The Day’s Dilemma

My new editor just sent me the first go-round for book 3. It’s still nerve wracking as hell for me when I first see that email. I scan all the documents looking for any indication of something seriously wrong or words of encouragement. This editor is more technical than the one I usually get to work with. It’s all good, but I can already tell this is going to be a very different experience than I’m used to.

As I get further into writing I’m becoming more annoyed with my high school English classes. I remember hating with a passion the free-writing we had to do at the beginning of class. No one bothered explaining that spelling, grammar, plot, none of it mattered. Rough drafts should be just that—rough. Spending time figuring out the correct spelling of a particular word takes the writer out of the story. Had I run that class I’d have deducted for crossed out and corrected words, but I didn’t have a say. My inner critic worried about every word I stumbled over. The plots embarrassed me. How was I supposed to come up with something interesting to say and express it in fifteen minutes? This isn’t the first time I’ve found my education had gotten in the way of my passion. I used to say I did have a degree in art, but I hoped I was becoming a reasonable artist anyway. It’s been forty years and high school still bugs me.

Today I start off with a dilemma. I’m on the downhill run with my current story, but I’m at a section that’s taking a lot of thought. Then there’s the manuscript with red marks all over every page. Both projects are calling to me, though for very different reasons. One will require a lot of brainstorming, which over the last few days it already has, and the other will have me back doing technical cleanup. With clear skies today hopefully we’ll finally get a walk in so I can clear my head and decide which way the day will take me.

A Responsibility to my Characters

 

I have a love-hate relationship with reality. For as long as I can remember I’ve felt like I was on the outside of life looking in. One morning I’ll wake up to find it wasn’t real and was all just a learning experience. I think that’s what draws me to the idea that we all exist in a virtual simulation. It just makes sense to me, though that might be my way of coping with where I see our species headed.

I don’t really believe we are in the mind of a computer but not for the reason that it sounds fantastical. A lot of stuff science-fiction authors come up with later becomes reality. I hate to say it, but I find reality boring. I know life is what I make it. I’m not blaming anyone. But life never holds my attention for long. Given the opportunity, I slip away into one of my fantasies. Reality pokes me for attention: get the computer fixed, the roof is leaking, clean up after the dogs. And I do love my walks with D and playing with the pups. But in any given day I doubt I spend more than a handful of hours focused on the here and now. And typically those hours are rather frustrating. I suppose that’s why I’m drawn so forcefully to writing. I try to give my characters interesting things to do, mysteries to solve, and people to get to know and love. Experiences I probably shy away from all too often. I try to take playing god to my imaginary people seriously.

Technological Future and the Loss of the Problem Solver

 

I’m a big believer that, if we can survive the present, a technology-based utopia is possible. Between 3-D printing, drone delivery systems, driverless cars, and the already big on-line ordering system I see people no longer having to do mundane tasks. Add in a Universal Basic Income and we might finally reach that time when people get to do what they want instead of what they have to.

But there’s a problem

As I mentioned yesterday, my computer needs to go in for service. It turns out there’s only one Apple store for the greater New Orleans area. One. And it has crappy reviews. So I’ll be driving an hour plus to a cute little college town on the Northshore as that’s the closet place that would take appointments.

It’s not the inconvenience that bugs me. I expect brick-and-mortar stores are on their way out and I could mail in my computer for it’s repair. Most of the time sales people bug me. But it’s the unseen person in the back that I’ll miss. The one who magically makes it all better. I used to be one of those guys. As computers end up running robots to build and fix everything we lose the problem solvers. It would be easy to say those people are just very knowledgeable about the product, but that’s not entirely true. Think of Edgar Hansen on Deadliest Catch or MacGyver. It’s not just a matter of knowing the item on the workbench. There’s a creativity unique to fixing things with whatever is handy. I fear we as a species are losing that ability.

It’s Good to Have a Backup

 

I first tried to do some serious writing thirty years ago. Pen and paper were not my friends. My hand would smear the ink. My penmanship is illegible, sometimes even for me. I can’t spell to save my life. And editing made the page look like some kind of expressionist art piece based on frustration. It didn’t take long before I put the endeavor aside.

I did go through the typewriter era. While I was in school my parents had an old Brothers manual. Hitting the keys took just the right about of pressure to hit the paper. Type too fast and the arms would jam, very old school. My only personal typewriter was a Smith-Corona Selectric. I hated it. With every letter it sounded like a gun going off. I may be among the last generation to suffer with typewriters. Even now they seem like antiques.

We have something like eight to ten computers in the house at this point. Most of them are units we’ve outgrown for one reason or another. I remember when we only had one. When it broke down life became a major stress. I steered clear of it to avoid D’s wrath should I damage our only form of doing business on the internet.

It took years for D to convince me to move from PC to Mac. It’s been a year now, and apparently I’ve become reliant on my nice little, lightweight, Apple. The fan is making an ominous noise so it needs to go in for service. For all those years working on a PC I thought the skills would come back a little easier. I’m not a technological person, but I sure have become dependent on these devices. All I keep thinking is how it could be worse.

Where Does this Scene Go?

When I’m writing I sometimes end up with scenes that don’t go anywhere. They’re usually the result of me trying to write my way into the story without having an idea of where I’m going. The scenes either get cut in editing or, hopefully, find meaning later on in the book.

I’ve seen the same thing in parts of my life. I was an art major in college specializing in pottery. Just about the least cost-effective major ever. When I graduated I gave up hope of being an artist. The Peace Corps took me in as an agriculturalist. Yep, the city boy artist was going to be a farmer in Africa teaching people who’d been growing crops since the dawn of man how to do it better. The director of the project I worked for thought that after eight years of ceramics and six weeks of agriculture I might be a better potter than farmer. He let me work with the college ceramic students, professors, and village potters. That was the first time I noticed the strange filaments of my life hooking up.

There are still a lot of scenes in my life that feel like they should have been cut in editing. The fact that they’re still there have me looking forward in life wondering what’s around the next bend. If nothing else, I hope they make good writing fodder.

Behind the Mask

 

I wonder what people think of me. Earlier in my life I was pretty aware of the impression I left on those around me. I was shy, introverted, hard to get to know. It wasn’t intentional. Being in a multi-person conversation was like being in a fencing match and I had trouble getting a word in edgewise. That’s still often the case for me. Aggression has never been one of my defining attributes.

It’s not that I don’t have something to say, but I like being comfortable with an idea before letting it out into the world. I need time to consider it. Can I back it up with facts? Do I really believe it? Or am I just talking as a placeholder until I can come up with something better? Typically, by the time I have my idea well formed the conversation has moved on.

I’ve always enjoyed thoughtful conversations, but they’re rare for me. It takes a careful combination of alcohol, open-mindedness from both parties, and a comfortable setting for me to really cut loose. Those hours are what I remember most about my life.

People have told me, or sent the message through D, that they feel they’re getting to know me through this blog. I like that. I’m not so much of an exhibitionist that I share everything here. Honestly I do a lot of self-editing to try not to offend, both in writing and conversation. There are topics that I need to gage how my conversation partner is taking my ideas before I feel comfortable moving on. That’s not possible on a blog. So you get the tip of the iceberg here. It’s tempting to say I hope you like it, but at this point I’m confident enough with myself to say I hope you see it as real.

Another Year

 

Today marks 57 years that I’ve been trying to figure things out. Life is still a mystery to me.

I’m not one of those people who say they wouldn’t change a thing. There’s quite the list of moments when I wished I’d done something differently. 90% of those involve people—conversations I left too soon, friendships that drifted away, times I was too chicken to tell someone how I felt. At the time I usually thought the moment would come around again. It seldom did.

But for the most part I’m proud of my choices. Not getting married until I found a partner and not just an obsession may well be my biggest accomplishment. It wasn’t easy. I was 35 when D and I got married and I sucked at living alone. But that partnership has been the foundation for everything that’s come since. Quitting a good but boring job to live on the road was a high point. Again, it wasn’t easy, but it was the first step to the life we’re living. I loved being an artist, but I’m prouder of having the guts to know when that adventure had ended and it was time for the next. Writing makes me feel young again. I’m not an expert. Hopefully one day I will be, but it’s interesting to be back down on the learning curve looking up.

I resented getting older in my forties. Each year I felt like I was losing more than I was gaining. Now in my mid-fifties I’m more comfortable with who and where I am. I’ve done, or am working on, all those things I wished to do when I was a kid. I don’t resent my fifties. I think I’m harder on those earlier years—my twenties and thirties. I wasted so much of those twenty years. I know the answer is I wouldn’t be where I am now if I had gone through that time, but I’m not sure that’s true. I’d like to say I did the best I could at the time, but the truth is I was chicken. Life, people, and work all frightened me. I thought I’d get stuck in some life I didn’t want. It took all that time to figure out what I wanted wasn’t going to find me. I had to be more proactive at living. It’s a lesson I try to cling to so I’ll repeat it: be proactive at living.

Something is Better Than Nothing

 

I only made half the progress I wanted to yesterday, but that’s a whole lot better than the day before. I’ll take it.

When I started out as a full-time glass artist I hated taking days off. It wasn’t the time away from the torch that I resented, it was the struggle to get back up to speed. Even a long weekend would sometimes dull my skills enough to need a day or two to get fully back into the swing of it. Working glass is largely muscle memory and instinct for knowing what the glass needs.

Writing involves a lot of those same intangibles for me. I can easily get my characters into tough situations, but getting them out requires my brain to be sharp enough to understand the whole board. Kind of like playing chess, I need to see how moving one character might influence the actions of the others. If I’m feeling a bit dull it’s hard to make those connections.

Today will be better than yesterday, which was better than the day before. I’m getting back to normal, but it’s not a fast process.

Having a Partner Helps

 

D’s at a writer’s convention this week, so I’ve got the place to myself. I experience an odd combination of liberation and loneliness when she’s gone. I could write all night or I could veg in front of the TV and no one would know.

Of course I could do those things if she were here too. I just feel guilty about not working with her toiling away upstairs—even when she’s not. I’ve been dealing with a sinus infection for the last two weeks which isn’t helping my productivity. So I need to get down to it and start racking up the word count. Lately writing has been like running in waist-deep molasses. Yesterday I gave in to the temptation to sleep and watch movies. Zero words written.

Today will be better. My head feels almost normal. I can keep my glasses on for more than five minutes without setting off a headache. Then there’s a chore or two to be done. But without her here I have to find the self-motivation to keep moving. I do miss my characters and story line. This book is on the downhill run which is the part I like best to write. I don’t really have an excuse not to write today. Time for a little self-discipline.

Keeping Focused

 

One of the hardest parts of writing for me is keeping my brain in gear. As a glass artist I could put my hands to work, rock out to some music to prevent the inevitable self-criticism of how it was going, and let the magic happen. That mental disengagement isn’t possible with writing. So far anyway, any slight distraction, like soft music in the background, only irritates me. I need to work on that. In the past music has often proven a good lubricant to my thought processes.

I enjoy the demand of complete mental engagement, I just can’t sustain it for long. It’s like swimming in a cold lake. I know if I’m in it long enough I’ll adjust, but after a few minutes I can’t help but head for the warm sandy beach. There’s also a lurking fear of what happens if I do get too comfortable—like writer’s hypothermia. I suppose that’s where the gentle distractions prove useful, like a little life-line back to reality.

There was a time when I was doing production glass work that I’d put on movies as my entertainment. Though it worked well for cranking out product, it was also an indication I wasn’t challenging myself. Maybe I’m over doing it now. I don’t know. Might be time for some experiments.