Archive | July 2013

Novel update…preview of early chapter

So, the novel is coming along. Will have it done by September, then off to the editor…cover design, formatting…copyediting back and forth…then shoot to have it out by Christmas on a Kindle near you. That’s the plan, anyway!

Since people are awesome enough to regularly ask how it’s going, I wanted to share a preview of what’s down on paper in the first portion of the book.

It’s sci-fi, so there’s that. I wanted to see if the opening chapters could explain what the heck is going on without a lot of prologue, so let’s see if it works here by not giving any intro. You’re welcome!

It’s raw at this point. And you might find a couple of typos or poorly written sentences. We’ll consider those proof of your genius if you can catch ’em all!

All rights reserved and all that lot.


Eve laced up her boots and sat on the table in her assigned examination room of the infirmary. After a few hours of tests, questionnaires and waiting, she was running thin on patience. However, the leisurely chatting of the civilian attendants in the hall told her she’d have a little while longer to sit.

Eve looked around the room for the ninth time, looking over the posters warning service members about the dangers of STDs, the upcoming flu season and being watchful for signs of suicidal thoughts.

Three young corpsmen slowed their walk as they passed her room’s open door. They looked up at the sign that said ‘Pre-Deployment’, then to Eve.

“Afternoon, chief,” one of them said, smiling.

Eve forced a smile and wave. They continued on, watching her as they passed. She couldn’t tell the rank—couldn’t tell if the men outranked her. She didn’t care. Neither did the medical types, usually. They seemed pretty casual around each other, a welcome break from the more hard-nosed components.

A nurse came in with a data pad. Eve sat up. The nurse walked straight over to the room’s terminal, entered in some commands and walked out again. Eve breathed deep and sighed. The air was freezing and odorless—almost unnaturally so.

The rooms were bright with dingy light from the fixtures. The whole infirmary seemed old and worn out. Floors seemed musty. Shelves looked a bit dull and worn. Eve remembered when the clinic first opened, it was after her third deployment—maybe fourth. She wasn’t sure.

“Afternoon, Chief Technician…Roel? Is that how you pronounce it?” a woman said as she entered the room, her eyes fixed on a data pad of her own. She wore the uniform of a doctor and Eve was able to spot rank, thankfully.

“Yes. Afternoon, ma’am,” Eve said, sitting up.

The doctor walked over, sat at the terminal and faced away from Eve as she scrolled through the data.

“I’m sorry things have been taking so long this morning,” she said vacantly. Eve was sure she wouldn’t hear any response. “Looks like we’ve been putting you through all the paces this morning,” she continued.

“Pre-deployment screens, yes,” Eve said.

“Exciting, yes?” the doctor turned around and smiled wide-eyed. “The reason we’re here and all, right?”

“Sure,” Eve said.

“No no, I’m serious,” the doctor got up and closed the door, then returned to her terminal chair and looked Eve in the eyes. “We are honored every day for our part in service to our dronemasters.”

“Dronemasters?” Eve asked with a slight laugh. “Command is back to calling techs dronemasters again?”

“Look,” the doctor leaned in. “I spend most of my days dealing with people trying to get on light duty or out of muster or recovering from something they picked up from a one-night stand. It’s good to have a real reason to come in to work. People notice when we send a technician off to the fight. There’s a buzz in the air. People go out to see the carriers launch. Reminds them why we’re all these billions of miles from home.”

The doctor slapped Eve’s knees and spun back around toward her terminal. “So live it up a little. Soak in the hero worship. You’re the only one of us who will ever get close to actual combat.”

Eve had heard this speech before nearly every deployment of her career, each from different doctors saying it as though it was the first time. There had been other adoring stares and curious onlookers then too, whispering about deployment and all. But it was more for them than for her—this feeling like they were doing something that mattered. To Eve, it was another deployment. One closer to the end of her conscription. Nothing more.

“It looks as though your brain scans came in…” the doctor said, her voice drew out in to a strange echoing. “Who ordered those?”

Eve caught a shiver and noticed the cold again. She was always cold these days. She wondered why? And the echoing? Sounds often seemed to echo into nothingness. Eve looked at her hands. The scene faded in and out slightly as if she was about to faint.

Was something wrong? She seemed to feel fine apart from the cold. Was she sick? She looked to the doctor, but the scene had slowed, like a vid playback on half speed.

Was this cryo? It might be. Yes, yes it was. Eve remembered it now. She was in cryosleep, on the way to another deployment. Moreover, she was dreaming in cryosleep—something that was not supposed to happen—something the doctors always said was impossible because of the temperatures—about processes and brain waves. But Eve had been dreaming in cryo for several deployments.

She had tried to talk about it during checkups and pre/post deployment tests, but no one seemed to take it seriously.

“…I’m sorry?” Eve said, back in the dream, noticing the doctor had turned as if waiting for an answer.

“Yes, I see you do drift off. Does that happen often?” the doctor asked, eyes back on the screen.

“Does what happen?” Eve asked.

“Daydreaming, your mind going somewhere else, does it happen to you a lot?”

“Sometimes yes,” Eve said.

The doctor started typing something. “How often?”

“What did the brain scans say?” Eve asked. “Is there a problem?”

The doctor kept looking at the screen away from Eve.

“Is there a problem?” Eve repeated the question.

“What?—Oh, nothing you need worry about. Nothing that will stop the mission,” the doctor said.

“It’s the Gloom isn’t it?” Eve asked.

“What?” the doctor seemed surprised. She turned around from the terminal and looked at Eve.

“I’ve been in service what—21 years? About nine or 10 of it awake. I’ve heard the rumors about the old techs—how the Gloom erodes our brains, slowly burning us out.”

“What rumors?” the doctor laughed, “Who here have you talked with?”

Eve sighed and stretched her legs a bit. “No one here. Techs don’t see much of each other. But I’ve talked about the it before—“

“—Yes, it’s been noted in your records that you’ve brought it up—a preoccupation about this ‘Gloominess’ or whatever the fear mongers are calling it. There’s nothing to it. Quantum interfacing is harmless with the right equipment and medications.”

“But I dream.”

“What?” again, the doctor was surprised. She looked a little shocked, like Eve had mentioned something off limits.

“I dream in cryosleep, and it reminds me of the Gloom. There has to be a connection,” Eve said.

“Nonsense. It’s impossible. Nobody dreams in cryosleep. The brain can’t achieve the levels of—“

“—Enough!” Eve raised her voice. “I don’t see the damn point of all this talking, all these questions, if no one ever listens to what I have to say! I go through this before every damned mission. I answer them the same, I answer them differently and nothing changes. All I get is looks from you people and the same pills.”

The doctor’s eyes narrowed a little. “You have been taking your pills, right? Because that might explain why—”

Eve put her hand to her forehead, the headache was back. “—Yes, yes, blue pills for the implants, yellow pills for my synapses. Yes. But they don’t stop these damned headaches.”

Silence. Eve took a second and calmed down. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I didn’t mean to get angry.”

“It’s alright,” the doctor said. “Nervous about the deployment, I bet. Well, and ready to get out of the infirmary too. Ha!”

The doctor didn’t seem phased at her outburst. Eve sat quietly while the doctor worked, then asked, “About the headaches…the headaches are worse too.”

“You find a boyfriend during this in between time at the expedition station?” the doctor asked, ignoring Eve’s comment.

“What? No,” Eve said, annoyed. “Techs don’t mingle much with the troops. You know that.”

“No. Some do. And it would be good for you to find a good lay while you’re here. Plenty of guys would be putty in your hands after some war stories.”

Sex? The doctor was pushing Eve to have sex? She frowned and shook her head.

“Or women, if that’s your thing,” the doctor continued.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Every body needs some body, as they say.”

“I’m fine,” Eve said.

“Look, the scans say there’s nothing wrong with you…,” the doctor paused. “Headaches happen. Just keep taking your anti-rejection pills for the implants and the synapse invigorating medication for the best data throughput.” She paused, then said, “…But I do think it would do you good to find some companionship. Being on deployment out there alone with naught but drones would be taxing for anyone—even just once—let alone for however many deployments you’ve been on.”

“Seventeen,” Eve said. “I’ve been on 17.”

“Quite right,” the doctor smiled.

The scene seemed to fade out slowly. Eve remembered this happening many times before. Much of dreaming in cryo was slow and plodding. Dreams seemed to build themselves up in parts so that the light then colors then shapes then voices all arrived separately, as if thawing out from her mind.

Eve wasn’t quite sure how long she had been in cryo. Transit times to and from deployments could be anywhere from several weeks to nearly a year. While in the dreaming scenes, time seemed to move along normally, the interim periods of darkness and muffled light and sounds could very well have been days or weeks for all Eve knew. In fact, it’s how Eve supposed those first few years of her non-dreaming cryosleep passed. But somehow, her mind grew around this long slumber and adapted to expressing itself while in cryo—like her implants allowed her mind to adapt to perceive the Gloom, the workspace of the quantum technicians.

This dream space was very similar to the Gloom, dark and cold. Perhaps it was the similarity that made dreaming possible.

The Gloom was unofficial nickname for the never used official yet unwieldy term: Mentally Constructed Visual Representation of the Quantum Space. It was where quantum technicians went to perform their repair duties on the intricate and evolving data centers of modern combat drones—a sort of trance-like state where technicians would use their implants and visors to peer into the circuits and hardware of drones to “see” the pathways of electricity and information as patterns and structures of light and color held aloft in an infinite cold black world.

It was where techs like Eve spent much of their time during deployment, repairing and pruning down the reasoning functions of the always-evolving intelligences of modern drones. Where machines could repair many aspects of themselves—replace limbs, weapon systems, armor plates, they could not, by design (and thankfully by the limits of their nature) fix or alter their programming.

Interfacing with the quantum space to fix the drones’ quantum algorithms required a human mind.  Machine programming would break down and scramble when brought into the data stream of the quantum space.

As if by accident, the human mind, when properly implanted with processing nodes, could not only make sense of the raw chaos of data of the quantum space, but also rendered it with poetic simplicity. Light and color in patterns against blackness. Order, and chaos. Data and information, flowing in streams and structures, like blood through veins and organs. Technicians would “see” a program in the Gloom—see its structures and its components, and with the help of attendant drones and tools in the real world to aid the tech’s sluggish physical responsiveness while in the trance, could perform feats of unparalleled technical panache.

Quantum technicians were the only reason any human was required near the front lines of the Former United States’ galactic holdings at all. The need for repairs in the Gloom was the only thing that kept humans in the game.

Where most of the FUS citizenry didn’t care where its drone militaries gained their victories, so long as it kept their domination of space intact, those who paid attention knew that quantum technicians were the key.

Some considered this human inclusion in this advanced technological process providential—nearly divine. Techs were a sorts of shamans of technology—highly trained, undergoing years of painful training and implantation, to become amongst the most celebrated professions of the new age.

Techs were responsible for crafting the programs and data structures that kept the FUS world-dominating AI-managed economic organizations running. Techs shaped and molded the very natures of the algorithms of these entities. They tended to do very well for themselves—at least the ones heralded as war heroes did.

But Eve was a conscript, forced into service along with thousands of others too poor or convicted of too many crimes to be of any use to the emergent FUS corporate and national governments.

Eve’s crowning achievement was in her long fight to gain acceptance into the quantum technician program. The price was a much-extended term of service and constant disdain from her more nationalistic superiors. But she was confident in a more comfortable life at the end of it all—if it ever ended.

She seemed to drift for a while more in the blackness. Perhaps for days…weeks. Some dim steams of blue shimmered in the distance. It might be the beginnings of the next scene. She put her grasp of seconds and minutes out of her mind, pushed out the constant cold and just was. She’d become very practiced at being at peace here. She smiled, the frozen air biting at her teeth as she breathed deeply.

Another scene never came. After a period she opened her eyes in the dream again, some flashes of light came through in the distance.

But something was different. She could feel herself being slowly pulled toward the flashes.

She was waking up.



Bar scene wildlife


I’ve been regularly going to bars as a single guy for 14 years. Hardly any sort of record, but more than some.

I’ve been to bars in Europe, bars in Central and South America, bars in the Middle East (though I was decked out in armor and an assault rifle and wasn’t there to chat), and bars in the states. Here in the states, I’ve been all over–west coast, east coast, midwest, north, south, southeast, southwest, Cali, New York (city and state), etc.

You see a lot of scenes in a lot of scenes. Most are harmless, some get you into fights, some get you new friends. There are the different crowds, depending on the time they patron (happy-hour vs closer crowds) as well as the type of bar (hipster/”seensters”, microbrew, dive). There are the married people there with kids (you’d be surprised), the married people there without kids, the married people there without spouses, angry divorcées, old creepy leering guys, old guys dressing young, sugar daddies, brooders, the desperates, single women looking at smartphones …on and on.

When I’m out with people, I enjoy people. I laugh, live it up, tell wild stories, get everybody going–enough at least to regularly be invited out. I’m the Josh most people know.

When I’m by myself though, I’m much more reserved. I’m boring Josh. I’ll make eye contact and chat, sure, but I’ll mostly just take it all in.

I’m years past picking up girls at bars, so I stick to my drinks and chat with the bartenders about the wisdom picked up from a 1,000 conversations. I go, stay late, stay still, tip well and stay polite.

When you’re a man alone at a bar, there are few comparable moments of sheer isolation.

There, in the crowd, you could as easily be at the bottom of the sea. No one is hitting on you (at least not often); no one is buying you a drink; dressed in t-shit and jeans, no one is impressed by how you look. You are unplugged and alone. You get to feel everything going on in yourself, be it depression, serenity, anxiety or elation.

And after you accept how you are in that moment, you are able to observe people. After a few years, you start to notice patterns.

Last night was a great example of one of these (on to the actual post, I suppose…long intro).

I’ve seen this scene several times and haven’t come up with a name for it–maybe I should find who else has already named these types of things…I’m sure it’s out there.

Anyway, I was sitting at the bar. Small place, in the basement of a restaurant–speakeasy style. Dark, with a few scattered lights and candles. A friend of mine was playing music, loud but not ear-splitting. It was late, almost midnight on a weekday, so the crowd was committed and already well on their way to whomever they were going to be with. Was pretty busy, bar itself was mostly full.

Two women walked in with two muscled guys in t-shirts and sideways hats. They grab a booth and the women head to the bar to get the drinks. Guys stayed back and watched, like German shepherds told to “stay”.

One was a blonde, one a brunette. Very cute. Young. They worked in and sat right next to me at the bar. They started making eyes and smiling at me and the other gentlemen around. I turned back to my drink.

The boys in tow were joined by a couple of other guys wearing the same getup. The girls had some time before any barking might start.

Two guys, early 40s let’s say, both in dark button-down shirts and jeans, one heavier with teased out thinning grey hair and one more in shape and bald, take the bait and start to talk.

Sure enough, two older guys get in and start their thing. Bald guy is more assertive and tells story and joke after joke. The group is laughing. Blonde has turned away and her back keeps pressing into me as she laughs. Now and then she’ll linger in her leaning. She’ll turn her head to make eye contact and smile. I smile and look back at the bar.

A few minutes go by. Older guys have loudly said “another round” a couple of times. They’ve paired off, leaning in and chatting more intimately. A few minutes more and girls pack up to move back to the booth in the back. Older guys follow along.

I turn back to listening to my friend play. Not two minutes go by and the bouncer is being called over. Older heavier dude is fighting one of the meatheads. Older fit guy is standing his ground. Meatheads are out and ready to rumble. And the girls? They’ve got their arms around their respective young boys.

Sorry to the older gents, but you don’t buy drinks and flirt with pretty girls who came with guys.

Just one of those patterns. “Stay alert stay alive” and all that.


Tired of being Facebook mad at all the things

Iraq. Afghanistan. ZOMG ROLLING STONE, WTF?! Syria. Darfur. Drones. Obamacare. Filibusters. More filibusters. Seriously, can an appointee actually get confirmed by this infantile, insipid branch of government we call the Legislature? Woman dies on roller coaster. GMO CROPS ARE KILLING UR DUDES! Texas abortion bill passes. ZOMG ROYAL BIRTH! Snowden. Zimmerman. Tourist jailed after raped in Dubai.

I’m tired y’all. I’m tired and worn out, trying to keep track of all of the things I’m supposed to be outraged over. By the time I see why I’m supposed to be outraged, it’s on to the next one.

Seriously, we’re on outrage alert every day. New petitions, new laws to combat. New causes to fund. New happenings to protest, boycott…whatever. I’m supposed to cultivate an attitude of rage, hate and vitriol at all times? Am I supposed to keep a log?

“They” say that the average weekday edition of the New York Times contains more information in it than an average 17th century Briton would have encountered in his/her entire life.

I don’t think I have it in me to keep up.

If I’m honest, it’s easiest to become cynical or apathetic. When I covered human nastiness as a reporter, especially during my time at war, the only way I could deal with it back then was to chuckle or think of the numbers. Only five died with that bomb? Amateur…last one killed 60.

Who thinks like that? Who takes a look at the pics he snapped at an IED site and passes them around, saying “Yikes, look at that poor bastard. He ain’t coming home for supper”?

There’s PLENTY to be angry at, I get it. In addition to the 1,000 things of the last few weeks, the Kony 2012 guy is still out there. Who killed Chandra Levy? Any anger left at Casey Anthony? Who sent all that anthrax around back in 2001? Katrina aftermath still has stuff going on. Haiti is still wrecked.

Who’s keeping all those “outrage” candles lit? Who will keep them lit for all the new stuff?

The answer isn’t to unplug and become Amish, but I do think I can be more deliberate at the things I choose to be angered over. I think I’m going to start cutting back on the hate…you know, to aim to be a more uplifting dolt of a man.

So how do you do it? How do you sustain this constant barrage of expected rage?


You heard it here — July 19th edition

Now and then I get to share my enthusiasm for music with others. Music has been a big part of my life, though only recently.

Growing up I never experienced much music. It was something the family listened to in the car, on the way to something, more to fill the silence, but I never was really that important to who I was or what I felt back in the day.

It wasn’t until high school that I really started listening to music.

Then, it wasn’t until I lived with David Vandervelde back in my Nooma days that I actually learned to hear it.

I’ve been blessed to be around people who have much better taste in art and music than I ever did. Still, people often appreciate songs I talk about. I figure every week or so, a blog post about certain songs on my playlist might make for some interesting listening and discussion.

I don’t think I have any huge amount of insight on the songs themselves, but here are three tracks that have impacted me this week.

“Running” by Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx

Now in case you don’t know, Gil Scott-Heron is a spoken-word jazz poet. He called himself a “bluesologist”. He pretty much influenced and inspired most of hip-hop. He passed away in 2011. His most famous composition was something many people are familiar with, called “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”

The song consists of Scott-Heron reciting a piece of his work, which Jamie xx put to music. It’s simple. Scott-Heron’s recitation is subdued. But the words hit you, as good poetry does. I dug it. And it’s about running, which a lot of you crazy people are into. So there’s that.

“No Diggity” by Chet Faker

Who doesn’t remember BLACKstreet? I mean, the kiddies might not know who the heck these dudes were but “No Diggity” remains one of the songs that shaped my thug life, son! It’s a song that gets the head bop from me, whether I’m chillin’ with the hipster cats at some BS “slow pour” coffee shop, or making urrrybody fall in love with me as I cut it up in the club.

Regardless, it’s a song I don’t take lightly when someone starts to mess with it. That is, until Chet Faker did his thing. Ooooooooooooohweee! That’s the stuff! Come get you some new No Diggity, son! And do work!

“Walk On By” by Noosa

At first I thought this was Mirah, who I love for her song “Jerusalem” but then I noticed it was someone called Noosa, who has a richer voice than Mirah (though I love Mirah’s lighter playful lilting). I wasn’t familiar with this Noosa girl (obviously). This song kind of started out slow but picked up into a more poppy, catchy hook. I dug it and it was different enough that I wanted to feature it this week.

Good driving music…then again I usually listen to music in the car and if I like it, I usually say it’s good driving music. Maybe you can come up with another scenario.

So that’s it, gang. Let me know if you like this sort of entry and we’ll get you some more sweet tunes.


NOT a rant about Zimmerman…seriously

NOT going to be a big rant about guilt or innocence. Seriously.

The news has been covering this thing non stop (gee, thanks, 24 hour news cycle). Millions of newly-minted Facebook lawyers are chiming in on all sides. Blogs are churning out. Videos are being posted. Gun control. Racism. Arguments arguments arguments. 

This isn’t about that.

This is about the times people make fun of me for being proud I was selected for jury duty.

Remember that? Well, probably not. I didn’t blog about it. I did have a good Facebook discussion…can’t find the link.

Anyway, a couple of years ago I received a jury summons. I was kind of excited. The day came. I went in, waited around, picked up this girl (the price of being a player is eternal vigilance), filed into a room and then was dismissed. No trial for me that time. I collected my six bucks and went home.

All day everybody was complaining and complaining. People were pitching a fit in the waiting room. They were appealing to be released because their foot hurt or their child was sick or they were inconvenienced. While we waited and the officers of the court courteously asked us to go here and there, the other candidates seemed to be angered and annoyed at every turn. Largely we sat, read, got things to eat and left. It was air conditioned. The seats were padded. I didn’t see it as this huge thing.

Online many people piled on about how they hate jury duty. Some thought it was silly that I was proud to do it. Some people gave me a thumbs up. Some were surprised someone actually took it seriously. However, I’ve also seen posts since that incident where people try their hardest to get out of serving. There are even jokes on the 1,000 Law & Order shows about how juries are full of people “too stupid to figure out how to get out of jury duty.”

Here’s the thing…

If all of the level-headed, put together and generally mature and reasonable people do nothing but dread serving on juries…if the first reaction people get to a jury summons is “UGH! I’ve got to get out of this!”…then who is left?

Our system is built so despots and military tribunals can’t strip our rights away without due process. But if most citizens are so abhorrent to serving that they bend over backwards to get out of performing this basic civic duty, then it’s no wonder juries are going to make some wacky decisions.

I’m not saying the Zimmerman jurors are idiots. I’m sure they made their ruling within the guidance of the court and the evidence provided.

What I’m saying is the people who often complain the loudest often do the least to help the situation. I would ask the millions of people who rage and yell and freak out when they say justice isn’t served (and sadly, it often isn’t), to step up when their turn is called and contribute their small measure of time to making this country different from the nastier corners of the world.

I’m proud to serve on a jury. It’s a way the U.S. is different than most countries. Call me one of these “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” types. I’m fine with that.


I love you but I’ve chosen Texas



I have lived my life largely on the move.

As a Navy brat, my family moved often. Even when we didn’t, the neighborhood around me would change constantly. Friendships, communities, situations, “home” were terms of constant flux.

So when it came to my own life, constantly moving sort of felt normal. Looking at the patterns of things, lives of motion seem to stay in motion. If a job presented itself across the world, I’d jump after it. I’d stay light and mobile, able to cut ties and shift life, sometimes radically, at a few days notice. Living that way would lead to listening and seeing future sudden changes in course.

I leapt at my four-year college after finishing up at community, a move that meant going to a religious school and a major shift in lifestyle. I then leapt at starting up a company with some friends in Michigan, living the uncertain startup life. I then leapt at enlisting in the Army (walked into the recruiter’s office and was in basic training in three weeks). I nearly became an officer. I nearly joined the Air Force. I nearly became a chaplain. I leapt at a job that transitioned me out of uniform at into Texas. I leapt at a job with another startup in North Carolina, surprising my Texas family. Then I leapt jobless back to Texas a year later.

Always seeing the next jump and taking it, sort of like hopping across a river on the tops of hidden shaky rocks.

This last move to Texas was different, though. Normally I would see job first, then location, but this time I had done the opposite. I had picked San Antonio first and now was looking for a job. It was a little strange.

However, the normal “life of motion” machinations were still going on. I’d still see jobs posted here and there–jobs I could get, but jobs that would mean moving.

This week, in fact, I had received a couple of solid leads on work. One might have landed me in a U.S. embassy on the other side of the world in just a few weeks if I’d have acted on it. The other could have led me back to the D.C. area, which I did miss, come to think of it…

…But did I really want to leap after another adventure already?

Nope. I didn’t. I hardly call myself “old” but after a few decades of being in flux, the idea of a more rooted life seemed pretty awesome. I had friends here, a few church families, the chance to invest in people’s lives….

The job thing here would work itself out eventually. While these two jobs and others that I would see pop up on sites and news feeds would be cool, they weren’t here. And, call me crazy, here is where I’d like to be.


Independence Day and all that stuff!


So there was this thing called July 4th a couple of days ago. Happened on a Wednesday, which made the whole week one big stretch of get togethers and lead-ups to get togethers. I was a fan.

My roomies from DC, Adrian and Sarah, were incidentally going to be in Austin, just an hour and change north from my whereabouts. So, I was able to get up there a few times and chill with them. Sarah has family in Texas. They were the hosts for the Austin excursion…some 12 or so of them.

I’ve never had a large family. Dad and I are it for the Salmons clan (meaning I’ve got to get at least four or five wives so we can crank out 20 or 30 kids). My Mom has a brother and sister, so there are a few of them, but they’ve always lived ways away; so holidays, birthdays and such are usually solo/immediate family affairs.

So when I get the chance to spend an evening with aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, step cousins…whatever, it’s a cool change of pace.

Sarah’s Austin crowd got together on July 4th. It was a backyard BBQ sort of deal. Red, white and blue, paper plates, mounds of food. Fantastic.

One cousin brought his guitar and joined in with one of the uncles. We had ourselves a bit of a singalong with requests and original songs by the musicians. It was pretty cool actually. I even had the chance to break out a song that, frankly, hadn’t come to mind in a decade.

Songs are like jokes…you hear them all the time, but when pressed to actually present one, they all seem to hide in the corners of your mind. So it was with me when Sarah’s mom, Corinne, asked me to sing.

“Josh, do you sing?” she asked during a lull between songs.

“Yes,” I said.

“In public?” she asked, smiling.


I then had to think of a song. For all the church musicals, theater musicals, holiday musicals and whatnot I’ve been in, I couldn’t remember a single song–especially one that could be pulled off without a great deal of help from the musicians in the crowd.

So I started to sing “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” written by Scottish-born Australian Eric Bogle about the failed WWI campaign of Gallipoli. It was the only song I could remember from start to finish. And I could sing it without any instruments.

Random, right?

Well it was a big hit–so much so that I was asked to sing it again when I was up that way two days afterward. I was very flattered that they liked it.

Of all the ways to help America celebrate its independence, singing about Anzac soldiers falling on Turkish soil may seem out of place, but the sacrifice still garners remembering. Much like those who have helped us remain free.


There’s an art to getting along with people

I attended a Texas Young Professional San Antonio meetup the other day.

I’ve been to dozens of these things in various cities and settings. It’s crucial to network, even when the long days drag and drain the enthusiasm out of me. Just like exercising or church or any sort of event with a bit of an anticipatory buildup, the initial resistance met while considering my attendance went away when I rolled in, smiled and started chatting with everybody.

I’m surprised at how basic the approaches are at these meet ups. At parties or other gatherings, people usually dally about in conversation before asking what one does or how long one has been out of school–it’s a sort of graceful way of examining the other person. But at meet ups like this, it’s usually the first words that tumble out of peoples’ mouths, “Where do you work? Where did you go to school?”

It’s akin to speed dating, which is fine. There’s not much time to prance around. And some people do attend to make meaningful business connections. Might as well zero in and focus.

But I noticed a few people who are still quite a bit awful at conversation. I mean flatly awful. It’s usually guys (sorry guys)–especially guys who might be trying to flirt. It’s funny to see the women squirm and shift uncomfortably as dude launches in to another one-up anecdote that will no doubt take five minutes to get through.

“Funny” in that it’s unfortunate. And it’s hardly most people.

When learning to be a journalist (and later when learning to be a manager), they would teach you about active listening. They would teach you about building rapport–about showing interest and allowing others to feel their opinion mattered to you, then coaxing that opinion out and holding it in actual regard before steamrolling in to the conversation with your own opinion. They taught you that this was a way to take yourself out of the center of the universe–that, as a journalist, the world wasn’t waiting to hear from you, it was actually wanting to hear from the person you were interviewing.

It’s a crucial difference–this selflessness in conversation (even feigned selflessness to a point). I wish more people would recognize how they can actually further themselves by not furthering themselves. Be someone who can chat with others, learn about others, cultivate a genuine curiosity about others. Some of these terrible conversationalists might find more attention from the very people they are pursuing by NOT bloviating at every turn.


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