A Short Story (The Prelude)

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“It was never something I expected to keep, this love of yours.”

He spoke the words aloud in his apartment, but nobody was there to hear them. She was gone, and had been gone for quite some time. And that … well, that was his own doing.

There’s a specific volume control setting on speakers, the one that borders between too loud for the neighbors and too soft for your own ears, the one where the bass is two steps beyond beginning to resonate—present but not overwhelming, adding life to that song on your playlist.

And presently, it was overwhelming.

The hardest part of losing someone you love is one-fourth when you keep your love for them, one-fourth when they keep their love for you, and one-half when you keep your love for each other. It’s a recipe not easily forgotten.

The things he should’ve thrown away—or thought he did—were still there. The emails. The texts. The photos. Damn, the photos.

And then, there are the things he couldn’t even drink away. The movies, the songs, the memories of phone conversations so inextricably intertwined with places they would now only visit separately … or with someone else.

As he walked to the kitchen, the sound of sirens made their evening appearance. They were a regular occurrence but they were always in the distance, signaling to him that he must be living in the right spot. They were always far enough away to remind him that troubles existed. Just not at his doorstep.

He poured his usual and took his place on the couch. Bare feet propped on the coffee table and glass carefully resting against his jeans-covered leg, he opened his well-used notebook to a blank page. The writing that was to be done wasn’t necessarily meant to be seen. Ever. But, it was necessary that the words be written. He began writing.

It was never something I expected to keep, this love of yours.

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Clink

Instagram 2013

There are those interesting nights where you find yourself completely exhausted and ready to sleep but, once you lay your head on the pillow, you find that sleep is not yet ready for you. You’re not exactly restless yet not exactly preoccupied, not exactly excited yet not exactly troubled. It’s a little like being uncomfortable in your own skin, an actor attempting to portray having a sinus headache in a TV commercial for over-the-counter sinus headache medication.

Your thoughts drift seamlessly between what was, what is, and what may yet come to be—the due date you keep changing for the task you’ve meant to complete for months … whether to shave tomorrow or wait one more day … how you’d like to one day have a drink with that person whose thoughts you just read because somehow they read your own.

It’s looking back and looking forward, all at the same time. Which is, today, where we find ourselves.

New Year’s Eve.

If you’re like me, this time last year held little indication—maybe a few hints here and there—of what 2013 would fully hold in store. But one thing would come to be certain: the year was exceptional. It was exceptional in the missed chances and the seized opportunities, alike.

To me, rather than a farewell, New Year’s Eve is the one true chance we have to say, “hello,” to the past 364 days. This is the one true chance to see how all the pieces fit into a puzzle of our own making. The other 364 days move too damn fast to watch the process. The other 364 days offer a puzzle that’s incomplete.

So today, before ringing in 2014—or before falling asleep prior to the clock striking midnight—take a minute to say, “hello,” to 2013. That, my friends, is the first piece to building the puzzle of 2014.

Cheers to you, and all my best wishes for your new year …

*clink*

Putting an End to Childhood Hunger

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Please join me.

The annual TwEAT OUT for No Kid Hungry is happening on Monday, and people across the U.S. will be on Twitter all day (please be sure to follow #NoKidHungry) spreading awareness about the Dine Out for No Kid Hungry. We have tremendous support, but still need YOU!

How can you help Team No Kid Hungry reach our goals?

  • Help us reach 2,000 bloggers to spread the Dine Out for No Kid Hungry message (in fact, please feel free to copy this post and publish it on your own blog)!
  • On Sunday, Sept. 15 (or before), post a blog asking your network to participate in the TwEAT OUT and include these details:

Thunderclap twEAT OUT

Over 8,000 restaurants have signed up to participate in the Dine Out For No Kid Hungry from coast to coast. Now, we need your help in making sure that you, your friends, and your family make the event a success by visiting participating restaurants during the month of September, especially the week of Sept. 16-21.

To start the week with a bang, we’re holding a TwEAT OUT all day on Monday, Sept. 16. Join in the fun and help spread the word about Dine Out For No Kid Hungry on Twitter and Facebook!


When: Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, 9 a.m.—9 p.m. ET

What: twEAT OUT for No Kid Hungry

How to Participate:

  • Sign up on Thunderclap to spread the #NoKidHungry message simultaneously on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr: www.nokidhungry.org/thunder
  • On Twitter:
  • Follow @DineOutNKH and @NoKidHungry, and retweet messages about the Dine Out for No Kid Hungry from those two accounts.
  • Use the hashtag, #NoKidHungry, in all your tweets.
  • Sample messages:
    • Tweet this: Dine out for #NoKidHungry! Visit nokidhungry.org to find a supporting #restaurant near you!
    • Tweet this: Eat, Tweet, Help End Childhood Hunger! On 9/16, use #NoKidHungry & twEAT Out
  • On Facebook:
  • “Like” the No Kid Hungry Facebook page.
  • Share news about Dine Out For No Kid Hungry with your Facebook friends:
    • Share this: Love food? Love #NoKidHungry? Join thousands of restaurants coast to coast and dine out for No Kid Hungry! Visit nokidhungry.org to find a restaurant near you.
    • Share this: Join us! September 16 we’ll eat, tweet, and help end childhood hunger! On Twitter? Join us in the twEAT Out for #NoKidHungry!

Not on Twitter or Facebook? That’s okay—you can find No Kid Hungry on Instagram and Pinterest, too!

I hope you’ll join me. Together, we can mark the beginning of the end of childhood hunger in the U.S.

The rain-soaked shirt, and the worst airport for sporting a hangover

I was standing in front of the hotel’s lobby elevator, waiting for the doors to open to lift me back to the third floor.

And, I was dripping wet.

This tends to happen when you’ve spent the previous half-hour running city streets in a downpour, dodging lightning along the way while trying to navigate your return route via your smartphone—all without drowning said smartphone.

Back in my room, I began the task of peeling off my rain-soaked shirt (could I get a hand, here?!) and made a mental list of what led to it all:

  1. Upon arrival in this particular city, its airport was described by a friend as, “… the worst airport for sporting a hangover.”
  2. I was spending time with new acquaintances/old friends.
  3. FOMO.

A fear of missing out will lead you to all kinds of places. It will lead you to dinner and drinks, to bars for more drinks (not too many, though, because of item #1 in the above list), and it will lead you back to your hotel—no matter the current weather conditions—because you’d prefer to catch the flight with your name on it, the flight departing from the worst airport for sporting a hangover.

A fear of missing out will lead you to all kinds of places. And, if you’re doing it right, it will always lead you back home.

Says Who

Coming from a marketing and branding background, I’ve been conditioned—mostly by myself—to immediately judge what I like and don’t like, what constitutes a job done well, what could’ve used a little more time on the grill.

I try to keep those things in mind when the tables are turned. The problem with that approach, however, is that it’s still singularly focused. It’s like trying on clothes in a dressing room with whacked-out mirrors and bad lighting. We see what we want to see, creating faulty versions of ourselves … our products … our services.

Which brings me to the subject of product creation and development. Who says what you should be offering to the world, if you’re in the business of offering things?

A couple of years ago, I was an instructor at a social media marketing/branding workshop in Dallas. Also at the time, I was firmly entrenched in the development of my personal brand. I had a good idea of what I wanted my online presence to be, the look and the feel, but I was struggling with how to differentiate.

That’s when it happened.

During the workshop, we were going to give prizes to attendees and, as one of my fellow instructors was explaining the concept to the class and mentioning the prizes up for grabs, he casually added to the list, “Breakfast with Chris Reed.”

A product was born.

Please understand: this is something I NEVER would have suggested. I’m fairly confident in my cooking abilities—breakfast and otherwise—but this was a bit outside my comfort zone.

The thing is, people liked it. Quickly. Demand was high and supply was low. Co-ed arm wrestling for the prize happened (yes, really). A Twitter hashtag, #breakfastwithchrisreed, was even spotted and, on occasion, still is.

It’s all been in good fun (I think … I mean, the arm wrestling was intense), but the lesson learned has been a valuable one. Now, whenever I’m challenged with something to create, develop or offer, I listen to what the audience might want and see if it works with the brand. They’re the ones who say. Not me.

Besides, breakfast is more fun when it’s made for two.

In Writing

YourName

A few days ago, I was standing over someone’s desk, offering an opinion on something or another. They began making some notes, not necessarily because what I was saying was so noteworthy, but just adding to an already lengthy ‘to do’ list. I watched as my name was scripted next to one of the items.

In ink or pencil, it leaves a mark.

Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about seeing your name interpreted by the handwriting of another. There’s something … intimate … about it.

A person’s handwriting is unique among all the other scribbles, after all. Even when everything else seems familiar, there’s probably a difference in everyone’s ‘I’. You might choose a different letter to compare.

My first recollections of this fall somewhere between being old enough to have to open—and read aloud—the cards before unwrapping the presents to which they were attached, and having to deliver to my parents a note from my teacher describing my participation in a playground brawl (a simple misunderstanding of kickball etiquette among my fellow male first-graders).

They all read the same name, and they still do. All that different handwriting for all different reasons with all different intentions because of all different emotions. It makes things personal, writing a name. And when the name you’re reading is your own, a connection is made with the person who wrote it.

So why come to this revelation now? Maybe it’s because seeing my name in someone else’s handwriting isn’t in as many cards as it once was. Maybe it’s because seeing our names in writing is so rare these days (email signatures, anyone? @TwitterHandle, anyone? INSERT_FIRST_NAME INSERT_LAST_NAME auto-tagging on Facebook, anyone?). Maybe we should use names, first names, more often in our correspondence, no matter the form.

Its effect enhances its intention, something that works both ways. And although the connection might be fleeting, it lingers a bit longer.

See you soon, _______________.

Get as close as you want

She was dressed in white, and that might have been a bit premature.

When I was a photographer, I spent lots of time at weddings. And when I began in photography, I was a photographer’s assistant—carrying equipment, setting up lights, reloading cameras, switching lenses and, among other things, taking meter readings.

That’s what I was doing when she was dressed in white. She was dressed in white because she was the bride. I was taking a meter reading because lighting is critical when there’s an extreme contrast between two things such as a white wedding dress and a black tuxedo.

And, because brides and grooms traditionally don’t see each other prior to the ceremony, I—being dressed in black—stood in for the groom, careful not to touch her veil in any way, shape, or form.

I apologized for having to momentarily invade her personal space, for being so close. She said, “Don’t worry. You can get as close as you want.”

Had I been a different kind of guy, I might have accepted her offer. I might have made an excuse to lead her to a secluded room on the premises. I might have introduced my skin to hers, and she could have even remained dressed in white during the encounter. The dress would have been slightly askew by the end, of course, but at least it would have been on.

None of those things happened. I kept doing what I was doing, assisted in capturing the images of her wedding day, and I wondered if her fashion decision was as unfortunate as someone wearing a white t-shirt during a downpour. Those things get really transparent, really fast.

And until now, I’m not even sure I acknowledged her proposition.

“You can get as close as you want.”

It’s a good piece of advice, applicable to practically anything the heart desires … a new job description, a healthier body, an introduction, an Oreo … anything.

It’s the timing that’s tricky. And it might be time to ignore the timing, itself.

Long lines, and making that become this

The lines were never too long. Seems like a strange thing to say, really, especially considering it was Walt Disney World.

Florida was a frequent summer vacation spot for my family—Fort Myers, Sanibel, Fort Lauderdale, the Keys. But, Disney was the favorite. And around the time I was slightly above 13 years old, I was allowed more and more time to explore the place on my own.

Which means the further past 13 I went, the more I was looking for girls.

My favorite spot was Space Mountain. The lines and their back and forth seemed to go on forever. The anticipation of the thrill, the background of joyous voices, and the dimly lit place was an early introduction to bar and club experiences I’d see when I was even further past 13. But at that time, the atmosphere inside that building sufficed. Hell, it was all I could handle.

Things haven’t changed that much, honestly.

I’d take my place in line, hoping for the best. The ‘best’ being that some teenage girls would be on their own just like me, not too far ahead or too far behind in line, and we’d make eye contact. And then we’d make eye contact again.

Told you. The back and forth of long lines, that was a good thing.

Eventually—if I was lucky—we’d say, “hi,” to one another. On the next pass, we might exchange names. The next, one of us might cut line.

This only happened once (in all my attempts), so don’t take this as advice on how to meet girls at Walt Disney World.

Anyway, she and her friend were from Texas. If I remember correctly—and I like to think that I do—they were in Florida for a marching band competition. We talked for the remainder of the wait in line, rode Space Mountain together, and made plans to meet at Epcot the next day.

We met in the Mexico pavilion which seemed appropriate to me at the time, given she was from a state that bordered the country anyway. We spent a few hours together, even as her friend became increasingly agitated being the third wheel. Sorry about that, friend.

We exchanged addresses and phone numbers. She wrote. I wrote. She called, we talked.

And that was that.

Over the years, I’ve found myself in that back and forth of long lines, hoping to make eye contact, oblivious to the fact that things haven’t changed much, even this far past 13. Too much of, ‘that was that,’ not any of that became this.

I’ve seen the shorter line. Now … if I can just get back in it.

The Five Most Influential Books of My Life

“Don’t waste your time with books and stuff!” – The Bear Detectives

I don’t know how many books I’ve read in my life, but there are very few—if any—I would consider to have been a waste of time. Despite the lack of cataloging my reading conquests, there are five books I’ll never forget. Some were bought, some were borrowed and some were assigned, but they were all influential. Here they are, in chronological order:

The Bear Detectives
Allegedly, I could read this book before I knew how to read. My family will tell you that I had the book memorized, page by page, and I’d recite it as they flipped from one page to the next to see if the Berenstain Bears would discover what happened to their prize-winning pumpkin. I have vague recollections of those performances and, yes, it is as adorable as it sounds.

The Great Brain
This book is the first in a series of eight, and I devoured them all in hopes of having my own great brain (I’d still read them today, kid’s book or not). I’m guessing I was in the fourth grade when I read the first one, and that’s when I discovered my love for reading. You can’t make someone love reading anymore than you can make them love bourbon. I love both, so win-win.

Pet Sematary
Seventh grade brought my first oral book report. Why I chose a Stephen King novel is beyond me, but it made for quality grade school entertainment. In addition to presenting a five-minute report in front of the class, we also had to dress as one of the characters. That wasn’t enough for me.

I also told the story from the main character’s point of view, in the first-person. AND I walked up and down the rows of desks as I recounted “my” story, freaking out a few classmates in the process.

For 15 MINUTES.

I got an A and a request to repeat the performance for another class.

To Kill a Mockingbird
Advanced English classes in high school introduced me to the highs and lows of assigned reading. That is where I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, and it was the highest of the high. The characters, the storytelling, the blurred line between fiction and reality … it made me love literature.

And it showed me what can be done with the written word.

High Fidelity
In my twenties, I struggled a bit with books … probably because the majority of them were college text books. But High Fidelity, that one brought color back to my world. There is no book on my shelves even remotely as dogeared as that one (some pages more than once, I kid you not).

I’d never read anything as honest about relationships, and it had the reflective qualities of a mirror—the kind that makes you look good one day and bad the next. I remember thinking, “I want to write like THAT.” Still do.

For those of us who love to read, books aren’t a waste of time. They enhance it.

The First Date

Tomorrow, I’m going on a first date. I would say it’s going to be of the blind variety, but I’ve seen pictures of her. She’s pretty.

Others have always had good things to say about her. At worst, she’s gotten an average review. At best, I’ve heard she’s the only company worth keeping. And in at least one fictional world, she’s encouraged daily to “stay classy.”

I have a date with San Diego.

It’s a five-day first date, and I’m not sure how it’s going to end. Am I going to kiss her when it’s over and begin making plans for the next meeting, or will it be an ass-out hug all the way home?

Fine. It’s just me visiting a city for the first time. But it might as well be a first date with the careful choosing of clothing (should I pack a tie?), the double-checking of personal grooming accessories (sufficient supply of deodorant), and ensuring various forms of payment (credit, debit and two dollars) are easily accessible before leaving the house.

I’m going into it with an open mind. I’m going to listen carefully to what she has to say. I’m going to notice the effect she has on me. I’m going to tell her good night, and I’m going to see her when she wakes up in the morning.

Because while it was the influence of others that brought me to this place, keeping my eyes open is what will bring me back.

I wonder what she’ll think of this shirt…

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