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…

Listening to the Rain

87FF5970-0CF7-4BF5-84CE-E6E59E143C91I sat there, the other day, listening to the rain. Not doing anything…not writing, not planning, not thinking about anything at all…just listening to the rain.

It’s one of my favorite sounds, the rain. A bit of thunder, and the constant patter of drops on the roof? There’s a hypnotic quality to that, a quality that encourages a certain detachment, and a certain blanking of all the things that have such a tendency — and so much power — to overwhelm our minds and our thoughts.

I was asked once, by my sister, if I could sit and meditate. If I could sit in silence and hear…nothing. No worries, no thoughts, no emotions…just sit in silence, and in peace.

Yes, I can.

I have to, it helps keep me sane.

And, no, I’m not going to dive into everything that goes into that statement. Mostly because, as honest as I usually am on this blog, the majority of my thoughts and my troubles are mine alone.  Sorry if that sounds harsh, but the need for privacy is an important part of my make-up.

There are, however, examples I can give…examples that matter. They matter to me as a writer, and (hopefully) to you folks as insight into how someone else deals with everything that goes with that life.

I just finished editing a story. It was far too long of a process — longer than it should have been, to be honest, because of my foray into other projects…and because of my six months living in the wilderness.

It is a story intensely personal to me. It is a story I believe in, and one I felt deeply as I wrote it. It also is a story I let languish in the process because, well, it was hard to go back to. But I had to finish it. I had to finish it for commercial reasons (yes, I DO like to get paid for this stuff, you know!), but more importantly I had to finish it for personal reasons.

And I did.

I don’t know about you, but when I write, I feel. I feel my characters, I feel my story, and I feel what I want my readers to feel. Probably more intensely than I should, all things considered. To abuse an old writing rule: I write what I know. More than that, however, I write what I feel…and that can be difficult.  Very difficult, sometimes.

So, I finished this particular journey of writing and editing and revising…

And I was drained. Completely.

Now, I’m an introvert at the best of times, but when I get done with an intense writing or creative session, you can multiply that by a thousand. It takes me a while to get my head back above water. I’m generally a couple of hundred feet down when I’m into my characters and my stories, and — as anyone who scuba dives will tell you — it takes time to come back up.

So I sat there, listening to the rain. The rumble of thunder, the fall of the drops…nothing in my mind except silence and peace. I needed that silence to come up from the depths. I needed that silence to regain a semblance of balance.

I still need that silence…everyday, in fact, is a quest in some way for that silence.

There is a reason why my next story is titled The Silence That Never Comes

Doin’ The Things You Hate

You know what’s the hardest thing about life as a reformed sales & marketing monkey? You can never get completely away from that particular swamp. It is, in fact, a lot like prison: once you’re in, the odds say you’re gonna return from time to time…

That being said, if I’m gonna get sucked back into that part of life on even the most temporary and limited of ways, at least I can do it for something I like and believe in.

So, I just spent the day driving around the mountains where I live delivering information and samples to various, err, local establishments. Okay, there’s just no mincing words: I was out pushing beer into bars…beers from “my” brewery.

If I’m gonna live in a rural area, dammit, at least I can make sure the bars and restaurants near me carry the good stuff! Plus, my “samples case” doesn’t suck: several cases of beer to share with the managers…err, to educate the managers. Yeah, that’s it: education. It ain’t drinkin’, no sir.

Hey, I could be sellin’ shower curtain rings, instead!

Now, one of the hard things for me is that I don’t WANT to be involved in sales and marketing. I left that shit behind for a reason. I certainly didn’t want, when I began writing seriously, to have to think about how to market and sell my work…

…but that is exactly what you have to do nowadays (not to mention, what you are expected to do).

Strangely enough, I can kinda see the reasons why: who is gonna be better or more effective at communicating a story than the writer? But then again, just exactly how many of us are not strange, socially-awkward nerds who would rather live inside our own heads than get anywhere near the real world?

Never mind — don’t answer that.

People tell me again and again that I should have a Facebook page…I should live on Twitter…I should be pimping myself on Goodreads…even LinkedIn, for the love of God.

No. Just…no.

This blog, to be blunt, is the closest I come to social media.

No, really: this is hard enough. If folks expect me to put more of myself out there? Yeah, things ain’t gonna go well…for anyone. I want to write, not troll for re-tweets. I have family and friends who pretty much live on the various outlets (and who laugh at me as a neo-Luddite railing against reality) and I did once have a, err, professional role using social media…but, crap, I ran away to the mountains and trees to get away from that shit!

Then, reality returns…

I love to write…but, holy shit, is it nice to actually, you know, make a few bucks every once in a while.

Writer-pimp-life, here I come!