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Friday, July 22, 2011

Summers and Ice Picks

The temperature hit 99° as the oscillating fan made another lap past me and my sister. We had just finished our chores for the day and the only thing on our minds was getting in the river for a cool dip. That is, if you consider water temperatures in the 80's a cool dip. It was more like getting into bath water at this time of day.

The sun had cleared the trees on the east side of the river and was basically baking the water that rolled slowly downstream. The river was always very low at that time of year. Low enough that you could walk from one side to the other without going completely under.

The current positioning of the sun put us in a bit of a "tweener" time as far as going swimming. We would have to wait a couple of hours before the sun crossed the great divide and cast the appropriate amount of shadows on the water so we could swim without fear of sunstroke.

We did not have air conditioning, a comfort that, as and adult, I'm not sure I could live without. But back then air conditioning would have been an extravagant luxury. Luxury for us was having fans. We lived with the windows open and roughly 10 of those luxury fans spread throughout the small two story house, moving what little air they could. My sister and I would spend this time downstairs where it was moderately cooler or, if there was even a modicum of a breeze, outside under a tree.

My father had taken to collecting empty plastic tubs of varying size, especially if they had lids. This was a time when Tupperware ruled the universe, and that was definitely a luxury we could not afford, so we used the poor man's Tupperware. Empty Country Crock margarine bowls, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter bowls, Cool Whip bowls. You get the point. He would use these for any and all purposes, but his favorite use for them was to fill them with water and put them inside our small downstairs freezer where we kept our meat and vegetables frozen.

My father was also an early riser, a trait that he somehow handed down to me, and one that I wish he wouldn't have. Every morning he would wake up and, with great skill and little care for volume, remove these lumps of ice from their plastic containers into the kitchen sink. If you've never been scared out of a deep sleep by the loud KER-THUMP of several large chunks of ice being dropped into a metal sink, then brother, you've never lived. And if the first noise didn't wake you from dreaming of the prom queen, what happened next would curl your hair.

Dad had an ice pick. There was nothing special about this ice pick other than it was HIS ice pick. This wasn't handed down though generations. It wasn't a present from some dignitary nor was it made from some special alloy. Frankly, if my memory holds true, and it does, it was kind of rusted and had a round wooden handle. That's all. An ice pick.

Every morning, and mind you, this was EVERY morning, including weekends, he would take his ice pick and stab at these ice blocks repeatedly until he had every piece of ice exactly the size he wanted. To further the prolonged ritual, and the noise, he would then grab handfuls of these chunks of ice and drop them, from what had to be head height, into his Igloo cooler full of his beer and topped off with his lunch.

A rite of passage in our house was being old enough to use the ice pick to chop the ice for him. These special occasions were punctuated with the a barrage of  "That's not small enough" or "You're making them too small, they'll melt faster" or the even more enjoyable "Don't punch a hole in my sink or I'll kick your ass".

On these especially hot days when we were waiting for the sun to get low enough to enjoy swimming, my sister and I would go down to the freezer and grab a couple of these plastic bowls and, like the children of tribesmen, having had the history of our culture handed down through the generations, drop these chunks into the sink, from the appropriate height of course, and grab the ice pick, reminding each other not to punch a hole in the sink or we'd have to kick our own ass.

We would take these small pieces, some in a glass with sweet tea, the rest in the now empty containers, and go outside under the tree and eat them or let them melt on us as we fought off the heat of a mid-western summers day.

The U. S. is going through a heat wave as I write this and, as I'm sitting here in my office, air conditioning blowing its sensational coolness around me, I can't help but long for a time when my only deadline was the sun passing a climb of trees and the ice pick standing at the ready to bring me a cool treat.

Where's an ice pick and an empty tub of Country Crock when you need it? It's been a while and I need to try my hand at not getting my ass kicked.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Learning Patience

I have had my current work in progress in my mind since I was seventeen. After all of these years, and one actual incarnation on the page, the plot has changed and the characters have changed. Hell, I'VE changed, so it should come as no surprise that the sum of the whole would change as well.

You would think that after 20+ years of working a story in my mind, patience would be the last thing I was struggling with. But that's exactly where I find myself today. I'm impatient with finding time to write. I'm impatient with my characters. I'm impatient with my story development (could we please just get to that pivotal scene?).

This has been an interesting thing for me to witness about myself and my story. I am, by nature, a very patient person. I'm seldom in a rush to do anything and am very methodical in most aspects of my life.

So when my story started rushing me, I became a bit disconcerted. I had to pull back on the reins and throw the hand brake to slow the steeds down. But they didn't want to slow down. I tossed an anchor and still the story continued to try my patience, digging a rut into the dirt behind the wagon running out of control.

In times of anxiety I have learned how to stop, breathe, re-evaluate and proceed. But the story seems to have taken on a life of its own. I mentioned in a previous post that when the story finally found the exit, the light caused it to pause and lumber for a bit as it gained its footing. Now the beast has not only gained its footing, it has been rested, watered, fed and been let loose to run. And man is it running.

I want a good story. I want a story that is timeless and beloved by everyone that reads it. I would think we all want that or the idea of writing would mean nothing to any of us. There is a strong urge deep down that almost wants to get out of the way of the story and let it run unfettered to go where it wants to go. But there is no discipline in that and the story, in my opinion, would lose its way. My job as the author is to give it discipline and structure and a sense of direction. Not unlike a child, the story requires me to raise it from infancy to maturity and, most importantly, to hold it accountable to the reader.

The greatest test for me will not be finishing this story. It will get done and it will either be published or be put away as I write something new. The greatest test will be how well I ride herd on it. I must manage my story's expectations but more importantly I need to manage mine.

Today I will stop, breathe, re-evaluate and proceed. If that doesn't work maybe we'll have to discuss a timeout.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Committing to Writing. Where Are You in Your Journey?

I've always wanted to be a writer. Other than being a professional football player, I can't think of anything else I've really ever wanted to be in my life.

For what it's worth, I became neither. Not many of us actually become what the younger versions of ourselves desire to be, and for those of you who did become the adult our child selves dreamed, I salute you. You are truly the lucky ones.

For the rest of us, life intervened. For whatever reason we moved on from our dreams and ended up here. I was building seats at an automotive plant when the lure of being in rock and roll grabbed me and, well, here I am.

That sounds a lot more exciting than it really was. It was a lot of hard work and travelling in the least of best conditions. The stars are the one's with the jets and private buses. The rest of us did what we could to make the best of cramped quarters, surly drivers, angry managers and an incredibly diverse makeup of personalities. Imagine Carnies that are cleaner with more tattoos and even worse language.

I'm not complaining. I was able to enjoy a unique life that few get to see and, let's face it, made for good bar stool conversation. "What do you do?" is asked. "I'm in the entertainment lighting industry." is responded. "What's that?" is asked with a genuine curiosity this time. "If you've ever gone to a concert and noticed all of the lights flashing around? That's what I do." is replied. "Wow, have you ever met anyone famous?"

I think you know where it goes from there.

But the lure of bright lights faded and I became a desk jockey in the same industry. Now I deal with surly clients and angry salesman and a lunatic manager.

Again, I'm not complaining. I have definitely taken better care of this industry than it did me but it has paid the bills. Yet all through the past 20 years there was something that kept trying to claw its way out of me. The story that I wrote as a teen was always lingering around and knocking on the inner walls of my brain looking for a door marked exit. Every so often I would get a jolt. It would be a new line. A new hook. A new chapter. Characters would develop on the long drives to work and splendid prose would just spill out of my mind while in the shower. I'd find myself saying "Wow, that was cool!"

But nothing would come of it. And the older I got the more it continued to push open door after door inside of my mind. The urgency of the story that started as a walk down many halls had become a full on sprint as it frantically ran around each turn and twist looking for a way to get itself ON TO THE PAGE!

I started talking about writing. The now-ex said I should do it but she was supposed to say that. I would mention it to friends, but I don't actually have a lot of those and, like my ex, they want to be supportive in spite of something being a bad idea.

I hesitated some more but the need to get the words out was still pounding those walls.

I started Googling things about writing. I wanted to learn about what it would take to do what a writer does and that led me to start seeking out writers on Twitter and following them. As an aside, you are an amazing bunch with way more talent than I believe I will ever be able to live up to. But that fear is in all writers, no?

I enjoy photography and was already following a good deal of photographers, and one of them, who is also a life coach, kept tweeting things about just doing it. Take the leap. Nothing finishes without starting. All kinds of inspirational drivel that my old self would read, chuckle and nod approvingly at. But then these things started to speak to me. These weren't directed at me mind you. They were for anyone listening. But this time I heard.

I added "aspiring writer" one day to my profile on Twitter. I thought the word aspiring was appropriate seeing how I had never written anything more than an email or Facebook post. Who was I to call myself a writer? And far be it from me to offend actual writers. But, crazy as this sounds, that VERY same day, an angry tweet popped up in my feed from a writer I was following, again to anyone who was listening, that read, and I quote:


"Good morning, Friday. My PSA (again) for the day is DON'T be an "ASPIRING WRITER" F****** OWN IT. Be a WRITER. Write!!"

I promptly changed my profile to read "writer".

I took out my iPad in my car the next day and downloaded Pages. I opened the program and typed "Chapter 1". Fear gripped me in a way I had not experienced in a very long time. What the heck was this? I'm typing words on a screen. No one was looking. Why was I afraid? Was it fear of failure? Failure from what? This is never going to see the light of day so no one will ever judge me, so why was I afraid?

The door marked exit had been penetrated and the sunshine hit it square in the eyes. It squinted and pulled back from the bright light, holding a hand up to block the suns rays, but it forged forward, breathing heavy and lumbering as if it was tired and unsure.

The words poured out and it was like nothing I had ever experienced before in my entire life.

I'm very early in this journey. I hope to take you with me as I travel and maybe, with a lot of work and a bit of luck, the destination will be every bit as gratifying as the first step was.

Join me, won't you?

I've always wanted to be a writer.