new rules for office fridge use

1.

 

From: Management <Management@RAMJACcorp.com>

Date: Friday, June 20, 2015 12:27 PM

To: staff <office@RAMJACcorp.com>

Subject: Fridge use issues (please read)

Everyone,

Management is setting a new rule for office fridge use. We really hate to do this, but recent events have tied our hand/s. The process started when Larry brought to our attention that his manicotti was missing from the fridge. Larry seemed very distraught, sitting in the Management lounge, and explained that no one would admit who removed the manicotti, at which time members of Management informed him they had discarded it as it appeared to be waste. Larry thought that was unfair, and we, listening to his concerns, resolved to create fair rules for facilitating the discardification of waste. The new rule, implemented by Management affective immediately, states:

Food to be stored in the fridge shall fit into specific scent and perceived cleanliness parameters. Perceived cleanliness indicates a situation in which a coworker might perceive your food to be expired, unsafe for consumption due to poor preparation, or so unappetizing it could spoil another coworker’s appetite at a glance. A cursory glance and no other method shall be necessary. This includes bold colored foods, bland foods, foods topped with sauces, marinades, gravies, cheeses, and/or soggy vegetables.

Also forbidden are any foods with strong spice smells, including but not limited to chili powder, paprika, garlic, oregano, basil, thyme, bay leaves, coriander, lemon grass, and (especially) cumin. Remember: If you have to ask yourself if it smells too spicy, then probably…

Foods in violation shall be discarded immediately, and their discarding shall be facilitated by Management. No exceptions.

2.

From: Management <Management@RAMJACcorp.com>

Date: Friday, July 8, 2015 17:33 PM

To: staff <office@RAMJACcorp.com>

Subject: Re: Fridge use issues (please read)

After barely two weeks of the new fridge rule, many problems have been brought to Management’s attention. Which unfortunately forces us to implement another fridge rule:

Food shall not be placed into the fridge not in a container. This includes any fruits or vegetables, which some may consider packaged by nature but for the purposes of a sanitary workplace and equally applicable rule shall receive no preferential treatment in the eyes of management. Any food deposited in the fridge shall reside in an approved container. All food stored in inappropriate containers will be discarded immediately by Management.

Questions were raised by Larry regarding which member of Management should facilitate the discardification, so let us clarify: The offending inappropriate containers and food contained inside will be discarded by an employee management determines has a lighter workload at the time discarding is required. At that time, Larry was deemed to have the lightest load, but when approached by Management, he protested cleaning the fridge as he was wearing his “best” slacks. We deemed his concerns valid, since we hadn’t clarified. However, Larry eventually saw reason and did his part, though his attitude could’ve been better. Furthermore, his comment, “This is [freaking] ridiculous,” which many of you heard, was uncalled for, and he was reprimanded. Going forward we really need everyone’s full cooperation and dedication to teamwork in discarding inappropriate food containers. And we will not tolerate further comments calling office policies“[freaking] ridiculous.”

Remember: An inappropriate food container is a food container that risks leaking, tearing, or breaking if dropped. Examples include: paper bags, plastic bags (even “Zip-Locks”), plastic wrap, plastic “Tupperware” containers (although not limited to that specific brand), glass containers, glass bottles, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, cardboard, other boards, all manner of baskets, and non-clear ceramics. Inappropriate food containers create a hazardous work environment for coworkers and the offending employee himself. No exceptions.

3.

 

From: Management <Management@RAMJACcorp.com>

Date: Friday, July 17, 2015 17:33 PM

To: staff <office@RAMJACcorp.com>

Subject: Re: Re: Fridge use issues (please read)

What an unfortunate turn of events. No one wanted to see Larry go like this. It all has Management wanting to shout, “Come on, people!” Which would be unprofessional, and so we have restrained ourselves. We all have a responsibility to the company to keep the fridge in pristine working order, and as everyone knows, storing foods is not a human right, and comes with responsibility. Because of all of this hoopla, Management is implementing another fridge use rule:

Food non-contamination status must be guaranteed by employee or else food will be discarded. Foods are deemed non-contaminated if employee can prove food was prepared in safe conditions, properly packaged, and not compromised during transportation or preparation.

Unfortunately, not all food items can earn non-contamination status. Since these items cannot be guaranteed as non-contaminated, Management will treat them as contaminated to ensure a safe and positive work environment. Foods that fall outside of non-contamination status include: any item prepared at home (such as “leftovers”) or any item that was not inside its packaging at any time during production including mixing and baking. There is simply no way to guarantee the non-contamination status of these items.

Lastly, we need to address the elephant in the room… more like: the elephant no longer in the room. Larry’s departure wasn’t on the terms we would have liked. However, he had taken some very strong opposition to recent policies and became confrontational with Management, to the point of breaching the Management lounge refrigerator. Upon looking inside, Larry inappropriately screamed, “What the [freak] is this?” Larry then began to throw every item into the trash receptacle without considering the specific rules for use of the Management refrigerator. When Management attempted to dissuade Larry, he replied, again inappropriately, “Go [freak] yourselves.” So, as you can see, it was best for us and Larry to part ways.

Management’s refrigerator shall remain off limits, to prevent cross-contamination in the workplace. Management shall follow current refrigerator use standards and directives, which, we assure you, are much more stringent. No exceptions.

empty office refrigerator rules

Image via Wikimedia Commons

on-timer in progress

Douglas Adams deadline quote

Recently I realized that I have a problem, I admitted it, and I’ve been working to change.

Hi, my name is James, and I’m a late-oholic.

I’m working on it for two reasons. First, being on time is something you learn in Adulting 101. Also first, I got married, and punctuality is very important to my wife, Stephanie. Out of respect for her, I want to arrive sooner than later. But sometimes it’s not that easy.

Stephanie and I have a very different concept of timing, of lateness, of all adverbs of time and frequency. The other day while driving, I said, “I want to take classical guitar lessons one day.” I imagined how great it would be, when I’m a boring, old 30-something, to learn to read music and play beautiful Spanish serenades, to master Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” or “Bourrée in E minor,” songs that require precise timing.

Stephanie replied, “Yeah, but when you’re starting grad school probably isn’t the best time.” Judging from her matter-of-fact tone, you’d think I wanted to sign up this week or stop at the music store and purchase a guitar with nylon strings on the way home. I intend to start taking lessons ten years from now and ten minutes after the scheduled appointment.

Being a late-oholic, though, grows more embarrassing the older you get. Too many times I walked into college classrooms with everyone else seated. A recurring nightmare involves missing the first day or week of classes entirely. So my New Years resolution, anticipating grad school, was to be on time. But I still select which events require an on-time arrival. Doctor’s appointment? Yes. Article interviews? Yes. Birthday party? Nah. Work? Yes, with a sort of ten-minute grace period. There’s no official list. Not yet.

Last year, I signed up for a blogging group called Think Kit. Employees at Indianapolis marketing company SmallBox send a prompt once a month. The prompts fortunately don’t have deadlines. By the end of June, I finished my Think Kit blog for May. Now, in the middle of July, I’m finally completing my Think Kit post for June.

Neil Gaiman once said writers could find work if they had two of three qualities, the qualities being: really good at their work, extremely likable, or always on time. Well, I must suffice on the first two, because there’s no way the third is true. I subscribe more to the Douglas Adams’s philosophy: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

The first step is admitting. I’m still James, still a late-oholic, but I’m working to be more than that. I’m an on-timer in progress.


This post is a part of Think Kit, a labor of love by SmallBox marketing that provides a blogging prompt once a month. This prompt was called “More than _______”

Is there a word, role, or name that often defines you? Time to break free – redefine yourself, building your case out of words, thoughts, or images.

Photo via quotefancy.

June 6, 2015

reading wedding vows

Nearly one year of rapid-fire planning, scrounging, pulling together every little bit like building sandcastles, and when we moved to the next tower, the tide took away the last. Torture, some might call it. Just chaos, I’d reply. But that’d be forgetting. Because just for a moment as she walked down the aisle, the waves—everything—stopped. The limestone pillars toppled, the polished floor fell away, and our families disappeared. So for that moment, it was she and I alone, in silk and stone and lavender. Only she and I and the light dancing across our faces.

wedding photo


This post is a part of Think Kit, a labor of love by SmallBox marketing that provides a blogging prompt once a month. This prompt was called “Remember When…” 

In a hundred words or less: time to dig into the memory bank – share something that sticks out from the past. A smell, a scene, the space between childhood and the present. Make it concrete, make it messy, or make it colorful. You have 100 words: be solid and succinct!

Loose ends in Indy

Indy

I’ve started listing things—restaurants, breweries, events. They’re places I’ve been itching to try for some time. They’re places I’ve been to countless times. With the impending Minnesota move fast approaching, I want to drink it all in, savor Indianapolis.

Here is a list, in no conscious order, of places I want to try:

  • St. Joseph Brewery (& restaurant)
  • Cropichon et Bidibule
  • Chilly Water Brewing
  • Mimi Blue Meatballs (they have a veg. sandwich, so chill)
  • Tow Yard Brewing
  • Mashcraft Brewing

And more exist, I imagine. I haven’t set foot in any of those establishments, but I’ve wanted to since I heard of them. Before the wedding, we stopped eating out… for the most part. It was an easy way to cut expenses to save up.

On top of the new places, we didn’t visit any of our regular spots for a while. There’s Broad Ripple Brewpub and Lindo Mexico and Thai Spice and La Margarita and Pure and Jockamo and Vito Provolone and Sun King and Yats. Then there’s a lower tier—places I like but can’t beat my favorites. This includes Monon Food Co., Scotty’s Brewhouse, and Bluebeard (which beats most places in everything but price). But let’s face it: I ain’t rich.

I can’t, however, separate the places from people. Friends who have eaten there, people who introduced me or who celebrated birthdays there. There are people I’ve tried to get together with, saying we’ll get a bite or a beer at such and such place, then never following through.

I guess what I mean to say is, though I’m excited about the next adventure, I’ll miss people and this place. So if I’m hounding you to grab dinner, drink a beer, walk around Monument Circle, or visit First Friday in the weeks before our August 15 move, please understand I’m not trying to be annoying. It’s about more than food.

Why this? Why now? Why her?

Stephanie woke me around 1 a.m. on Memorial Day, complaining about her knee. The pain, she insisted, kept shooting up and down her leg, but centered in her swollen knee. Groggy, I thought she was being a baby, but after watching the incessant pain rake over her face, contort her body, I knew it was real. Thirty minutes later, we were in the emergency room.

Tired and uncomfortable and smelly, we waited for hours for doctors and nurses. Stephanie, who hates needles, acted brave. But the blood draws and IV line left under her skin put her on edge.

Originally they said we’d have to follow up with ortho later in the day. By the time we got results, the ortho specialist was in. The doctor—a man just past middle age with the gruff, sparse cadence of a Clint Eastwood impersonator—drained blood and puss from her swollen knee. He made me leave the room first, never explaining why. I waited impatiently, trying to listen through the door. Long minutes later, he rushed out, gripping the blood-filled syringe.

Inside, Stephanie was crying. “He said they need to do surgery,” she said, though she didn’t know why. What she said next showed on her face, a sentiment Stephanie often doesn’t express. “I’m scared.”

The doctors believe her strep throat spread to her knee, causing it to swell, but they found no bacteria pockets during surgery. Her blood cultures didn’t reveal any infection either. But during the procedure, my brain bounced between three questions:

Why this? Why now? Why her?

Why would some rare strep throat complication happen? Why so close to the wedding? Why to Stephanie, someone who’s dealt with so much BS, pain, and loss in her relatively young lifetime? Three basic questions, zero answers.

Home after two days in the hospital, Stephanie is recovering from the knee surgery very well. She’s working from home. She doesn’t let much slow her down. She’s tough.

But it is a damn shame to have surgery twelve days before your wedding. To spend so much time thinking about walking with crutches, when you should be thinking about walking down the aisle. People have asked, Are you two upset? This, my friends, is called a rhetorical question.

Of course it’s upsetting—after all the time we put into planning how exactly June 6, 2015 will unfold—to see . But we’re going with it. There’s no use in raging about it, since there’s nothing we can do to change it. Not a thing.

Whether Stephanie walks, limps, wheels, uses crutches, or rides in a palanquin, I will marry her. I’ll carry her if need be. I’m dead set on making things work. When it comes to marrying Stephanie, those three questions are easy to answer.

Why this? I know marriage is a big step, but we’re ready. A friend once told me that when you get married, you just don’t have to worry about being alone, about looking for someone. That may be a poor motivator, but in a way, I’ve felt like this with Stephanie for a while. I absolutely need her and don’t want anyone but her. No matter what, she’ll be there for me, and I’ll be there for her.

Why now? We’ve been together nearly five years, known each other even longer. Maybe it’s because we live in Indiana, where you may as well join a monastery if you’re not married by thirty. Probably not. We want to make the jump, not because we feel pressured. Believe me, the pressure was much greater when we first started living together. As it gets closer, I don’t dread our nuptials. I desire to be married even more, to the point I’d say my vows, sign the papers today.

Why her? The easiest question. In premarital counseling, we had to make a list of the five reasons why we love each other. Mine focused on how great Stephanie is at what she does, how she pushes me to be better through her understanding and blunt honesty. We supplement each other’s weak spots, but we also complement each other’s strengths. We just match. We like the same things, think the same ways, carry the same ethics, and believe hard work makes anything possible. Together we’re more than whole, if that makes sense.

I could go on and on about those three “whys.” But first I’d have to ask one “how.”

How much time do you have?

Letter to my new #uindygrad friends

Dear Class of 2015,

You’ve graduated, I see—literally, since the photos are everywhere. So I wanted to say, “Congratulations! Way to go!” You’ve just marked a major milestone, one you’ll not regret even when the student loan bills begin to arrive. Believe me, I know. After all, I graduated once, too, all the way in 2014, though it’s ancient history now. Back in my day, we waited until May 3 to do it, but as I keep reading in the newspaper, the kids are doing it younger and younger these days.

graduation

Graduation 2014, pulled from the dusty archives. (Photo by Ben Zhang)

Anyway, soon you’ll be feeling a pretty strong hangover—rife with headaches, vomiting, sensitivity to light—that has nothing to do with alcohol consumption. No matter how you celebrate graduation, it’s the graduating itself that gives you the highest high. Soon you’ll be spending all of your time in what some people call “the real world.” Fortunately, some people are what others call “bitter.” Either way, it ain’t pretty. This brave new world isn’t a geographically defined space with where everyone shares the same goal. You’ll have to create your own goals.

Maybe you already know what those goals are. Maybe you’ve known since elementary school what you wanted to be, to do, to win. This is, and always was, yours to decide. Hopefully you’ve landed your dream job already, but for most, you’ll have years to go and plenty of hard work before your big break.

So this is the part where I have some advice. Since you’ve had it up to your ears with lectures by this point, I’ll make it pithy. Two quick things:

1. Be proud of your accomplishments but not pompous. You’ve come a long way! But so has everyone already working in your field, even if you can tweet better. Don’t let people tell you you’re too young or inexperienced to take on anything. However, don’t pretend there’s nothing more to learn. Instead, be tenacious. Talk to people in your field about how they got to where they are, even if you don’t work with them and just meet for coffee. Few can resist free coffee.

2. Ask questions—even dumb ones. After four years in school, you know the old adage about “no dumb questions” is a farce. You’ve heard the stupidest questions imaginable in ethics, anthropology, composition, and all the other gen eds you didn’t want to take. But even the stupid questions found answers. Asking questions means you’re curious, and that’s one of the best motivators you can have. Curiosity is a virtue in my book. Curiosity drives people to do great things without the promise of money or celebrity, but simply to understand our world and the ways we live in it.

Lastly, when you start to retch from that post-commencement hangover, just remember that it’s not the last time. There are higher highs to come. (Ditto for worse hangovers.) But that lightness you felt walking across the stage, even if you never again graduate, it’ll find you, fill up the pit of your stomach like helium until you’re once more walking on air.

The Great Vanagon Adventure, pt. I

VW Vanagon

The snow, a tall patch, unplowed, stood straight ahead on the highway. No time to brake. Two hours east of Boise, it was too late, and I was too tired to think. I pushed in the clutch, held the wheel straight, let the van hit. It all started to spin, and soon van’s rear end was cruising in front of the driver’s seat.

Later, I’d wonder how the road could change from plowed to completely unplowed so quickly. Where had the plow trucks turned around and why not finish the job?

At the time, I wondered if the van would flip at one thirty a.m. in rural Idaho with no one around. I wondered if a semi was right behind me, about crush me and my van as we spun around in the snow like doing donuts in the church parking lot back home. But thousands of miles remained between me and Indianapolis. Being forced to idle, basically, through snowy mountain passes in eastern Oregon hadn’t speeded the journey at all. I’d planned to be in Utah that night. I’d been spinning my wheels, now spinning literally in my Volkswagen Vanagon.

The Vanagon is another fluke of the ‘80s—some square, in every sense of the word, offspring of free love, flower power Microbus hippy vans. It’s the kid in your class whose parents are way cooler, and he’s just all right by association. It features the aerodynamics of a cardboard box, and mine, being a flamboyant dull brown, shared the same hue. They’re unreliable, but this one had made it to and around the Pacific Northwest, so it should make it back to Indiana, I figured.

This clunky box continued to spin in the snow. Its headlights traced the last few degrees of a half circle, plus some. Once the inertia succumbed to friction and this spinning carnival ride from hell stopped, I just sat for a moment. No close trailing semi crushed me. No one honked or waved or stopped. No one else was even on the road.

Slowly, I put the van in gear, drove about a quarter mile to the first exit—one with no services. I parked on the exit ramp, then hopped out to inspect the van. Everything looked fine, no pieces dragging along the pavement. With no street lights and a pathetic flashlight, however, it was too dark to really tell.

It was cold, near zero degrees Fahrenheit, as I stood in the snow wearing highly impractical moccasin slippers. I just wanted to find somewhere populated to park and roll out my sleeping bag in the back of the van. Really, I just wanted to be home.

A few hours before the spinning van, I’d called my girlfriend at the time. She had flown back to Indiana weeks earlier and already reunited with her friends. I just wanted someone to understand where I was at, how the snow had slowed me and a line of cars to a creep through the mountains, how I was tired and stressed and lonely. Distracted, she mostly ignored me. She was driving around, getting into mischief with a friend, and uninterested in my situation. (I wonder why it didn’t last?) That phone call from a McDonald’s in Boise just intensified those feelings.

Standing on the exit ramp, the wind carried sad howls of coyotes. The haunting cries, though nowhere close, frightened me. They seemed to say, What the hell am I doing out here, alone?


This post is a part of Think Kit, a labor of love by SmallBox marketing that provides a blogging prompt once a month. This prompt was “Spin Your Tires.”

Share a tale from the road – a memorable childhood trip, the backpacking adventure that wasn’t quite a disaster, the honeymoon of your dreams, a forgotten itinerary, or something that happened on the way from Point A to Point B. Where the rubber meets the road, or the wings touch the sky (and anywhere in-between) – write your travel tale.

More stories about my old van to come.

Meth lab house still haunts family

Note: This article appeared in the April 26, 2015 issue of The Reporter-Times and has been republished with permission.


meth lab house

Chris Nugent tours his former dream house, showing off his last remodeling project (the banister) and pointing out fixtures removed during decontamination. (Photos by James Figy)

By James Figy | Correspondent

MOORESVILLE — After 60 showings, Chris and Jenny Nugent finally found a buyer for their former dream home. It comes with 2.5 acres on the outskirts of Mooresville, just inside the Monrovia school district. Chris never blamed the cautious house hunters. He wouldn’t have bought it either, had he known someone cooked and used methamphetamine in the house two years ago.

“People come in there, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I love this house,’” Chris said. “Then they find out its background, and they’re like, ‘OK, it’s a nice house — and we’ll see you later.’”

Chris, Jenny and their three young children lived in the meth house for 10 months. They became sick, and their dog developed cancer and needed to be put down. They fled after a test kit revealed high levels of meth contamination. They had to throw away almost every belonging due to the contamination.

Crisis Cleaning, a certified meth and biohazards remediation company, decontaminated the property, making it habitable for new owners. But Jenny said they had too many bad memories to return. Not long ago, they believed the bank might foreclose the house if it didn’t sell. But even if that did happen, at least it was safe, Jenny said.

“It’s decontaminated. I’m not just passing the buck on to somebody else to deal with, like it was to us,” Jenny said. “I didn’t want that to be done to somebody else.”

‘It wasn’t an accident’

Some likely know the Nugents’ story. Starting in May 2014, the Mooresville-Decatur Times, the Martinsville Reporter-Times, WRTV-TV, ABC News, the Associated Press and other media outlets featured the family and the meth house.

Chris and Jenny, who describe themselves as private people desiring a quiet life, never felt comfortable in the media appearances. But they felt compelled, Jenny said, to say something.

“We felt like this could’ve happened to anyone, and we don’t want it to happen to people. It’s been horrible. It has been literally the worst thing that we’ve had to go through,” she said.

“It angers me that it was, we feel, purposely done to us,” she added. “It wasn’t an accident. It was something that, we feel, could’ve been prevented.”

Realtor Lori Argue, who sold the Nugents the house, disagrees. In an October 2014 statement, Argue’s lawyer states she knew the home’s previous owner, her son Joshua Argue, used meth. The statement adds she never saw him use meth, especially at the property.

“There is simply no evidence that Lori Argue or any representative of Carpenter had any knowledge of methamphetamine use or contamination at the property,” the statement says.

The Nugents filed a lawsuit against Argue, her son, her son’s ex-wife and Carpenter Realtors. Jenny said they tried mediation, but the other side wants the case to go to trial.

‘Like Job in the Bible’

When signs of meth contamination appeared, they tested the property and found three times the legally acceptable limit in some rooms. However, Jenny said their insurance company wouldn’t pay for meth remediation. This can cost $10,000, but Crisis Cleaning did the work pro bono, Jenny said.

indiana meth lab house

Chris and Jenny Nugent and their three children want a fresh start at their rental house in Plainfield. Family members, friends, and strangers gave them everything but their mattresses as it was lost to meth contamination in their old house. (Photo by James Figy)

After the Nugents left the meth house, they lived in a hotel room, then an apartment. They recently found a rental home in the Plainfield area. Besides their mattresses and some clothes, Chris said friends, family and even some strangers gave them everything. The Nugents couldn’t afford a new couch, kitchen table, appliances, dressers and toys.

Chris spent more than $24,000 remodeling the meth house, digging into their savings. Moving out devoured the rest of their savings. Even with the sale of the house, they’ll have to take a loss.

Jenny left her job as a probation officer in Marion County when they moved to the meth house. After leaving the house, Chris took a job that pays one-third his former salary.

“I used to travel around the U.S. and even outside the U.S. and fix hail damage on cars. Now I’m a surveyor,” he said. “It’s not like I could travel and be away from my family while all this was going on.”

Jenny’s sister, Chelsea Humble, set up a crowdfunding account to help the family get back on their feet. It can be found at www.crowdrise.com/helpthenugentsrebuild. Humble said so far only family members have donated, and she expected a bigger response.

“She and Chris had worked so hard for 15 years prior as they built their dream and stability for their family. It’s all gone,” Humble said. “I joke that they are like Job in the Bible, but it’s sadly very close to reality for them.”

My Lebron James-style announcement

savethedate4

As University of Indianapolis alumni, we posed for engagement photos at the Smith Mall canal. Photo by our good friend Ben Zhang.

I have some big news to share. At least, it’s big to me. It seems that every year the news gets bigger, and life gets harder yet better as I get older. Faster than you or I or anyone can keep up with, life moves on. And it doesn’t stop.

Thinking back a mere five years ago, I had just returned to Indianapolis, a rejected west-coast transplant. I was working for my dad (again) and living in my sister and brother-in-law’s spare room. Way down my priorities checklist was enrolling in classes at Ivy Tech Community College. Their green and gray recruitment letters arrived once or twice a week. But I had other things besides education on my mind.

I was falling madly in love with a woman. We were just friends. One night, though, we got dinner and played board games, then sat on the hand-me-down wicker furniture in her apartment, just talking, watching movies. She sat on “big wick” while I claimed “little wick.” We talked until dawn, and we walked outside to see the sunrise. Only, it was overcast. We couldn’t see night changing to day, but we knew something was different, that good things were on the horizon.

This same woman I will marry in June—and in August…

…drumroll please, while I channel Lebron…

…We’re going to take our talents to Minnesota.

I will be pursuing a Master’s of Fine Arts in creative writing—lovingly known as an MFA—at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Basically, I will be writing a ton, and hopefully teaching or employed with the English department in some capacity. Stephanie will likely be doing what she does, just working remotely. The cats plan to continue being ornery, and the buns are trying to con us into more treats.

Minnesota State University, Mankato

Home of the Mavericks. Photo via Minnesota Public Radio.

For those of you who haven’t heard much about MSU Mankato (and there might be one or two) it’s a small state school located roughly 85 miles south of the Twin Cities. The school started with 27 students in 1868. Back then, it was called the Mankato Normal School, and weirdos like me might be unacceptable at one time, but the school has had several identity crises over the years. Fortunately.

“The school became Mankato State Teachers College in 1921, Mankato State College in 1957 and Mankato State University in 1975,” MSU’s website says. “In 1998, it took the name that stands today—Minnesota State University, Mankato.”

Mankato currently boasts “[m]ore than 15,000 students, including more than 900 international students from more than 90 countries.” And the Mavericks have men’s and women’s NCAA Division I hockey teams.

The campus has about three times more students than my alma mater. Photo via bestvalueschools.com.

The campus has about three times more students than my alma mater. Photo via bestvalueschools.com.

Don’t worry—we plan to make regular visits and keep in touch with all our friends and family. If nothing else, I have to return twice a year. “You’ll have to commute for cleanings,” my dentist has already demanded.

I’m proud, and a bit terrified, to move on to something new. To take the next step towards my dream of writing books. It’s a big move and big change, and I am so grateful for support from my family, friends, former professors who wrote letters of recommendation, employer, and my bride to be.

After I accepted the offer this past weekend, Stephanie and I celebrated at the Broad Ripple Brewpub, like we did when we got engaged. Unlike that morning five years ago, the sky wasn’t overcast. But we got the feeling that, once again, something is different. And good things are on the horizon.

Shut up and write

Or, how my octogenarian grandfather taught me something thousands of tuition dollars didn’t

Figy Poultry Farm

This aerial photo of the Figy Poultry Farm in Wauseon, Ohio, was taken in the early Sixties, I believe.

So I’ve been moping around, trying to write this and that, and complaining about having no time. I am a busy guy. Hand on the Bible. I’m working two jobs, planning a wedding, trying to be a good fiancé, sibling, friend, literary citizen, and cat-wrangler—and still make it to the gym during the week. Who has time to sit (all pensive and alone with a typewriter and the sunlight shining through the window to land on one’s angelic, writerly cheekbones) and write?

Last night, though, I read something that really gutted my excuses like a fillet knife. It wasn’t an advice book, one of those how-to guides from a bestselling author. Nor was it hate mail.

What I read was the in-progress autobiography of James N. Figy, my grandpa. It’s simple yet detailed. He remembers more about first grade than I do. He’s been working on it for a few years. Each page is handwritten and numbered. It starts in the beginning. What a novel idea.

The writer on vacation in Maine. Whenever we're together, I'm known as "the other Jim Figy."

The writer on vacation in Maine. Whenever we’re together, I’m known as “the other Jim Figy.”

When he finishes a section, he sends it to a longtime friend in Michigan who types it. I’ve been trying to get my hands on a copy for months, promising him it would be easy for his friend to email the file. No luck. Then out of the blue, he sent me an email, saying he sent a copy. It arrived two days later in a manilla envelope, a sheaf of fifty-five legal pad pages. He assured me he has another copy somewhere.

My grandpa is not a writer. At least, that’s what he says. He’ll turn eighty-seven in July, and the wear of old age is starting to show. His eyesight has decreased dramatically. Standing up takes a little more effort than it used to, but who am I to judge? He’s worked his entire life, had hip replacements and other surgeries.

But he’s still full of life. He’s writing a book, for goodness’ sakes, although he’ll write off the whole project. Grandpa will say something like, “All I know is how to dress chickens…and not too much about that.” (What a boldface lie.)

In a way, he’s more of a writer than many people I know who went to college, received fancy degrees. Because he makes the effort.

At the end of the day, what separates the writers from the rest is not spelling (F. Scott Fitzgerald was a notably bad speller), not completely proper punctuation (see entry on: Cormac McCarthy), and not about getting it right the first time. The only true test is:

Did you put words, whether incredible or terrible, on the page today?

Being a writer isn’t always about inspiration. It’s about courage. Writing requires you to be brave enough to fail, to write crap and still keep going.

John Green, who’s not my literary hero or anything, described it as giving himself “permission to suck.” Green continues:

I delete about 90 percent of my first drafts . . . so it doesn’t really matter much if on a particular day I write beautiful and brilliant prose that will stick in the minds of my readers forever, because there’s a 90 percent chance I’m just gonna delete whatever I write anyway. I find this hugely liberating.

Not too recently, I wrote a blog about becoming a morning person, finding time to write in the wee hours of each day. Then I got busy, and tired, and started sleeping as long as possible before heading off to work.

Reading my grandpa’s autobiography last night really pushed me. Before I started, he told me in an email that it’s getting harder to see while writing, so he really needs to start cranking out the last portion. So what’s my excuse?

I’m pretty sure my grandpa has never read Kurt Vonnegut, who is my literary hero. My grandpa prescribes to straight-laced, salt-of-the-earth values, so Kurt’s rampant profanity and—dare I say it?—socialism would be a turnoff. However, he seems better at practicing one piece of Kurt’s advice. “To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow,” Kurt writes. “So do it.”

Here’s more on my grandparents, their work ethic, and marriage.