Why Stories Matter

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As we grow older we lose interest in stories and prefer cold, hard facts. To a degree facts are necessary.

But it’s when we lose sight of the importance of Story that it becomes an issue.

To lose interest in stories is to lose touch with humanity. Let me explain.

Stories, whether they’re true or not, are used as one of the most powerful tools to extract emotion. And emotion is what drives not only ideas, but movement.

Fishermen are driven to catch larger fish because they’ve heard of others who have caught large fish. They heard a story.

Humanitarians are moved to go across seas to feed and care for orphans because they saw a video of starving kids. They saw a story.

My kids go to sleep because we read them stories.

Stories, since the beginning of time (think papyrus and cave drawings) have aided in informing us, teaching us, moving us, and challenging us. Stories are the gears that churn ideas into movement.

Now, to be clear, not every story is a necessity. If we’re honest, we could have done without Dumb and Dumber, as hilarious as that movie is, but it doesn’t really do much to enhance our lives.

But think about how stories can be helpful. Think of the stories that have helped you in your own life. A few come to mind for me both in movie and book form:

The Bottom of the 33rd by Dan Barry is a literary example of how the right person can take possibly the world’s dullest subject and make it invigorating, exciting, and entertaining. This is one of my all time favorite books.

Cinderella Man is a movie that demonstrates that even in the face of something as harrowing as the Great Depression, we can overcome many things by using our natural-born talents and a butt-load of tenacity.

Toy Story proves that being the first doesn’t mean it has to be experimental. This movie broke new ground and still lives on today as one of the greatest movies ever made (if you’re not counting the sequels).

Did these stories change my life? I wouldn’t say that exactly, but they did help shape the way I think and view myself and the world. Therefore, I persevere, I fight, I explore, and I strive for greatness. Every time.

What are some stories that have shaped you and your life? Share below how you think Story can be an effective tool to better the world we live in.

If You’re a Writer, You’re Probably Making This Mistake

Rewriting. As writers we tend to get hung up on getting it right the first time, simply put. In fact, if you’re rewriting your opening chapter for the tenth time in the last three months, you need to do something: Go to the nearest ice cream store and treat yourself.

Seriously, get the biggest chocolate Sundae you can and gorge.

When you’re done with it, ask yourself, “Do I want another?”

As much as you loved it, you probably don’t want to subject yourself to an even bigger stomachache.

It’s the same thing with rewriting the first part of your book. Why go back and write it over and over? You’re going to get so sick of it that you’ll lose focus and before you know it, a year’s gone by and you’re lucky to be halfway done with your novel.

Write it all out from point A to point Z first (or point A to L to B to Y to 3 to Q, however you write). Because you’re going to do something to the book halfway through that’s going to require some changes be made to the beginning anyway.

And at that point you’ll really be pissed because you would have spent all that time polishing your opening up to perfection.

Don’t worry about getting it right until it’s done. 

Then and only then can you stand back and look at your project as a whole and determine where the changes need to be made.

Also, by rewriting the same thing repetitively, you’re not learning and growing. And without learning and growing, there’s no room or chance for improvement. Instead, you’re the Griswolds in European Vacation circling around the roundabout. You’re essentially just moving words around.

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My wife stopped reading one of my manuscripts years ago because she said, “I can’t remember which version is which.”

It’s imperative that you write something to completion so that you can experience and learn about the writing process as a whole. What good is mastering the opening if the rest of your book sucks? You’ve got to train yourself and put yourself through the dreary middle and perfect the ending.

You’ve got to learn to pace the action, keep the pages turning, and learn how to find the answers when you’ve written yourself into a corner. Circling the roundabout, you’ll never discover new streets or actually get anywhere.

Write that book to completion. Take it all the way through, even if your opening is weak. The trick is, having confidence that it’s not so weak that it’s a hopeless cause.

And by God, that is a trick! So good luck with that one! Just kidding, I’ll address that later.

Happy Birthday, Kat!

My favorite little girl on the planet turns three today.

She can drive me up a wall at times, and I’ve had my share of losing my cool, but she knows that she’s daddy’s most prized possession.

We drove two hours north to IKEA yesterday to pick up a kitchen set for her birthday. (In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting on the living room couch, listening to her and her brother waking up in their room. In just a couple of moments, she’s going to totter out here and stumbled upon the kitchen set I have set up for her by our living room windows.)

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She has no idea what’s in the big box I purchased for her, because at IKEA, you never know what you’re really getting.

We’ll be having donuts for breakfast from our favorite bakery down the street. It’s going to be  good morning. But really, it’s been a good three years. A lot of bad things happened last year, and the waters have been rough for quite a while, but my daughter has always been a constant. It’s guaranteed that she’ll laugh if I tickle her in just the right spot, and that she’ll always want me to kiss her goodnight even if we’ve had a bad day.

She loves the things I obsess over (chips and salsa, ice cream, Toy Story), and her dancing always makes me laugh, even if life seems too much at times.

I never really knew what it was like to be proud until we brought her home from the hospital, and now I get to experience that feeling every day as I watch her grow, learn, speak, and sing, and discover who she is a little more each day.

I can hear her brother trying to coax her out of their room. I better get the light on…

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How Your Personal Hygiene Can Help You Finish Writing Your Book

So you’re a writer. Or you try to be, anyway. With kids and doctor appointments and work and school and your spouse’s psychological mommy-issues, you’re lucky if you can manage to write one paragraph in any given day.

But suppose one day the heavens opened up, the school’s not calling you to pick your kids up, it’s slow at work, and it’s just you and your pen and your paper.

NOW you can write!

But the clock is ticking. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Your pen touches the paper and… You’re stuck! You’re so ecstatic by the calm in the storm that you don’t know what to write.

The last time you visited your book-to-be, you had your protagonist dangling off the edge of a cliff by his teeth. His wife was in one hand, his X-Box console in the other. Whom does he sacrifice? Whom will he save! What’s going to happen!!!

Ding! “Time’s up,” says Alex Trebek in the form of your boss checking in on you or a customer demanding your attention (or your spouse texting you with another problem about how his parents didn’t support him enough when he wanted to be an American All-Star).

Those glorious minutes you had all to yourself vanish like a mist as though they were never there, and your paper is still an empty canvas.

Take my advice. Think ahead. Prepare for those brief moments. One of my favorite times of the day is when I get to shower. That’s when I disappear mentally into my book. I analyze what I’ve already written, I dissect my characters, but most of all, I plan ahead.

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He’s hanging there by his teeth, I think. He’s got his wife and his X-Box. His wife nags him, but his X-Box brings him unlimited, albeit meaningless joy. But his wife gives him kids. Does he even like his kids? But his X-Box makes him late to work, which he hates. … Hmmm… nagging wife, meaningless video games, kids that annoy him (and quite frankly isn’t even sure are his), a terrible job… THAT’S IT! He opens his mouth and screams!! Now they’re all dead! 

Then I refine and refine that scene and by the time I get those glorious undisturbed moments back five new-moons later, I don’t have to worry about that time being wasted because I already know what the next scene is going to be about and how to resolve it.

It’s kind of like, I hate that I can’t take my phone into the shower with me and watch Netflix, but at least I can play my own movie in my mind while I wash up.

So there it is. Take advantage of yourself in the shower, and you’ll be surprised what goodies you’ll pop out!

Why We Don’t Tell Our Kids They Can be Anything They Want

It’s preached everywhere: “Believe, and it will happen.”

“Trust and you will find.”

“Try and you will succeed.”

“You can be anything you want to be and more.”

Once you get to a certain age you realize that’s all crap. Because, you know, when I was little, I believed I’d be an astronaut and go to the moon (there have only been twelve manned moon landings since 1969). I also wanted to be a cartoonist for a newspaper strip, but that was before I learned that Jim Davis already had the market cornered in that department.

The problem with me, then? Well, I believe there were two issues.

  1. My expectations were unrealistic. I hate science and always have, so any chance of me becoming an astronaut were doomed to begin with. And, even after some art classes, my cartoons were mediocre at best.
  2. I wasn’t consistent. I bounced around from one cool potential career to the next, whichever sounded most appealing at the time. Usually I was inspired by pop culture, and never really tapped into what I – little Andy – really wanted to do with my life.

Now that I’m a dad, I’m careful not to tell my kids they can be anything they want to be when they grow up, because let’s be honest: My daughter is too tall to be an Olympic gymnast. My son is too sensitive to be a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys, and so far his hand-eye coordination is as great as his dad’s – never mind hitting the broadside of a barn, we’re lucky just to make the ball past the fence.

I love the movie Wreck-It Ralph. Ralph didn’t want to be a bad guy anymore, and no matter 982468_032how many medals he won or good deeds he performed, he was always going to be a bad guy. But he learned to make peace with it.

An even better one is the bold Monsters University, where young Mike wants to be a scarer, but he really just sucks at it. He’s small, puny, and pretty funny looking.

No, as much as I would like to change things, our kids cannot be anything they want to be. It’s just not realistic, and beyond that, it’s a lie.

That’s not to say that if they worked and studied hard enough that they can’t become doctors and lawyers, business owners and CEO’s, or any other profession that requires a large degree of panache and brains. And as their parents, we’ll support them in every way.

But if my son dreams of making it on Juggling with the Stars in sixteen years but he can’t juggle any more than his daily chores, then I’m going to be flat-out honest with him and suggest that maybe he could coach someone to juggle or something.

But whatever they set their mind to, it is my hope that not only is it achievable within their skill set, but that they stick with it and don’t give up.

Let’s Resolve for a Better 2018 (Yes, 2018)

I think I know why New Year’s resolutions don’t work.

It’s because we expect change to be immediate.Like, we plan to lose thirty pounds next year. That’s great, but we’re just now coming out of a candy-crusted, cookie-frosted, eggnog-chugging month.

Guys. We can’t go from heavy creamed-based mashed potatoes to carrot juice and Power bars over night. Seriously.

And yet, year after year, we think it can be done.

Or what about people who are like, I’m going to make a million dollars next year! That’s fine and great, and I applaud your spirit, but you made that vow last year aaaaaaannnd… here you are sitting at your same computer reading this same blog about to make the same promise, which will eventually lead you to this exact same spot exactly one year from now.

But what if.

What if, instead of making our traditional New Year’s resolutions for 2017, we instead resolve to prepare for a better 2018?

Stay with me here.

I think about 3/4 of the world can agree that 2016 sucked, right? I mean, we lost a bunch of beloved celebrities, the elections were going to be bad either way, and it seems like everybody lost a loved one, and if they didn’t, it was just a really crappy year.

I want to label my toilet and every toilet at work “2016” and just crap in it all year long. Okay, that’s achievable:

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My first resolution is that, one year from now – nay, ten years from now – I look back and say that 2016 was easily the darkest and worst year of my life. (Unless of the course the zombie apocalypse happens first, then that might be considered the worst year ever. Maybe.)

And one step to ensure that happens is to make 2017 the year of…progress. As in, “We’re not there yet, but we’re making progress.” It’s the year to rebuild on the ruins of 2016.

We can’t fix everything over night. And the older I get, the more I realize that most things take more than a year to fix or build.

So let’s build toward an incredible 2018. Let’s get in the habit now of eating better, casual exercising, socializing more, spending less, writing more, whatever.

If your resolution is to stay married next year, focus more on how to stay married so that in 2018, you can resolve to improve your marriage even more and make it even a better year.

If you really want a new job, don’t just settle for the first dead-end job that offers you an out from your current situation. This is tough, but spend 2017 polishing up your resume, taking classes to improve yourself, sharpen your skills, so that in 2018, you can seriously be ready to apply for a newer, better job.

So, here’s to 2018. May 2017 be the ladder that leads to a greater year.

 

Who’s Your TV Daddy?

Alan Thicke’s passing leaves many of us reminiscing back to calmer, gentler evenings where the family gathered around the TV every night to watch the next installment of their favorite sitcom. And for many families that sitcom was Growing Pains. 

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I wasn’t as invested in the show as I was others, but I can still hear snapshots of Dr. Seaver yelling at his son for screwing up or trying to sooth over an argument with his wife. I remember I wanted his job because he never had to leave his house since his office was built in the guest room.

His passing got me thinking about other TV dads and how we all kind of have one or two that we believe act as our surrogates in some virtual way. For instance, Uncle Phil was definitely my surrogate uncle because I needed his discipline and loud yelling to get through to me and my stupid antics.

Tim Taylor from Home Improvement was definitely my TV dad. Probably because my own dad loves his tools and frames houses for a living. Unfortunately I identified with Jonathan Taylor Thomas’ dramatic arts-loving character, so I had a hard time identifying with my dad. It was just good to see it work in a TV world.

I think it’s kind of cool that we have these shows to look back on and adopt certain people as members of our virtual families. When Robin Williams died, I remember my best friend crying through a text message that he was the uncle he never had. We loved him, and yes we cried.

These actors leave an imprint on us. They’re magicians who breathe life into a character who otherwise would never have existed, and these characters live on well after the cameras shut off.

Who’s your TV dad? Danny Tanner? Mr. Cleaver? Homer?

Leave your answers below along with your favorite Growing Pains moment in honor of Mr. Thicke.