In another forum, there was a question of “What did you publish in 2022?” I counted up a bunch of work there, so in the interest of plagiarizing myself, as everyone should for enhancing efficiency, here you go!
Do it again because you did it wrong the first time. Correct the mistake, as much as you can, and attempt to avoid making that same mistake again.
Do it again because you did it right the first time, and yet despite your efforts, the results were not as you wished. Perhaps there were external forces. Perhaps there was a chaotic winds inpired by a toucan flapping its wings inopportunately in the Amazon basin. Perhaps an unforseen tragic cosmic event happened just at the critical moment, a sunspot or a radiation burst from a far galaxy finally reaching us, and the neutrons and photons and neutrinos reacted in the one in ten trillion ways they needed to in order to somehow subvert your efforts, and as a result, reduced your outcome to something unanticipated, undesired, unacceptable.
Do it again because you did everything right and got the results you wanted. It worked, didn’t it? You got what you wanted – the date, the publication, the promotion – and so why should you stop there? Do you have a vision for the next avenue of approach? Pursue then. Are you interested in seeking out alternatives, [illegible], accelerations of what you just achieved? Do those too, building on your success as what you have to make it more special.
But don’t forget, in the real thing in the first time, to celebrate what you have achieved. Do not assume that it is what is not; you wanted that – Do not dismiss it so cavalierly as unacceptable or unfortunate. There is no way to arrange your world in which you are both always leveling up and ever satisfied with your achievements. So take the time, now to celebrate, to bask in the glory of what you have done, to see yourself as an accomplisher of things, of good things, of the ways you attempt and compete for being something valuable in your life. There is more to be done, yes. There is an infinite amount. And thus it is worthwhile to stop and accept your accomplishments as a validation, a positive, a good thing that you have completed.
And then, when you have satisfied that itch for confirmation and endearment…
August 27, 2022 – If you ever need something to write about:
If you ever need something to write about, just write a list of writing topics. Can be simple, or complex, just let your hand and your mind go. don’t worry about being real, or likely, or even good. Just write.
Write about a bird that won’t shut up.
Write about that same bird eating a cicada.
Write about the cicada attacked, yet escaping, and going off to live in the city with its cousin.
Write about that cousin resenting the cicada for coming and bringing his country ways with him, and having to put up with him, but not having the courage to stand up and make the first cicada mad, so it develops a complex and begins to go to therapy.
Write about the insect therapist, how they didn’t really want to do the job but they’re so indebted to their degree program that were they to take a pay cut and change careers, they would have to sell their house and live in a van down by the river.
Write about that van, and how it’s had several occupants over the years, and the whole community knows that it’s just a place for deadbeats to live out the remaining days of their spiral into oblivion, but the city Council won’t bother removing it, because, hey, at least if it’s there they know to go check on it every couple of days and maybe they’ll find someone there, someone that may need a little hand up, so they can offer that but if the van’s gone then those people who may have been helped out of a desperate situation could just be wandering the streets aimlessly and it would be so much more unlikely that they’d find those people and intervene in their lives to get them the help they need.
Write about the halfway house that those people / bugs / whatever are taken to, and how it’s okay, the good part is that there’s structure and a bed and a library and some counseling on how to get moving again. The bad part is that there’s really no privacy and it always smells like stinky feet and the books in the library have all become so old and worn that you can barely tell what the cover says and they’re all from like 50 years ago anyway, so to read them now, feels a bit like time-traveling back to another era when different sensibilities ruled and different views on the ways to interact in society dominated everything, just just the popular media.
Write about the rug on the rec room floor of that halfway house, how one time there was a fire and someone grabbed the rug on her way out of the building because she liked it more than anything that was in her room and if she was going to lose everything but one thing she wanted that rug to be the one thing.
Write about the boyfriend of that girl, who watched her spiral down and down, helplessly, as she got more and more addicted to booze and dangerous sex, so that he eventually realized that though he loved her, he had to let her go or, like a drowning swimmer, she would have pulled him under, too.
Write about how, when that boyfriend got a new girlfriend years later, he didn’t even mention the one who’d lost herself, but he did check up on her from time to time by calling her mother, once every six months or so, and how they would have a lovely chat and how she would promise to keep secret that he was checking up on the daughter and she knew she would keep that promise, but he was always like 5 percent skeptical.
If that doesn’t give you enough for a story, start again. You can do it. I believe in you.
Immediately I got an image of a pitchman in front of movie studio execs, saying that line and just totally botching the pitch. So I started writing as if I was in the exec’s seat, just riffing:
“A child is kidnapped.”
Thanks, I hate it. From the overdone trope of kidnapping, to the use of passive voice, this is one pitch that isn’t going anywhere soon.
Want to jazz it up? Make me care about the kid first, his mom, or maybe even better his dad, single dad, who’s raising him alone because mom is overseas in some pointless war, patriot-like and all, and he’s taking Junior tot he park, or maybe the Strawberry Festival, for an afternoon out. They’re enjoying the sunshine, strolling through the crowds, and suddenly Papa runs into an old flame from high school. She’s back in town after a failed marriage, interested in catching up, pretending like it’s all innocent, but we int he audience can see the heat rising in her loins, even if Papa is oblivious.
Meanwhile, junior, inquisitive, and easily bored chap, curious about the world, starts following some kind of maguffin intended to distract us and him – a baby duck, maybe, or a puppy that’s romping around and playing around. Well, he meets up with another young couple, perhaps a few years older than we can see Mama and Papa are, and this intrusion into their idyllic life moment sets them off in to a crying jag. We as audience don’t get to understand why, because at that moment Papa comes swooping in and picks up Junior, shepherding him back and warily eyeing the older couple.
See, now this is a bit of a plotline beginning. We’ve got several sob stories, that could be explored, including kids growing up too fast, forgotten loves, heartbreak, devotion at the same time as betrayal, and so on.
One cool twist would be that Junior finds the couple live only a few streets away, so he starts hanging out with them. They end up, after they get to know him, admitting they had a young son a few years ago who would be about his age, but there were “complications” during the birth, so he died.
<At least, that’s what they say.>
Turns out, they have begun to suspect that this is their actual son, and so they surreptitiously obtain a little bit of his DNA (maybe a couple of strands of hair? a little fingernail? whatever) and in getting it tested they discover that he is, in fact, their biological son, but he didn’t know that he was adopted, etc.
Now we have an additional layer of conflicts, intrigue, fear, worry, burden, confusion, and an opportunity to build drama as these two sets of adults have to figure out how to navigate the lies and deceptions that their doctors fed them so many years ago.
I dunno, sounds like it may be a pretty interesting Lifetime Afternoon Special.
You don’t get what you “want”. You get what you work for.
A friend once said, “It’s not real unless it’s on the calendar.”
For a long time, I “wanted” to do stand-up comedy. I would see the people on Comedy Central or late-night TV, and laugh, and think, “Hey, I’ve got some good jokes. I bet I could get a laugh or two.”
But then, I’d never do anything about it.
For years, I “wanted” to write good stories. But did I? Nope. Oh, sure, I wrote stories, but did I make them good? Did I get critiques? Did I revise and refine? Did I study the craft of plot, and characterization, and setting?
Nah, I just wrote whatever came out, and called it “good enough”.
For a long time, I didn’t really “want” to be an actuary. But I passed exams, participated in ethics trainings, completed monthly deliverables, cashed my paychecks, etc.
I was a hell of a lot more actuary than I was stand-up comic or writer.
So what’s the difference? It’s all in what you’re willing to work for.
See, when you “want” to be successful, or when you “want” to go to Italy, or when you “want” to someday do stand-up comedy, you’ve already achieved the goal. Your brain calls the “wanting” good enough and doesn’t worry about following through.
Mindset and deadlines give you something to work for.
With the stand-up comedy thing, I didn’t really have a deadline. Until I heard that there was an open mic at a bar on a night I was already planning to be at. So I put it on the calendar – I said, “I’m going to be at that open mic and I’m going to try my jokes!”
When it became I will instead of I want, it was real, and then it actually happened. I told a few jokes, got a few laughs, and I’ve done it a handful of times since.
The big difference was, there was something on the calendar. There was a real, concrete date with real, concrete expectations. And there was a change in how I talked to myself.
When it was Someday I want to do open mic, my brain did its standard shortcut thing and decided that I’d already achieved the goal.
When it was Next Wednesday, I will be on that stage, my brain couldn’t ignore the reality staring it in the face. While my subconscious produced tons of doubts and fears that were trying to get me out of being vulnerable, my conscious mind said “You don’t have control in this situation,” and did the thing anyway.
The thing is, you never get anywhere by wanting something. You can only make change by doing something.
Lots of people want to be a world traveler. Or in a healthy relationship. Or a successful CEO. But they don’t actually do the things that would get them to that place. Again, I think it’s because when we think of ourselves as wanting things, our brains assume that wanting is the end goal and don’t see a need for more effort.
Instead, what if you thought in terms of “I’m becoming a…”?
I’m becoming a world traveler. My next trip is to Italy in the summer. Wouldn’t that constantly remind your brain that you’ve got to book the ticket, get the passport, buy the new luggage, save for the plane trip, and hit the gym?
I’m becoming a stand-up comic. I’m searching for open mic nights within an hour from me. Wouldn’t this demonstrate just how much opportunity there is, give you incentive to talk to the others after the show, and actually do something with that Twitter handle you registered years ago?
I’m becoming a newscaster. Wouldn’t this lead you to practice in front of your mirror nights and weekends, write and rewrite your copy, and make the LinkedIn connections you need in order to get the entry-level producing job that leads to the field reporting job that leads to the weekend desk job which leads to the 6 PM anchor position?
Nobody every got where they wanted to go just by wanting to go there. They actually worked for it. That’s the big difference.
Me? I don’t “want” to be a successful author. I am, however, becoming one.
The expectation is, or perhaps the assumption is, that once you’re good at something, you no longer need to practice in order to develop or refine the skills, in the same way as when you are learning. Sure, there is a reality to that, a recognition that drop-steps have become natural for the wrestler, that starts have become natural for the sprinter, that the G-7 major chord has become second nature for the pianist, that the sales lady no longer needs to worry how to close the deal, because she’s been doing it so long – so well – so flawlessly.
But the idea of not practicing [illegible] will be refuted by every professional, in every [illegible] industry, at every point. I heard an anecdote from a pianist, about practicing every day. Why not? he said. “If I miss a day, I can tell. If I miss two days, my wife can tell. And if I miss three days, the audience can tell.” What top tier actor would no longer rehearse lines? What politician would just assume that their presentation / speech / debate would go off without a hitch, exactly as planned, requiring zero need for alternatives or adjustments or preparations for pivots to a different focus?
So why practice? Who do writing practice, if I already know how to write? Why do this if nobody will ever see it? Why pursue? Why attempt? Why push forever and ever against incurring the wrath of fatigued brain, bored mind, exhaustion, spiteful muscles fighting me? Why do the same thing over and over and over, filling page after page after page, emptying pen after pen after pen, checking off mark after mark after mark, understanding so little of what I’ve scrawled, making no new ideas, seeing no advancement of my portfolio, spending no time making something for them (whoever they may be), and doing something that, to the outside observer would appear nothing more than a complete waste of time time?
Because I like it. Because I love it. Because it is exploration as much as it is preparation. It is a cleansing, a renewal and refreshment of me.
Yes,. there is a sense of duty here. Duty to the muse. Duty to myself and the promises I made, the challenge I accepted. More, though, there is a big, great, ‘Fuck you’ to all those who say something must be commercible to be viable. Screw that. Nobody’s going to see this. Good. So I write.
I write for me. I write for my old self, ten, twenty, thirty years ago, who had much to say but no audience. He held [illegible] ideas inside, and now they come out. Well done.
I write for my future self, a month from now, a year, ten, twenty, when I will look back at this time, this moment, and be proud of myself. Proud that I did not give into the minimalist thinking, proud that I did not [illegible] myself to a dollar amount. Proud that I did what I enjoyed; what I appreciated. Proud that I lived.
Proud that I made art – Good, great, shitty, awesome, awe-inspiring, mundane, existentialist, traditional, cutting-edge art.
It’s been a little while since I was back here. A minute – two – ten – an hour. It’s been half a day, a whole day, three. It’s been a week – a fortnight – a cycle – a month. It’s been a season, a year, a decade. It’s been a generation, a century, an era, a millennium, an epoch. It’s been a while.
How have you been? Wait – don’t answer that. You know I ‘m not serious. I don’t really care how you have been, I’m only using that question to initiate your reciprocating action, in which you will ask me how I’ve been, which will allow me to unload on you, to brag about myself and my children and my spouse, to complain about my boss and my children and my spouse, to monopolize the conversation and to take it in the direction I want and to steer it towards your admiration of me for how strong I’ve been, for how amazing I am for how terrible all that has happened to me has been.
One thing I will definitely not do, rest assured, is take any blame for what has transpired. Oh, don’t you fret, none of this is my fault. It absolutely does not reflect poor judgment, rash decision-making, short-sightedness, willful naivete, or blind ambition at the price of my integrity. Perish the thought! What would ever give you such an idea? Forget it, that. Let’s continue to harp on the fact that nobody else really understand me, not the way you do, friend. Not the way you can make me feel better about myself, not the way that you have been a person to always support me, encourage me, never one to judge, never one to dissuade me from anything, never hard or harsh, cruel, or realistic, and to me that might have short-circuited some of the self-destruction.
No, it is not the only kind of rational thinking that I get from you, friend, but just the opposite. I come seeking solace – a balm for my emotional wounds. I know that you are good for it. I know you are not one to undermine this relationship with anything like truth, so I have once again, as past times, come back to you for my refreshment, my rejuvenation, my resetting of my emotional counter back to “fresh” and “happy” again, a resetting which I know you will be all too happy to provide, for I can see that you too find value in such codependency.
You feel needed, and that makes you feel valued, so regardless of the very one-way flow of energy that this vampiric bond survives on, me sucking from you, never giving, never sustaining, regardless of how little I can offer in terms of a [illegible] or even respect, I know you will continue to pursue your part just as I will continue to pursue mine.
So, friend, what do you say? Got any of the good stuff for me? Sure, it’s been a while, but I know you’re good for it. You can’t have forgotten how to make me feel better already, have you?
What keeps coming to my mind is that day – that one special, glorious, magical, mystical day in which you both took me to the heights of ecstasy and dashed my heart at the bottom of the highest cliffs imaginable.
Do you remember? Of course you do. No human still with a heart would have forgotten that day. The emotions were too strong, like a tidal wave washing over the both of us, a relentless force overwhelming and tumbling and covering over us, and there we were, helpless against the forces of love and lust and desire and peace and power.
I wished it could have been different. Do you? Who am I kidding, of course you do. I know you wished it could have been more like a gentle fade to black, a casual loss of feeling that subsided over months, years, as the perpetual erosion of the hours gradually wore down the blocks we both were putting up as shields to our hearts.
Instead, it was a bomb that went off between us, one that disintegrate those walls and sent shrapnel flying into our hearts, our souls, and tore them to shreds too.
It would have been better if you hadn’t said it, too. If it had just been a thing that I was too scared of, or too weak to face, or too inexperienced to understand.
But when you did, when you said “I love you too,” it destroyed me. IT took me from the place of confidence and assurance that I couldn’t do right by you, couldn’t do enough for you, couldn’t be what you wanted and needed, and that I was fooling myself to think that I could, and It squished that idea through a wormhole the size of the galaxy and shot my thoughts and expectations halfway across the universe.
When I arrived I thought that I knew what I wanted. When I said what had to happen, I thought it was the right thing. When you knew what I wanted to say but wouldn’t let me say it, it confirmed my suspicion of imbalance, of an out of alignment relationship, of the distance not only between our beds but our hearts too.
And yet –
Why? Why did you say it?
Why did you tell me that? Why couldn’t it have just been my foolish, vulnerable mistake?
And that’s all it would have been, had you not said what you said.
And now I sit here, years having gone by, and the wound occasionally opens once again. A short memory of that day, or the weeks before, or the first date, or how you first smiled at me.
There hasn’t been a day where I haven’t thought of you. I hate that fact and love it at the same time.
This afternoon I visited the St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM). As I am sometimes inclined to do, I took along my notebook, in case anything inspired me to write while there. As the art is often inclined to do, it inspired me at various times and from various pieces. Here’s what came out.
We perch most of the way up the Soul Mountain, a respite during our climb, and as we do I turn a head to look back at the wy we’ve come. Tens of thousands of steps upwards, upwards, ever upwards, this pilgrimage has been harder with each passing day, and yet, a moment like this – a brief respite, a chance to Preview the past and how far we’ve come – is welcome, not just for the termination (if only for a moment) of the incessant pounding of the hike, but for a glimpse of the earth’s natural beauty, arrayed out before us like a divine display of pride in the god’s own creation.
Behind, and below us, we see the craggy, snaggle-toothed lesser peaks poking their irregular peak tops out of the smooth, otherwise unbroken layer of clouds. The pure white dazzles int he shimmering morning sunshine, a radiance which would hurt the eyes, were it not also so beautiful that the body sacrifices itself to the risk of permanent damage just to behold the beauty of the moment.
I wonder if this is the feeling of schizophrenia – a mass, a seeming jumbled disorder of conflicting thoughts, emotions, logical or illogical connections between elements that would see (to the outsider) to be nothing more than randomness.
I imagine that, to the jumbled mind, this perhaps makes sense – perhaps the lenses inside the brain so refract and refocus and prioritize the overhwhelm that, instead, it looks like this:
Smooth lines, patterns emerging, a sense of peace and cleanness at the outset and continuing into the whole of the experience.
There is no challenge here except what I make for myself. What I see as disorder, I know is less a problem of the other being “abnormal” and simply my own failure to apply the right kind of equipment.
What state could I put myself in should I wish to be able to see as the other does, the patterns which emerge from the chaos? How can I simplify my own experience, my own observations, the pre-ordained and rigid mechanics I have learned which are insufficient to make meaning out of something which, to another, clearly has a value beyond ink on canvas?
Now, I can see a beauty, a symbolism, a regularity, a meaning behind apiece of art. But for the artist, before it is formed, to have not only the skill to achieve a piece, but a vision of what could exist, were she to apply that skill, is extraordinary.
I know not where that vision comes from. Perhaps it is an inherent tendency in us all, the creative instinct deep inside, that only some choose to listen to, only some choose to obey in the call to make something out of something else.
This was a single piece of wood, 28 feet long, and straight. The Artist, instead of imagining it as cut into smaller pieces and fashioned into a chair – or a picture frame – or an oar; instead of those useful, practical items, he choose to see art – this spiral, this sweeping interlocking interconnecting divergence from reality into imagination. Why? Why not? Because it’s there. Because all could do the same thing, given enough practice; and the greatest practice of all is to listen to the Muse as she whispers. She is always whispering. She is always inspiring.
Do you hear her? Do you obey? Or do you listen to the other whispers, in the other ear, of inadequacy, of limited time, of irrelevance once you have created, of insubstantialism, of ignorance by the rest of them out there once you have finished?
She is persistent, that Muse. but she is not overpowering. So be careful that you do not ignore her. Persistent, yes. Perpetually waiting for you to acknowledge her presence? To obey her directive? To do as you have been inspired? Perhaps not.
Therefore, take heed whenever the call is given. Ignore it at your own creative peril. Obey, and make, and make the world better for having done so.
Just as well, why do I keep asking the question? I have thoughts in my head, surely I have ideas that, if I did not release them to the pages, would build up and build up and build up, until I had no other recourse but to explode my brain in a disorganized, jumbled mess of a release, and then I would have no way of controlling the output.
But that could be okay, wouldn’t it? But, no, it wouldn’t, because I would have no more organized state, no friendly status, no more attractor to future ideas.
Because ideas come to join other ideas. They herd together, they band together, they like to travel in packs like wolves (or, maybe better, elephants, who are less territorial and defensive and more collaborative and cooperative).
My ideas like to be around other ideas and if the destructive release happens (if the reservoir disappears, evaporating into the ether when the head blows up, then there’s really no thing to attract more ideas, and they’ll go off and implant themselves in someone else’s head. Somewhere else that has a more fertile repository, a better breeding ground for the spawn of those ideas in the future.
Would it be too strange to say that such ideas are alive? That they have intentionality, that they have goals, that they choose one thing or another based on a weighing of potential costs and benefits?
Perhaps they do not “move” like flagella, maybe they do not wriggle like the worm or pace like the lion, but I know that ideas do not simply pop into my head spontaneously ex nihilo. They come from their own breeding ground, out there in the non-physical realms, and they are searching for a place to land. They wander the sixth dimension, seeking, seeking, seeking that place that will be welcoming to them. That will invite them in, offer them warmth, comfort, succor, companionship, a place to rest, to remain, to flourish.
My brain offers that when it not only has enough ideas that the newcomer is not scared, but also not so many that it is too crowded to adequately take hold.
Thus my need for continual offloading of ideas into the page. I must make these ideas feel welcome, while, too, allowing for them to explore themselves, to be comfortable, to be real and to understand that they have a larger part to play in this world. They are part of something. We do not know just what that is. But we – my ideas and I and all my other ideas I have had – and will again have in the future – we join together in this symbiosis, this equal-but-not partnership, and we wait.
We wait for our time to shine. We wait for our purpose to be revealed. And while we wait, we enjoy one another, in a wonderfully trans-materialistic orgy of experience and ideation and substantiation and metaphor and causal chain and letting go and simply wondering in amazement at it all.