Monthly Archives: January 2017

Carved Outta Wood


A guy who came to Fight Club for the first time, his ass was a wad of cookie dough. After a few weeks, he was carved out of wood.

jacks-boredom

That’s a line from Fight Club, which, since I saw it early in college, has sat comfortably in my top five all-time favorite films. I love it mostly because I’m a man and RAH RAGE VIOLENCE BLOOD FARGO THE SYSTEM. Well, not really. There is that, but mostly I love it because it’s about a guy in a rut who pulls himself out of a rut in catastrophic fashion. No half-measures; the characters in this film go all-out for the things they want, and for the things they don’t even know they want.

The narrator and Tyler Durden get into a fight in Fight Club, not because they hate each other or because they disagree, but because they’ve never done it. Then other people join up and start fighting for the same reason, and soon Fight Club has evolved into Project Mayhem, with multiple chapters around the country and designs against the very pillars of society. These guys (well, spoiler alert, this guy) starts a thing for the hell of it, and like the proverbial snowball rolling down the hill, it gains a momentum of its own. Then it all goes sideways, of course. Great movie.

But the quote above, in particular, sticks out to me, because it’s at the core of the movie, but like all good movies and all good quotes, it’s really about life. Getting in a fight, handling one’s self mano-a-mano against another human, is the sort of thing that most people probably think they could do reasonably well at. I know I’m guilty of thinking I could handle myself if it came to it, not that I ever expect it to ever come to it (insert obligatory I’m a writer not a fighter cliche here!). But a fight has the immediate power to rectify your worldview by dint of the other guy’s boot crashing into the side of your skull. Training aside, athleticism aside, general awareness and savvy aside, there’s no substitute for stepping into the arena and facing the blows. However prepared you might be, however capable and willing, you can’t know how it’ll go until you actually get in the ring. The only thing that really teaches you is the trial.

Which is, I think, why there are so many would-be novelists out there, and why gym memberships spike in January but the gyms themselves empty out before February dawns. It’s why instead of trying the thing that intrigues and frightens us, we head for the couch and the reruns of Law and Order. It’s why instead of getting up with the early alarm and braving the cold to work out, we retreat to the warm, fluffy confines of our beds. The couch  and the bed are easy on our cookie dough asses. It’s easy to sit back and talk about how we could do the thing if we decided we wanted it. Just not today.

But that’s why I do get up and run before the sun, when it’s freezing outside and I’d rather be asleep. It’s why I park myself in front of the blank screen every day and pour the words forth, even when it feels like it doesn’t mean anything. Because my ass feels a little too much like cookie dough, and I’d rather be carved outta wood.

Of course, to get carved, you have to take the leap. You have to hold your breath and plunge into the icy water. Take off your shoes and walk across the coals. Jump out of the airplane.

self-ko

And yeah, sure. You’ll get knocked on your ass. Maybe more often than not.

But if you can master the fear and get used to giving yourself the lumps, day in and day out? And then stepping up to the bar and asking for just one more? Maybe you’ll actually stand up to the task when the real world comes calling.

Or, you know. You could just sit back and cookie-dough-ify yourself.

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.

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A Burp of Inspiration


Writing is an act of discovery as much as it is an act of communication. I forget that sometimes, but then there are days when it comes crashing back into my consciousness: like today.

My current WIP has been struggling forward on lame legs for a while — I love the idea in general, but it has failed to stand up under its own weight for some time. Like a newborn calf, it struggles to stand, it collapses and has to be helped up. And since I’ve never quite been able to figure out how to keep it steady, I’ve struggled to find a groove with the project. It’s been tough going, tougher than I would like and certainly tougher than I sometimes make out.

So today I kicked back and let a few of my characters talk some sharknado out, and holy carp. Out of the conversation sprang the solution to the problem that’s been plaguing this story from the start. It gives shape to the entire narrative, gives motivation to the protagonist, gives foreshadowing and tension to the early chapters and closure to the late chapters.

I haven’t gotten there in eight months of thinking about this story, and finally — while in the midst of a perfectly ordinary writing session, I might add — it just pops out, when I’m not even thinking about it. Which probably means it was clunking around in my dome the whole time, I just didn’t know how to let it out. And it almost certainly means I would never have found the solution if I hadn’t set my shoulder against the problem and worked forward anyway.

One of my favorite quotes on creativity comes from Pablo Picasso: Inspiration exists, but it has to catch you working.

Today’s session was a perfect example of that. I needed this today.dory


What We Own (and don’t)


Going to keep it short today, because my beloved Falcons have a huge game coming up soon, and I’d rather devote my mental energies to that than to more self-flagellation over political matters. Still, a few things seem to bubble to the surface no matter how much I try not to think about them, and today my thought on the matter of our new president is this:

We think we own things, but we don’t.

Take Trump’s supporters, and his victory in the election. Misogyny and possible sexual assault and mocking of handicapped individuals and all that good stuff aside, what brought him to victory was a masterful orchestrating of ingroup/outgroup thinking. To white people across the country, especially to white people living outside of cities, he said: you have been forgotten, and you will be forgotten no more. That message resonated. It got him elected. (Personally I’ll be shocked if he actually delivers on anything that benefits middle- and lower-class people of any race, but that’s neither here nor there, for now.)

The rhetoric speaks for itself. Make America great again. Take back the white house, take back the country. What isn’t said is more significant: Make America great again because it has been tarnished. Take back the white house because it’s been taken from us.

But we’re guilty of the same flawed thinking on the left, too. (And I include myself on the left only because I am so very, very NOT on the right. The left is downright stupid about its share of issues, too.) Now that Trump and the Republicans have the power, we have to fight for what’s ours. We have to protect our country from the damage they’re waiting to do.

Again, the unspoken message is that this is our country and they are going to fargo it up.

But people on the left don’t own America, any more than people on the right do. Or did. Or ever will. It belongs to everyone, to all of us, which means that really, it belongs to none of us. It’s not like we have this part of the soup bowl for white America, and this part for black America, and this part for gay Americans, and this part for Muslim Americans, and any other division you care to think of. It’s all one big bowl of soup. We’re all mixed in here together. And sure, you take a spoonful of the soup and you might get a little more beef in one bite, more potato in the next, but the flavors bleed across into everything; each spoonful shares something in common with the whole.

This isn’t our America vs their America. It’s just America. It doesn’t belong to white people. It doesn’t belong to black people. It doesn’t belong to men, or to women, or to Christians or Jews or straight people or Creed fans. It belongs to all of us.

We can yell and scream and finger-point all we want, but at the end of the day, we’re all simmering in the same big bowl of soup. Thinking of this as an us-vs-them is a zero-sum game. “We” (whichever “we” you prefer) don’t win by shutting “them” up. We win when we realize that while it might be a really groovy idea to add some horseradish to the soup to enhance the flavor of the beef, that’s really going to play havoc with the carrots and the celery, so maybe we save the horseradish for a time when we’re not having soup.

Put another way, consider a national forest. It’s lush, green, lovely, full of bears. It belongs to me, because I pay my taxes. But it doesn’t belong to me the way my house belongs to me, in that I can’t take a chainsaw to a tree because I don’t like the way its shade drifts across my breakfast nook in the summer morning. Further, if I go trying to recreate the national park the way I see fit — say, by clear-cutting acres of forest to make way for a dope skate park — there’s a price I pay. Not just in the fines and jail time I’ll face, but also in the fact that I’ve pretty much screwed up the park for everybody who doesn’t care about dope skate parks. And that “everybody” happens to include more people than the group that does care about dope skate parks. All of which is to say nothing about the displaced grizzly bears that are likely to wander into my breakfast nook and have a bloody tantrum over the lack of shade.

Point is, we have to stop thinking of America as this thing that belongs to us but not them. Like the national park, it belongs to all of us. Like the bowl of soup, we are all intermingled within it.

The quicker we can acknowledge that — on BOTH sides — the quicker we can actually start solving problems in ways that work for everybody.

But not for Packers fans. At least not today. Today is Atlanta’s day.


Regularity


Been thinking a lot about regularity, lately … or more correctly, the lack thereof. (No, not that kind of regularity. THAT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.)  Regularity is what made me so productive over the past couple years; it kept me clipping along on my novels, it kept me in good upkeep with my running, it kept me making good decisions with food and working out.

But lately, I feel like that shopping cart with the one gimpy wheel; things are mostly swell, the machinery is mostly functioning as intended and you can certainly still use it to get your shopping done, but there’s this constant pull yanking me off course. It squeak, squeak, squeaks on every turnover like nails on a chalkboard in the back of my brain, it thump, thump, thumps like the fingers of a bemused god on the top of my skull.

And even when I am working as intended, things feel off. Like a bit of gravel stuck in the bottom of your shoe. Like a vacuum cleaner with too much hair clogging the brush. Like that leaky faucet that won’t stop dripping no matter how many times you take the damned thing apart and fix it.

I’m getting my writing done, but not quite in the quantity I’d like, and it’s not coming as easily as it seems like it ought to. I’m getting my runs in, but my pace isn’t what it should be, and I can’t seem to shake off the aches and pains. I’ve fallen off the wagon entirely with my workouts, and my diet … well. My diet has always been pretty terrible, but lately it feels like it’s more terribler than ever.

I just can’t get regular.

I don’t really know what to put it down to. New job? Maybe. Malaise and spiritual indigestion over the election? Could be. The natural ebb and flow of all things? Sure.

I dunno. I feel out of my groove, which is no big deal — these things usually work themselves out. The fact that this particular thing hasn’t yet worked itself out makes me … uneasy.

Not much else to say about it just now. Just trying to give this thing, whatever it is, a shape so I can pick and prod at it.


Pitiful Excuses


Pitiful excuses for the week: I’ve got a few. Not that every week doesn’t come with a few excuses, but some are more pitiful than others.

Of course, this week’s big pitiful excuse is bigger than the average pitiful excuse, which is: a stomach bug tore through our house like a honey badger (I almost wrote an angry honey badger, but then that’s redundant, innit) on peyote. First my daughter had it (barfing all over my wife, which she enjoyed about as much as you’d expect, my wife being something of a germophobe the way our new president is something of a Twitter user), then my son had it, then I had it, and finally, my wife has it.

So it’s been a stressful, and kind of miserable, week. Add in a couple of snow days* to the mix, and the beginning of rehearsals for our school’s upcoming musical, and the fact that the new semester is starting so new students are popping into and out of my class like quantum particles winking in and out of existence, and it makes sense why my productivity would take a hit.

Which it did. I missed a run day Wednesday, and I missed two days’ work on the novel, not to mention posting absolutely nothing around here (which is hardly an obligation, but it does keep the juices flowing). Missing days sucks. Even five years into a running habit and three years into a writing habit, I can still feel the black hole of slothitude and couch-lump-syndrome tugging at me with its unflagging gravity. While I know a day here or there isn’t going to knock me into that black hole, the lost productivity is a sharp reminder that the hole is there. Lurking. Waiting. The black hole doesn’t just swallow you up one day; it doesn’t have to. Time is on its side. One missed day turns into two, turns into three, turns into a week, and somewhere along the line you cross the event horizon between taking a break and giving up.

Of course, the reminder that the black hole is there, waiting to swallow you, is good enough motivation to kick me right out of my funk.Even though the week started off decidedly poorly, I still ended up with about 1800 words and a good bit of outlining for the end of the novel, and a nice little mini-arc of action to write that will start me off next week. The writing always goes easier when you know what you want to write before you sit down to write it (would that I always knew when I sat down!).

In summary: kind of a crap week, salvaged. But that’s what you do with crap weeks, innit?

Next week can only be better.

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.


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