The Beardly Writer

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

Category: Blog

Evolution of a Writer

Human – business evolution

I drove from Ohio to Tennessee yesterday. A little over seven hours. It’s a journey I often made when living in Tennessee. Now that I live on the other end, not as much. The drive isn’t as scenic as I remember. Nostalgia and all that, I suppose.

Through most of the trek, from just outside Dayton to just beyond Nashville, I listened to Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur as read by Tom Parker playing on my phone via an earbud in my right ear. The car I borrowed lacked a radio. Despite having read On The Road five times in the last 12 years, this was only the second book of Kerouac’s I’d read. The two books were published only 5 years apart, but there seemed to me, at least, a noticeable difference in style which if I had to put a finger on, I’d say was due to Kerouac’s evolution as a writer.

I’m no literary scholar. Let’s get that out of the way right now. Neither am I an expert on Kerouac. My assumptions of the differences between these two works could be and probably are stupidly erroneous. Whatever. I guess that’s not really the point I’m making. It made me think about how writers mature and how that maturation reveals itself in the writing. Mostly because I’m going through the same.

The guiding philosophy of my writing has been the same since undergrad; “Everything is Broken,” like the Bob Dylan song off 1989’s Oh Mercy. I used to believe that. Part of me probably still does if I cared to delve. But I’ve changed not just as a writer but as a human person in all those years. By God, I hope so, anyway. It should go that my philosophy should change right along, too. And then it came to me.

I’m not getting into details or personal emotional, psychoanalytical, Myers-Briggs, woe-is-me, personality plop. Nope. But I will say that as I sat at my mind-numbing, mind-eviscerating temp day job a few weeks ago, my brain coughed up this little loogie-gem from out of nowhere. Wasn’t even thinking about it. “Your stories are haunted by the inability of characters to ever truly connect with others.” I wanted to dramatically fall out of my chair as a sort of acknowledgment and respect for the revelation, but work wasn’t the time or place. If a writer must write of which he knows, and as I’ve written, he does, then this guiding ideology is my special domain.

It’s a special kind of realization, recognizing what you’re meant to write. It’s like if someone dropped a calculus textbook in my lap and told me to memorize it, but when I opened it I found I’d written it. I’m home. And I’m so excited to write.

Bacon Blogger

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A few months back I applied to be a bacon blogger. Yes, I too was surprised that such a job existed. As part of the application process I had to write a 600 words or less blog about my favorite bacon memories. Time has progressed and I didn’t get the gig, so I’m posting the story here. Enjoy.

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The Pig is a magical creature. There’s scarcely a part of the pig that isn’t, either naturally or through some culinary witchcraft, delicious. From the mild, juicy tenderloin to the full pork explosion of chicharrón; from the lip smearing decadence of Jamon Iberico to the southern tradition of barbecue Boston butt; it’s as if the gods looked down from Olympus and, in a rare moment of pity, gave to us mere mortals a porcine gift. Because more than chops and roasts, better than hocks and hams, tastier than ribs and wursts, there’s bacon. We may not be gods but at least we have bacon.

I have a friend who followed a kosher diet. Outwardly I respected her choice while inwardly I railed and screamed at the stars, “but there’s bacon!” Maybe the stars heard me and intervened because she recently posted to Facebook that she’s eating bacon. You’d think she had a baby or kicked a drug habit, I was so proud of her. Her next several posts were all about bacon. How she dreams about it. How she cooks pancakes in bacon grease. Her latest post reads, “Bacon on my salad is changing my life.”

Of course it is. It’s bacon. Bacon is life. To know bacon is to know love. I think, therefore I eat bacon. Much has been said about bacon over the years. None of it does bacon justice. Its transcendence is tantalizing yet terrifying. It resists all attempts to quantify its taste and appeal. We’re told it’s bad for our health but we crave it nonetheless. My favorite bacon memories are any in which the supply of bacon is unlimited. Even that paper thin, factory produced, Old Country Buffet bacon fills the bacon shaped hole in my heart.

Years ago, before the bacon craze of today, I ordered breakfast at a local restaurant in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I asked for a side of bacon with my eggs. The waitress replied with the most beautiful question I’d ever heard: “What kind of bacon?”

What kind of bacon? My head swum. With quivering lips I stuttered, “What kinds do you have?”

“Applewood, maple, and peppered,” she said as if bored of blowing people’s minds. I couldn’t possibly choose. So I didn’t. “All three” I managed to grunt.

I don’t remember anything else about that restaurant. I don’t remember its name or how my eggs turned out. I don’t even remember how I got home. All I do remember is a plate of thick center cut bacon and a Zen feeling of contentment and being one with the universe. The rashers snapped with just enough resistance but yielded quickly as I chewed. The flavors of pepper, Applewood, and maple syrup were present but only as background singers to the real star of the show. It was bacon nirvana.

Bacon, or at the very least cured pork, has played a part in most of the great meals of my life.

The first time I had guanciale, essentially bacon from the pig’s jowls, it was home cured by a chef friend of mine and served at a secret dinner, wrapped around a locally sourced organic strawberry. I must have chewed it for ten minutes. Not because it was tough but because I didn’t want the experience to end.

And I still don’t. Bacon is not created equal. Some bacons are better than others. But all bacon is better than all other food. This is food fact número uno. It can turn a lifetime Kosher eater into a bacon fanatic. Does it deserve its own blog, reviewer, and a place on our plates?

You bet your bacon.

Time

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How did it get so late so soon?” – Dr. Seuss.

Time.

There never seems to be enough of it.

We live in a three dimensional world. The computer on which I type has height, width, and depth. Three dimensions with which to interact.

But time.

We only get one dimension of time.

It never slows. It never stops. You can’t stop to study a particular moment because as soon as you do that moment is gone. Too late. Three more moments whiz by before you realize you’ve just wasted four moments you’ll never get back. You’re older and none the wiser.

When you’re in a hurry time seems to speed up. When you’re bored it can drag on forever. But it’s not time. It’s you.

Time gets away from us. We lose track of it. Try to find it. Beat it. Push it back. When we’re young it doesn’t pass fast enough.

When we’re old, it just won’t slow down.

Yet for all this, we can’t touch it.

We act like we keep it on our wrists, our walls, in our pockets.

But it was never ours to own. To touch.

We’ll never interact with time. All we’ll ever do is be carried along in it.

The slow march of time.

We have no control over time. Admitting the absence of control is liberating.

One less thing to worry about.

Time passes. We either use our time wisely or we don’t. We either make time a friend or an enemy. We make those decisions every day. Every moment of every day. Don’t stop to look at the moment. Don’t focus on what you cannot control. Don’t waste time regretting the time you’ve wasted. Because even though we’ll never touch time, it’s still currency. Imagine a steady stream of $1 bills passing through your hands. As soon as you’re given a new one, the old one is taken away. You can’t stockpile. You can’t ask for more. You have only a moment to spend the $1 you have or let it go to waste.

On what will you spend your $1?

On what will you spend your time?

Music Corner: Snarky Puppy, Metropole Orkest – The Curtain

Kidnapping the Muse

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They say inspiration can’t be taught.

But that isn’t to say it can’t be learned.

You never know when true inspiration will strike. It can come in any form. Sometimes it’s the way a person walks or the way a woman’s hair falls in front of her face. Sometimes life throws curve balls. Swing and a miss, our game and balance are gone.

When inspiration reveals itself we must be ready. As writers, we carry pen and paper, a tablet, anything to jot down notes or scribble madly to nudge the floodgates open a little wider. Inspiration can be fickle, fleeting. We have to be awake and attentive. Ready at a moment’s notice.

But is there another way?

Yes. And no.

You can’t bypass the waiting. The watching. The long stretches of nothing. The missed opportunities. These come with the territory. Part of being a writer. And being human.

But, given enough time and practice, and one other ingredient, it can all give way to a second approach.

What’s the missing ingredient?

Honor.

When you honor something, you respect it. You show respect by paying attention to it. You allow it to lead you. You show deference. You study it in order to be more like it. You defend it. Value it. Treasure it, even.

If you honor inspiration, and as an artist you absolutely should, you become better and better acquainted with it. You know its habits. You know where it’s likely to appear. Honor it and it will allow you into its inner circle. Instead of waiting for inspiration to find you, you will know where to find inspiration.

Pay attention to when and where inspiration strikes. Don’t just write down the new inspired idea, write down the contextual details. Where are you? Who are you with? What time of day or night? What are you wearing? Smelling? Hearing? Feeling? Learn as much as you can about your muse. Everyone’s muse is different. What is yours like? Honor it by paying attention to it. Acknowledging it. I promise, if you do this, your muse will appear more often.

I can’t teach you about your muse. No one can. But you can learn about your muse by honoring it. Honor your desire to write by writing. Honor your muse by being aware of what inspires you. Surround yourself with that inspiration and watch your writing grow.

Beauty in the Common

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There is beauty in the common.

The commonplace can be anything but. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Do you know what that means? It means beauty isn’t on the canvas. It isn’t on the stage or screen. It isn’t in a book, or a face, or the horizon, or anything you can touch with your hands. Beauty isn’t seen. It is experienced. It is in your eye because it is in your perception.

Philosopher Edmond Burke suggested that the sublime, the quality of beauty or greatness with accompanying spiritual sense of awe, is most poignant when experienced alongside or through pain. He wrote that it isn’t in the presence of great beauty but great trauma that the ultimate level of the sublime is experienced.

What is it about pain that changes our perception, that prepares us for beauty? And is the common a painful place?

Good is the enemy of best. Banality is the enemy of originality.

We live in the common but are wired to want more. To see more. To perceive more.

There is little or no conflict in the common. It is a balance of forces. Entropy is high in the common. There is little to do and little energy with which to do it. This goes against human nature.

We are creators. Explorers. Inventors. Pioneers. Artists. At our best, we repel stagnation. We turn boredom to ingenuity. We find beauty in the common as a source of inspiration.

There is beauty in the common because there must be.

My friend is writing a book. Won’t you help him by including your story?

beautyinthecommon.com

#beautyinthecommon

Unrequited and It Feels So Good

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I finally did it.

It’s not a big thing. Happens all the time. Hundreds of Thousands of times.

But this was my first time.

I was nervous. I was scared.

But it was beautiful.

I registered a script with the Writers Guild of America, West.

A teleplay, to be exact. A spec script of the television series Longmire. Episode title, “Unrequited.”

I registered it because I entered it into a teleplay contest. This one.

Do I hope it wins? Of course.

Do I think it will? I’ll be over the moon if it makes it to the quarter finals.

I’m just happy to have written something that someone else, someone who knows what they are talking about, suggested I submit it to a contest.

Because it’s registered, and because I want to, I’m posting it here for anyone to read.

Enjoy.

Feedback welcome.

Resisting Arrest

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I wasn’t planning on writing this. I had another post all written and schedule to go up today. I don’t even know if writing this is a good idea, or necessary. But it’s in my head and like a demon it needs exorcised. So bring in an old priest and a young priest and probably more than a smidgen of holy water and let’s get this over with. “The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!

This world has problems. Ain’t no one gonna argue that.

America has problems. And as “awesome” as Fox News believes America to be, even they wouldn’t argue that stuff’s not broken.

Nothing I write today or ever will fix all or any of America’s problems. “I’m not Jesus Christ. I’ve come to accept that now.”

But I have two cents in my pocket and as a consumer I feel the need to spend them on something.

I read a great post by Mike Rowe written in response to a question he received on Facebook about the recent protests concerning the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. You can read his entire response here but in short he said that he is in favor of both “peaceful protests” and “rooting out bad cops” but that he believes resisting arrest is stupid.

I have a lot of respect for Mike Rowe. It grew out of my early fears that he was an android back when he was instructing me how to use my PrimeStar Satellite TV remote control. Those impossibly blue eyes. The name, Mike Row, too similar to “micro” to be a coincidence. Then he switched to hosting Dirty Jobs and while he may still be a mechanized man, I realized he’s not hell-bent on destroying all humans. I respected his response. It was fair and well thought-out. Except for the part about resisting arrest being a stupid thing.

In general, yes. Resisting arrest is not a wise decision. But let’s remember that not all decisions have the privilege of being made after a good night’s sleep. Being arrested, I imagine, can be a highly emotional experience. A lot of things run through your mind, not least of which might be all the cases of police brutality the media loves to show us. We are told the police are here to protect us and 90% of the time, or higher, that’s probably true. But there are always going to be bad apples that spoil the whole barrel. If you’ve done something to warrant arrest, chances are you’re not in the best frame of mind or emotion. Why should the police expect you to cooperate with your incarceration? What do the police do to calm the situation down prior to slapping on the cuffs? Very little from the looks of things. If the media portrayal of police is accurate, they all respond with fear and aggression which doesn’t take a scientist to realize escalates an already heightened situation. And in many communities where citizens have learned through experience and stereotypes to fear the police, how can we expect them to act any differently than they do?

My personal reaction to Fight or Flight stimulus is fight. When it all hits the fan, I fight back. It’s not a conscious decision. It’s not a logical, strategic approach to the situation. You come at me, I’m going to come back at you. It’s not trying to be a tough guy. It’s not like I’m trying to prove anything. It’s a physiological response. I can’t curb it. If I suddenly found myself staring down the barrel of a gun while cops are trying to restrain me, my natural reaction is to resist. I’m claustrophobic. For me, it’s less about tight spaces and more about freedom to move my limbs. If I can’t move my arms, I start to panic. If my hands were cuffed behind my back, I’m not responsible for what I say or do. And I don’t see the cops, as they are portrayed in the media and candid cell phone video, doing anything to address this reality. The reality that what they do, and more importantly how they do it, creates and reinforces the negative stereotype of the police force. Force being the key word. They are not a Police Service. They are not a Police Nicety. They are a Police Force. Too often it is the exact wrong kind of person, the person attracted to violence and authority, who enrolls in the police force. Again, I realize that many if not most cops are decent, well-meaning individuals and I thank them for their daily serving and protecting. I understand they risk their lives on a near daily basis and that can’t be an easy thing. But what we in the masses see is our police fighting violence with violence. Or worse, shooting first. That’s not risking your life. That’s cowardice. Risking your life would be to assess the situation to see what kind of action is warranted. Shooting first and waiting for a grand jury to find you innocent of any wrongdoing is the coward’s approach. Of course cops should be concerned for their own safety. But the job they are paid to do is to put our safety first. The job is to serve and protect the public, not serve and protect themselves. When I see a YouTube video of a cop breaking a girl’s car window after she refused to roll it “all the way” down simply because he was more concerned for his safety than hers, it makes me proper angry. Yeah, maybe she should have cooperated. Maybe that guy shouldn’t be a cop.

The police want people to view them in a better light so people will stop resisting arrest. But it’s every citizen’s right to resist unlawful arrest. Unfortunately, what constitutes an “unlawful arrest” isn’t determined until after the fact, and by then you’ve probably already been tasered, beaten, or shot. As long as the police respond to violence with violence, as long as they act preemptively with violence in order to protect themselves instead of their citizenry, this situation is only going to get worse. They created the negative stereotype they insist isn’t true. But you know what? Despite all this, I want to like cops. If a cop pulls up behind me at a drive –thru, I buy his or her meal. The few times I’ve been pulled over it’s been a relatively painless experience because I treat them respect and speak politely. I’ve never been profiled or abused by cops. I can’t speak to that experience. The few cops I’ve known, including my father, were good people. I want to give cops the benefit of the doubt. I want to, but I don’t know how safe that is. The bureaucracy that continues to put angry and abusive individuals into police uniforms and then defend their obviously hate-motivated crimes gives all cops a bad name. And for those cops who are good but say nothing, they’re complicit.

I don’t have an answer. I don’t have a solution. I wish we could all just “be excellent to each other.” But the temptations of power and authority prove too much for some people. And the feeling of entitlement too strong for others. It’s a broken system in a broken world. I don’t know if there is an answer. Maybe it’s already happening. All these cell phone videos of police abuse. The more evidence we gather the more imperative it will be for the police to make a change. They can’t operate in the dark any longer. All things will be revealed. Change can’t come soon enough.

Just ask the families of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

Make the Best of Your Holiday

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Merry Christmas.

Or if you’re in the UK, Happy Christmas.

Or, if you don’t celebrate Christmas, Happy Holidays.

Don’t waste it. Don’t spoil it.

Don’t take advantage or for granted.

Cherish the good. Forget the bad.

Keep it simple.

Mind your manners. Say please and thank you.

Share.

Remember those who’ve gone. Call those who couldn’t make it.

Give grandma an extra hug.

Laugh.

Forgive.

Play.

Open & Honest Dialogue

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I want this. I want it badly. And it makes me sad that it will never happen. Not about race. Not about religion. Not about sexual orientation, abortion, politics, terrorism, capital punishment, or any other controversial or even quasi-controversial topic. It will never happen. And that’s terrible.

It won’t happen because people. We are our own worst enemy. We are walking, skipping, jumping, swimming, jazzerblading, and in all other ways contradictions.  Our strengths are our weaknesses. What makes us stronger does in fact kill us. The passion that moves people to take to the streets in protest is the same passion that deafens their ears to the opposition. We shout our opinions from our soapboxes and keyboard mountaintops because it’s our constitutional right to free speech but no one has the time or patience to shut up and listen for a minute. We are all too eager to be offended.

I have an opinion on offense (it’s my ‘Murican right). I’m not alone in this opinion, either. At least one other guy I know agrees with me. So, you know. I’m not a lone nut or anything. Ready? Here it is.

Offense is a choice.

You can’t choose to offend someone. But you can choose to be offended.

I made the choice several years ago to not be offended. You can’t offend me. You can say whatever you want. Make fun of my religion, my politics, my beard. Be as vile and repulsive as you want. I’m not offended. If I allow anything you do or say to offend me, that means you have power over me. I don’t give you the right to offend me. If I take offense, I’m choosing to put more value in what you say or do than I put into myself. I know who I am. I know my faults, my strengths. You can’t offend me because your opinion doesn’t influence what I know to be true. That isn’t to say I’m not open to learning or to adjusting what I know. In fact, offense prevents education. Offense immediately builds a wall around the offendee, preventing any further constructive exchange. That’s why we’ll never see true open and honest dialogue.

How would the world be different if we were less interested in making sure people heard our opinions than in hearing others? What if representatives from two opposing sides of a controversy could sit in a room and discuss what’s on their hearts and minds without fear of offending each other?

What if Police Officers sat down with the Black community in Ferguson and neither side had to worry about offending the other? I am in no way saying that what happened in their town, and across the country, isn’t a terrible tragedy. But for healing and progress to begin, strong people who choose to not be offended are needed. Open and honest dialogue is impossible without them.

What if pastors sat down with LGBT community members and both discussed their fears, worries, experiences, hopes, values, prayers, and dreams without fear of condemnation or offense? How many burned bridges could be rebuilt? How many wounds healed?

What if mothers against abortion could sit down with mothers who felt they had no option but abortion, and share their their hearts without fear of backlash or judgment?

I’m not saying this is a magical salve that will heal the world overnight. I’m saying that brave people need to stand up and boldly choose to not be offended. It’s a simple, one-time choice. Know who you are. Be secure in who you are. And let no man have sway over you. Choose to ignore offense and keep the walls of ignorance and separation from growing. Not just because I want open and honest dialogue. I do. But the world needs it.

The world needs it. But do I think it likely? Will I see this in my lifetime? I wish I were an optimist because I really want to say yes. But no, I don’t think so. I love being proven wrong, though.

Please, brave people, prove me wrong.