2016 — A Year in Review: Questioning, Writing, Wearing the Ugliest Sweater I’ve Ever Seen and Celebrating the Only First Date I Would Ever Need

For me, it wasn’t long ago that the end of the year meant partying like a rock star deep into the suburban night followed by long, lazy stretches on the couch, burning afternoons away and watching an endless string of romantic comedies on TBS.

But now, I’m proud to announce I’m a responsible adult (of sorts). And though I still like a good party ( and a good rom-com), the end of the year serves as a better time for reflection instead of hangovers.( Plus, dading and hangovers don’t mix.)

On a national and global scale, 2016 was pretty awful. A year spiked with terrorism, racial tensions, celebrity deaths, political tomfoolery left us in a state of disillusionment and wondering if that REM song from the 80’s was about to be right ( Is this the end of the world as we know it? And do we feel fine?) Yet from a writing perspective, this much maligned year offered a wealth of material.

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Look at me wearing my finest shirt and pretending to be lost in a deep writer’s thought.

Though a terrible year for humanity (and I feel kind of douchy saying this), 2016 was my best year as a writer. In fact in 2016, I actually began announcing myself as a (dramatic throat clear) writer as I wrote and published 78 blog posts and WoFo had over 11,000 visitors and over 27,000 page views

But here’s something–the writer’s life is not as sexy as I thought it would be. It’s a hard life. A daily grind. One that requires much sacrifice. Early mornings, late nights and the will power to turn off the TV ( goodbye rom-coms). And most of what I write you’ll never see. Why? Because it stinks. Because most 500 word blog posts begin as 1,700 word scrabbles of run-ons, tangents and general old-man-in-a-bathrobe incoherence that I must work and shape and polish before it meets your eyes

I also learned that to uncover good, authentic material, a writer must be willing to probe themselves with questions. A writer must have the nerve (and maybe a slice of schizophrenia) to constantly interview themselves.

And asking questions is something adults simply don’t do naturally well.

My children ask questions ALL THE TIME. Questions do not intimidate them (neither does timeout or the threat of sending all their Christmas gifts back to the North Pole).

But adults, well, we fear questions. We fear the vulnerability and shame that comes with not knowing.

But if my writing in 2016 has taught me anything it’s that questions are more important than answers. That answers are finite. They are subjected to limitations. Hard, unbounded questions spark creativity and fuel the relentless pursuit of passion, of truth.

So with that,  I thought it would be fitting, in this year-end post, to conduct a little Q&A with myself.

What were the things I was most proud of in 2016?

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Write- a- Thon December 9, 2016. Left to Right:Benny, CJ, Jarrod and Me.
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Michelle and Shameek participated in the May 2016 Write-a-Thon. Their story submissions awarded them each The Write on Fight on Scholarship Award of $500.
  • Having the courage to wear matching ugly sweaters with my wife.
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Yep, that’s a gingerbread man sporting a beard and holding a chalice.

What were some things I lost sleep over in 2016 but now can laugh at?

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Haley, Dylan, Daddy and Chase receiving my Teacher of the Year award. Thankfully, my children were not on hand when I received a chilly evaluation from my supervisor.

What are some things I need ( and want to) work on in 2017?

  • Exhibiting daily gratitude.
  • Avoid the seduction of the smart phone when I’m in the company of real, living people.
  • Laughing more.
  • Exercising daily.

What were some of my favorite reads of 2016?

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss– a massive text packed full of insights, wisdom and strategies from highly successful people. This is more of a resource then a natural read. However, it’s an awesome book to have at your disposal when you’re in need of some guidance.

The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday– Reading one page from this book is now part of my morning routine. Each page offers a stoic thought for the given calendar date.  The reading is simple, quick but the ideas are deep and stimulating and linger with you throughout your day.

Home is Fucking Burning by Dan Marshall– I picked this book up in bookstore on a whim. I read the first chapter standing in the aisle. Midway through the first chapter I was LOLing. By the end of the same chapter I was fighting tears. This nonfiction narrative about a son’s efforts to care for his dying father. It is funny and heart-wrenching and chuck full of obscenity ( hence the title).

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen– Ok, of course I’m biased. In 2016 I wrote 3 posts about the Boss, was featured on Blogness on the Edge of Town (the foremost Bruce blog on the internet) and was a 3 time guest on the Set Lust Bruce podcast. Nevertheless, Springsteen’s autobiography is an exceptional read. His musical lyricism bleeds into his prose as Bruce covers all aspect of his life. From growing up in the blue collar town of Freehold, New Jersey  to his fractured relationship with his father to juggling fame and family life, Born to Run offers an intimate look into the life of one of rock’s greatest legends.

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Here’s how I celebrated September 23rd.

Linchpin by Seth Godin– I was turned on to Seth Godin and his blog in 2016. Seth writes mainly about how to run and manage a successful  business, yet his writings have a certain universal wisdom to them.  Like The Daily Stoic, Seth’s writings are short and simple yet packed with powerful, life-affirming ideas.

What were some of the important lessons I learned and wrote about in 2016?

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Chase and I at the Phillies game on April 30, 2016. A game in which Chase collected his first foul ball.

What new idea has got me all jazzed up for 2017?

I’ve never been a new years resolution guy. In fact,  I tend to chuckle at those fool-hearted souls who assume that by merely flipping a calendar their life will somehow magically improve.  But after some solid thought, I do want to make a resolution for 2017. And not a long winded resolution that I’ll most likely abandon by half time of the Superbowl but one that is simple and easy to remember. And because I want to parlay the progress I made in 2016.

So for 2017 my resolution will be to commit to just one word. A word that will provide my life with focus. A word that will proved perspective. A word I can rally around when I want to sink into the couch and watch The Bridget Jones Diaries.

My word for 2017 is ownership.

I chose ownership because I like its flexibility. It can be applied to all areas of my life. Writing, marriage, parenting, health, personal hygiene.

Furthermore, I’ve seen how many adults fail to accept ownership of their lives and become addictive excuse can be. I don’t want to become that kind of adult. I want to take ownership, for better or worse, of my life.

What is one goal you have for WoFo in 2017?

I want to hear from you (dear reader)!

I will admit, I’m still a novice at this blogging business. There are some days when I stare into my computer screen, feel a hot flame of panic rip up my chest and convince myself that I can’t write another post.  But after I calm myself down (usually over a bowl of cereal), take a walk, surf the interwebs for a few hours until I find something worthy to write about. Something I want to share with you.

But now it’s your turn. I would very much love to hear about your WoFo experience.

What did you particularly enjoy on WoFo in 2016?  Not enjoy?

Where and when did you find yourself reading the blog?

What would you like to see more of?

Feel free to leave on message on this post our to send me an email at writeonfighton@gmail.com

Any final words?

Writing about personal things on a public forum is scary business. When I started WoFo I took a leap of faith and had no idea where I was going to land.  I’m truly grateful for everyone who made the leap with me. Thank you for your support, for spending time with me and allowing my stories to find a place in your life.

I wish you and yours a healthy and fulfilling 2017.

Be well,

Jay

PS… 20 years ago, on December 30, 1996, I was lucky enough to score a date with Cindy.

She picked me up at my parents house in her light blue Grand Am. We went to the movies, saw Jerry McGuire, checked out a Christmas light show and found ourselves sitting nervously in my parents driveway playing with the radio dial, making small talk and afraid to make eye contact.

Now there is a great deal of things I’m unsure of, but I somehow knew in that eternal moment, with unflinching certainty, that I did not need to go on another first date for the rest of my life.  We were 16 then. We are 36 now. And even then I just knew.

A lot has happened in those 20 years. Too much to write in this post script but that first date 20 years ago changed my life, sealed my fate. A life, a fate I can only describe in one word…lucky.

j and cin

 

Why Traditions Matter (and the greatest gift a gal could ever want)

Christmas Eve has always been my favorite day of the year. The reason– I’ve been fortunate and blessed to be part of a family who has nurtured the family tradition of assembling on Christmas Eve to exchange stories, laughs and gifts for some 40 years.

Spearheaded by my grandparents Mike and Doreen, the Stanton (my mother’s maiden name) family tradition began on Mike and Doreen’s cozy corner row home on Ambridge Place in Northeast Philadelphia before I was born.

Though my grandparents have passed, the Christmas Eve tradition lives on now at my uncle’s house.

And though the setting has changed, some people have passed away, others, through the complications of divorce have vanished and conversely, through the acts of marriage and child birth, a whole new crew of revelers have joined the party.

It became apparent on Christmas Eve, as I listened to roar of familiar voices, familiar laughter that despite of all the changes, the essence of the night remains the same.

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Good looking family. Great looking Santa! (Psst..that’s me behind the beard!) It was my familial duty to play the jolly man this year.

My Nan’s sherbet punch is still a staple at the refreshment table, the Pollyanna exchange remains and despite his busy schedule Santa Claus always finds time to drop in, hand out presents, take a few last minute requests and pose for a few pictures.

Now, with a family of my own, I have come to appreciate the importance and significance of family tradition. Family traditions bring predictability to our unpredictable lives. They remind us that we’re a part of something larger then ourselves.

And they teach us, the living, that we have a responsibility to honor and respect the past– especially in the modern, transient world that we live in.

Happy Holidays!

Be well,

Jay

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Don’t be jealous of our sweaters! And yes, that is a gingerbread man with a beard and holding a chalice.

PS…Speaking of awesome traditions… my knucklehead friends and I have been partaking in an annual guys weekend for close to 20 years.

Over those years, the weekend has become aptly coined “Mancation.”

So this past Mancation, when tying to confirm a 2017 Mancation date, we cooked up the idea of fashioning a Mancation calendar for our wives as a Christmas gift.

Every calendar month is dedicated to a Mancationer and (in what can only be deemed an act of brilliance) the calendar already has next year’s Mancation dates marked on it (August 17-20).

This way, no wife can raise hell because her mancationing husband forgot to tell her about his four day tradition of debauchery and reverie.

Why?

Because like Flag Day its been on the calendar for months!

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Why It’s Important to Burning Burn Boats

boatburnIf you want to get stuff done, if you want to reach your goals and live a richer, more interesting life you must be willing to “burn your boats”.

Now, before you take a Zippo to your ark let me explain.

The “burn your boats” philosophy dates back to the 5th BC when Sun Tzu’s explored its tenets in his timeless The Art of War. 

However, the phrase itself was coined by the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes in 1519 when Cortes lead a small army of 600 men across the Atlantic Ocean to invade Mexico and attack the Aztecs in an attempt to seize the tribes much heralded treasures.  When Cortes and his men arrived, the wily commander ordered their boats to be burned, giving his men no choice, no excuse–they had to stay and fight.

The “burn your boats” philosophy is one that I love. One, I believe, that speaks to all of us.

By burning our boats we destroy our excuses, eliminate that internal desire– we all have– to quit, to retreat.

Look, we love our excuses. We’re addicted to our excuses. They are familiar and comfortable like a pair of old slippers.

For years I wanted to start a blog. But for years I always found reasons not to. Too busy, too tired, too much work. Moreover,  I found myself always saying, “I should write.” And more and more people kept telling me, “I should start a blog.” But I was too married to my excuses.

Then something amazing happened… I filed for divorce. I burned my boats. I started this blog.

With a new year on the horizon, I challenge you to channel your inner conquistador and start burning your boats. Yes, it may be scary at first but it may very well be the most rewarding and empowering thing you ever do.

Be well,

Jay

 

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Santa Claus is a Drug Dealer


santaMy children are drug addicts. Little blue-eyed, bed-wetting drug addicts.

It’s 9:30 pm and Cindy and I are staring at them gaunt-eyed and almost drooling as they buzz around the living room like carpenter bees on crack.

Over the next ten minutes either Cindy or I (at this point I don’t know who) bark the following lines…

Stop running!

Stop screaming!

What’s wrong with you?!

Settled down!

Get off his back! Your brother is not a horse!

Shhh!

Why are you screaming?!

That’s it… I’m texting Santa! (followed by… Of course Santa has a cell phone!)

Shhh! I said stop screaming!

No you can’t have another cookie!

You are acting like an animal!

I’m calling Santa!

Stop crying!

Santa will not bring you new toys if you don’t clean up your old ones!

Shhh! Stop screaming!!!

That’s it… Christmas is cancelled!!!

Every year Santa Claus saddles his suped-up sleigh, races to the local malls and peddles his peppermint laced drug known as Christmas crack to unassuming children.  An addiction they’ll not kick until they become dispassionate teenagers concerned with more weightier matters such as sleep, tacos and 3rd period Biology.

And though Christmas week is hell week right now,  I know I will soon miss it. Because I know when my children stretch into adolescence they will find all this holiday glee and merriment down-right annoying.

So this week, between deep breaths and pints of Guinness, I’ve been reminding myself that their “out-of-control” behavior is just fueled by unsolicited, unadulterated excitement.

An excitement that is hard to find in the banality of the adult world.

In time, your child’s addiction to Christmas crack will pass and the Christmas season will lose its magic.

So in the meantime, I suggest sniffing some gingerbread crumbs and becoming an addict yourself.

Be well,

Jay

Why Fatherhood is Like Being an NFL Quarterback

My beloved Philadelphia Eagles trail their division rivals, the Washington Redskins by 5.

There’s 20 seconds on the clock.

The Eagles are 5-7, floundering in last place a highly competitive NFC East, with their playoff lives on life support.

Our quarterback, our white knight, Carson Wentz the strapping young lad from the North Dakota plains, who after 13 games this season appears to have all the tools–the strength, the speed, the football IQ, the moxie to deliver the starving Philadelphia fan base its first ever Superbowl title, takes the snap and drops back to pass.

19…18…

He looks right. Rolls left.

17…16…

Bodies clash, muscles strain as 70,000  fans roar like lions under the soft gray December sky.

The enemy pass rush presses forward clawing at the offensive line as our white knight stands bravely, squaring his shoulders, in the quickly collapsing pocket.

25 miles away and sensing victory, I rise up off the couch as Tostito crumbs tumble down my shirt.

Carson cocks his right arm back. Bodies fall all about him. He sees a receiver open in the flat. I see a receiver open in the flat. All of Philadelphia sees a receiver open in the flat.

In my living room I mimic our hero. I square my shoulders. I cock my right arm.

15…14…

Then, a mighty paw like the paw of God appears from nowhere and swings and swats the pigskin from Carson’s hand.

Carson falls under the collapse of white jerseys. The football waddles across the green grass like a lost duck.

25 miles away I’m pointing and screaming, “Get the ball! Get the ball!” as if I’m saddled between the Lincoln Financial Field hash marks, when a monstrous Redskin lineman rushes the duck. Pounces the duck. Swallows the duck.

The Redskins celebrate. The Eagles hang their collective heads.

The game is over. The Eagles playoff hopes flat-line.

I deflate back to the couch with my hands on my head as if covering from enemy fire.

To my left, Chase sits with his hands on his head.

To my right, Dylan is holds the same position.

Both of my boys are waiting for my next move.

And that’s when I began to realize that fatherhood is like being an NFL quarterback.

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This season, Eagles fans slid Mr. Wentz under the proverbial  microscope. We dissected every pass. Every decision. We examined how he handled the pressure of being stalked by bloodthirsty linebackers. We scrutinized his press conferences. His poise when probed with tough questions. His willingness to shoulder blame.

We judged his ability on the field and his character off. We wanted to know if this quiet Midwestern boy was worthy of our faith.

What the entire Philadelphia fan base did to Carson Wentz this season is what children do to their fathers everyday. Our children study moves. They listen to the cadence of commands. They take mental notes on what we value and what we don’t. They scrutinize our interactions with the world. They take in how we treat people.

In his timeless interview with Bill Moyers, an interview that was ultimately turned into one of my favorite books, The Power of Myth, American scholar Joseph Campbell explained that since the beginning of man, children have always looked needed fathers to teach them how to engage the world.

Mothers give birth to a child’s nature and fathers give birth to their social character.– Joseph Campbell

I’ve seen how my children study my subtleties. My facial expressions and mannerism.  How I celebrate. How I handle defeat. And at the tender ages of 8, 6 and 3 my children are beginning to mimic my behaviors. Behaviors that are weaving the fabric of their little mythology.

Fatherhood, like quarterbacking, is a tough business. You’re going to get beat up. Lose confidence. Question everything you know.  You may even find yourself sitting in some darkened corner, ice packs on your joints, towel draped over your head, wondering if you were cut out for this business.

There are no moments more painful for a parent than those in which you contemplate your child’s perfect innocence of some imminent pain, misfortune, or sorrow. That innocence (like every kind of innocence children have) is rooted in their trust of you, one that you will shortly be obliged to betray.– Michael Chabon

It can downright terrifying to acknowledge how much influence dads have on their children. Yet as the dad, as the quarterback, we must accept our responsibility to lead and inspire. That’s what we were drafted to do.

Now, if we can correct our mistakes, survive our trials, if we can rise up after defeat– we can instill a belief, a spirit, a love in our familial fan base. A fan base that so desperately wants and needs a hero.

Be well,

Jay

The Most Important Thing Writing Has Taught Me

The other night, at a little holiday shindig, I got into a discussion about writing with a Kindly Stranger. When K.S. learned that I write, K.S. engaged me in a spirited exchange about our favorite authors, favorite books and why writing can be as therapeutic as island sand between your toes and an umbrellaed drink in your hand.

Our conversation weaved through a few more literary topics when K.S. reached for a cucumber wheel, dunked it in their very own “homemade” ranch dip and asked me, “So what has writing taught you?”

Good question.

I sipped my drink and attempted to conjuncture up something profound. Something Fauklner-esque.  Something that would knock K.S’s Santa socks off.

But all I could come up with in that moment was, “Umm…Umm… this “homemade” dip is pretty good.”

Then the tide of the party rolled to the appetizer table and K.S. was lassoed into another conversation about of all things–cowboy hats.

Such is the nature of parties.

I lingered around the appetizers. Working my way around the veggie tray, questioning the “homemade” authenticity of the ranch dip and turning over the question.

So two days later, K.S. I have your answer.

What has writing taught me?

Writing has taught me the importance of daily practice.

writing-828911_960_720Look, in our fragile human hearts,  I think we know that to fundamentally improve, at anything, we need to put in the work. The daily practice.

We live in the age of the the hack, the cheat, the easy way. We want to believe, that we are the chosen one who will find the mythical short cut that everyone else–in the history of the world–has failed to find.

The daily practice rule for writing holds true for becoming a better person. Not saying that writers are great people, in fact a lot of great writers are pretty shitty people but self improvement, like writing requires daily practice.

And the daily practice of being a good husband, wife, father, mother, friend, student and colleague. Of compassion and listening. Of empathy and tolerance and mindfulness and commitment to a goal takes knuckle-splitting work.

Self-improvement, like writing, is a hard daily commitment. It’s a process you must learn to trust consisting of a million little baby steps often without producing any noticeable milestones.

It helps to remember that even the experts, the Goliaths in any field– Dickens in writing, Gates in computers, the Dalai Lama in life were at one point novices in their respective fields. These experts only became experts through perseverance, through the art of daily practice.

My daily writing habit has made me a better more confident writer. It has instilled a certain courage ( or lunacy) needed to toss my words and guts and ideas on your screen. A courage ( or lunacy) to chase dreams. A courage ( or lunacy) I severely lacked before I started writing everyday.

So K.S., great question!

It was nice to meet you and I hope the cowboy hat conversation was just as scintillating as ours.

And your “homemade” ranch dip, was delightful!

( Psst… I know it was Hidden Valley straight from the bottle… but no worries, your secret is safe with me.)

Be well,

Jay

‘Tis the Season to Pay it Forward! The I Want to Buy You Coffee Because You’re Awesome Contest is Underway!!!

To quote the esteemed Mrs. Ellen Griswold, “It’s the holiday season and we’re all in misery!”

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Yes Mrs. G, it is the most wonderful time of the year.

A time of freezing rain and traffic and hordes anger soccer moms willing to kill you for the last Hatchimal on the shelf.

So to extend the good will of the Write-a-Thon, and in an effort to remind us all to take a chill pill ( yes, that’s what the cool kids said in 1994)  and enjoy each other just a bit more this holiday season,  I’m sponsoring a little contest with a long name …

The I Want to Buy You Coffee Because You’re Awesome Contest.

Why coffee? Because as an avid coffee drink nothing unlocks the chains that fetter my fragile soul then an unsolicited cup of coffee.

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A little visual in case you weren’t sure what a cup of coffee looks like.

So here’s how it works…

  1. On your personal Facebook page upload a picture of you buying/offering someone other then yourself some coffee (coworkers, friends, family, strangers)
  2. Include a brief explanation on why you bought this person/people coffee
  3. Include #WoFoActs with your picture and explanation.

The contest deadline concludes on Friday, December 16 at 11:59 pm EST.

The picture that gets the most likes before the deadline will win an awesome Write on Fight on Prize Pack!

The WoFo PP (…it’s all about the acronyms baby!) includes a limited edition WoFo t-shirt, a book you desire ( you tell me what you’re in to.. with in reason please… and I will gift you a book on that subject), and of course, coffee.

So there, have a great week, embrace the holiday season and I challenge you to buy someone coffee and unfetter their human soul.

Be well,

Jay