How to Write 50 Essays in 9 Short Months

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Bergamot Ink logoSince April I’ve been working on a column—Bergamot Ink—with the The Good Men Project, which is why I let Nerdy Dad Shirt go untrimmed, and for good reason.

I started Nerdy Dad Shirt three years ago this week, and eventually when I was writing essays that I was proud of, I decided to challenge myself to write 100 essays (good or bad).

“100 essays” turned into “100 posts” (as any good writer and blogger will know the difference), and, as I started writing for other publications and got syndicated, I sort of lost count.

I’ll count them up and get back to you.

So here—parked—are my latest essays for your enjoyment. Please share if you’d like!

AND if you’re a writer, I’m also an editor would love to help you get published. Let’s talk.

Read on and Share!

What Men Hear Vs. What Women Hear—When Will Things Be Heard Equally?

God Isn’t a Bad Word (It’s Just One We Don’t Use)—Raising Children Without Religious Belief

7 Reasons Why I’m Done with Star Wars

9 Ways We Can Truly Save Christmas (Once and for All)

‘Meet Your Second Wife’ Cuts Deep and is Uncomfortably Hilarious

Han Solo, Captain Picard, or Mr. Spock? How to Decide What to Do in Life (When You Don’t Know What To Do)

The Science of Parenthood: Poop, Chemistry, and Duct Tape

5 Easy Steps to Staying Married Forever

Unbrand Yourself Today!

What Does Life After God Sound and Look Like?

13 Ways You Can Achieve Total Perspective

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See you next week!

 

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Introducing Bergamot Ink

Bergamot Ink logoI am proud, honored, and excited to announce that starting tomorrow I’ll be writing a weekly column at The Good Men Project called Bergamot Ink. I will be joining an amazing staff of writers and editors, and am looking forward to learning and growing as a writer and humanist. I will strive to bring original, honest, clever, and inspiring essays and articles to you, the reader, and will be writing about anything that falls into my cup (bergamot, ink, pencil shavings, “found” metaphors, wily anecdotes).

A few scenes here I’m thinking about:

– when I was nineteen I had an overnight job where I really started focusing on my writing outside of class and journaling, when I decided that I would be a writer no matter what. The office at that job had a printer, and I took full advantage. There’s something about printing out your work and holding it in your hands. I think I printed everything in Courier New font size ten because it had that official look, and to this day I remember that fire inside me, that juvenile excitement at a life of chasing after the greats somehow. Young English majors are like that.

– last year when one of my students said “Mr. McKeen, I was creeping on your blog, and I really like what you were writing. When are you going to write more?” This, in part, inspired me to keep writing at Nerdy Dad Shirt (when it was just a handful of essays from years ago). If I could grab the attention of a teenager (who, admittedly doesn’t really like to read) with my writing about this official life stuff, then I might just continue. Also, I make my students write personal, philosophical essays all the time, so it’s only fair that I attempt the same.

I will still continue writing at Nerdy Dad Shirt as well as Sammiches and Psych Meds, BLUNTMoms, and any website that will have me.

That being said, and with great thanks to my family and fellow writers and bloggers who have been essential to me getting here, here I go!

I will see you on the page~

Looking Back

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I DON’T WANT TO MULCH THIS SATURDAY. I know it’s our big to-do for when the weather’s right, but I don’t want to. I want to do things young people with kids do, like a soccer game or dance recital or gymnastics. Like the old days. Like the good old days. Remember when the kids were young – too young to be saying things like “I kind of miss the old, good days” – but they would always say that, exactly like that, unaware of how short their lives had been at that moment?

But we’re old. I’d kill to be twenty-five again, or thirty-five, or even fifty-five. Definitely not fifteen. I don’t have the energy for that. Everything went so fast. Our last kid is already twenty-five and out of the house and now we finally have all the rooms to ourselves. Sonny is the age we were when he was born – Junior is right behind, and the Baby is on her own, now, still the baby. The railing in the old house is finally steady, the mornings couldn’t be quieter, the cars are paid off. We finally have our twenties back, before kids, more or less – more here, much less there.

Not that we’re sad old sacks. We’re not. We’re the children of the children of the Greatest Generation. But none of that matters.  I just want more time when the kids were young, even the last of their teenage years, when they didn’t want us as much. Even the college years when we rarely saw them. How ever did we go days without talking? How did they become their own people? I guess they were born that way, really. But they grew, and grew.

They were so young just a minute ago, and then-

I want to pick them up from pre-school, and high school, and college, for that first time – or last time. I want to comfort one of them after an adolescent break-up or hold them after a serious fall; I want to cuddle on the couch – remember when they wanted to cuddle all the time? I want to watch them struggle with their homework and those first jobs and then the real first jobs.  I want snow days and birthdays and those first few days of summer – hell, any day of any summer at the beach.

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I want to re-live the moments after that first serious E.R. visit, when we realized it would be all right, and the times when we didn’t know which way it would go. And the fights – between the kids and between the kids and us, even those I want to live through, one more time.  I would settle just to be on the same floor with them, listening to them play in the next room, one last time. I wouldn’t have to interact with them. I just love listening to them.

Any moment where they held my hand or looked me in the eye without any pretense or fear or question – or any time I knew they had to count on me to wake them up or dress them or get them somewhere on time. They still give me those young looks sometimes, and hopefully I still have those eyes they first stared at when they couldn’t walk and we would just hold them all the time. They used to use my eyes and face to learn how to react to the world.

Our life was – it still is – like a really good t.v. show that I more than love, and I just want it back, you know, to watch again, all the episodes, especially the children’s episodes – there were so many of them. I couldn’t get enough of them when they were happening. And we took so many pictures.

And the grandchildren. Oh, the new joys – but they’re no Sonny or Junior or the Baby. At least not like it was. All those firsts – they’re not ours to have. Not like the old, good days.

But mulching is good. Mulching is necessary. It’s one of those things we do. We’re not getting any younger, we never were. It felt like we were when the kids were young, and then at one point we were older, and then older still, and then we weren’t the young parents in the pictures anymore.

But that’s okay. We have our life – our long, incredible life – together, with kids. We have more than we planned for, and more to come. We built this world, somehow, and filled it with everything we could, and then it just kept going. And to think we were young and in love just a few pictures and memories and decades ago.

And if I’m quiet, I can hear the past, outside a door somewhere, or up the stairs – I’m listening in for a moment that belongs only to me, preserved in a place some time ago, somewhere circling my veins in cells I still feel like I did when we were young.

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Too Long/Didn’t Read…

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You are a magical, wondrous collection of years of selection.

If you are alive, you’ve beat out millions of possibilities for a chance at your life in a universe slightly titled in your direction as a living, sentient, self-aware individual;

if you’ve survived forty weeks of gestation and babyhood and childhood and being a teenager and part of adulthood, and especially any part of older age (or any combination of these), then you’re literally at the top of the human game – you’ve made it.

If you have someone you love, children, a best friend, or family – even for a short time – then you know what it means to be alive and to discover the things that give life meaning.

If you can read, have a home, are well fed and mostly healthy, and want for almost nothing serious in life, you’re doing better than many people on Earth now and most of those who have lived since day one of humankind.

And you have lived longer than possibly 90% of all humans since the beginning of time and space. Even the animals don’t live as long as you.

So get busy living, in the moment, all day long.

You wonderful thing, you.

How To Truly Truly Truly Save Christmas

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EVERYONE KNOWS THAT EVERY YEAR, CHRISTMAS NEEDS SAVING. So here are some real world suggestions that would do exactly that. And by “saving Christmas” I mean writing funny things about the one holiday that the whole Western world and its free markets seem to revolve around.

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1. Move Christmas to February. Jesus can share his birthday with Lincoln and Washington, and we can extend the holiday cheer two more months throughout the bleak midwinter. This way we all stave off the post-New-Years-when’s-the-next-holiday-blues. This will also give us two extra months for savings! And between the new Presidents/Christmas holiday and spring, it’s only like eight weeks! We could keep the Christmas/Winter break vacation AND keep Presidents’ week vacation as well. Wins wins.

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2. Forget the gifts. I would LOVE Christmas if it was like Thanksgiving – family getting together to eat and drink and then eat pie. That’s it. No gifts – no stress over being “thoughtful” for the people in your life. Don’t get me wrong – I love being thoughtful. I just can’t be thoughtful about everyone in my life all at once while rushing through the mall, hoping that my $15 gift bought at the last minute is special enough to warm the heart of someone who already loves me. I just can’t do it. Maybe if it were one gift per person, either home made, drinkable, or something they specifically told me they needed. Moonshine would cover all of those categories. Ok, you’re getting moonshine. All of you.

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3. Let’s start a new holiday that will actually save the world. I will call it “New Xmas” and instead of getting gifts for people we know, we will ONLY get gifts for strangers in need. Everyone will be assigned a homeless shelter, family in need, and forest to help (you know, buying a tree to put back in the ground rather than the regular Christmas tradition). So whatever you were planning on spending on regular Christmas, you could spend on New Xmas. This could all be done anonymously for various reasons. No tax breaks, assholes. And if you wanted to help a family in another way other than gifts, so be it (helping someone find a place to live or a job or goods).

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4. Reverse Christmas. Between Halloween and December 25th, we would spend as little as possible and only focus on getting out of debt. Then come December 25th we’d all meet at our favorite stores and buy something (just something small and nice) only for ourselves (and maybe finally order that sushi boat for dinner that we’ve been thinking about getting for years now).

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5. HalloweenMas. We combine Halloween and Christmas, and on the big day (date pending), you get tricked or a treat based on your outfit (and possibly your good deeds for the year), which you have spent all Fall and early Winter preparing for the big day. Each neighborhood will get a list of possible gifts to purchase for whomever shows up at your door, and you get to give said gift if you decide that the costume on the neighbor at your door is worthy of it. If not, then you get to keep the gift and “trick” the neighbor at your door by stating “maybe next year” and then shutting the door. Good luck with borrowing their snowblower come January.

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6. Animal Christmas. We all adopt unwanted animals as our one gift and/or go vegan for the Christmas season. At the end of the season you can go back to omnivorism but you have to keep the adopted pet(s). If you don’t want a new pet or to go vegan, then you can celebrate by focusing on another helpless and domesticated population of your choice.

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7. The All-In-UU-Santa-nalia-MythMas…as in we rewrite the “Christmas” story to represent all (and I mean all) the “Christmas” and “holiday” stories including made-up stories featuring magical babies, reindeer, misfit toys, and latest YouTube and Meme trend-Christmas-tie-ins. This would combine all of history’s myths, religions, traditions, and current saccharin cultural tales tied into this magical season. All of them. Get ready for the true tale of a baby elf born on a foreign planet sent to Earth to teach us what giving or retail is all about…and so forth. This could get interesting. Doctor Who Christmas specials would be a guiding force on this one.

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8. Just make it a Winter thing. More than half the “Christmas” and “holiday” songs are about Winter and food and family and making out, so let’s cut the facade and make Christmas just a Winter thing, or at least keep playing the Wintery Christmas songs until late January. Lights, songs, warmth – these are winter themes, not Christmas themes, right? Evergreen trees are popular in winter because, well, almost all the other plant life is dead. So All-Winter-Solstice-Mas it is. Or something catchier. Someone tell Sufjan Stevens, as he will be our official first artist in residence.

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9. Get rid of Christmas all together. Let’s face it: the people who really really really celebrate the real reason for the season are the true non-gift-crazy Puritans who celebrate baby Jesus whenever they can. They don’t need Santa to help with their cause. The rest of us are celebrating a made-up day when we buy that one big gift (and a sprinkling of other gifts) we’d probably save for a birthday or, you know, never. It’s a holiday that demands that if purchasing was spread evenly over the whole year, and we liked seeing our family more than once a year, retail wouldn’t need the get-in-the-black Friday to even out sales and “save” businesses (including Mobil and McDonald’s who love our travel holidays). Just go see your family or buy someone something nice every now and then, or don’t. No need for the big narrative and soundtrack behind it.

Now pass the pie and moonshine. It’s time for a holiday.

The I, The Am, And The Sound Of The Universe

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NOW THAT MY SON AND DAUGHTER’S BRAINS HAVE LONG-LASTING MEMORY RECORDERS, I CAN FINALLY MAKE FILMS. That is to say that their memories will one day be running intermittent loops of how to act in light of dad, how to think like dad thinks, and what I did wrong that (sorry kids) and possibly forgot about but somehow their little brain dendrites locked onto; they’ll remember what dad was doing when they were busy playing and I thought they weren’t listening, or what it was like to ask me questions, or hold my hand, or my brand of discipline versus their mother’s or teacher’s or grandparents’ or other parents’, or what it was like to constantly walk in on me in the bathroom at any time. Almost all of this can be said for my decade-plus years of students, who were always observing the observer.

The question here is: Who are you when no one else is looking? Aside from asking my parents, wife, students, former roommates, and people in close proximity who I didn’t know were looking, I’m all alone in answering this, fittingly.

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As an only child, I had years of practice being myself when no one was looking, and, thanks to great musical and theatre training, plenty of years of also performing on stage and in the classroom, when others were looking. Thankfully I didn’t develop the unique narcissism that plagues many only children, but I did develop a sense that I’m supposed to be great, for some reason, and that odd guilt in part drives me, along with a propensity to perform. That might be generational, however, but it’s a stuck-part of who I am, although I fight hard against such unnatural pressures. “There is nothing you must be, and there is nothing you must do,” goes my favorite Zen saying, which is one of the hardest ideas to grasp and internalize in a world of heavy must-dos and who-be’s. Everyone is someone, right? But everyone can’t be greater than everyone else. So you must be great at being you. Or something like that.

The hardest part of acting on stage is when you’re not delivering lines – so you’re just there, acting like a character – standing like a character – breathing like a character, waiting for lines. The You that is really You is the You who is inside your actions; you are also the sum of your reactions; you are as complex and simple as the next observer and the thoughts you think when you’re reflecting on your performance, either as a character or as your character, whoever that is. You are complex, and multitudinous, and yet you and I are only a little loose dirt.

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When no one is looking I’m practicing for when they are, but also trying to enjoy being alone, which I do enjoy. As a writer I’m hoping for an audience who wants to read what I’m thinking about when no one else is looking; as a teacher and coach I want to be observed when no other teacher or administrative person is observing, because that’s when I’m most natural and hopefully most effective and true; as a parent I want to be present at all times, and kind and smart with my kids, even if they aren’t paying any attention (sometimes I can actually leave the room and they don’t notice!); and as a husband I want to be the same loving friend at all times, whether we’re catching a quick conversation while the kids are distracted, or whether we’re hiding from the kids to be alone together, or, on that rare occasion we get to go out, I want to be the ideal and imperfect person my wife wanted to – and did – marry.

But when no one is actually looking, I don’t want to just be preparing to not be alone. I want to be, and I am, hooked into the same channels I’ve been locked into since my memory-making machine first kicked in years ago. “I’m the same as I when I was six years old,” goes the lyric from Modest Mouse, and I agree. I feel the same “me” as I remember feeling at age three and thirteen and thirty-three. There is something – some layered creature that I feel – is – me, all the time, anywhere, with or without another. My wit + intelligence + memories + proclivities + kindness + anger + curiosity + earnestness + ability to function in a group + a bunch of x, y, and z factors = a good base for who I am, and then how I react when no one is looking gives me insight into what I truly am, beyond just being a good and kind person. I actually aim to be the same whether someone is looking or not, and I’m well aware of who might be looking.

But who you are transcends easy Venn diagrams and a whole existence based on one choice.

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THE SINGING UNIVERSE – There is a strange occurrence that happens now and then when I’m laying down or my brain is on screensaver, and I’ve felt it since I started making memories. I feel this (and can picture it) sensation of a large index finger and thumb gently rubbing together right above the Earth. I can feel it even now, just thinking about how to describe it. Stridulation is the term for it in insects and birds (it’s what they actually do with their wings and legs), and since forever I will – now and again – get this “zone” feeling which is quite comfortable, akin to deep prayer and meditation. It’s as if I’ve folded into myself and am floating in space while the world’s smallest violin plays.

I only know a few people who have experienced this, and, along with my “natural state” or personality traits I’ve felt since I was a toddler, I feel like this is a specific imprint that I have – a definite part of who or what I am – maybe a left over circadian rhythm stuck inside my chemical process since in utero, or maybe a sensation I developed at the right time for my brain to calm itself by this spaced-out feeling. I will call it the Sound of the Universe, because I imagine this is what it feels like to be sleepily floating toward the edge of the Earth’s exosphere, or on the edge of a Solar Wind, or somewhere, floating, safe, and alone. It is a small, secret part of my identity, and happens mostly when no one is looking. It’s odd, and grand, and part of the me that is me and possibly you, if we have this in common.

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Life is full of nobody looking at you, most of the time, most places, even on Google Earth. Everyone needs to be alone as much as possible in order to recharge and center. Sometimes that centering comes when there’s a crowd, and sometimes it happens in the quieter moments of meditation while watching reruns or doing nothing (there’s much to be said for doing nothing, as it were). A third of your life is sleeping and dreaming, when only your own subconscious and unconscious abilities are watching what your other subconscious and unconscious talents are doing or undoing. The other two-thirds of your life are spent with minimal watching, because most people are observing themselves, or the 2D characters on tv or in books. Maybe no one is watching you because there are just too many people to watch. That might be a good thing.

Who you are, in public and private, is a grandiose thing, whatever it is.

And sometimes it happens – a perfect development of who you actually are – only when the children are watching or listening, making films in their perfect little brains.

So who are you when no one else is looking?

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This is the first in a series of posts where I answer Official Life Questions in essay form – the same questions I’ve been asking my students for fourteen years. I plan on answering all the OLQs I’ve given my students over the years, and a new blog will soon appear dedicated just to this writing program. Please Share this post and write your own!

The Coming War Should Have Never Happened, Says The Future

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THIS JUST IN FROM THE FUTURE:

“The ________________ War you’re currently hoping for or at least hoping to enter (whether secretly or openly) will be very, very, very, very bad for everyone involved, especially children, the elderly, certain ethnic and religious groups, and the Earth itself.

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The ________________ War will easily benefit the top 15% of all economic groups worldwide at the sacrifice of most of the bottom 15%. The middle 70% will also suffer from the hellish business of nations hurting other nations in varying degrees.

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Everyone will have to deal with the fallout from the _________________ War, and whoever is saying that war is good is willingly forgetting all the people who will die or lose loved ones and that kind of thing.

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There are many alternatives to war, and people are employing them most of the time in their communities, schools, worship centers, and businesses, but for some reason you all love a good fight to the death, and celebrate the murdering that bring said deaths.

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So please avoid the ________________ War at all costs and reconsider any more bloodshed.”

Sincerely,

 

The Future