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Start Writing

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It’s 1:30 pm. Kansas City. I’m at work. My boss is gone for the holidays until next year, bless his heart. He’s a great guy, a great boss, and I love him, but everybody is less stressed when the boss is out. And I’m the second-in-command, so there’s no one to check up on me. The massive gas heater suspended from the warehouse ceiling is blowing hot air against the front doors and nowhere else and I am wearing my coat with a hoodie underneath it. I’m not shivering but I can feel the chill. And, I don’t mind it. It’s Christmas break, the students are gone, and there is almost nothing for me to do but sit and think.

I’m at the little pressed wood work station in the middle of the warehouse, perched in an old swivel high chair in front of a laptop provided by the university, slowly emptying a bag of popcorn. White cheddar and caramel. Nature Box. An unexpectedly great flavor. I’ve been addicted to it for years and nothing is slowing the movement of my hand from the bag to my mouth except the fact that I can’t hold the bag and write.

I am not satisfied. Exactly. I have a job but no pay raise for the next couple of years. It’s not a job I want, but it pays the bills. I’ve been searching for a new job online for almost a year but having a job, and a bachelor’s degree, has raised my standards. I feel I’m being too picky in my job search. I just want to work from home in a job befitting my English degree and introverted disposition. I just want a writing life.

I thought the writer’s life would come to me, somehow. It would see my English degree or lifetime word count and wave its magic-ness over my life and change everything for me – open doors, and lead the people I should know to me, the ones who were seeking what I wanted or who already had it. A life in writing. A life in language. But a year has passed since my last class, a year since the day I officially earned my degree, and my life is no different, no better, no more beautiful, or poetic, or romantic, or brilliant. I haven’t moved one step more towards the life I should be living.

Back to the popcorn. This just tastes great. One cheddar flake and one caramel flake. An amazing taste. A popped kernel of corn is called a flake. The heater kicks on again and none of the heat is hitting me. The 23-degree Fahrenheit winter isn’t, either, so…

Shove the bag in the drawer and shut it. No more until tomorrow…hopefully.

How do I get it? What do I do? The novel in my head hasn’t exactly made it onto the page. What is on the page is unreadable, of course – it’s a first draft – and makes serious revision seem hopeless. So, there is no salvation there for the time being.

I’m tired of my knack for writing dull, aimless prose.

I have nothing else going on…yet.

I pinned so much hope on words/words that I have not written/I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m holding onto nothing.

So, how do you get the life? The writing life. The life in language, in words, in support of and supported by words. I got from the living room couch to the classroom. Now, how do I get from the classroom to the home office?

In the words of many a writer and teacher:

Start writing, keep writing, and don’t stop until have nothing else to say, or you die.

Keep Failing

I am coming around to the idea of failing. The last time I thought about it, I was sidetracked by my realization of just how bad my current novel is. Hasty, unfulfilling second acts, eye-shutting vistas, sludgy plots, and crudely-drawn characters who look like they were sketched with a crayon. It’s not the worse thing ever but I wouldn’t be proud to see it on a library shelf with my name on it.

But, I am getting my mind around the idea that a bad fifth draft has value, anyway. It doesn’t just have a lot to teach me about my flaws as a writer and storyteller, or about how much I have to learn and improve to become the writer I want to be – just to get It in acceptable shape for even casual readers.

It has value beyond that.

I read or heard it somewhere. Every bad day of writing pays for the good days. Every bad day of writing is like deposit, like a check towards paying for the one good day.

I was taught, and I believed, that the good writing days paid for the bad ones. That every good day of writing, every trip to the magical Zone of sparkling one-draft prose was payment (in full) for all the crappy days that preceded it: all the blank pages and computer screens, all the dead prose, all the Trying, all the Almost, and, in particular, all the failing.

But, this new thought reverses that belief. Every bad day, it suggests, is like a voucher, or a check. It has a specific amount on it and you place it – the bad writing, the doubts, the fear – with the other Bad Days, until enough of them have accumulated and, hey presto, paid for a Good Day. The bad days are payment for the Good Days.

Bad writing days have value, in and of themselves. Every one we endure, every word we write or delete, every time we perform the act or writing, of trying, we are earning the good days, sentences, phrases, and lines that follow. It makes sense – if we don’t push through the bad days (if we quit), we will never get to the good days that create our body of work.

Athletes, dancers (think Fame) pay in “blood, sweat, and tears”. So do we and it’s romantic and wishful to believe in success without failure, that we can achieve any good thing without a cost, .

Snow Day!

January 17, 2020

Yes! Freezing rains, ice sleet, then snow, then more ice, then snow on top of that. I love it. I have always loved snow days, from my school days. There is nothing like it, nothing like hearing your school or workplace is closed for the day because of snow. It’s better than a vacation day or a holiday.

I’m too thrilled. I got a text from my job last night saying the campus and offices were closed until 10 AM. I don’t want to say I prayed that they would shut it down today- but I prayed they would shut it down today. The message was the same when I got out of bed. I checked my messages incessantly, every five minutes or so, until it showed up. “Due to inclement weather, campus and offices are closed”. Or something like that. I poured myself a big, warm, comforting mug of laziness and luxuriated in the feeling of not working on the university’s clock. I love it.

I can hardly be bothered to write. Yes, I know, snow days are perfect writing weather. Snug inside the house, with the heat roaring, warm beverage beside or inside you, hunkered over the keys or the manuscript or the page while the vicious, freezing Hawk blows outside, punishing anything or anyone it touches. But, my toes long for the covers or thermal socks. Not slippers. Not flip-flops while I sit in front of the computer, trying to impress someone. This a day for staring at the ceiling or the insides of my eyelids. This is a day for streaming a show I have already watched and love (Poirot or Alias), so I can doze off and drop in and out of the story and know where I am. This is a no-work day. It’s a gift. So, I am going to appreciate it and enjoy it.

10,000 Steps Before I Get Home

Lunchtime. 5,303 steps so far which is lower than I would like it to be. It means I have to get in another 4000 steps before the end of work. I always walk from the bus stop – it’s another 1100 steps, so I need 9,000.

My heart is good, I want to say. Yes, my heart is great. My heart is acting great; it’s acting like a great heart would. But its performance is being created by a collection of drugs, which is further aided by exercise – in this case, the 10,000 steps a day (at least five days a week). So, my heart is not great. A great heart wouldn’t, doesn’t, need pills to function properly.

No matter what mental tricks I try, I am reminded of this reality a “few” times a day, every time I start another walking session, every time I take my pills, check my blood pressure or my stress level, every time I read a nutritional label to see how much sodium a product has, every time I exert myself just a little too much, walking too fast or climbing a flight of stairs or an incline, and my chest begins to hurt, oh so faintly. Every time I pass my favorite Chinese place (sodium bomb), or just stop thinking about anything else. Like millions of people worldwide, I have a heart condition, and if managed carefully, properly, I can expect…

I walk 1000 steps every ten minutes or so.

I take a break from my work, every hour or so and get another thousand in, so I can get them down before I get off work. So, I can get hem done before I get home and not have to think about them again until tomorrow.

I have my annual checkup in April and I’m keeping a tight grip on myself until then, to get the best report. I don’t want a defibrillator or a pacemaker. I don’t want surgery.

I wish I enjoyed exercising and fitness – at all. I wish I thought of it all as a necessary but fun part of a healthy lifestyle and something to look forward to every day.  But I am walking to stay alive. That thought takes the spring out of it; it feels dire and pressing, like I’m, just a few thousand steps ahead of the Sandman.

3:23 pm. 9466 steps. A minor triumph. Stop at the pharmacy, then home for a big plate of homemade fried rice.

My Novel Sucks

Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

I’m not afraid to suck. I hate sucking. I hate the little feeling I get after a writing session after what feels like a day of putting one word after another, when I close my software program and feel like I have wasted my time all day. A day of useless prose is almost like a day of not writing. I can take comfort in the fact that I have written something “x” number of days in a row, that I have managed to write a certain number of words. But, I know I am going to delete them all. Not revise them, not do a little light editing – delete them. They are useless to me, and don’t bring me one word closer to my goal of finishing a manuscript, of having something credible to work with.

Nothing saps the joy out of you lie reading 1500 words you have written and not seeing a thing of value in them. it’s just nothing. This, I tell myself, this is what I am at my worst. And, I am usually at my worst, aimless, drifting, uninspired, unable to create anything but meaningless filler.

Don’t be afraid to suck.

I have never been able to turn this advice into action. I have never been able to look at my flavorless word salad and rejoice – or even be okay with it or myself. Knowing I am going to delete it makes it a waste of time to write. Writing something that sucks until I finish it, just to get to the end, just to have something to work with, is almost impossible for me. It makes me feel like a dabbler, like someone who doesn’t have the depth, the intellect, or the skill to put something substantial on the page every time I write. It makes me feel like a cheat. I’m the hack who writes 1000 words a day, of any quality, believing he can fix it in the mix, that he can use the power of revision to turn it into a masterpiece.

That sucks. Feeling like a possibly-talented potential-failure hurts.

I don’t want negative reviews.

I don’t want angry, disatisfied readers.

I don’t want to be boring.

I don’t want to be inspired by my ideas (for a week or two). I want to be insp[ired by my work.

This process, however, this having to wade through pounds and miles and gallons and reams of suck to get to the “good stuff”, to get to a polished, finished manuscript, is the way writing works. It is The Process.

Many writers, myself included, never master it because they want to create something beautiful and great every day. They want to be painters, not sculptors.

They want their writing to prove to them that they don’t suck.

Well, my novel sucks.

And, I don’t know how revision is going to change that.

Everyday I Write The Book

Photo by Arshad Sutar from Pexels

The title of this song attracted my attention while I was channel-surfing on YouTube. I have seen and heard this sentiment, this advice, before, everywhere, in a ton of different ways. Every day is a new page. This is where your book begins (Natasha Bedingfield, Unwritten). You are the author; you write your story. You decide where it goes. You decide how it ends.

And, I suppose that is true, in a very basic sense. I am writing my story every second of the day, with my decisions, my words, my actions, my inaction. We all are. Even if that story is as simple as “Went to work, came home, watched television and went to sleep”.

This advice, this philosophy, is meant to get you to see your life from a new perspective, from a position of agency. It is trying to get you to believe you are the decision-maker, the writer, the world-builder, not just a vulnerable, hapless character in a story someone else controls, subject to whatever fate they choose for you.

If you can see yourself as the author or you days and you life, you will understand and believe that you have the power to create the story you want for your life. You will begin to make decisions that change your personal narrative. You will take responsibility and write yourself into life you dreamed of, or have yet to dream of.

So, why doesn’t it feel like it? Why does it sometimes feel like my day is written before I wake up? Why does it feel like I can’t change it, like can’t write anything significant, anything new, today? Why am I sitting at work, or at home, feeling like I have the agency, but not enough power to take control of my life and alter it, drastically, without making a a major decision, like quitting my job, moving to another state?

What part of my story am I writing? Which socks I wear? What I have for breakfast? How many calories I consume? How many carbs?

Everything in your life, my life, can seem to conspire to make you feel like you’ve always written the script for the rest of your life. You already made the decision and now you’re just walking down the path you laid for yourself a long time ago. A job. A car. A house. Marriage. A family. Retire at 59, 62, 65, 69. Live off your savings, retirement, and/or Social Security and try to enjoy your senior years as you wait to die.

So what am I trying to do? What are you trying to do? Why did this title catch my eye, and make me stop, finger poised above my mouse, and think about it? What is it saying to me?

Building a new life is like writing a story, a novel. You do it word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, day by day.

Keep Writing

Wednesday. 5:31 p.m. Kansas City, Missouri. I am at home, still in my work clothes, sitting at my desk that I cleaned off completely just a week ago, but which has since collected desk debris like dust. One desk lamp with a faded, yellowing lampshade growing brittle (or maybe it was always brittle) that I would have replaced Monday if someone hadn’t walked off with my new lampshade. YouTube playing with the sound off. Milk Duds stuck in my teeth.

I am looking for something to write about besides all of the stuff I wanted to write about when I started this website. None of those topics interest or inspire me today. Jussie Smollett. Donald Trump. Kanye West. Barack Obama. Politics. Race. Et cetera. I want to write about all of these things, have opinions about all of these things, but I don’t want to do it today.

There is a national election going. I don’t want to think about what new maverick we’re going to have in the White House – or what old one. I don’t want to care too much about the outcome, because I don’t want to have to live with my feelings if I don’t like the people’s decisions. I was weeks trying to work out why I was angry and disappointed about Donald Trump’s triumph, when I was going to feel the same way if Hilary Clinton won. I have never wanted both candidates to lose until 2016, so I’ve never had to deal with disappointment and disillusionment so early in an election cycle. Democrats are most likely going to pick someone I don’t want or need, and I am going to be in the same emotional position – angry and apathetic.

But, I want to write something. I want to write every day.

I want to post something intelligent and well-written every single day. But, I have to get to the point where posting three times a week or every other day isn’t a major psychological struggle. If I’m not harassing myself for the content, I’m disgusted with myself for wanting to do anything else, or I’m angry with myself for setting a three-posts-a-week quota.

I want to write every day, including today, but today isn’t that day. My keyboard doesn’t look unappealing or oppressive; it hasn’t gotten that bad, yet. It just looks boring.

I have struggled like this before and lost most of those battles. But, I promised myself this time, this project, this year would be different.

This is my second post of the week.

32nd and High

Atari. My best friend in high school was the only person I knew who had an Atari gaming system. Or was it in middle school? Eric. I don’t remember his last name. Poor neighborhood — lower income neighborhood, excuse me — not welfare, and hanging on to the little bit of respectability that distinction gave us. We would play for hours. Pitfall. A guy running, jumping over scorpions, swinging over roughly pixelated quicksand or lakes or whatever. I wanted one badly — everyone did — so badly, I bought one on the internet five years ago. And all kinds of games. Pole position. Pac Man. Pitfall 1 and 2. It wasn’t as fun, or exciting, as it had been when I was a teenager. 

Choir. I never joined until middle school. Didn’t need to put myself on display until middle school. Cole Middle School’s choirs were good, though, and popular. Everybody knew and loved us, like we were the football team. I loved concert choir, the great “we” feeling of making a beautiful sound together. We were a choir. A good unit. We rocked the house. When a choir is good, is in sync, and in full voice, with passion, joy, excitement, energy, pride, and purpose, loving the way they sound together — and the way “together”  sounds — more than the way they sound individually… (I’ve played football, and basketball, and a touchdown, a basket, does not compare). The only thing better than the sound of a choir is being in the choir, in the midst of it, while its making that sound. It stays with me. It moves me whenever I relive it. 

Pooch. Our dog. My mom found her wandering the streets, with her left (right?) hind foot attached to her leg by a piece of flesh. A car hit her. She chewed her foot off, overnight, and either buried it or ate it. The best dog. She could run on just three legs, and fast. She’d get frantic, and bite us if we played too hard. She always knew which presents were hers under the Christmas tree. She’d sit by them all night. She jumped through the living room picture window, once, when someone tried to break into the house. She was family. I was going to write once that no one in my immediate family had died yet but Pooch did. She was ill or just old. My mom knew she was dying and sent us to bed. “I’ll call you.” I woke up at some point. My mom was sitting with her, between  he living room and dining room, talking to her. “It’s okay. You can go. We’ll be okay. You were a good dog.” One of my sisters shook my foot to wake me after she died. I was glad I hadn’t been awake. It was winter. It might have been winter. It was Colorado. It snowed from September to May. My brother and I carried her body, wrapped in one of my mother’s old bathrobes, and buried it in the backyard. My mother prayed for her. 

This was all while living in our house on 32nd and High Street in Denver. My mother inherited it from my great-aunt. She was my grandfather’s sister, on my mother’s side. He was a boxer, William Patrick Williams, lightweight division. The papers called him “The Denver Darky”. They were wealthy at some point, my family, because of him. One of my relatives drove past a gym, near downtown, pointed and said, “We used to own that”. He was an alcoholic; so was my grandmother. He spent all of his money and bankrupted his family. My great-aunt Tish and her husband had jobs, when the collectors swept through the family taking everything they could resell. She was a nurse. Her husband, Ernie, my middle-namesake, drove a taxi. They owned their house. Almost everyone else was living off my grandfather, because he wanted it, or them, that way. Most of them died before I knew them, except for my Aunt Sally and Uncle Billy, my mother’s siblings. Billy changed his name to Alex Thorance Nelson after he moved out. I wanted to write an article about my grandfather, call it “Malevolence”, but I can’t find enough information about him. 

Just Do It

Photo by Sapan Patel on Unsplash

So, the motive behind starting this blog was to hold my own feet to…well, to the heat of…a still warm muffin. Not a branding iron, or a white-hot coal, or bonfire — nothing as drastic as that. No, just something to get my fingers tapping and the words flowing after a year of knuckle-cracking and .

A few dollars was incentive enough to get me to begin. A few dollars of my own money, that is. To buy a website. A domain name.

A domain name, especially. That’s what pulled me in, when I saw that my own name was available. My website. A website with my name on it. It felt like mine from the second I completed the order.

It feels like my blank space. My empty sheet of paper. My unwritten chapter. It’s my little spot on the web, of the web, my little piece of the internet. A piece of the internet with my name on it.

It’s why some people start YouTube channels.

This sounds like a monster ego trip, and also like a pretty harmless delusion. But, having my own blog, my own website, is like being self-employed. I’m the boss. I make the decisions. Everything here is, or eventually will be, the way I want it to be. My colors, my stories, my ideas – my style.

I have gotten distracted.

This is supposed to be a cure for procrastination, a cure for my stubborn unwillingness to take up my previous writings, centralize them on the internet, and organize them into an authentic, dazzling, and sincere self-promoting experience that will turn me into a full-time working writer. That is the idea.

Just do it.

Just invest in myself a little. Just do what works for other writers and I might get the same results.

Can a few dollars do for me what job board-combing and cold pitching haven’t?

Am I any more determined to create, to self-promote, market, hustle, or grind than I was before WordPress’s relentless advertising finally got me?

I hope so. I would hate to give up this domain name.

Start Walking

10,000 steps.

9:00 AM. I just don’t want to do it. Everything in me is fighting against it. 

I haven’t gotten dressed. I don’t want to do it. 

I haven’t looked for my keys. I don’t want to do it.

I haven’t gotten out of my chair. I don’t want to do it.

10,000 steps are the easiest way for me to get the exercise I need and yet I am so inconsistent at it, so reluctant o do it, you’d think it was a marathon or burpees. It’s cold outside, too – 32 degrees, right now. What about later this afternoon? 52 to 54 degrees between 2 and 3 o’clock this afternoon.

Perfect. I don’t have to do it now, first thing in the morning, with only one cup of coffee in me and ten butter cookies. I can concentrate on trying to make myself be productive – get some writing done, learn how to use this writing software I bought, learn how to use this webcam software I just bought, learn how to promote my blog on  Pinterest, and so on. Then I will get dressed and go walking, and pay my rent, and take out the trash, and then come home and get ready for work tomorrow. Oh, yes…work. Why didn’t I take the week off?

10,000 steps, five days a week or more. Easier than doing 30 minutes of cardio, five times a week, much easier. Walking is like…walking. It’s like breathing, or standing, or sitting. I can do it without thinking about it. I can walk 10,000 steps throughout the day if I make myself use the stairs and avoid using my golf cart (provided by the university where I work).

But, it’s winter. It’s cold. My sinuses drip. My mouth tastes salty. My nose runs. I just don’t want to be out in it. I’m weak, I have become accustomed to living in comfort, American-style. Refrigerator, freezer, washer/dryer, etc., Grocery stores, online streaming content, food, and meal delivery. I don’t have to leave my apartment if I don’t want to – in theory, at least. I have indoor heating. The furnace is busted. It has been for years. I’m subsisting on space heaters. The electric bills are staggering. But, I am warm. Cozy. Comfy, in fact. Giving up my comfort for me health is not a bad idea or stupid. It is definitely inconvenient. 

But out there, on the pavement, is the road to a healthier quality of life.

I wish I was in better health. I wish my body was as sound as I thought I was four, five years ago when it seemed I had another worry-free decade in me. 

But that was a mirage.

I was diagnosed with congenital heart failure in August 2016.

Congestive heart failure.

I took it well. I was stoic, placid, politely perplexed but ultimately understanding about my situation and the doctors’ conclusions. I handled it like an emotionally mature adult.

I took it poorly. Congestive heart failure. Why? What had I done? I had gone to work and come home and sat on the couch or in my desk chair. I had surfed the net or watched television or Youtube until I got sleepy. I had gone grocery shopping once a week. Where had I gotten congestive heart failure? When? From what? From watching years pass before my eyes, in months? Minding my own business? Doing almost nothing with my life? How did my uneventful, non-life lead to congenital heart failure?

It took me a couple of years to recover from the shock, to start trying to do something about my health besides consuming supplements and trying to stay calm. I dutifully went through the exercise motions, trying to earn good report cards for my frequent doctor’s appointments – twenty minutes of floor exercises followed by about thirty minutes on my stationary bike. Or just thirty minutes on my bike until it broke down and I decided I didn’t have the time, motivation, or money to get it fixed or fix it myself.

That’s where walking comes in. Thirty minutes of exercise a day or 10000 steps. I can do that but I don’t want to.

It’s not laziest, or boredom, or lack of motivation. I just don’t want to do it. I want to go back to sitting on the couch, mouse or remote control in hand, carefree, without “my condition” lurking visibly in the back of my mind, preventing my peace with worries about my life expectancy and future quality of life.

I didn’t need any real problems. I had enough minor, inconsequential ones.

So, I am going to make myself get some clothes on and get out in this horrible weather, swathed in thermal clothing, January’s rent in an envelope in my pocket, QuikTrip gift card in my wallet for a coffee or something on the way back, headphones over my knit cap (have to remember to charge them), and start walking.