Life, in Short

A dad, using a wadded gum wrapper to play tabletop hockey with his young son…

The mom playing a game with that boy’s toddler sister about using a “real” cup rather than the normal sippy one…

A grandmother, at the next table over, embarrassing her middle school grandkid with stories from her younger, wilder days…

Two guys, both in Lions gear, up at the bar arguing Michigan versus Michigan State — just when it gets heated, they remember they are both Lions fans and the commiseration starts…

A young boy and an old man, both doing the same pee-dance on their way to the restroom…

One observation.  A few words.  That’s where the characters — and their stories — start.  That’s it, one simple observation.  You take that observation and build from there:

That dad, he remembers his own father.  He remembers the distance — the distance not of neglect, but of absence due to work and need.  He won’t let that happen, not to his son.  His wife?  As she plays, she remembers the miscarriage, and the tears they shared for her lost child…

The grandmother wants to connect, wants to build something real with her granddaughter, but the distance is so vast.  Was it really so long ago that she herself was twelve and embarrassed and confused by her grandmother?  Death came before that gap was bridged, and she had long ago promised herself to be more than a memory, distant and faint, to her family…

The boy worships his grandfather.  The boy wants to be his grandfather.  He copies everything the old man does, every move and mannerism.  He can even mimic his voice.  He knows nothing of the pills and medical bills.  He knows nothing — not yet — of the memories, either.  Nothing of the nightmares that still haunt from time to time.  Nothing of the sound of the guns, nor the loss of platoon-mates…

There is something to be said for a “scenes of life” story.  For a story that uses the protagonist as a sort of voyeur to follow — and get sucked into — the lives and dramas of those around her or him.  An old shared-universe fantasy series had the Vulgar Unicorn; sci-fi had Quark’s Place; the good ol’ days of style and mystery had Rick’s Cafe…

The temptation to build a story out of vignettes has a lot of power, to be honest.  Look, you all know that I love characters.  Stories, to me — good stories, stories of meaning and power — are about characters, rather than plots.  As a writer I believe firmly that the plot is there to move things along, yes, but in service to the development of the characters,  The plot provides the conflict and stress, the climax and resolution, that our characters need to grow and change and become more than they are.  When the plot is the be-all, end-all — when the plot determines everything — well, then you have…nothing.

That grandmother I mentioned above?  She doesn’t have to save the entire freaking world to have a story to tell.  No, she just has to have a story that resonates.

I freely admit that I much prefer to write about characters because it lets me focus on the flawed and the broken.  And, look, we are all flawed and broken in one way or another — some just happen to be more so than others.

Arguably, the characters in the tiny vignettes I posted above are all broken in their own way…and that is what we writers need to both understand, and work with.

I hated him in high school, when I was forced to red his stuff, but the more I read and learn, the more I appreciate the insights of a certain “staple” writer:

“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”

Oh…that writer?  Charles Dickens, in Great Expectations.

{Musical Note — a bit of old school becuuse, well…hell…why not?}

Suspended in My Masquerade

So, I gave some of those young kids from the last post my blog address. Maybe that was a mistake…

The funny thing is that it wasn’t the important bit about cynical manipulation in the last post that drew them, it was my focus & fixation on music that I talked about in other posts. They didn’t care that the grizzled old bastard could make them do whatever the hell he wants…they only cared that he actually listens to music they might like!

A (big) part of me actually really likes that outlook.

Since I’m not in the mood to write a decent post right now, I’m going to oblige the kids. It’s a song…it’s a song I’ve talked about before. It is quite literally the musical version of why & how I write.

Yep, it’s an old song. It’s older than me, actually…but the version I am posting here is solidly from my own life. It is also the best version of this tune that I have yet heard…

By the way…if this doesn’t make you dream and fantasize, nothing will…

Thank You, Dad

You are what you do.

You will never find a more American perception than that.  Oh, there are a million unspoken assumptions and perceptions that we Americans share, but that specific one…well…  There are none that can come anywhere near the profound part it plays in our national psyche and way of life.

I’ve suffered from the disease that saying represents for a large part of my life.  Hell, even after my “escape” — even after giving up success and a (very good) steady paycheck for a life more in line with my soul, even after running away to watch the wolves and spoon with amorous grizzlies — I still have the vestiges of that saying written somewhere in the small, dark, oft-ignored Gen-X corner of my mind that the rest of me loves to mock and insult.

Now, why would I mention something like this?  For one simple reason: that belief, in my younger years, caused me to make a shit-ton of mistakes.  Okay, so not as many mistakes as beer caused, but still, it led me astray…a lot.

If you asked younger-me who I wanted to be, I would inevitably answer with someone holding a job/career that I considered “cool.”  I would inevitably look to someone I didn’t know, in circumstances I didn’t understand, because that person ticked a few boxes on my internal list of personal preferences.

And, look, I’m not talking about just 12-year-old me.  Nosirreebob, I’m talking about 20’s me.  I may even be hinting at 30’s me, even if 30’s me was a useless ass-wagon who I prefer to ignore.  No, 30’s me is that cousin at the family reunion who gets invited because, well, you kinda have to acknowledge his existence…


If you asked me today who I wanted to be, I would have a very, very different answer from younger-me.

“So, who do you want to be?”

I want to be my dad.

Back in the day, when I couldn’t disassociate person from job, I wouldn’t have given that answer.  And that shames me.  It shames me more than I can really describe, because it is so blind and idiotic, and so full of narcissistic angst and juvenile naivety.

Older-me, however…

Older-me looks at everything I learned from my dad…

Older-me looks at the man my dad is…

Older-me — current-me — looks and feels and thinks about my dad, and I feel nothing but awe and the utmost respect for a man so committed and dedicated to his family, his community, and his God.

That I no longer share my father’s faith is, I know, a source of worry and concern for him.  It shouldn’t be.  The former Christian in me understands that the people of intolerance and rage and hate so visible today are not the true face of God.  No, the face of the God of Peter and Augustine and the New Testament is the face of those of quiet honesty and strong faith.  Those like my father.

In spite of how inadequate I often feel in my perpetually unfulfilled wanderlust, I have seen and done more than the vast majority can claim.  Years and years ago, a friend of mine had pseudo-business cards made for everyone in our small social group.  The job title on mine was “Knows Shit.”  Now, the double-edged sword of that joke was pretty intentional, but it really is true: I know shit.  I know a lot of shit about a lot of shit, which has taught me the very real truth that, in the end, in the grand scheme of things, I actually know jackshit.  There is always more to learn, and more to know.  And for that, I owe my dad.  For the curiosity, and the urge to always explore and learn.  To learn not just what I want to learn, but also the unexpected knowledge the world offers to those willing to listen.

Unlike my dad, I will never be the guy who can ride in an elevator with someone and be best-friends two floors later.  Instead, what I am is the guy who will sit and have a beer or four with anyone — astrophysicist, plumber, chef, lawyer, and anything in between — and learn whatever I can about their life and career.

That curiosity I learned unknowingly at my father’s knee.  It is why I always want more. I want more not in the conventional, material sense, but in the intellectual, spiritual sense.  I want to know more about the places and people I encounter in my endless wanderings; I want to know more about the universe itself; I want to more about the things I cannot see, as much as I do about the things I can.  That need — that irresistible drive — for more is why I will always value the things I learned so unconsciously as a boy.

It is that drive, by the way, that makes me the writer I am.  The self-confidence, and the perverse satisfaction, that comes from never being able to satisfy my own curiosity is a big part of what drives the thoughts and images behind the words I write.  Just as the strength and faith I have watched and admired all my life — and struggled to learn for myself — are a big part of what gets me though those times when the black dog howls and the darkest of thoughts call to me in the night.

So, thank you, Dad.  I didn’t know enough when I was young to put it into words, but I will now: you are my hero.

That I walk a path so very different from what we all expected and pictured when I was a boy does not change just how much I owe to you.  Quite simply, I owe you everything that matters.  I owe not what I am — which, fail or win, I own — but rather, I owe you who I am.

Contrary to the idiotic belief/saying with which I started this post, it is only the who that matters anyway.


Because I got such a late start today, I had to resort to writing in a — *GASP* — chain restaurant!  Worse than that, I’ve been forced to drink mainline, mass-produced, evil-brewer beer!  I’ve gone to the darkside for this post!!  Noooooooo!!!!!

{Musical Note — is it about my dad, or dads in general? No. But the thoughts, and the sentiment, behind the song…those are pure-dad}

I Chose This

Some people have panic attacks.  Others have rage attacks, or attacks of uncontrollable loneliness, or lust, or greed…  Let’s be honest here, we humans are subject to attacks by pretty much every single one of the seven of the deadly sins, and then some.

For me — because I am constitutionally incapable of being “normal” — I have attacks not of the negative and base emotions, but of civilization.  No, honestly…I am not going all writer-ish and making shit up; there really are times when the concrete and cars and people become so overwhelming that they send me into full freak-out mode.

Kinda like today.

Coming back from lunch, I pretty much lost it.  I got back to my AirBnB — driving like I was a sixteen-year-old on the LA freeways again — and spent the next two hours hiding inside, coming down.  It ain’t a lot of fun, in case you’re wondering.  It is also something I haven’t felt in several years…


This is pretty much why I abandoned the real world in favor of Yellowstone in the first place.  I have — quite literally — stumbled between a mother grizzly and her cub; I’ve been lost in terrain vastly different from what the old maps showed; I’ve climbed trees faster than any fat man should in order to avoid charging bison; I’ve had to skip the bear spray and go straight to the pistol on more than one occasion…

And in none of those instances, nor in the dozens of others I could relate, have I been even a tenth as stressed and panicked as civilization can make me in a single bad afternoon.

Now, like all of the good problems and challenges we set for our characters, I have no one to blame for this shit except myself.  I chose this.  In more ways than one, I chose this.  I chose to leave paradise and once again immerse myself in the “real world”.  I chose to give up the peace and stability I crave for the chaos and uncertainty I loathe.

It’s more than that, by the way.  It is something I hinted at in my last post: I chose to embark on an entirely new venture…alone.  Now, like most writers, I’m a creature of solitude and privacy.  I don’t share of myself often or easily, and I certainly don’t seek to share with others my burdens and challenges.

This new venture, this re-immersion into civilization, however…it is frightening to me.  It is, in fact, more frightening than “civilization” itself.  Oh, sure, I have friends and family with whom I can talk; friends and family who care and will do everything in their power to help.  But, well, when those friends and family are surprised that I’ve reached out to talk to them more in the past two weeks than I have in the past two years?

Yeah, I chose this.

And sometimes it overwhelms.

This is, in fact, one of the few times I can actually wrap my head around Bilbo, and his fear and uncertainty at the choice to leave the Shire with Gandalf and the dwarves.  Now, keep in mind, Bilbo leaving the Shire was Tolkien’s way of expressing — of finally talking about, after several years — his own choice to volunteer for the Royal Army in WW I.  Bilbo fought at the Battle of Five Armies; Tolkien fought in the charnel house that was Battle of the Somme…

Me?  I get stressed out because there’s too much fucking traffic.

“Hi, perspective!  Thanks for coming…”


Some have asked me, by the way, why this blog is sometimes focused and on-point, and at other times is completely random and stream-of-consciousness.  My answer is always the same: “I think with my pen.”

Okay, so that answer is old school, but to say “I think with my keyboard” just doesn’t have the same resonance.  The sentiment and meaning are the same, however.

I think by putting the words together.  Simple, silent contemplation is not useful for me; that just leads to sidetracks and roundabouts, and a waste of time that is dangerous for someone who fights depression.

No, I need to see the words come out — I need to feel them — in order to give shape to the thoughts, and so to exorcise the ghosts of creativity and imagination that gave rise to them.  Plus, well…it’s fun to sit out on the deck with nothing but a beer, some loud music, and a blinking cursor…

{Edit — eek! I forgot to add a song. Let’s fix that…}