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The Switches

Talon the barista - his formal title - is also a writer, and a marvelous illustrator. He's completing his first book, an offering for children. Today he's a little exhausted by the book and the writing and editing process. He's a little worried the book is flat in places - or is it that he's read it so many times, that he's so embedded, he can no longer objectively read it?

We talked about it for a while and then he asked about my work. I provided shallow answers. I don't share much with people about my writing, not verbally. But sometimes people ask questions and I open up. Then, my wife claims, I go on too much. But people seem honestly interested in the books being written and the process. They asked; I answered. 

I encountered another writer in the coffee shop today. I love these sort of chance encounters with other writers. In this case, she stood up from her table as I sat down at mine. "Okay," she said. That delighted me. I use these verbal punctuations to stop one activity and begin again. "Okay. Time to go." "Okay, what was I going to do now?" "Okay, enough of that." "Okay."

She admired the coffee shop. Yes, it's my favorite place. I come here every day. It's not surprising for me to meet new people and have them mention that they've seen me either walking around town or at the coffee shop typing. My new friend and I talked about the coffee shop's vibe. I've tried all the coffee shops in town and this one works best for me. It has noise, it has light, it has energy, it has coffee, and it has solitude and privacy. I've forced myself to write wherever and whenever - onboard C130s in troop web seats, on commercial airliners, in tents in the desert, command posts around the world, airports, offices, coffee shops - but this is my preferred place.

Learning to write whenever, wherever, was a very deliberate effort, made from a conscious choice, one based in Formula 1 racing. I was a Formula 1 fan for decades. I still follow it but not with passion. I see motor racing as one of the world's problems now, one of our more misguided activities. That we spend so much time and energy on something with little tangible merits pains me. If it's an auto racing problem, the money will be spent to find a solution. It's a sad statement on priorities. But the same can be said about many other human endeavors. It's an imperfect world and we're imperfect creatures.

But back when I began following racing around 1968, one of my idols was the wee Scotsman, Jackie Stewart. Jackie could jump into anything and make it go fast. He was intelligent about his driving, though, which is what really struck me. He thought about it instead of just doing it. 

He did that with his qualifying. In auto racing, position is everything. Starting positions are usually defined by qualifying sessions. The fastest driver in that session would earn the best starting position, the pole position. Although consistently fast, Jackie wasn't always a good qualifier. So he thought about it, applying what he knew about himself and the qualifying process to make himself a better qualifier. Just like that, his qualifying efforts increased. 

Jackie thought about it more, about how much quicker he often was in qualifying than during the race, especially at the race's start, which was and is typical for drivers. It takes time to settle in and find the groove and start going faster. So Jackie decided, if he could 'turn on' that qualifying skill during a race, he would have a speed advantage. After successfully implementing that ability, he learned that it was most effective at the race's start. Getting in the car and starting the race in instant qualifying form and demonstrating staggering speed at the race's onset seriously demoralized other drivers. They often quit trying as hard, giving him a free road.

Those lessons gleaned from Stewart stayed with me. I combined those with my favorite Peter Principle: "Begin with the end in mind." Then I took note of myself, like Jackie, not just doing but thinking about what I was doing, what I did and why I did it. As I did, I grew aware of the impact of different types of thinking on me and my output. I learned how to focus more deeply and sharply on my efforts, first on learning new tasks, then on investigating information, on to writing code and analyzing data, and of course, eventually, writing. 

I soon discovered switches for everything in me. I learned I had a switch to be friendlier and socialize, and another to be a good listener. Another existed for working when I was sick or injured. Throwing that switch let me accomplish matters despite my health. Once I discovered and used that switch, I learned I didn't need to be need to be enduring physical discomfort to throw the switch. I came to realize parents often have these switches. They're tired but they have a duty to their family and throw the switch. Pet owners have the switch. Sure, they're tired but a commitment has been made to walk the dog, feed the pets, reassure the animals...throw the switch.

With writing, I developed insights into how my thinking changed while writing, learning to write like crazy, with abandonment, following a story's flow even if I didn't know where it led. I also learned how I felt when I wrote - how my mind became singularly focused on the task, oblivious to outside noises and distractions. I most note that I owe a lot of that to Natalie Goldberg's books. "Writing Down the Bones" helped me understand that every sentence didn't need to be perfectly when I wrote it, that if I didn't know a detail, I could put a marker in place and go on, coming back to that spot later. 

That gave me insights into why I'm less comfortable writing at home. One, there is my wife. She wants to respect my writing efforts and writing time but yet, she's my partner. She has issues that need to be discussed and she wants to share time with me. Writing is too solitary and private for me to share the time with her. I learned that I could go into my writing mode at home but that repeated interruptions started eroding the output and satisfaction. Two, there are my cats. They're bright enough for animals but it pained me to turn them away when they sought me out. They didn't understand that I was busy, and I felt guilty for being 'busy'. 

I need to work on that. I've realized - long ago - that I shouldn't let others dictate my moods nor how I feel. Realizing it and mastering it on two different matters. 

As the final part, I've learned that editing is a different mode from writing. So is revising and submitting. To be a good editor and make intelligent revisions, I need to be a reader, not a writer. 

Now, though, it's time to write like crazy, at least one more time.

 

 

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2800

Twenty-eight hundred words were written and edited today, such a small amount. I worked solely on one novel, leaving the other writers in me disappointed that I didn’t work on their offerings, other than more editing on the finished novel.

 

I may have written more but people stopped by to chat. I’m not a big fan of the stop-by. They’re interruptions. Work stoppages. I acknowledge people can be good, good for meeting and speaking with, good for other matters. One came to provide a storm update from her neighborhood, carving thirty minutes out of my time with her chaotic rambling. She’s an interesting person but it is a chaotic, one-sided conversation. Another stop-by was a coffee shop non-regular. I chat with him once in a while. Today he asked, “What do you do at your computer here for hours at a time? Are you a writer, a dreamer, what?” Yes, I replied. I’m a writer and a dreamer. Another woman said she sees me in here frequently and asked, “Are you a writer?” Yes, I’m a novelist. She’s an actor, but is writing a play. A third, a worker here, came by as I reading my finished novel on my computer and asked, “What are you reading?” I already knew he was an aspiring young writer and illustrator, working on a children’s book. I explained that I was editing a novel I’d finished. So we chatted about writing, editing, etc., and exchanged email addresses.

So interruptions happen, slowing me but also flattering and invigorating to learned I’m noticed and entice curiosity. The exchanges re-invigorate my half-formed plans to establish a writing conference here in Ashland. I thought about this a few years ago, after going to a conference down in Fort Ord, California. I think Ashland could be ideal. I’ve chatted it up with friends who own the Greensprings. It’s further out of town but would be terrific as a place to dive into November’s Novel in a month project. So I think about a late October/early November conference. Perhaps after ‘retiring’ from IBM this year.

Even with the interruptions, it’s been a terrific day of writing like crazy. Meanwhile, time to go home. The rain has abated but the clouds appear to be considering a new offering. It’s 57 degrees out and a good time to mend the fence.

Time to put writing like crazy behind me and return to real life, at least one more time. 

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Spinning the Mind Up   

6:30 AM. My work system was locked and unresponsive. A reboot was required. Reboots are okay but work is a treadmill. A reboot is a break in the belt. That’s what isn’t good about it. That break makes my mind stumble. I have to rebuild where I was, what I was doing, planned to do, need to do.

 

Rebooting, I sat to my emails with sighs, and attended spreadsheets and the structured systems with more sighs. My mind wasn’t getting into it. Coffee was needed. Maybe it would help.

That’s sometimes how it is, though. My mind spins up sluggishly for most facets of life. Work doesn’t engage my mind, doesn’t excite my neurons. They’re more like, “Yeah, we’re here. Now what?”

Ditto, though, with household chores. My wife, an exceptional person, takes care of most of those things. I help. Even my help is lackadaisical. Empty the dishwasher? Again, really? Dust, vacuum, clean the kitty litter box’s potatoes? Bleah. Banking? Wash the car, yard work? What, seriously? Come on, man. That’s not life.

Life is writing. Sad truth for me there. Life is writing, writing is life. That turns my mind on, spins it up to high levels of energy and activity. I’m writing! Yes! Not much else spins me up. I don’t enjoy reading about the publishing industry. It’s an industry. I grudgingly attend to its machinations. I enjoy reading other authors writing about writing, and I enjoy reading fiction and some non-fiction. Politics and history weary me. The more things change, the more they yadda yadda yadda. I view human rights and environmental protection with the same dim melancholy because it just seems like humans don’t give a shit about humans and the environment unless there’s money or vested personal interest involved. Reading about new abuses, murders and disasters spins my mind down. Yes, pockets of otherwise exist, places where greed isn’t triumphing and people live in harmony, but the pockets seem smaller, more distant, more fragile. I admire those fighting the good fight to save the world.

Confessing these matters of indifference and apathy embarrasses me. I strive to be better. I should be better. My mind used to spin up more quickly and actively. I suspect that my mind spins up for my writing because I’m happier there than doing all these other activities or worrying about the state of human existence, animal abuses, and the planet. I worry that I escape too much into my writing.

Yes, I worry but my mind isn’t spinning up to change. Not today. I suspect, reflecting on these darkened words and mood, that it’s my usual time of month, when my energies dwindle, my balance falls off and my optimism flails. It happens, like, every month.

There’s only one thing to do when it strikes. Write like crazy.

 

At least one more time.

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Life is writing. Sad truth for me there. Life is writing, writing is life. That turns my mind on, spins it up to high levels of en... Read More
Saturday, 17 January 2015 18:31
Michael W Seidel
Happy it afflicts others, Rosy. I'd say misery loves company but I'm not at all miserable when writing. I guess joy and happiness ... Read More
Sunday, 18 January 2015 17:15
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The Holiday Season

The holiday season is ending in our parcel of the world. Normal activities are resuming. School. Work. Weather watch. Football playoffs. The Oscars.

 

The weather is today’s topic. The first weather below 30 is being predicted, along with the chance of an inch of snow on the valley floor. Snow has been coming and going to the surrounding mountains at last.

With this backdrop, my wife and I have been trying to catch up on movies, attending the opening day of “Into the Woods.” Long. Lush. Complicated. Interesting. Musical. Clever. Long. Our comparisons with the OSF play put the movie into the pale. ‘Our’ version was better, although the second act seemed even darker than the movie’s second act.

After that, “The Imitation Game” opened. I told college students we were going to see it. They hadn’t heard of it. Weren’t familiar with Benedict Cumberbatch. Didn’t know Alan Turing. Oh, well, the gulf widens. I’m not overly familiar with Sam Smith and his top selling album and have actively avoided the Beieber. Still, I have some concept of them. 

I enjoyed “The Imitation Game.” I’m a Cumberbatch fan (but I don’t call myself a Cumberbitch – too old fashioned, I suppose) so that helped. People who noted it had the period details associated with Masterpiece Theater aren’t wrong but I don’t consider that a bad thing. Better that than this slowly expanding trend of making a period piece backed with a rock score with characters speaking hip American or British slang. It was interesting the first few times. Now it’s slovenly imitation. But imitation is a typical trend. If slow motion is good, more slow motion is better. 3D. Explosions, chases and double crosses, if some is good, more is better.

Discussing the season as we awaited the movie’s start yesterday, my wife and I addressed the holidays. Christmas has faded from our holiday interest. New Year’s wasn’t never big on our celebration list. Nor are Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. No, Solstice has become our holiday. A slow transition to celebrating Solstice over Christmas began sometime ago for us. Christmas and its commercial overtures does little to titillate our interest. We’re also sufficiently economically comfortable with buying ourselves what we need/want when it’s needed/wanted, without the requirement of an excuse to give ourselves gifts. We also resist the urges to buy/give foisted on us by unending commercials and advertisements. That just dirties treasured memories of the season when we were young and enjoyed it.

“Wild” hovers on our list of movies to see. Ashland was featured in the movie and Witherspoon came up for a special premiere and cocktail party. We weren’t invited. Today we’re going to see “The Theory of Everything,” which is being consistently favorably reviewed. I want to see “Birdman” and “Selma”. My wife’s friends told her Michael Keaton’s film confused them so she’d been put off from seeing it. She’s less interesting in “Selma” because it seems depressing.

It’s also reading season. She’s whipped through books. Now she’s reading "An Unnecessary Woman" although she’s disappointed to learn that a man wrote it. She picked up "The Orphan Train" today and read “The Martian” in a day and she’s urging me to read it. Not the best writing, she notes, but an engrossing story. I, though, am plodding through my leisure reading, alternating between the fascinating “The Orphan Master’s Son” and the less approachable and denser, “Genuis”. My book pile is growing as people read things and urge them on me.  “In Watermelon Sugar” and “The Hard Road to True North” have been added to that pile.

Meanwhile, as always, it’s the season to write like crazy, a wonderful, intoxicating season without end. Time to get on with it one more time.

 

Characters are waiting. Time to write like crazy.

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