Open Season

Writing Set Up

Travel is bad for art. Wine is bad for art. Staying up late is bad for art.

What my art needs is a plastic chair and a uniform schedule.

My dream is to turn my hobbies into professional pursuits, which has the dual effect of 1) earning money and 2) spending more time doing what I enjoy and less time “working”. It’s a snowy peak I’m aiming for. But other creators have made it – they’re busy making it this very minute – and all I have to do is follow their boot prints.

The good new for regular guys like me is, whatever your wildest dream is, somebody’s already achieved it.

Billionaire? Civil Rights Giant? Lead Vocalist? Restaurant Owner?

Oh baby it’s all been done a million times. You just have to find the right blueprint is all.

You just have to bounce around a few different cities, a few different careers, and a few different relationships first. You have to watch the first third of your life slide by. Or however long it is, to realize that nobody’s gonna bring the holy grail to your doorstep. Nobody’s gonna push your ass up the ladder because nobody feels bad for you.

It’s not that we’re jerks, we’re just too busy feeling bad for ourselves.

When you realize that it’s all your fault, then magically the prison door falls off it’s hinges. Now you can take your blueprint and spread it across the table like a treasure map. Draw a line from A to B and walk it like a mile-high tightrope. You owe it to the kid you used to be.

Pseudocide

Darwin CBD Sunrise

Ken Kesey committed pseudocide after being sentenced to prison for the possession of marijuana. He left a suicide note in his truck, parked it at the edge of a cliff in California, and took off with his friends to Mexico.

Huck Finn also committed pseudocide. He wanted to get away from his alcoholic father and go on adventures. There’s a brilliant scene where Huck and Tom hide in the rafters of the funeral home during Huck’s funeral. That scene made an impression on me as a kid. (What will they say about me when I’m gone?)

A pseudocode is a little death, and death is good for us in small doses.

The pressures of life expand like steam in a chamber and they need to be released or else. And sometimes man, a two week vacation just doesn’t cut it. Sometimes a vacation is a torturous little tease. The first dagger is a dreary life, but the second dagger is gazing into the future and realizing that nothing’s likely to change.

The doctor tries to patch you with pills, but really what you need is a micro dose of death and rebirth.

For some it’s a breakup or a divorce. For some it’s a new job, a new town. A psychedelic trip or a road trip. Quitting the habit you never thought you could quit.

These things feel like death. But now you’re reborn, and what will you call yourself? Maybe you’ll leave your iPhone in the drawer for a week and who cares? Time is on your side. The rainy days are even lovelier than the sunny ones. You suddenly realize that time travel is a waste. Because the men in black flashed a red light in your face and erased the past. People still warn you about tomorrow and her army of troubles, but you take it all with a grain of salt, because anyone who purports to read the future is a liar.

You’re like Huck Finn in the rafters, or Ken Kesey crossing the Mexico border. You’ve got $5 in your pocket, a sunburn on your neck, and a backpack full of apples. Once your soul is weightless, then baby you can really fly.

Dawn and Dusk

Few things are impossible, but describing a sunset is one of them. It’s like trying to take a selfie with a skyscraper or recreate a Beatles song using only a rock and a stick. You might as well teach a tiger to play checkers. You might as well give up before you start.

What would you say to somebody who had never seen the sun set over the ocean? “Well there were lots of yellows, and then the yellows turned to oranges, and then…”

Some people don’t know this, but our Earth is connected to a parallel universe of magic. We are only connected to this magical universe twice a day – ever day at Dusk and Dawn – during these two times we swing just close enough to this magical universe that a tiny bit of it bleeds through.

The change that takes place during sunset (or sunrise) is blatantly subtle. You know some wacky magic is happening right in front of your eyes, but it’s faster than a hummingbird and gone before you even grab. You can’t freeze it. To take a picture of a sunset is like drawing a rainbow with only one crayon. This is because a sunset dances, not walks, across the red carpet of time. A sunset moves as slowly and surely as your fingernails grow. It moves at the speed of a blooming rose, a climbing vine, a ripening fruit. It moves at the rate that a child grows. You know it’s happening, but you can’t pinpoint exactly where.

Another big problem is, in order to describe an ocean sunset you’d have to somehow re-create wind through the viewers hair. A chilly wind but slightly warm. A wind that isn’t cold but is somehow getting colder. A sunset is not all about color, it’s not all about light, it’s also the air density, the twist of the wind, the blue blanket of night being draped across the bedtime sky.

Sunsets just wouldn’t be romantic if they made sense from all angles. The day belongs to science, and the night belongs to rest, these things are well understood. But the dusk and the dawn, those are something else entirely. Something that reminds us of the truths we knew before we got born.

Kecak Fire Dance

Sometimes I witness something crazy and I think to myself, “that’s going in the novel for sure.”

This weekend I got to see the Kecak Fire Dance. The “Kecak” is a popular performance across Bali. “Kecak” is the sound that the men yell and chant with hip-hop enthusiasm.

While the men provide the A Cappella soundtrack, a costumed cast of heroes and villains re-enacts the basic storyline of the Ramayana, a sacred Hindu text.

It was a trip for me to watch this performance. Because I really did fall in love with the Ramayana when I read it back in college. When I signed up for the fire dance I just thought I’d see some guys tossing flaming sticks around. I didn’t know what I was getting into. Then as I watched the performance I started to recognize some of the scenes and characters: Prince Rama shooting the golden deer, the Princess Sita being lured out of safety by a demon disguised as an old beggar, and later placing a flower in the hair of the monkey god Hanuman.

I did more research as soon as I got home, and I learned that the performance itself was created by a German artist in the 30’s. Apparently Walter Spies traveled to Bali and he said, “Holy Scheiße”  this story’s got money-making potential. What he saw was the original Kecak trance ritual performed in the Hindu tradition by the local Balinese. He took the chant and the themes and adapted them into a dance performance.

Today the Kecak is performed all around bali. If you visit an old temple you can usually pay $5 or $10 for the one hour show. This is a fascinating example of what is referred to as the “modern art-culture system” – when Western Culture adopts non-western cultural elements and transforms them into art.

Also known as the “when white guys monetize non-western shit instead of inventing their own stories” system.

I went full Nerd on this performance because these days I’m in story writing mode. It was strange, mystical experience for me to watch a Hindu myth re-enacted in a language that I couldn’t understand, and realizing that I could still identify with the universal themes and tropes: the hero, the mentor, the princess that symbolizes innocence, the demon in disguise (wolf in sheep’s skin), the “all-is-lost” moment, the climactic battle, the “hero-at-the-mercy-of-the-villan moment.” Just to name a few. It’s time to re-read the Ramayana.

Go With the Flow: Monday, August 24th

The earth spins in one direction. The mighty river does not reverse it’s course. Everyday I get a little bit older. Computers get small and faster every year.

All of these things are outside of my control. Why try and fight them?

When we orient ourselves against the natural order of things, we make life unreasonably difficult.

It’s like when a silly dog owner keeps a German Shepherd cooped up in the living room day after day. The dog won’t stop barking at cars. He won’t stop tearing things apart. It’s not the dog’s fault. He’s just trying to be himself, but the dog owner is expecting the German Shepherd to behave like a stuffed animal.

Or it’s like when a University tries to keep the boys and the girls separate from each other – to keep them from doing things that boys and girls do. The University makes it’s rules, it’s curfews, it’s laws, imposes these things with an iron fist. The problem is, those boys and girls can’t help but acting like boys and girls. No threat is great enough to counteract their nature. Those boys and girls will lie, defy, bribe, scratch, run, break windows, sneak around, devise complicated plots, stay up till all hours, perform impossible feats… they will find a way. Nobody is ever happy in this kind of scenario, neither the rule breakers or the rule makers. But the kids are just being themselves. The administrators are the ones pushing the boulder up the hill.

I guess maybe there are some battles worth fighting. But I’m not sure what they are. For this brief period of time that I’m a member of Team Universe on Planet Earth, I’d rather surf waves than fight to swim upstream.

I think this “go with the flow” advice can really help people in their everyday lives. I try to follow it myself but it isn’t easy.

There are universal trends, and there are also personal trends. Each of our unique personalities has a “flow”. We have strong currents and weak ones. We have natural tendencies that can’t be reversed.

Exercise is one of my favorite examples. We all know we should  exercise. But so few people actaully do it. Why? Because they haven’t found something they love, something they like, something that syncs with the flow of who they are as a person.

Running sucks. Lifting weights sucks. Only a small percentage of people in the world have the discipline to run on a treadmill everyday. But if we can find a sport we love, whether it’s slacklining or swimming or walking or tennis, then we won’t have to make ourselves exercise anymore. It’s a terrible cycle where we fall short on our goals, and then we feel guilty for falling short. Guilt is the second dagger, the one that kills.

It’s because we’re going against the flow, lying to ourselves that going to a gym 5 times a week isn’t so bad. It’ll never last of course.

In my relationships. In my work. In my hobbies. The way I eat and the way I sleep. I can always find areas where I’m working too hard. Where I’m going against the natural order of things. And then, instead of putting my head down and pressing on into the storm, I try to change directions to a better course.

***

Right now I’m working on my novel. That is, I’m working on the outlining and the plotting of my upcoming novel.

And whenever I get off course with the planning, whenever I fall behind, whenever I find that I’m uninterested, or that I’d rather do the dishes than work on the novel… whenever I get stuck, I try to remind myself to swim downstream again.

There’s no way I’ll ever finish a novel that I’m not excited about. I’ve tried before. It has to be something I care deeply about. It has to be drawn from my own emotional well. It has to feel like fun. Or else it’ll never work.

So that’s why I’m thinking about all this. I’m thinking about that compass that points to the magnetic center of my childhood soul. I try to go with the flow. I try to keep the needle pointed toward passion and away from work for work’s sake, at all costs.

Inspiration Runs Dry: Wednesday, July 22nd

It’s all well and good to make goals, but you need inspiration and hard work to see those goals to fruition – and inspiration is a limited resource.

Inspiration is like a precious little cup of water, sitting on a lone table in the desert. The world of jobs, tasks, errands, and everyday life is conspiring every minute to blow that cup over. The fiery sun flies high and zaps your inspiration straight into the atmosphere. If you drink it, then you’re good, but only for a while.

You’ve gotta find ways to keep refilling your gas tank.

Personally, for writing inspiration, I keep a steady IV drip of podcasts streaming day and night through my ears and into my brain. Constantly hearing the success stories of other authors helps keep me tuned into the right frequency. Of course those success stories aren’t really going to help me become a writer, but they just might trick me into writing today, into believing I can do it, into taking another step forward.

I’ve got a friend that I meet with once a month. We discuss our goals. I can’t even describe how much this has helped keep me accountable. Even if I do a miserable job all month, I’ll bust my ass that last week just so I don’t look like a fool when it’s time to report.

I try to tell my wife what I’m working on. I tell my friends too. When I make my goals public, it’s kind of like outsourcing my inspiration. Now I’m not just inwardly motivated, but I have a whole new set of inspiration which has solely to do with keeping my promises. I am incredibly motivated and driven by what I think other people think about me. Everyone is – it’s our nature.

But all that aside, the key is to NOT rely on inspiration as much as possible. However I can ween myself OFF of inspiration is a good thing. I know how unreliable, how fleeting it is.

So I’m trying to build good habits. Habits are the best way to fortify my goals.

Once writing, or exercising, or gratitude, or optimism (or any healthy activity you can think of), once it becomes a habit, then you don’t have to think about it anymore. You just do it. And good habits build momentum over time; they accumulate interest like a good investment.

Life is way too precious to wait around with your fingers crossed, hoping for the best.

If the Inspiration Fairies decide to pay me a visit, then I’m grateful. Maybe they’ll pick me up and fly me out over the ocean and reveal the world’s miraculous secrets. If so I’ll be ready, eyes wide, taking notes. I’ll see whatever inspiration wants to show me. And when it’s over I’ll thank them to the moon and tip them like kings.

Maybe the fairies are on their way this very minute. And maybe they’re not. Either way, as for today, I’ve got work to do.

None of My Business: Monday, June 8th

If you trust in yourself…and believe in your dreams…and follow your star…you’ll get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.” – Terry Pratchett

Some people need a break, a getaway, or some way to slow their lives down. What I seem to need is quite the opposite; I need a bucket of ice water over the head, a 4am wake up call, and a swift kick in the ass.

I used to lift weights. And I remember someone told me, it’s those days when you least feel like working out that make all the difference. Those days when you only have 30 minutes, or when your throat is swollen and your head is fuzzy, or when the weather just plain sucks and it’d be a hell of a lot easier just to stay inside. Those days are the most important.

If I make sure to do my writing on those days, then the rest will take care of itself.

This year is a great chance for me to get a lot of writing DONE.

I like my future self. I want him to be happy – not to look back and wonder what could have been. Also I want my family to be proud of me. Their love for me won’t ever shrink or change. But their pride and respect for me is proportionate to how much I succeed in acting like myself.

I secretly want everyone’s love and approval, not just my family’s. But it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks, does it?

A confident person once said, “What other people think of me is none of my business.”

My business is to ask myself, “did I do what I said I was going to do today?” Also my business is, “what’s the best way to spend this Sunday evening?” Everyone knows that Monday will make or break your week. But a controlled and relaxing Sunday evening is the key to a good Monday. The key to a tomorrow that doesn’t suck is having a today that doesn’t suck.

My only business is moving forward. Create, create, create.

Guardian Angels: Thursday, June 4th

You are never alone when you write. Your guardian angel stands behind you, holding sword and shield, gravely bowing his or her head.

Guardian Angels vary in size and personality. In general they are tall, which makes it easy for them to see over your shoulder and onto the page. They are not the cutesy cupid breed of angel, nor the white-robed, halo sporting type. They are warriors who direct their people with a firm hand.

There is only one thing that Guardian Angels care about, and that is Truth with a capital “T”. They know, better than you do, when you are being true to yourself. And they know instantly when you start holding back because of fear, insecurity, or laziness. They serve as the “Quality Control” branch office of your soul. When you make an excuse about having to run some errands, your Guardian Angel pushes you back into your chair and says, “first finish your work.”

Guardian angels despise commercials and advertisements. They generally like documentaries, as well as blogs and autobiographies and quality fiction stories. They are big fans of the first draft, and the stream-of-consciousness approach to writing.

The author Ken Kesey once said: “The job of the writer is to kiss no ass, no matter how big and holy and white and tempting and powerful.”

That was obviously Kesey’s angel speaking. Because guardian angels understand the simple secret to success that people never can quite grasp: We respect and adore originality in others, but we are too afraid to demand it of ourselves.

Short Story: Jim’s Day Out

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(This story is 3,555 words long. Reading time is approx. 15 minutes.)

Jim’s Day Out

James Thurston stood in the closet, watching his rack of neck-ties spin around and around. White ones, purple ones, striped ones, spotted ones – over 50 of the things, spinning around and around in a circle. He kept his finger pressed firmly on the button. The electric tie-rack had been a gift from his kids years ago. How long ago? Ben and Emily had given it to him for Christmas. They had been young then; they were still young, but now they had families of their own.

“Jim?” came his wife’s voice from the bedroom.

“Huh, yes?” James snapped out of his daze and pulled his hand off the button. The electric buzzing of the tie rack came to a moaning stop.

“Here’s your mug,” she said, “I filled it for you. It’s nearly 7:30, you know that?  Don’t you have to be at the interview by 8:00?”

“Um, yes,” he replied. “I’m about ready.” He turned and accepted the coffee mug from his wife and placed it on the shelf. Sarah was freshly dressed in a grey business suit, her long blonde hair neatly pressed and straightened. She smelled like a field of lavender.

“I’ve gotta run,” she said, “big client meeting this morning. Good luck today, honey. Let me know how it goes OK?”

“Yes, of course,” said James.

She left the room. A minute later he heard the front door open and close and she was gone.

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Left Brain, Right Brain: Tuesday, May 26th

I’m on a mission right now to re-discover the path to my creative brain. To be present in my dreams, listen to my silent brain, and ultimately remember what it feels like to be a kid.

My jerk ego gets in the way of these efforts, so I have to play tricks to get around him. Tricks like keeping a notepad close at hand while showering, or writing as soon as I wake up in the morning, while my dream-thoughts are still fresh. My ego doesn’t like when I play tricks like listening to a musical artist that I admire, or watching Ray Bradbury youtube interviews.

My left brain is one of those silly British guards with a fuzzy black hat and a rifle and a permanent wedgie. My right brain is a flamboyant and idealistic young prince.

One has a furrowed brow, the other a pair of wide hazel eyes.

Of course I can’t live without Mr. Left Brain. When I brush my teeth, he helps me grab the toothpaste tube instead of the alcohol rub. But if I let him take complete control, then I become less like a living community of organisms and more like a marching corporation.

Adulthood and responsibility inevitably push us toward a life of funlessness. It’s natural to move along the spectrum from simplicity to complexity as you get older.

This year I’m on a mission to swim against the current, and regain some of that ground that I’ve lost that’s rightfully mine.