Is your religion a cult?

Anthony made fun of me for having plans Friday afternoon to meet with the Mormons at our house. He said why are you doing it, so you can blog about it? That was part-true.

They were supposed to be here at 2, and I planned my day around them. I got back from walking the dog and thought about offering them some ice water with lemon, we’d sit in the den.

But 2 o’clock came, and they were late. I sat in my lawn chair reading Brave New World, tried to nap, read some more, got in the car at 3 for the grocery store and that’s when they appeared: the same two from earlier in the week with a third one driving.

I said I had to get my kids in 45 minutes because I was expecting you at 2. Was there still enough time?

They took off their shoes and we sat in the den; the dog sniffed them and settled in her donut cushion by the fireplace.

They were about 20 years old, each of them. While subtle, there was a vying for attention, a kind of positioning as each of them spoke. Two spoke better than the third, Elder Savage. I wanted Elder Savage to have a chance though and let him stand when he spoke, and I paid attention and thanked him for his comments.

We started with a prayer and then they asked what my level of religious experience was, in so many words. I said I liked the idea of religion in general, at least the part about people being kind and loving to one another, but had a lot of cynical barriers from all the hate and violence around religion, all the divisions it formed between people.

I knew some of the same Mormons they knew, knew them pretty well, really liked them, but never talked “Mormon” with them so I was open to listening, to hear them talk about their faith.

I asked what their intention was, and it was basically to invite me in for an option to be baptized, if that were true, after they talked to me and after I talked to God. I don’t want to be baptized though, or join a church. I tried to be clear about that and not be an ass or waste their time or do all this just so I could blog about it, honest.

One of them had a phone he was balancing on his knee and an illustration of Jesus on the other, held upright facing me. He was diddling the phone, which I found distracting and odd, considering he had a picture of Jesus right there in the other hand. He later explained he was referring to passages of the Bible, that’s why he was diddling, preparing it for reference, which he did a few times, but kept dropping the phone and looking apologetic, allowing an awkwardness to fill the space between us.

They talked about being perfect and that we’re all imperfect, and that I could agree with. So I mentioned the Fibonacci sequence, the uncanniness of those numbers and how they recur in nature, since I just learned about that on a NOVA program about how math permeates our world, and appears in the number of flower petals and the distance between the spirals in sea shells, just like the crab nebula. Like, there’s this perfection in nature but nature is also imperfect, like us.

And they introduced the Book of Mormon then, and sure, my mind went to parody with the illustrations of Jesus descending on the Americas, but I didn’t want to go there, I resisted: I said I believe if you believe it, it’s true. I believe we all create our own realities by what we focus on for ourselves. But I don’t believe we have to go through someone to talk to God, that was a key point I wanted to make.

We prayed before they left and I teared up, saying goodbye. They asked if there was a good time they could come back and one of them, who was playing with his phone, looked me in the eye and asked, will I read it, the book? I said I’ll read some of it because I’m a writer, I read all kinds of things. I believe stories can change the world.

I told them I’m leaving for Germany to take my pets there so it would be best for us to meet again toward the end of June, and then we can talk about the parts in the book they emphasized. Elder McBeth (that’s his real name) asked what I write and I said memoir, trying to make sense of the last 20 years.

There are times in life you come across things that, were you to write them down, sound contrived. I couldn’t remember Elder Savage’s name, but was glad to see it’s the same as the one character in Brave New World, a character named John, also called the Savage — a human that hasn’t been conditioned like the others.

And I’ve never met anyone named McBeth (he spells it differently than Shakespeare’s), though my daughter Lily is reading that now, and Brave New World is a line from The Tempest.

The Mormons pulled up as I was cueing a song on my CD player in the car called Blessed State, the song Wire closed with in Seattle earlier this week:

Closing doors
Opens eyes

To the fatal gift
Of a well timed lie
Loved in the flesh
But butchered in the mind
Oh what a pearl
What a well made world

Holy globe
Eternal home

Sacred sphere
So glad I’m here
Oh what a pearl
What a well made world

— “Blessed State,” Wire 1979

 

 

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Three Girl Rhumba

I’ve been experimenting with drugs for our pets, for a 14-hour international flight next week where they’ll sit in the cargo hold while I read a first draft of my memoir on the plane. I crush the drugs, dilute them in a plastic dosing cup and fold them into the wet food for the cats. The dog just swallows the pills whole.

I sit and watch, and wait. We note how the fog makes the tree tops mysterious, how I never noticed those trees until just now.

Ginger looks quizzical, eyebrows shifting to and fro, eyebrows tapping Morse, her face long and conical, an Indian petroglyph now, sand-colored, flickering. She yawns and puts her head down, looks sad. Sometimes I have bad dreams too, Ginger.

It was 1987 and The Cure had just put out Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. We had that tape and one other, John Denver’s Greatest Hits Vol. II: we had those two tapes, my dad and I, for a drive across the U.S., about 7,000 miles, maybe more. Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.

The year before, we’d done the trip with my dad’s brother Jim and my dad’s colleague Hartman. Hartman had a first name but everyone just called him Hartman — that was a Pennsylvania Dutch thing, to just use the last name.

The four of us camped and tooled around the American Southwest, looking at petroglyphs and cooking hot dogs over the campfire, boiling them in canned beer, farting.

Hartman took me aside and told me a story about a time he was hitch-hiking as a kid, some really bad thing happened, something that kind of defined him that he needed to tell me (a 16-year-old) for some reason.

Perhaps he hadn’t told anyone else, it was his darkest secret: he got picked up by some guy who wound up being terribly odd, took Hartman to his house, then when Hartman woke up the next morning he had put something in Hartman’s mouth and made him keep it there.

Hartman was a state champion wrestler with thick calves and an erect, military posture. He always wore a well-rimmed cap, sometimes chewed an unlit cigar. He surveyed the area before we camped and often went ahead by himself, to scout the trail. For some reason, a rift developed between my dad and Hartman and there was a lot of the trip the two didn’t talk, it was beyond me, perhaps they were concealing something.

Hartman and I were in Rocky Mountain National Park philosophizing about nature and God and the wonder of things, and Hartman said I was pretty wise for my age: Imagine how wise you’ll be someday when you’re old as me? Probably a lot more so.

The vet’s eyes are disproportionately big and she talks with a squeaky voice like a character in an animated film, one of the characters you can’t tell if you can trust yet. The drugs don’t seem to be working on the cats: they should be seeing clouds, she says.

One of the cats (they are sisters) is being restrained by the vet’s assistant, who’s got her fist balled up on the cat’s neck, but the balance of power is shifting like grains of sand through a stem, and Roxy’s eyes are going blank, that center in the brain that’s instinctive, that says KILL — and she breaks free and spins in the air and it’s so fast no one saw what happened, the vet’s assistant is just covering her arm and turning red now with anger or embarrassment, perhaps at me laughing: but I wasn’t laughing at her, I was laughing at Roxy’s face. Or maybe I was. The vet with the big eyes says we’re just going to waive the temperature check and I nod, yes. Deep down, I’m proud of Roxy for bucking the system.

On that trip I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but don’t remember any of it, didn’t understand a word, just thought I should read it while we’re driving out West. I try On The Road but can’t get through it, there’s too much to see in the trees, outside of the book.

My phone makes chimes and I reach for it instinctively, just like a rat would for more sugar, to tap the feed bar. I’m half-way through Brave New World, to see what a 50,000 word book feels like, how it flows, since that’s the length of my memoir, or will be when the first draft is done, next week.

He wrote the book in 1931, when they still hyphenated to-morrow. Tomorrow (the future) was made to look a terribly confined, fractured, vapid place driven by industry, the need to control, to manipulate our thinking.

Tonight, Anthony and I go see the band Wire in Seattle, the band known for angular guitars: angular guitars best described as herky-jerky, inspiring an agitated, nervous feeling that makes you just want to jump backwards in the air, spin, cut something, feel alive, overcome by the anger and lust in it.

 

 

 

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Vergangenheitsbewältigung

Our German teacher has us saying the words Cherry, Church and Kitchen in German. They all sound the same, she asks if we can hear the difference — it’s how you clasp the vowels. We can’t. It’s a “ch” sound that starts but never terminates, just hangs there.

Our German teacher is Polish, no bullshit. There’s no time or patience for students who haven’t done their homework, who don’t want to learn. Either you do or you don’t. You’re too busy? Don’t want to hear about it.

There is a glint in her eye when we talk about special verbs, the irregularities. These are the small things we covet, the exceptions.

I get paired with the high school girl with the bouncy-leg-syndrome who’s taking German because the languages in her high school are too easy; she’s downloaded an app that gives her the Perfekt case on her phone.

There is Vince, also a teacher, who often wears a tie and I swear, he’s laughing at things he’s thinking to himself, muttering half-Deutsch phrases, doing cartwheels in his mind.

We fall over, time and again. When I was trying to learn handstands, we did it against the wall in an Iyengar studio in North Seattle. I kept bouncing off the wall and falling over on myself for about two weeks. Then one day I just did it, I balanced on my head, and held it. I dreamt about it the night before, experienced the sensation before I did it for real, it had gotten that bad, that obsessive. You have to let go sometimes to make things happen.

I go through the whole animal-behaviorist thing: that which I’d mocked and made fun of, I’m now part of the system. We paid $500 for an initial consultation of two hours for me to sit there in a small room and talk about my dog’s semi-inverted vulva and how that might have something to do with her peeing on the carpet. I wrote about this and parodied it but didn’t publish it because it’s too fucking stupid to even parody, and gets my gall up that I’m now wrapped up in my pets’ psychologies, as if they had one, and now I’m some neanderthal because I’m not in touch with my cats the way I should: I’m having to lie about how often I clean their litter box and cop to the fact that I’m responsible for their disorders, for how many times they paw at their waste after they eliminate, for how much time I spend playing with them, or don’t.

I finish the 850-page love letter to Germany, written by an English journalist. It’s an academic book that doesn’t read academic, which is good by me, it just makes me want to learn more. The guy takes stories and ties them together in a non-sensical pattern which is interesting, because that’s how life works: it’s not a Point A to Point B, it skips.

I’ve injected some liquids into the carpet to rid the bad enzymes from the animal urine, in our dining room. I’m experimenting with drugs for the animals, and hiding them in their food. It’s to test how they’ll react when I drug them for an overseas flight in two weeks, where they’ll sit in the cargo hold for like 12 hours and land in Frankfurt am Main with me, +9 hours, GMT.

I’ve gotten funny the past few days, not in a good way: a pushing-away of other people, an inwardness that feels toxic. You could call it narcissistic attachment if you like, Vergangenheitsbewältigung, overcoming (or coming to terms with) the past.

 

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The eagles are kites without strings

When I drop the dead crow in the compost bin it folds like a puppet with no hand. It feels auspicious, dead birds, and I’m glad I’m not getting on a plane today, laying low.

We enter the roundabout swiftly, that don’t-F-with-me way you do in roundabouts when you pretend you don’t see anyone.

And I am on the trail with the dog again thinking about the other loners I’ve known, the men who go funny as they age, or revert more to themselves, the funny men they are. How they take on a black hole quality where the sucking gets stronger, the closer you get.

The guy in Germany near my mom’s, French, who keeps the unwanted flowers from his true love, some 20 years ago, gathering dust right there by the TV, the rabbit ear antennae, still drawing a signal on him, some reminder he won’t let go. And though there is fire and clouds in his eyes, there’s a soul there too, an injured dog’s eyes.

I meet the same guy coming down off the trail and he stops me, wants my input on the word Nigger: is baiting me but I won’t back down, I’m a writer I say and he asks what is it you write then, Writer? and I say memoir, which quiets him.

He has stories too, hundreds of them, and his eyes sharpen on mine, they flicker like he’s trying to see inside me, pull me in.

He says back then you see, kids could do whatever they wanted. He was in the subway in New York city just playing around, watching this man’s brown hands moving behind a window, making change, and the man gestured for him to come, to stand inside the booth before rush hour so he doesn’t get run over, and so each day he’d go back to be with the man until one time, the man gave him an envelope to give to his parents and the envelope was a written invitation for him and his parents to join the black man’s family for dinner in the black part of town called Bronx or something which I said wonderful and he said it’s not wonderful, my parents weren’t racists like that we just went and had dinner, no big deal. There’s nothing wrong with the word Nigger despite my politically correct response, he says, it’s just a word.

I ask him if he writes his stories down and he says he doesn’t, he can’t think like that — he had polio as a kid and couldn’t write properly with that side of his body, they made fun of him when he tried to write on the chalkboard, called him a dunderhead.

And there’s a part of your brain that is the real you, the part of your brain that keeps the stories of your life. And how much is that part of your brain really you when you don’t have anyone who will listen to it, what happens then?

There’s a kind of inwardness that becomes toxic over time. You keep looking inside expecting something more.

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Shy bear lookout

The forest has grown in now, this time
in spring the green darkens and I am
inside a giant’s beard hacking
my way through
fronds and fallen limbs, unsure
where I’m going or why, just
that I need to be here looking
in the dark, my feet must be
a part of it.

The earth moves through time
and space not caring where
or why, just knowing it
must.

And while here
I am propelled along
its back largely unnoticed,
though I know there is
someone watching in the
forest I can hear
in the small sounds that
sometimes peep and
cry out to one another —

With birdsong constellations
and perfume dripping from
trees, the frothy fronds
and withered hands,
the roots become knuckles,
mottled veins lead the way —

The hanging-on snail’s eyes
globes spinning on stalks,
feeling its way in inches
and yards, sometimes
stepped on, snapped
back into shape —

In the constant forward
motion we press on,
sometimes falling,
sometimes dropping,
stopping, going the
wrong way — but as
the prism spins it
slows and lands on
a side you can
see through.

I arrive at the lookout,
100 years ago they
mined coal here, and it
reads:

FORD SLOPE

1740 FT INCLINE TO 200 FT
BELOW SEA LEVEL
ELECTRIC LOCOMOTIVES
WORKED UNDERGROUND

The sign says stay out
but I get as close as I can
to see in.

I take no pictures,

I have lost track
of all time
and myself.

There is nothing to see
from the lookout
but I am still glad
I came.

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Good Friday, 1981

On Good Friday my parents wake
me to say
Michael has passed away,
we’re both around 11 —
something I can’t pronounce or spell
that came from a mosquito bite
with blood taken from a sick
horse that made his brain swell up.

He had brown eyes, a mole and
many brothers and sisters:
I ate dinner at his house once,
and we liked collecting stamps.

At school the teacher cleans out his desk
and for the rest of the year
no one sits there,
it’s just an empty desk and
a chair in the middle
of the room.

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How to set yourself apart

Sample WBS - source, Wiki Commons

Sample WBS – source, Wiki Commons

This time six years ago I was cramming for the PMP exam, a professional certification in project management I thought would set me apart as the economy was slipping and my development opportunities at work had come to a dead end. I’d made it through two rounds of lay-offs and planned a four-month sabbatical with hopes I’d return with the certification, and start looking for what’s next.

The exam was hard, and that was part of its appeal, to do something hard. It had 200 multiple choice questions, many of them with more than one right answer. You had to pick the best right answer, which owed to a level of subjectivity as seen through the minds of the Project Management Institute (PMI).

I bought books, test simulation software, and attended 32 hours of classroom instruction led by an ex-military guy who gave out small, plastic leprechauns as good luck tokens at the end of the course.

Prior to the exam I drove to the testing center to ensure I knew the route and how long it would take. I continued my daily habit of flash cards and review of the elaborate mnemonics I’d devised for myself, some 21 different topics with corresponding sub-topics that fanned out beneath each parent topic like a network diagram or more accurately, a work breakdown structure.

It was the kind of testing center where they’re very anal about what you take in with you. You have to empty your pockets and use lockers outside the testing area, with an attendant working the door. I showed him the leprechaun and asked if it was alright, and he just looked at me the way you do when you can’t say what’s really on your mind so you just say nothing.

I passed the exam, and three years later I’d earned the 60 professional development units (PDUs) required to renew the certification for another three-year cycle.

But my stature had slipped at work: I’d switched departments and entered into more complex subject matter, an ERP systems implementation for Store Development teams in China, and I’d managed to marginalize myself to where I wasn’t invited to the Agile Scrum bootcamp training because I didn’t make it to the list of must-have attendees. I had to make a plea to join the rest of the project team, and I was the project manager.

It is now that time to renew my certification, on the anniversary of passing the exam in 2009. Coming off a rough exit with projects I led or didn’t lead as I should have in my last job, I really had to think about whether or not I’d devote the time to maintain the certification. Thanks to the Agile Scrum bootcamp and project work over the past three years, I only needed 22 hours of credit.

And as I am going through a career outplacement service, I have access to online course materials in multiple languages and disciplines that qualify for PDU credits. You spend one hour with an automated, prerecorded course, take some tests, and that gets you one credit — one hour, one credit.

But something about putting in the effort to hold onto something that felt newly vile to me was hard, in some ways harder than taking the exam six years ago. Taking the exam had the energy of forward-motion and boundless promise. Renewing the certification carries the feeling of falsehood.

Today, I attended a LinkedIn Optimization course, led by a real person in a classroom with other job-seekers. She revealed the mechanics of LinkedIn, who it’s really for, and who we really are on LinkedIn: products. We, the members, are the product — we’re what’s being sold to the consumers, the recruiters and head-hunters.

And like most things on the Internet it is about traffic, search results, hits, how you rank with the competition. They want you on LinkedIn a lot and reward you by upping your rank on keyword searches.

I dressed the way I imagined slackers dressed one time during the dot-com spike in the late 90s, upbeat but casual. The facilitator said I looked like a tech guy with my Mac, my snazzy socks, and I just wondered what I was doing there, setting myself apart.

I found the lucky leprechaun mixed in with a box of random doll parts in our garage — arms, mismatched shoes, puzzle pieces, parts of board games that get separated and never make it back. At the end of the day, they are just things.

 

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Die Rechnung (The Reckoning)

Profession: Ethnomusicologist | Special Peculiarities: Nervous twitch, right eye

Profession: Ethnomusicologist | Special Peculiarities: Nervous twitch, right eye

If you want your bill at a German restaurant you say, “Die Rechnung, bitte,” which means the reckoning. And that’s what I’ve been doing by cleaning out my garage and going through personal things — I’m reconciling the past, settling up.

I had two boxes left and was running out of steam. These boxes contain remnants of my life, my wife’s, my mom’s and stepdad John.

Yesterday I found John’s notebook from when he attended English public school in the 1950s, along with notes by the professor and John’s handwriting as an adolescent, drawings that were graded with critical remarks, which seems excessively cruel even for English headmasters.

(A Native Fisherman) "Poor work"

(A Native Fisherman) “Poor work”

(Conversation Piece) "More character required in your figures"

(Conversation Piece) “More character required in your figures”

"Make an effort to present your work neatly"

“Make an effort to present your work neatly”

(Trees) "Make an effort with your work"

(Trees) “Make an effort with your work”

It’s impossible to go through these things and not see the person there. It is really like releasing a Genie from a lamp.

John told fantastic stories, lived a fantastic life — fantastic in the true spirit of the word, born out of fantasy. Sometimes it was hard to follow or fathom the stories about all the people he’d met, the places he’d been. The fantastic became commonplace.

I dragged the plastic bin to the edge of the driveway just inside the garage, as a storm was coming on. And here was a photo of a church in Wales — sure enough, the church where he was baptized, accompanied by the programme dated April 1940, with notes inside about soldiers and donations and so forth.

DSC_0025

And newspaper clippings in German with his handwriting at the top, with the date. All the German text with the name John Pearse that stands out in the middle.

DSC_0023

DSC_0024

There are photos of John with his first wife playing the fiddle and John, smoking a pipe in a Gandalf-pose. We never talked about Terry, who John married when he was young: he’d left England for mainland Europe one time and while gone, she was raped by one of her guitar students and driven into a catatonic state for the balance of their marriage, which John annulled some time later.

There are photos of John in a tuxedo, surely off to be married, a copy of their wedding programme, not much else.

And a letter John saved from Frank Martin, the owner of Martin guitars, dated 1958 and typed, a response to John’s inquiry about wanting to own a Martin one day. He would go on to work for Martin as a designer some 25 years later, amassing Martins along the way. He saved the letter for sentimental reasons, nourishing his dream to own a Martin.

So it’s hard to go through these things and not see pieces of the person buried inside the boxes, dreams hatching and keepsakes representing key moments in time. I feel like a burglar breaking into my own house, going through these things, and as I look at his photos I’m compelled to retell his story some day, as a way of honoring him.

John and my mom moved to Germany because John had enjoyed the most success there as a musician. Germans responded to the tradition of American Folk music — Volksmusik — more than elsewhere, and it was perhaps the best memories for John, in small German villages playing clubs, getting to know the locals and their traditions.

Amid these clippings I find notes I wrote to him that he’d saved, snapshots from our time together and wishes for many more.

I find a binder with information on coastal juvenile salmonids from a research project I worked on to restore salmon populations, funded by Starbucks when the company was encouraging people to get involved with environmental endeavors, a kind of misguided PR thing perhaps, but its heart in the right place.

I gutted the binder to make room for my manuscript which I’ll finish, print and read on a flight to Germany next month to transport our pets and leave them there until we all return for nine months at the end of July. I tore off a piece of blue painter’s tape, put it on the binder’s spine and wrote “The Last 22 Years.”

John Pearse, late 60s, Beatles bob cut

John Pearse, late 60s, Beatles bob cut

 

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Sunday afternoon in the suburbs, Spring

Markham suburbs, credit IDuke - Wiki Commons

Markham suburbs, credit IDuke – Wiki Commons

I’ve taken the stowed-away things from our garage and laid them out on the driveway for reckoning. One pile gets donated, the other we get to keep. There’s a laundry basket full of plush toys, the unwanted/extra dolls and stuffed animals that get kicked to the corner.

Charlotte (7) holds them up one at a time, as a kind of test to pretend-play with each, to decide, a final interview of sorts.

The ones with the freaky eyes (the Bratz dolls) get the ax but the rest can stay and I’m surprisingly OK with that; she wants to play with them some more, has some kid in her still. Later shares with me that she’d feel bad for them, letting them go.

And as I am scurrying about the garage still, one of the cats brings in a baby bunny and lets it loose there by the steps, where it goes to hide in a crack, and the kids gather around with Dawn, and they’re all trying to manage it with the neighbor boy Dylan (10) assuming some male-role of leadership, asking if we have carrots or something else we can use to lure it out.

They now have flashlights and a metal spatula and I leave them to it, a good hour’s worth of the day sucked into that crack.

If cats could laugh mine would as they run across the grass with something dead or dying in their grip then toss it beneath the brush overhang and leave it there for dead on its side. We’re conditioned now to go for a plastic grocery bag and use it like a mitt to carry the creatures to the compost bin and drop them there with the yard waste.

And as I am going in and out of the house I catch Ruby with a rabbit pinned-down on the carpet in the family room, and I take it by the hind legs but she grabs hold of it by the neck and yanks it right out of my hand like a doll and I have to grab it back and actually pull to get it out of her mouth, and the weight of it is like a water balloon as I carry it around the front, to the compost bin. I’m reminded of it each time I go back there to deposit something, I can’t help but look to see if it’s really dead, I hope.

But the kids have formed an unlikely gang now: three girls, two boys, aged 6-10, roaming our dead end gravel road where there are no fences between the houses, and there’s a lot of trees to climb and rope-swings installed like 20 years ago, still good for swinging.

The two boys are on our sports court using the badminton rackets as swords, and the younger boy Jude (6) is quite good, actually goes to fencing class, and he’s kind of kicking Dylan’s ass, light on his feet and bouncing around like a boxer, baiting Dylan, beating him down mentally.

There is the pitter patter of little girl voices beneath the sound of jets overhead and lawnmower blades sawing the air from nearby places. I find out later they actually got the baby rabbit out from the steps, and it’s probably the same one I dropped in the compost bin, so we agree to not mention that to the kids. The mom will make more, Dawn says.

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No Plot? No Problem!

I bought this book by the guy who started the National Novel Writing Month, an annual project in November to encourage people who want to write a book to produce a first draft in just one month. A 50,000 word first draft, that’s the same length as books like Brave, New World, Fahrenheit 451, or Lord of the Flies.

In a spurt of inspiration, I bought the book a few months ago because I liked the playful writing style and the title: who wouldn’t identify with that, as a writer? No plot? No problem! I’m in.

But reading halfway in, it wasn’t exactly telling me how to write, which is what I was looking for, which is ridiculous when you think about it. No, instead it was more the event surrounding the first draft, the psychology of committing yourself to doing it, of making the commitment public, and then hunkering down and just doing it.

So why is it harder for writers to write than most normal people? Is it that writers fabricate this illusion that writing is harder than it really is? 50,000 words sounds like a lot, but in just 16 installments, I am halfway there today. Like any game to lose weight or count your steps on a FitBit, measuring progress with numbers can really motivate. I’ve started writing my word count on our kitchen calendar every day, like an odometer reading, and today I reached 25,052.

Unemployed since December, I had a lot of goals for this timeframe. Like getting closer to my dog, learning to speak German, climbing/hiking again, reconnecting with my family, launching a new freelance career for myself, plotting the logistics to relocate to Europe for a year, and writing a manuscript.

I am really proud to say that despite the audaciousness of this list, I am going to complete a first draft of my memoir, because for however hard it is to produce something good, it’s not that hard to produce a first draft. And you don’t produce something good without this necessary, albeit painful-to-read first step.

What’s killed my writing in the past is going back and reading it. Which is why this time, I’m barreling forward to the end, to a 50,000 word goal that will be roughly 90 pages on 8.5 x 11″ when it’s printed, and once it is I will sit back and read it with a pen, and likely keep about 5% of it, then start over.

It’s similar to how I write blog posts or poems, often drafted with pen and paper on a walk, with some notes or ideas, transferred to the laptop, reviewed and reworked, then published. The publishing part’s easier in the digital world, but I’m not going there.

Because at the end of the day, after all the romantic bullshit I’ve rolled in about writing and art and self-realization and so forth, writing has a physical routine to it that requires you develop a method that works for you: for me, it’s about not letting myself get in the way, to keep the rabbits from getting under the fence and destroying everything I’ve planted, to be out there with a shovel chasing the rabbits away and re-secure the border. The rabbits, unfortunately, are in my head.

The memoir is, for nothing else, therapy. I sit here cold every morning and work up scenes from the last 20 years and dramatize them. I signed a lot of agreements when I left my job that I wouldn’t write about it, and I bit my lip when I did that, but I’m not going to think about that now. I’ve just got half of a first draft, which isn’t going to change the world, not yet.

Thank you for being a very necessary part of my fantasy, and enjoy your weekend.

They call it scrap paper for a reason

They call it scrap paper for a reason

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