Still

The girls are in the bedroom with the sun washed over them, mouths slung open. The water here is either too hard or soft, it’s hard to make a lather. I’ve been up more than 24 hours flying, eating, drinking, swimming, watching the World Cup, horns up and down the hillsides.

I ate breakfast before the airport then lunch at the airport, lunch on the plane, breakfast on the plane, lunch again after landing, beers throughout, then down to the pool, a day without night crossing the IDL, defying time, going forward, moving so fast my hands and feet have swollen.

The cold water is good; there’s a recessed pool half a foot deep you can walk circles around with stones to stimulate the circulation. I hold the hand rail and catch the same woman I saw earlier on a bike going past, with misshapen arms, they just hang there and make me think of dead tree limbs. Something you notice, then pretend not to.

The writer Sherwood Anderson dedicates the book to his mother, Whose keen observations on the life about her first awoke in me the hunger to see beneath the surface of lives.

I take a shower, brush my teeth, get back into bed. It’s hard to keep quiet in a 500 year old house. The second shift birds are out now, mid-morning. Cars in the distance, the tic-tock of a clock you can follow if you want to go mad. The space behind my eyes opens to a cave where you can find things, see things, hear things, whatever you want.

=====================================================================

I set the book down and a chill came over me: the book I had been looking for, Paul Auster, recommended by a friend: he said I don’t know why I recommend books you don’t have time to read, but I wanted to, to prove I did, and so I looked for him, Paul Auster, in the airport book store, not sure was he new or not, and I looked for him in the Costco, but he wasn’t there either.

We walked up to the market to look at the chicken, because mom didn’t trust the supermarket chicken, but I decided against. Instead, I had to take a nap to feel better, to go home before we went out again.

There was a sound under the vines that grow up the side of the house and I stood below it, listening, bees. I had to go to the bathroom so I looked for a book, and there it was, Paul Auster, the same one my friend finished and said reminded him of me. And it made me wonder where it came from, who put it there, written in the mid 80s, this copy unread, you could tell by the spine.

And I went from the first person to the third, to a past and future of make-believe. It was Tuesday now, Dienstag, and they decided to take a drive to a town on the Romantic Road. They parked outside the alte stadt and crossed a wooden footbridge. The town laid on its side for them, the same, still. They ordered boiled beef with horseradish sauce and red wine and held hands, looking out the window. He said, these are the days now.

After, they walked to the church to admire the paintings, the history, the faces looking up, looking down, the same story made its way along the river here, too. And the faces in the paintings were drawn from real men before they made photographs. Some were imagined, too.

And they go from third person back to first, sitting outside a restaurant again, laughing about language, how mom says to the dog Lay down, but that can also mean Lick my ass: the same as the word for humid, how it can mean gay too, if you’re not careful. It’s gay outside, today. Like the time I held my hand on my stomach after dinner in France and declined more, saying no thanks, I’m pregnant.

I call my mom’s dog Ginger because he’s a dog too and I think of my dog when I talk to him, but his name is Merlin. And I try to keep still on my back, supta baddha konasana, until I can’t feel my legs or tell if my hands are touching, and decide to end with the story of the sculptor my mom met, how he came to her house the night before his big opening here, in the town.

My mom includes the important facts that lead to the conclusion and what to make of it: here, this man she met through chance, through distant friends in a nearby village, come to deliver some pieces she bought from him, how she can’t remember why she invited him into the house, how that didn’t seem to make sense because she was in a hurry and he was too, but upstairs they went to the sitting room, and that’s when it happened: he pointed at something on the shelf and held his mouth, shook his head, no.

It was a form from a sculpture he made in the 60s but had to sell, the only one missing, here in my mom’s sitting room, come all the way from Pennsylvania, back to Germany. And we talked about it and wondered what it meant, was it the piece of art drawing itself back to its creator? Was it just a story that can’t be explained, to remind us of the mystery of life and our role within it? Or did it speak to my step-father John, his influence over us now even in death, how he connects us in ways that can’t be understood, like this book in the bedroom, Paul Auster?

Last Seen With

The cats spend the day outside killing, then come in for their canned food. I stood in the garden watering, having the sense something was wrong, and noticed a small rabbit on its side with a gash in its neck. I thought about getting a bag to put it in but it flinched, still alive. And so my mind considered doing the right thing by putting it down, and I imagined my options (rock, shovel) but wasn’t man enough for either, so I went inside and continued my DeLillo book, about 9/11.

Poets have a way of saying things unlike ordinary people, which is why I love Bukowski for the line, The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over The Hills. 

And so it goes, that my family is gone now to Germany and I realized today, the thought of them leaving is worse than the act itself.

Leading up to it I began to mope and count the days and begrudge the fact the week was almost over because that meant they were leaving, and I dropped them at the airport on the curb, and one of the carry-ons fell over, and Lily, only nine, struggled with her car seat and her hard-bound book and I thought maybe it was too much for them, but I got back in the car and pulled away and didn’t have a chance to look back for a wave, but hurried off to work instead.

And now that they’ve left, I’ve become the strange old man I would be without them, circling the house adjusting things, remembering who I used to be, which isn’t altogether good.

I found a lawn chair in the back yard, the dog and a beer, and sat there blinking at the clouds, hearing the birds volley back and forth.

Charlotte, who’s six, always gives Dawn a memento when Dawn’s leaving town, “Something to remember me by.” So I did the same for Charlotte, and handed her a small, wooden turtle with a bobbly head. And I pulled Lily aside and asked she try real hard not to let Charlotte get on her nerves and fight, so as to make things easier for Dawn. I had the same talk with Charlotte, but don’t think she heard me.

They announced a re-org for my group at work today, and the execution of it was sheer grace: our director repurposed a weekly department meeting, announced the changes, smiled and said how good she felt about it all, that we would then break out into smaller individual groups in separate conference rooms to ask questions in a smaller setting, and reconvene a half hour later with our new leader and the larger team.

There were no seats left when I got back for the big meeting because our summer intern asked some weighty questions that couldn’t be answered quickly in our break-out session, which was the smart-intern thing to do if you’re an MBA student but pissed me off because it made us late, and when we got there there wasn’t a comfortable way to fit in the room since all the seats were taken, so instead I just sat on a table by the window and tried to look natural, engaged.

And now my fantasies of leaving work are as foreign and unreal as the job itself, what happened a few years ago when we bought this house and I’d pause when I backed the car out of the driveway and wonder what was happening, combing the alley by my office, counting the days to the weekend.

It’s the thought of things that’s always harder than the things themselves, like the family leaving and the feeling of being alone, or putting a dying animal out of its misery, or getting fired and having to pack up my things. And it’s the thought of things that seems to be better too, what words can do to make pictures, when the days run away like wild horses over the hills.

Writing about thieves

I take a break from work to walk the uneven alleyway north, downtown. The walk, the street, the faces: they’ve all become a metaphor of the writing process. It’s always the same but a little different if you look carefully enough, no different than anything else.

I walk the alley to clear my head and make space to write. It’s a shit street and I’ve done it a thousand times now, 18 years at the same office in Seattle’s SODO district. I’ve memorized the bumper stickers, graffiti, the abandoned railway tracks jutting up from the asphalt they call “orphan tracks.”

I came here writing about the homeless, tracking the characters in frames day by day, season by season, wondering about their existence and mine. They take root in the spaces between cars by the fence and razor wire keeping people out of the ship yard, cropping up like weeds, wherever they can find purchase.

I wrote about the guy with the wolf tattoo on his chest making art out of scrap metal and broken bicycle frames, how the Health Department and cops made him remove all his stuff in a matter of minutes; he had been living there all summer, did anyone notice he was there, or gone?

And today, a kid who got beaten up, missing his shoes: blood on his lips, circling a small parking spot in his socks, with broken glass, unfolding a flannel shirt as a blanket. He looked at me and I looked on, then caught my reflection in a car and wondered if we felt the same in some way: who had I become, combing the alleyways looking for myself.

I wrote about them because I wanted a story, wanted to make people care, but I didn’t need to know them really, it’s better if you don’t, as a thief.

The Life is the Story

The Punishment of Sisyphus, source: Wikipedia

The Punishment of Sisyphus, source: Wikipedia

I had to give up caffeine because it was giving me anxiety and sleeplessness, and I positioned it as a way to be less of an ass to my family, a kind of sacrifice for them, which was part-true. But now, on the best Saturday of the year, I’m online pushing my pen around because I don’t have the devilish distractions of house work, yard work, or work-work.

And it is like that Greek myth of the guy pushing the boulder up the hill, that’s the pointlessness of reconstructing the house or losing myself in the details of the yard. So without the caffeine, we just sat on the sofa as the sun came up and two hours went by, Dawn and I talking, dreaming about Europe.

I got back from sunning myself, remembering the black, volcanic sands of southern Italy, how the kids were so young they just spread it all over their arms so that it bound to the lotion and clung there. The pointlessness of sunning ourselves, the two or three options of things to do, like going down to the sea, going to the bar for a drink, or just flipping over.

I had to put my phone down and didn’t remember where, I didn’t care. The kids didn’t thank me for their milk and I didn’t care about that, either. And I went to the den to the corner of the sofa and put on The Pixies, and went to another time when I was younger and coming around the bend, seeing the Atlantic ocean for the first time and that feeling of freedom, that anything could happen and probably would, and there was more of it than I could drink in, then.

I wrote in the corner of the sofa so my kids could see me sitting there barefoot and writing, moving my hand like a puppeteer, creating characters and complications, funny voices, scenes.

I wrote to feel better and feel myself after what feels like too long, too many days getting older too young in life, too early, the times you catch yourself in the mirror and realize you’ve changed, that’s because of you.

I sat in a spot on the sofa where the sun hits and makes a greenhouse effect, where the dog naps illegally, so much so it dips. And while it seemed a crime in Seattle to be inside on a sunny day, it felt good to shun the world of pointless tasks.

And I thought about my boss, watching him walk up the hallway for a 4 o’clock meeting yesterday, how he walks with a swagger when he adjusts his belt and lifts his chest, and it’s because he’s full of himself in the best possible way, doing just what he should so that he’s become fulfilled, and really shines a light of contentment on everyone around him.

I remembered a time I probably looked that way too, when you feel you can do anything because of course you can, you’re right. But you have to feel that way for it to be really true, whatever you do.

The singer sang a song about flying, a dream about death, how the mountains and trees look from up above, the view of the soul looking down from up there, how it feels when you learn to see that way, when you learn to let yourself go.


 

As a punishment for his trickery, King Sisyphus was made to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill. Before he could reach the top, the massive stone would always roll back down, forcing him to begin again. The maddening nature of the punishment was reserved for King Sisyphus due to his hubristic belief that his cleverness surpassed that of Zeus himself. Zeus accordingly displayed his own cleverness by enchanting the boulder into rolling away from King Sisyphus before he reached the top which ended up consigning Sisyphus to an eternity of useless efforts and unending frustration.

 – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Confessions of an under-performing project manager

IMG_3265It’s mid-year review time, and this year they’ve renamed the levels and taken care to cascade training about it. It’s a “discussion” not a review, and that’s an important distinction. But still, there’s a diagram that looks like a dart-board with different bands wrapped around it and associated levels showing where you fit in.

The bull’s eye is called Successor. They are identified as bench for a specific position, as agreed upon by the hiring manager of that position. It’s the smallest point on the dart-board because that’s the fewest number of people who get in there.

Outside the bull’s eye, there’s a thin band that’s called High Potential: they’re also ear-marked to move up, but the difference between High Potential and Successor is that there’s a specific role, with Successor.

Then around High Potential, there is Well Placed, which is where I fit in this year.

Outside the dart-board is a another small circle called Must Improve, and that’s the Shit List. I could have been put there this time, but wasn’t.

So this post covers some awkward work situations. If that makes you nervous, stop here and tune in next time, for Part-Time Blogger, Full-Time Ass, where I’ll share more.

I really didn’t mean that I could become a project manager when I took this on. OK, I took an exam for a professional accreditation (sp?), and yeah, I may have embellished on the eight hour application process, where it has you record in painstaking detail the number of hours you’ve spent in each phase of the project lifecycle for each project, with a signed affidavit from a person in your company who can attest you did just that, for each one.

And so I passed the test, and thought that meant I could be legit, I could throw down some quantitative risk analysis if anyone was interested and yeah, I at least understood the math behind Earned Value even if the only people interested in it were the military or companies serving them, selling weapons.

And so I landed the interviews aglow with the recent affirmation of the test, and the high points of my resume, how pleased I was to talk about it, and then I actually got the job, and that’s when things started to change.

I think before, I came from a land of knowing what was expected at work to one where I had to figure everything out. And while that may sound liberating and sensible to most, even evolved, it kind of freaked me out.

My first project was a feasibility study to see if we could get a POS software system sold-in to our 300 Licensed operations. About 300 different companies, buying software we’ve brokered to them after customizing it radically from the off-to-shelf, to incorporate into their systems. If you know anything about IT, you know how fucked up an idea that is.

At the same time, I had a project to change our minimum performance requirements for functional lighting. I still don’t think I can explain what that project was about, and I was on it for six months. At one point, I had a large piece of cardboard at my desk with Post-it notes corresponding to another diagram that detailed our Prototype to Production process, aptly named P3.

I kept the cardboard at my desk for a period of time until my boss’s boss came by one day and said Hey, get that out of here. I did and nothing changed, it didn’t really matter.

I got bored with those two projects because I didn’t know what to do, so I volunteered for a third, as if to prove my worth, to show I was doing something, give me another project, why not?

This was a systems project, the biggest one we ever did, called GBSS. I got one small leg of it, one of about 100 sub-projects, and it was to change the CSI cost codes our vendors use to bill us for line items on construction projects.

I was on fire with this project. The IT team wasn’t responsive to our inquiries about the schedule, and it was clear to me no one really understood what the tasks meant on the schedule, which told me it had to be rewritten.

I wrote an extensive email detailing the value of a well built schedule, how it had to be Realistic, Bought-in To, Credible, and something else I can’t remember, which added up to an acronym from a class I took once about it, on schedules.

And so I set to rewriting the schedule to make it cogent, and then I pinned-down the IT guy who was a worm of a man, who never replied to my meeting invitations either way, so much so I had to confront him and say Look, I don’t mind if you don’t respond, just as long as you show up. And then I got him to agree to what was in the schedule, and that was that.

All this got me assigned to an even bigger IT project, which I had no business being on, called SIMS. My boss pulled me aside one day and said so, you’ve heard about SIMS?

And it was like some kind of prognosis that you’ve got something, something terminal, yet I was alit with the ego-glow that I could be assigned to such a project, and so I took a walk outside work smiling and strutting down the road, not knowing it was a death march, smiling at the faces in the windshield as they flashed by, thinking, I’ve got SIMS!

I did that for two years, and never knew what I was doing. Yet it seemed normal because many others on the project felt the same way too, they also didn’t know what they were doing, and it was like we were all riding in a bus somewhere to get slaughtered like lambs, like farm animals whistling out the windows, blank-eyed, nodding.

After that, I had a couple of “bridge projects,” designed to help me recover my reputation from SIMS, and assure my managers I knew what I was doing, and really could get something done.

One was to re-write the Master Services Agreement for our outsourced AOR’s: this project was two months behind schedule when I got it, and yet I delivered it on time, about five months later. Right after I closed it, they decided to re-write it again, and I think the project may still be going to this day.

The other was a real estate conference in Las Vegas, which I wrote about extensively here in a series called Going Back to Hell.

Around that time, I got a drive thru project. I held out hope that being closer to our front-line stores would motivate me, but I don’t think it ever did.

The first project was to redesign the casework and equipment layouts for the production area behind the bar in a drive thru store, requiring me to work with industrial engineers, Lean manufacturing types, designers, and other people I didn’t work with but should have, in hind sight.

I took on two more drive thru projects and it’s the third that really sunk me. It had IT tie-ins as well, and the emails just kept on coming. At one point, I selected about 40 unread messages from my IT PM and moved them to another folder, to see if anything would happen if I didn’t read them.

It’s funny, because when I go back to those emails now, I realize I probably should have read them.

I got to working with a new group of guys, and they were a kind of club. I should have seen the signs, to know it wasn’t going to work out, but didn’t. And that came up in my review, what little of it my boss could tell me about that was actionable, and wouldn’t make me feel bad, when we looked at the three categories of Engagement, Ability, and Aspiration, and talked about my trajectory, my path forward.

The cottonwood is falling now and I sit outside my back porch, staring into the trees, the cottonwood falling like snow, like a will-o’-the-wisp, and think like Sting wrote in his song, That’s my soul up there…

 

 

 

 

Cow dung in foreground

IMG_3229

Lily and I drive up the Teanaway to get away, bond. We pull the Pilot over at mile marker 11, where the trail report says you should start: pass the gate that says No Motorized Vehicles, head up the private logging road, turn left up the road before you get to the modern bridge over Indian Creek.

We leave the Pilot, which feels like pushing off from shore, to open sea: a dirt road disappearing into a valley, the promise of higher meadows, good views, drinking water, spring flowers.

Two hunters emerge in full camouflage with rifles and masks, from Tacoma. Out all morning, nothing. Looking for turkeys.

Lily has been drinking caffeine now, in the Starbucks Refresher drink, and also through packets of Gu we suck down. She starts talking and doesn’t stop. The sky is blue and the air crisp, it’s Saturday: me and my daughter, dreaming about doing this more in the future, when we’re both older.

We stop in the forest; many of the trees are wrapped in ribbons denoting something. These trees are fated to get cut down, keep, or possibly diseased, it’s unclear. One of them is swaying and making a creaking sound like it could fall on the trail and hit one of us, so we carry on.

Ginger dances on the snow, nips it, bucks in the air like she’s been jolted by the cold or an electric shock, disappears after squirrels.

Lily relays the history of the Oregon Trail, the gold rush in California, the characters and timeframes. I’m carrying about 60 pounds on my back and hoping we’ll find a good spot to camp. The trail drops down to the valley floor, great stretches of green spring grasses, dark streams.

We come to the left I think we’re supposed to take, and take it, and that’s when Ginger discovers the cow dung, and wears it now on her collar, just the same as back home when there’s something in the yard she needs to roll in.

I grab her by the back of the head and take a handful of snow to wipe it off but it doesn’t really work, and two minutes later she’s twisting in ecstasy in a newfound patch, and there’s no point worrying about it.

We carry on higher and the road narrows: there’s no one out here, not even the cows that left their remains, and we’re running low on water. The road disappears into open meadow with a bundle of brush that looks man-made, put there for a reason like a massive pyre, maybe an avalanche run-out. We proceed above the pyre to a higher ridge and if we don’t see anything promising, we’ll have to come back down and head out, down to the modern bridge where we can trust the water.

We’ve been hiking a few hours and haven’t drunk enough. It’s hard-going up to the ridge, and Lily needs help balancing herself with the weight of her pack setting her off-kilter. It’s macabre, but I give her the passcode to my phone in case she needs to use it for some reason, which opens the discussion, Why would I need to use your phone, What could happen, and Who would I call?

At the top of the ridge we find a road leading higher, above all this cow shit and confusion, and decide we’ll drop our packs and climb higher, then retrieve our packs if we find a place to camp, or just hike down altogether, where we can get good water.

And we do find a good spot, and views. The afternoon is getting late and the wind kicks up above the tree line, no water on the ridge, and a storm forecast to come in later, maybe drop a few inches of snow by morning.

I want to set camp and drop down for water and climb back up, but Lily thinks we should go down and I disagree. I think better of it though, and we hike out, reminding myself she’s nine, and there’s no point taking risks like this.

We get to the modern bridge over Indian Creek, still no camp spots, too tired and dizzy to bother filtering water. It takes an hour or more to scour the creekside, looking for an established campground, nothing. I decide on a spot in the meadow where a few logs look like they’ve been set there deliberately; we can at least sit on the logs while we’re eating dinner.

It’s the four-season tent, the one I only use about once a year, that’s heavy but has a long vestibule area for cooking and setting gear, when you’re in snow. I’m having a really hard time setting up the tent, stressed out, put my cans of beer in the snow back by the creek and started on my first, in hopes it shakes the stress and rights me.

We make our camp and settle into it, and what seemed to be occasional cow shit becomes a more widespread event, and I realize as I’m cooking there’s cow shit everywhere, it’s part of the patches of mud, all of it co-mingled. It’s hard to prevent the lids of our cups from falling into it, and to keep our hands sanitized, and to keep the dog from tracking it into the tent.

The cow dung has a timeless, stalwart quality to it like markings on the moon, or an even more alien landscape, the sense now we’re being watched or surveyed, on camera, unwelcome.

Ginger is sacked out in the mud and shit and lifts her head, eyes half-mast. And as she gets up she starts to limp and hobble, and Lily says we should get the first aid kit out and the Q-tips and clean her paws, administer care, suggests we may need to hike out, drive back to Seattle, take her to a 24 hour clinic, carry her in the dark.

David Teniers – Io, transformed into a cow, is handed to Juno by Jupiter

We tell stories in the tent: Lily, the story of Argos and the trouble Zeus got into with Io (Zeus was always getting into trouble), how Zeus conspired with Hermes to lull the guard Argos to sleep by telling him a story with no beginning or end; me, the first time I climbed Mount Rainier, how we got into a fight with our guide, how he yelled at my Navy Seal friend Peter, a man who had done several tours through Haiti, Afghanistan, seen friends die, now to endure this, some cocky mountain guide from Ohio.

There’s no sense of time until it gets lighter, and there’s rain, ice or snow falling on the tent, then a turkey gobbling, dawn.

We break it down and fill our water bottles and check Ginger’s foot, head out. Lily can’t get her hands to warm up and I stand with her on the trail holding hers in mine, blowing them, telling her how much I love her, how well she’s done, what we should do next time.

The Art of Make Believe (#mywritingprocess)

IMG_3197

It’s true, writers like nothing more than to write about writing, to postpone the real work (of writing). And like the game of golf, you get lucky with a few strokes and then spend the rest of your life thinking you may be really good, but most times wind up cussing and frustrated.

This post is for a blog tour I was invited to participate in by a friend and writer in Canada, Ross Murray. Like many other things on the Internet, I don’t fully understand what I’m doing or what the hash tag really means, so if you have questions about it, please contact Ross: he started it.

And I met Ross through another writer named Michelle, who I’ll introduce later. This is one good thing about the Internet: you get to meet good people, and they’re two of my favorites.

Among other things, Ross hosts a blog called Drinking Tips for Teens. I was hooked on my first visit, thanks to the goofy photos of Ross and his family — but more from the stories and getting to know Ross, the man behind the blog, glasses, and beard (who looks like me, but older). Good writers carry you away, the best do it with a sense of humanity and wonder for our world. Enjoy reading Ross, I always do. Now on to my interview.

1. What am I working on?

After many years of talking about it, taking notes about it, then getting depressed about it and doing nothing, I have started work on my first story. Like a bill in Congress, it has many iterations, most people won’t understand it, and it’s hard to talk about. And it may never pass, and that may be alright.

The story is inspired by a nightmare my mom had when she was visiting us in Seattle last summer about a figure who brushed her arm and left her feeling like she’d been infected by something.

That figure became a character I started building out during walks in my neighborhood. I found a spot on a dead end street where I started imagining something wonderful or awful that happened there, and named it The Magic Place.

And then I introduced a boy named Benny Hopstock, to develop a relationship between the boy and the figure from my mom’s nightmare. The boy is inspired by a kid from my childhood who I taught to shoplift, who always had a runny nose and large brown eyes, like a cartoon deer. In the story, he’s me and a variety of people I’ve known. As they say about our dreams, everyone is really a version of you.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

I was inspired by the James Joyce coming-of-age novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. That book is beautifully written and also very hard to read. Mine won’t be as beautiful or as hard, but follows similar discoveries and transformations necessary for the artist to understand the world and his relationship to it.

I’m not concerned about my work being different yet. I think the challenge in being different is the challenge of being yourself, which is hard enough. No stories are unique, but each of our experiences is. We have to fashion our stories into a construct for others to relate. It’s easier said than done.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Like most writers, I write because I have to — certainly not to make a living. It’s a different kind of living. I write to make people feel something, to move them, and that’s to honor the beauty of imagination, art, nature, and our world.

In a college writing class one of the students asked our professor if anyone has ever lost their mind from writing. I thought it was a silly question, but the professor said there are probably cases of writers losing their mind from not writing, and I can relate to that.

In paintings, music, and literature, I respond to the artist’s restraint: to guide, but not push me. I like to coax the reader in a direction to where their discoveries are as charmed as mine, or more so.

4. How does my writing process work?

I jot down ideas in a pocket notepad I carry with me every day, use my blog to communicate with the outside world, and pick away at my story on the laptop, on the recliner, before I go to work in the mornings.

In the past, I’ve tried outlining a story or writing around it, but that hasn’t worked for me. It’s felt defeating and like a stalling mechanism. So this time, I just launched into the story based on some images and themes that have been building inside me.

I’m writing scene sketches in a non-linear format. I have around 50 of them, some a few pages, others a few paragraphs. I go back and read them from time to time, but try to resist the temptation of polishing vs. plotting onward, into the forest. I haven’t printed it out yet, either.

In school, I learned there are three types of conflict in literature: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, and Man vs. Himself. I chose the latter, because it’s what I can relate to most. And I like the blending of good and evil in a character, a character struggling with madness. That conflict drives the story.

That’s enough about me, really.

Now, check out Michelle at The Green Study. I have one of her coffee mugs in my kitchen, for placing third in a blog contest she hosted last year. I like Michelle’s writing for its honesty and depth. She’s one of a few voices on the Internet that sound full and real to me, and I’m eager to hear more about her latest project next week.

Thanks for reading about my writing! Now, back to work.

 

 

A Near-Life Experience

Ascent of the Blessed, Hieronymus Bosch - source Wikipedia

Ascent of the Blessed, Hieronymus Bosch – source Wikipedia

I drank too much and stopped in 2001, but started again about nine months later. I told my doctor I stopped drinking and when he asked if I was alright I started crying and so he gave me the number of a psychiatrist and patted me on the back, and that was that.

In November they started sending letters with Anthrax to Congress members and I started thinking my mail was tainted too. I had a dream about Bin Laden and a spider on my arm and my arm actually went dead and cold when I woke up. Dawn said she was concerned about my drinking and I said OK, I’ll stop.

My grandfather had a stroke that fall and never got right again (we think, from watching the news coverage of 9/11). Dawn’s friend Kristie was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease. Our neighbor got into a car accident and went into a coma, and we had a 6.8 earthquake in my office building, built in 1919 on land-fill.

The film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came out and I lost myself in the characters swinging above ground, flying from tree to tree, imagined I could do that too in my state of life in-between, dreaming about falling, imagining what would happen when I hit the ground.

The Strokes made their first album and before it even came out, they sold out at The Crocodile in Seattle, August, 2001. They had to delay the record release because of the song “New York City Cops,” which made fun of the cops (‘they ain’t too smart’), and wasn’t cool, now with 9/11.

It was the first-year anniversary of September 11th, and Dawn and I drove over the Cascades to Eastern Washington, to a cabin my friend owned. It was out in the woods near a lake and he drew a map but I wasn’t sure we were at the right place until I found a rock on the beach that had his initials scratched into it, BWS.

I decided I would start drinking again at the cabin and we went to the local Safeway for some wine. It didn’t taste that good, but there you have it. I got up in the morning before the sun came out while the crickets were still frozen on the porch and sat there drinking coffee, soaking up the peace of the place, the solemn reflection of 9/11, what it all meant for me and the crickets, frozen there on the porch.

When I applied for life insurance, they asked if I ever stopped drinking for a period of time. They were probing for something different but I didn’t get it, so I said yes in fact, I had. When they asked why, I said I was training to climb a big mountain (another bad answer for a life insurance application). And so I failed the urine test and got a higher rate, based on my risk quotient.

We bought our first house in 2003, which was built in 1919 — the same year as my office building, the same year my grandfather was born. The house had a pond out front with a goldfish but the raccoons were hell-bent on getting him, and the fish became a kind of symbol of something pure we needed to protect about the house, but couldn’t.

The neighbors were from Aberdeen and went to school with Kurt Cobain which seemed kind of cool and unbelievable, until we realized the neighbors were just like Kurt Cobain with missing teeth and junkies for friends, which wasn’t really cool when we started having babies and had to think about keeping the house safe.

Years later, I started a blog as a “Look at me, world!” but had to give it up to make time for a writing project. Habits are funny, because you seem to come back around to the bad ones. And they tend to get in the way, the more they become a part of you.

 

The Notes Between The Keys

Gone Fishing

Gone Fishing

I spent the last year here rebuilding my confidence as a writer, forcing myself to see my life as noteworthy every day, gathering inspiration. I didn’t know what I was doing, and half-hoped the sheer pursuit of a Broken Down Writer theme would be enough to sustain the blog.

But giving myself about a half an hour a day to do this, I’ve been gumming the edges of what I really want to do, which is to write a full-length story. And I’ve been terrified by that because if I can’t do it, it will negate my life-long dream, and also because I know it will be terribly hard.

Posting blogs grants us an immediate, short-term satisfaction of casting ourselves into the world and then waiting for the chimes to ding when someone acknowledges us. And it sure feels good.

All our time is limited, and I’m happy to report I’m spending more of mine now on my hard-drive, picking my way through a story that’s troubling and difficult, as I knew it would be, because it’s forced me to go deep inside myself. And things don’t present themselves in a linear format, through the creation process…like life, it’s a mish-mash of scenes and impressions, hard to distill meaning.

I’m taking time off from the blog now in order to devote myself to a new writing project, and I’m grateful to you for being a part of the blog-journey with me this far!

I’ll leave now with a dream I had early last week, where I was at a soccer game and watching my team-mates on the field. I realized the game was almost over and I would miss out on getting a chance to play, which is not much different than how I felt when I really played soccer, in high school.

In my dream-state, I imagined whether I wanted to play offense or defense, and felt the rush of fear and anticipation when I thought about what I’d do when the ball came to me. I saw myself lacing my cleats, and that’s when I woke.

I really dread sports metaphors, but it’s time I got my ass in the game. Thanks for reading.

Climbing cocks, steep peaks, dry tools

Source: Wookieepedia

Source: Wookieepedia

When I look deep inside myself to remember why I joined the Mountaineers climbing club, the only reason I can come up with is that I’m cocky. It may be a male-thing, too. I had already climbed Mount Rainier, which gave me the attitude I could do anything. My partner and I had even schemed about Mount Aconcagua in South America, the kind of mountain where you pass corpses because they don’t have the resources or interest to remove them, and then find more when the snow melts out.

The Mountaineers is a club in the Pacific Northwest that offers a number of different courses and organized outings, including kayaking, snow-shoeing, and mountain climbing in different levels of difficulty.

I took the alpine scrambling class, defined as anything you can do without a rope. It sounds like it should be safer than rock climbing or glacier travel, where you have to rope up.

But I followed an instructor who seemed to get off pushing the limits, and doing things that shouldn’t be done, and I liked that. I also liked the fact he was in his 60s but looked about 40, had a crude sense of humor, and wore cotton T-shirts even though the club insisted that cotton is a killer because it doesn’t wick moisture right. He had the kind of beard that wasn’t planned or maintained, started half-way down his cheeks, and went around both sides of his neck.

Steve always gave the impression of knowing where he was going, which is a good quality in an instructor. We’d meet at the trailhead around dawn, groggy and farty, and he’d describe the route with uninspired gestures, sometimes pointing at a far-off ridge or valley with his ice axe, giving the impression he’d done it a hundred times before and was a bit annoyed he had to talk about it again.

I liked that the others who signed up for his trips were nut-balls, too. There weren’t any slackers or whiners except possibly me, and I kept that to myself. The trips had brief descriptions you could read about in small newspapers the club published, or online, and there was a rating system used to categorize the difficulty as one number, and the distance as another. The hardest trip would be a “5 – 5.”

We met in an old mining town in the North Cascades in early April for my first outing with Steve, a peak called Mt. Baring, a “4-4.” I was the only student as all the others had graduated or had more experience, but I had climbed Mount Rainier, so there. And I really didn’t understand it’s just as easy to kill yourself on a 6,000 foot peak as it is on a 14,000 one.

I was shooting my mouth off about something, giddy with testosterone having led most of the way up a steep ravine that wasn’t a trail but more, required pulling on roots and dry-tooling with our axes, when I went down and realized I was falling fast across the snow, and flipped my body into arrest mode, aiming to drive the adze into anything that would make me stop and find purchase.

Instead, I bounced off a rock and hit a woman in my party who was down-wind of me, training for a climb in the Himalayas, possibly injured now and unable to do that trip because of some jackass student on some dip-shit peak in the North Cascades.

News about my fall made it up to Steve, who had gone off with another climber far ahead to assess the avalanche conditions as we broke above the tree-line. I don’t recall him acknowledging the fall or asking me about it, and it was the one time in my life I felt true adrenaline, my body humming with fear, insensate, unsure if I was really hurt because my body had gone somewhere else.

We set up to cross an avalanche area, a large open bowl with steep rock faces and twisted couloirs above, the technique quite simple, basically spread out, go fast, and keep an eye on everyone. You spread out in case someone gets taken out, so that everyone else can go dig them out.

Most people in the party summited that day but I wasn’t one of them. I stayed back with the woman I hit when I fell, and we bundled up in down jackets and watched the others as they turned the size of fleas on the snow and disappeared into a dip, then wrapped around the backside of Mount Baring, to the top.

We stayed behind because we knew getting down was going to be much harder, and it had been a weird day already. One of the guys would later crack his head on a rock, and we had to diagnose if he had a concussion, by having him count backwards from 100 in increments of four, which is hard to do as-is.

He was the classic Mountaineer nut-ball, who modifies their gear in the most geekish of ways, in this example, creating a fixture to block the sun from his nose, a piece of cardboard taped to the brow of his sunglasses, yielding a Tusken Raider look.

When we finally all did get down and collected ourselves in the same spot in the parking lot, we agreed to go for pizza and beer in the town of Sultan, and shuffled our way through the dining room, some still wearing our muddied gaiters, shown to a room in the back where no one would see us, and the guy with the Tusken Raider nose-block had dried blood matted in his hair, and it wasn’t worth pointing out because he wasn’t the type to care.