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…

*sigh*

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…”

Ahem.

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…}

Through My Words

So, one of the things you run into when you’re traveling the US are folks from your (old) neck of the woods.  I have, when you get right down to it, run into quite a few folks lately who are from my (old) neck of the woods in northern Colorado.  I’ve had some fascinating conversations with those folks, not just about the places and things we have in common but also about the frustrations and negatives we share.

I mention this because I met a couple today who ticked all of those boxes.  Not only are they from just up the road from where I used to live, but their interests are pretty damned similar to mine.  Even more intriguing, their story is pretty similar, too.  They, too, got sick of living where it is always crowded and busy; of living at a pace that never seems to leave time just to breathe; of existing, rather than living.

Now, look.  There is no conceivable way I can argue that living in Yellowstone offered a frenetic, crowded life.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  But when the time came to finally wrap up my time in paradise?  Yeah, the very thought of going back to the nuttiness of northern Colorado was something I just could not face.  Hence my current little wanderjahr.

At any rate, back to this couple…

They left the area with nothing but the idea of living a better life.  I met them because they now run a successful farm*, and have just recently expanded that farm by building a small restaurant and brewery on it.  That right there is pretty much, well, heaven to me.  The corn they use in the polenta?  Yeah, they grow that.  The apple that comes with the ploughman’s lunch?  Yep, they grew that, too.  The beer they brew?  No, they don’t grow the barley or the hops, but they use yeast grown from a wild strain they harvested off of their own pears…

*Remember, I’m a farm/agriculture nerd, on top of all those other nerd-isms I’ve shared on these pages…

There is a school of thought that says our fascination with historical fiction and fantasy stories derives from a need/urge to look back to the “old days”; from the urge to live a simpler life in a simpler time.  And, no, before you ask, it is not purely a thing of the modern world.  Hell, Sir Walter Scott wrote Ivanhoe two hundred freaking years ago, and 150 years ago Robert Louis Stevenson started in on shipboard life and pirates’ treasure!  But looking to a simpler life?  Yeah, I’ll buy that.

Hell, I live that.

One of the dangers of life, by the way, is defining and measuring yourself by increasingly complex things.  Living by the values and measures of the external world, rather than those internal to you.  Even writers suffer from this, to be honest.  It is far too easy, and too common, for us to define our success or failure by those measures set and valued by those who do not create the words.  We get caught up in being on this best seller list, or appearing in that magazine.  And, sure, those measures have some meaning — especially when the mortgage is due! — but do they really define us, or our words?

If this blog has achieved nothing else, it has allowed me to offer some bits of advice to other writers out there.  One of those bits consistently has been — and still is — that you don’t write for anyone but yourself.  If you are writing what others want to hear; if you are writing words that don’t matter to you; if you are writing solely for the external measures, you are writing stories that won’t last, and words that don’t matter.

Here is an image for you, a small picture to flesh out the words.  If I am writing for anything or anyone external to me, it is for this:

A kid sits alone, reading late into the night.  The day may have been normal, or it may have been terrible.  There may have been friends, or there may have been no one.  Whatever the day brought, that kid sits alone at night and reads the words.  The story and the characters…they come to life in the words.  They become examples to follow or to flee; founts of wisdom or insanity; examples of those who have overcome, or those who have failed.  The best of them…they become treasured friends.

I was one of those kids, sitting alone late into the night and throwing my entire self into the story.  I laughed with Ford and Arthur and the other hitchhikers; I triumphed with Garion and Pug and Corwin and a host of others; I learned about loss and grief from the likes of Roald Dahl and Kurt Vonnegut and, especially, What Dreams May Come

When I look back, I learned grace and strength in adversity from writers like Samuel Delaney and Ursula LeGuin.  I learned honor and duty from folks like Joe Haldeman and Robert Heinlein and JRR Tolkien.  I learned…

Shit, I learned everything, from everyone.

That kid, alone under the covers? The one who want — who needs — to read words that resonate and matter?

That is why my own story is still one of wandering and learning and trying new things. That is the simpler life I value, and that I will always be chasing. That is why I write: for that kid, alone under the covers, learning and living through the words.  Through my words.

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}

Drunk and Irradiated…

Stupid, random thoughts for the day:

I couldn’t find anything to watch the other night.  There’s nothing unusual in that, by the way.  Springsteen, after all, did a song thirty-ish years ago about “57 channels, and nothing on.”  Well, with the almost infinite options of streaming, there is more choice than ever before…and yet it is harder than ever to actually find something to watch!

*sigh*

There’s an old theory in marketing and sales that says you should never actually give the customer a choice.  You give him/her the illusion of choice, while guiding them to the “solution” you pre-selected for them long before you ignored their first hint of what they would prefer.  That thinking defines the “old world” of network TV and old-school movie studios pretty damned well, don’t you think?

The worst thing, for me as a recovering marketing & sales weasel, is that that theory actually works…

Unrestricted choice can be the most paralyzing thing in the world.  Look, I subscribe to all four major streaming services: Amazon Prime, NetFlix, Hulu and Disney+*.  Between those four, I can watch anything.  So why on fucking Earth can I sit there after fifteen minutes of searching and complain that there’s nothing on?!

*And before you criticize me for the Disney-thing, let’s all repeat to ourselves the key reason: “The Mandalorian”.  ‘Nuff said.

After those fifteen minutes of futility, do you know what I did?  I started up a show I’ve watched hundreds of times before.  That act of pathetic surrender wasn’t the low point of the night, however.  No, the low point of the night came when I realized that the show on which I had finally settled — one of my top-5 all time favorites — had just hit it’s 20th freaking birthday!  Wait, godfuckingdammitalltomotherfuckinghell!!  Just how the hell can Firefly be 20 damned years old?!  It was cancelled just the other day!

Then I thought about the other four in my top five TV shows:  M*A*S*H, Cheers, Star Trek (the original, of course!), and The Wire

Are you kidding me?  Shit, I just realized that I really am getting old…now get off my fucking lawn!

Ahem.

My solution to the whole depressing dilemma, by the way, has been no help.  Books aside, when I turn away from TV and movies, I turn to video games.  Well, the game I chose to pick up was a user-created mod for a current video strategy game.  That mod was built on the lore and world of the Fallout series of games.  That, of course, meant that I had to go and revisit the actual games the mod was based on…

Look, not only am I now pissed off about getting old, but I have started replaying computer games that (kinda) go back to my college days*!  And just to add some salt to the wound, it is a game series that takes a very, very wry look at nostalgia and the urge to hearken back to “better times”!

*An interesting note for my fellow nerds out there: one of my college roommates was a programmer on the original “Fallout” game while we were in school.

Wait…wasn’t the bottle of bourbon full when I started looking for something to watch?  By the time I got killed by that first deathclaw in Fallout 3, the level of liquor was a whole lot lower…

People ask me, by the way, what is the best thing about being a writer.  I would lie and tell them that it was the money, but not even I am that good of a liar.  So, instead, I go with honesty: the best part of being a writer is the ability to take any random, stupid thought and turn it into six or seven hundred words of (hopefully!) coherent prose.

{Musical Note — I didn’t want to do a song that I identify specifically with nostalgia, so instead I decided to go a little sideways with the idea.  Look, I’ve told you before that I’m a hockey guy.  I love hockey.  I also happen to play a lot of hockey — and I do mean a lot.  One of my teammates had a young son whose team was playing in the same tournament in which we were playing.  Before his son’s game, my friend and I stopped into their locker room to feel…well…not so old.  Long before we even opened the door came the unmistakable sound of blaring music and 20 middle school kids belting out the song below — and can you get more throwback or nostalgic than that?!}