumb and wanted to see what the whiskeys were like solo. It doesn’t make a lot of business sense to have barrels and barrels of product sitting in a warehouse doing nothing, so these products, as well as the Young Buck, give them something to market while the rest of the line matures.

The Bourbon Select, if I understood correctly, comes from a barrel chosen by the distiller, Jesse, and this one was aged 17 months. The Straight had a full two years in the barrel. I rather liked both, though it was hard to get a full sense of the flavors with just a quarter ounce sip. Just the same, I found them both pleasant, with a bit more of a burn on the Select’s finish.

In the end I opted for a bottle of JK’s Straight Bourbon and a shiny new JK Williams whiskey glass (about time I added one of those to my collection). When I got home later that night, I didn’t waste time getting it onto some ice and then mixing up an Old Fashioned.

Let me tell you, this is good stuff. I found it smooth and sweet on ice, with those wonderful, subtle hints of caramel and vanilla. Maybe I finally nailed my Old Fashioned recipe, but I was very pleased with that, too. I’m hoping to set up a tasting for myself soon to compare it to the Woodford Reserve and Four Roses Small Batch that I have on hand.

JK’s stock is appearing in several local stores, and the Young Buck is in Costco. It’s probably worth talking to your liquor store to see if they can get their hands on it. Myself, I’ll just stop on back to the distillery for another tour when the High Rye is released.

Looking for something to do in Peoria? Passing through on I-74, or willing to take a small side trip from I-39? Drop on in and check it out. The tours are open on the weekend and they’re free. If you’re at all interested in whiskey, it’s well worth the trip.

Motivation vs Intimidation

 

motivation-intimidation

Some time ago on Twitter, a friend groused about his lack of motivation when trying to get something done. I told him, “Motivation is really just intimidation in disguise.”

It wasn’t a tough observation, as it’s something I deal with all the time.

Sure, there are plenty of other time-sucking gremlins out there, ranging from social media to the new season of Peaky Blinders to being dumb enough to take on a part-time job. But none of these are truly as damaging as those nagging voices in our heads assuring us we’re just wasting our time. Whether those voices are telling us “nobody’s going to read this” or “this is crap” or “you’d be better off doing X for the day gig or night gig,” they all come down to the same thing: intimidation.

When I read “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators” at The Atlantic, it really hit home. I crushed it in my English classes. My creative writing teachers in both high school and college told me my work was publishable. I had journalism teachers in both high school and college pushing me to do more and more work. Another English teacher read some goofy poetry I wrote at random in a foreign exchange student’s organizer and told me I should be in her drama club. I wrote some passages for a college placement test and got credit for English 101 and 102 without having to take either course.

So hey, I thought I was pretty good at this writing thing.

Then I hit the real world. Slush piles. Editors. Readers. Not nearly as easy. Rejections really didn’t bother me, but lack of sales? That shit stings. I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m not successful, as that’s a relative term. I’ve got a Bram Stoker Award statue collecting dust in my office, and Winter Kill has a pile of healthy reviews on Amazon. These things just aren’t putting food on the table, and I allowed it to reshuffle priorities.

Which is funny, because I do still enjoy writing. When I can put off the other distractions and shut out the voices, it feels good to be putting words on the page, whether it’s just a couple hundred or I have that rare good day I hit a thousand or more.

That shifting definition of success brings on a whole new level of intimidation, however. My oldest demon tells me if it’s not generating cash and concrete results, it’s not worth doing. If it’s not better than this or that writer’s work, it’s not worth doing. This demon does it’s job in four little words: “May as well quit.”

The problem with defining success by these accomplishments is so much of that success is out of one’s control. With the glut of content on Amazon and in book stores, it’s damned hard to get noticed. Publishers’ slush piles are bigger than ever, and the 1000 True Fans so many of us are looking for have more content available to them than ever. Social media was supposed to be the great savior for creators of all types, but now we’re all just shouting into a global cacophony in the hope just two or three people will glance at a post on their busy streams.

If we’re going to weigh the act against the results, of course it’s going to be intimidating. The act of creation—whether we’re talking writing, illustration, photography, or recording—takes a lot of time and effort. A lot more time and effort than most people understand. Even in those rare moments when the writing itself comes easy, the rewriting and the editing and the proofreading is a difficult process.

We have to stop thinking about success, however we definite it. Success—and failure, which is also relative—are results. Instead, we should concentrate on purpose.

Why be creative? Because we enjoy it. Because it’s who we are. Because it’s fulfilling. Because we’ve got to get this shit out of our heads. Because it entertains others. These things can all be accomplished whether a book is sitting on a bookshelf, is self-published to Amazon, or is distributed to half a dozen friends by email.

Why, then, should it be intimidating? Because someone may not like it? Big deal. That, too, is a result. That’s getting back to success or failure.

For a work to be seen, to be loved or hated, to make a buck or not, it has to be made.

Get to work.

 

Smoke Blog: Man O’ War Toro

It’s been a long, odd Summer already.

Not so much bad, but full of ups and downs and several distractions keeping me from the main goals.

It’s a balmy night, and though rednecks are already blowing things up around town, my block is quiet. The Rugrats are in bed and won’t be able to break anything or each other for a while. I’m sipping on my second glass of whiskey and enjoying a Man O’ War Toro. I intended to spend this smoke writing, but instead find myself finding my chill and problem-solving. Maybe this post will help me transition to a little positive creativity.

I’ve enjoyed every Man O’ War I’ve tried, and this eponymous Toro is no exception. It’s a dark and oily beast, but not as bold as a Maduro or Ligero. It boasts a Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan guts, and delivers rich, woody flavors which linger on the palate without turning sour. Tonight’s whiskey is Japan’s The Hakushu and club soda, and it complements the cigar nicely.

This Man O’ War smokes easy and burns smooth, but it’s a needy thing that wants to be held. Ignore it for just a few moments and it goes out quick. Be careful on the relight with this one: a little flame goes a long way. Too much and it will bite back before mellowing out again. The ash doesn’t burn much longer than an inch or so, but it clings well enough that it’s not making a mess of the table or my laptop.

This may be the last of them from my last order, and I think I’ll miss them. They’re in the knuckler category, where they’re a good smoke right down to the last half inch threatening to burn my fingers. I prefer to buy milder cigars in larger quantities for casual smoking and for sharing, but I won’t hesitate to pull the trigger next time I see Man O’ War in a bundle or in special packages.

All told it’s a good, solid smoke for dedicated quiet time.

Smoke Blog: Xikar HC Connecticut

It’s Summer at last! It’s been a long year at the day gig, but though I’ll continue to work through the Summer, things will get a lot easier and I have vacation days to burn before our year rolls over on July 1st.

Summer also means I can sit outside and have a cigar more often, and I’ll have more time to get back to the Smoke Blog entries. I’ve been scouting Cigars International for some great deals to get the humidor stocked, and I started with a killer deal on five different five-packs of cigars. They arrived just in time for the weekend.

I chose to start with the Xikar HC Series Connecticut, a mild-medium blend presumably put together by the same company behind my favorite lighters and humidor gear. They replaced my lighter under their lifetime warranty, so the least I could do is check out their smokes. There are several blends available under the Havana Club label, but the light Connecticut got the nod because I wanted a good range of flavors and strengths in the humidor.

I’ve had two already (it’s been a busy weekend), and I’d call them good but unremarkable. On the plus side, they were both smooth and consistent. They lit easy with no sign of tunneling or canoeing, even in a gentle breeze one night. I loved the clean draw all the way through, and their ash held firm. Definitely a solid, well-constructed cigar.

CI’s info page says these are made with a variety of tobaccos including Costa Rican, Mexican and Nicaraguan fillers with a Sumatran binder. Their name comes from the Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper. The combination results in a pleasant enough taste, but there’s nothing that really stood out for me. Just fine for hanging out with friends and talking or watching the fights at our local haunts.

Definitely worth the bundled price I paid, but perhaps not something I would seek out on its own. They’re a cigar I could easily hand off to a friend to enjoy, especially one who prefers lighter flavors and isn’t all that picky. Got a friend into White Owls and gas station smokes? This will make a nice transition to the good stuff for them.

That all said, the HC Connecticut certainly doesn’t turn me off of their line. This is no throwaway smoke, so I’m curious about their other labels, especially the White Shade Grown. Xikar’s/CI’s price point makes them a very attractive deal, especially in mixed bundles. It’s a brand to keep an eye out for when I look for one-off smokes at local shops.