Wednesday, December 10, 2008


December 10th, 2008

10:08 pm

Little Man's asleep. Tucked away in his big boy bed. Dreaming of Bucky. The goldfish he picked out and named today. The reward he got for wearing underwear five straight days and using the potty more often than not. Actually, I guess the kid could be dreaming about any number of things. But I hope he's dreaming of Bucky. He worked hard to get that fish. Was so excited and happy in the pet store. Had nothing but love to give as he sat at the kitchen table hugging the bowl, kissing the glass, as the big-eyed fish swam round its new home.

S.B.'s sleeping too. Today was her rough day at school. Teaching kids that need so much more than an art teacher can give. She fell asleep stretched out on the couch. Her head on my chest. Curly shock of hair tickling my chin as I stared at the television seeing nothing, but feeling so much. Both of us there. Here. Together. Making it. Doing it. Living the best we can. With honesty and respect. Great doses of fun. And I wondered how I ever believed I would be anywhere else, how I could never see how good it would get.

But that's how life is. We cannot truly know until we know.

She was up stretching and yawning half an hour ago.

"I'm going to bed," she said.

"Okay, honey. I'm going to lock up the garage. Get outside and unplug the Christmas lights. Then I think I'll write a while."

We hugged. Said goodnight. And now she's there. Gone away in sleep. Safe and warm under the blankets on this cold December night, while I sit here in the hard chair working away at the keys. Words. Letters. Symbols. Scratching the surface of this something new we've been given to share so that I can begin wrapping my head around it.

I'm going to be a Dad.

I think it. Type it. Say it aloud. But I cannot fully know the importance of this great, weighty thing, until I hold it in my arms.

But that day is a ways off and all we have is the now. One son asleep upstairs. My lovely bride asleep across the hall. And the faint shape of what's to come resting in the depths. Maybe another son. Could be a daughter. But of one thing I am sure. It is made up of hope and heart, hard work and dedication. It is the sum of two imperfect souls striving for perfection in this big wide world that simply keeps on turning. And somehow, everything feels good.

~ K.J.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


December 3rd, 2008

Finished Landscaping. It's been three years in the making. The initial draft and subsequent revisions have been completed for several months. Nearly a year. But the fine tooth combing took a year itself. Now that it is done, put to rest and between the covers, I'm going to leave it sit. On my self-publishing bookshelf at I haven't much faith in the saleability of this book. It's good writing, but the subject matter isn't top notch, as the subject matter is me. My life and the musings that developed as I struggled to settle up north. In the old house near the old church, in the country. It is a personal book filled with journal entries. But, if you are familiar with my work, you know that my journal entries aren't simply journal entries. For some reason, I can't help but dig a little with each word. The title, as you can imagine, suggests the theme of the writing.



land·scape: noun, verb, -scaped, -scap·ing.


a section or expanse of rural scenery, usually extensive, that can be seen from a single viewpoint.

Fine Arts. the category of aesthetic subject matter in which natural scenery is represented.

--verb (used with object)

to improve the appearance of (an area of land, a highway, etc.) as by planting trees, shrubs, or grass, or altering the contours of the ground.

Indeed, the writing is the viewpoint of one man living alone in a rural setting. I tried to paint a picture. Alter contours. Do some landscaping. Show the world for what it is while not losing sight of what we want it to be. To do this, one must go below the surface. Get the fingers dirty. The knees bruised. Work the very earth that he is from and will return to. And by the simple act of digging—going deeper—one is able to improve the appearance of the surface, of the world, he is part of.

Or something like that.

I've never been very good at explaining things. Not formally, anyway. Probably why this book will not be successful. Probably why my other works aren't successful. Because I'm unable to sell my work, my writing, my ideas, they get stuck on self-published bookshelves in stores that do not really exist (,, And I get to write about my writing for no other reason than to hear myself talk. Convince myself that what I'm doing is good and right and important. Even if it is only for me.

I've only done one official book signing. One newspaper interview. And I've only written one novel. First novels are not taken seriously. My short stories, nonfiction and poetry have only been filler or lone bright spots in obscure magazines. But to hell with thinking about it so much. All of it is practice. God knows I need more of that. And maybe if I practiced more I wouldn't be here writing about my writing.

It is the third day of December. The gray cold world, believe it or not, is ripe with possibility. So much out there to find, discover, unravel, make true. It's only a matter of digging for it. Under the dead leaves. Beneath the icy snow. Within the howl of unforgiving winds.

Let's make the most of it. Be thankful for our progress. Mindful of our growth. Focused on the keeping at the keepin' on.

~ K.J.

Monday, December 1, 2008

the good

Light snow. Cold and gray. Standard issue scenery for the first day of December in Michigan. We are bundled up. Preparing for the holidays. Keeping the spirits up. Aware of the bad in this world, but focusing on the good.

I am thankful for much. Aware of more. But aiming on what has got me this far. Hope. Perserverance. Trust. Half of my life is likely over. There's no getting around it. I'm thirty-five. Have a family history of heart problems and cancer. Have done my share of irreprepable harm to parts that are not easily replaced. I don't have health insurance. Savings. Nothing to fall back on. When my number is up, it's up. There won't be any drawn out battles with a terminal disease. There will not be exotic treatments and expensive false hope. It will only be me. Meeting my day. I will accept it, move on into the unknown believing that there's enough of me left to carry on this code of keeping at the keepin' on.

We all have our crutches, I guess. And this writing is my own. It is fiction. It will not last. But doing it makes me feel better. Working at perfecting it makes me feel important. Like I'm making a positive impact upon this world. Much like volunteering, or going to church, or taking foster children into my home. We all have a purpose. Some are not as important to the world as others. Mine is not. I know this. But it is mine and it's all I've ever had and there's no use in giving up now. I like to think there's more to it than me.

Once in a while I get an email. A letter. A card. And I'm always humbled that there are people out there reading what I create. What I'm tuned into. What I've chosen to share. That is the biggest reward. Connecting to others. Complete strangers. Knowing that my words are sometimes weighty enough to stick with them. That maybe they can hear my voice. Feel it. That it makes them think.

I've been thinking a lot these days. The full realization of being a Dad and Hubby sinking in. It's a great responsibility, this family life. I could not have known how hard and difficult, how eye-opening and beautiful it would be had I not taken the plunge. There is much to building a good, solid family. To loving your wife. Your child. To being all you can be for them without losing sight of yourself. It is a great sacrifice. A long journey. There is much to learn. And here I stand. The first day of December. A long, promising journey ahead of me.

I have never wanted anything so much. And now that I have it, I want to do all I can to succeed. To be strong. Faithful. A friend. To guide and be guided. To learn and grow and listen and understand. And it is a lot. More than I ever imagined. It is not simply about trading vows and rings and living in the same house, having kids, paying bills, and sharing accounts. It is about everything. And everything is a lot. I suppose that's why it takes a lifetime to get it right. Why there are tears and laughter. Happiness and sorrow. Doors opening and doors being slammed shut. But in all of it, if there is respect and a mutual desire to grow and evolve, things should be okay.

And being okay is more than I could ever ask for. Especially today. Light snow. Cold and gray. Standard issue scenery for this first December day. Bundling up. Prepping for the holidays. Doing our best to keep spirits up. Aware of the bad in this world. That big old clock ticking away. But focusing on the good.

~ K.J.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

christmas lights

November 30th, 2008

9:43 am

Snow coming. Sky giving up nothing but gray. The world losing color to the cold. So that made yesterday even more important.

"It's still too early, isn't it?" I asked.

S.B. was sweeping the floor. Doing her best to keep busy on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

"Yes," she said, "But I think you're right. We should put them up today while the weather's still halfway decent."

"Okay, I'll get them out of storage. Make sure they're working, then start hanging them."

S.B. pointed the broom handle toward the ceiling. Upstairs, where Little Man was napping.

"I thought you told him he could help."

"Oh, he can. It's going to take me a while just to get them out and to see if their working."

"And what about the reindeer?" she asked.

"I have to get them out of the boxes. Put them together. Make sure their working."

"Where are you going to put them?"

"In front of the porch. So Little Man can seem them out the window if he wants to."

I put on my boots. My hat and and coat. Kissed her cheek. Patted her on the butt. Went outside.

Putting up Christmas lights is something I've always enjoyed doing. I love the holidays. Thanksgiving through New Year are important to me. Sure, I love the sweets, meats, and other things not good for me. But mostly, I feel closer to my family and friends. Not sure what it is. Maybe it's the forced recognition. Sending and receiving those Christmas cards. Giving and receiving presents. Visiting and reconnecting with people. Maybe it's just that this time of year makes you take stock. Realize who you are. Where you've been and where you're going. It makes you thankful for the good fortune of simply being alive.

"Ow! Holy hell!" I shouted, as a jolt of electricity zapped through my finger and up my arm.

S.B. had put on her coat. Was standing in the garage doorway, watching me. For how long, I don't know. I never know. It's like she's always watching. One day I was in the garage, playing with a Red Ryder BB Gun when I told her I was fixing the lawnmower. She must have been watching me play cowboy for ten minutes before she said anything. And when she did, it was with a laugh and a smile. Fixing the lawn mower, hey Cowboy?

I assumed this was the same thing. Me cussing and stomping around the garage. Detangling lights. Testing bulbs. Experiencing the holiday joy that only minor electrical shocks can bring. And I figured she must have been there ten minutes or so.

"What's the matter?" she said.

"Oh, nothing. Faulty wiring, I guess."

"Are you okay?"

I shook my hand. Stretched out my arm.

"Oh yeah, sure. I'm okay."

Little Man walked in. He was bundled up so that I expected a team of sled dogs to follow him in.

"Wow, is he heading directly to the North Pole?"

Little man smiled. S.B. patted him on the head.

I tossed the knot of lights on the floor. Moved over to the ones I'd already sorted.

"See here," I said. "We have our solid colors. Red, blue, and green. And here we have our multi-colored."

She smiled. Nodded. Little Man walked past. Grabbed his bike. Rode it out of the garage, down the driveway and started his normal route. Back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the house.

Me and S.B. took armloads of lights out to the front of the house and got at it. She worked on the vertical. I worked the horizontal. It wasn't hard to keep an eye on Little Man. He was a big red puffy ball. Riding bowlegged. Boots pumping the pedals like mad. The worse thing that could've happened would been if he'd fallen and wasn't able to get up.

We worked at the lights a long time. I made some boneheaded mistakes as I always do. Plugged a string of lights into itself. Strung a line of solid green into a line of mulit-colored.

"What are you doing?" asked S.B..

"Huh, what?" I asked.

"These right here," she said. "We can't have this. They're solid green."

"Sorry, honey. I'm just so excited to be doing this that I got carried away."

She stopped. Looked at me. She was sensing sarcasm that wasn't really there. Because I was serious. I was excited. Happier than heck to be out in the front yard with my wife, decorating for our first Christmas in our new home.

She stared at me a minute longer. I did not move. I felt like a deer in the crosshairs. Hoping to blend in with the scenery. Tried not to move.

I wonder a lot at what she thinks. Poor S.B. matched up with me. Her goofy, round-headed hubby filled with good intentions and big ideas. A dopey kid trapped inside a man's body. The wanna-be writer. The stay-at-home Dad. Trying and trying, but never really quite getting there.

We got back at it. Worked until the sun fell down. The cold crept in. And our bellies started to growl.

"I'm going to get Little Man and head in," she said.

"Yeah, he's logged about sixty miles. He's gotta be ready to wind down."

"What about supper?" she said.

"How about something simple? Like grilled cheese sandwiches."

"And tomato soup!"

And off they went. Little Man and S.B., and I kept on at those lights. I had to wind and unwind. String and restring. Test and retest. But soon, it was just me, my frozen hands, and the final act of plugging it all in.

I looked in through the window and there she was. Beautiful S.B.. Hair pulled up. Face aglow. Moving round the kitchen as graceful as a skater on ice. From the sink to the stove. The stove to the table. Stacking grilled cheese sandwiches. Ladeling soup. Cleaning up Little Man for supper. Our ceremonious holiday lighting would have to wait.

We ate our supper. Talked. Dealt with Little Man's evening meltdown. His daily struggle with being tired but wanting to stay awake. His little brain and body at odds with each other. Testing his boundaries. Testing our patience. But finally coming round to the Mommy and Daddy team with hugs, sorrys, and smiles.

"Come here!" I cheered to Little Man, as I opened the front door.

He ran to me with open arms. I picked him up. Held him close. Savored the moment. Wondered how long it would last before he would not want hugs or kisses, to be picked up by his old man.

We walked outside and plugged in the lights.

"Wow!" he said.

S.B. came onto the porch.

The three of us walked to the sidewalk. Stood together.

"Don't worry," I said. "This is only a test. It's too early to keep them on, I know. But at least now, they're up."

"It looks great, honey!" S.B. said, and she put her hand on shoulder. A warm tingle ran up my back. I smiled, drank up my family, the sight of the bright lights against the cold night, and then realized a whole section of lights were out.

And so it goes. The smallest projects always taking longer than expected. Things never quite coming out right. But keeping at it and trying. For my sweet S.B. and for my Little Man.

~ K.J.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

giving thanks

Thanksgiving Day, 2008

8:20 AM

Clear and cold. Bright and still. A sleepless night, but a fine morning. I was out throwing the ball for Chloe. Watching her run back and forth. Back and forth. Chasing and retrieving the ball dozens of times before stopping short on her last run. She dropped the ball twenty feet away from me, by the big cottonwood, decided that was enough for this morning.

My intentions were to come here first thing. The coffee was done and poured. Dogs and cats fed. And all I wanted was to get into this chair and at these keys. But as I sat down to write, there she was. Chloe. Ole Slobbery. Looking in at me through the window. Ball in her mouth.

We made eye contact.

She dropped the ball.

I took a sip of coffee.

She picked up the ball.

I set the coffee down.

She dropped the ball.

There was no use trying to write when it was clear she wanted to play. So I put on my boots, gloves and coat. Took my hot mug with me. Headed outside. A great beginning to a thankful day. Breathing the fresh morning air. The smell and taste of it not yet spoiled by heavy traffic. The birds filling silence with morning song. The sound of squirrels in bare trees. And Chloe's paws crunching through leaves. Inside, I could hear S.B. doing dishes. Washing cups and the pizza pan leftover from last night. Putting away plates and sliverware that had dried. I took a deep breath. Held it. Savored all moments—good and bad—that have led to this, then exhaled all of them away.

It is our first Thanksgiving together. I am happy to be celebrating it in our own little home. In the Garden City. With my wife and my son. It's not that I don't want to see our relatives and friends or be away from our roots up north. But it's going to be nice to have Thanksgiving to ourselves. We can make the bird, stuffing, potatoes and pie. Watch football. Fill up. Then relax. Watch movies. Play. Read. Do whatever it is we want to do. The important thing is that we are together.

I've wasted many moments in my life. Looking for answers without asking the right questions. Searching desperately in the dark for someone or something to hold onto, instead of moving toward the light. I've drank away my senses many a Thanksgiving eve, only to wake halfway through turkey dinner the next day. Surrouned by family and friends. Immersed in hope and the potential for happiness. But too hungover with selfishness and regret to understand the importance of any of it.

"Jesus Christ, say Grace already. Get it over with. There's food to eat! Football on the tube! A recliner calling my name!"

All my Mom wanted to do was say a little prayer before dinner. Give thanks and enjoy the company. But when you're looking out for number one, full of yourself and stepped in ignorance, it's impossible to see what someone else might want, or need. And so that's all it was ever about for me. Eat and drink, watch a football game through the fits and starts of restless afternoon sleep.

But now, that's changed. I am clear-headed. As bright as the morning sky. As fresh as the air. And I am thankful for S.B., thankful for Little Man, thankful for my Mom, Dad and brothers. Thankful for my in-laws. Thankful for everything that's been good, that's been bad, that's got me here. To an early Thanksgiving morning. Still alive and kickin'. Full of memory, but focused on the hope of the day.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

a natural inclination

November 20th, 2008

8:13 am

Sunlight making early morning shadows. Moisture in the wind that swirls round. It is thirty five degrees and holding. Another November day with a blue-gray sky getting lower and threatening. The weight of air and cold pushing down. Filling lungs. Clouding heads. But making us braver each day. We are tackling the tasks. Checking them off lists. Keeping ourselves busy. Distracted. In the groove. It is best to keep working. To not think too much about what's at hand. Because overthinking it, looking at it too long, makes for blindness. And when blindness comes it is not hard for ignorance to follow. So we plug away. At words and colors. Keeping house. Raising a kid. Staying sane and hopeful, as the unpredictable seconds and minutes that make up our lifetime continue ticking away.

Another day. Up with the urge, but bodies unwilling. An old cat's unsettling meow. Dog paws click-clacking the hardwood floors. And the alarm clock sounds.

I threw the covers aside. Sat up.

"The same thing every day."

I said it, but meant only to think it, and as soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted it. It is not the type of thing your wife wants to hear first thing in the morning. Especially when she is the one getting up day after day to go to a job that is more frustrating than rewarding. Especially when she is the one working to pay the bills, put food on the table, keep a roof over our heads. But it had been said, and when I left to get at the morning chores I'm sure the words were still there, moving around our bedroom in the dark.

We ate breakfast. Listened to the radio. Talked about the auto industry crisis. Felt sympathetic for hard working men and women who are always the sacrifice, but angry at executives for taking bonuses and flying in private jets.

"Goddamned people," I said.

S.B. nodded. Finished her toast.

After breakfast. She was in the bathroom. I was here. At this desk. Hoping to get started on the writing. As S.B. emerged from the bathroom, Little Man appeared. Seemingly out of nowhere. We did not hear his footsteps, his usual morning sounds, but there he was. Arms full of stuffed animals. Hair sticking up. Freshfaced and smiling.

"Hi, Mommy!"

We bundled him up. Coat over pajamas. Slippers on his feet. Hat on his head. And I carried him to the truck. He held me tight. Arms around my neck. A twenty second hug between house and booster seat.

"Thank you!" he cheered, as I buckled him in.

"No, thank you," I said. "I needed that."

And I did. Still do. Such a little thing. The morning rush. A family setting off on their day. And the little kid along for the ride, no sense of urgency, no particular agenda or cares. Just a natural inclination to love.

The thing that has me here. Still and always. The four letter word deserving of a capital "L" and deserving much better than this. But it is all I can muster. This wanna-be writer, stay-at-home Dad, feeling out of his element, holding on the best I can as we continue this path ripe with tight learning curves, sudden starts and stops. The daily detours that keep us lively and alert. Focused. Even on the toughest days. With sunlight making early morning shadows. Moisture in the wind. And blue-gray skies getting lower. Threatening. The weight of air and cold pushing down. Filling lungs. But making us braver each day.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

ache like this

November 19th, 2008

7:47 A.M.

A punch in the face day. That's what it feels like. The icy cold into blood and bone. The tireds weighing me down. Basic urges riled up. Wanting again, like always, to fight and fuck, eat and drink. Move ahead without regret. Set things right. Bring wellness to the world. But there are people that need to be punched. Not because violence is the answer, but because sometimes fear is the best medicine. And because there are people who need to know what it's like to have their heads roll.

The headlines read:

Senator indicted on extortion charges

Dad accused of killing daughter while cleaning gun
Boy, 11, dies of gunshot wound to chest

Let the punching begin.

People have lost their sense of consequence. It's ruining the world. Making it harder for us to keep on keepin' on. And it's pissing me off.

But I can't be pissed today. Doing so will waste energy and energy is what I'll need. To keep up with Little Man. To work on the writing. To be upbeat and open when S.B. comes home from work. Her busiest, roughest day. Hundreds of kids. Most of them with attitude. Demanding respect, but unaware of how to give it. And she will need a hug, a shoulder, ears that not only listen, but hear.

Today, I'm a grumpy old man. Ready to beat the world with my cane. But filled up with so much love and hope that it kills me.

I want to buy a hundred thousand Christmas lights and decorate our home with Little Man.

I want to disappear into the woods. From morning till night. Come back cleaned out and clear-headed.

I want to spend an evening with S.B., have dinner, talk and touch, and let the loving begin.

But I can put all my wants and wishes in one hand and crap in the other and I know which hand will be filled first.

So goes life. It is not perfect. Neither are we. Some days we wake soft and sensitive. Some days we wake hard-headed and ready to kick ass. Today, I'm in between. Spread all over. Spread too thin. Needing so little that it feels like everything.

It's good to ache like this. With the November cold cracking bones, freezing the flesh, making me feel again. And I am better for it. Coming round the bend. Driven by determination, a sense of what's right, and believing I can do it all. Get it done. Make a difference before my light burns up. The heat is gone. And I'm the faint orange glow of an ember. Ready to go out.

But there'll be no going out today. And not tomorrow. There is plenty to get done. Much to work on. And nobody ever got anywhere by letting the bad, the tireds, the basic desires run all over them.

So here's to us. Our drinkless cheer. Letting the world know we're still strong. Still keeping at it. Still here.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Monday, November 17, 2008

have and need

November 17th, 2008

8:07 A.M.

Snow brightening the sunless morning. Coffee warming my gut. Got the push roaring down deep. Will try harnessing it today. Put it to good use. Chop away at manuscripts that need finishing, or work on something new. Harder to write these days. Impossible to maintain flow. Over the past year, I've had to change the way I go about writing. It isn't as easy as sitting down when the ideas need out. Now, there is a Little Man to watch over. Help out. Guide. There is a wife to please and take care of. There are pets running around the house. Chores that need to be done. Blah, blah, blah. All stuff that all writers have had to deal with since writers started writing. It's no different. It's just somedays I really feel it. The writing life I had compared to the writing life now. I had more time to write in the past, but I wasn't as prolific as I am now. I've written hundreds of pages this year. Most of them inspired by my experiences as Daddy and Hubby. In the past, I spent more time getting things right. Getting the writing out and polished as soon as possible. Now, it's a matter of trying to find time to polish. Nip, tuck. Do the editing. But I'm doing it. And there's no sense going on about how I'm not writing as much as I would like to be. There's nobody to blame for my lack of success, except for me.

And Little Man wakes. Yelling DADDY!

Back at it. Nearly an hour later. He had his PBJ for breakfast. Drank milk. Ate vitamins. Brushed teeth. And to my surprise, there hasn't been much fuss. There was a little at first, when he sat down at the table and his PBJ wasn't ready.

“Want peanut butter jelly!”

“I know, buddy. I'm working on it.”

First, I wanted him to take his vitamins. Then, I wanted him to try a few slices of orange.

“Want peanut butter jelly!!”

I handed him the vitamins and orange slices.

“No want!” and he turned away, whining.

“Listen!” I said, maybe a little too harshly for a Monday morning. “You are going to get your peanut butter and jelly. First, you need to eat your vitamins and eat some oranges.”

Some more whining.

“If you whine, if you act like you did yesterday, no peanut butter jelly.”

He stopped whining. Scrunched his face all up. Shoved a vitamin in his mouth. Picked up an orange.

I went back to making his PBJ.

It's hard raising a kid. I can hardly believe that people have three or four of these little creatures. That they manage all of them at one time. I applaud these parents. Respect them. Am in awe of them.

I poured some coffee. Sat down across from Little Man. Watched him devour that PBJ, as I flipped through the yellow pages.

“V, v, v,” I said.

Little Man looked at me.

“V?” he asked.

“Well, it's not under V.”

I thumbed back to U.

“Doing, Daddy?”

“Looking to tie it off, buddy.”

“Tie off?”

“Here we go,” I said. “Just what Daddy needs!”

Little Man took another bite of PBJ. I made a mental note of the nearest urologist. Took comfort in knowing that a vasectomy is only 2.3 miles away.

The rest of our morning has been fine. There wasn't much fuss when it came for diaper change. Out of pajamas and into big boy clothes. He insisted on watching PBS Kids. I did not fight it. He is in a good mood. Much better than the monster he was this weekend—two full days of whining, screaming, crying, pouting, and tantrums—so if he wants to watch some educational television, so be it. We'll be out in the cold soon enough. Bundled up and enjoying the great outdoors. Not sure what we'll do. Maybe take a walk. Maybe he'll want me to pull him in his sled. We haven't enough snow for it, but any snow is enough snow for a kid to get out a sled. No matter what we'll do, it will be fun. And I'll do my best to tire him out. Get his little heart pumping. Let him burn off some of that energy that can build and build and then erupt in a fit of emotional frenzy.

I just have to remember my good friend PATIENCE. Keep things in perspective. Not take things so seriously. Have fun. Because when it's all said and done, that's what we need to aim for. More good than bad.

Maybe later I'll get back to writing. Editing. Chasing this foolish writer's dream. One day, I might even get close to having the success I hope for. But for now, the imagined life of being a real writer, one churning out readable literature that people can relate to, that pays the bills, is somewhere off in the distance. Not yet to be mine. All I have and all I need is now at my side. Tugging at my arm. Done with tv. Wanting to play.

“Come on, Daddy! Come on!!”

And so it goes.

~ K.J.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

out the window

November 16th, 2008
9:04 am

Thought I better come here first. With a time slot open this morning, there's no use in wasting it. Little Man is enjoying a Sunday morning movie. Sitting on the couch. Wearing big boy underwear. About ready to leak at any moment. He's not so good about the peeing thing. But he's getting better at the pooping, and practice makes perfect, so what's a little more laundry?

S.B. is making breakfast. She was preparing quite the feast when I went in there for coffee. Eggs, bacon, hasbrowns. Ah yes, I love Sunday mornings. So this entry will not be long. Only a little brain exercise, gut release, before we eat.

Fall is leaning more toward winter. Trees are nearly stripped bare. They are black and wiry against the white sky. Today there will be snow. It was heavy in the air when I walked out to feed the dog and cat. Definite snow making going on up in that sky. I've been breathing it since I was a kid, living up on The Ridge, and even though the air isn't as clean down here in the city, I cannot mistake the scent. The feeling. Makes me want to bundle up. Walk into the woods. Sit in a blind and watch it come. Not that I feel much like hunting these days. That urge has gone dormant. Is barely alive. But I would like to sit. In my old hunting blind. Small propane heater hissing flames. Blanket across my lap. Coffee in a thermos. Me alone with the woods. A book. A pencil and paper. Boy, I miss those days. Chickadees flying into the open window. Sitting on the sill. Only inches away. Cocking their heads from side to side. Checking me out. The loud jays squawking. Turkeys calling and scratching. Deer moving through the thick swamp and my ears tracking them. Sticks snapping. Leaves crackling. Long snorts and short grunts. And then, if I am attentive and still, they come. Out of the tree trunks. Out of the dead cattails. Out of the brush. Brown against brown. White tails twitching. Big ears rotating round.

But some days there would be nothing. No animals or sound. Only the eerie stillness of the woods in waiting. The air cool and heavy. Tree limbs wiry against the white sky. Me alone there. Watching, as scattered flakes began to fall. And always, it made me smile. Because there is comfort in knowing that the world keeps on turning. That the sun will rise and fall. That life goes on. With its rain and wind. Heat and ice. And there is something especially lasting about the tiny flakes swirling round, as I look out my window right now. Hear Little Man running to the kitchen and S.B. calling to me, Honey! Breakfast is done!

~ K.J.
(copyright 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Friday, November 14, 2008

an end

November 14th, 2008

9:34 am

Washing machine shaking. Wiggles singing on the television. Little Man singing and dancing along with them. Taking time to run down the hallway every two minutes to burst into the office and say HI DADDY, or RAAAAH, or PEEK-A-BOO! Already, we've played on bikes, raced around the remote control truck, ran around the back yard, checked the tire pressure and oil level in the pickup, checked the pipes under the house, did dishes, swept floors, taken care of the dogs and cats, and got the laundry going. And it's not even ten o'clock.

It is Friday. I feel like plopping on the couch. Shutting my eyes. Drifting away to la-la land. At least for a little while. But that's not an option. And there's no sense in doing nothing because when I do nothing I tend to think too much. And thinking is something I'd rather not do today.

Have been thinking too much for 35 years. I'd like to take a little vacation from it. Stop reading papers, watching news, reading books. Would like to stop watching good movies, listening to talk radio, and rummaging around the internet. Would like to go on sabbatical for a while. Hide away. Write. Take care of the family. Take care of myself. And emerge in two years. With a new book finished. Ready to participate in the world again.

But that's not reality. And it wouldn't do me much good to shut down for so long. So instead, I'm doing it little by little. Stealing away time throughout the week to sit here and write. Fighting to maintain balance. An alert mind. Clean spirit. Healthy lifestyle. So that I set an example for Little Man. Am a good, reliable husband for S.B..

This weekend will be three weeks since I've had a drink. Not a big deal, but another little step in the right direction. Craving a beer at two in the afternoon probably wasn't a good thing. And the longer you walk in a direction the harder it is to turn back, so I'm going to stick to this sobriety as long as I can. I'll never be a teetotaler. I will always appreciate a fine drink. But for now, especially this time of year when I used to spend so many evenings bellied up to the bar, it's important I keep clean.

I figured I was headed this way when I made the decision to commit to this new life. And little by little I've made the right steps. No more bars. No more late nights. More early mornings. Miles on the treadmill. Water in my body. Words in and out. And as I go about this path, I'm discovering the obvious. The more good you put in, the more good you get out. A no-brainer. But like I've said in the past, I have a tendency to learn the hard way.

This book, these blogs—A Year In This Life—will soon come to a close. Near the end of this month, I'll wrap up and get to the hard work of editing. This is not to say that I won't continue to write. I'll have to do that. But the next phase, the next book, may take another angle. Be stripped down. A little more raw.

In any case, I feel the closing of this book close at hand. Much like I feel the year, the season, this stretch of life coming to an end. There is more to come. There will be more to learn. To give. But I definitely feel the internal gears, as they click, engage, and begin the shift.

Best to you and yours.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


November 12th, 2008

7:24 am

My Dad's birthday today. He's fifty-seven years young today. Boy, I'd like to be inside that mind as he goes about his day. Another one in a long line of days. A life filled with twists and turns, hardship and loss, but very good things too. A loving wife. Three decent kids. Two grandkids. A warm home on a fine piece of property on The Ridge. The place he and my Mom have called home since I was a baby.

He's done a lot, my Dad, and I am thankful for and appreciate the sacrifices he's made. It is something that is rare these days. People willing to sacrifice for the betterment of others. But he did it. Worked hard to find and stay on the right path. And even though he has much, it's from him that I learned the importance of the little things.

This is a while back. We were in his garage. Working on one thing or another. It's hard to keep track of all the things that have entered that garage broken, but come out not only fixed, but often times better than new. This thing, whatever it was, was giving us trouble. Not an easy fix. It was cold. The middle of winter. Wind hurling icy flakes. Drifts building up all around. The garage door open because we needed more light than the single shop light would give. Cold air chilling deep because the only heat we had was what we were making and losing under our coats. And there was Dad. His strong bare hands working against steel.

"Damn," it just won't budge, he said.

"Here, let me try."

And to my surprise, he stepped aside. Put his hands in his pockets.

"Have at her," he said.

This was new to me. Quite a surprise. In the past, all my offers to help had been dismissed. Not because he didn't believe I could help, but because he was always so focused, a man on a mission, wanting to get it done, get it done right, and get it done now. I stepped up to the shop table. Heaved on the metal. Gave it my best shot. Tried once more for good measure. Then stepped aside. I put my hands in my pockets.

"Sure is cold," I said.

I thought maybe this would prompt a break. A little time to duck into the house. Drink some coffee. Stand by the woodstove. Get warm.

"It's not too bad," he said.

Then we stood in silence. Dad just staring at that part. Whatever it was. Me looking around the garage. Filled side to side and bottom to top with all sorts of things. What it needed was a thorough cleaning. But Dad didn't and still doesn't have time to give it a thorough cleaning. He has long days that start early and end late. Working with machines and steel hour after hour. All day. Every day. Work that has forged his forearms into iron and made his grip as strong as a vise. What my Dad needed was for this old garage and everything in it to be torn down, thrown away, and for a grand new garage to be built in its place. One with insulation and storage compartments. One with bright lights and heat. And suddenly, I felt pretty damned awful. Disappointed that I hadn't done more in my life to help him out. All the fixing, time and effort that he put into that garage for us—his family—deserved more.

If we only had money, I thought. But the thing is, I didn't think it. I actually said it. Albeit quietly and to myself, but Dad had heard.

"What's that?" he asked.

"Oh, I was just thinking how much easier it would be if we had money. If we were rich. Then we wouldn't have to be out here in the winter and cold fixing another thing that's broken. We could be inside, where it's warm, doing something else. Somebody else could be doing the fixing for us."

"Yeah, but think of all those rich assholes that don't know how to fix anything," he said.

And just like that, everything was put back into perspective.

Dads, good Dads, have a way of doing that. And so he leaned over the workshop table, beared down with those iron forearms and that vise grip, and whatever it was we were working on gave way.

"Holy hell," I said. "You did it!"

He turned around. Smiled.

"Determination," he said. "That's all it takes."

"Determination," I said.

"Now," Dad said, "Let's take a break. Warm up by the woodstove and drink some coffee."

That's how it's supposed to be. In my world anyway. And that's what's helped me most recently. Being a new Dad. A new husband. My own little family, living miles away from The Ridge, as I go from day to day, trying to do the best I can, but always getting slowed by the little things. Broken pipes, bad wires, seized parts. And I can't help but think of my Dad. Every day. Especially when I'm out there in my own garage. Bearing down with determination. On whatever it is that needs to be fixed.

Thanks Dad, for setting me on the right path. Happy Birthday from all of us. Me, S.B., and Little Man.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Monday, November 10, 2008

let it snow

November 10th, 2008
7:57 am
We were on our way into the big red store. Doing our part as consumers. About to begin our Christmas shopping. Even though Little Man hadn't napped and S.B. looked all business, I was looking forward to it. I love the holidays. Love 'em. I get excited. Look forward to spending time with family and friends. Look forward to Thanksgiving with its turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, pumpkin pie with whipped cream. And there's nothing better than following it up a month later with a good old fashioned dose of Christmas fever. Getting the tree. Decorating the house. Sharing presents and stories. Sitting around with people you care about and stuffing your piehole with whatever treat, snack, or food that's on hand. And though I'm not much into materialism, obtaining and accumulating things, I sure do like looking at stuff. Walking around instores, picking things off shelves, holding them in my hands and picturing people I know unwrapping them on Christmas Day.

“He makes me nervous when he doesn't nap,” I said.

S.B. patted her coat pocket.

“One sucker. One bag of fruit snacks.”

“Bribe treats. Good call,” I said.

As we walked, we could see that every other person in the Detroit Metro area had the same idea. The parking lot was packed. Cars whipped in and whipped out. People moved along like blind cows.

“Positivity,” I said. “Think positive, Stevens.”

It is hard sometimes. Moving around this place. The way people are so unaware of personal space, respect, common courtesey. It's frustrating at times. So much so, that it makes me want to pick up Little Man in my arms, have S.B. hop on my back, and both of them hold on as I charge like a bull through aisles.

“If you didn't want to go shopping...” S.B. started.

“No, no!” I said. “I'm looking forward to this. I love this time of year. And look at this!” I cheered, as I pointed to the icy flakes that had started to fall.

“Snow!” I said, “Snow!”

S.B. looked at me. Not as thrilled. Little Man gazed up at the heavy gray sky.

“Snow?” he said.

“Isn't it great? I love it! Love the snow! Come on, snow!”

I started to sing.

“Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, and since we've no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...”

S.B.'s eyebrows raised.

“What?” I asked. “It's snowing! The first bactch of the year!”

“You act as if you've never seen snow before,” she said.

“Sheesh. Come on. It's great!”

She was still looking at me, and now she was biting her lip.

“So, what about that cart?” I asked, trying to change the subject, as we moved into the store.

S.B. leaned down to Little Man.

“Do you want to ride in the seat or in the basket part?”

“No cart!” he shouted, and he fell to his knees.

We stood in silence. Watching him. This was a delicate moment. A two-and-a-half year old on little sleep is like walking around with a pinless hand grenade glued to your backside. You just kinda move on, squinty-eyed, waiting for the thing to blow. Hoping that somehow you can survive.

S.B. reached into her pocket.

“Maybe if you're a good boy and you get into the cart, you'll get a surprise.”

He looked at me. I smiled. He looked at S.B., paid special attention to that hand moving around in her pocket.

“Prize?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” I said. “But you need to get into the cart.”

This was it. Do or die. I reached down, picked him up, waited for the explosion, but it did not come.

“Cart,” he said. “Me in cart. Prize.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. S.B. handed him a sucker. And soon, we were our happy little selves. Moving along through aisles. Manuevering round the cows. Avoiding the places where they stood. Stupidly. Yacking on cell phones. Carts blocking aisles. And it was good. We didn't let them bother us. Little Man crunched through the sucker and moved on to the fruit snacks. S.B. surveyed for the place for the best gift ideas. And I kept my mouth shut. About the snow. About the holidays. And I did not sing much more. Only a little “It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...” as we walked into Christmas Land. All big trees and twinkling lights. Santas, snowmen and ornaments.

“It's too early for all of this,” she said.

“Yes, it is.”

“When it's like this so early, it kind of ruins it.”

She is right. It is too early for Christmas. It's been too early for about a month. Christmas popped up long before Halloween. It's a shame how corporations push it so much. Do their best to sneak the bucks out of us. And I guess maybe it's too early for snow. To be spending more time indoors. To be bundling up. To be worried about keeping warm. Saving on energy bills. Racking up Christmas presents on the credit card. But what can we do?

It's the great Amercian Dream. And the holiday season is upon us. Whether we like it
or not.

We finished our shopping just in time. Got a few gifts, into a short checkout line, and out of the store only moments before Little Man's meltdown. Yes indeed, our little pinless grenade finally went BOOM!

But that's okay. We had another fine day. One that darkened into night. Had all of us into our pajamas early. Reading books. Watching movies. Playing around. And there's really not much more you can ask for. Sure, you can always have more stuff.
You can always want more. But when it comes down to the important things, sometimes all you have to do is look around.

See your wife under the soft light as she sits and reads in the livingroom.

Hear your son laugh as his little feet run around the floor, happy just being a kid.

And peek out the window at a great wintry sky that's ready to blanket the world.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

another day

November 9th, 2008

8:28 am

It was about this time of the year. Seventeen years ago. Walking with Professor Philips across the campus of Alpena Community College. When he told me how hard it was going to be. That if done right, it would be years and years of work, work, and more work. And then all that work guaranteed nothing. It was not easy to get published, and even if a writer was lucky enough to get his words in print, it was unlikely he could make money at it.

"Technical writing," he said.


"Technical writing. That's a good way for a writer to make a living. It can be very lucrative."

"Technical writing," I said.

The leaves had gone yellow. Most had already found their way to the ground. Students were bundled up, fighting the icy Lake Huron air.

"It's clear you are talented and that you have passion," he said. "But talent and passion can only take you so far. It's best if you have something to fall back on."

"Fall back on?" I said. "I don't want to fall back on anything."

He stopped. Took off his glasses. Cleaned the lenses with a yellow handerchief.

"That's the same thing my son says."

I looked across campus. Men and women. Boys and girls. All of them prepping for something. To be nurses at the local hospital. Utility workers. Machinists. Automotive technicians. Teachers. Computer gurus. Engineers. I knew very few that wanted to be writers. There were journalism students, of course. There are always journalism students. But I didn't see much sense doing something that anybody could do with eyes and ears, a pad of paper and pen.

"The thing is, I don't want to spend time preparing for something I might do. I want to prepare for something I am going to do."

He smiled. Put on his glasses.

"You will always write," he said. "Anyone can see that. It's in your blood. But even the best writers fail. There are many more creative writers struggling to make ends meet than technical writers."

"Technical writers," I said.

"Or journalism!" Philips added. It was an excited afterthought. Something he believed might lure me in, as he knew my affinity for Hemingway.

"Hem wrote for the Kansas City Star!" he said.

It was no use. Mr. Philips knew how it would be and there was no getting around it. I was full of hope. Full of myself. Absolutely positive that all I would ever have to do would be to write and write well for as many days of my life as possible. Do what I loved and that everything else would follow.

And a lot has followed, but I'm still not content. I don't think I'll ever be content. I am happy. At the best place in my life I've ever been. Beautiful, smart witty wife. Curious, loving kid. Dopey unconditional love in the form of our dogs and cats. This great small house. Full of respect, fun, and kindness. The kitchen full of sound this morning. S.B. listening to the radio, clinking and clanging pots and pans. Little Man chattering on about everything that's coming to life in his imagination these days. And the smell of bacon slowly pulling me away from this morning's dose of self love.

I wonder what old Philips is up to this morning. A Sunday in Northern Michigan. Cold. Leaves falling. Creative juices simmering. Probably writing. Chopping away at a novel. Putting together a short story. Penning his memoir. Or maybe he's sleeping. Heck, I don't know. I get these notions. Ideas. Develop these beliefs, but so much of it is rooted in the blurry spot between reality and fiction that it's hard to know what's true anymore.

At one time in my life, I thought I had a line on this writing thing. And it started with that Philips conversation. I believed that it was much easier and simpler than everyone made it out to be. But now that I'm in it. Farther into it than I ever thought I would be, I see that it's something you can never win-out at. It is like marriage, and it is an ultimate commitment. You are either in it or you're not. And as much as you care and hope and laugh and kiss and hug and exerience great things, it is not easy. All you can do is not enough. And the only comfort you can ever get is the comfort you create.

Know where you've been. Be thankful of where you're at. And remember why you are in it at all.

It is for her. For him. And for you.

Dear Mr. Stevens,

Thank you for your submission and for your patience with the delay in our response. We are a new agency that has been overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response of the writing community. Unfortunately, your work is not a good fit for us. We simply could not connect with the style of your sentences. We appreciate your time and effort and would enjoy hearing from you regarding future projects. Hopefully, you will find an agent who connects with your work and will be able to represent you passionately shortly. We wish you good luck in all of your future endeavors. We are honored that you thought of us. Once again, we are so sorry for the delay.


Alyssa Morris


BLISS Literary Agency International

1601 N. Sepulveda Boulevard, 389

Manhattan Beach, CA 90266

No matter how many rejection letters, setbacks, and failures we encounter, there's no sense in turning back. Giving up. Walking away. It is about commitment. Bucking up and doing the right thing. And the right thing isn't always easy.

To the few faithful out there, those of you tuning in, fighting the good fight, keeping at this keepin' on, thank you.

Here's to another good day. Chin up. Eyes and ears alert. Keep steady and straight, and keep aim.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

four o'clock mornings

November 8th, 2008

8:26 am

My four o' clock mornings are coming. Like my Dad. Up early, even if he's tired. Sick. Even if it's a weekend and there's no reason to get up. It's coming, I can feel it. Already, it's kicking in about five-thirty or six. And there I am. In bed. Head ready and raring to go, even though there is little I can do so early. There is this, the writing, but usually my six in the morning thinking isn't the stuff good literature is made of. So I stay in bed. Roll over. Wrap my arms around S.B. and revel in the warmth. My dearest one. Sleeping.

But soon it will get the best of me. And I'll have to do something. Maybe I'll write, even if it is not good writing. And maybe I'll start calling my Dad. I'm sure he'll be up. Reading the paper. Doing chores. Gazing out the window. And then both of us can not think about it together. That thing that wakes a man so early. Keeps him alert. Solemn and aware of all that's gone, is now, and to come.

Feels like snow today. This is not likely to happen. But the feeling's still here. Easing up my back. Into my shoulders. Sinking into my chest. There is snow up there. Somewhere. And it won't be long before I'm shoveling. Scraping. Clearing paths. Should be a fun winter. Lots is store for all of us. Little Man growing so much, adding more fun to the days. I hope we're able to spend as much time outside in the winter as we do now. It's so important for kids to be outside. When I was a kid, we spent more time outdoors than we did indoors. Except for sleep. And then, when we were indoors we played. Boy did we play. Football in the hallway. Jumping on the beds. Race car tracks. Lincoln logs. Good old crayons and construction paper. Sure, we watched television. Saturday morning cartoons. The Super Friends Hour, The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Hour, The Smurfs. And we even had a video game. The Arcadia 2001. A neat little game that we sometimes played, but for some reason, more often than not, we'd set it aside to head outdoors.

Maybe it was just us. Me and my brothers needing room to run. Trees to climb. Dirt to play in. Bikes to ride. Critters to find. More likely, it was the time. We were encouraged to get out there, go play! Now, there are loads of parents sticking there kids in front of the TV. Stockpiling them with video games. Plugging them into the internet. Or not paying attention at all. After all, they have high-dollar careers, and their own lives to live.

And so, we wonder. Where is the disconnect? How is this happening? Why aren't we close to our kids?

It's because we've lost touch with our roots. The basics. The place we've come from. Call it God, Nature, Fire, Water, Air, Dust, The Earth. Call it whatever you want, but we're all from it. It's in us. At the center. Our core. And when it's neglected we get off track. Out of balance. And we start thinking ME instead of the everything else we should be.

But it's not my place to say how anyone should live. Breathe. Raise their kids. It is survival of the fittest. Good over evil. And waking every day with an aim on good solid homegrown intentions. Feet planted squarely on the earth. One in front of the other. Fighting to maintain a strong will. To learn and grow. Love enough to leave a lasting imprint upon this big wide world. Even if it only comes like this. Little words. From bed to fingers to keys.

My four o' clock mornings are coming. I'll be up early. Even if I'm tired. Sick. Most definitely if it's a weekend. Because there's always a reason to get up. Get the motor running. Especially when it is always here. The slight ache. Easing up my back. Into my shoulders. Sinking into the hollow. Deep into my chests. To let me know there's snow up there. That the big one's coming. That I need to get shoveling and scraping. Doing whatever's necessary to keep this path clear.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

we did

November 5th, 2008

7:44 am

We are up and we are at it. Sun rising through cool clear skies. Soft light on leaves so that our yard is bursting with trees of gold. It is a new day. With autumn to breathe. Summer to remember. Winter on its way. And spring, always there. Over the dark horizon. With new life, just below the surface, fighting to survive.

And that's what keeps us ticking. Tired feet over the edge of the bed. And one in front of the other, as we do our part to take care. Of this great gift we've been given. Of all that surrounds.

There is much in this waking. This time of change. But what it comes down to are the basics. Needs that must be met before we can ever rest. Find that small space of peace at the end of the longest day. When we can exhale. Relax. Let limbs of worry fall away. And simply be. Part of this big thing. Ashes and dust. Heart and hope. Beginnings and endings. Round and round. Over and over again.

Little Man upstairs. Still enjoying the warmth of covers.

S.B. in her long coat. Wrapped up beautifully, a present for our daily discovery. On her way to work. To teach and inform. Guide and inspire.

And these words. Here for the taking, or for the leaving. But here all that same.

It will be a fine day.

But there is not much new to report from the Garden City. Just more of the same. Rising as best we can. Reaching. Keeping at the keepin' on. A mantra. A way of life. A personal code. One based on the maintenance of a solid foundation. One based on learning and growth—strengthening the core.

A man. A woman. A child. Days of work. Days of play. All of us aimed at perfecting the imperfections of family life that make the commitment and journey worthwhile.

"He's a good boy," the old woman said. She was cute with her thin face. Bright eyes. Poofy white hair. Providing voter information and handing out stickers.

She plucked a sticker off a roll and put it on Little Man's hand.

"Oh, nice!" he said.

"What a good boy," she said, as she looked at him.

"So far, so good," I said, as I filled in blanks. Name, address, date of birth.

"No, he's a good one," she said. "He'll always be good. You'll see."

"Well, thank you!" said S.B.. "That's very nice of you to say."

The old lady patted Little Man on the arm. Smiled. And it looked like she wanted to hug him.

It's okay. Go ahead and hug him.

That's what I wanted to say. Because I could see her wanting it. Julian waiting. And I knew what it was like to want to just hug a kid sometimes. Out of the blue. For no reason at all. But it did not come. The moment passed. It was election day after all. Serious business. Right and left. Red and blue. And the line needed to keep moving.

"Bye!" Little man cheered to her, as we walked into official voting room. A middle school library with cardboard dividers on tables to serve as voting booths.

"Bye, bye, honey," she said.

The three of us settled. Little Man playing with his yo-yo. Me and S.B. with our ballots and pens. And as soon as it started, it was over. We had inked the dots. Made our decisions. And then we were on our way to the store. To find coats for winter. We hunted until we found the best deals. Parted with the hard earned cash. Then made our way to the Red Robin. A place none of us had ever been. We ate burgers and fries. Drank water. Talked about our day. S.B. riding high from a teacher's conference at Cobo Hall. Inspired by the key note speaker. Looking forward to the next day. Back at school. To implement new ideas, a fresh approach. And me, giddy for having finished my first story in months. The words started, middled with, and ended. Now awaiting the final draft. And Little Man amazed at airplanes going round and round and round near the ceiling.

"Airplane fly! Airplane fly! Airplane fly!" he said again and again.

"Yes, airplanes," we said.

And we ended our meal. Paid the bill. Got into the truck to get back home. The place we leave time and time again, but are always so happy to come back to. Little Man played until it was time for bed. S.B. showered and then we relaxed on the couch. Watched a movie. Talked. Listened. Until the credits rolled, we said our good-nights and S.B. went off to bed.

"Wake me when you come to bed," she said. "Let me know what happened."

"I will," I said.

We hugged. I stretched out on the couch. Moved from channel to channel watching history unfold. Feeling good. Not because there was more of one color than another. But because the age old process was working. People lined up. Volunteering. Participating. Doing their best. Getting involved. And it made me remember how happy I am to be part of this. Our little country, our little state, our little city, our little neighborhood, our little family. That is together. Fighting the good fight. Working for good. So that there are days like this for everyone.

All of us. Up and at it. Rising like the sun through cool clear skies. Soft light on leaves so that the morning is bursting with trees of gold. Another new day. With autumn to breathe. Summer to remember. Winter on its way. But spring, always here. Over the dark horizon. With new life, just below the surface, fighting to survive.

And that's what keeps us ticking. Tired feet into bed. Under the covers. To rest and be strong. Do our part to take care. Of this great gift. Of all that surrounds.

I shook S.B. lightly. She raised her curly head. I kissed her warm cheek.

"Who won?" she asked.

And no matter the results, I couldn't help thinking WE did.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

with words

November 1st, 2008

11:17 am

Little Man up before seven this morning. Rousing me from bed. We let S.B. sleep in, though I doubt she did much sleeping. Not with Little Man watching cartoons. Demanding peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast. And me doing morning chores. Now we are all up and at it. S.B. reorganizing the kitchen. Little Man in and out of tantrums all morning. Still reeling from his exciting night of trick-or-treating. Filled with goblins, ghosts, and ghouls. Eerie sounds. Shadows. Walking long stretches. From house to house to house.

He did a fine job. Had lots of fun. Did not fuss or get scared or overwhelmed. He was pretty keyed up last night when we got home. Was hardly settled down by the time he went to bed. Did not wake once during the night. But was sure to get at it early this morning. Bags under his eyes. Sugar still coursing through his veins. Rising to great fits of activity and then crashing into fits of screaming and tears. Right now, he is trying to settle down before lunch and before nap. Watching cartoons.

The family life goes on and on. A great ride of stable uncertainty. Every day the same, but very different from the next. My only constant these days is the load of cat poop I get to clean up off the floor every morning. Cabby, our 307 year old cat is showing signs of senility and old age, but there's a good chance she'll outlast me. I'll be 73 years old. On my deathbed. And there will be Cabby. Sitting on the floor next to me. All creaking bones and hollow meow. Leaving a load of crap on the floor. A little gift for me to take off into the great unknown.

But so it goes in the Stevens household. Another beautiful day in The Garden City. Leaves fluttering down. Sunshine blazing in the clear blue sky. All of us on the up and up with Little Man's nap time not far away.

I think it would be a good day for us to nap too. Me and S.B.. Get some shut eye. Recharge. Ease away the residual early morning tension. And rest side by side with white light easing through the windows. But it's hard to tell. Too early to see. Anything can happen between now and then. Maybe the best thing for me to do would be to write. Keep my keester on this chair. Fingers to these keys. And finish a damned story.

Last night. I was on the couch. Trying to decompress. Reading Rolling Stone Magazine. S.B. was next to me, at the book shelf. Looking at something.

"Hey honey?" I said.


"Take a look at that Big Fish book."

She picked it up.


"What's that writer's name?"

"Wallace," she said.


"Nope, this is Dan."

"Okay, thanks. Nevermind."

"What?" she asked.

"Well, this Wallace here..." I pointed to the article I was reading, " dead. Hanged himself."

"Oh great," she said.

S.B. I think, thinks I'm smarter, brighter, more darkly intelligent than I am. That maybe I contain some of these demons and struggles that these other writers have. And since so many of us have whacked ourselves out, I suspect she sometimes wonders if I'll go nuts, feel bad and sour enough to do it as well.

"No, not me, honey. Besides, this guy here was a genius, they say. The greatest literary talent of our generation."

"I've never heard of him," she said.

"Me neither. That's how good he must have been."

But then again, I've been out of the literary loop for years. If I ever was in it. I suppose the closest I ever really got was a bit of correspondence with Dave Shaw, meeting and corresponding with Stuart Dybek, and taking the necessary literature courses in college. And getting plowed night after night. After writing for hours on end, day after day. Believing I was the next Roethke, Wolff, or Hemingway. Lots of delusional nights with my trusty, sober sidekick, Mulhauser, carting my ass around.

But anyway, this Wallace character was dark, but lovable. An underrated genius battling depression that somehow made it 46 years in this rough and tumble life and then decided to hang himself.

"Why on earth plug away at it for forty-six years and then decide to cash out?" I asked.

S.B. put her hands on my shoulders.

"I don't know honey. Why do it at all?"

And I thought of Hem. Sixty-one years old. Sitting in that room. Shotgun aimed at his head.

"It must get really bad," I said.

"It must."

And I set aside the article. Decided not to finish it. Not last night. Not today. Maybe never at all. Because it does get bad. It has been bad. And there's no use going to a dark place when what we should be doing is all we can to help the ones we love keep their heads above water. Feet on the ground. Fingers away from the trigger.

Damned writers. What a bunch of nuts.

There is a mystique about writers that off themselves. An awe and curiosity about those that choose to take leave on their own terms. But it is undeserved. Too many literary greats have been born out of selfishness. Too many of these supposed geniuses have not been smart enough to keep themselves alive.

But I did not always think this way.

When I was consumed with consumption. Filled with finding fame. Out of love.

Oh, how things have changed.

Life is serious business. There's no getting around that. And I still believe, as Hem once said, that we are bitched from the start. But the greatest thing about this life is that we can turn things around. It is up to us to raise our heads. Pull our feet out of the muck. And move on. Because even though life does not wait and does not care, the people around us do. Our wives and kids. Moms and Dads. Brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. Dogs and cats. They all care. And there is always another day. Sure, everyone's clock is running out, and we can never know when the big ax will come swinging round, but why not buck up, get straight, and run strong? Like a bull. Right to the end.

I don't know that I'll ever read David Wallace. I do know that I'm not going to run out and by his book because he killed himself. Sure, I feel for him. For his family. Friends. All those lives he touched and that are better because of him. But what has he taught us? What was the great lesson to be learned by this parting on his own terms? What does it say to people with depression? To people who have hard lives? To people that struggle each and every day simply to rise up and get their legs over the edge of the bed?

I guess what I would have rather read last night and carried on into this day and those that follow was a story. A bright shining moment in literature and life instead of an article about this generation's greatest literary talent. A man that didn't have enough sense to pull up. Stop. Take a breath. And work a pen in his hand or his fingers at the keys, instead of a knotting a rope around his neck.

But so it goes. I'm getting old. Tuning out, but tuning it. Honing my survival skills. A little at a time. Every day. With this simple act. A man working away at the bad in this world.

With words.

I am not our generation's great literary talent. I'm not a genius. And not really that smart at all. But I know enough to keep at it. Not for me, but for those that I love. So that all of us can keep on keepin' on.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Friday, October 31, 2008

happy halloween


12:57 pm

What's been smoldering rose to the surface. It flamed up, but only for a short time. And even though there will be ashes and coals, most of the heat has gone.

I ran what I could out of my system by pulling Little Man around the neighborhood in his wagon. We stopped in front of houses with yards filled with Halloween decorations. Talked about monsters and ghosts. Headstones and cobwebs. Continued on like this for an hour. House to house. With one stop at the park. Then back home. For lunch. A story. A nap.

I gave it another shot a little while ago. Running on the treadmill. Two miles in one place. Staring at the wall of the garage. Now, since the walking and running have taken care of most of it, and Little Man is still tucked away in sleep, I will write the rest of it away.

It's too nice of a day and I'm too fortunate to have this life to get into any tangles. Not with memories. Not with the unknown. Not with anything that's already been said and done. All we have today are fresh feet, fresh fingers, and the perpetual desire to succeed.

As a Dad and husband.

The writer can wait.

Maybe it's just the change of season. The beauty and brutality of a winter that's on its way. Knowing that the big clock is always out there. Ticking off our time. Dwindling our days. And there's not a damn thing I can do about it. Just wake. Do my best. And hope for rest. Yes, there is plenty more. And the important stuff is in all that's passing, but this writing mind has never worked like that and I'm doubtful it ever will. Nothing any good has come out of only good and so that's where my writing thrives.

In anger. Frustration. Selfishness. And loss. In that dark hollow space that rises up late at night and leads me down the hallway. Into empty rooms. Under bright lights. To pull aside the blinds and see a sleeping world all around.

One day, I guess, I'll rest. Maybe in the cemetery. Back home on The Ridge. Or maybe in a place yet to be found. And then, the fight will be gone. All that will remain is the energy I've left. In the cottonwood, the maples, the steeple, the ground. And all of what I've done will continue without me.

In the way S.B. ages with beauty and paints from dreams. Aware of the possibility in falling leaves, crackling fires, the sleeping earth underfoot. All of the small things part of the whole. Meaning, as always, unwavering and true in the shapes and forms that color her world.

In the way Little Man wakes and walks. Moves through this world. Another man, like all men, smoldering beneath the surface. Flaming up. But only rarely and only for a short time. He will know the meaning of ashes and coals. Of pulling a wagon on a windy autumn day. And he will know the importance of keeping feet and fingers fresh. So that he is always prepared. For the silence and patience needed for fighting the toughest tangles and taming the darkest hollow space.

And in all, that's all we can hope for. That even when we aren't our best, when we are quietly shaking apart at the seams, we put a little good into the world. Even if it springs from bad.

Happy Halloween.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

devil's night

Devil's Nights

7:25 am

No devils yet, as it is only morning. But feeling devilish all the same. Autumn cravings kicking in. Beer, bacon and sex. Simple selfish pleasures. That's what I'd like to fit into my day. Bad stuff, I'm told. Things that'll kill ya. But today seems as good a day as any to have a little of what kills. But there's no beer or bacon in the fridge. And sex is something that needs to be scheduled these days.

Ah, the joys of growing older. Staying busy. Losing track of days because they pass through our hands so quickly. But I'm not feeling sentimental. Not feeling like going deep. If anything, I'd like to stay on the surface today. Take things as they come. Try to work away this edginess with a day full of distraction. Which shouldn't be hard. S.B.'s off to work for a thirteen hour day. Little Man will be up soon. And already today I've had to clean up a pile of cat poop from the living room. After I stepped in it, of course.

So, here's a special thank you to you, Cabby, our old senile cat, I appreciate the nuggets of thoughtfulness you left for me this morning. Your little GOOD MORNING to Dear Old Dad. Nothing like waking tired, a little edgy, and putting a foot in crap.

But so goes life. Not a big deal. We clean it up. Carry on. Keep on keepin' .. all, there are people waking this morning with much more dangerous and unsettling steps to be taken. Men, women, and children walking through minefields. Patients waking from coma to find their leg's been removed. Mother's exhausted from hours of labor, only to learn that their baby has not survived. And another father loses his job. Another child abducted. And so our big wide world turns. Around and around. On an invisible axis. The earth placed just right. So that life thrives. Our cycle continues.

But still...there are these days. Feeling heavy. On the edge of something. When all I want is a morning of bacon. An afternoon of beer. And a night with S.B. all to myself. So that we can touch and feel, reconnect and disappear in ways that only married couples can. So that for a little while, it is just us. Two bodies made of dust. Breathing and feeling. Our natural cravings kicking in. So that we can love each other once again.

~ K.J.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

a morning like this

October 29th, 2008

8:32 am

Chloe the dog is at it again. Convinced she will catch a squirrel one day. Tearing across the big backyard, running below a black squirrel that's doing a high-wire act. From pole to pole. Both of them barking. Until the squirrel jumps from pole to tree then down into the neighbor's yard. Taunting Chloe from behind the chain link fence. Chloe sits there. Ears up. Hair on her back bristling. She will have another good day. Out in the yard. On patrol. Later when Ted the cat wakes from his slumber, he will join her. They will work in tandem. One of them sneaking up on squirrels, the other standing guard. They are quite the team, our cat and our dog. It's amazing how much joy they find.

Especially on mornings like this. Another one thick with dying leaves, cold and gray.

Trying very hard to strike a balance today. Childcare and work. Writing and giving my son attention. He is watching television. Satisfied to be on his own for a while. Watching Clifford on PBS Kids and playing with his wooden train set. I feel guilty though. Being in here. Putting fingers to keys, while he is in the living room. But I can't be by his side every minute of the day, and a little television hasn't killed anyone that I know of, so a bit of boob tube in moderation will be my saving grace. And his. I'm sure he gets tired of being with Dear Old Dad all day every day.

Head is still brimming with everything, so this writing will be useless. It's only meaning coming in the form of making room. Helping me to move things around upstairs in the noggin' so that I can get back to the real writing again. But there's no sense in talking about it, writing about it, because doing so only ruins it. And the more it is ruined, the harder it is to get back to it. Do it truly. With love.

We could all use some love about now. The economy struggling. Leadership failing. Morals going down the tubes. Everything acceptable and everything goes these days. Nothing is shocking. Our senses are so deadened it's hard to snap out of it, see a bit of good, and smile.

My Mom sent some pictures to us via the wonders of technology. An email link sent me to a website, and this morning all three of us (Me, Little Man, and S.B.) sat together and watched a slideshow of our trip up north. Mom snapped off fifty-five pictures during our short visit. And though I tend to give her a hard time about always having a camera on hand, I'm glad she took those pictures. Sent them to us. Helped us get a little more mileage out of a visit that we wished could have been longer.

Little Man tossing leaves into the air. Colors of fall all around.

S.B.'s sweet smile. The three of us standing near scarecrows in my childhood front yard.

My Dad and my Mom. The land I started out on. Just a little kid. Running through the fields. Traipsing through the woods. Climbing trees. Wanting that time of being outside, lungs full of clean air, being in the country and quiet, to never end.

But it has. I'm all grown up. Living in the city. Not doing enough to make sure we can get back there. Be safe. Happy. Secure. And it is killing me. All of this trying and not succeeding. All of this waking and hoping, working and writing, with nothing to show for any of it.

It is always just me. A writer past his prime. Plugging away at keys. Still determined to bring a better life to my family by way of words. But never getting close enough. Never being good enough. But never being weakened so that he stops.

Instead, I just keep going. Like a dog. Chasing squirrels. One that does not know how or when to stop. Because I have love. Always on the rise. Pushing me. And I'm amazed at how much joy this world can bring.

In pictures. Without words.

Little Man playing in leaves. Colors all around.

S.B.'s sweet smile.

Our little family.

So needed today. Especially on a morning like this. Another one thick with dying leaves. The creeping cold. And the promise of more gray.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

road less traveled

October 28th, 2008

7:45 am

Thirty-five years old. At a point in my life where I have some long-term decisions to make. With writing not working out as far as an income is concerned, I need to reconsider my current path. Bills are mounting. The future is wide open. So the decisions I make today need to benefit my family in the long run. It is not the right thing to leave my family poor with only boxes of unpublished manuscripts to sift through. Words can only do so much. And the paper will be more useful for them for starting fires than for anything else. And so, we must let that notion pass. This family deserves more.

All these writing projects. The stories. Books. None of it going anywhere. Writing, for me, might be like gambling, drink, or drugs to others. An addiction. It's gotten me nowhere but deeper into the hole. Looking up. Praying for some great hand to retrieve me.

It's onward now. To the light. Open the blinds to another day. Forget this morning. One stuck between morning and night. Golden leaves rattling in wind gusts. Brown leaves covering the ground. Gray threatening everywhere.

Time to think about work. Real work. A real job. One that provides security. Stability. The necessary evil so that we can survive. But how do we get there? It's a long trip with an English degree. One filled with more potholes and hills than you can imagine. It might be the road less traveled by, but it is a bitch of a road no matter, and it is paved with hard lessons.

So, do we set ourselves to work at another degree? More education? Or do we put ourselves into a low-paying job with the hopes that one day—with hard work and dedication—it will get better. Provide enough of the green stuff so that kids can go to college, Mom and Dad don't have to work until their dead, and we have an egg hidden away just in case we wake one day more hungry than we've ever been?

It is not easy now. None of it. But that's what makes us stronger. This morning, wanting to sit down and get to work on the short story collection, but job searching instead. Applying. Sending resumes. Hoping that someone will see me in all of the words, dates, lines of experience, and give me a shot. Just one chance. To shine.

But that's asking too much. We get what we deserve. What we work for. What we aim at. And today, I need to realign the sights. Aim for another thing. One that is not lost when I sit down here. In this office. The gray threatening everywhere. But me. Moving slowly. Toward the light.

Open the blinds to another day. Forget this morning. This one stuck between morning and night. And it is onward now. Down the bitch of a road. More wasted pages. Piling up. To be left unpublished. For my family. With the hopes that somehow, one day, all of us will be warmed.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

good in this world

October 23rd, 2008

8:29 am

Frost on the grass. On windshield glass. Temperature holding at cold. The low thirties. Little Man made his appearance at 6:45 this morning. S.B. was getting ready for work. I had finished up morning chores, was sipping coffee, and scanning the headlines. More doom and gloom. More ignorance. Stupidity. The kind that makes you wonder if this world will ever right itself. If we will be able to maintain the good that keeps the world in order.

"Good morning, buddy!" I said to Little Man.

"Morning honey!" S.B. shouted to him from the bathroom.

He rubbed his eyes. Dragged his stuffed puppy across the living room. Yawned. Hung his head low.

"Peanut butter toast," he said, not even looking up at me.

"Anything to drink?" I asked.


He climbed up into a chair at the kitchen table. Threw the puppy across the room. I bit my tongue. It was too early for lessons. To remind him not to throw things. It was obvious this was going to be a slow-to-wake morning.

"Peanut butter toast!"

"I'm working on it, buddy."

I had the bread in the toaster. Was getting out the peanut butter, a plate, and a knife.


I got the milk filled his little cup halfway. Walked over and handed it to him.

"No! Milk in cereal!"

The toast popped up.

"I'm sorry, but no. The toast is done. Look," I said, pointing to the toaster.

"No, milk! Milk all done!"

I put the cup into the refrigerator. Slathered enough peanut butter on the toast to keep him quiet for at least two minutes. I stood there drinking my coffee. Scanning more headlines. Watching him. The peanut butter was everywhere. On his fingers, his face. Even on his nose. I peeled a paper towel off the roll and handed it to him. He pulled away from me. Began to whine.

"I know, I know," I said. "You aren't going to want this now because it wasn't your idea, but you're going to need it before too long."

"No paper towel!" he shouted and shoved it away.

I went back to my coffee. Prayed for good news on the next page of the Free Press. No such luck.

S.B. came into the room smiling. She looked well-rested. Bright-eyed. It brought a rush of warmth up from my belly and made me smile.

Little Man's face lit up.

"Hi, Mommy!" he cheered.

"Hi, sweetie! You're not giving Daddy a hard time are you?"

He turned and gave me the stink-eye. Peanut butter was on his forehead. I smiled at him. He turned away. Smiled at Mommy.

"No," he said. "Good boy, Momma."

"I sure hope so," S.B. said.

She sat down to eat. I peeked over the top of the paper. Little Man reached for the napkin. Pulled it toward him slowly. Looked at me to make sure I wasn't watching. Wiped his mouth quickly, then shoved the paper towel away.

And even though I'm remaining positive. Biting my tongue. I know that today might be a challenge. But hey, that's what I signed on for. That's why I'm here. Anyone who thinks they are in it for only the fun of it, for all the sweet sloppy kisses and hugs that a kid can muster, is mistaken. You must be able to take the good as well as the bad. Kids aren't rotten. It's only how we treat them. And sometimes they just have bad days. So today, I'm treating him like I would want to be treated. If I woke up rubbing my eyes, tired as hell, dragging myself into the kitchen for another cheery morning.

We got changed into a fresh diaper. Into our big boy clothes. Got Mommy off to work. And right now, he's four pillows deep into a spooky Scooby-Doo adventure. Watching the movie in our bedroom. Laughing, giggling, talking to Scooby and Shaggy as they blunder through another mystery. And it's one of the best sounds in a world.

A little boy. Just laughing.

Not caring much about frost on the grass. Morning chores. That the temperature is holding steady. Near thirty. He's made his appearance. Got hugs and kisses. Peanut butter on toast. And aside from the spookiness of Scooby's Adventure, he is not concerned with headlines, doom and gloom, all of the ignorance and stupidity that we adults perpetuate and replicate. Day after day. Into this world. And as I hear him across the hallway, big belly-laughs rising, I believe that we have a chance. That we will right ourselves. That there will always be good in this world.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Monday, October 20, 2008

wherever you are

October 20th, 2008

1:32 pm

Could have made better decisions. Could have been someplace else. I have regrets. But bad decisions, putting myself in bad spots,and saving up those regrets have brought me here. The best place I've ever known. Our little house with the big yard in the Garden City. With trees shedding leaves. Sunlight enriching colors. And endless possibility carried within the swirling autumn breeze.

And Little Man sleeps. Tucked away in an afternoon nap. Tired from our morning. A bike ride to the park. Four laps around the asphalt track. Then swings and slide. Swings and slide. Until it was time for lunch. The bike ride back home. To peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A book to read. Substituting his name in place of Max's in the story WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE so that his eyes lit up, face brightened with wide smile, and he was happy. Satisfied. Ready for nap.

"Nap and sleep and wake and see Mommy later," he said, as he pulled the blanket up to his chin. Settled into his pillow.

"Yes, we'll see Mommy later. After you sleep and get a good rest."

"Nap and see Mommy?"

"You nap and we'll see Mommy later. After she's home from work."

"See Mommy work?"

"Kiss, hug," I said.

"Yep. Kiss, hug."

He puckered his lips. Planted one on me. We hugged.

"Goodnight, buddy. Love you. We'll see Mommy later. After nap and after she gets home from work."

"Night, Daddy!"

Down the stairs. Then onto the treadmill. Then down to the floor for push-ups and weights. Then back to my feet to hit the heavy bag. Pounding and pounding and pounding. Banging away at the past. Punching away mistakes and regret with every hook and jab. Muscles getting tighter but feeling lighter by the second. Until it's time to head in. Drink lots of water. Do do the morning dishes. Listen to sports talk radio. Warm leftover coffee. Then come here.

To the keys. The screen. This unknown place that I return to. Again and again. Not for money. Fortune or fame. But only to get it out. So that it does not build up. Go to waste. Become something useless and forgotten. Another mistake. Another regret. Another something I'd wished I'd done. Not for me, but for everyone I've ever known. So that they could come here too. Feel the familiar. Get in touch. Recognize that all moments have led to this.

Wherever you are. In the best place you'll ever know. Little houses with big yards. Gardens the size of cities. Trees and leaves. Sunlight and color. Endless possibility. Swirling in the autumn breeze.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

the lottery

October 19th, 2008

7:31 am

The lottery has not been able to guess our numbers just yet. In fact, in their efforts last night, they were only able to come up with one of them. Number 32. So there'll be no celebrating this morning.

The coffee has brewed. The Free Press has come. Breakfast is not far off from being done. And now, as I write this, Little Man wakes...

7:49 am

Back at it.

Little Man came downstairs. Clutching three stuffed animals. Pajamas soaking wet. He overflowed his diaper again.

I got the sheets off his bed. He's too big for diapers. Only two-and-a-half, but a big kid and so this morning we are trying big-boy underwear. Again. It's certain to be a failure, but failures are small successes. The more times he bombs out in his trousers, the closer he is to using the potty. Anyway...S.B.'s making breakfast. Has Little Man changed and under control. So I get to write. Even if it is only this. Simple man journal writing early on a Sunday morning.

Cold out there today. Icy feel. Everything still. It's a beautiful thing. I could live in a place where it is always like this. Thirty-five degrees in the morning. Sun warming us to a high of sixty-two during the day. Yes, I could. Maybe one day, if we ever win the lottery, find good fortune, make it as a real writer, we'll have an opportunity to live in a place like that. Or have a cottage. Somewhere near the water. Away from the city. Surrounded by trees and crisp clean air. I could be hauling in armloads of firewood right now. Lighting the kindling. Stoking the flames.

But there's no use dreaming too much. Do that and I'll miss out on today. The simple everyday moments that help knit us closer together.

Like this...

S.B. was changing Little Man. He was getting worked up about the clothing I'd picked for him. Brown corduroys. Blue tee-shirt. Short-sleeved button up shirt. The pants went on all right. The tee-shirt was okay. But that button shirt...well, the kid hates button shirts.

“No button shirt!” he said.

“But it's such a nice shirt,” S.B. said. “You'll look great. So handsome! Won't he, Daddy?”

I was pouring myself a cup of coffee. Scanning the Free Press' headlines.

“Oh sure, yep," I said. "You'll look great. Nothing better than a button shirt.”

I put down the paper. Took a sip of coffee and watched Little Man and Momma go through this daily ritual.

“No button shirt!” he shouted.

S.B. sighed. Little Man crossed his arms. Both of them turned toward me.

Dear old Dad. Standing there sipping his coffee. Hair sticking up all over the place. Bags under his eyes. Still wearing his goofy red and black plaid pajamas. Ready to do absolutely nothing because today is Sunday. And Sunday means couch, Free Press, football, high calorie, fatty foods, and comfortable clothes. A.K.A....goofy pajamas. If he can pull it off.

But, from the looks on their faces, I knew this wouldn't be the case.

“Daddy button shirt!!” He shrieked with excitement.

I set down my coffee. Headed down the hallway.

“Sure thing,” I said. “Daddy will wear a button shirt.”

“See!” S.B. said, “Daddy loves button shirts!”

And here I sit. A little while later. Dressed up like a big boy. S.B. and Little Man in the kitchen. Laughing. Putting the final touches on breakfast. The sun up over the horizon. Blue-jay outside the window in the apple tree. Three squirrels, one-after-the-other, doing a high-wire act across the cable line. And me, feeling the warmth of another Sunday. Happy. Like we've just won the lottery.

~ K.J.

(copyright 2008 © by K.J. Stevens)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

the threat

October 16th, 2008

7:50 am

Raise the blinds. See the sky. Gray and threatening. Not only rain. But the cold and all that comes after. Plenty of people waking slow today. Wanting to move the body back into bed. But what's the use? The day will go on anyway. And we've all got a better shot at winning, coming out on top, learning along the way, if we're up and at it. Taking the days on no matter the threat of darkness and rain.

Pressure building. The change is in full swing. Not only for the seasons, but for these fingers against these keys. Now, with limbs and leaves falling and colors easing to gray, it's especially important to stay focused. The trick is recognizing that focus often requires distraction. In order to stay on track, one must take a back road once in a while. Vary the routine. Break away from the norm.

It's said an awful lot, but I'll say it more.

It's the little things.

Stealing ten minutes as the day unwinds and evening wraps round to read "Paper Lion". A book I've had for months, but have only read in spurts. One that I can already tell could have been much shorter, but one that I'll continue to chop away at because it is about something I like—football—and written by Plimpton, the old guru of The Paris Review.

An afternoon beer. Like yesterday. Head swelling with worry. Heart pounding urgency. I cracked a can. Poured a glass. Began to relax. Sat down at the desk and before I knew it, I was three pages away from the place I began—just another tired man seeking escape.

Waking on the heels of very little sleep. A night cut short and put into perspective by a two year old. Disgusted with Mommy and Daddy. Screaming, crying, and flailing with fury. Up and angry wanting his way. Until an exhausted Mommy had had enough and pulled a new negotiating skill out of the bag. One that sent all of us to sleep. Happier. Relieved. So that we could wake. Raise the blinds. See the sky. Gray and threatening. But not let it deter us from taking part in another day. One that can easily get away if we are not up and at it. Taking all of it on. No matter the threat of darkness or rain.

Here's to you taking on the day.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


October 15 th , 2008

3:22 pm

Day started with a promise of sun. But promises are made to be broken and so it is cloudy. Dark. An afternoon of light rain. A little sour today. Fighting off the tireds. Trying not to think too much. But trying not to think too much only makes me think. And what I don't want to do is think. Not now. Not anymore today. Not at all.

Little Man's playing with his wooden train set. Eating one of S.B.'s homemade chocolate chip walnut cookies. Getting the most out of his spooky Sleepy Hollow cartoon. Multitasking the best way a two-year old can. Fun, fun, and more fun.

S.B.'s wrapping up her tough day. Non-stop teaching, hall monitor duty, and lunchroom duty. Doing three jobs but barely getting paid for one. She will be exhausted when she gets home. Filled up and needing to get things out in the open so that she can breathe. So that she can feel better. Relax a little. Sleep. So, I'll get to work on the chicken. Make sure she's got a glass of wine waiting. And it won't be long before all of us will be at the table. Eating supper as a family. The way it's supposed to be.

I'm having an afternoon beer. Wondering when I'll hear back from the company I interviewed with last week. I was sure I'd hear something by now. Good or bad. Yes or no. But so far, I've heard nothing. In the meantime, I've applied for a few more jobs. Started to structure the new short story book. Learned that “Pilgrim's Bay” is now available for purchase through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

So now, the whoring begins. Time to write an email and send it to my family and friends. Time to make up a few fliers. Maybe post them around town. And time to open myself up to interviews, discussions, whatever is available so that I can somehow put one foot in front of the other and begin carrying the load. Buck up. Stop being a hermit. Get the words out there. Because writing it, publishing it, sending information to people, is not enough. If this thing is ever going to get off the ground I need to live it. Breathe it. Get back to that fire I had years ago, when I was in my 20's, drinking my way through college, but sure that I was going to put my mark on the writing world.

“ You're not Hemingway,” Mulhauser said.

I was standing at the pool table. Drinking a beer. Waiting my turn to shoot pool.

“ And you're not Fitzgerald,” I said.

One of the girls we were shooting with bent over, took her shot, then went over to her friend. They looked at us. Smiled. Talked quietly to each other.

“ And that's not Zelda and that's not Mary,” I said.

“ Fair enough,” Mulhauser said.

He cocked his cigarette to the side of his mouth, leaned down, made a smooth easy stroke. Knocked in two balls.

“ Nice shot,” I said.

“ Thanks, Hem!” he said.

“ No problem, Fitz!”

He shot again, but missed.

The other girl stepped up. She was blond. Top heavy. Had a cherub-like face.

“ What are you two talking about?”

“ Don't mind us,” Mulhauser said. “Big K here just likes to make boozy literary references after he's had a couple.”

“ That's right!” she said. “We saw your pictures in the paper. What's the book you wrote?”

I leaned over. Took my shot. Knocked in a ball. Moved to shoot another, but missed the ball completely. Mulhauser gave me a wink.

“ Looks like you girls got a shot to win it here,” he said.

Cherub face leaned over. Rested her boobs on the table. Made a glorious shot. Then followed it up with a nice run. All that was left was the eight ball.

“ We play here twice a week,” she said.

The other girl stepped up. She was short. Thin. Pale and dark haired. But had the prettiest eyes I'd seen up until then.

“ But we never see you guys here,” she said.

Me and Mulhauser looked at each other. I took a drink. Let him do the talking.

“ Usually, we're working. Writing stories. Making contacts. Doing what we can to get this new book, Corvallis Road, out into the world. But tonight we're celebrating. Since the article came out in the university paper, we've been getting a lot of positive feedback. Things are on a roll. Everything seems to be lining up in the cosmos and we're beginning to reap the benefits of our hard work. We...”

He went on talking. But I was watching the blond. She was stretched over the table. Biting her lip. About to miss the eight ball. I could see she was not lined up properly. That she was going to drop her elbow. That the only chance she had was if she hit the ball too hard and it went in another pocket by way of slop. But I didn't say anything. She was doing it her way. Looking confident. Besides, I didn't want to interrupt Mulhauser's bull session.

She shot hard. Missed. The eight ball bounced off two rails and rolled within inches of the side pocket.

“ ...we're planning a little tour this summer. Up north in our hometowns and then swinging down this way to do signings at bigger bookstores. Should be a blast.”

The pale girl was smiling at him. All wound up in his dark eyes and dark hair.

“ It's your shot, Fitz,” I said. “Let's put this one to bed.”

“ I'll end it here in a minute, but first a toast!” he said.

We all raised our glasses.

“ Big K, the honor is yours!”

And I looked around the place at the bottles and glasses, the bodies and smoke, and I felt as if I was writing it all. That all of it was more real than anything that could ever be dreamed up and put to paper. That one day we would make it into a book. Me and Mulhauser. The unknown girls. The drinks. The pool game. The feeling of being lost and found all at once in the middle of a bar.

And it did make it. To pages 19 and 20 of “Pilgrim's Bay”. The novel that took root somewhere back there. In memory. Moments long gone. Faces forgotten. Time drank up and pissed away. And it's here with me now. A thirty-five year old married man. Still writing stories. Reaching out. Keeping at the keeping on because I believe in words. The feeling behind them. And that even if the words are not read, bought and sold, they mean something.

“ To playing the game!” I said.

And I believe it now, as I believed it then. A man must do whatever he can to get in the game. Play as well as he can. Make sure that his efforts are not for him, but for those around him.

So as S.B. drives home and Little Man anticipates her arrival, I thank God that I have something to fight for. People to take care of. A family to call my own.

And on that note, I'm out. Time to get at that chicken.

If you can, please buy my book.

Best to you and yours.

- K.J.