“We need the moisture”

Good morning. It’s 4:30 CDT as I type, but I’ve been up since this blog’s title because that’s when the storms rolled in. They’ve been forecast for the past five days, and this morning, after a long and busy weekend celebrating a multi-generational Mother’s Day, they finally hit. No complaint. They’re not like the weather to the north and east for sure, and we need the moisture. A Midwestern U.S. saying if ever was one, “We need the moisture.”

So where the heck have I been since Palm Sunday weekend? Busy, people. The older you get, the more you have a life and that means doing the stuff of life. We can’t always sit on our butts being profound and brilliant, you know, even we so-called bloggers. There are yards to be maintained, houses to be kept, cats to be fed and shot up with yearly drugs, garages to be cleaned out, grandchildren to see and goof with. Much of that, and my wife’s been working overtime and will be indefinitely, so I’m picking up a lot of her home chores on top of my own. Not complaining, it’s good for me to do that and as long as it doesn’t kill her we can always use the money. And have. Babyproofing a house so a grandchild can come play and his family not worry is not cheap.

All that and yes, I have been writing. Thank God. I need to. When I don’t, bad things happen upstairs. Nothing too psychologically horrid, mind you, just a sense of the skull not being swept as it should be. I’m on revision two of my rewrite of The Rain Song, or Burke’s Siren. I can tell you right now it will be called neither of those things when I’m done. By the grace of our Lord, it is becoming a very different book, the one I should have written in the first place. For the 20 or so of you who bought the original, I will make it very worth your while to read this one too. For the 6,000,000,0080 of you who did not, I will make it very worth your while to read it the first time. I won’t claim it’s Fitzgerald or Hemingway or even a minor Vonnegut, but it’s going to be good. All I ask is your patience while I get it completely right.

Assuming the good Lord gives me time to do that. Fair warning: you may have noticed I’ve been writing a lot about death lately. Can’t help it. As noted in the last entry after Palm Sunday, people I know have been experiencing a lot of it. It’s normal, it’s natural, and the older you are, the more of it you will see, especially once you crest 50.  My manager at work is the latest on the string. She lost her grandmother a couple weeks ago, a good Catholic woman strong as a bull into her late 80’s, only recently did she need a nursing home. Tempus fugit, memento mori. 

And I may as well come out and say it: I got thrown a scare last week when I found a huge painless bump, ten-cent gumball-sized, on the left side of my chest right above the sternum, where Web MD says one of my lymph nodes should be.

Don’t panic. It’s nothing. At least I’m sure it’s nothing, because–gross part ahead–by the middle of the week I could pop it, and now it’s much, much smaller than it was. Probably just some clogged pores. You can’t pop a tumor like a zit, right? But I’m due a checkup soon, and I will point it out to the doctor just to see what he says.

Still, at my age stuff like that makes you think. Apparently right now I’m supposed to. I keep an adoration hour at St. Paul’s here in Olathe. Some gracious soul left behind in the chapel a copy of On Death and Dying by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross the same weekend my bump was its biggest. I’m not quite eighty pages through it. It’s a book for medical professionals on how they should approach their patients who are terminal or enduring malignancies that may be terminal. It is a deeply sensitive book written by a deeply sensitive soul. It’s also a secular book, not given to flights of metaphysics or spiritual loftiness. I frankly found it odd it would be left in an adoration chapel among books about adoring Christ and the suffering of the saints. But there it was, and no one’s taken it out, and I’m glad it’s there because it’s a strengthening thing. Anyone can read it, it can get a little dense in spots, but it’s not jargony or technical.

I want to finish it before writing much more, if anything, about it, but it’s point seems clear to me: A medical professional must meet death at the same level his or her patient is ready to meet it. This is difficult, for sure; but worthwhile in that it establishes the credibility to face death together and honestly, for the entire family as well as just the doctor and patient.

And it makes the point, several times over, that our culture runs from death when it should not. Death is inevitable. It is good to think about it–how we will deal with it with others, how we will prepare for it when our time comes. Let’s repeat that–it is good to think on death.

It is. My little fraidy-bump forced me to consider, if only theoretically, that maybe fifty years is all I get. What about that? If it’s true, am I okay with it? Can I deal with it? If I knew it was coming, how would I approach it with the others in my life?

I won’t hit you with the heaviness of my own answers to those questions. I would encourage you instead to ask them of yourself and see what your answers are. I will say if I did get, say, a diagnosis of something nasty enough to snuff me out, I would thank the Lord for the chance to get things in order before it did. Not everyone gets that chance.

Every morning is a miracle. Thank God for the moisture of another. We need it.

 

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Big round numbers colliding in kismet

I hate writing about myself. I envy anyone who can do it and not make himself look like a narcissistic ass. I certainly can’t.

Sometimes one has to recognize milestones reached, however, even at the risk of narcissistic assery; and this is one of those times. Two of them, actually. The first is my fiftieth birthday January 19. The second is my hundredth post on this blog–this one.

Fifty years.  One hundred posts. Big round numbers colliding in kismet.  Not often you see a fiftieth paired with a hundredth. Gotta mean something. So I’m going to go with the “personal enlightenment” angle.

When I was a kid I was one of those little dorks who read everything he could get his grubby hands on–cereal boxes, calendar trivia, newspaper clippings, even his mother’s  Reader’s Digests. One year I stumbled on something called “Ten Things I’ve Learned in a Half Century of Living.” I don’t remember who wrote it, and so far the Power of Google reveals nothing.

Coming up to my half-century-hundred-post kismet, I catch myself thinking that would be a good exercise–to come up with ten things I’ve managed to learn, then impart them to you, so you can read them and think “Holy Mother of Creation, what a narcissistic ass.”

So here are mine, written pretty much on the fly with not a whole lot of thought behind a one. Some of them are my own lame observations, others–in quotes–are ones which I think “yep, they got that right.” They’re in no special order.  The first is from that Reader’s Digest article I mentioned above:

1). “A beautiful woman is one who loves me.”  I love you too, Karen. God bless you. Enough said.

2). To kill a dream stone dead, demand it come true just the way you dream it. I could have been a talk radio host–something I’ve always wanted to do–twice.  The first time, I was offered the opportunity by the author of a self-help book I interviewed on the air a couple of times. He was impressed with my skills and said he “knew some people” in Colorado. I turned him down because at the time I barely had enough money to keep the heat on. The second time was my boss offering me my old job back at a station where I’d worked two years before. He’d heard me doing a part-time gig and called to make the offer. Thinking it was the same station I’d left and remembering why I left it, plus wanting to stay close to a major market, I turned him down. I didn’t realize he’d planned to flip it to talk. Had he said that, I may well have gone back, but he didn’t say, and I didn’t ask, did I? I just assumed the worst and acted accordingly.

Two opportunities that will never come again, opportunities that both came when I was responsible for no one else but me, and I let fear of the unknown steal them from me. That’s not how you win, kids. Carpe diem.  I can’t emphasize enough, if you are young and single, and someone offers you an ethical way to achieve your goal in life, TAKE IT.  No matter what.

3). Every decision you make, forever, hinges on one thing. Do you believe in God, or not? That’s it. That’s the question. How you answer it defines everything you think and everything you do. It is the most important question you will ever ask yourself, and only you can answer it. No one has the right to answer it for you. Ask it yourself, answer it yourself, and not just once; do so constantly, do so seriously. The other decisions you make will become much better if you do.

4). Navel gazing is the biggest waste of your time there is. If you really want to know who you are and why you’re here, make yourself available to other people and learn both fast. Easier for some than others, I know, but even introverted people need to do this. People are what reveal your strengths and weaknesses, your joys and sorrows, your skills and failings. You think you know them already? Then you’re delusional. Get out of your head and into the world.

5) “The years have a way of dulling a man.” That’s my favorite line from The Broken Blade, William Durbin’s story of a boy who comes of age with a group of late 18th-century fur traders canoeing the St. Lawrence River in Canada. Boys’ Life serialized an illustrated version of it around 1999 or so when my son was a Cub. Quite an educational tale in that–spoilers!–the “bully” of the group has good reason for being who he is and the “nice guy” who helps our hero learn the necessities of life on the river winds up killed by the river. But the truth of that one line is what stands out most to me. It helps me cope with what I can’t control.

6) “We must be careful about who we pretend to be.” Kurt Vonnegut, God rest his soul, whether he believed he had one or not.  I’m sorely tempted to just use everything in this list to finish mine. Stop and think how right he is with the one line above alone: How many people in your life, who like you and care about you, think you really are what you say you are? Damn near all of them, right? Because who has time living their own lives to pay so close attention to yours that they know the real you? They’d rather believe the illusion. It’s easier. It’s prettier. It’s safer. So you become who you claim to be–and that’s not always a good thing. Scroll down to #15 here to see what I mean.

7). Now is where we live. No quotes around that one, because that’s how I think of it and like to say it. I’ve blogged about it before so I’m not going to beat it to death: The past is done and said. The future is not guaranteed. Now is the only time we can do anything worth a damn.  So do it now.

8). “Start with the upper left-hand brick.” One of Robert M. Pirsig’s most oft-quoted lines from his classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenancea book I like so much I’ve read it nine times. It’s something he said to a student in a freshman comp class who was having trouble with an assignment.  You’ll find oodles of stuff about what great advice this is for overcoming writer’s block, and it is, but that’s like choosing to chug a can of Coke when there’s a glass of champagne on the table. This is more than advice, this is how to live your life. This is real, substantial philosophy summed up in six words! Think it through, you’ll see it. It’s not hard.

9). “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.” Edgar Allan Poe, whose birth date I share.  To me, this means if one is to write at all in an age of attention-deficited instant everything, he should pick the clearest and simplest words to convey his meaning–something not so simple as it sounds. It certainly is not how Poe himself approached his writing, but Poe wrote in a very different time for a very different audience. Today, we must keep it simple for our reader because our reader has much more competition for his time and his mind. The trick is to do it without it being so simple that it inflicts blunt force trauma, and Poe remains a valuable teacher of how to avoid such.

On a personal level, Poe’s words remind me that all the eloquence in the world will not hide lack of personal experience.  “I know how you feel” is an insult if you really don’t. Better to just be there and let people feel  however they need to around you. In the long run it is much more rewarding and appreciated.

10). You don’t need this list. Everything on here, you either have already learned, or will already learn, by yourself. All you’ve gotta do is pay attention.

There you have it. My hundredth post, for my fiftieth birthday. Yay me. Here’s a song to celebrate.

Oh, just one more thing:  Dignity in age is a good thing, a blessed thing, a graceful thing, a sign to all that no matter the circumstance all of life is good and to be lived. Not just the first, for that turns the rest into drudgery.  Not just the middle, for that denies one both learning joy and sorrow in youth and appreciating such learning in age. Not just the last, because it may not be long enough to do all we need.  Live all of it, right now. Every moment. All of it.

Now can we please move on? 🙂

 

The perils of renovating your head

Here’s some theme music for this entry.  It’s been in the back of my mind all week, may as well put it at the front of yours.  It’s Dire Straits, at least you know it’s good:

Yes–alert the media, warn the children, spay and neuter the pets, I’m back.  Still working on projects–it takes time to make a quality Butterfield Fishing Show!– but I’ll make the effort to be a more frequent poster.

It takes time to rewrite a novel, too, another one of my projects that I mentioned near the end of last post, and I’m learning the hard way why most writers simply don’t do it.  It’s just like renovating your house, only you’re doing it to your head… and your head doesn’t like it. Not one bit. Not one little bit.  There’s a reason PBS doesn’t have a hit show called This Old Book. 

See, when you do any kind of home renovation, simple as painting or complex as remodeling, you run into… surprises.  Surprises varying from anything just needing to be covered up, to requiring you gut the entire room like a fish. You sigh, you cuss, you redo the budget, you deal.

Here’s the thing about your head–you can’t gut it like a fish.

Or more accurately, you shouldn’t. 

I’m going to scare you now:  A book represents a place where the author’s head was at the time it was written.  This is why you don’t see authors rewrite their older material very much.  If your head is no longer in that place, and you try to bring that book to the place it is now, the book will resist with everything it has. The book will fight your head.

This is the reason once an author is finished with a work, generally, he’s finished with it. My wife called the original work “writing for therapy.” Rewriting it may be writing for exorcism.

Kind of piques your sense of adventure, huh?   Stay tuned. When it’s finished, if Amazon and B&N will let me, it’ll be available for free on Kindle and Nook.  If you have the original version of The Rain Song, I encourage you wholeheartedly once it’s ready to read this version and compare and let me know if it’s better or worse.  Assuming they let me communicate with the outside from my room at the Big Red O… 😉 *

*… as in the state hospital in Osawatomie, Kansas. Google it. ‘Nuff said. 

 

Now, then!

Been a long time since my last post, for good reason–projects! Lots of them!–and it may be a long time ’til my next post for the same reason.  I’ll go into that later, right now just consider it’s good to keep busy with what we do best. If we don’t, the vapid among us happily will let us impoverish ourselves making them very, very rich (I’m talkin’ to YOU, makers of Candy Crack, er, Crush). It may be good thoughtless fun in short spurts, but it is no way to live.

On that note, my grandson has something to say to you:

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He says, “I sincerely hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving, full of family, good food and good cheer. Huzzah.”  Well, he would, if he were older than one.

Hard to believe the little man hits his first anniversary of existence next weekend. Hope Mom and Dad realize that now the fun really begins. This year was just basic programming. In the coming year, the code starts to compile. By the time he’s three his personality will be set and other than good old fashioned discipline there will be nothing on Earth they can do to change it.  Seriously. Scientific fact. Look it up!

So, for those of us whose code has been compiled for decades and have had to deal with both the grace and curse of our hopelessly set personalities, what are we to do? Well, here’s my little suggestion: Join Facebook.

You may have noticed the national media, in its ongoing effort never to see the forest for the trees, has had something to say about Facebook lately: The teenagers and twenty-somethings who built it, are now rejecting it! They deem it unworthy! They are moving on to other social media because they seek to escape their parents, not witness them confront their mortality; and therefore Facebook is doomed, doomed, DOOOOOOOOMED!

Not hardly. In fact, Facebook may have stumbled upon the thing that will ensure its existence forever.  A friend of mine from high school unwittingly tipped me off on it. She posted:

 I have absolutely no memories of some events in my life that should have been memorable. Like both proms, and graduating high school and college. 

I’ll confess here that my first reaction–considering some of my memories with her–was “oh, thank God.” 🙂 (Read nothing evil into that!) Then I got curious and pried a little, and she said:

The crazy thing. . .  is that I remember tons and tons of useless details from my childhood, but not a lot of the major events. I remember Randall the cat’s hiding place in [a neighbor’s] coat closet and what the crabapples tasted like off the tree in their front yard (I still taste crabapples when I run across them, but the [neighbor’s] tree grew the best ever). I remember where I sat in trig and physics and calculus and chemistry in high school. I even remember some particular zits I had over the years for goodness sake! But not one thing about prom or graduation other than what I see in pictures.

National media–if you are paying attention, here you have why Facebook’s audience is getting older, and why that’s a good thing for both its audience and Facebook, and if Facebook gets this and adjusts the service appropriately, it will exist forever.  Why those kids its supposedly losing will come back eventually, too.

It’s this: Memories stick. For better or worse, what we choose to remember, sticks; what we don’t choose to remember, does not.

Facebook performs the valuable public service of unsticking those chosen memories and letting us put them in the proper perspective.

I’m a bit different than my friend in that I remember what feels like a metric ton of the events of my childhood, including the people involved in them and how they treated me, what they were like when I knew them then, and inevitably if I linger on those memories they depress me because either I couldn’t live up to those people or they couldn’t live up to me, and there those memories and impressions would be stuck, forever–if not for Facebook giving me the opportunity to see who they are now, how they are now, and from that perspective where they were coming from then.

I am a “now” person. The past can’t be changed, the future is not guaranteed, the time where we must live is now.  Facebook helps tremendously with doing that.

Two other Facebook friends on my mind, from my high school class, to help make that point clearer: One about to turn 50, who says he dreads old age because nothing good ever comes from it; another already 50 and fighting the struggle of her life.

To the first friend, I would suggest this, something I’ve learned from my parents, in their mid-eighties and while not running marathons, still vital as ever: The one way to fight the aging process is to embrace it.

Start with simple acceptance: We’re finite beings. We enter the world to replace someone leaving it. We leave the world so someone can replace us. This is normal and healthy in all living things. Science and religion often conflict but here they agree, this is nature’s will for us, this is God’s will for us.

A funny thing happens when we accept that and live accordingly. We stress out less. As we stress out less, we get sick less. As we get sick less, we stop doing things to excess to forget for awhile that we’re sick.  We don’t “need” to drink as much, smoke as much, eat as much. Life naturally becomes more moderate, without losing the fun.  Our bodies recuperate easier from whatever sickness comes.  We may or may not live longer–again, the future is not guaranteed–but we live better, less painfully, less strained from existence.

This, I believe, is the philosophy of my second friend, fighting cancer right now. You would not know from her Facebook posts that she is in any pain, because as she fights for her life, she still lives.  She accepts that this is part of it and deals with it accordingly. She cannot lose, no matter the outcome. Her friends, me included, pray the outcome leaves her with us a great while longer; but whether the good Lord wills that for her or not, she will have run the race, fought the good fight.

Life’s great irony: Embrace your struggles, and you will suffer less from them.

______________________

OK, about those projects… My oldest brother sent me home from a trip to see him a few weeks back with some old VHS tapes containing our infamous Butterfield Fishing Shows from the early ’00’s. They’re now on my computer and getting edited down to suitable family viewing for future generations.  An artist friend of mine likes to preview his work on a private YouTube channel, I may look into that and see if once these are done I can share them with the world that way. WordPress has an option allowing direct-to-site video posting, but it’s expensive, at least for lil’ ol’ me.

I’m also working on a complete rewrite of my first self-pub novel, The Rain Song. Once finished, it will be available for free on Kindle under a different title, and the original book will go off the market. Why? Because after looking at the original book, I firmly believe it should never been have been “published.”  I’ll go into that some other time, right now, consider it a collector’s item you can purchase before it’s gone forever–if you can endure its weaknesses, there is a decent story inside of it. The updated Kindle version, I hope, will eliminate the weaknesses and show off its strengths.

Thanks for slogging through all this. 🙂  Blessed Holidays!

 

Bricks

Fall danced on a soft breeze into northeast Kansas at exactly 3:25 pm CDT, according to one of our local TV weather sages. Its entrance was all lovely and seasonal, sunny and seventies and dry.  Perfect walking weather and after pulling the hammy on my right leg a month ago it needed the exercise, so I walked both to church this morning and to my adoration hour at church this afternoon.  My thoughtful wife picked me up at the end of the hour, so all told my walking today was only eight and a half miles. I don’t say that to brag. My father was a postman before he retired. Eight and a half miles would have been an easy day for him.

Lovely dancing Falls make sentiment easy to come by, so before going in for my hour I stopped to read the bricks.  Ten years ago our pastor at the time was big on community projects to beautify the grounds, one of which was “the gathering area.”  There’s a term for the structure that escapes me, but basically it’s a big wooden roof that splits off into four arches, all held up by a steel frame, with wrought-iron chairs and tables all around, and the surface at ground level underneath is stone and brick.

The labor was all volunteer. The materials were paid for in part by a fund drive selling engraved bricks.  I forget how much they cost.  I do remember there was no specific formula for what went on each brick. Within the bounds of reason, logic, decency and sheer physics, they could say anything you wanted them to say. Had I thought to bring my camera I’d post some pictures of the sweeter ones, or the cuter ones, or the deeper ones. We had some soulful people at our church in those days.  We still do.

But I wasn’t reading the bricks for the first time in years to entertain myself.  I knew several people whose names were on those bricks who had moved on, either in this life or to the next.

And I had one of those odd little thoughts that lovely dancing Falls push up out of the ooze between my ears–that these little bricks, with their few little words, were every bit as much books as those of Chaucer or Burke or Hemingway.

Simple compact testimonies of a life–what could be more of a book than that?

_______________

Years ago I considered journalism as a career, writing at its best a simple compact testimony of the day, though at 19 I had no clue that was what it was about.  I took the 200-level “weed-out” class they offered at the Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. That’s at Indiana University in Bloomington for ye readers not versed in things Hoosier.  I came out of it with a perfectly respectable grade of B and a little more self-knowledge telling me that journalism was a lousy career choice.  No knock on anyone who has chosen journalism as a career choice and especially no knock on the Ernie Pyle School of Journalism–just a realization that in terms of temperament and personality, I was all wrong for the profession.

When I see what the mainstream media in this country is doing with Pope Francis, I am more confident my decision was the correct choice than ever.  Ironically, an opinion column by John L. Allen Jr. posted on CNN online says exactly why better than I ever could:

Despite the mythology of Roman Catholicism as a top-down monolith, the truth is that it’s actually one of the most decentralized institutions on Earth.

There are only about 3,000 personnel in the Vatican directing the affairs of a church that counts 1.2 billion members, which means that Rome doesn’t have the manpower to micromanage anything but exceptional cases.

Probably 90% of the decisions that matter – what pastor will be assigned to which parish, or what tithes will be used for –- are made at the local level.

Popes trying to steer this colossus in a new direction, therefore, need middle managers as well as the rank and file to pull in the same direction, and experience suggests they don’t always fall in line.

Very true of the Roman Catholic Church, yes.  Also very true of many Protestant Christian denominations.

And for that matter very true of Judaism.

And Islam.

And Buddhism.

And the Republican and Democratic Parties of the U.S., and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and the Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and, oh, every large organization of human beings on Earth.

To be a journalist, especially today, one apparently has to take this bit of common knowledge–dare we call it common sense?–and ignore it entirely.

I can’t do that.  I can’t take what one leader thinks and for the sake of a story assume it means all his or her followers will accept it without reservation or question or thought, even when reason and logic and this little thing called life tell me otherwise.

Yet apparently it’s a requirement to write for the mainstream media today, because I’m seeing an awful lot of it.  In the case of Pope Francis, they can’t even get right what he actually wants–here’s the interview as printed in the Jesuit magazine America, see for yourself.

When will they learn we ourselves are not bricks?

“No regrets” and other great big lies

This is meant to be an inspirational post, hence, some inspirational music:

Good ol’ Muse. I’m supposedly too “old” to like them. Lots of pseudo-pageantry and bombast and just plain juvenile melodrama, yet behind it all, is music.  A lot of soul, too, You get the feeling these guys are just laying their whole lives out there.

Ever so often you hear from some notorious celebrity–no names, now!–who for whatever reason, usually to get his or her face out there because a new project needs publicity, takes assessment of his or her life and feels obliged to tell the world he or she has “no regrets.”  That if their lives were to be done all over again, they’d do it exactly the same way, making all the same mistakes, because after all, YOLO, baby!

Yeah, right.

Yep, given the chance to do it all over again, to be screwed over, to be cheated and lied to, to marry that selfish narcissistic dunce, to get pregnant out of wedlock by a one-night stand, to be made projectile vomiting sick from that inhaled case of Little Kings and wake up discovering you set your car on fire, to blow off the most gorgeous woman you ever knew simply because the night you met her she had bad breath–all that, all over again, right?

No, that’s not my life in roughly 40 words (especially the pregnant part), but if it were, do you really think I’d want you to know it, much less be proud of it, much less live it all over again?

C’mon. “No regrets?” Everyone has regrets. They’re what teach us.  They’re how God reaches us. How we deal with them shows us how to live.

A wonderful way for dealing with regrets is coming in about six weeks.  It’s called NaNoWriMo. That’s short for National Novel Writing Month.

I’ve written about NaNoWriMo before. It’s glorious: Starting November 1, ending November 30, you are challenged to write a 50,000-word novel. Sound daunting?  It’s not.  With discipline, that breaks down to a little less than 1,667 words per day–roughly four to five double-spaced pages of writing.

Both my self-published books under “Buy J.P.’s Books” above, began as NaNoWriMo novels. They are not autobiographies (thank God), but they began as autobiographical experiences. In fact, my lovely wife calls the older of the two, The Rain Song, “writing for therapy.”

In a lot of ways, both books were exactly that.

Let’s put it this way: Is there something that happened in your life that, given a chance to do another way, you would?

Sure there is. Now, what would happen if you did?

Find out.  Write it down. See where it goes.  Hint: Not where you expect.  Trust me on this.

Is there something that happened in your life that if only you could, you’d spare someone else from experiencing?

Then spare them and write it out.  Get it out of your system where it’s been eating you alive, and onto paper–real or cyber–where others can read it and benefit.

You see the potential already, don’t you?  Take advantage.

Learn more about NaNoWriMo here.  Get on it.

Don’t blow it off and claim you don’t regret it.  You will. 🙂

 

Why I’m not a million-selling author, and probably why you aren’t either

One of my Facebook buddies is a high school acquaintance who had, and still has, charisma oozing from his pores. These days he tends bar at a hotel in downtown Indianapolis.

He also posts some of the most delightfully wicked, yet occasionally profound, stuff I’ve ever read. The kind of stuff that on average picks up between 27 and 96 “likes,” most from women of assorted ages and appearances, with each time, unfailingly, someone posting “You should write a book!”

To my knowledge–with the full admission I haven’t done any research–he hasn’t done so. With the same caveats, I don’t think he blogs either. And yes, he could do so, and probably get, oh, 400 times the readership of my weak little effort at least.

I mean, come on, who else could refer to his home address as “the corner of Tragically Hip and Crackwhore?”  Not me. Not you. Him and only him. Such originality screams “Notice me, all, and fawn.”

So how come he hasn’t written a book?  Or blogged?  He’s got the skill set, he’s got the audience, he damn sure has the chutzpah, what’s stopping him?

Like I said, I haven’t asked. Irish heredity makes asking such questions dangerous for people like me. They tend to come out blunt and wrong and misinterpretable and bluntly, the older I get the less assholish I wish to appear.  Judgment Day and all that. Besides, having the skill set and the audience and the chutzpah to do so, I imagine he’d prefer to tell people that himself, in his own way.

So I’ll flip it back over to me.  Not that this makes me superior in ANY way, but I have written a book.  Two, in fact.  The older of the two, The Rain Song or Burke’s Siren, actually sold a copy in August.  First sale in, oh, forever. Made 59 cents in royalties. Whoo-hoo! Half a french fry for everyone!

The point is, I have done it, and frankly, in all objectivity, they’re not that bad. One kind soul called Blessed Are the Peace Frogs  “the best self-published novel I’ve yet to read.”  I don’t hear that much about RS/BS since it came out about four years ago, but considering the short time in which it was written–I had a free proof copy code with CreateSpace for winning NaNoWriMo that expired after six months and by golly I was going to use it–and, frankly, the weak sauce of the subject matter, it ain’t half-bad either. The nighttime burial scene especially has received praise.  You can click “Buy J.P.’s Books” above and see for yourself how good they are, of course. 😉

So, while they’re not the 21st Century’s answer to The Great Gatsby or For Whom the Bell Tolls, they are readable, enjoyable works, subjectively and objectively.  They don’t suck. I’m sure if I dug back into either one of them I’d find all kinds of things to improve, but they don’t suck.

So why haven’t they sold a million copies?  Hell, why haven’t they sold a hundred copies?  Combined?  After four years?  If they don’t suck?

Is it because, unlike my friend, I lack the skill set, the audience and the chutzpah? No on the first; I may not be him but I am me and that’s quite enough to get by.  Maybe on the second, though in all honesty it’s not that hard to get a big batch of FB friends.  And definitely no on the third.  Go through this blog on a cold rainy day, you’ll find chutzpah to burn.  Not like his, assuredly, but definitely my own.

What I lack is the hustle. 

See, at heart I’m an old idealistic English major. I write to write, and if it’s good, I should not have to beg, cajole, pressure, plead, schmooze, screw, blow, bribe or kiss ass to get it noticed. It should stand on its own.

In 21st Century America, if you want to actually make money as a writer, that is naive at best in spite of anything Amazon.com will tell you. Inevitably, it invites the rebuke from those who really do write for a living–those who are million-selling authors, or at least get a royalty check every month–that no, you are not an old, idealistic English major; you are simply lazy. Much too lazy.

But I know better than that.  I suspect my Facebook buddy does too. We have lives, and there’s more to living them than burning all our precious time “hustling” the very thing which is supposed to be a reflection of that time.

Having said that, I still wish the guy would write a book.

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Speaking of writing books, we are less than two months shy now of NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month.  Learn more about it here.  Better yet, participate.  Get that book in you, out of you.  Good for your head, good for your heart, good for your soul, good for your mind.