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Metaphor Monday: Rip Tide


I’m out at the beach with my kid.

Tybee Island has some of the most gently sloping beaches you’ll ever see; the difference between high tide and low tide feels like about forty yards, and depending on the time of day and where you choose to explore, you can wade way out and still find yourself only in water up to your waist.

So we’re way out. A good thirty or forty yards from shore, which is about as far as I care to go. (Thalassophobia. I don’t have it, but I get it.) And we’re bobbing around on these tubes, my son delighting in swooping up and down with the gentle waves, me trying to relax (at least as much as an appropriately paranoid parent can relax when his six-year-old is floating on the ocean, which is to say, only so much). One of the sprout’s favorite things to do is to pretend to fall out of his tube — he screams, dramatically, “oh no!” and tips it over sideways, pitching himself into the drink, then swims up under it and hoists himself back in so he can do it again. He’s doing this over and over, and I’m only kind of paying attention. My mind is wandering the way it only can when you’re floating, feeling weightless in the grip of the great salty blue. (Okay, the waters at Tybee are pretty murky — but you know what I mean.)

Next thing I know: “daddy, get my float.”

I turn and look. The float is a good twenty yards out. I paddle lamely after it for a moment, doing a sort of backwards butterfly with just my hands while floating in my own ring. That ain’t working; every foot I gain, the waves push me back. So I flop out of the ring and make to wade over there and get it — except my feet don’t touch bottom. I go under and catch a nose full of salt water, and come up spluttering.

Well, that doesn’t seem right. I whip around to glance at the shore, see how far out we are, and oh boy oh boy have we drifted. We’re about twice as far out as I thought we were, and the people on the shore look disturbingly tiny.

I start paddling after my kid’s float, but with a head full of seawater and my not-so-great swimming skills, it ain’t going so hot. Plus, I’ve seen Jaws, and I know that a human flailing around in coastal waters triggers an ocean predator’s prey drive like a fat, oblivious seal — so something like panic is flooding my system too. (Even though I know that’s ridiculous.) In my head, I see images of that riptide warning poster that they post everywhere at the beach:

Image result for riptide warning signs

And I think I might actually be caught in one of these things. (I’m not, as it turns out, but just try telling that to a brain that thinks it’s simultaneously drowning and being stalked by sharks.)

I turn to look toward shore once more and I see that my kid is paddling out after me. Something about that short-circuits whatever thinking I’m doing at this point. My lizard brain kicks the rational part of me out of the driver’s seat. Now it feels like a fight for survival. It suddenly feels like there’s miles of open water yawning beneath my feebly kicking feet, like the ocean itself is a living thing pulling me and my kid out.

I shout at him to go back to the shore, but he’s six — he’s a worse swimmer than I am, and though he’s doggie-paddling dutifully toward shore, he’s drifting even closer to me. I throw a glance over my shoulder at the float — it’s even farther away now, which seems impossible. My thinking brain sends up one last smoke signal that bubbles through my lizard-brain haze: It’s a five-dollar float, you idiot, help your kid!

With that, I hook two fingers into my kid’s swimming vest and paddle back toward the shore in earnest. We make it back without a fuss. My wife’s looking at me a bit oddly — to be fair, I’m a bit more spluttering and wide-eyed than usual. I turn around and look for the float; it’s basically a speck, floating a quarter-mile out from the shore. To make matters worse, it pretty much stays there for the next hour or so.

And I just have to watch it. And feel shame.

So.

Since it’s Metaphor Monday (when was the last one of those??), this is the part where I say this thing is like writing, and man, it’s easy to do. Sub in my project (or, in fact, yours, faithful reader) for the float, and you’re done.

I allowed myself to be distracted and took my eye off the float for a moment; next thing I know, the circumstances (my kid flipping the raft, the current, maybe even the wind, who knows?) had the thing out of reach and quickly drifting farther away. This is my writing project: you take a little break from it, and the tiniest things can push it away — out of convenient reach, where it doesn’t feel like you can get around to it, or out of mind entirely, where you don’t even think about it for a little while.

Next moment: I’m paddling after it but I’m in over my head, and I’m panicking as a result. I look up, in other words, and see that the project has gotten away from me, so I panic and make it a lot more important than it is. (If I don’t write a little bit today, I may never get it back.) Not to mention, I’m not the strongest swimmer (writer!) so even paddling after it feels like not making any progress at all — I sit down to write and feel like I just can’t do it, or I try to brainstorm on the project but my mind immediately wanders. Bang, it feels like I’m in a fight for my life — or, at the very least, the life of my project.

Next moment: I realize my kid is out here with me and decide to let the float go. In other words, I grasp that my family is still here on vacation with me and not going anywhere, and the choice of where to spend my time seems suddenly very obvious. I grab the kid and swim for shore — I give up on the project (again) and let it float away, as frustrating and painful as that may be.

Finally: I have to sit there and watch the float bobbing on the waves a quarter mile out from shore, unable to do anything about it. Well, that one’s obvious, too — no matter how much distance I get from the project, it’s never really gone — it just hangs there in the back of my mind (or, as t’were, floating on the horizon of my subconscious) waiting for me to swim out and get it. Perhaps taunting me. Because now, the work required to get it back is, admittedly, huge.

Interestingly, that’s where the metaphor breaks down — because while the float is well and truly gone no matter how frustrated I get or how silly I feel (or how much I lament the fact that it will probably end up choking some poor unsuspecting sea animal — and that does hurt my heart, unless it’s a shark, because seriously, I’VE SEEN JAWS), the project is not in any way gone. In fact, I sat down just this morning to put some words on the page and, while I’m nowhere near on the timeline I wanted to be, the project feels very much in reach again.

Writing, in other words, is just like riding a bike. Doesn’t matter how much time you take off, it’s right there waiting for you when you decide to go back to it.

Wait, that’s a different metaphor entirely. Damn.

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Superdetectives are my Jam


It’s funny how I made it through just about 20 years of life basically indifferent to — and uninterested in — Sherlock Holmes, and spent the next (almost) 20 years with Sherlock Holmes and his myriad derivatives being my favorite kind of superhero.

It started when I watched Monk sometime in college. Tony Shalhoub played this detective with OCD — a totally understandable dysfunction for a detective to develop, actually. He was a germophobe, perfectionist, and kind of a genius. He couldn’t shake your hand, but he could figure out where you’d been when your neighbor said you were over for crappy grilled cheese sandwiches by the grease stains on your shoes.

Image result for monk

Thus began my fascination with the character who sees what the other characters don’t. In the intervening time, some of my favorite stories have been House (a doctor show based on Sherlock Holmes), Criminal Minds (a detective show where everybody has superpowers for determining truths about psychopaths based on their preferred method of decapitation and/or sexual abuse — a pretty messed up show, actually), and a host of other shows based on the character who had that vision for the thing misplaced, the nose for the detail that didn’t fit. Oh, and of course I went back and read the entire Sherlock Holmes catalogue (loved it), watched the newest iteration of Sherlock Holmes movies (loved the ones with Robert Downey Jr., despite the knocks against them. Hated the one with Ian McKellan as Holmes … so boring), and then there’s the brilliant Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch (which is the funnest name to screw up ever — Flumbybums, Drumberdroops, Pookersnoots), which belongs in your life if it isn’t already there.

So it’s no surprise, I guess, that my latest protagonist — even in a novel that is decidedly not a detective story by any stretch — has a bit of that vision.

Funny how the right story can unlock your brain.

I’m gonna have to think about this more at a time when my brain isn’t as fried as it currently is.

This post is part of Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday.

 


Resolutions Suck. (Make them anyway.)


It’s sort of my style to gripe and complain about things around here. Every year I take more than a couple of posts out to pooh-pooh the things that tend to wind most people up: New Year’s Resolutions. National Novel Writing Month. Birthdays. Puppies. Maybe it’s my skeptical nature, maybe it’s some deep-seated, culturally-cultivated urge to strive against, or I dunno, maybe at my core I really am just a grinch.

But here at the end of 2017 I find myself looking around and I see I haven’t done quite so much of that. Hard to say why off the cuff, except to point out that 2017 seems to have been a generally crappy year for lots of creatives, particularly those of us who lean liberal. No politics today, except to point out that it’s been hard to exist in the world without taking a higher-than-usual interest in politics, which comes at the expense of the fargos you have to give every day.

Still, it wouldn’t feel right to finish up the year without taking a big, hearty piss on a beloved American tradition, so here it is:

That New Year’s Resolution you’re contemplating?

You’re going to eff it up, and probably eff it up badly.

face

It’s just not going to work.

Or, at least, it’s not going to work right now, if you’re making the resolution because it’s the end of the year and you figure it’s time to get off your ass. We know this. Most NYRs fail, sure as the Browns taking the field on Sunday. We fail to plan, or we don’t have the resolve, or we don’t actually care that much. We’ll make it for a few weeks, maybe a month or two, but we’ll run out of steam, lose momentum for a day, then two, then we fall off the train completely and we’re right back where we were on December 31.

That’s because we make resolutions at the new year because we feel like we’re supposed to. Which is bullsharknado. The time to make a resolution is when it’s time to do the thing, when that little voice inside you — your conscience, the twin you absorbed in the womb, or god if that’s your thing — tells you this thing has to happen NOW. When, if you don’t do the thing now, you will suffer.

If that voice happens to speak up around the new year, great. Probably it won’t.

Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t make the resolution anyway.

Just because you’re going to fail at a thing, and probably fail badly, is no reason not to try it. Failure is the best teacher, after all, and once you fail at the thing, well, you know the mistakes not to make when you try the second time. And when you fail that time, you know even more mistakes to avoid. And if you’re lucky, eventually you learn to avoid enough mistakes that you just might finally make it through the mine field.

All of which is to say that 2018 feels like a great year for making mistakes.

Or, put another way, a great year to go out there and fargo some sharknado up.

Dang, I was supposed to be dumping on resolutions.

Okay.

Resolutions suck.

(Make them anyway. Whether it’s a new year or not.)

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.


Metaphor Monday: The Snow Field


Our little suburb of Atlanta took on more snow than just about any other part of Georgia this weekend, so we were treated to several days of the white stuff. As a guy who has lived in the South for all his life, this is a treat: we don’t see snow very often, and when we do, it’s usually either a sad little dusting on your grill and the top of your car, or a slushy, icy slurry that freezes roads and locks up traffic for days. But this was the real thing. A bona-fide blanket.

Driving around the neighborhood, we saw a picture-perfect scene, right out of the Christmas movies of your childhood. Entire blocks awash in white, roofs radiantly shining under a brilliant blue sky. Fields sprawling under a soft, silent cover. Treetops bowed and glowing, crowned with frost. A true winter wonderland. Perfect in its completeness, perfect in its simplicity, perfect in its total transformation of the city.

It was so perfect, in fact, that we almost hated to disrupt it — but disrupt it we must. We have kids, after all, and they weren’t about to let such an event slide by without the requisite snowball fights and snowmen and snow angels and the fuzzy blankets and flannel pajamas afterward. And of course we had to move on with daily life, too. The trash must be taken out. The roads must be braved for an emergency trip to the grocery store. And yes, the dog still has to go out (watching her do a dance while neck-deep in snow was beyond satisfying.) So, within very little time at all, our beautiful, snow-blanketed yard became pretty disgusting. Footprints all over the place. Deep divots where the green-brown of grass beneath has stained the snow. Wide swaths of exposed ground, sodden and muddy. An eyesore. Especially next to the neighbors’ yards — neighbors whose kids have either grown up and moved on or who are nonexistent, neighbors who had the good sense to stock up in preparation for the storm, neighbors who hunkered down and hibernated like bears when the first flakes began to fall.

My father-in-law called up my wife to lament that they don’t have any kids in the house to go out and play in the snow this year. (Their youngest is a college freshman.) They got out in it a little bit — walked a neat line of steps to the sidewalk and around the neighborhood — but left the bulk of it undisturbed. Unenjoyed. Unplayed-with. What a shame.

After a day, our yard was trashed. But then, isn’t a snowy field meant to be trashed? Isn’t it the ragged snowfield, marred by footprints and muddy patches, that has lived up to its full potential? It’s been played in, kicked and thrown around, stuffed into shirts — it’s lived, unlike its slumbering, undisturbed counterpart.

A lovely, but ephemeral, glimpse at a perfect world.

Which of course puts me in mind of the ever-present writer’s paradox: the blank page.

When you start a project — or when you return to a project on a new day — the same lovely, terrible expanse greets you. A perfect blank page, unblemished and interminable. It’s so lovely and so calming and so pristine, it seems like a crime to defile it. Any words we might write upon the blank page are just that — a defilement to its perfection. A crime against its peace. A hurled tomato against its steamed and pressed costume. I look at that blank page, and I think I can’t possibly make it better. Then I start writing, and not only am I not making it better, I’m actively screwing it up. The words never come out right on the first go-round. Some sentences come out as grammatical train-wrecks. My overapplication of modifiers is like so much yellow sprayed across the snow.

But, screw it up we must. Just like my muddy, stomped-in front yard, the blank page’s perfection is just temporary. It’s lovely to look at, but its true function, its best use, is not to just sit there and be perfect. Its calling is to get messed up, to suffer the wordy slings and arrows of our halting, harried advances. The blank page is never so alive as when it’s strewn with ink, letters stamped indelibly into its surface, the heavy plow of purpose and inspiration carving deep furrows across its face. The blank page yearns to be written upon. It begs to be ruined.

The page that you leave blank is the page that never lives up to its full potential. The blinking cursor on your screen is its coy invitation. Go ahead. Type a few words out. Roll up a snowball or two.

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Pictured: maybe not exactly my backyard. By Simon.

Your yard will be ruined in no time.


Metaphor Monday: Mr. Fix-It (Eventually)


How long does it take to fix a leaky faucet?

The google answer: About thirty minutes.

The real-life answer: Give or take, three to six months.

To elaborate, that’s: roughly a week to even properly notice the thing is leaking. About a month to get well and truly sick of it. An additional month (at least) to decide it matters enough to make time on a weekend to get around to fixing it. Half of a weekend spent watching youtube videos until you have enough confidence that you won’t flood the entire house to even begin the project. About thirty minutes to actually fix it. An additional couple of weeks to finish cleaning up the tools you used. (It might not actually be fixed, after all, and you might have to get back in there and re-fix it — so you might as well keep the tools handy.) And finally, an indeterminate number of months spent testing your repair every time you walk past it to make sure it’s actually fixed.

Or, if you ask my wife, how long does it take your husband to do a household project? Her answer will invariably contain the somewhat snarky, somewhat literal “does that include the six hours he spends watching youtube and staring at the thing to ‘think about it’?”

Okay, so I don’t set speed records for fixing things around the house. You could say I’m methodical. (You could say other things. I’m sticking with methodical.)

But the point is, for me at least, these things take time. Case-in-point: the slow drain in the bathroom. My sink was slow to drain. Had been since we moved in back in July. I noticed it immediately after my first shave in the new house, but it wasn’t that bad. In the intervening weeks, though, it got worse — to the point that the sink was taking close to a full minute to drain. Being the permissive sort, I was generally happy to let that go — it’s easy enough, after all, to just shave, pull the plug, walk away and get dressed, then come back to rinse out the bowl.

As much as I’m happy to let little things like this slide by in the day-to-day, on some basement sub-floor of my lizard brain, it irks me when things don’t work as they should. (Ask my wife how often I point out poor design — a drawer that opens into the path of another, or a cabinet hinged on the wrong side. Of course, I don’t do anything about it when I point it out — but I NOTICE!)

So for months, the piss-offs mount. I shave, it takes forever to drain the sink. Shave, drain. Shave, drain. It gets to the point where I have to rinse the bowl, then re-rinse to catch the stuff that backed up in the little water that was leftover from the rinsing. (Have I strayed into the verboten territory of too much information? I can never tell.)

Finally, something must be done. I get on google. Type in the problem. Read the likely culprits. Best advice: I need to get a plumber’s snake. Okay.

Four weeks later, I make the trip to Home Depot to pick it up. Ready to go.

Three weeks after that, on the afternoon of nothing in particular, I put on a pair of rubber gloves and set about it. Clear out the cabinet under the sink. Unscrew the trap thingy. (It doesn’t even take tools — that’s how easy this fix is.) Pull the plug up out of the sink. Send the snake down the drain.

I’m gonna be honest. What comes out of the drain is horrific. It damn near triggered my gag reflex, and that’s saying something — my wife is the sympathetic puker, not me. I’m not going to describe it, except to say that for a clog made of hair, the texture was entirely not what you would expect.

Much gagging and dramatic sealing-of-the-horror-in-multiple-plastic-bags later, I wipe out the sink, replace the plug, screw the trap thingy back in, and that’s that. Sink drains like a dream.

Two days later, I move the snake back down to the workshop where it belongs. About a week after that, I have most of the stuff from under the sink back off the bathroom counter and properly under the sink. (A few lotions and a shaving brush are still on my bedside table.) And now, two weeks after the fact, I’m still checking under the cabinet for leaks from where I re-sealed the trap.

Fixing the problem was easy, it just took me forever.

Or take our downstairs bathroom. We had a suspicion of mold behind the wall in there — a company came in, tore out the drywall, tested and gave us the all-clear. I have to replace the drywall and the sink myself.

Needless to say, that bathroom has been drywall-less and sink-less for the better part of (what month is it now? December?) going on four months.

Well, two weeks ago, it was time to fix it. (Why? Don’t ask silly questions.) Off to Home Depot to buy the panel and the drywall goop, and this time, I actually start the project that day.

Okay, FINE, the next day, but the same weekend.

Problem is, I mix the drywall goop wrong, it comes out too thin, and I have to lay a second coat on. Which means another trip to Home Depot. And you know what that means.

A week and a half later, I get over to the HD and pick up more goop, and finish the job properly.

Well.

One leg of the job.

It still needs to be sanded, then painted, and then I can re-set the sink and … long story short, if we have that bathroom back in order by next summer, it will probably be a victory. (Don’t let my wife read this post. She thinks I’m gonna have it done in another week, tops.) (No, she doesn’t. She knows as well as I do.)

So what’s all this metaphor for?

Writing is kinda like a house sometimes. It does the job it’s supposed to do, albeit often imperfectly. It takes maintenance, it takes some TLC — sometimes it takes putting on some gloves and digging some truly gnarly stuff out of the drains.

Unfortunately, I have the same relationship with my writing issues as I have with my around-the-house issues: I’m happy to let them slide as long as I’m still able to write somewhat. Sink drains slow? No problem, I can work around it. Words aren’t quite coming out the way or speed I want? No problem, I can write bare minimums, cut down on the blog, write something else.

But, in exactly the same way a poorly laid-out parking parking lot gives me a thudding headache, it irks me to my soul when the writing isn’t working. (Okay we don’t have souls, life is meaningless, and all our struggles, triumphs, and heartaches are contained within a blue grain of sand in a bottomless void, but YOU KNOW.)

The bad news is, it took me a series of months to admit to myself that the problem was there and it was worth fixing. And if my 3-6 month timeline to fix a problem holds accurate, it feels like I’m in month 4 or so. It feels — in an abstract way? — like the problem could be fixed, but my tools are still all over the place (in case I need to go back in and operate again), and the confidence that things are fixed is nonexistent.

I’m on the upswing, in other words — I’m writing again, feeling productive, but still in a flimsy, going-through-the-motions kind of way. Like the bottom could drop out at any moment. My sink could drain just fine, in other words, but only because it’s dumping the slurry of water and shaving cream and discarded beard into the cupboard under the sink. Which is, you know. Not precisely ideal.

This stuff takes time to work through, is what I’m getting at, and I’ll come back to that word again: methodical. I’m being methodical in my writing fixes. I’ll allow myself to tell myself that for a little while longer.

And, you know. Maybe you’re in the same boat, be it on something you’re writing or something else. I’ll share two things to close.

First of all is this tweet that landed in my feed today:

Which is the kind of encouragement I thrive on, and it was particularly uplifting today.

And then this:

fix it

So, you know. Fix up your stuff.

Maybe sooner rather than later.

(Yeah, I know. I didn’t even almost make Monday — I almost didn’t make Tuesday. I’m just gonna keep calling it Metaphor Monday. Alliteration trumps reality.)


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