Other Things

I was about to close this blog down.

I was about to end the WordPress subscription and let the domain fall idle.

I was far too busy to write, I said.  I had far too many other things on my mind.

The world had its demands, I said.  All of those other things were more important.

And what did it matter, anyway?  This blog, this little seat at the bar I’ve occupied for the last five years, has never been anything more than a place for me to write in a personal, intimate style I would never use anywhere else.  It started as an experiment, morphed through a stage where it was “practice” and training, and in the end became…something else, something I can’t define.

Now, my father likes to talk about optimism.  He likes to remind me — the cynic of the family — that how we choose to view things is important in how we react to them.  Why I don’t share that same outlook is something we could debate for a very long time, but it is not germane to these words.  I understand the outlook.  More than that, I can even sometimes manage it…

So, when a technical trial and some serious process changes turned to a layoff notice months before I expected it, I decided to play the optimist.

Err…well…I decided to get drunk, actually.  Then I decided to play the optimist.

I haven’t written a creative word in months.  I haven’t explored a character, conceived a scene, or even so much as contemplated something so diabolical as subtext and socio-political commentary.

*sigh*

I couldn’t figure out why I was so unsatisfied.  I couldn’t figure out why my temper had so frayed, nor why energy and enthusiasm had fled.  That black dog, he was beginning to howl, and I couldn’t figure out why.

Two days ago I started thinking that I needed to write something…

…and I didn’t know where to start.  Hell, I didn’t even know how to start.

The blank page on my screen was no longer an invitation, it had become a barrier.  It made me feel small and insignificant.  It reminded me of better days, and I think we all know just how poorly I handle nostalgia and memory.

You have a choice at that point, you know.  The obstacle can be too much; the mountain too high; the price too steep…

Or you can just shut the fuck up and go back to the basics.  That was advice I gave four or five years ago, by the way.  When the writing suffers, when the words won’t come, just shut up and go back to the basics.  Just write.  Just be you.  Be who you are, whether you chose to be that person who lives through the words, or were born that way, doesn’t matter.  For good or for ill, it is who you are…so be that person. Be that writer.

For me that means sitting down in a pub with a beer at my elbow, music blaring in my ears, and an intentional pushing back of the cacophony of mental noise that has so drowned that little voice at the back of my mind…

Welcome back, little voice.

{Note — Yep, I’m re-using a song from a Christmas post I wrote a few years ago.  I love the song, and the sentiment still works, so here you go…}

250,000 Words

400 posts, and a quarter-million words.

I started this blog clear back in 2016 with no long-term goal.  The only goal at the time — if you can call it something so grandiose as a goal  — was to “live blog” the process of conceiving and writing a novel.

Now look, I’m pretty sure we all know just how successfully I stuck to that particular plan, but it at least was something I could point to when people asked me why I bothered writing something so pointless as a blog in a world dominated by Facebook and Instagram…

I gave up the pretense of “live blogging” after the first few months sitting at this bar, by the way.  I gave up the “goal”, but I didn’t give up the writing.

You never give up the writing.

It isn’t much, you know, when you boil it down to raw numbers.

Shit, 250,000 words is all of two novels.  Two novels over three-and-a-half years.  That ain’t a lot of production, not when you really get right down to it.

Hell, it kinda makes me feel guilty to have so little to show for the time and effort I’ve put into this seat at the bar.  Guilty, until I think about the fact that every single one of those words has been the purest stream-of-consciousness.  Every single one of those words has been written with no real plan, and certainly no drafting or editing.  Good and bad, every single one of those words has been me.

I’m not an easy guy to get to know.  I wrote a line once, about a protagonist of mine; about how he didn’t lay himself bare to strangers, not anymore than he laid himself bare to himself.  That line — that very concept — is about me just as much as it was about my protagonist.

For most of my life there has been far more that I won’t talk about than what I will.  For most of my life I have held the rest of the world at arm’s length.

I still do.

But not when I write.

The first novels I tried to write were conceived and written to please other people.  Oh, I believed in the plots and characters, but there was no…soul.  No personality.  No reality.  There was no…me.  To this day, when I go back and reread those words, I cringe.  The bones of something good are there, but the execution…the execution sucks donkey balls.

It was not until I let go of trying to please other people and wrote only for myself that my writing finally started to show emotion and passion.  It was not until then that the words — and the characters, and the worlds — finally started to be real.

But what about this blog?  What about these quarter-million words?

How the hell do you think I finally broke down the walls I had built around my own mind?  Around my own soul?

These quarter-million words are how I’ve learned to let go.  They’re how I’ve learned to look inside myself and…well…be fucking honest.  Be honest with you, and with me.

I’ve written here about depression and despair.  I’ve written about fear and failure.  I’ve written about suicide and death, and about life and laughter.  I’ve written about “terrorism” in Yellowstone, and attack-squirrels and drinking shit beer with college kids.  I’ve written about nonsense and emotion and advice.  I’ve written about far horizons and claustrophobia…

When you get right down to it, this entire damned thing has been about me.  And you have no idea just how much I hope that that’s not as narcissistic as it sounds!

Like most writers, words are everything to me.  For me, it’s just plain easier to pull back my personal curtain when I’m writing than ever it will be when I’m talking.  Hell, my own family has had to read this blog to truly find and (hopefully) understand the person they thought they have known for the last X* years.

*This space intentionally left blank.  Nothing to see here.  Move along.

No one, until this blog, has known of my unholy passion for Downton Abbey

No one, until this blog, has known a damned thing about my taste in music, or just how it influences my writing (and my life)…

No one, until this blog, has known just what a love-hate relationship I have with nostalgia and the past…

The suicides of friends were never a subject for words…until this blog.  Err…well…that’s not quite right.  It was not until after I wrote Oz’s suicide (the first scene I wrote, mind you, for Somewhere Peaceful) that I could I write about my own experiences with suicide, even in this blog…

God knows, no one who knows me — not even my closest friends — has ever heard me admit to suffering from depression.  Not until this blog.  Oh, some have suspected, but for me to talk/write about it?

Shit, has this whole thing been nothing more than a quarter-million words of therapy?

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&^%$$’

$#@!^

Okay, I’m done cussing now.  Sorry about that.

Look, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here: writing is how I live.  If you want to boil that thought down as far as it goes: writing is what keeps me sane.  Without the E77972BB-4315-45E7-BABF-9F256990405Awords — the words in this blog as much as the words in my novels…and yes, the words in my flash fiction pieces, too — I would be just another statistic.  Just another drunk who gave up…

In a very real sense, these quarter-million words have saved my life.  I’ve gone through enough depressive episodes over the life of this blog that I can say with no hesitation, the words have saved me.

Hell, I’m fighting depression right now, if you really want to know.  I don’t want to talk to anyone, I don’t want to see anyone…I just want to be left alone.  The good news — and every story should end with good news, right? — is that instead of turning to a bottle of scotch to deal with this shit, I’m turning to these words…

The Bear Got Me

Sooo…I reread my post from Monday.

I reread it, and decided I should probably expand/explain…or at least give a glimpse into how I create (screw up) posts.

Now, I’ve talked before — many times — about the fact that, when an idea comes to you, you don’t try to “save” it, you don’t try to remember it, you don’t assume you can build on it “later,” you write it…you write it right then.  Right-freaking-then.

I don’t care how good you are, I don’t care how hard you try, you will not remember that idea you thought (hoped?) could be “saved.”  Monday’s post is a good example of that; over the weekend, I came up with a couple of different ideas for the coming week.  Those ideas were related, yes, but they very much needed to be separate posts.

I…umm…err…

Well…I screwed up.  I didn’t follow my own advice.  I didn’t write them.  Nope, not me!  I’m good enough, I can ignore my own advice!  Of course I tried to “save” them.

So when, on Monday morning, I finally sat down to turn out a piece for that day, those two ideas weren’t there anymore.  Nope.  Instead, those two separate, individual ideas had got together, drank a bottle of tequila, and spawned the muddled mess that became Monday’s post.

*sigh*

I wish I could say that failing was a one-off — or that it was rare, at least — but I can’t.  Of all the common-sense and effective “rules” I try to follow in my little corner of the writing-universe, “you write it, right then” is the one I screw up the most.  It is also the screw-up I pay-for the most — pay in regret, and in lost opportunities.

But that’s how you learn, people will tell you.  You learn from your mistakes.

Shit, I’ve said that often enough to others…said it so often, I don’t really hear the words anymore.  All too often, those mistakes that are supposed to teach…they don’t.  They do nothing but accuse.  They are that relative that looks at you, even after years apart, and says before even a hello, “Let yourself go a bit, have you?”

I wanted to write a piece, over the weekend, about work and life, about how the “workday” is becoming a thing of the past, a thing surrendered to the gods of “productivity” and “commitment.”  Even as I thought about that, however, another post came to me, this one about our personal enslavement to our screens.  Everyday, seemingly, new stories and studies come out illustrating just how damaging is our addiction to our screens.  Crap, even the freaking Pope is talking about social media and screen-time…

Two pieces, each with something to say.  Two pieces that I (pretty unsuccessfully) shoehorned into one.  

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Some days the bear really does get you…

The Music…Oh, The Music…

Well, shit.

How many times do I have to write about music?  About how important it is to me?  About how it inspires and drives my creative side?

How many times?

At least once more, it seems.

So, if you haven’t guessed by now, I decided to take a break from the blog.

A long break.

I haven’t written since Thanksgiving, and — quite honestly — I wasn’t sure when I stopped if I was going to take up again my keyboard and the commitment to share my thoughts and myself three times a week.  I was burning out, I was tired, and I wasn’t sure I gave much of a damn anymore.  Oh, the words were still there, but they were harder to find.  The urge to share was still there, but the energy…the energy was not.

And the worst part was that I didn’t know why.  I couldn’t put it together.

“What changed?  Why is it so hard now?”

What changed?

What changed, indeed.

I had stopped listening to music.

Oh, it wasn’t anything conscious or driven or intentional.  No, it was the stupidest of things: I got into a few podcasts, and they took up all of my “listening time”.

Now, look, I’ve talked many times before — many, many times — about music, and about how it matters to me.  Well, none of that was exaggeration.  Take away the music, and I find it hard…no, strike that.  I find it all-but impossible to really write.*

*The shitty pseudo-temp job didn’t help, either, by the way.

So tonight…

Tonight I was sitting there, starting to cook, and I decided to fire up some music.  I had no stinking idea what I wanted to listen to, so I went with a favorite artist…an artist who has inspired a number of writing sessions and flash fiction pieces in the past.

Umm, not to repeat myself or anything, but…well, shit.

It wasn’t a chorus of angels — that is reserved for when I have my first coffee after a long time without — but it was stinking close.  Almost as soon as the music started, the urge came back.  The words came back, and the energy came back.  I had to take that bit of advice that I’ve given to others so many times: when a thought/idea comes, you don’t wait, you don’t try to “capture” it, you write it. 

So I did.  Write it, I mean.

The particular song?  Well, I’ve talked before about my current favorite band (Gaslight Anthem).  The creative force behind that band has a solo career as well, and he is far and away one of my favorite songwriters.*  As for the song that…err…well…got me going (again)…well, it speaks to me.  It’s a symbolic song, a song with a lot to say.  It is, in the end, a song that speaks to me about a number of things, but especially it speaks to me about me (and, no, you don’t get any more explanation than that):

*The artist’s name is Brian Fallon, by the way.  He wrote, for vastly different songs on vastly different albums, two of my all-time favorite lines:

“I get up in the morning / Like a ghost chained to a haunting” from Proof of Life

And

“With everything discovered just waiting to be known / What’s left for God to teach from his throne / And who will forgive us when he’s gone?” from National Anthem

Oh, I burned my dinner, by the way…