The Apocalypse That Wasn’t

Overcrowding! Biblical traffic jams! Cats and dogs living together!

The eclipse was supposed bring it all out. From record sales to the crazies, we were gonna get it all.

We got nothing.

No, really…I walked over to a trailhead the morning of the eclipse and saw no cars. Not just a few cars, but none. Zero. Zilch. Nada. The store did its lowest level of business in a decade. Apparently everybody did listen to all the warnings from the Park Service to stay away.

That being said, I still did my long-ass hike to get away from it all…then I did something very, very dumb.

Oh, the first part of the hike went well. And let me tell you, being on top of a mountain to watch the eclipse was seriously cool. The light started to fade, and to turn to that particular shade of orange-red that you really only get at dusk (which looked truly odd with the short, noon-time shadows!).

Then it got strange.

The more the sun disappeared behind the moon, the more quiet it got. I don’t mean a normal hush. No, by the time of totality (well, 98% for me) it was totally and completely silent.

Animals…birds…even the damned insects, they all went quiet. That was, honestly, the eeriest part. With this much life and activity around Yellowstone, it is never silent here. But it was yesterday, and it stayed that way for all three minutes of the totality.

That is what surprised me. That is what awed me.

Of course, none of that was the stupid part. I saved the stupid part for after the eclipse.

So, there I am sitting on top of a mountain. I had a perfectly good trail to go back down. Did I use that trail? No, sir. Not me. I’m the damned explorer. I’m the bear-whisperer. I go where I want, trail or no trail.

I decided to scramble down the opposite side of the mountain, and head to a lake I know a few miles away. I would just pick up another trail there, and head back home. Easy peasy.

Umm…no.

It sucked. No, really – it sucked donkey balls. I almost died (err, well, almost got severely injured, anyway) more than once on that particular little jaunt.

Where the mountain wasn’t trying to kill me, the bears were. Now, keep in mind, I do a lot of off-trail hiking. More than is good for me, in all honesty. But, in my defense, I am very good at it, and I very much enjoy it.

And, yes, I always carry bear spray with me. In all the miles of backcountry stuff I’ve done, I’ve never had to so much as pull that can of supercharged pepper spray out of my pocket. Yesterday, halfway down that mountain and walking through a meadow, I had the fuckin’ thing in my hand, ready to fire…and ready to GTFO as soon as I did use it.

Thank God I didn’t run into the (very large) grizzly who owned the tracks, scat and beds I saw, because he would not have been happy to see me walking through the very heart of his territory…and I almost certainly would not be typing this right now.

Yes, it was indeed one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done.

With the nights in the thirties, and the days starting to cool, it is beginning to feel like fall not just to us humans, but also to the animals. The elk are ready to start bugling for their rut, and the bears are starting to really get after the food in preparation for hibernation in a couple of months.

I think my off-trail days are over for the year. There’s over a thousand miles of trails in Yellowstone, maybe I should check out a few of them, instead.

I will miss that backcountry stuff, though.

Torches And Pitchforks: An Angry Village Finally Wins One

The hulking shape hunched at the reins while the white wagon lurched and creaked under his great weight.  A look of anger on his face, and of resentment, as he fled the village once prey to his tyranny.

And on the face of the poor horse pulling that wagon? A look of equine resignation that did nothing to hide his misery and depression. Reduced to pulling a troll…where had his life gone so wrong? His mother had been right, he should have become a plow horse, like his father and grandfather.

Behind that wagon, the villagers cheered and danced. Maidens with flowers in their hair glanced shyly at the young men clustered near the ale keg, hoping for a dance and a kiss. Those same young men, however, could not tear themselves away from the nearby cluster of village elders.

Having drunk deeply of the ale, and of the sweet wine of freedom, those elders were busy regaling each other with tales of the troll’s vicious wickedness. Every one had a story, every one had felt the sting of the troll’s evil. Something else all shared, however, was a common refrain: the nightmare was over! The troll was gone! Salvation and freedom had come finally to free them from fear and dread!

Separate from the others stood one woman. Beautiful and strong, she had faced more of the troll’s wrath than any other. Now she stood alone, at the end of the village street, and waved a mocking goodbye to that white wagon as it slunk away. No words did she speak, no sound did she make, but forever would her laughter of joyous relief ring bitterly in the ears of that giant, bloated figure.

Umm…yes, it’s metaphorical. And, no, I won’t explain. Nope, not when I have to go back to the ale keg and continue telling stories…

Grinding Tears Into Wine

I’m supposed to write about pet peeves today. More specifically, I’m supposed to write about those pet peeves that I have in regards to the writing.IMG_0163

God knows, I’ve got my share of ‘em. You’ve all already heard about my need to write in taprooms, and about the impenetrable shields that are my earbuds…

But I’m still not ready to write about that. I’m not ready to write the sarcastic, wry post I had in mind. My friend’s death is too near, and far too powerful: I still hurt, and I still mourn.

So, instead, this is a post about catharsis…about how I heal with the words, and about the need to write.

I’ve never mentioned before, but the first piece I ever got paid for was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was supposed to be a simple obituary, voluntary and unpaid. But it became something far, far more. It became an ode to pain, and an expression of my rage at the loss, and at the fucking uselessness of it all…and it got picked up for that.

It was the obituary for a seventeen year old boy who committed suicide.

Writing that was the only way I had to deal with the pain, the only outlet that preserved sanity. Just under thirty years ago, in similar circumstances, I hadn’t yet learned that outlet. I hadn’t yet learned the power of putting words onto paper. I hadn’t learned the healing that comes with storytelling. Instead, I internalized everything: the loss, the pain, the rage, and the complete and utter confusion.

Oz very much is the combination of those two suicides…of those two friends. Yet, even now, I still haven’t released it all. The pain and rage and confusion are still there, and still they shape who I am, and how I think. Every single word I write is part of the healing process – and part of the venting. Every single word is my own blood on the page…and the blood of those many friends I’ve lost. If I didn’t write those words, if I didn’t use the blood, I would go back to drowning under the weight of it all.

Sometimes I still do.

Most of the subtexts and messages in both Wrath and Silence are planned and intended. Most, but not all. Some…some grew organically out of the writing…grew out of my own subconscious telling the rest of me to fuck off and taking over.

Alone is worse.

For something I once thought a simple throwaway line, that particular phrase has taken on a hell of a lot of power.

Writing Oz’s death scene almost broke me….but with the writing also came a certain amount of healing. I had to write it, I had to explore that particular moment…almost as much as I had to heal.

That is why I write. That is why I tell people that, while I write this blog for others, I write the stories for me. That is how I cope, and how I heal.

And if, someday, something I write can make a difference to someone I never meet…then it was all worth it.

Why?

There’s another drink at the end of the bar. I don’t want to say that…fuck, I don’t want to have to say that.

IMG_0720But I do: I have to put another drink on the bar. Another drink to join all those I’ve set to toast the souls to whom I’ve had to say good-bye.

I came up here to rediscover life, not to lose one of those friends who helped me do so.

I didn’t know Gerard for long, but I did come to trust and admire him like I do few people in this world. He was, in every single sense of the word, a gentleman. He was, with no exaggeration, one of the best people I’ve ever met.

He was a hell of a lot better of a man than me.

Yet, here I sit, still alive, still drinking whiskey and still mourning the dead.

I’m sick of mourning the dead. I’m sick of being the last man standing while my betters are cut short.

Yeah, yeah, I know: it’s all grist for the mill. It’s all emotion and passion and experience that can go into the words. No one knows that better than I: I would never – could never – have imagined and created Connor and Oz without having lost far too many close friends to suicide.

Yes, loss and grief, just like pain and anger, are what we writers live on. But, you know what?

Fuck that.

If this is the price I have to pay, I’d rather go back to losing my soul in a goddamned cubicle.

What makes all this worse? Gerard’s wife is just as good a friend, and just as admirable. I love that woman…shit, I used to joke to my friend about just how much I envied him his soul-mate and how I was going to steal her.

Now she’s shattered and broken.

I’ve been shattered and broken…hell, I’m not sure I’m still all that far from shattered and broken. But to watch Jacqueline fall into that hell, to watch her lose the center of her world…

I spent today holding it together because I had to: the business was open, and someone had to keep it going. I had to announce to the staff, several times, the death of a man that most considered their second grandfather. I had to announce, several times, the loss that tore at all of our souls. Then I had to carry on. We all had to carry on…even when all I wanted to do was go out and get drunk and raise a toast to my friend.

I had originally intended this post to be such a toast, but the words….for the first time, the words are failing me.

I could put together a thousand-word post and not come close to doing justice to my friend.

I could spend every ounce of my remaining strength (which ain’t all that much, right now), and not touch on everything I should say.

I could do a lot of things…

But, for now, I’m going to think. I’m going to mourn. I’m going to cry. And I’m going to get very, very drunk staring at yet another drink at the end of the bar.

Winter Is Coming*

*Thanks, GRRM!

No, really – it’s July, and the weather is changing. No, not to get even hotter, as is happening for most folks in the northern hemisphere. Nope, the weather is changing to get cooler: my summer is (already) ending.

I woke up the other morning a bit before seven. I had nothing to do for the next few hours, so I grabbed some coffee and headed outside to write. The fog hadn’t yet started to lift, and the air had the crisp, cold feeling of the beginning of autumn. In July.

The nights are back down into the thirties, and as soon as the afternoon thunderstorms roll in the days drop to sixty – or even below, from time to time. In July.

As scary as it is, as I write this I’ve been living in the park for almost three months. That is more than halfway through this whole extended vacation/escape. And no, I am honestly not sure which of those two it is. A bit of both.

Pretty much everyone who comes up here is trying to escape something – well, except for the international kids*. The younger folks are trying to escape parents and authority…are trying to escape the boundaries they’ve known all their lives. The older folks are (often) trying to escape the boredom and feeling of unaccustomed uselessness of retirement.

*Err…maybe there’s a lesson in that? I’m not drunk enough to even think about that…

Us in the middle? In many ways, that’s a bit harder. Some are trying to escape lives that have not gone as planned…are trying to escape the whats and wheres of recent years. But others are trying to escape that hardest problem of all: themselves.

You can tell those at a glance: they’re the ones who drink themselves senseless every night. The ones who are angry and resentful all the time. The ones who find a place like this is not an opportunity to see and do, but as a prison.  The ones for whom the trees and valleys, the rivers and geysers, are things not to be experienced but rather feared.

Okay, so I’m not going to delve too much into the specifics of that…not yet, anyway. There’s a great deal to say on that particular topic – a great deal that pertains to writing and to the characters we create – and the whole train of thought deserves more effort and thought than I’m bringing to bear at the moment.

Yes, that does mean that this another last minute post. That worst thing about that? I didn’t even do anything last night. I have no excuse, other than the fact that I spent the last few days doing, err, Yellowstone-ish things rather than write.

No, the reason I started writing about change was more internal: change for me, like winter, is coming. And, just like Westeros’ winter, it’s inevitable and inescapable…and potentially destructive as hell.

The change, for me, is that I have to figure out what the hell I’m doing after this.

I sold my house a year-and-a-half ago. I gave up my (admittedly shitty) apartment when I came up here. My life is, in essence, sitting in a storage unit waiting for me to figure shit out.

It’s easy to lose myself in the beauty up here, and in the rather unique pace and structure of life that goes with living and working in a place like this. But that just delays the decisions, it doesn’t take them away.

I have options. In some ways, too many options. But the end of the contract is still two months away, and it all still seems so unreal…far too unreal to make decisions that, well, matter.

Crap, what’s the worst that could happen? Three months ago I acted purely on impulse: I sent a resume then uprooted my life and started this little adventure ten days later. It’s turned out pretty damned good so far, so maybe it’s time to roll the dice again?

Fat, Drunk, Dumb and Lazy

A nice load of artisanal bread, some good locally made Brie, a few slices of prosciutto, and a six-pack of a nice beer (Bozone Select Amber Ale, if you’re wondering). Screw the employee dining room, I’m doing my own thing tonight.

The thunderstorms are gone, the sun is back, and I’m off work.

The Chinese tourists are very put off by my meal choice, and the hiker-trash (of which I am a proud member) are all trying to pretend disdain, but have so far shown only envy. I learned many, many things in my time and travels in Europe, but most of all I learned how to picnic. I mean really, really picnic. I’d have a nice Spanish Rioja with me if only I could find one…but I’ll settle for a quality beer.

Remind me to tell you about the picnics I pulled off in southern France: I ate (and drank) better on ten bucks there than I do on a hundred here!

Ahhh…first world problems…I love ‘em. And, no, my life does not suck at this point.

Shit, I could be in an apartment back home, bitching about the heat and doing the same things over and over again.

My brain wouldn’t have stood for that, and my soul sure as hell wouldn’t have. About the only downside I have at the moment (besides crappy internet and hungry/horny bears) is that the writing itself is suffering a bit.

Oh, not the quality…not the words. Those are coming just fine. No, it’s the vision. Dark, bitter and cynical sci-fi just doesn’t flow all that naturally up here. Now, if I was writing that fantasy series floating in the back of my mind…

That being said, I am back to making progress. Crap, some of my friends up here won’t let me not make progress: they force me to sit here and write. I can’t help, however, how the surroundings, and the changes in my own mood, effect the work. Connor is developing a hint of a lighter side, and is grinding away all those edges, both the rough and the sharp.

There’s a bit from a song (yes, there’s always a song, just like there’s always a but)…admittedly, it was written about a trip to Prague, but it still applies for me. Not to mention the fact that I can, personally, also attest to just what magic and changes Prague can work on you:

The twilight of our youthful days
Books and bridges burned
And records smashed

I’m fat and drunk and dumb and lazy
Digging deep way past the petty cash
But there’s not too many nights like these
When you know you have it way too good

Oh, let it revive me
Carry on, carry in the fire
Oh, let it revive me
Finding peace for a little while

—Prague (Revive Me), Dave Hause, Resolutions

 

A Little Lullaby; or, Why Won’t This Work?!

[Note – I’ve been trying to get some pictures posted since Saturday night…no luck. God, I hate cell phones right now. I have 2-3 posts worth of pictures built up, so expect a deluge as soon as I can get the damned upload to work right. Until then, I’ll have to dust off an old, old post that’s been sitting in my Drafts section since about Christmas!  So, in the interests of getting something to post (albeit a day late), here you go…]

I’ve never mentioned just why I gave this blog the name I did. Believe it or not, there are reasons. And, as ever, those reasons have lines from various song to help bring them to life…one specific song, in fact, in this particular case.

The lines in question, for the blog itself, are:

“That’s when I know that I have to get out
Because I have been there before
So I gave up my seat at the bar
And I headed for the door”

Now, this song has a lot more going for more it. Which is probably appropriate, given that it’s eight minutes long. There are other lines/thoughts in the song that also have impact and influence. Some have come into play with Connor and Oz, while others are more specific to myself.

Perhaps the most important line of the song, at least to me as a person and a writer who is far more a dreamer than someone practical and grounded, is:

“If you’ve never stared off into the distance
Then your life is a shame”

Believe it or not, this song did not actually make into the playlist I was listening to when I created Connor & Oz. That does not mean, however, that it had no influence on them. It is, after all, a favorite of mine:

“The price of a memory
Is the memory of the sorrow it brings”

“If dreams are like movies
Then memories are films about ghosts”

“You can see a million miles tonight
But you can’t get very far”

By the way, points given for recognizing the song from the title of this post. Serious, serious bonus points given if you recognize it from the lyrics themselves. And, yes, recognizing the song makes you just as damned old as I am!

The song in question is, of course, “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” by Counting Crows.

 

 

A Dingo Ate My Baby

It’s getting into late June…

Holy crap.

I’m not sure I believe that.

How the hell did it get be to be late June already?!

By the end of this month, I am “supposed” to be at least halfway through the first draft of Silence.

Err…

I think I need to dust off some of those old excuses I used way back in college. “I’m sorry, professor, but there was this baby, you see. And a pack of dingos. There were definitely dingos…”

Yeah, my professors never bought it either.

The hard part isn’t inspiration: Yellowstone is not short on that particular commodity. Electricity and good wi-fi? Those are problems, but inspiration is pretty much everywhere.

No, the problem is the right inspiration – and the right environment. For someone who grew very used to writing in the taproom of a brewery, adjusting to “writing on the go” while surrounded by mountains, trees, vicious bears and a supervolcano that is – quite literally – right under my feet is something of a challenge.

I’m essentially at the 35% mark. So much for schedules and planning…

On the other hand, I do now know just what bison smell like up close, so I’ve got that going for me.

The worst part is that I am writing…I’m just not writing what I’m supposed to be. There’s an old maxim in writing that if you put off writing out an idea that comes to you – even in the middle of the night – you are guaranteed to forget it. Well, an idea came to me a week or so ago…in the middle of the night.

You know the refrain by now: I had to write it.

During my work week, I can squeeze in a couple hours of writing each day. What did I do with the two or three writing sessions I actually managed to complete this past week? Yep, you guessed it: I started fleshing out that idea that came to me.

Harrumph.

Connor and Oz are mad at me, now. They think I’ve forgotten them…

It really is a good idea, though.

 

p.s.

Sorry about the late post this weekend – I actually had the one that went up Saturday night written and ready in plenty of time, but when I tried to upload it on Thursday…well…remember the problems with electricity and wi-fi? Yeah, both hit me. And with 8 trillion people in the park every single day, the one Verizon tower I can reach gets a bit, umm, overloaded.

If I can remember to set my phone to upload overnight, I do promise to do another photo post this week.

 

You Can’t Outrun Who You Are

IMG_0163Enough’s enough.

I give up.

Take this job and shove it.

I quit.

We’ve all been there. Hell, we’ve all very likely been there more than once. There was this one job, way back in college…

Never mind, let’s…err…not discuss that particular incident.

Bad jobs aside, that “I quit” moment can come all-too often in the other spheres of our life just as much as it does with work. I have, for instance, mentioned my serial bachelorhood more than once, I believe.

But what happens when that moment hits you as a writer? Writing isn’t, for me, a job; it’s who I am far, far more than what I do. So what happens when you face that Johnny Paycheck moment in regards to the words? That’s more than the song, that’s more than walking out on a shitty job, that’s real.

I hit that moment.

Oh, I fought it and fought it. I did whatever I had to to balance the “real world” with the writing. But still everything paled and faded. The words and emotions and thoughts weren’t the same.  I wasn’t even connecting with myself, let alone with a reader.

I’ve said it before: I write this blog for others, but I write the stories for me. When even that fails, something has to give.

I had to give up, I had to shift my focus and my efforts. I had to quit.

I quit the real world.

As writers we always talk about the stakes for our characters. What do they have to lose? What is at stake?

Well, for me the stakes were huge: I had writing to lose.

I gave up everything else instead. I put my life into storage, grabbed a couple of bags and agreed to a deal to live and work in Yellowstone for the next six months.

It’s made all the difference.

The words are back, and the honesty and truth of the emotions. I work my ass off five days a week…I hike and camp and drink my ass off the other two days…and I write every chance I get.

Wait, you thought I was gonna quit writing? Are you nuts?

It’s who I am.

Get Off My Lawn! Pt II

Ok, look…I know the hair may be going a bit grey, and my knees make more noise than a popcorn machine, but that does not mean I’m old!

If you’re only as old as you feel, I’m pretty much stuck in my early twenties.

So, the other day I had to get three new kids checked out with their banks so they can start working as cashiers. Yes, I said “kids”…deal with it. All three spent the entire 20 minutes saying “yes, sir” and “no, sir”. I felt like goddamned Methuselah.

IMG_0174But – and this is the important bit, kids – we cagey old bastards always get our revenge. There ain’t a 22 year old in the world who can keep up with me when it comes to whiskey.

Take that, youth and energy! Age and cynicism win again!!

Now where the hell is my walker? I feel like shit this morning…

The biggest problem up here isn’t finding good beer, it’s finding people who appreciate good beer. There is far too much PBR and Bud Light flying around for any self-respecting beer-snob to keep his or her sanity. Crap, I have to spend more time educating these folks on decent beers than I do actually drinking.

On the other hand, with this many folks from backgrounds so different and varied, I am getting a ton of new music to listen to. That is a very good, and very welcome, thing: my writing needed an infusion of fresh music. The old soundtrack was getting a bit stale, and it was starting to come out in the words themselves. New music means new thoughts and new outlooks…that can be almost as valuable to me as the change of scene has been.

By the way: if the last couple of posts seem a bit choppy it’s because, well, they are. I’m currently sitting outside trying to catch the last of the sun while I write this pout – two hours ago it was 65, now it’s 40…and In two more hours it will be in the high 20’s.

Not even a decent beer can keep my fingers warm at this point…