Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Weekly Re-Motivator: Art Harder


My writing and blogging spirit animal, Chuck Wendig, urges his flock to “Art Harder” (and he usually intensifies that with a “motherf*cker”, because that’s the way he does it). It’s catchy for sure, and it bears repeating — so much so that I’ve thought more than once that I maybe ought to put it on a big poster and hang it on my wall. (The “Art Harder” part, maybe not so much the MF.) In fact, now that I’m a drama teacher, that seems maybe more apropos than ever. But it’s good advice, and not just because it’s catchy.

The world is not a forgiving place, least of all for an artist struggling to make his mark. The work itself can beat you down like a desert wind blasting the face off an ancient monument. Then you try to make the leap to getting your work into the public eye, look for some vindication, and that’s when the wolves come out. (Actually, that’s when the crickets come out.) You push and you push and you submit and submit and you keep sending it out there and all you get are rejections or, even worse, an ever-expanding ocean of nothing at all, and it’s enough to make you want to give up.

Add that to the fact that your life doesn’t want you to take time out for your art in the first place — you have a job, after all, and maybe a family, and a host of other distractions that are easier than arting, more immediately rewarding than arting, more sensible than arting. Arting is hard. Not for the faint of heart. Not for the weekend warrior.

In Fight Club, the nameless narrator claims, simply and without boast, something along the lines of “when a guy came to us, he was a lump of clay. After a few weeks, he was carved outta wood.” Counterintuitive as it may seem, artists have to be made of harder stuff. Lean, corded, wiry, spry. Float like butterflies, sting like bees.We have to be able to follow the art where it leads, dive into the thicket after it, wrestle it to its knees, outrun it across the unforgiving desert, hold it still while we extract all that glorious juice from its weeping orifices.

And you don’t get that lean, mean, carved-outta-wood mentality from creating “when you get the chance” or “when inspiration strikes,” any more than you get that Schwarzenegger physique from hitting the gym “when you can squeeze it in” or “when you’ve got the energy.” You get there by putting in the work every day, by chasing after it even when it’s uncomfortable, by squeezing in a few more words, a few more brush strokes, a few more reps, like Satan himself were your very own personal trainer.

Train every day. Create every day. Art Harder.

MF.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Still Hot


I haven’t written about running in a while. The thought struck me while I was, you guessed it, running this morning. There’s good reason for that, though: we’re under a “heat dome” here in the States, which sounds like some sci-fi contraption that focuses stellar energy to fry planets but in reality is just another yawn-snore weather phenomenon that conspires every once in a while to stick us Americans to the car seats even first thing in the morning, to burn out air conditioners with abandon, and to see how many of us will actually utter the phrase “let’s move to Canada” in the space of a week (the over-under has to be a million per city block).

The temperature hasn’t dipped below 74 in over a week, and that looks likely to go right on, so even though I’m back into running before sun-up, there’s no escaping the oppressive heat. It’s just there, waiting for you, like that crazy stalker ex that keeps going through your trash. You know it’s there, the way the mailman knows that slavering dog is hiding in the bushes, just waiting to pounce, or the way that I can turn on the TV in the morning and know that Trump’s campaign manager is gonna be there explaining that the entire country has, once again, “misconstrued” what the candidate (I almost wrote “his client,” as if he’s a beleaguered defense attorney) said.

But that’s life, innit? There’s no telling when the heat will break. But we keep running so that when it does, we’ll be the first to feel it.


Do You Work Here?


I’m back to school this week. Time is short. Nerves are frayed. Free time is nearly nonexistent.

So, a lack of posts lately. Sorry about that. But here’s a quickie for today:

I’m on my way to work yesterday morning. Shirt and tie, because that’s how I roll (and yes, in several rooms full of teachers preparing for the upcoming year, I was the ONLY guy wearing a tie). And because I’m running early, and because, as the theater teacher, I have been given an unholy jumble of keys to contend with, I decide to stop off at the Wal-Mart to get some key labels. (Yeah, I know, Wal-Mart. It’s the only place I know that sells these things.)

So I go in, but it’s laid out differently from the Wal-Mart closer to my house, so I’m wandering the aisles looking for the key doodads. It’s taking a while. As I’m walking, trying to avoid human contact (because that’s what you do in a Wal-Mart: who knows what communicable diseases are lurking on the clientele), I notice this guy stalking me. I round a corner by the housewares, he’s there. I double back somewhere around the fishing lures, he’s there.

Finally, he approaches me. “Do you work here?”

For some reason, I get asked this all the time, doubly so when I’m in a shirt and tie. (Though why anybody would suspect a Wal-Mart employee of wearing a shirt and tie is beyond me.) I give the polite get-the-fargo-away-from-me smile. “I don’t, sorry.”

The guy looks at me oddly and walks away.

I still can’t find the key thingamajigs, so I’m still wandering, and somewhere around the power tools, I see him out of the corner of my eye, birddogging me again. I take another turn down yet another aisle (seriously, where the hell are the key flibberdijibbits?), and wham, there he is.

“Hey man,” he asks me with a hint of desperation in his voice, “are you sure you don’t work here?”

I mean, let’s analyze here. What could possibly be the thinking that would make him ask me again? That I do work here, but was just lying to get him to leave me alone (which I might do if I did, but I don’t), and that I will now be convinced to help him out because, hey, sorry, you got me? That I work here, but I’d just forgotten, and have now been reminded thanks to my anonymous stalker? My brain lights up with a pinball machine as I’m trying to figure this out.

I finally shake my head. “No, man. I told you, I don’t work here.”

He shakes his head, looks a little lost. “It’s just that I’m looking for this guy, he’s supposed to work here, I thought he’d be in this section.”

I’m past being polite. “Hey, I dunno what to tell you. I can’t help you.”

Again, that odd look — like maybe he thinks I’m gonna unzip my skin and underneath I’ll be this guy he’s looking for — and he shuffles off.

Thankfully, I find the key doohickies around the next corner.

I am still trying to figure out what the hell went on in this guy’s head to get him to ask me twice.

Probably drugs.


It’s Us Versus Us


We live in a weird, weird world.

NASA is working on getting us to Mars, but most people can more readily tell you what’s going on in the Kim K. / Taylor Swift feud than what’s going on in space. We’re in the midst of the most insane presidential election — literally — but most people can’t even name their local representative in the state Senate — a person who has vastly more influence over your life than the president will.

We pay attention to the wrong things, and we do it in the most messed-up way.

The election is an obvious, easy-to-hand example. You’re either Pro-Trump or #NeverTrump. Either “I’m with her” or “Hillary for Prison.”

Then start down the list of issues. Gay marriage: Either you carry a bible in your front vest pocket and insist that homosexual unions will destroy the fabric of the country if not the world, or you literally vomit rainbows and gay pride all over all your social media. Gun control: You’re either Rambo, walking the streets with an arsenal enough for a small country strapped over each arm, crowing about the 2nd amendment when you stop to reload, or you’re a hippie living in a dream world, trying to take every gun away from every law-abiding person everywhere while you’re getting murdered by the host of murderers lining up outside your door. Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter.

Get away from the election, and things don’t change. Take any issue in our time. Abortion? You either care about all life and will fight against all sense and decency for every human cell that ever embedded in a uterus, or you’re a bloodthirsty baby-murderer just waiting to chop up some babies. GMOs? They’re either the way and the future and the necessary outgrowth of the world we live in, or they’re Frankenfoods engineered by Monsanto to control your mind and turn you into a gubmint drone. Pokemon Go? It’s either the literal best thing that has ever happened to you in your couch-hugging, socially introverted life, or it’s the bane of your existence and you hope it dies in a virtual electronic fire.

This is our world, now. It (and I’m not even 100% sure what “it” is — maybe the internet, maybe social media, maybe just media, maybe it’s actually the personified world we live in) seeks out the black and white like a vampire running from the sun, it eschews shades of grey the way I eschew Fifty Shades of Grey.

You’re either one of us, or you’re one of them. Republican/Democrat. Pro-gun/Anti-gun. Pro-life/pro-choice. Dog person/cat person. Waffles/pancakes. Go ahead, laugh. But you know you can think up some anti-waffle propaganda just off the top of your head. (Nothing but straight lines with those jerks, and they’re in bed with BIG IRON, right?)

We’re social critters. We long to belong. And while it’s nice to be able to bond over the things we love, it’s a lot easier to find commonality in the things we hate. In-group/out-group. Those people over there? They’re the enemy. They don’t think like you. They don’t believe like you. They don’t share your values. How can you let them have their way?

Think about it. Trump, possibly the most unfit candidate to grace politics since there was even a word for politics, might win, not because people love him, but because they hate Hillary. Clinton, one of the most hated and untrusted figures in recent memory, might win, not because people love her, but because they are terrified of Trump.

I know I post a lot about politics around here. Maybe (okay, probably) (okay, DEFINITELY) too much. But I’m writing about it because this stuff is weighing on my mind. I’m really scared of what’s going to happen in this country after this election, regardless of how it shakes out. Not in that aw, I’m moving to Canada if xxx wins way that everybody always talks about. But in that way where I actually dread turning on the television in the morning, or opening up a news website, because I know I’m only going to see some new horror visited upon this country by its own citizens. By people who are twisted up in knots by this us vs. them mentality that permeates every aspect of every issue.

I fear that we could see another presidential assassination. Regardless of who wins. People on both sides hate each candidate enough, and we get so riled up about it all. Certainly there are enough guns lying around. It’s not hard to imagine some nutjob going off the rails and killing either one of them. Hell, it’s not hard to imagine some guy down the street who you thought was normal doing it.

I hate to pick on the RNC, because I know the DNC is going to have its own idiocy going on as well, but, well, the RNC is going on right now. I look at the speeches and the people on the stage and it terrifies me. Otherwise ordinary people telling a room full of other otherwise ordinary people that some other otherwise ordinary people outside this room are lawless, lazy people that want to see the country burn. People with no more political sense than a goldfingered golf-course gopher insisting that they’re sure the acting president is working for the enemy. People holding mock trials for their political opponents and whipping the crowd into a tear-streaked, red-faced frenzy.

And I know the DNC is going to go the same way, just in the opposite direction.

What’s so easy to forget, here, is that those people? You know, the ones you don’t agree with? The ones whose viewpoints you can’t even fathom? The ones whose brains must not even be functioning properly, whose thinking is so backward it’d be better if they just died off and left the country to the rest of us, who are single-handedly flushing the country down the tubes?

Those people?

They are our neighbors. Our dentists, our doctors, our lawyers. They bag our groceries and change the oil in our cars and patrol our streets and teach our children and defend our country and and and…

They aren’t robots. They aren’t faceless soldiers in an enemy army. They didn’t get their viewpoints with the latest firmware update on their birthday. They thought about these issues. Weighed them. Cared a lot about them. Maybe not recently, but at some point, they engaged their brain and made the best decision they could based on the best information they had.

And maybe their information was bad, but that’s not their fault. And maybe a trusted source is giving them deliberately misleading information, but that’s not their fault either.

They are just, to use a really tired cliche, like you and me.

We need to remember that.

Image of the Earth from Apollo 17

We need to remember that when our parents are telling us, beyond all belief, that they like Trump. We need to remember that when our co-workers tell us they don’t see what the big deal is with the whole Black Lives Matter thing. We need to remember that when our kids tell us that they’re gay or straight or trans or whatever.

They didn’t just make this stuff up. They’re not crazy just because they take the other side of the issue.

They are human.

It’s not us versus them.

It’s us versus us.

If we want to heal as a country, if we want to come through this thing (and again, I’m not even sure what I mean by “this thing” — the election? the decade? life, the universe, and everything?) in one piece, we’ve got to stop demonizing the “other” and start seeing each other as equals. We have to start trying to understand one another rather than just shouting about how right we are and how wrong they are.

That’s not a race thing, not a gender thing, not a religion thing.

It’s a human thing.

And we need to start acting like it.

I’m going off the political posts for a while, because I really just can’t. I can’t with the plagiarized speeches, with the shootings of and by police, with the protests, with the terrorist attacks. Lighter fare in the days to come, I promise. Probably gonna write about American Ninja Warrior or something ridiculous like that just to clear the pipes.

Photo: “The Blue Marble,” property of NASA.


I Hate Everything, Even My Own Birthday


Yesterday was my birthday.

The big three-six.

And instead of making a big deal about it here on the blarg, I wrote a dumb review of Ghostbusters.

That’s not my way of trawling for birthday wishes. To be honest, I’m not particularly arsed about birthdays. I’m five years older than my wife, so any mention of getting older in general just reminds me of how young I’m NOT anymore.

The fact is, birthdays kind of suck once you’re past your early twenties. You certainly don’t have any privileges to look forward to at my age, and nobody is impressed at the number of candles on my birthday cake or the fact that I can blow them out all by myself.

But having a summertime birthday, especially when you work in a school, is the double suck, because you don’t get the workplace shout-out. No company-wide e-mail goes out. No cupcakes in the breakroom. No pranks pulled while I’m at lunch. Nope, it was a day just like any other, pretty much.

Still, it’s a chance to reflect, and that’s a thing worth doing no matter how old you are. So, in the last year, these are some things I’ve done:

  • Finished, finally and for truly, my work on Accidentally Inspired (at least until I go back to work on it some more).
  • Started the truly harrowing task of submitting my novel to actual real-life literary agents.
  • Received my first rejection of said novel within hours after submitting it.
  • Finished the first draft of another novel entirely.
  • Started a new novel.
  • Posted, like, 200 times to this blarg.
  • Tried twitter and sucked at it.
  • Ran about 550 miles (impressive, considering the injuries I can’t seem to kick).
  • Applied for, interviewed for, and accepted an offer for a new job, all in the space of less than a week.
  • Lost about 10 pounds.
  • Gained 10 pounds back.
  • Lost about 5 pounds.
  • Gained 3 pounds back.
  • Pretty much stopped giving a sharknado about my weight as long as I don’t go above 185.
    • Not in that order.

Which is all pretty awesome, maybe. And that leaves out entirely any of the awesome things that I did with the family, or the awesome things that the family did that I got to bear witness to.

All of which is to say that, while the day itself isn’t something I would make all that much fuss about, the time spent getting here is worth being proud of.

So with that said, I’ll leave you with the electronic exchange of birthday wishes between a good friend of mine and myself, because it sure as hell made me laugh. (This friend is a touch older than me, and wiser, and one of my biggest cheerleaders. But she does know how to take me down a peg.)

D: Happy birthday.

Me: Hey thanks! I’m at that point where I prefer to forget about it 😛

D: I’m never going to forget tho, so maybe I can be a pleasant reminder that at least you aren’t 2 1/2 years older?

Me: I guess I’ll take it, but I would still rather forget.

D: Ok, I’ll resist next time.

Me: We’ll see!

D: No I promise… I always yield to the requests of the aged.

Me: Dammit.
Seriously. Nobody cares when you turn 36.
Which is as it should be.

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