Monthly Archives: April 2017

A Day of Shoeburyness and Lawn-Care Mutterings


If you have ever wanted to cut off your own piece of the bleeding edge of American literary greatness, this is your chance.

My house is for sale. The culmination of what feels like (and, by now, I guess actually is) months of cleaning and fixing and tearing down walls and repairing pipes and hauling off trash and more than once considering simply setting fire to the whole thing. But of course, the work isn’t over. Now that we have it clean and “show ready”, we have to keep it that way, which has us doing all sorts of things we would never do ordinarily, though my wife insists that normal people do these things all the time.

Taking the trash out once a day. Keeping the sink clear of dishes. Vacuuming the floors every day. Keeping laundry out of the floor. Mowing the yard at 8pm on a Friday because it’s literally the only chance we’ll have to do it.

Madness. My wife, somehow, has a reservoir of patience and sense for this sort of thing. I do not. While circling my yard with the mower last night, thoughts of murder circled in my head like swarming crows. What the hell am I doing out here? It’s getting dark, for crissakes. Primeval man survived for tens of thousands of years without mowing the damned grass. It’s all gonna grow back when global warming wipes us all out, and the kudzu will consume the country. Why fight it?

lawn-mower-938555_1280

I may have mentioned, here or there, that yard work is a dirty word with me. I’m not exaggerating. My mind goes to some dark places when I’m holding garden tools.

But it has to be done to keep the house show-ready, so mow I did. Just part of the deal of trying to sell the place.

Also part of selling the place? A sensation that I don’t have a word for: The vaguely disconcerting , slightly unsettling feeling of knowing there have been total strangers tromping through your house, peeking in your closets, judging your choices in counter-toppery.

Douglas Adams once wrote a book full of words like this, and I’m sorry to say that I have not yet read this book — The Meaning of Liff. But from the liner notes and offhanded comments found in The Salmon of Doubt, I know that within that text is a word that comes close: Shoeburyness, the uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat that is still warm from somebody else’s bottom.

This is stronger than that, but less extreme than the real discomfort and terror that, for example, my sister-in-law is experiencing, having been the recent victim of a break-in that did not apparently result in any theft — somebody just broke in and skulked around.

It’s somewhere in between those two extremes. Odd. Definitely not pleasant. But not actually disruptive or traumatic in any way.

Again: nothing to be done about it. Just part of the process. And, hopefully, the beginning of the end of the all-consuming task that selling our house has become. I don’t quite see the light at the end of the tunnel yet, but I can’t see the light from where we entered either at this point. There’s a comfort in that — in seeing how far we’ve come — even though this mushy middle part is bleak.

At least I’m writing again. Words on the page. The concrete evidence of progress.

The light at the end of the tunnel has to be up there, somewhere.

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 Day of Spiders and Fire


*Tries the door*

*Rust flakes off the stuck knob*

*Lowers a shoulder*

*A cascade of spiders from within*

*Returns with fire*

Well. It’s been a minute, hannit?

The show is over, and after a few-days’ refractory period, it seems like there’s very little left to do but return to normalcy around here, whatever that is.

Time to pick up that dusty manuscript that, despite my sincerest hopes and prayers (and you know what they say — nothing fails like prayer), has decidedly not edited itself in the meantime. Well, let’s just see where I left off heRRARGH

Ahem.

Turns out that even my computer files are full of spiders after two weeks away. Webs all over everything. Know what’s worse than getting spiderwebs caught in your hair? Getting them draped across your bald head. *shudders violently*

And, of all days, I picked a Friday to come back to life and get back to work. A Friday! As if to symbolize and cast in bronze the truism that there is absolutely no rest for the wicked, I bend my shoulder and descend into the word mines again, on a Friday.

A payday, even. When my thoughts should, as any proper teacher’s do, turn toward happy hour margaritas and a dogged denial of the looming parade of bills coming due.

Nope. I’m going back to work on the novel.

Why? Because it’s time.

It’s been almost two weeks since I wrote a creative word, and the stagnation of that clings heavy to me, like the funk of a ten-mile dead-of-summer run, a funk that permeates everything in the house. A dead squirrel going sour in the attic. Pipes dripping away in the walls, turning the drywall into sweetly rotten pudding. No escaping the stink, only denial that it’s there — a denial that feels pretty ridiculous when your eyes are watering from the smell. It just won’t dissipate until you burn out whatever’s causing it. Offer it up to the old, eternal gods of destruction and smoke.

And if I don’t buckle down and return to it today, then I’m not just missing one more day, I’m missing three — because I’m darn sure not going to be able to focus on it over the weekend — my first weekend without work in almost a month.

Nope. Momentum matters, and it’s time to break the cobwebs off this thing and get it rolling again. Lest it become a haven for spiders til the sun swallows the planet. Wish me luck.

No, don’t wish me luck. Just arm me with fire.

For the spiders.


Why Live Theatre is like Plinko


 

Working on a live show isn’t like working on a novel or a school project, outside of the fact that you break your back and your brain working to make it happen. The novel? The project? When they’re done, they’re done. You ship it out the door or turn it in, and it is what it is — nothing has the potential to change it, really.

A live show? Sure, we’re done working on it, but that doesn’t mean it’s finished. It’s never finished. It’s a living, breathing organism, powered by living, breathing humans susceptible to the nerves and emotions and follies and foibles that all humans — to say nothing of high school teenagers — are vulnerable to.

Every show will be different: new highs, new lows, new notes in the solos, new dead spots marking the missed cues, new pauses for laughter you weren’t expecting, new silence when you were expecting laughter.

When I was a kid, and I’d visit my grandmother’s house, we’d always watch the Price is Right together. Old school: the Bob Barker days. It was her daily ritual and my novelty: I think she loved vicariously watching a schmo from Lubbocksville, Nowhere go up on stage, win a game of skill and/or chance, and win a car or a vacation or a toaster. I just loved watching the colorful games, especially the one where the mountain climber hiked up the side of the mountain (and if the contestants overbid, he’d fall right off the side… man, it still brings a smile to my face!).

I still watch every now and then, though these days my greatest pleasure is watching the cynical, smarmy a-holes who, when they think everybody else has overbid, will smugly bid $1. (Even better, when that card gets played too early, the doubly cynical, triply smarmy SOB that bids $2.)

But my favorite game back then, without a doubt and bar none, was Plinko.

Image result for plinko board

I don’t know why. Of all the games on the show there was no game like it. All the other games either required some consumer savvy (which item costs more?), some physical ability (they had a minigolf game that I adored, because once upon a time I thought golf was cool, a misconception I am happy my life and my distaste for the pastimes of the especially affluent has cured me of), or some combination of the two, but not Plinko.

Here’s a game that gives you a handful of chips and says “good luck,” like a roulette wheel with a bad attitude. The goal is to get your chip to land in the $10,000 spot down there, or maybe the $1000 slot — and notice that the only way to win nothing is to almost win the big prize. So: the contestant climbs up the stairs to stand behind the board, agonizes deeply about where to place their chip, as if strategy would help them in the least, and then — lets it go.

Plink, plink, plink. The chip bounces down the board like that guy in Titanic who falls off the capsizing ship and clangs off a rail before spinning, spine shattered, into the deep. Sometimes it swerves this way and that, dancing a mad jig across the board before settling at the bottom; sometimes it beelines, as if guided by a nervy surgeon’s hands, to its destination. Sometimes the chip seems to hit every single peg on the board as it clatters home, sometimes it seems to get home without a single disruption.

Then the game is over, and the player goes home with either her winnings or her idiotic regret that she should’ve placed that last chip one slot to the left.

But it’s not the board’s fault, and it’s not the player’s fault, if the chip doesn’t land where you expect — it’s simply chance. (And air currents, and the microscopic imperfections in the surfaces of the chip and the peg, and the rotational forces you imparted when you dropped it, and the residual oil on your fingers, and the quantum particles that jumped in or out of existence on the plains of Africa while your chip was dancing madly toward the bottom.) The moment the chip leaves your hand, in other words, all you can do is watch and hope.

And a live show is like that. You do all the preparing you can, you hem and you haw over the minutiae — should that actor stand here or there as he delivers that line, should that set piece maybe be angled a bit more steeply, should I abandon the whole thing and go raise goats in New Zealand? — and then you make like Elsa and let it go.

And it’ll plink plink plink its way to the bottom, with wholly unexpected twists and turns some nights, and seemingly divine guidance on others, until it inevitably reaches the end of the line.

All you can do is hope to avoid the goose egg.

In other (possibly related) news, it’s show week — AKA hell week — for our musical. See you on the other side.


Nothing Left to Give


Been a quiet week around here (well, not exactly quiet by any stretch, but AI here has been quiet, no doubt), so I wanted to give out an update.

We’ve been doing work around the house for the past month or so — and when I say work, I don’t mean tidying up and deep-cleaning, I mean work — fixing things that should’ve been fixed long ago, tearing into walls to get at pipes, painting, liquid nails-ing anything that’s even the slightest bit loose, and generally turning this place from a depressing pile into a place that looks like it might be a nice place to live.

Because we’re trying to move.

So it’s been daily trips to the Home Depot, a daily devotional of instructional home-improvement youtube videos, the near-constant losing and re-finding of tools (especially screwdrivers: seems like I can only keep track of one for about fifteen minutes before the dark elves spirit it away to some obscure region of the house), and occasional bouts of stress-crying, stress-screaming, and stress-hammering-things-that-don’t-really-need-hammering. From sunup to sundown, we’ve been busting our butts giving this place a makeover, and we have very little left to give.

I could give a list of things that we’ve gotten done, but it would probably depress me, so I will refrain.

Needless to say, all that work hasn’t left time for any writing this week — either on the novel or around here — which bums me out a bit, but at the same time, there were really no two ways about it. With rehearsals on the musical ramping up — the show opens in two weeks — there’s no time for this stuff during the week. So we had to use this week — spring break week! — to get it all done.

So we’re exhausted from working ourselves down to the nub, and frustrated from giving all our time to this old house rather than doing the things we’d actually enjoy doing. On the other hand, there’s a certain satisfaction to knowing that the day was fully utilized, with not a minute wasted on frivolous things. (Well, maybe a minute here and there — we’re not machines, after all. Saw the new Beauty and the Beast while the grandparents were kind enough to babysit the kids for a couple of nights. The Terrible Review in one word? Meh.)

At any rate, Accidentally Inspired didn’t just vanish from the internet; I didn’t suddenly give up, board up the windows, and label this place condemned. There was just– no exaggeration here, and I say it fully cognizant of my usual statements against the very sentiment — literally no time for it.

And for that matter, time will remain short at least until the musical goes up, although going back to work is ironically going to free up more time for me to sneak my daily writing in. Sad thing is, I have tons of stuff I want to write about; the days just aren’t giving me the time. Instead, I’m hurriedly banging this post out on a Sunday morning — a day late, but what can I say — while my wife sleeps in a little bit and we wait for it to warm up outside so we can start on some yard work.

Yard work. Two of the dirtiest words in my lexicon.

Sigh.

Normality will be restored once we are sure what is normal to begin with.

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. This week? Maybe not so productive.


Any Words Are Good Words


Writing is a little bit like owning a dog.

You have to deal with it every day: give it some attention, let it out to poop in the yard, feed it, love it, clean up its poop from the yard — elsewise it gets antsy and angry and starts chewing on the furniture, peeing in your shoes, snapping at the kids. Except in this metaphor, the furniture is your sanity, the shoes are your productivity, and the kids are your own kids.

Writing is a monster, in other words, in a cute, lovable outer shell — one that needs taming every day. Not a lot of taming, of course — a well-exercised writing habit remembers who its master is and will generally come when called — but a neglected writing habit will turn on you faster than you can say “bad dog.”

Problem is, unlike a dog, who, when it needs water or food or to go take a dump, will paw at the walls, nose at your feet, and generally bug the hell out of you, the writing habit will quietly turn sour when you neglect it. It won’t snap at you right away — it takes a passive-aggressive approach. The words don’t come as easily. Or even when they do, they turn to hot sewage on the page. Or the urge to write just doesn’t show up.

Which is where I found myself this week. Lots going on at work and at home. Little time and energy left over for writing. Neglected the habit a little bit and found myself struggling to even want to do it.

But in that situation, any words are good words. Because if a writing habit is like owning a dog, the writing itself has the attention span of a dog. Ideas and words aren’t flowing on your main project? Just take the words for a walk — write about anything: Donald Trump, ridiculous naming conventions, whatever — and the dog will quickly get distracted just being out in the world. They’re flowing anyway, and all of a sudden, the ideas and the words are bending themselves toward what you wanted to write in the first place, just because you let them out of the house.

Writer’s Block is only as real as you allow it to be. It doesn’t block you from writing, it just blocks you from writing what you want to write. It’s your dog saying, I’m not gonna eat that new kibble. So what do you do? You give it something else it wants to eat, and mix some of the kibble in. Write about anything — any words are good words — and soon enough the kibble, which looked so unappetizing a moment ago, is disappearing from the bowl.

The same principle works on almost anything. Breaking the momentum is the hardest part. Don’t feel like going for a run? Put your shoes on anyway and jog to the end of the block — odds are you’ll feel like continuing. Any miles are good miles. Don’t feel like cleaning? Wash a single dish or pick up a single toy off the floor, and you’ll feel silly when you think about stopping before it’s all done. Any thing cleaned is a good thing.

Any words are good words.

Have you walked your dog today?

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. This week? Maybe not so productive.


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