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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


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.

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.

We’re Never Ready. Do It Anyway.

When you’re starting something new, there’s a lot of hullabaloo about picking the “right time” to do it.

“I’d love to write a novel, but I just want to have the perfect idea first.”

“I’d love to start exercising and dieting, but I’ve got a vacation coming up (or the holidays, or whatever). I’ll start afterward.”

“I’d like to have a kid someday, but things are just too busy for me at work.”

The excuses all sound decent and reasonable, and they’re never specifically wrong. If you’re going to start writing a book, you should have the best idea you can muster in mind before putting pen to paper. If you’re going to start getting fit, you should eliminate as many barriers to success as you can. If you’re going to have a kid, you want to do so at a time when you can give the child as much of your attention as possible. And so on, and so on. The problem is, you can use that excuse (and here I mean whatever excuse you may have concocted to justify the thing you’re not doing) ad nauseam, and there is always another “perfect” excuse. Sure, I have a good idea for a novel, but what if I have a better one in a month or so? Okay, I cleaned the junk food out of my kitchen, but who wants to take up running in the middle of the summer? Yeah, my job is secure, but money’s tight right now, so maybe we can think about having a kid next year.

You can always find a reason why you’re not “ready”.

President Kennedy said of going to the moon that “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing regardless of the time frame in which you do it. There is never a “perfect” time. You’re never really “ready”. And chasing after perfection is the surest way to never get anything done. If you’re waiting for the perfect opportunity, you can prepare to spend your whole life waiting.

If you have the inkling that you want to write, pick up your pen (okay, crack open your laptop), open a word document (or notepad if you must) and write something. Now. Today. Brainstorm ideas for the novel. Do a little outline or a character sketch. Write an opening scene. It won’t be perfect — hell, it may not even be good — but at least you’ll have started, and taking that first step is the only way you’re going to change your momentum.

If you want to start exercising or watching your diet, do something. Now. Today. Go for a twenty minute walk around the neighborhood. Bang out a few push-ups during the commercial break. Have an extra helping of veggies before you hork down a bunch of bread, or stay in and cook your own dinner instead of driving to McFatty’s.Your exercise may not be graceful or impressive, and your dietary choices may not be the best, but at least you’re doing something. At least you’re making the effort instead of hiding from the opportunity.

If you want to have kids, well, the clock never stops on life, right? I had my kids at the age of 31 and 34, which means I’ll be about 50 when they graduate high school and head off to college. When my wife first started talking about having kids a year or two earlier, I told myself “I wasn’t ready” to be a father. But I did the math and realized I didn’t want to be a geriatric school parent. I have a colleague who just had his first baby at the age of 46. He’s going to be over 60 by the time his kid graduates high school. He told me he and his wife were just waiting for the right time, until they suddenly realized in their 40’s that there was no right time and they were on the verge of missing their chance completely.

The point of all this is, change is hard. Momentum matters. It’s easy to sit on the couch and get fat, easy to watch movies and TV endlessly instead of chasing after a dream, easy to stay a kid forever. The human animal seeks the path of least resistance by its very nature. We have to fight against evolution, against society, against ourselves to achieve the things we want to achieve.

We’re never really “ready.”

Which is why, whatever the change is that you’re chasing, there’s only really one thing you have to be ready for. And that’s being ready to say goodbye to the old you, the old way you did things. If you’re ready to move on, you’re ready for the next thing, whether you think the time is right or not.

Just start. Do something. It won’t be perfect, it may not even be good. But you’ll never get good if you don’t start sometime. And as somebody famous once said, there is no time like the present.

This weekly Re-Motivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every Saturday, I use LindaGHill‘s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

The Long Con

I’ll be honest, as I’ve been in the past: I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m making this all up as I go along. All of it. Life. Fathering, writing, teaching, running, husbanding… you will find no stores of expertise here, and precious few pearls of wisdom in a heap of dusty crumbs of idiocy. But you’ll also see that that doesn’t stop me from pretending.

I use this blarg all the time to talk about things I pretend to know a lot about. I dispense all sorts of marginally intelligible writing advice, I wax eloquent about the virtues of distance running, I tell funny stories about baby poop that hint at, but never actually deliver, profound lessons about life. Why bother doing all this, when I’m not actually a writing guru, not actually a running yogi, not actually a SuperDad?

Because I want to be those things.

But here’s the trick: you don’t get to flick a switch and start being those things. The road from where you are to where you want to be is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the weak and the tyranny of evil men. (Or maybe that’s only if you’re Samuel L. Jackson.) Oh, you want to write? There are thousands of writers out there. What makes you think you’ll make it? Good point, you think, and give it up, wisely saving your efforts for more productive endeavors. Oh, you want to start exercising? What’s the point? Most people fall short of their exercise goals and give it up anyway; you might as well hang it up now and save yourself the heartache. Too right, you think, and cancel your gym membership.

But where do those voices of doubt and dissent come from? Sure, there are haters out there that will poop on your dreams and ask you to thank them for it, but the louder, more convincing voices are the ones in our own heads. I know I can speak for myself when I say I’m my own worst critic. The voice in my head that tells me I can’t do things speaks like Morgan Freeman with a 50,000-watt station broadcasting down to the very marrow of my soul. It’s overbearing, constant, undeniable. How do I overcome it?

By pretending.

I’m not an expert writer, but I can pretend to be one. And I can bang out over 1,000 words a day on average despite my full-time job and part-time daddy duties as if I were an expert writer. And I can shovel out advice like a steamshovel about my experience and pretend to know what I’m talking about to give the illusion that I actually do know what I’m talking about. Because that’s what experts do. They look confident. They walk the walk and talk the talk. You wanna be that thing? You have to start doing the thing.

Nobody’s born a brilliant novelist. No athlete pops out of the womb running ultramarathons. The people that do those things have the same voices of doubt that you or I have. The human experience, for all its vast variations, striations, complications and salutations (whatever, I ran out of good rhymes), is actually pretty standard. We get a life, we get some challenges, and we either overcome them, or we don’t. If you want to get ahead, you have to learn to be a con man.

But not so that you can run a swindle on some unsuspecting rubes. (Though I guess that helps, too.) The con you want to run — the long con that you work for years and years — is on yourself. You have to fool that inner voice of doubt into believing that you’re not to be doubted anymore. You have to fake it til you make it. That means pretending to be the thing you want to be, every day, in public and in private, until one day it’s no longer a con and you are that thing.

Wanna be a writer? Write buckets of garbage. Drivel, drivel, drivel. Pile it on and pile it on and write boring stories and hackneyed narratives and cliched tripe and nonsensical dialogue until one day, when you’re not even thinking about pretending to be a writer anymore, you’re simply writing because that’s what you do now, you write something and it’s not half bad, and your inner voice of doubt will say, as if you’ve just demonstrated that the world is not, in fact, flat, as he previously believed, “oh. Well… I guess that makes sense, then.” And BLAM KAFIZZLE, you’re a writer.

Wanna be a runner? Get outside and run until you can’t anymore, and then stop and walk home. Then do it again. And again. And again and again and again, until you can run for a mile, and then for two miles, and then one day you’ll be out for your daily torture session, except you’ll realize it’s not actually torture anymore, it’s rather enjoyable, come to think of it, and you’ll start looking forward to those runs. And when people ask you what you’re doing this weekend you’ll respond airily, with a casual wave of your hand like you’re just going out for eggs, “oh, I’m going out for a 10k this morning,” and they’ll be all like “whoa, you’re running in a race?” and you’ll be all “no, that’s just what I do — I’m a RUNNER NOW.” And you’ll stomp on their toes for emphasis. Or maybe not. The stomping is optional, though it sends a good, strong message.

Point is, all the old adages are true. If you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you’re right. A thing always seems impossible until it is accomplished. You have to fake it until you make it.

The power of sticktoitiveness (not a word, but yeah, totally a word I love) cannot be overstated. If you wake up every morning determined to accomplish a thing, and then take the steps and do the work necessary to take one step on that journey EVERY DAY, you can get there.

But what do I know? I’m not an expert.

I’m only pretending to be.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

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