Cockeyed

My life is cockeyed.

No, really, I’m being serious here!  The RV site Yellowstone gave me is all packed dirt.  Well…what happens when massive amounts of snow melt right across all that dirt?

Yep, you guessed it: it’s mud season for me.  The sad, unexpected (by me, anyway) outcome of this mud season is the fact that the blocks leveling my trailer are…well, they’re doing their best Titanic impression right now.

Okay, so it’s not the worst problem in the world.  It is, in fact, pretty much the very definition of “first world problem,” to be honest.  I mean, crap — no one’s shooting at me, I have all the potable water I need, I have heat* and electricity, I have a “pantry” full of food…if the worst problem I have is that shit rolls off my counter from time to time, I’m pretty sure the world ain’t about to end.

*Screw you Big Sky RV, and your cheap lie about filling my propane tanks!!

But it does get you thinking…

Well, it gets me thinking, anyway.

My life has been cockeyed for a very long time.  One could argue, I suppose, that all writers’ lives are at least somewhat cockeyed and out-of-kilter.  Shit, what insane idiot would choose a life where fulfillment and happiness are driven by words and sentiments that you basically have to prostitute your soul to make a buck with?

I don’t how many others out there share this experience, but for me that lack of balance, that skewed vision, is what makes it all work.

I was balanced and even as a sales monkey.  I was locked firmly in the glide-path for the standard, traditional American life: a nice house, a new(ish) car, a comfortable retirement account…

And I was miserable as hell.

I had six weeks of “vacation” every year from my company, and every year I used every single second of that.  Partly because — as you know from reading this blog — travel and adventure are the most fulfilling things in the Universe to me, but mostly because I hated that which gave me that vacation time.  I hated the drab, tan-and-grey corporate decor … I hated the unending meetings that bred faster than any rabbit could dream of … I hated the pretension and hypocrisy of the company, of many of my coworkers, of many of our clients … I hated, when you get right down to it, every single day that I had to put on a mask and pretend to be someone I was not…

As I wrote once before, a few years ago: the clothes I wore didn’t fit my soul anymore.

In between then and now there is a great deal of water, and quite a few bridges…some of them burning, and some still beckoning to cross back.  There is a failed business — and all the problems and heartache and exhaustion that you can imagine that comes with that — there are failed relationships, there are personal problems, financial problems, problems of every stripe…

And then there are my friends.

More specifically, there is the suicide of yet another friend.

I have stood in front of far too many caskets, said goodbye to far too many friends “too young to die” to not be changed by it.  One is far too many, and I’m way above that number.

The last of those was after the failed business, after the failed romances.

I asked myself, finally, in front of my friend’s coffin, just what the fuck was I doing?

Why was I putting off — denying — that part of my life, of myself, that lay at the core of everything?

Why was I living someone else’s life, someone else’s dreams?  Why was I working so hard to follow the roads so obviously laid out for me?

Why was I keeping the words to myself, the emotions and meanings and realities?

Why was I not being me?

Robert Frost famously wrote about the road less travelled.  For me, it is the last two lines of that poem that really says it all:

I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.”

My life is cockeyed, and I like it that way.

No, that’s not quite right — as hard as it can be for family and friends to understand, I need it that way.

Write or Flight

Fight or flight.  Along with “sex or food,” that is perhaps the only biological constant that holds true no matter the species, no matter the environment, no matter the situation…hell, as a sci-fi guy I have zero doubt that those two hold true no matter, even, the planet or star!

Well, for those like me, those of the writerly bent, that evolves into “write or flight.”  You either have something to say, something to write, or you don’t.  Or, more to the point, you run away until you do have something to write.

It goes back, honestly, to that old and overused bit of “advice” we’ve all heard or read: writers write.

If the number of people who said they were writers actually wrote, we would need one hell of a lot more bookstores…

“I’m a writer, you know.”

“Cool, what was the last thing you wrote?”

“Well, I don’t have an agent or a publisher yet.”

“That’s not what I asked.  What was the last thing you wrote?”

“Err…  Umm…  I don’t have an agent or a publisher yet…“

“*sigh*”

Screw overused, it really is true: writers write.

Okay, sure, Dickens pimped his ass out for a publisher from the get-go, but Twain wrote his best stuff long before anyone ever thought his little nom-de-plum was worth a damn…

The Tale of Genji was hand-copied a thousand years ago…

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch was passed by samizdat* long before Khrushchev ever let it go “officially” to print…

*A uniquely Russian word — and concept — for the underground press.  Mostly it was individuals copying a work on old-school mechanical typewriters and passing it along to a handful of others in the “chain”.

The Outsiders was written during high school classes, with no thought or dream of it ever seeing the light of day…

The Aeneid was written as pure propaganda-for-hire….okay, so that one really was written for the publisher, but it is the exception that proves the rule!  Or something!

My point is this: if you have a good idea, if you have a good story, you write it.  Period.  That’s it.  Once it’s written — err, once it’s been revised and revised and revised and perfected — then you figure out how you’re going to make money from it.

Writers write.

Whether it’s good or bad…whether it’s publishable or not…whether it’s “acceptable” or not, writers write.

When you come to that point where you have a choice…

When you come to that point where you just don’t know…

When it comes to that point where you wonder just who you are…

You write it.

You always write it.

Screw the rest of it the bullshit.  Screw all the nonsense and advice and random worries, just write it.

Anything else will make you miserable.

And, by the way, if it doesn’t make you miserable to not write, then maybe you ain’t cut out for this life in the first place…

They Lied To Me!

The folks I bought the trailer from ran through a checklist for me of all the stuff they had done to get everything ready.  One of those things was, “filled both propane tanks.”

Ahem.

I ‘bout froze my testicles off from that one!

Look, I know I should have checked the damned bottles myself, just to be sure they really had filled them, but…well…headed into Yellowstone for six months like I was, I had a lot of other crap on my mind at that point…

533F3DB3-8CFE-4EFE-A781-761C2CA49D53I should probably point out something about Yellowstone in spring: it ain’t really spring until summer starts.  Look, it’s May 2nd as I write this and there is 3 feet of snow on the ground.

Well, a few nights ago, the temp dropped to -10 farenheit* and…okay, I think we can all guess what happened then…

*For you Celsius folks, that’s freaking COLD — that’s something like -23 C

Yep, you win the prize!  My freaking propane ran out!

Do you know what happens when the furnace in a 28-foot trailer conks out in that kind of cold?!

Tears, that’s what happens!5F48ECD4-0D02-47A5-AB69-DF75CE577593

The bastards lied to me. They had half-filled one tank, and ignored the other entirely. That deserves a major HARRUMPH!

I would be more pissed, I should add, except…

Except…

Except…I’m back in the middle of the damned wilderness.  My house may be small, but my backyard is fucking awesome!

The baby bison — called red dogs, and cute as hell — are just being born right now…

The wolf pups are cautiously coming out of the dens with their parents…

The bear cubs are going absolutely nuts, playing in the snow…

Everything is hungry as hell right now, from the bison down to the chipmunks, so they are all out and eating everything in sight.  Just this evening, in fact, I already had my first close encounter with a grizzly. He was a small one — barely a juvenile who had just recently struck out on his own — but it still was a great reminder just how NOT on top of the food chain I am in this place.

8CFB9B28-9B56-4FD2-8DFC-0E5A4744BF04It was also a majorly cool reminder not just of where I am, but why I’m here.

I can feel the chains falling away, and the words coming back.  I can feel the rhythms and cadences of sentences and phrases and scenes.  I can feel the emotion, and the truth, that is the best driver for any writing.  I sat already, I should add, in a place I wasn’t technically, umm, allowed to be, and the words and images just started to flow on their own…

Can You Smell That?

That’s the scent of fresh air.  That’s backcountry hiking.  That’s decomposing trees and melting snow and grizzly poop.

As beautiful as the main parts of Yellowstone are, they’re not what keep me coming back.  Nope, what has me here yet again are the parts you don’t see.  The parts that only those who live inside the park see and feel and experience.  The mud pots and mineral pools and geysers with no trails leading to them.

Screw the bison herds ambling along — and across! — the roads, a short off-trail hike will take you to a bison graveyard.  Yeah, it’s only three miles from the road, but none of those tourists visiting only for a day, or a week, even know it’s there, let alone are willing to walk through the sage-covered hills to reach it.

During bison mating season, I see all kinds of folks lining the sides of the roads with massive binoculars and spotting scopes trying to catch the barest glimpse of one of the wolves stalking the herds and I have to laugh.  “Give me a couple hours,” I want to shout, “and I’ll you take you to a freaking den!”

You will also never, by the way, well-and-truly appreciate your can of bear spray until you get lost and stumble across an adult grizzly’s main lair.  I would not, of course, recommend that particular adventure — but it sure as hell is a cool memory/experience to have!

I think this summer will finally be the time for me to dive into that secondary project I’ve had simmering for a while.  It’s a “low fantasy”* setting, so the unseen and unknown areas of Yellowstone are the perfect impetus to get me thinking “primitively.”  To be honest, after spending so long on sci-fi, I need the mental and experiential kick of being away-from-it-all to get my thoughts moving onto that very different track. 

*Think little-to-no magic, and a bit of gritty realism, and that’s “low” fantasy, versus the usual “high” fantasy stuff of wizards and elves and noble heroes and other impossibilities…

That is, of course, another of the reasons why I like trips & adventures like this: to get my mind exercising and working.  I can’t sit here and stare at the steep, forbidding, snow-covered mountains that ring Yellowstone — like I’m doing as I write this — and not imagine what is was like for the original explorers and settlers.  No roads, no gas, no electricity — hell, no real, accurate maps — just what you can carry with you on foot or horseback.

Think on that for a bit.

As I sit here, my version of such “exploring” is off to my left: a 4-ton, 28-foot trailer with, quite literally, all the comforts of home.  Yeehaw, I’m really roughing it now!  Lewis & Clark ain’t got nothin’ on me!

Ahem.

I look at that trailer, then I look at the mountains.  I look, and I try to forget what I know about the actual geography of the area — I don’t want to cheat, after all — then I try to pick out the path I would try to take if I was one of those folks way back when.  Whether it’s mountains or meadows or impassible forest, I look and I try to imagine traveling and living there a century, or a millennia, ago.

Then I Google the reality of what I studied and I laugh at how fast I would’ve actually died.

It is, when you think about it, very, very true that we stand on the shoulders of giants.  Whether you think about scouts on a trail, Vikings on a longboat, traders on camelback or even early pilots like Amelia Earhart, over water with no GPS, no LOFAR, no navigation aids at all, just take a moment and appreciate what they did…and how impossible it would be for 99+% to do anything even close…