Adopted Characters

I haven’t done much freelance writing lately.  Honestly, my focus has pretty much been 100% on getting the new brewery up and going.  That focus, by the way, is not gonna slow for at least a year. With everything I have to do, I do not expect to even open the doors until next fall, and even that will take an awful lot of blood, sweat and tears.

Some opportunities, however, still come up…

Even when I don’t seek them out, I have enough friends and contacts who know what I can do to feed me “snacks” from time to time. Look, when you’re known in certain circles for certain emotional things, the work kinda finds you.

I sometimes wish it didn’t.

A snack came my way recently…one I wish I had refused.  I certainly thought about doing so, but the money…

I was asked to rework an ending for a video game.  It was the “bad” ending, yes, but it still was a prominent part of the game…and one that needed attention.  The money wasn’t great, but it was better than what I get in my only-the-healthcare-matters “real” job, so of course I said yes…

All I needed to do was craft some character notes, and write a suicide note and eulogy.

Fuck.

I did it, of course.  I did it because I always do.  I don’t make promises that I don’t keep.  I wish sometimes that that was not the case, but I always deliver*…

*Not always on time, but I always deliver in the end.

So, I finished it…then I called out from work today and opened a new bottle of scotch.

I also cranked up the music.  A lot of music.  An amount — and volume — of music that I’m fairly certain had my neighbors calling the landlord.

Whatever.

I needed it, both the booze and the music.  They weren’t “my” characters, but I adopted them, and that means I built some feeling for them. They weren’t ”my” characters, but still I broke myself to turn out material that mattered…

Then I went and reminded myself of courage, and what it all really means.

Look, I like blues and rock and a certain amount of folk inspired music.  What I can’t stand is complete country.  I hate “hillbilly” music almost a much as I hate sell-out, commercial shit.  Which means I can’t stand 90% of what is called “country” today…

But, well, sometimes the meaning of the song transcends any categorization.  I’ve mentioned it before, but, well…this particular tune has a story that bears repeating:

I can think of no greater sign of courage, nor of love, than what Steve Earle did with the song below.  He took a song from his son, one that he never saw or heard until after his son’s suicide, and he recorded it.

Dear God, I can’t imagine the kind of strength that took.  When I need to remember courage and devotion and love…yeah, this song is all I really need.

More importantly, when I need to remember just how much art can heal and inspire, all I have to do is think about the story, and listen to this song:

Slipping Away

I watched a BBC documentary the other day.  Now, like most BBC docs, it was a pretty good program…but that isn’t what got me to thinking about this post.  No, what got me to thinking was one specific line/thought from the show.  It was a line that has stuck with me, a line that started thoughts knocking and thumping, asking — demanding — to be written:

“My life, it’s slipping away.”

When you’re young, a year is a lifetime.  The world is a parade of faces, both new and old, met amidst adventures and experiences and days that seem to last forever.

But that doesn’t last.

Life changes as you get older.  Life changes, but still you can hold to some of that enthusiasm and adventure and zest.  Still you can remember what is was like when a day was a lifetime.

But even that fades.

One day turns to another.  One week, one month, even one year, passes and you barely notice.  It all becomes about getting through from one day to another, from one paycheck to another, one year to another.  You don’t live, you merely survive.

Survival is not life.

When we were kids, we were promised so much.  When we were kids, we dreamed…everything.  It was all there, all in our grasp, an entire universe…an entire life.

And then it all began to slip away.

Slowly, sometimes, and far too fast at other times, those dreams — those hoped-for realities — began to slip away.  As we got older, as we matured, they slipped and faded.  We slipped and faded.

The days — the weeks, the years — are no longer a lifetime.  No, they have become instead something to be endured rather than lived.  They have become a haze of time with one moment indistinguishable from another, the simple ticks and tocks of a fading beat.

Life isn’t supposed to diminish as it passes, life is supposed to be more.

Life isn’t supposed to slip away, life is supposed to be lived.

At least that’s what we were told.

I can feel it, my life slipping away.

Keeping the Demons at Bay

IMG_0163IWSG Question o’ the Month: How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?

Do you know, I almost forgot it was time to post for IWSG? My head has been “out of the game” for a couple of weeks now, and a certain passive shrug of acceptance has set in. Acceptance of fatigue, acceptance of frustration, and — worst of all — acceptance of my struggle to find the energy and time to write.

Oh, the words are still there, but lately it’s been harder and harder to crack through all the bullshit to get at them…

I was sitting around today, not doing much of anything. I was tired, I was bored, and I had no intention of doing anything. Finally, I forced myself out for a short hike. Now, keep in mind that where I live is not…err…civilized. Hell, the closest thing to civilization is an hour’s drive away. When I want to get lost, when I want to recover, all I really have to do is walk five minutes out the back door.

Rocks and trees, wind and sun…all the greys and greens of the Colorado mountains, broken only by knots of gold as the aspens huddle together, holding on to the last of their leaves.

I needed that hike.

I wrote before, when I was still living up in Yellowstone, about how getting out into the wilds is (usually) enough to renew my failing balance and energy. That hasn’t changed. A hike — even a short one, like today — is enough to get me in touch again with those words that can sometimes seem so far away.

It also helps me to hold the demons at bay. When frustration and bitterness begin to turn to depression — as they always, always do for me — one of the only sure answers is to hike my way out.

Which brings me to the IWSG question I listed above. There really is only one other way out, for me. Only one other way to keep at bay the demon of depression, and that is to write my way out.

“Has writing ever helped you through something?” the question asks.

Every single day.

I’ve lived with my personal ghosts and demons for so long, I don’t even notice them anymore. Until I start writing, that is. It is only through writing that I can truly recognize them, and only through writing that I can (temporarily) exorcise them.

Expressing my thoughts and emotions through my fingers — whether on a keyboard or with a pen — has helped me through more shit than I care to really talk about. I don’t care to talk about it, but I will write about it.

Writing has helped me through the suicides of close friends, through the destruction of my soul and the hardening of my heart, through the worst times of my life…it has helped me, even, through my own dancing flirtations with suicide.

Take away writing, and I lose all those fights.

Take away writing, and I wouldn’t be here.

When I was young, I would lose myself in the stories I read. In the machinations of the court of Amber, in the adventures of Pug and Tomas, in the interplay of Garion and Belgarath and Polgara, in millions of words by thousands of authors. But never — even in the worst of times, even when I needed escape the most — never did I lose myself like I can in the fluttering ghosts of my own characters, and in the words of my own stories…

Addendum:  As ever, there’s a song for that (in my world): https://youtu.be/D6-EUSvJchI

There Go I…

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a hockey guy. I’m a hockey guy from, err, way back.*

*I’m pretty sure the definition of “way back” is when you see the sons of players you loved as a kid entering the league…

Now, most of the US sports-news outlets are garbage when it comes to hockey. I am, in fact, pretty sure that ESPN doesn’t even realize there is such a thing as a sport played on that mythical thing called “ice”.

Thank God, then, for Canadian networks…

One of those networks — TSN, if you’re curious — just ran a story about a former NHL player named Joe Murphy. Now, Murphy was drafted very, very high in a star-rich draft in 1986. While he wasn’t a perennial All-Star during his NHL career, he most definitely was a legit player on any team in the league.

Then he disappeared.

No, really, he pretty much fell off the face of the planet.

A reporter from TSN recently took on the challenge of tracking Murphy down to see what had happened after his playing days. After much effort, that reporter finally did find him…found him drug-addicted, broke and homeless. After a fifteen year playing career, after earning millions, after having everything, Joe Murphy had become one of those guys holding a sign on the street-corner…

Now, the writer in me can make a hundred stories out of that situation; out of the why’s and how’s, out of the choices made, and out of the tragedies that resulted from those choices.

But I’m not just a writer…

I never knew Joe Murphy. I do, however, count more than a few current and former NHL players as friends. I know the pitfalls they face, and the prices they pay. Mental and emotional prices, as much as the physical ones.

I know the very fine line they walk, and how quickly it can all disappear. Especially after retirement, especially when — for the first time in their lives — no one knows their name. When no one is cheering, when every single aspect of the life they’ve led since they were three or four years old is different. When they no longer have a place or a purpose in the world.

It’s more complicated than just this, but that dislocation and desperation is one of the themes behind the fantasy story I’m currently developing, as well as being one of the reasons why it is (tentatively) titled Once Magnificent

Joe Murphy is not the first athlete to fall, just as he is not the first successful person to lose everything, but still his story resonates with me. Still, his story means something to me. As a guy who has lost everything more than once in my life, as a guy who battles my own private demon of depression, I can sympathize with Murphy.

No, that’s not quite right…

I don’t feel for Joe Murphy, I very well could be Joe Murphy.

Murphy, alongside a host of a nameless others, is one of those unspoken reasons why I write, why my stories and characters inevitably revolve around the flawed and the broken.

D21E96E2-4A53-405A-98D0-0E857B426261I’ve said a million times on this blog that I write for me. I’ve said that, but it’s not 100% true. I write for me, yes, but I write also for anyone and everyone who just might see a bit of themselves in my words. For anyone and everyone who might take even a grain of hope at burdens (and demons) shared. For those for whom that light at the end of the tunnel never seems to get any nearer…