Take My Advice: Skip the Jail, Sleep on the Sub

Ahh…is there anything quite like staying in the cheapest of hotels?

No.  No there is not.

A little word of warning for you: it’s fine to book a cheap hotel in the midst of a cross-country drive, but make sure it’s not the cheapest hotel in town!  Always, always, always go for something towards the middle of the pack, otherwise you end up in a beat-up, dingy place sandwiched between the county jail and a homeless shelter.

Not that I’ve ever made that mistake, mind you.

*cough*

Err, let’s move on, then…

Look, I know I haven’t blogged in…umm…uhh…

Well, shit.  I’m running out of fingers and toes, so it has been way too long.

That delay, that lack of writing, unfortunately is why I had to leave paradise.  As I wrote previously, I had to break the terrible, immovable stagnation that had taken hold of me in that place.

I can feel it pulling at me already, by the way.  I can feel the call of the mountains; I can just about hear the packs howling; I can feel the bears hunting*; the run of a stream just now filling with melting snow; the frenzied antics of otter families playing as they fish; the foxes and coyotes still torpedoing their heads into the snow to catch field mice…

*Every news story about a moron…err, tourist getting attacked brings some schadenfreude and a nod to Darwin’s immutable wisdom.

Shit, I could continue for a long, long time.

Yesterday I pulled in to a rest stop to have lunch.  It was actually a nice place, with lots of green space neatly maintained around a dense wood.  Do you know what I did the entire time?  I watched the tree line for the grizzly that I just knew could smell my lunch and would come ambling out to investigate at any moment.  Uhh, grizzlies?  In freaking Minnesota?!

Old habits are gonna die hard, I think.

I’m on the water now, however, and that means something.  I can see the expanse in front of me.  If the air doesn’t have the tang and bite of sea air, it is still…refreshing.  Heck, it’s refreshing enough that once I finally extricated myself from my jail-adjacent bed-for-the-night, the urge to write came.  Actually, it came at about three in the morning, when my drunken neighbors woke me with their screaming match, but just this once putting off the writing by a few hours was a good idea.  Ahem.

That urge to write has been a ghostly voice* at the back of my mind for a very long time now.  I didn’t always listen, of course, but it was always there.  Until the inertia took hold.  Until I sank further and further away from the writing, and the voice became more and more silent.  As the sounds of paradise became louder, that little ghost at the back of my mind became quieter.

*Wait…you thought Oz’s voice at the back of Connor’s mind came out of nowhere?  Silly, silly reader — of course that’s a freaking allegory!

I hate to say it, but it is only since I left Yellowstone that I can hear it again.  Of course, I had beer and extra-spicy wings last night, so the voice is pretty mercilessly making fun of me right now, but at least it’s talking again!

Oh, and here’s a bit more unsolicited cheap-hotel wisdom for you: if you want good, cheap food and beer, find the bar by the police station that the cops go to when they get off.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, this town may be — err, not may be, is — a dump, but it’s got a killer submarine museum on the waterfront that I need to go explore…

p.s.

Wait…you can AirBnB a freaking submarine in this town?  Are you fucking kidding me?!  How the hell did I miss that?  Yeah, it’s expensive as hell, but…you can sleep on a goddamned submarine!!

USS Cobia at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum

{Musical Note — hey, let’s go old school, just for fun}

Four Years

For four years I’ve made Yellowstone the central focus of my life.  For four years I’ve wandered every inch of those 2.2 million acres, exploring backwoods and treading ground seldom touched by human feet.  For four years I’ve lived and learned among the bison and bears and wolves.

For four years I’ve…stagnated.

And if that ain’t a topic for a post, I don’t know what is.

Look, if Ted from Accounting stagnates and lets inertia take control, just what does it really matter?  No offense to Ted, but spreadsheets and balance sheets are the very definition of stagnation.*  For someone, on the other hand, who has thrown himself into a life of creation and creativity?

*To a non-accountant, anyway.  Sorry, Dad.

Yeah, stagnation and inertia don’t work out too well.

The trouble, as any high school physics kid can tell you, is that inertia continues unchanging and unchanged until some other force acts to change the math.  Well, in writing — and in other creative fields, I imagine — inertia is just as powerful as it is in physics.  When you are rolling along, pounding out the words?  Yeah, then there is a powerful inertia to the creative process.  Then there is a inevitably to the flow of words that gives them all the power in the universe.  Yep, even in the writing world p=mv.  Oh, wait, you don’t know that one?  Err, you should probably go and find that high school kid again.

Unfortunately, the opposite holds true as well.  When the words stop…

When the flow of ideas and thoughts and creation are held in check…

When the v in that equation equals zero…

At that point, all the mass of those ideas and thoughts and words settle down more heavily than a nerd at a nonstop showing of all six of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films.*

*Not that I’ve ever done that.  That would be wrong.  And shameful.  And I would totally never do it.  Ahem.

Look, I’ve given a lot of writing advice in the five or so years I’ve done this blog.  Much of that advice has been complete shit, but some has been pretty damned good.  Kinda like my writing, actually.

Err…never mind, let’s stay on the point, shall we?

As a writer, you can’t give up that inertia of creativity.  You just can’t do it.  If you do, re-starting any form of movement is far, far harder than the slow inertia with which you started the process.  Those creative ideas and thoughts, they don’t like change.  They want either to be flowing freely and fast, or to settle and conglomerate until the world itself erodes and disintegrates in the entropic cascade that is the fate of all unwritten stories.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally had a long talk with myself.  It was a talk about inertia and momentum and entropy.  It was also, as I mentioned to a couple of family members, a talk with myself about existing versus living.

We writers — you and me, and more others than either of us can count — have a way of living through our words that non-writers can never truly understand.  Oh, they can experience it.n  Shit, we damn well hope they experience it, because that is what pays the freaking bills!  But their experience is vicarious; they don’t live the stories and words, they experience them.  

When a writer stops living and falls to merely existing…well…

You either go back to that gray-and-tan fucking cubicle you once escaped, or…

Or you change the math.  You change the value of v.

I don’t care, by the way, how you change the math…just do something.  Try a different brand of coffee.  Go sit on a mountain in Nepal.  Smoke a joint or ten.  Buy three hours with triplets in a brothel.  Abandon paradise.

It’s time for a change.  The unwritten words are a fucking elephant on my chest.  If I don’t change, those miserable little bastards will kill me.

So it’s time.  It’s time for me to give those old words of parting:  Ave atque vale Yellowstone.

It is time, also, to remember that it is the words and stories that define who I am, not the surroundings.

Heading off into the unknown, by the way, doesn’t get any more comfortable or easy, no matter how many times you have done it before.  It is stepping off a cliff into a black void of worry and fear…

But it’s new worry and fear, and that is the change to v that I truly need to keep what little is left of my sanity and recover and re-empower who I am vice where I am.

Oh, and with that black void of uncertainty in front of me?  The old Egyptian blessing* comes to mind: “God be between you and the dark places you must walk.”

*Thank you Stracynski, and B5, for that one!

[Musical Note: I fought with a few songs for this one.  In the end, I went old school.]

Blood

Here is the ultimate truism in my little corner of the universe: No plan survives contact with my seat at the bar.

I started thinking about this post yesterday.  I thought more about it last night.  I thought enough, even, to begin making a plan.  Then…

Then came distraction.

*sigh*

Okay, sure, streaming a German TV sci-fi show was fun.  But was it fun enough to be worth putting off this post, and losing all track of what I had originally intended to say?

Err…no.  Not really.

In all honesty, the Germans just aren’t that good at TV.  Now, give me a British comedy, or a Korean historical drama, and we can talk about shows that are well-and-truly worth it.

So, well, today I still want to write a post.  What I had planned before is gone; as gone as all those ideas and characters I failed to write down.  What I have instead is a random thought, and some history and truth to go with it.

Back in my corporate days, I had a friend with whom I used to eat lunch on a regular basis.  Technically, I suppose, she worked for me, but that relationship was so tenuous and distant on the org chart that it might as well not have existed.  No, we were friends not because of shared professional concerns, but for very personal reasons.

This friend of mine had…history.  She is one of those who had seen and done a great deal in her life, and was a better person for it.  She also had a…well, secret ain’t the right word, it’s too damned strong.  She had an area of her life that was private, for her alone.  At one lunch, however, something I said caught her ear and we found that we shared that one private area — although we did so in radically different ways.

When my friend was young, you see, she had given her newborn son up for adoption.  I and my siblings, on the other hand, were all adopted (from separate families/parents) as babies.

You can see, I hope, why my friend and I connected so well.

She was struggling, my friend.  After almost thirty years, she was struggling with the guilt and loss that she had so effectively buried when she was young.  She had done some research and found a way, she thought, to contact her son.  What did I think, she had wanted to know.  How would I react to contact from my own birth mother?

Err…

Umm…

I was the wrong one to ask, back then.  I still am, I should probably add.  My siblings have been open and honest about finding their birth parents.  They have all done so, as a matter of fact, to varying degrees of success and satisfaction.  I on the other hand…

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’ve never had any interest.  Not only would I not welcome contact, but I would be pretty damned hostile to any such attempt.

One of the hardest things I have ever done was to say that to my friend.  Oh, I prevaricated and softened.  I explained and talked and offered my siblings as alternatives.  But, beneath it all, there was no disguising just how I truly felt: the past is the past, and best left there.  I have no more emotional attachment to my birth parents than I do to a pair of old hiking boots.  Less, actually.  At least the boots shared hundreds of miles of exploration and discovery with me.

I never got to find out, by the way, just how things turned out for my friend.  It was only a few months later that I left the company to find my riches — HAH!!! — in travel and writing.*  I hope to hell that she did contact her son, and that they built a relationship that meant something to both of them.

*I’m still happier for having left, by the way.  A great deal poorer, yes, but much happier.  It comes back to that question that’s as old as mankind itself: just what is your soul worth?  There’s (obviously) more to that story, but we’ll save that for another time, shall we?

Similarly, I hope that my brother — the most recent of my siblings to trod (gently) down that path — finds nothing but happiness and fulfillment in his contacts.

For the writer, no matter his personal opinions, is there any dynamic more powerful to think and write about than such bonds of family?  The bonds of blood versus those of love?  Of shared heritage versus shared experience?  As I have done more than once on this blog, I’ll (try to) add something to the point by throwing in some words I once put into my protagonist’s mouth: “some families you’re born into, and some you choose.”**

**Not an original sentiment, I’ll grant you, but one that I hope means a bit more when you realize just where the writer is coming from.

As I’m working through the background process on another story, I find that these dynamics keep coming up.  They have, to be honest, come up in almost every story I’ve ever conceived.  They have, more importantly, been a part of every story I’ve taken past the point of conception and begun the actual writing process.

Write what you know, they say.  Write what’s important to you, I add.

You can boil all that down to an even more basic level, however: write you.

{Musical Note — hey look, to the surprise of…well…exactly no one, it was a song that influenced the creation of this post!}

Nothing To Lose

I don’t often write here about politics.

Err…DJT aside, I try not to write about politics, at least.

On the other hand, my fiction very much has modern/current politics as a subtext to pretty much everything, whether character or plot.  Like most writers, I just can’t help it.  They tell you in the writing intro classes to “write what you know.”  What they really mean, by the way, is that you need to write about those things that are important to you. When you write stories about things that do not truly matter to you, it is pretty damned obvious.

To me, writing is a way to talk about and explore the things I would otherwise keep to myself.  Yes, I put into words things on this blog that I would never say in any face-to-face setting.  Yes, these words scratch part of that “important to me” itch, but not all of it.  Not by a long shot does this blog scratch all of it.

I say more in my fiction writing than I ever would here.  In those characters and scenes I write about concepts and themes and ideas that I will not — cannot, even — express in any other way.  I’ve talked on this blog about depression and suicide and the power of music and words. I have talked about them, but never have I actually explored here the true emotional power those things hold for me.  Only in my stories have I let go of myself enough to explore the truth behind them.

With the words and opinions I have expressed here, and in my fiction, I have been told that I should “shut up and write.”  I should not focus on the dark side of life.  I should not expound on politics, nor on a universe and society that is seemingly inimical to fairness and equality and simple human dignity.  I should, instead, write about how those at the bottom have failed themselves.  I should, instead, write about how those at the top are the worthiest.  I should, I have been told, leave the dark underside alone so it can decompose and disintegrate in forgotten and ignored peace.

To answer that I have only my words. Whether those words project out into the world, or sit quiet and alone, they are still a shout.  They are shout of opinion and belief, yes, but they are more than that: they are a shout of defiance.  They are the throwing of emotion and thought into the teeth of a universe uncaring and cold.

When folks tell someone like me to “shut up and write” — or a musician to ”shut up and sing” or an athlete to “shut up and play” — they are showing not strength but fear.  Fear of those words and concepts with which they do not agree; fear of those things that might disturb the comfortable bubbles in which they have chosen to live.

Our first instinct, of course, is to respond with our own fear.  Our own fear of reprisal; our own fear of having our bubbles penetrated; our own fear of the darkness waiting for those who stumble and fall…

When you recognize that fear, however, you are freed to ignore it.  That is surprisingly liberating.  Oh sure, failure and darkness are still very real — and always near — but who honestly gives a damn?  We are all going to fail and fall at one point or another.  Most, actually, will fail and fall far more than once.  I know I sure as hell have.  I’ve fallen so often that I’ve lost count of the scars on my psyche, my soul and my liver…

I have put more than once into my protagonist’s mouth the words and concept of someone with nothing left to lose.  Beyond the agency and power of that concept for him, lies the agency and power of that concept for me.  I’m pretty damned sure I could never have taken the step to put personal emotions and truth into my words until I decided I had nothing left to lose.  I certainly could not have learned to give the mental finger to those who tell me to shut up and write without admitting to myself just how little I had to lose.

For aspiring and new writers, then, there are all kinds of articles and interviews out there with more advice than any one human can absorb.  Many of those pieces will tell you to harness your fear, or let go your inhibitions, or channel the wisdom you learned in kindergarten.  Plenty will also focus on the practical advice that writers need, too.  But the one bit of advice I wish I had received when I first got started?  I’ll give that bit to you in the form of lines from a song:

The beat-up side

Of what they call pride

Could be the measure of these days

p.s.

Musical Note — By the way, when it comes to music, if you’re not listening to Dave Hause, you’re doing it wrong.  I listened to the song below quite a few times before I decided to link it here.  In the end, however, I had little honest hesitation because, well, not only is it the song I quoted above, but its final line says it all for a writer with nothing to lose: “it’ll be alright.”