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Cycles and Baby Steps

I was reading about a professional eater this morning. She downed three seventy-two ounce steaks in one sitting. I scoff at the term ‘professional eater’ or the need for a professional eater, showing off how much they can eat while so much of the world starves. Is this our ultimate statement of hypocrisy?

 

Free-range parenting is in the news. Free-range is the term given to raising children as Mom raised me and my siblings. We ran around on our own, checking in when we were hungry, needed the bathroom, or bleeding. That’s now considered bad parenting, with neighbors and concerned citizens calling authorities and child protective services and police departments swooping in to round up free-range children. Free-ranging was once considered normal. It was surprising to hear one woman called ‘the inventor’.

So it is life and news cycles around us, as the sun travels the solar system and the planets travel the sun.  What was once considered a need is now done for sport (eating) and how we were raised is now considered dangerous, even though the relative dangers have been debunked. There is always a danger something can happen. I learned that again last week. Tucker, the black and white enigma is shares custody of us with another cat, Quinn, torn out a claw last Thursday. How and why, only that cat knows, like how he injured his eye. I was home then, and he went out, as he always does, and came back hours later, injured. Tucker is fine, as far as we can tell, but is limping a little this morning. He hadn’t been limping in the previous days. He washed as I typed Now he’s sleeping on my desk, on the other side of the laptop.

I was with my wife during the weekend, hiking and tramping around Bend. She’s feeling the effects of those exertions, strange to witness. It’s another cycle, this one being a cycle of her disease. Sun affects her. Food affects her. Exercising affects her. Her medicine affects her. Those symptoms flare and decline in cycles but she’s not attuned to what does what or when, only that it’s parcel of a larger cycle.

This thought of cycles stays near my mind. I follow my cycles as sports fanatics follow their teams. I’ve traced and identified my emotional, physical and intellectual cycles, along with ‘social’ cycles. The social cycle is how I view and accept socializing. It is different from the other three cycles. All are related, pulling and diverting energy. I suspect there is also a nutrition cycle but it needs more investigation. The earth’s seasonal cycles affect me, as well, and the cycles of day and night. So do the weather cycles and my work cycles. Work cycles mostly revolve around the sales cycles, which revolve around the fiscal calendar.

I see the impact and influences of these cycles in my writing efforts. The overall swirl of cycles contribute to larger cycles that travel like the moon’s phases, but while that is taking place, the individual cycles rotate in and out of influence. They swell to contribute positively or negatively to my overall cycle. My writing itself demonstrates some cycles, with some days being remarkably easy to navigate through my writing, and other days being as difficult as walking barefoot over broken glass. That’s why baby steps are always needed.

Baby steps are always required for me to deal with cycles. There are always matters to digest, begin, pursue, or end in the context of all the cycles rotating through and around me. My wife and I talked about these cycles and baby steps this weekend, this time against a backdrop of our friend. Our friend’s husband is enduring stem cell treatment for brain cancer. She and he have been dealing with his health issues for several years. What began as hepatitis C turned into Lymphoma. As it was treated and defeated, the brain cancer was discovered. The brain cancer is much tougher. Stem cell therapy is the last desperate act. He’s living at Moffett in Florida, where he’s getting his treatment. Then they’ll live in an RV parked in a nearby RV park to continue his treatment.

Our friend is gritting her teeth as she deals with this, along with taking care of her husband’s business and her business, and advising her adult children. Both children have their issues. One is suffering a mysterious ailment and the other has a broken foot. Neither has established a long term relationship. I don’t know how this fits into it, but it seems indicative of something. They are adults, one being into his forties, the other into her thirties. To cope with everything, our friend drinks more, realizes she drinks more, and realizes she drinks too much, consuming a bottle of wine a night. So she’s struggling to cope with that, too, along with her mother’s declining health. Naturally, we wonder, what do we tell a person going through all of this?

The answer is baby steps, a nicely intellectualized approach to multiple family, financial, emotional, mental and physical issues. My wife takes this advice herself. I take this advice. But – yes, there is a but. There is usually a but. We all know there are some days when even baby steps seem exhausting. The only thing to do then is break them down into smaller and smaller steps until a sufficiently small step is found and taken.

It’s easily said, harder to do, requiring energy across all the individual cycles that make us the people that we are. Watching the world and its individuals and the cycles we travel, I’m grateful that my demands are so insignificant, minute, affording me the opportunity to complain or exult about my finances, my writing, my work, my home, my cats. Too, too many lack that luxury to regard and complain about the minutiae. They seek the baby steps needed to stay alive, or the steps needed to die, part of the greatest cycles we know, the cycles of life and death, and creation and destruction.

Time for me to take a few steps. Time to walk to the coffee shop through this glorious weather, unleash the writer inside, and write like crazy.

One more time.

 

 

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Yesterday

I’m in Bend, Oregon, this week. This is my last day. We'll drive home after brekkie.

Bend is a lovely city in the middle of the high desert, a place rich with volcanic legacy. You know this because a many signs state it so. Also, you can look around and see remnants of the volcanic activities all around you. Mountains like the snow drenched Mt.  Jefferson and the Sisters. Buttes shaped like camel humps pock the landscape. These formed around vents and eruptions. One prominent butte is Pilot’s.

 

Pilot’s Butte is right off the highway in Bend. Go up the hill three quarters of a mile and you’re at one of the local shopping meccas. This mecca features Jamba Juice, Whole Foods, Office Max and Costco. Go west, down the hill from Pilot’s Butte and you’re downtown in a mile, down by the river, Mirror Pond, and the lovely Drake’s Park. Driving Pilot’s Butte is well worth the six minutes of gas and time. Walking the trail up, just a mile, will present you with the same rewards of stunning views and history lessons that driving presents, but with the added dividend of some brisk exercise.

We’re in Bend because we like the downtown and needed a diversion from our calcified routines.  It’s our third visit here in two years. Besides the pleasant downtown, several used book stores are easily accessed. Multiple breweries, pubs and brew houses, bakeries and restaurants, and art and shopping centers make Bend home. Skiing was in vogue, with Mt Bachelor open for snowy activities. Bend doesn’t have an seashore but a river runs through it, the Deschutes River, tributary to the mighty Columbia.

I'm out of the news cycle, part of being on vacation, even mini-vacations, a long weekend, like this. Days are spent, shopping, hiking, eating and exploring. Each morning, though, I still followed my calcified ritual of dressing, walking down to a local coffee shop and getting a brew. Then I’d find a table, set up my computer and pounce on the keyboard. Saturday's session was a bit dismal. I was editing and revising a completed chapter preparatory to writing a new chapter. Halfway through the completed chapter, I sat back with a grimace and acknowledgement, this chapter needed work. At that point, I’d invested an hour and a half. My wife was back in the hotel room, catching up on her email on her Mac and reading her book so I felt I had to bail. While I no longer wrote, my mind kept up at it, talking to me about what needed done on the chapter as I went through everything else that day.

I’m reading Cloud Atlas while up here. It’s a stimulating read. My wife’s book sounds very interesting. I can’t recall the author but the title is Killed at the Whim of a Hat. Set in Thailand, the protagonist is a crime journalist in a large city. Her life is turned over when her mother sells the family business and home and buys a rundown hotel in a small town. The protagonist is despairing. This town doesn’t know crime. Fortunately, murder soon appears, and she is able to impress everyone with her skills and knowledge as she pursues clues. As it often takes place in a murder mystery, where there’s one killing there’s usually another one, and the plot thickens. This is all according to my wife, but I trust her reporting.

Meanwhile, I’m high on positive feedback. Whereas I’d received some feedback from readers that they’d not been able to ‘get into’ my manuscript for Returnee, I heard from several this week who are loving it. Mind you, they’re friends and but halfway through. I know it’s a complicated book and they confirmed that by telling me how they established tricks to go back to find who and what is, well, who and what. I remarked that sounds like I need a little editing to help make it more user friendly but they protested, no, no, don’t do anything, let us keep reading, we’re enjoying it. They’re good friends. Beer drinkers, which, as you know, are people of high character.

So here I am, my final day in Bend, Sunday morning, seven thirty AM, down in the coffee shop, coffee at hand, rear in chair.

 

Time to write like crazy, at least one more time. 

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Word Counts

Back in the back of my writing life, I judged myself as a writer by a few things. First, and I probably shouldn’t need to note it, but first was just writing something. Sitting down and typing up a paragraph, character sketch, concept, just something, please. That counted as being a writer. Do it every day, I encouraged myself, come on, sit down and write. I didn't tell anyone except my wife about that activity.

 

Knowing that typing a paragraph was a first step but didn’t take me far enough, I started timing myself, demanding one hour of writing per day, and then word counts, demanding five hundred words a day, increasing that to one thousand words after early easy success writing five hundred words. I made logs to track them by date. That came to work but to keep me in the seat, I determined I needed to be as rigorous and disciplined as any exercise freak. I had my wife as a model. I actually thought at that time, wow, now fifteen years ago, I need to apply myself to writing as if I was my wife. She’s almost obsessive about things, like test taking, doing homework, reading her book club books, cleaning house, gardening and exercising. When she decides to pursue something, no half measures are accepted.

I wasn’t like that. My first days, I was like, I must call forward my muse. Where is my muse? How am I expected to write without my muse? I felt I wrote better whenever the muse showed up but the muse was as reliable as a broken clock. When the muse showed up, I thought writing was wonderful and easy, admiring the easy way I had with conjuring ideas and scenes and capturing them in words. Eventually I learned that the writing material was actually about the same whether the muse headlined the session or not, and that, given how infrequently the muse made an appearance, I needed to write without her presence.

Now, word counts are far from my process, an afterthought I check when I finish my writing session. Some days I only write about a thousand words. That’s fine. I’m normally editing and revising on those days. Most days, the counts are higher. That’s all right, too. I’m not pursuing the count but that beginning writer in me still achieves satisfaction from a higher word count. After checking how much was written, he often sits back with pleasure, smiling and giving himself a small cheer.

More satisfying for both of us is to finish a story or novel. I haven’t written a short story in several years, focusing on novels. I have finished novels. Nine, I think? I could sit and count them….

The celebration when I finish a novel is usually quiet and solitary. Typically, I’m at the coffee shop. I finish my coffee, however cold it might be, and look around, pleased with myself and my accomplishment. Eventually, I pack up and walk home, and that’s about the end of it, for now.

Word counts aside, I’ve felt like Professor Grady Tripp from Wonder Boys this week, trying to figure out, how do I tie all this novel up? Reflecting on what I like to write, I veer toward literary science fiction/fantasy high concept works. Yeah, not much market for that type of book. My comparison with Tripp is not deep. I’m not having affairs, smoking grass, or going through the wild weekend crap he endured, like hiding a dead dog in his car trunk, but I identify with the character’s yearning and frustration, his search for self and his delivery from himself. The novel’s aimlessness intrigues me. While the movie tightened that up, I thought it stayed true to the plot’s central aimlessness and its lost venturing feel. The novel launched me into a love affair with Michael Chabon’s books.

 My plot twists and turns and the supporting events are shyly emerging, almost like teases, but it’s a complicated plot. Connecting it all is trying. Besides typing and editing a great deal, I spend time staring out the window, examining the clouds for clues. It usually helps. It's harder when there aren't any clouds.

 

Time to write like crazy, at least one more time. Quickly; the coffee is already cooling. It begins cooling as soon as it’s poured.

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Feeling Fine

After slumping yesterday, I’m restored and re-invigorated today. Some, I think, is due to a terrific writing session yesterday afternoon, the sort of session where my typing can’t keep up with the speed of the story being ‘dictated’ to me.

 

And some is work. Whereas yesterday, I went in 'bleah' and experienced connectivity issues that further deterred my work initiative, today I went in and –

Frozen computer. Blue screen, no, not the dreaded BSOD, the Blue Screen of Death to those who remember, no, but another one I encounter that I can’t track down. It’s a recurring Tuesday issue and seems to be associated either with my VPN Client and its updating process or the world computing project. This is a project to connect idle computers – with permission – to create a massive chained supercomputer and see what can be done with its computing power.

One of those two things seem to cause my computer grief. My only option on encountering it is a hard boot and recovery. Only took fifteen minutes today but it took down the spreadsheets I’d opened, leaving me grumbling, where was I? as I sipped my first cup of coffee, listened to a conference call and stared out the window at the drizzle, wondering where the day was and the outside temperature. But last night I’d decided I needed to apply myself and work today, so after giving the computer my best glower of irritation, I got on with it.

So now I’m deep into the writing flow, that terrific, fantastic place where my mind screams, “Keep up, keep up,” and I scramble to write and capture and edit and revise, eager to get into the next chapter, the next scenes, and the next, and the next, and the next. Of course, I must rush to chase the muse, which puts me on edge but it’s a high, an exhilarating adventure in being. I hang on and type and write like crazy, though I feel myself falling behind, recalling, what was that scene between Mother Nature and Death I envisioned while flipping through Brain on Fire? What was it that came to me as I watched House of Cards?

A little thought, a little coffee, a little more coffee, and a trickle begins, gaining momentum and volume, then bursting upon me – Yes, now I remember.

And partly, I think writing through about my work frustrations and weariness helped me expunge that poison and helped me find my balance again.

 

Time to write like crazy, at least one more day.

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