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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the coolest art markets in New Orleans is losing its prime location. The details are too infuriating to recount, but it comes down to greed and the power to steal someone else’s dream once it becomes a reality. Supposedly, the spot will still be an art market, but run by the land owner and not the dreamer who five years ago envisioned getting artists off the streets at night and into a safe, inviting environment. Now that her idea is a success, she’ll need to move elsewhere.
This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered a moneyed power sucking the soul and momentum out of a creative culture. Ebay was an amazing place to sell my beads when I first got into glass. Then, once many artists and buyers made it into a success, Ebay started raising the fees and found other ways to suck dry the very artists that made that corner of the site what it was. From my local chef who says his landlord is raising the rent now that the shop is popular, and therefore the location more desirable, to Amazon constantly changing the rules to benefit the corporation over the writers, the creators always seem to be at the mercy of those providing the playing field.
Which leads me to my pipe-dream. That definition of success I talked about earlier needs to first be an insanely-stupid, unrealistic, fantasy. My current one is to own a jazz club building on Frenchmen Street. Don’t worry, I’m well aware of how expensive and Not Good an idea that is, but those pipe-dreams get to be what they want to be. I have no interest in being an employer. I’ve done that so I know it’s not me. I’m also not looking for another revenue stream, quite the opposite. I like, or would like, to make my money writing. It’s more in the realm of giving back, but that sounds too altruistic. I want to be a part of the scene. To be known as the guy who’s on the side of the artist. Think Leonard Chess in the movie Cadillac Records without the conflicts.
If we don’t support those creative adventurers—be they artists, musicians, chefs, or any other passionate endeavor—we’ll end being little more than McDonalds and Walmarts from coast to coast. D and I spent five years in an RV seeing this country, so I know we’re pretty much already there. New Orleans is one of the few cities that has truly unique flavor. But that can so easily be watered down for public consumption, or worse, capitalized on by those only looking to cash in. I don’t think I could write stories set in Middle-America-Blahville.
I’m starting to see a little positive momentum with my books. Nothing to write home about, and most of it is due to my crackerjack marketing team. They’re smart enough to not bother me with what they’re doing, and I try to be smart enough not to interfere. It’s just very encouraging to look at the daily sales and see something other than a flat line across the bottom of the chart. I still can’t breathe easy, but it’s a start and I’m very appreciative.
I say all that so no one will get the idea that quitting for me is an option. Any new endeavor takes a lot of intestinal fortitude. And that’s okay. People like stories where the protagonist has to overcome great odds. Honestly, a story where the hero just wins from the start and never has setbacks is boring. We all identify with the struggle. From the beginning of this adventure I saw the challenges as good future backstory. “I had to work years and put out X number of books before…” You get the idea. But to stop before that “…” turns everything that went before from backstory to failure.
Writing for me is kind of like being addicted to gambling, and not just because of the money thrown down on each new story. There’s a belief that the odds must be improving. Except with writing there’s also the hope that I’m getting better with each attempt. That has to influence the odds. And I’ve got an amazing team backing me up. Come on, how can I lose?
So I’m trying to embrace my current standing in the writing world and not be too concerned with the time and money it’s taking to find success. It’s a journey and I’m trying not to be in hurry. But to quote Jeff Bebe in Almost Famous, “Although, some money would be nice.”
Every few years Deanna and I reevaluate where we are with our lives and professions. Early on we realized money was only a means to an end. It’s not what defines us or is even a reasonable measure of how we’re doing. Of course that proves to be a challenge when we’re dealing with others, be they artists or writers, who do subscribe to the monetary measuring stick. We buy into it for the sake of conversation but always feel a little dirty afterward.
Our last definition involved wanting to move to New Orleans and allow D to do all the traveling she wanted without me freaking out. We’re there. It was a good pipe-dream and it happened much faster than we imagined.
But it’s not the end point that we’re striving toward. Our definition isn’t a goal. It’s more like a way of seeing when it’s time to reevaluate our situation. I can’t say that we have a current definition, and I probably wouldn’t tell you what it was if we did. Some ideas are better kept private.
The conversation that defines what we want isn’t one that’s completed in an hour’s walk, or a week of walks, or even a month of walks. But once we stumble on the truth we won’t forget that road marker when we pass it.
Typically, we don’t spend a ton of money. There just isn’t anything either one of us wants. Deanna is fonder of travel than I am, but even then her trips are usually more for work than play.
And, contrary to what many people who know me may think, I do know how to cook a meal, clean the house, and maintain the yard. I just don’t want to. At all. I’m happy to pay others to do my chores, especially as most of those people do a far superior job than I would.
At the moment I’m supposed to be headed to the store for one of the few tasks I still have assigned to me. Unfortunately, I’m also suffering with a sinus infection that’s making it hard to get off the couch. I’m looking forward to the day Amazon and Whole Foods create an online ordering system with a smart warehouse that pulls the product and same-day drone delivery service. Sometimes the science-fiction writer in me wonders why reality lags so far behind. I’d be happy to pay the fee. Especially today.