The Beardly Writer

Some write from the heart. I write from the beard.

Month: July, 2013

The Story Continues…

Isolation: Chapter 2

R.E.M. hummed somewhere in the background, unheard and overrated. The radio had been turned down in favor of the sounds of the forest pouring in through the open windows of the Jeep CJ-5. Most of nature’s score, however, was drowned out by four brand-new 37-inch rugged terrain tires, purchased specially for this journey. Richard had the Jeep lifted to accommodate the new tires, an expense he couldn’t really afford, but in his mind was essential to his plan. In fact, it had nearly drained his savings. He had grown accustom to not worrying about money and was hoping to find his way back there again. But he wasn’t leaving it to hope alone. No, he had his plan. And if he spent every penny he had, so be it.

Anyway, Richard was pleased with his purchase. The tires gripped the dirt road nicely, much better than his old touring tires would have. He wasn’t even sure you were allowed into the mountains without a well-prepared vehicle and supplies. He thought he remembered reading or hearing that somewhere. Or maybe that was just during the winter, when vehicles had to have snow chains. It didn’t matter. He was confident he had the right vehicle for the job.

New tires weren’t his only expenditure before driving into the wilderness. He was determined to do this right. On his feet were Merrell hiking boots. He bought them a full month earlier and wore them on his daily walks to break them in. He’d heard the horror stories about inexperienced hikers wearing new boots on long hikes and earning themselves debilitating blisters on their heels. He didn’t have time for blisters. He didn’t have the pain tolerance. Aside from new boots he also sported a new denim jacket and a new digital watch. While at the department store the day before, where he’d stopped to buy the watch and the jacket, he looked himself over in the full length mirror of the changing room and was pleased with the reflection: so pleased in fact that only a knock from the store associate, inquiring, after five minutes of trying on a jacket, if everything was alright, could tear him away. To onlookers, however, he looked like every other suburbanite trying to play rough-and-tumble for a weekend.

His indulgences did have an end, though. Stashed in the back of the Jeep were not the luxuries and faux-camping toys of other upper-middle class weekend explorers, but rather a mostly sensible assortment of survival goods. There was a duffle bag of clothes, a sleeping bag, a backpack bursting with supplies, and a rather out-of-place, old-fashioned hard suitcase. He only planned to be gone a week, but there was food enough for ten days at least – a bag of potatoes, bag of apples, dry goods like rice and oats, canned beans, veggies, meat, hashes and soups. And a twenty-five pound bag of dog food for Brady.

His co-pilot had ridden almost the entire journey with his head out the window. Richard laughed when he thought about the unfortunate travelers behind him on the freeway that morning, the great rivulets of drool flying out of Brady’s maw and splattering across their windshields. It wasn’t a cruel laugh, as Richard wasn’t a man to wish harm or even unpleasantness against anyone. It was the laugh of a free man, unburdened by time and schedules and others’ expectations. Ahh, if only that were true.

He had forgotten for a moment that the purpose of this week-long sojourn was precisely time and schedules and others people’s expectations. Richard pushed the thoughts away. There would be time for that later. The drive had been too relaxing, and would continue to be, to entertain those kinds of worries. Besides, this trip was as much for him as for them. It was his idea. He didn’t plan to spend every waking moment on work. He had decided, after stumbling upon a television marathon of a particular survival reality show, that man needed to get out into nature on occasion, to pit himself against the forces to reveal of what kind of metal he was made. In his life, the closest to nature Richard ever felt was being stung by a jellyfish at nine years old while on a family vacation in Florida. He lay on the beach, surrounded by his family and onlookers, awaiting the EMTs. As his father stood over him urinating on his wound, amid the intense pain and humiliation, he had a brief moment of clarity. He would later recount it to his friends as the first great epiphany of his life. He saw and understood in a flash the connectedness of all living things. He saw the great circle of life like Ezekiel’s wheel within a wheel spinning in front of him. And larger still, he felt the expanse of the universe, felt in his gut the hopeless size of it all, and knew that every part of it, every particle, was connected to every other part. As he lay there in the sand, covered in sweat, piss and sea water, he tried to explain it all to his father, his mother, anyone who would listen. He couldn’t understand why they weren’t listening to him. But all the crowd heard were the incoherent screams of a child, delusional with pain. As the EMTs loaded him into the ambulance, he could feel the revelation slipping away. To this day all Richard retained was the memory of having had an epiphany. All he knew was that he had once known the answer, and a vague sense that he was an important part of nature, of the universe. This feeling stayed with him his whole life, and consciously or not, influenced many of his decisions.

His laugh caught Brady’s attention and the dog turned to look at its master. Richard met the animal’s gaze with affection. Only a year ago he had thought the dog homely to look at. The long, flapping ears, the folds of skin on its face and neck, the sagging eyes… When Richard first brought the dog home he wondered if he’d ever get used to the ugly mug, but the warmth and loyalty Brady showed quickly won him over. He soon regarded Brady’s characteristics as noble. Richard scratched the dog’s head and ears, and the dog responded by licking its master’s face.

“Cut it out!”

Richard pushed the dog’s big face away and continued to scratch its head.

“We’re getting close, boy.”

Brady simply looked at him with big, dopey eyes, basking in the attention.

After two hours drive, Richard sure hoped they were getting close. The majority of the time had been spent on a minority of the miles. Unfamiliar with the mountain roads he was navigating, he split the difference between wanting to make good time and get to his destination as quickly as possible, and taking it extra slow and careful, and kept the Jeep just below the speed limit. If there was a speed limit on these roads. He hadn’t passed a sign for at least forty-five minutes. For that matter, he hadn’t passed a car, or any other sign of civilization (apart from the road he was on) in at least as much time. An hour earlier the asphalt ended and the road turned to gravel, eventually giving way to dirt. He had forgotten to set the trip odometer so he had no idea the actual miles he had driven. He knew his destination was approximately forty miles east of Interstate 5. Those were forty miles straight. He had no idea how many more miles the twists and bends in the road added. He was heading into the thick of it, the middle of the Oregon wilderness.

Twenty-two years he had lived in Oregon, and never before had he ventured into the mountains like this. He moved from the east coast to attend Reed College. He expected his intellect to be welcomed there, even (he occasionally day dreamed) celebrated. Not that he considered himself one of the great thinkers, but he did carry a general sense of superiority over others. It wasn’t arrogance, and he rarely flaunted it, it was just a closely held personal belief that he was, if ever so slightly, smarter than most people. The conviction was fostered by the fact that he had, grade school through high school, consistently ranked in the top five-percent of his classmates. Had his school offered any honors classes he surely would have been enrolled. And just as surely, his bubble would have been popped. Richard lived in a small Maine community, with a total population of fifteen thousand, and high school enrollment of around three hundred. His intelligence was such that he was at the top of the relatively small sample group, but would have been at the bottom of comprehending and following honors-level curriculum. Of course he didn’t know this, and so off he went to college with an inflated sense of acuity. It was then left to Reed College to do what his former educators could not: burst his ego and serve him a sobering reality-check. He was so excited the morning of his first day of classes. Eight hours later he was an emotional wreck. He locked himself in his room the next two days, pouring over his textbooks, knocking his head against the wall, and cursing his old teachers for not preparing him for college. It didn’t occur to him until a month had passed that the problem could be his own: that he wasn’t as smart as he thought. The realization settled slow and heavy on his shoulders like a death shroud. He lasted only one semester at Reed before transferring to Lewis and Clark.

It was there he met Kristine. Richard had dated occasionally in high school. Mostly first dates. He was pleasant enough at first meet, but the pleasantness gave way to tedium over the course of dinner and a movie. Both his parents were stay-at-home types. His father could usually be found in the living room, laid back in his easy chair, book in hand. His mother was content to sit in the sewing room, mending or making clothes for her children. That, or sitting at the kitchen table with the latest Reader’s Digest. Rather than rebel against this laid-back lifestyle, he learned at an early age to embrace it. Most of the other children in town couldn’t wait to get away to somewhere exciting. The few young ladies who said yes to his shy invitation soon found he was yet another part of the town they were so eager to escape. Richard, to his credit, didn’t take it personal. He was able to entertain himself just fine at home, taking after his parents, with homework or a good book. He was confident the right woman would appear in good time. And so Kristine did.

Good time is a subjective term. In his mind she appeared at the eleventh hour, on the verge of late. Before heading off to college, Richard wrote a timeline for the rest of his life. Even while drafting it, he knew it was a silly exercise. He didn’t expect every event to happen exactly as and when he wrote it out. But he was fairly confident in the major plot points. Engaged by twenty. Graduate and marry at twenty-two. First child at twenty-four. Last child at thirty, and so on. His twenty-first birthday was fast approaching and he didn’t even have a girlfriend, let alone a fiancé. He had already suffered the defeat of Reed, he wasn’t sure his life could take another setback. Late one night after an uncharacteristic evening of heavy drinking (i.e. two pints of beer and a shot of Jagermeister [the latter forced on him by an inebriated classmate celebrating God-knows-what]) he borrowed a lighter from a friend, took the handwritten timeline behind his dormitory, and proceeded to light the piece of paper on fire. Just as he did, he first heard and then saw a group of female students standing outside the girls’ dormitory across the way. In the center of the group stood Kristine, a nondescript type in the eyes of most males, but something about the way she looked at him, seriously, and with non-judgmental curiosity while the other girls pointed and giggled, caused a stirring inside of him. He held the burning paper in his hand until a gust of wind snatched it out of his fingers and placed it squarely against his chest. The flames licked at his shirt and chin and Richard frantically slapped his breast to put out the flames. The spectacle elicited further giggling and laughing from the girls. All but Kristine, who watched him with the slightest smile. And so it was that Richard entered her life, on fire. And even though he managed to put out the flames on his shirt, a fire had been kindled in his heart.

The mountain pass grew narrow. Richard shuddered to imagine what would happen if he encountered opposing traffic. There was simply no room to pass. The forest came right to the edge of the road, almost overtaking it at times. To his left were a small run-off ditch and then the steep climb of the mountain, and to his right the equally steep descent. Scars occasionally cut across the dirt road as rainwater exceeded the ditch’s capacity and forged its own way down the mountain. Richard and Brady bounced in their seats as the Jeep traversed the deepest one yet. His foot eased slightly off the accelerator. He was a confident driver, but with no one around either to impress or prove anything to, he allowed for a little more caution. Besides, he thought he could see a turn-off ahead.

The Jeep rolled to a stop. To call the turn-off Richard stared at a road would be a joke. He thought the road he was on was as primitive as it could get, but the path before him was completely overgrown. Two car-width parallel indentations in the grass and brush, and the unnatural lack of trees, were all that separated it from the surrounding forest. He almost drove passed, but a hand-painted sign nailed to a tree at the head of the path caught his eye. Brady looked expectantly at its master.

“Stay.”

Richard stepped out of the Jeep, his boots finding their first purchase in non-suburban soil. He came around the Jeep and approached the still as yet illegible sign. Years of decay had destroyed several of the painted letters, but after brushing off as much dirt as he could, he was eventually satisfied that the sign read “Porter’s Retreat.” Kevin hadn’t been able to tell him why it was so named, or who Porter was. Although he had never been there personally, Kevin assured Richard it was remote but comfortable. He didn’t even have pictures, just stories from his wife Cheryl’s side of the family. And even they hadn’t visited the cabin in over a decade. From what Richard understood it was built by Cheryl’s great-grandfather as a hunting shack, and then upgraded to a (very) modest retreat by her grandfather. Kevin and Cheryl had never used it, Kevin being too attached to the internet and technology because of work. So when Richard mentioned in passing one evening over dinner with his friends his intent to get away somewhere remote for a week, Kevin spoke up and offered to let him use the cabin.

“It’s sitting there, empty as a politician’s promise. We’d be happy to let you use it. Cheryl, you can give Richard directions, yeah?”

Back in the Jeep, Richard slipped it into gear and turned onto the path. He took it slow, more thankful and proud than ever for the new tires. According to Cheryl’s directions, the cabin was just over a mile ahead. One more mile and his vacation would officially start, even if it was a working vacation.

He was getting nervous. What am I doing here, he wondered? Would the gamble pay off? Was a week enough time? Had he brought everything he needed? Waves of anxiety swept over him. He fought back. He’d spent two weeks writing a packing list, and he brought every item on it. He was here to get away from distractions and work. And as far as the gamble: it had to pay off. It had to.

The path sloped up and down, skirting large trees and rocky outcroppings, and winding its way ever closer to its own termination. Richard had a vague idea what to expect when he reached the end of the line, but tried not to have any concrete expectations. This was a new and difficult exercise. This was the same man who, at eighteen, wrote a timeline for the rest of his life. Richard was a goal oriented man, preferring to leave nothing for the fates to decide. He never considered himself a control freak, especially after marrying one, but he did like the feeling of being the master of his own fate. This trip was designed to challenge that part of his nature. He didn’t know what he was getting himself into, and it both frightened and exhilarated him.

God, would he ever reach the cabin? The path seemed to go on forever. As usual he forgot to check the odometer at the path’s head and so had no idea how far he’d come, but it felt like miles. Had he misread the sign and taken the wrong road? He began to look for a place to turn around, but just like the previous road, there was absolutely no room. The prospect of driving the path in reverse convinced him to forge ahead.

He was soon rewarded with the sight of a clearing up the trail. Something leapt within Richard’s stomach. Had he made it? Brady picked up on his excitement and pawed at the seat. The Jeep emerged from the shadow and cover of the woods into a small, sunlit clearing. Richard felt the warmth of the sun on his fingers as they gripped the steering wheel. He brought the Jeep to a halt, put it in park, and shut off the engine.

“Well, boy. We’re here.”

To the right of the Jeep, nestled in the trees and set against a backdrop of the valley below, stood Porter’s Retreat.

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The beginnings of a book?

For the last three months of I’ve been working on a new screenplay. It’s totally outside of my usual genre, so I’m understandably having some difficulty putting it together. It may also be that I began this new screenplay on the heels of finishing another, and so may have rushed into it a bit. Going back to square one, I began writing a character sketch for the protagonist. I wrote it in prose, setting it inside the story. I soon had near two-thousand words, and what looked for the world like the beginnings of a good short story, or perhaps more.

What follows is that character sketch. It hasn’t been edited since its first writing. It is stream of consciousness what my brain told me about the protagonist, Richard. I’ve decided to roll with it, to keep writing and see where it leads. If it leads anywhere, I’ll post portions here. Feel free to add your comments, I love reading them.

Isolation: Chapter One.

The cloud looked like a manatee. If confronted, Richard would have to admit he’d never been particularly fond of manatees. It’s not that he disliked them, he simply never thought about them. The subject of manatees just never came up. The eco-hippies in his corner of Oregon were more concerned with organic non-GMO soy chai lattes than with saving the whales. Or manatees. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d even seen a picture of one. So it surprised him when, upon opening his eyes, his first thought was the cloud looked like a manatee.

If he had been able to hold onto that thought, he almost certainly would have realized he was wrong. The cloud bore only a passing resemblance to a manatee, and that was being generous. No, what the cloud really looked like was a swan. How a person could mistake a swan for a manatee is probably much the same way manatees had been mistaken for mermaids. At least that’s the story. Sailors too long at sea would spot a manatee in the water several hundred feet away and believe themselves to have seen a mermaid. A wrinkled, water-logged sausage of a mermaid with a face even a mother couldn’t love. In reality what the sailor saw was a strange, new creature.  What the sailor hadn’t seen, and for many months, was a woman– the very thing he wanted to see most. He saw in the manatee what he wanted to because his mind was distracted by cabin fever. On this last point, Richard could relate. But the more immediate distraction, the one that caused him to both see a manatee in a cloud where it was definitely a swan, and then immediately forgot about the damned cloud, was the fact that he had been shot.

Twice, actually. To his great relief the bullets had more or less grazed him. Once in the leg, another in the arm. They still hurt like hell; there was no getting around that. But he was fairly confident they weren’t, at least immediately, life threatening. There was also a general pain all through his body, a dull ache like he’d been sat on by an elephant. He took a deep breath only to regret it. Since when did air hurt so much? He lifted his right arm, the one that hadn’t been shot, and ran his hand over his chest. At least one broken rib. Great, he thought. Let me just add that to my growing list of injuries. Twisted ankle: check. Broken rib: check. Throbbing Headache: check. Gunshot wounds: double check.

He wondered how long he had lay there amid the dirt and fallen leaves. The sun was up. He looked at his watch, or rather where his watch used to be. Just a faint tan line on his wrist. Damn. It wasn’t an expensive watch, just your average $30 department store number with an alarm feature. He picked it up the same morning he left for the cabin. He knew there wouldn’t be any clocks where he was going. No clocks and no electricity. He’d even left his phone at home. His friend Kevin had asked him why the alarm was necessary. He was going to a cabin in the woods by himself for a whole week. Why on earth would he want to wake up to an alarm every morning? But that was Kevin. He slept in every day till at least noon.

They had been friends for the better part of three years and Richard still wasn’t sure exactly what Kevin did for a job. Something to do with the internet was all he knew. Kevin had tried to explain it once, but after two minutes it was clear Richard wasn’t following a word of it. He had no interest in the internet. He wasn’t a luddite or anything, he was simply set it in ways. That’s what he told himself. It was a source of pride for him that he did all of his research at the library. The library! That venerable old institution, as he thought of it, was his home away from home. That’s what he told others. He half-heartedly believed it, too. There may have been a time when he spent several days a week, his nose buried in books, sitting by himself in one of the library’s study rooms. But those days, if they ever existed, were in the past. And so was his writing career. That’s what his publisher told him.

He tried to sit up. If he’d ever wondered what rigamortis felt like, he didn’t anymore. He’d no idea the human body could feel so stiff while alive. This is probably because he never put in a hard day’s labor. His muscles were those of a mostly sedentary man. This isn’t to say he was overweight. To the contrary, he had a slim frame. One of those blessed with a high metabolism, he was never much concerned with what he ate. He vaguely knew that exercise was good for him and so he took walks. These walks were made more enjoyable because of Brady.

Richard rescued Brady just one year earlier from an animal shelter. It wasn’t concern for animals that prompted the adoption. Much like manatees, he hadn’t ever really given dogs much thought. His family hadn’t kept pets growing up, and with several brothers and a sister to keep each other busy, the children never thought themselves deprived. After college he’d married quickly, and his new wife was allergic. Not that that was what prevented them from getting a pet. She detested small animals. They were all rats of various size in her mind. After they moved in together, theirs was a very tidy house. A place for everything and everything in its place kind of house. The kind of house you felt uncomfortable sitting in for fear of leaving a crease in the seat cushion. It was his wife’s doing. He was a neat person by nature, but her neatness made his look slovenly. Not that he minded. For all appearances he was happily married, and for a while that was enough for him.

It was boredom that brought Richard to the Eugene Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. After his wife died and he picked up walking, he quickly realized he would need additional motivation to continue his exercise. How people did this day after day, walking and jogging the same streets of their neighborhoods, Richard couldn’t fathom. Just two weeks of it and he was ready to give up, or move. He needed either a change of scenery or something other than his own thoughts to keep his mind occupied. He bought an MP3 player and filled it with music. This worked for a few days, but he soon grew tired of his small music collection. It was during his third listen to Roger Whittaker’s A Special Kind of Man that Richard decided it wasn’t working. Next he tried books on tape. This lasted even shorter than the music, probably because the only audio book he had was Trump Strategies for Real Estate (Unabridged), given to him by his father-in-law (with whom, up until receiving the gift, he thought he had kept a good relationship after his wife’s death). His friends, the few he kept, saw what he did next as out of character.

Richard was not a spontaneous man. For sixteen years he’d ordered the same drink, a twelve-ounce iced Americano with heavy cream, every morning on his way to the office. Even after the settlement allowed him to quit his job, he continued to visit the coffee shop every morning. It was habit more than anything: and the need to keep up appearances. In all actuality, Richard’s decision to get a dog was anything but spontaneous. After the MP3 player had failed, he went in search of something else to keep him walking. He could just as easily have purchased a treadmill or stationary bike, set it down in front of the television, and been done with it. Looking back, if he bothered to do so, this would have saved him a lot of grief. And blood. But no, Richard was bound and determined to find a way to make walking a part of his new routine.

Once the idea of a dog came to him, Richard did spend some time in the library, although not as much time as he bragged. He pulled every book he could find about dog breeds off the shelves.  One day, all of the study rooms were taken. After a brief whispering match with the librarian on duty, he resigned himself to the general hall. He set up near the reference stacks and built on the table top, using the twenty-some volumes of the World Book Encyclopedia and the thirty-two volumes of Britannica, a barrier between himself and the rest of the library patrons. Despite a few strange looks during construction, Richard was pleased with his book-fort and got down to the business of breed research. This was not a decision to take lightly. What breed of dog would fit best his personality and lifestyle?

Richard sighed heavily, despite the pain in his chest. Sooner or later he would have to get up and make his way back to the cabin. His mind was still foggy; he couldn’t quite remember how far the walk would be. He almost chuckled at the thought. Walk. It may be he’d have to crawl. And that’s if he could find a way either up or around the steep bluff and back to familiar ground. He cursed himself again and wished he’d scouted this area better. But then again, how could he have known he’d end up like this? This was supposed to be his vacation.

Brady would be able to find the cabin. He was a purebred bloodhound. Loyalty was the trait he decided he wanted most in a dog. Devotion to its master. There were other breeds that were purported to be easier to obedience train, but Richard wasn’t interested in too much training. He wanted a dog that needed and appreciated exercise, and would relax while at home. He knew of their predilection to wander off after an interesting scent, but he figured a good leash would settle the matter. Brady’s leash. Richard saw it in his mind’s eye, hanging by the back door of his home. Brady had been so good, never once dashing off on his own. He stayed near his master on their walks. Richard decided last minute that Brady’s vacation would be from his leash. Over time, he grew to see Brady as something more than an exercise tool. Despite himself, Richard grew attached to the animal. All clichés aside, Richard found himself his first best friend. It was, in many ways, the truest and best relationship Richard ever had.

“Brady.”

The sound of his own voice cleared the fog in his head. He remembered something he shouldn’t have forgotten. Something so important he couldn’t understand how he had forgotten. His already stiff body tensed at the realization. His mind screamed at him to move, run, do something, but his muscles wouldn’t respond. Richard summoned the will and slowly moved his neck. He turned his head, painfully slow, and looked to his right. The ground was empty. Using more nerve and energy than he thought he had left, he searched the forest floor around himself. He was definitely alone. A shudder tore through Richard’s body. Not only had he survived the fall, but so had the stranger. And now the stranger was missing.

Thanks for reading, and leave a comment below!

Lost in the Preface Forest

“My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives,” Hedley Lamarr.

Since beginning this blog only one week ago, I’m stunned by the way my mind races with ideas. I’ve always had a very active mind; it’s one of the reasons I write. But the past five years my mind has been on only one form of writing: screenwriting. While growing up, through high school and into college, I tinkered with all manner of writing. I tried my hand at short stories, non-fiction, at one point began a novel, and even compiled a collection of poetry titled “When Stabbing Yourself With An Eight Inch Blade, Kindly Make Sure Not To Sever An Artery,” He Said (a macabre, angst-riddled product of my youth). But then my world became about movies, and that was mostly that.

Reading was, and is, a different matter. Whenever I feel the icy hand of writer’s block creeping over my brain I whip out a few classics to fend it off. Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, Moby Dick, Frankenstein, The Brothers Karamazov, The Metamorphosis, A Christmas Carol, The Wind in the Willows, Great Expectations, Dracula, On The Road… In times of writer’s block, the subject of the book is second to the language itself. Even now as I think about that, it seems counterintuitive. But one of the few concepts I learned in college that I consciously carry with me is that, without words, there is no thought. After a casual Google search I could not discover who, if anyone, is first credited with this saying. Hippolyte Taine, a French critic and historian, is as close as I could come with his quote, “There is no thought without words, any more than there are words without thought.” If this is true, and it certainly seems true (just try and have a coherent, transmittable thought without the use of words), then to fill my mind with as much language, and masterful use of that language, as possible, must eventually give way to thought. And thought to idea, and idea to page. At least, that’s the idea.

But recently, even the classics have failed to stir me to write well. I still write, because to get out of the habit is a dangerous risk. But for several months I have been deeply dissatisfied with my work, and none of the usual fixes were doing their job. And so I started a blog.

As I said in my previous, and first, post, I began this blog as a journal of the changes about to come to my life. And I promise, we’ll get to those changes soon enough. But another thing about me; I am compelled to always preface what I want to say with what I feel I must say in order for what I want to say to be properly understood. And if you understood that, well done. By doing this, of course, I run the risk of the reader or listener losing interest before I even get to the meat of the matter. But a compulsion is no easy thing to ignore. I am becoming aware that the need to be understood, the need to make sure everyone understands precisely what I mean, is based in fear. Language is important to me; I hold it in extremely high regard. The fear of using it wrong, or worse, abusing it, guides much of my style of writing and speaking. And then, for all my care, for my words to be misunderstood, or worse, twisted, is appalling! But why am I afraid of being misunderstood? What are the consequences? Everyone has a picture of themselves they present to others. Different from our self-image, it is the public face we wear to convince others we are who we want to be. It is important to me to be seen as rational, intelligent, and well-informed. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant. When someone misunderstands me, it’s like they are rudely, and sometimes violently, trying to look underneath my mask. It is an intrusion of my deepest privacy, and it stings.

Knowing that I have a habit of prefacing myself, I told myself, “Self, you have one post to get that out of the way, and then onto the real stuff.” And I really meant it. But when I sat at my computer today, the real stuff disappeared into the tall grass and I’ve been chasing this post down a rabbit trail ever since. Or to be more honest, I’m not sure I ever knew what the real stuff was supposed to be. I’m writing under the guise of a preface because I don’t know of what I want to write. My opening statement was true; I have a flood of ideas, all since writing my first post. And therein lies the problem. I can’t see the forest for the trees.

“My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention,” Hedley Lamarr.

The obvious thing to do is to erase this post, figure out what the hell I want to write, and then write that. But as I’ve said, I’m a writer in process. This blog is not about releasing only my best and brightest work to the world (which I certainly hope to do), but also about me discovering what it is to be a writer.  If this is boring or uninteresting to you, skip it and read the posts in which I publish work (again, coming soon). That said I hope you do read this, because I welcome dialogue, criticism, and encouragement. I have no aspirations or expectations that this blog will be popular or even read by anyone other than my mother. But if one or two other writers happen along, I’d appreciate input. That is something I hope to do as well; to read and encourage other writers out there, like me, just trying to find their way.

So maybe in that sense, I really have begun to write what I want. Maybe this is a place to bear it all as a writer. The fears, the anxiety, the pitfalls, the worries, the heartache, as well as the joys, the rewards, and the thrills. Because they are all there, my friends. To be a writer is to welcome it all with open arms; to bear your heart to the world and dare it to strike. Don’t be surprised when it does. And don’t let it stop you. I will be as transparent as I can on these pages. And if my words, my experiences, or my thoughts encourage you, well then for what more can I ask? It has never been my intention to put myself into my writing. But I’m learning more and more that it is unavoidable. More than that, it is precisely what writing is. Every character I write comes from somewhere within me. Maybe it’s time I write about Rayne Warne. Writing is often a journey of self-discovery. Maybe it’s time I discover who this character, the man I have been trapped inside my own head with for over thirty years, really is. And along the way, perhaps we’ll discover one or two truths worth sharing.

P.S. Stop by next week. I’ll be posting some of my work. Old or new, I haven’t decided yet.

I am a Writer.

When I first wrote the title above, I wrote the word “writer” with a lowercase “w.” Almost immediately I made the change to an uppercase “W.” This change, while small, isn’t. Identity is important. The importance is the reason our wallets and purses are full of cards and papers that we use to identify ourselves to others. Who we are matters. It matters to our family and friends, our employers, and our governments. Most of all, it should matter to us. Who are we? Who am I? I am a writer. Er, Writer.

This is of course not the whole of my identity. We are, and should be, so much more than what we do. Let me say before I go any further that I currently do not make a living by writing. I don’t even make a penny. My declaration that I am a Writer comes from my desire to write. It is my attempt at a self-fulfilling prophecy. Through this declaration I’m sure I join millions of other “Writers,” themselves wishing, hoping, and praying that one day their writing will earn them a paycheck, or be recognized and appreciated, or at the very least be read. At present, my writing career is limited to one finished screenplay and 2 unfinished. But as humble beginnings go, I’m okay with it.

Being “okay with it,” is an often difficult state to reach for a writer. I speak from personal experience and the experiences of other writers known to me. We are, by nature, perfectionists of varying degrees. Contentment with our work is the nirvana we both long for and never expect to reach. We instead experience the daily hell of procrastination, guilt when we don’t write, self-criticism when we do write, doubt in our abilities, and jealousy of other writers’ abilities and success. And that’s on a good day.

But there are occasional rays of sunshine, and it is to these we writers must cling. Hang on, I’m mixing metaphors. There are occasional rays of sunshine, and it is in these we writers must see ourselves. Not great, but better. Certainly we must never settle for anything less than our best, but sometimes our best takes time to work its way out of our caffeine soaked brains. I’m not happy with how this fourth paragraph begins, but I’ll let it ride because the lesson is important. And that lesson is, we can be our own ray of sunshine, instead of our own worst enemy. I accept the fact that not every sentence I write will be a Pulitzer winner, and that it can always be made better in editing. I’m not complacent with my work, rather I’m content with myself. I know I am a Writer in process. If I really and truly consider myself a Writer, do I or do I not trust that the words are there? All the beautiful and ingenious words in the human lexicon are available to me, to you. And only you know how to put the right words in the right order to convey to your readers your unique vision. If you are a writer, learn to trust yourself.

I am a Writer by nature and a writer by choice. By nature, because it is the act and the life I find myself most drawn to and most suited for. By choice, because by-God writing is a choice. Writing isn’t easy, even for writers. Everyday we face the choice to get away to a quiet (or noisy) place and write, or to let the day pass. The first advice any experienced writer will give to the novice is to write everyday. Get down to the business of writing, and write! I admit it, I don’t follow that advice as nearly as I’d like. Life, as they say, gets in the way. But it doesn’t have to. And for the writer, it shouldn’t. I know this, and slowly but surely I am getting better at it. Not because I am necessarily predisposed to it, but because I choose to.

I am a Writer because I love stories. The nature and history of storytelling is fascinating, and I love being a part of that history. That is something about me. Many of the things I enjoy, I enjoy because of the rich culture surrounding it. The cultures of wine, of fine art, of music – they intrigue me. Not out of some pretentious notion of high class vs. low class, but because people have been passionate about these things for thousands of years, and it shows. To be honest, I don’t know much about wine. But when I enjoy a glass, I feel a part of something larger than myself. This may seem incredibly sentimental, even ridiculous, and maybe it is. But maybe it is also recognizing the innumerable people who for centuries devoted themselves to a singular passion. Thousands of years of experimentation, innovation, failure, success, secrets passed down through generations, all in the pursuit of the perfect glass of fermented grape juice. Think of the myriad stories contained in that history! And while each story might not be worthy of novelization and the obligatory Hollywood movie adaptation, they are each indispensable to the glass of Pinot Noir I enjoyed last night.

For these and many other reasons, I am a Writer. It is not my whole identity, but it is the identity I offer up to display on this blog. I have some big changes coming up soon in my life. I’m starting this blog as a record of those changes. I hope it continues to grow after those changes have come and gone and new changes are on the horizon. For all who find their way to this blog, I welcome the company.

I am a writer, and this is my journey.