Frustration, Distraction, and the End of the Snippets*

*For now, anyway — they will come again for Act One of The Flicker of Ghosts

Ever shop for bar-height tables and chairs?  Sure you have; anyone who has thought even remotely about redoing their kitchen or dining room has looked into various options.  Usually, for most of us, the price tag of new furniture ends those dreams of a “new living space” pretty darned quickly.

So, take that (expensive) furniture shopping/fantasizing and multiply it to 15-20 tables, and 100 or so seats…

*sigh*

I wish I had paid a lot more attention when I took wood shop all those years ago; at least then I could have pretended that I could make my own stuff!  At this point, I have no choice but to go with what others want to charge for their stuff.

Err, never mind.  Time to stop distracting myself with that stuff.

If there is one firm commitment I have made to myself, it is to not let my work and efforts to open the brewery overflow into my writing.  Oh, it will undoubtedly flow into the content of my writing, but (hopefully) not into how I go about things.  For very good reason I am doing my best to keep both this blog and my personal writing completely separate from my real world business efforts.  That is, of course, also why this blog has been so sporadic lately…

I can’t tell you how much I look forward to sitting in the corner of my own taproom, with my earbuds firmly in place to keep the customers at bay, and writing the words and emotions that I have allowed to build up behind my own personal dam of worry, stress and hope.  Hell, half (at least) of the reason I want to run my own place is so I always have the perfect to go and write!

At any rate, I thought about doing a quick snippet on Connor, but then I realized just how much of The Silence That Never Comes I have already put up on this blog.  The entire first act, in fact.  Oh, in terms of word-count that is only something like 20% of the story, but it is still an awful lot to put up for, well…for free.  So, I am going to stop posting snippets.

Err…umm…I’m going to stop after I (re)post this last one!  The final scene of that book, as a matter of fact.  Now, just how Connor goes from a 50th floor office to this last scene is, well…it’s the other 75% of the damned story!  Oh, and yes, this really was in fact the very first scene I wrote for this entire story!

“Hi, Mom”

The room was dark, but Connor didn’t need the light.  Hell, he didn’t want the light.  Not for this.  This was private.  This was his.  Maybe the only thing in the miserable fucking universe that fit that description.

The screen snapped open, still crisp and new, and the icons displayed there glittered in a bright cheerfulness that annoyed the shit out of him.  Connor still couldn’t bring himself to use his new implant, however.  Not when he had other options.  He knew that implant was safe — that he had made sure of himself — but it still was something far too new, and far too dangerous, to ever really trust.

Several taps of his fingers and the screen scrambled in a wave of colors.  Less than a second later a logo appeared.  He had come to know that logo…and to fear everything it represented.  He punched in a code — a very specific, very special code — and waited while the network routed his call.

There was a hint of static on the screen, and a buzzing through the speaker newly implanted in his inner ear.  The jamming and security measures he had set up were fighting the taps and tracers he knew were seeking him.  He hoped he had done his work well; if that security failed, a lot more people than just he were going to die.

Another wave of colors, in answer to his code, then a face appeared.  It was old, that face.  Older than he would have thought.  The light hair was turning distinctly grey and there were lines around the mouth and eyes.  Those eyes still held life, however, and a lightness that he had never really seen before.  Certainly no Docksider had ever had eyes with that much humor and hope in them.

A puzzled expression and the woman opened her mouth, about to speak.

Connor cut her off — he had thought through this moment a million times over the past days, had envisioned how it would turn out.  The fact that every single one of those dreams ended in misery and pain was just a fact of life.  How could it ever be any different for him?  Shou ga nai.

A choke for a moment, a second to find his breath past the block in his throat, then he spoke, “Hi, Mom…”

{Musical Note — I’ve mentioned these guys more than once as a major influence on me, but I wanted to go with them again. This song, especially, has as much to say to me personally as it does to Connor. And, yes, to ”get it” you really do have to listen to the lyrics! I post the live version because, well I absolutely love live music…and because I was actually at this particular show (at Denver’s Red Rocks amphitheater), so it has a huge place in my heart.}

Old Habits

I went to the beach today.  The weather is just starting to turn fall-ish, and a couple of hours sitting in the sun and breeze, watching the boats go by, seemed like just the thing for a relaxed “me day”.

Now, astute readers will remember that I (finally!) started sailing again a year ago, after an all-too-long layoff.  Before that break from the water, I was actually pretty good.  I could handle a boat in all sorts of weather without embarrassing myself.  I even took part in a handful of competitions, both as crew and as captain.  But nowadays?

Nowadays, I’m lucky if I don’t end up capsized on top of the damned dock; but that’s not the point.  No, the point is I was watching these sailboats…and getting all holier-than-thou judgmental.  “Trim your jib, man!”  “Good God, who taught you to take in a spinnaker?!”  “Tack…tack…TACK!  For the love of all that’s holy, tack you jackass!”

I think I need to switch to decaf.

Ahem.

The point of the above is falling into habits.  Actually, it’s more than that; the true point is about falling into old habits.  Being confident — arrogant, even — in my own abilities, to the point where I can and will criticize others, is an old habit that I once thought I had outgrown.  But, no…scratch deep enough — as I did this morning — and you will still find the self-confidence that borders on arrogance.  Of course, if you scratch even deeper, you will find also all those insecurities, doubts and fears that are so much a part of that damned black dog…

But even those aren’t the old habits I wanted to write about.  No, what pushed me to write this afternoon was a bit more mundane, but far more insidious: The habit of survival.

Oh, I don’t mean survival when trapped between starvation and an angry grizzly, nor survival when trapped between fight or flight.  No, I mean survival when trapped between…existing and living.  When trapped between fatigue and need.  To boil it down even further, I am talking about survival when excitement is deferred — and oh-so-distant — while you hang suspended between apathy and doubt.

That existence, that habit, by the way — the one suspended somewhere between success, apathy and doubt — that is one I think every freaking writer can identify with.  For me, that old habit rears its damned head when I take on “other” work to make ends meet.  It comes when the paychecks are regular, and the days fall into the miserable rhythm of go to work, come home, get paid.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Week after week.

Often, you don’t even realize how quickly time passes in that existence.  You just think to yourself, “I’m tired, I’m not gonna do the extra stuff today.  I can make it up later.”  Then, before you know it, it is already the next weekend…and you are still tired.  There are still excuses.

To put that insidious old habit in the words of the song I am appending below, you flinch.

It’s natural, you know, to flinch.  We all do it.  The trick is to realize when you are doing it…and to learn to fight that impulse.  That flinch — that existence — can become a lifelong habit all too easily.  The choice belongs to no one but you…and to me.

It’s like giving up drinking*, you just have to say to yourself, “Not today.  I’m not going to flinch today.”

*Ahem.  Hush now.

{Musical Note — Yeah, I know, I’ve been linking Dave Hause songs a lot lately.  In my defense, I’ve also been listening to him a lot lately!}

Amidst Disaster

Okay, so…

Look, I know I’m weird, alright?  I mean, who else writes the last scene of a story before he even has the plot nailed down?  Who else takes a story outline and proceeds to write scenes at random within the defined timeframe?  Who else would abandon a good paying job to be a writer?*

*And now a brewer…

Yeah, I get it.  You wouldn’t let your daughter so much as answer my call, let alone marry me.  I wouldn’t let my daughter marry me, either, to be honest.  I honestly am nothing more than a 12-year-old with a car and a (sorta) job.

Well, that and I happen to have a hell of a lot of experience of life and the world.  Not a lot of 12-year-olds can claim to have got drunk with a president*, or to have slept accidentally in a Spanish brothel, or to have lost (repeatedly) at pool to a renowned physicist, or to have fled from a mother grizzly who decided I was a bad influence on her cubs…

*of the Czech Republic, not the US, but it still works!

I’ve said it before, but the simple truth is that I have been (almost) everywhere, and done (almost) everything.  I’m that Forrest-Gump-type-idiot whose obituary is going to be longer than his list of actual accomplishments.

And do you know what really sticks with me out of all that adventure?  The disasters.  The failures.  The involuntary descent into fight-or-flight.  The moments that not only tell you that you are truly alive, but that also break down the barriers between you and…well…everything.

I’ve mentioned before, but when I travel alone, the first thing I do in a new city is get lost.  I don’t mean ‘can’t find the Michelin-starred restaurant on this block’ lost, I mean ‘what the fuck country am I actually in?’ kind of lost.  That kind of lost has shown me the best and worst of humanity.  Because I (willingly) suffer the disaster of getting lost, I have watched a hooker work a john while her daughter watched from the shadows…

I have stumbled upon the insanity of the stalinist apartment blocks in eastern Europe…

I have found the most perfect field of wildflowers off the coast of Croatia…

I have lit candles to the dead in a private side-chapel in St. Peter’s…

I have drunk shochu with yakuza in a Tokyo suburb…

Hell, I also drank whiskey with IRA “enthusiasts” in a backroom bar just outside of Boston…

I lost my passport in Budapest, and spent the next day dealing with the aftermath of a bomb threat at the US embassy as I tried to get a new one…

My point isn’t what I’ve done, it is what disaster has forced me to do.  Honestly, I can take even the most inoffensive and easy of my travels, and what I truly remember are the times when things went south.  Even something so simple as being too hungover to catch the train I needed led to interactions and events that I never would have experienced in any other situation.

I asked my friend, who fought so long ago at the Battle Off Samar Island, what he remembered about WW2.  It wasn’t the triumphs, and the defeats…it was the unplanned disasters.  “What do you remember about the ship?” I asked.  His answer will always stick with me.  “The smell,” he said, “those were the days before deodorant.”

When you expect, dear writers…

When you plan, and look around all the corners…

When everything is going according to expectations for you, and for your characters…

You’ve lost.  You’ve lost the thread…and the reader’s curiosity.

It is only when everything goes to shit and the random happens that the truly memorable occasions come to pass — both for you, and for your characters.

Look, if your protagonist gets drunk and passes out, you have a minor plot-event to work with.  If your protagonist gets drunk and passes out on the lawn of the archbishop’s palace, you have a whole new level of fun for your writing!*

*Not that I’ve ever done that.  No, not me.  The Polish police promised me that never happened!  Ahem.

It all comes to the question of disaster. As a writer, and as a person, do you cringe and cry from disaster? Do you defy it like some maniacal Ahab wannabe? Or do you laugh right alongside the universe itself while everyone else around you breaks down?

Do you know what got me to thinking about this?  Sailing.

Look, I love to sail.  I love to sail alone…and I love to take others sailing.  Unfortunately, I am a shit-magnet, to put it mildly.  If something is going to go wrong on a boat, it will go wrong when I have others sailing with me.

Now, if I tear a sail, or get becalmed, or run out of beer, when I’m sailing alone, it is no big deal.  Well, the running-out-of-beer thing is big, but the others are small.  But when I have guests on the boat?  Will they remember the adventure and fun of shit going south?  Or will they be all civilized and modern and complain (to others, of course) that “the cruise lines are better”?

Crap, it just hit me: I don’t need to write about celebrating disasters, I just need to get new friends!

{Musical Note — yup, I put this song up before. And, yup, I still love it. And, yup, it works…}

Real Flashfiction This Time: “Clouds”

“Clouds”

It rained on me.  Again.

Three blocks left, I had.  Three blocks to walk with my knee and hip trying to one-up each other for who could hurt worse.  All with on-again, off-again rain to liven my morning.  Lovely.

And, no, the pain wasn’t some noble suffering for a life well-lived, or any other such nonsense.  It was just the normal breakdowns we all eventually suffer.  It was too many miles, and too much abuse, on a body not meant for that shit.

“I’m sorry,” she yelped as she dodged me at the last moment.  A heartbeat’s pause, then, as she looked at me.  “Do you need a hand?  Can I help with anything?”

No, I hadn’t been looking where I was going, dear reader.  Thanks very much for reminding me.  The girl, however…

Red hair and green eyes.  The hint of an accent.  Young and pretty and active, if the agility with which she had jumped was any guide.  Her smile was open and artless, warmth and concern all at the same time.

The rain stopped even as she spoke, because…of course it did.

I was grateful for the pause, and for the diversion.  I smiled back.  Well, at least I tried to smile in answer to her warmth.  There was a grimace in that smile, unfortunately, when my hip decided to jump into the conversation.  I hoped she thought it was just the rain I mopped from my face.

“I’m fine,” I lied.  She nodded dubiously, then showed the barest hint of a turn.  I was a bit desperate, I admit.  But those eyes, that smile.  How long since I had felt the warmth?  “Your accent…you’re from Dublin?”

A laugh, then, to go with the smile.  “County Cork, actually…”

Just then, just as she looked to say more, the clouds opened up again.  Streaming, pouring, soaking rain.  A flush, and a little skip of her feet, and she said, “Stupid rain.  I have to run back to work.  Take care!”

And then she was gone.

I looked up.  I don’t know if I was looking to the clouds, or at God Himself, but I looked up and started cursing.

{Music Note — it’s a stretch, but we’ll go with it because I like it…and because the protagonist has a lot more history than just 345 words!}

Okay, final random note — thank you, Matt Groening, for today’s inspiration!