Inspiration

A honey trap.

renderedIt’s helpful, wild and wonderful when the sparks of inspiration fly. Creativity and motivation move through you with elegant perfection. The feeling can be transcendent. Lean back, absorb the endorphin rush and hopefully be inspired again.

shutterstock_417467353What about after the dust settles and the haze of inspiration is gone? The work still needs to happen. Whether it’s a creative endeavor, exercise or a work project, if you don’t do the work the inspiration that got you there means nothing. Inspiration comes when it comes. You can’t depend on it.

I used to depend on it, until I got serious. I’d like to say I can push through the tough times without wishing for inspiration, but I’m not there yet. I missed a blog post last week, I didn’t work on my novel and no short stories were submitted. Life got complicated and I let it get in the way of what I love to do. What happened my mind and my spirit was interesting, maybe even inspirational. I got depressed. Not severely, but life had no vigor, greens were less green and reds were less red. If I’m sticking with the color metaphor, I was blue.

Creativity needs inspiration, but can’t live on such a fleeting concept. Work is the purveyor, and part of what work means is getting through the many uninspired moments. It’s bleak, I know, but it’s reality. I try to recognize inspiration and ration it, use small amounts until it wears off. For example, after a writer’s retreat or conference, I used to come home and blast off with wild abandon; but the rush of being inspired wore off quick.  Now, I try to recognize the inspiration and use the tools I have acquired to control the drip. I know it’s nuts, but that’s how I view it.

 

 

Beauty

Not a villain, but can insight villainous tendencies.

shutterstock_607375682I can’t define it. As I’ve been told, it’s up to the beholder to define what is beautiful. This makes sense, considering I find my beat up old truck an absolute specimen of perfection and beauty, whereas other people cringe at how dirty and used it is — it’s funny when they shake their heads at me for being so “blind.”

In many a story, beauty will cause someone to falter from a righteous path, a heroic journey or be lured down the low road. This is the villainous side of the coin, so to speak. There are so many stories of beauty; my favorite being the siren song where the sailors of yore are so intoxicated by a beautiful sound, they steer off toward the rocks or jump overboard to their deaths. Transfixed and transmuted by such a beautiful sound, by their need, their desire for beauty, they die. In this, beauty is a dark magic.

In stories both real and imagined, beauty has caused war, strife, death and acts of barbarism so profound it’s difficult to think that beauty was the impetus. Never was it beauty’s fault, but the fault of humankind and our susceptibility to the allure of wanting to own, control and ultimately consume what we perceive as beautiful.

11137821_369397949918145_644810801_nI see beauty in the joy of my children, the smile and laugh of my wife. I find it in philosophy and dissent.  Yes, dissent, especially now, is beautiful. I find it in waves, mountains covered in snow, a clear lake or a river where I know the fish will be.  Whereas the dark side of beauty, for me, is hardly dark — I simply shirk responsibilities for surf, snow or fishing. Hardly villainous, unless being “unproductive” is a mortal sin these days.

shutterstock_590422925I ponder beauty many times a day without even realizing it. Life is a beautiful thing, even when it does kick you in the teeth.

Better

The enemy of good.

shutterstock_420236590Sometimes I want what I don’t have. I think it’s part of the human condition, but my only expertise on this theory is the fact that I’m human. I see it a lot, hear it a lot. Bigger house, faster car, cooler bike, newer toy. I see it in Kids a lot, which I expect. What I find disturbing is seeing it in adults.

What’s the point of wanting more? What you have isn’t enough? I’m not talking about bare necessities here. I’m talking about a car you can’t afford but you buy because you want it. Now, it has become a velvet rope around your neck. Maybe you wanted it because you hate your job and a new, cool car will make you feel better. Guess what, you can’t afford the car, now you have to go to the job you hate because you need to make the payment. The rope is tightening, but at least it’s velvet. All cars, unless you pony up about a quarter of a million dollars for a super car, are the same, roughly. Trucks are trucks, they can’t be improved upon, you might think they can be, but it’s not true. Cars, they get faster, but fuel efficiency is done, that’s it, they can’t get more efficient unless a battery and serious aerodynamic are involved, and lets not forget the amount of Coltan that goes into a car battery — no one is driving around karma free. Yeah, but a Mercedes can’t compare to a Hyundai. Well, the lead designer from Hyundai went to Mercedes. It’s in your head. You make the car cool, not the other way around. I can make a 2008 Toyota Tacoma look awesome, same with a Honda Pilot. I’m not immune to this — I refuse to drive a minivan. Human condition, right?shutterstock_344843282

So, what’s better than good? I think that having my novel published would be better than not having it published. Again, a state of mind. A little bit of sun on a more regular basis in the Pacific Northwest would be better than the relentless rain we are currently experiencing. A state of mind, yes, but Vitamin D is important and that’s science. Some food is better than other food. I guess, what I’m saying is that when I think I could have better stuff, a better place to live, a happier time, a nicer car, a better bike or a new surfboard, I need to settle down and think about what it means to want the things I don’t have and why I want them. I’m not a child. I should know better, right?

Resistance

“That voice in our heads is not us. It is Resistance.”          

                                                        –Steven Pressfield

shutterstock_407496973Blind faith in my creative process gets me through the rough patches. Sometimes my fingers feel like anvils, and each attempt at a keystroke is mentally excruciating. I look at the words on the page, my characters, the story, and I hate it. A not so quiet voice in my head tells me its crap, it’ll take too long, I won’t succeed, blah, blah. It’s noise — a construction zone of chaos in my dome, looking for excuses to stop working, get angry and quit.

I’m too persistent. I don’t know how to quit. If this were easy I wouldn’t be doing it, so I relax, step back and see the big picture.

To say a novel is difficult to write is silly because, to me, it’s seemingly impossible. If the novel were a mountain and the process were the climb, then I’ve been climbing for years without seeing the top. I just have to believe the top is there. It’s that simple and that difficult. I might be nuts, yeah, I know.  But, so what. We are all nuts in some way. If you think you aren’t nuts then you are probably crazier than most, and that’s okay too.

In times like this, I tell myself to settle down, take a step back and appreciate other things. Family, the sun, the ocean.  Awareness of the simple things helps me reset. I like to look at life in the present and let the good soak in, but it ain’t easy.

 

A monster.

monster

It’s organized chaos. These days, we live by the calendar. I don’t know what’s happening from one moment to the next unless I’m fully engaged, looking at or talking about the schedule in the calendar.

youthI don’t remember it being this way when I was young. Life didn’t seem so scheduled back then. I did what I was told and had fun not paying attention to much else but the world in front of me. The simplicity of youth. Now it’s complicated. Kids’ schedule, my schedule, my wife’s schedule, my damn dog has a schedule sometimes. The gerbil might even come up on the calendar now and then. It’s ridiculous. And necessary, right?

What if it wasn’t? Oh glory. Another name for vacation could be Calendar Free Week, unless of course one schedules while on vacation. I refuse. No scheduling on vacation. It ruins the relaxation — I don’t want to have to do anything. I want to choose to do something, spur of the moment is my favorite.

Our family needs the calendar. There’s too much going on not to have it; but someday, when my wife and I are old and gray, I’d like tooldCouple think that we will pay attention to nothing but the day ahead. The moments will unfold before us like life’s little surprises. we’ll walk a dirt path to a river, pond, a lake or the ocean. We’ll relax among the bugs and birds while the sun shines on our smiling, schedule-free faces. A utopian idea, I know, but what the hell, it’s fun to think about when I’m in between scheduling.

A persistent villain.

shutterstock_337825361When it comes to writing, I’ve been called a grinder. Talent lurks in the shadows, but mainly I work my ass off. I’m persistent, I take criticism on the chin and push forward. I’m teachable and determined to succeed. This hasn’t come easy. I’m not known for self-discipline.

I learned late in life that I can’t just snowboard, surf, party, go to work and all will be right with the world. I didn’t party so much, but man did I get good at surfing and snowboarding. To this day I stave off the adolescent who wants to stay up late, eat cheesecake, binge watch an awesome show, leave my dishes in the sink and still have life be awesome. It’s sad but true. Now, I self-parent.

I work from home. No one is putting me on a deadline, telling me what to do or checking in on my progress. It’s all me. I’m getting better at it, but I know I can get good at it. When I keep that in mind, I persist. Small accompliments, like publishing a short story, are victories — a positive feedback loop telling my subconscious that the discipline I have self inflicted is working.

Waking up every day to grind out a story, not knowing where it will lead, is Sisyphean. Although Sisyphus’s chore was a punishment from The Gods, it fits in the metaphor of what I do every day. Wake up, feed kids, get kids to school, come home, write, exercise (sometimes), pick up from school, make dinner, go to bed, repeat. At the end of the day I can say that life is pretty good, discipline is just a part of it.

 

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Death

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My father died on March 18, 2014.

His friends created a book of poems and tributes for him.

ExtraordinaryPleasure

The following is a forward I wrote for the book.

A Restless Farewell

March 13, 2014, 6:00pm

It’s quite possibly happening, the death of my father. I’ve thought of this many times. I’ve been close with him and the dance of death more than once. It never changes, this feeling of fear for the finite fact of life.

March 16, 2014, 10:00pm

Audio hallucinations started last night. He’s dying. Slowly. Respiratory failure. Those of us on the outside equate it to drowning. Lungs fill with fluid, inflammation causes interstitial tissue damage and  his body can’t fight it much longer. With the help of morphine his brain will not think it’s lacking oxygen. He will hallucinate much like the climbers of K2. The high-flow oxygen that’s gently forcing his airway to stay open keeps him alive.

I was the one who had to explain this to him earlier in the day.

“Your lungs are filling with scar tissue. The oxygen… The amount of oxygen you need to stay alive is only available in the hospital.”

He stared at me, I could see confusion behind his thick glasses. He said, “Right. I can stay here forever. Unless it’s money. If it’s money, I won’t stay alive. I won’t bankrupt you two.”

My sister, stoic with a patience perfect and elegant, nodded and smiled. She had done so much already. It was my turn to put on a face.

“When the steroid treatment is over then we will know,” I said.

“But if they don’t work, I stay here. Like I said. In the hospital. I like this room. I’m comfortable.”

My sister started to cry.

Memories of our trips to Mexico and Canada flashed before me as the words, “The doctors aren’t hopeful”, passed across my lips. He might have cried at that moment.

March 18, 2014, Sunrise.

The waiting room looks out over the city of San Francisco. A Heron cuts the skyline as the sun rises. The tragic beauty of this moment gives me the courage to face a decision every son who loves his father fears most.

My two sisters, my cousin and I held hands in a circle around his bed when the oxygen was turned off. We cried over him while he took his last breaths. I can’t remember who closed his eyes for him.

I read once that a son truly becomes a man only when he loses his father. Maybe. I feel different, more alone in the world but not more manly.

At the time of death there is no fault. All of us will cross that threshold one way or another.  I held his hand, told him he was not alone and that I loved him.  For that I’m grateful.

The day a loved one dies — especially one who was close — is heart wrenching. We must come to terms with death at some point in our lives. Thinking that my father is somewhere other than where I am at this moment provides comfort. However, in the words of Iris DeMent, I think I’ll just let the mystery be.